Esther, Book of
Esther, Book Of the last of the historical books of the O.T., according to the arrangement in the Auth. Engl. Version. (See Davidson, in Horne's Introd., new ed., 2:697 sq.)
I. Contents, Name, and Place in the Canon. — In this book we have an account of certain events in the history of the Jews under the rule of the Persian king Ahasuerus (Achashverosh), doubtless the Xerxes of the Greek historians. SEE AHASUERUS 3. The writer informs us of a severe persecution with which they were threatened at the instigation of Haman, a favorite of the king, that sought in this way to gratify his jealousy and hatred of a Jew, Mordecai, who, though in the service of the king, refused to render to Haman the homage which the king had enjoined, and which his other servants rendered; he describes in detail the means by which this was averted through the influence of a Jewish maiden called "Hadassab, that is, Esther," the cousin of Mordecai, who had been raised to be the wife of the king, along with the destruction of Haman and the advancement of Mordecai; he tells us how the Jews, under the sanction of the king, and with the aid of his officers, rose up against their enemies, and slew them to the number of 75,000; and he concludes by informing us that the festival of Purirn was instituted among the Jews in commemoration of this remarkable passage in their history. From the important part played by Esther in this history, the book bears her name. It is placed among the hagiographa (q.v.) or Kethubiln' (כּתוּבַים) by the Jews, and in that first portion of them which they call the five Megilloth (מגַלּוֹת, rolls), or books read in the synagogue on special festivals; the season appropriate to it being the feast of Purim, held on the 14th and 15th of the month Adar, of the origin of which it contains the account. Hence it stands in the Hebrew Canon after Koheleth or Ecclesiastes, according to the order of time in which the Megilloth are read. By the Jews it is called the Megillab, by way of eminence, either from the importance they attach to its contents, or from the circumstance that from a very early period it came to be written on a special roll (מגַלָּה) for use in the synagogue (Hottinger, Thes. Philippians page 494). In the Sept. it appears with numerous additions, prefixed, interspersed, and appended; many of which betray a later origin, but which are so inwrought with the original story as to make with it a continuous and, on the whole, harmonious narrative. By the Christians it has been variously placed; the Vulgate places it between Tobit and Judith, and appends to it the apocryphal additions [see next article]; the Protestant versions commonly follow Luther in placing it at the end of the historical books.
II. Canonicist. — Among the Jews this book has always been held in the highest esteem. There is some ground for believing that the feast of Purim was by some of the more ancient Jews opposed as an unlicensed novelty (Talm. Hieros. Megilloth, fol. 70; Lightfoot, Hor. Hebrews ad Job 10:22); but there is no trace of any doubt being thrown by them on the canonicity of the book. By the more modern Jews it has been elevated to a place beside the law, and above the other hagiographa, and even the prophets (Pfeiffer, Thes. Hermen. page 597 sq.; Carpzov, Introd. page 366 sq.). Indeed, it is a saying of Maimonides that in the days of the Messiah the prophetic and hagiographical books will pass away, except the book of Esther, which will remain with the Pentateuch. This book is read through by the Jews in their synagogues at the feast of Purim, when it was, and is still in some synagogues, the custom at the mention of Haman's name to hiss, and stamp, and clench the fist, and cry, Let his name be blotted out; may the name of the wicked rot. It is said, also, that the names of Haman's ten sons are read in one breath, to signify that they all expired at the same instant of time. Even in writing the names of Haman's sons in the 7th, 8th, and 9th verses of Esther 9, the Jewish scribes have contrived to express their abhorrence of the race of Haman; for these ten names are written in three perpendicular columns of 3, 3, 4, as if they were hanging upon three parallel cords, three upon each cord, one above another, to represent the hanging of Raman's sons (Stehelin's Rabbinical Literature, 2:349). The Targum of Esther 9, in Walton's Polyglot, inserts a very minute account of the exact position occupied by Haman and his sons on the gallows, the height from the ground, and the interval between each; according to which they all hung in one line, Haman at the top, and his ten sons at intervals of half a cubit under him. It is added that Zeresh and Haman's seventy surviving sons fled, and begged their bread from door to door, in evident allusion to Ps 109:9-10. Some of the ancient Jewish teachers were, somewhat staggered at the peculiarity of this book, that the name of God does not once occur in it; but others accounted for it by saying that it was a transcript, under divine inspiration, from the Chronicles of the Medes and Persians, and that, being meant to be read by heathen, the sacred name was wisely omitted. Baxter (Saint's Rest, part 4, chapter 3) speaks of the Jews using to cast to the ground the book of Esther because the name of God was not in it. (See Pareau's Principles of Interpretation, and Hottinver's Thes. Philippians page 488.) But Wolf (Bibl. Hebr. Part 2, page 90) denies this, and says that if any such custom prevailed among the Oriental Jews, to whom it is ascribed by Sandys, it must have been rather to express their hatred of Haman. Certain it is that this book was always reckoned in the Jewish canon, and is named or implied in almost every enumeration of the books composing it, from Josephus downwards.
It has been questioned whether Josephus considered the book of Esther as written before or after the close of the canon. Du Pin maintains that, as Josephus asserts SEE DEUTERO-CANONICAL that the sacred books were all written between the time of Moses and the reign (ἀρχή) of Artaxerxes, and (Ant. 11) places the history of Esther in that reign, he consequently includes it among those books which he says were of inferior authority, as written under and since the reign of that prince (Complete Hist. of the Canon, page 6). Eichhorn, on the other hand, favors the opinion that Josephus meant to include the reign of that prince within the prophetical period, and concludes that this historian considered the book of Esther as the latest of the canonical writings.
In the Christian Church the book of Esther has not been so generally received. Jerome mentions it by name in the Prolog. Gal., in his Epistle to Paulinus, and in the preface to Esther; as does Augustine, De Civit. Dei, and De Doctr. Christ., and Origen, as cited by Eusebius (Hist. Ecclesiastes 6:25), and many others. Whilst apparently accepted without question by the churches of the West in the early centuries, the testimony of the Eastern Church concerning it is more fluctuating. It is omitted in the catalogue of Melito, an omission which is shared with Nehemiab, and which some would account of, