muslim-beauty_Esther_01

Authorship

One of the main characters in this historical was Mordecai, is the likely candidate to be the author of the account as well. The author would have been one who had intimate details of all of the historical details, meaning that he lived through them at the palace of Susa. While it is true that Mordecai is not mentioned by any of the other biblical authors, he is a historical person. Robert Gordis has no reservations about an undated cuneiform text has been found.

A Persian text dating from the last years of Darius I or the early years of Xerxes I mentions a government official in Susa named Marduka, who served as an inspector on an official tour … [T]he phrase yøšēb bša‘ar hammelekh, ‘sitting in the king’s gate,’ which is applied to Mordecai repeatedly in the book, indicates his role as a judge or a minor official in the Persian court before his elevation to the viziership. That there were two officials with the same name at the same time in the same place is scarcely likely.[1]

Edwin M. Yamauchi offers his thoughts on this finding as well,

Mardukâ is listed as a sipîr (‘an accountant’) who makes an inspection tour of Susa during the last years of Darius or early years of Xerxes. It is Ungnad’s conviction that ‘it is improbable that there were two Mardukas serving as high officials in Susa.’ He, therefore, concludes that this individual is none other than Esther’s uncle. This conclusion has been widely accepted.[2]

Again, this text undoubtedly seems to refer to Mardukâ (Mordecai) as the court official of Susa at the end of the reign of Xerxes I. Thus, this places Mordecai there at Susa, where he penned the records of the events found in the book of Esther, just after they took place, sometime between 460 to 455 B.C.E.

Historical Setting (Bible Background)

We have the historical account of King Ahasuerus of the Persian Empire, also known outside of the Bible as Xerxes I, or Xerxes the Great, reigning from 486/5 to 465 B.C.E.[3] His queen Vashti was disobedient during a major banquet and was subsequently replaced by the Jewess Esther, who was the cousin of Mordecai. Haman, the Agagite was elevated to the highest position in the realm, next to the King, with orders from Ahasuerus that all should bow before him, to which Mordecai refused. Therefore, Haman went to the king with half-truths and lies, seeking to have all Jews in the Persian Empire annihilated, to which the king quickly gave his signet ring for the approval to be carried out eleven months later. In a turn of events, it is Haman, who is hung on his stake, while Mordecai gets advanced to be the head of all the satraps, publishing a new law to allow the Jews to defend themselves the day they are to be annihilated.

While God is not directly mentioned in the book of Esther, his personal name is found there four times in acrostic form of the Tetragrammaton, JHVH or YHWH, Jehovah or Yahweh. (1:20) “It … and all the women will give.” (Heb.) Hi’ Wekhol-Hannashim Yittenu is a reverse acrostic of the Tetragrammaton, (YHWH). Also, see 5:4, 13; 7:7. The appropriate acrostic letters of the Tetragrammaton are marked to stand out in no less than three ancient Hebrew manuscripts. In the Masora (margin of the Hebrew text), these same letters are marked in red letters. This is something that the Jewish people would easily recognize, but the Persians would have never noticed. In addition, God’s hand is very involved in Esther from beginning to end, which is all too clear to anyone who reads it.

The book of Esther is a historical account, authentic, and true. The Jewish people accepted it as canonical.[4] Bible scholar Adele Berlin dates “the book’s composition to the early fourth century B.C.E., and assumes that Purim was an accepted Jewish festival by that time, a second-century B.C.E. date for the canonization of Esther is completely acceptable, even preferable.”[5] Some of what establishes the book of Esther as authentic and genuine is that the information within Esther is accurate, and there is a detailed knowledge of Persian life, law, as well as manners and customs, the topography of Susa, and of the inside of the Persian palaces. Archaeology has provided us with information about the palace, which is meticulous to the smallest detail, not to mention it harmonizes with the reign of Xerxes, as the account depicts it. The Greek historian Herodotus gives us information that validates the banquet that took place in the third year. (1:3) In addition, there was a discovery of Persian tablets from the book’s time that contain the name of an official at the court of Susa, Marduka (Mordecai?), during the reign of Xerxes I. While it cannot be said with certainty that this is the Mordecai of the account, it certainly adds to its authenticity.

The internal evidence adds to the authenticity as well, with its exactness, in the naming of the officials and servants throughout, as well as the naming of Haman’s ten sons. The family line of Mordecai and Esther is given, which goes clear back to Kish of the tribe of Benjamin. (2:5-7) The account speaks of how several of the major events were “recorded in the book of the chronicles” of the Persian kingdom. (2:23; 6:1; 10:2) The language of the Book of Esther is late Biblical Hebrew, as well as many Persian and Aramaic words added, which also matches the style of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, suggesting that it fits well into the period when it was written.[6]

Literary Form

A narrative is a story or an account of a sequence of events, generally in the order in which they happened. The narrative is the literary form found most often in God’s Word, with the Old Testament being 40 percent narrative and the New Testament 60 percent narrative. Biblical narrative involves such people as Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samson, David, Isaiah, Ezra, Jesus, Paul and hundreds of others, in such books as Genesis, Exodus, Joshua to Esther, Matthew to Acts, in addition to large portions of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Prophets. The following texts provide ample support that even the narrative Scriptures can offer us a principle, implication, or an extended meaning that we can learn from the Biblical accounts.

Theme

A colorful historical account of how God used Esther, exalting Esther as queen of Persia, with direction from her older cousin Mordecai, who was made the court official in the palace of Susa, to deliver the Jews from annihilation. (4:14; 9:1).

Purpose

Why did God have Mordecai pen the book of Esther?

Romans 15:4 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not be desirers of evil things, as they desired them. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

The above statements offer God included historical narratives Old Testament Scripture. In Romans 15:4 that which was written was written “for our instruction,” while in Paul’s Corinthian letter, the information was written, “as examples for us.” Thus, the Old Testament was written as 2 Timothy 3:16 brings out, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Place and Date of Writing

When we consider the date of Esther being written, we must look at the internal evidence, because there is no reference to the book of Esther in other literature. As was mentioned above, the intimate details of the account demonstrate that the writer had access to the annals of the Persian kings (2:23; 6:1; 10:2). In addition, it is clear that he was a Jew, who was a high-ranking official in the Persian Empire, who also lived through the events that took place in Susa, the citadel. It is very likely that Mordecai himself penned the book of Esther. Others have suggested that the writer was a Persian Jew, which is mere speculation. The events of the book of Esther cover about ten years, from 483 to 473 B.C.E. The place of where it was written is Susa, Elam.[7] The reign of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), which continued into the 21st year is usually counted from 486/5 to 465/4 B.CE.

Some Old Testament Scholars have dated Esther from as early as the fifth century B.C. E. to as late as the time of the Maccabees (second, even the first centuries B.C.E.). The internal evidence (historical setting and Persian words) suggests that the book was written shortly after the reign of Ahasuerus, as he is referred to in past tense, but not too long thereafter. Artaxerxes Longimanus, Ahasuerus’ successor first accession year was in 465 B.C.E. and his first regnal year began in 464 B.C.E.[8] The writer of Esther was adamant that the Jewish people commemorate their deliverance, which led to the celebration of Purim.[9] This would have been needed shortly after the death of Ahasuerus in 465 B.C.E., yet early in the reign of Artaxerxes. Therefore, it is likely that Esther was penned about 460 to 455 B.C.E.

Apocryphal Additions to the Book of Esther

These Apocryphal[10] additions to Esther make up six passages with 105 verses that were added to the Greek Septuagint, not found in the Hebrew Old Testament, most likely by an Egyptian Jew sometime around 100 B.C.E.

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible produce between 280 – 150 B.C.E. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine. The Septuagint contains some books, not in the Hebrew canon. The Apocrypha are “books [or additions to books] included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament.”― (Mirriam-Webster 2003) They are not the inspired, inerrant Word of God, and in many cases, the person writing these books or additions, are often dishonest, trying to represent falsely that the work is of an inspired author. The content within these apocryphal works not only contradict the inspired canonical books of the Bible, but also many times contradict themselves. Moreover, they are filled with historical and geographic errors and anachronisms.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES Esther Chapter 1

ESTHER 1:20; 5:4, 13; 7:7 Why is Esther a part of the Bible Canon, when it does not mention God, nor use the Tetragrammaton?[11]

While God is not directly mentioned in the book of Esther, his personal name is found there four times in acrostic form of the Tetragrammaton, JHVH or YHWH, Jehovah or Yahweh. (1:20) “It … and all the women will give.” (Heb.) Hi’ Wekhol-Hannashim Yittenu is the first acrostic of the Tetragrammaton, (YHWH). Also, see 5:4, 13; 7:7. The appropriate acrostic letters of the Tetragrammaton are marked to stand out in no less than three ancient Hebrew manuscripts. In the Masora (margin of the Hebrew text), these same letters are marked in red letters. This is something that the Jewish people would easily recognize, but the Persians would have never noticed. In addition, God’s hand is very involved in Esther’s life from beginning to end, which is all too clear to anyone who reads the account of it, in the book of Esther.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES Esther Chapters 2

ESTHER 2:1-18 Was it not wrong for Esther to participate in a pagan contest to become queen?

First, Esther did not seek this out, “Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai.” (2:8) Second, nothing in this historical account suggests that any of the women had to commit some immoral action. If that had been the case, we can be assured that God would not have used her as an instrument to deliver Israel at the appointed time. Moreover, Esther herself would have declined based on what we know about her. Third, when the king chose Esther as his queen, she had no alternative but to be a part of his court. However, we must realize that she was doing all of this because she knew she was going to be called on to risk her life for the sake of God’s people.

ESTHER 2:5-6 Was Mordecai taken into captivity with Jeconiah over 120 years earlier?

Esther 2:5-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

5 Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away.

Bible critics and liberal scholarship do not accept the traditional historicity of the Bible book or that Mordecai was a real person. They interpret Esther 2:5-6 as saying that Mordecai was taken into captivity with Jeconiah, which would mean that he was over 120 years old at the time of the events in the book of Esther, also having a young beautiful cousin 100 years younger. This just is not the case, as the author of Esther is not trying to convey the history of Mordecai, but rather to give his lineage. It is likely that Kish was his grandfather, and it is he, who was “carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah.” On this Gleason L. Archer writes,

On the basis of Est. 2:5–6 some critics have alleged that the author must have regarded Xerxes as a near successor to King Nebuchadnezzar, since he implies that Mordecai was carried off in the deportation of Jehoiachin in 597 and yet was still very much alive in the reign of Xerxes (485–464 B.C.). But this deduction is founded upon a mistaken interpretation of the Hebrew text; the true antecedent of the relative pronoun who in verse 6 is not Mordecai himself but rather Kish, his great-grandfather. If it was Kish who was Jehoiachin’s contemporary, as the author implies, three generations would have elapsed by the time of Mordecai—a proper interval between 597 and 483.[12]

ESTHER 2:14-17 Did Esther have sexual relations with the king?

No, she did not. Verse 14 says, “In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go into the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.” The third person pronoun in this verse, “she,” is a reference to “the young women” of verse 13, not Esther. These young women became the king’s concubines or secondary wives. On the other hand, verse 17 says, “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.”

Thus, with Esther, it says nothing about the next morning, or that she was taken to the house of the concubines. She did not find favor through sexual relations, but through her humble appearance, and the person that everyone else grew to love immediately. Verse 15 says, “Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her.” Unlike all the women that came before, as well as Vashti, she was not acting as though she were more important or special than everyone else because of her great beauty, nor was she after the King’s possessions. “When the turn came for Esther … to go into the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised.” Esther is selfless, so she does not look to make some showy display, and therefore does not ask for anything beyond what Hegai advised, while the other women picked many jewels, knowing that they were allowed to keep them after their night with the king.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES Esther Chapter 3

ESTHER 3:2 What is the most likely reason for Mordecai refusing to bow before Haman?

As was stated in the coverage of the chapter, the Israelites had no problem accepting the sovereignty of a nation that they may have been under, if it did not violate their worship to their God, Jehovah. Thus, they had a history of bowing before leaders out of respect, not worship. The issue here between Mordecai and Haman is more involved. Haman was an Agagite, an Amalekite, to which the Scriptures below will address. Mordecai felt that his bowing before Haman was an act of disloyalty to Jehovah. His refusal is based on his being a Jew. (3:3-4)

Exodus 17:14-16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 Then Jehovah said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar, and he called its name Jehovah Is My Banner; 16 and he said, “Because a hand is against the throne of Jah; Jehovah will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”

Deuteronomy 25:17-19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Revenge on the Amalekites

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore it shall come about when Jehovah your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which Jehovah your God gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.

Amalek was a grandson of Esau, who was one of the chieftains of Edom. (Gen. 36:15, 16) Amalek’s name also stood for his ancestral descendants, The Amalekites.[13] The two sources below help us appreciate the level of hatred that Haman must have carried for the Jewish people, especially Mordecai.

[The Amalekites were a] Nomadic tribe of formidable people that first [led an unprovoked] attacked the Israelites after the exodus at Rephidim. Descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12), they inhabited the desolate wasteland of the northeast Sinai Peninsula and the Negev. They were the first to attack Israel after the exodus (Num. 24:20). Israel won the initial battle (Exod. 17:8–16), but later was driven back into the Sinai wilderness by a coalition of Amalekites and Canaanites (Num. 14:39–45). Thereafter the Amalekites waged a barbaric guerrilla war against Israel (Deut. 25:17–19). Fighting continued after Israel settled in Canaan. Because of their atrocities, God commanded Saul to exterminate the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:2–3). Saul disobeyed and the Amalekites were not defeated completely until late in the eighth century B.C. (1 Chron. 4:43). No archaeological data concerning the Amalekites has been discovered to date.[14]

The Amalekites were a nomadic people descended from Esau (Gen. 36:12, 16). They typically ranged through the Negev and Sinai Peninsula, where they clashed with Israel during the Exodus (Ex. 17:8–13; Deut. 25:17–18). But during the reign of King Saul, the conflict became fateful. God ordered Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites and to take no booty from them. But Saul saved some of the loot and took the Amalekite king, Agag, as a captive. The prophet Samuel killed Agag, but not before informing Saul that his disobedience would cost him his throne (1 Sam. 15). Since Mordecai is associated with the house of Saul, the clash between Mordecai and Haman is set up as a “rematch” of the Saul-Agag affair.[15]

As one would expect there is no love lost between the descendants of Amalek and the Jewish people, especially the house of Saul. Haman is filled with fury when he discovers that the one person, who fails to bow before him, is also a Jew, and is of the house of Saul. Haman has the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on the Jewish people. Verse 1 of chapter three begins with Haman’s promotion.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES Chapter 4

ESTHER 3:2 Didn’t Esther disobey a governmental authority that had been allowed by God.

Persian law said that no one was to go into the king uninvited, with the penalty being the possibility of the death penalty. On this point, Freedman and Chadwick write, “Etiquette in the Persian court was very strict. Except for the “seven nobles” (see Esther 1:4), no one could approach the king unless they were summoned by him. The punishment for entering without being summoned was death, the same punishment given for murder or rebellion. The intruder was instantly put to death by the court attendants unless the king extended his golden scepter to the person to show approval, or at least acceptance, of the act. It was well understood, therefore, that whoever so appeared before the king risked his life. The fact that Ahasuerus extended his scepter to Esther when she entered the court uninvited shows the influence she had gained with him.”[1]

Romans 13:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 Let every soul[2] be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God, and those that exist have been placed[3] by God. Therefore the one setting himself against authority has taken a stand against the ordinance of God; and those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment against themselves.

God’s servants are to be obedient and subject “to the governing authorities,” which have been left in place by God, to serve human protection against chaos and anarchy. In fact, to be disobedient, such as breaking laws, or refusing to pay taxes, resists what God has allowed, “and those who resist will incur judgment.” However, there has always been an exception to this rule, which Peter addressed nicely when the governments asked Christians to stop do something; God had commanded them to do. Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.”

In other words, if the government, any kind of authority asks us to do something that is against God’s Word, we obey God, nor some man-made rule. For example, if the government made a law that it was illegal to evangelize, Christians would still evangelize. They would have to obey Jesus’ command to proclaim the Word of God, to teach and make disciples.―Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8.

[1] James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 297.

[2] Or person

[3] Or established, instituted

Review Questions/Assignments:

  • In short, what historical account do we find in the book of Esther?
  • How is God’s personal name found in the book of Esther?
  • What establishes the book of Esther as authentic and genuine?
  • What internal evidence adds to the authenticity as well?
  • When considering the date, writer, time covered, what must be considered? Who is likely the author of Esther, and what period was covered?
  • What is the likely date of writing?
  • What was added to Esther, by whom and when?
  • Why does the Apocrypha not belong in the canon of the book of Esther?

17 Book of Esther

COMING SOON

[1] Robert Gordis, ‘Religion, Wisdom and History in the Book of Esther—ANew Solution to an Ancient Crux’, JBL 100 (1981), pp. 359-88 (384). The argu-ment is exactly that of Arthur Ungnad (see notes 14, 24). Gordis had already putforward his view of ‘sitting in the gate’ in his ‘Studies in the Esther Narrative’,  JBL 95 (1976), pp. 43-58 (47-48)

[2] Edwin M. Yamauchi, ‘The Archaeological Background of Esther: Archaeological Backgrounds of the Exilic and Postexilic Era’, BSac 127 (1980), pp. 99-117(107).

[3] For those unfamiliar, B.C.E. time counts with the numbers going down to go forward, such as the date above reign of Xerxes. There is no zero in Roman numerals, so time would be counted 3 B.C.E – 2 B.C.E. – 1 B.C.E – 1 C.E. – 2 C.E. – 3 C.E., as there is no zero year. As you can see, once you cross over in the Common Era (C.E.), the numbers go up to go forward in time.

[4] “Canon” originally meant “reed” and came to signify a ruler or measuring stick. In this sense, the Bible is the rule or standard of authority for Christians. The concept of “canon” and process of “canonization” refers to when the books gained the status of “Holy Scripture,” authoritative standards for faith and practice.― (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, 200).

[5] (Berlin 2001, xliv).

[6] Linguistic analysis shows the language of the book to be Late Biblical Hebrew (like the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and some of the later prophets), with some Mishnaic Hebrew features. Typical of the Hebrew of the Persian period is the use of late vocabulary, words like birah, “capital, fortress”; keter, “crown”; ʾigeret, “letter”; malkhut instead of mamlakhah for “kingdom.” There are loanwords from Aramaic, like yekar, “honor,” and from Persian, like dat, “law.” Late syntactic features include an increased use of the infinitive construct for other forms of the verb (as in 1:17 and 9:14); reversed order for names and epithets (“Esther the queen” instead of “Queen Esther”); and the presence of elliptical sentences that lack a specific subject or verb (1:2).42 The use of the Babylonian names for the months (Adar, etc.) is also a late linguistic feature. The language of Esther is recognizably late, even though it has an archaizing tendency, to make it sound more like earlier parts of the Bible. (Berlin 2001, xli)

[7] The region of Elam is on the western edge of ancient Persia, modern Iran. The Zagros Mountains lie east and north while the Persian Gulf is to the south and the Tigris River is on the west. The ancient capital of the area is Susa.― (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, 470).

[8] A regnal year is the official years of a king or queen, which usually ran from Nisan (March/April) to Nisan. The accession year would only cover part of a year. If a hypothetical king, say Dumas, died six months before a new year of say 686 B.C.E. The accession year of his successor would be 687 B.C.E., but his first regnal year would be 686 B.C.E.

[9] Purim is a Jewish festival marking the Jewish people’s deliverance from a plot to annihilate them, which is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar.

[10] Apocrypha (Greek apokryphos, “hidden”), word coined by the 5th-century biblical scholar Saint Jerome for the biblical books received by the church of his time as part of the Greek version of the Old Testament (see Septuagint), but that were not included in the Hebrew Bible. In the Authorized, or King James, Version, the books are either printed as an appendix or are omitted altogether; they are not considered canonical by Protestants.―Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[11] The Tetragrammaton is the Hebrew name for God and is found in the Old Testament 6828 times: a four-letter Hebrew name of God revealed to Moses, usually written JHVH or YHWH (Exodus 3:13-14).

[12] Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 465.

[13] Deuteronomy 25:17; Judges 7:12; 1 Samuel 15:2

[14] LeBron Matthews, “Amalekite”, in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al., 54 (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[15] John H Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 3: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 486-87 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).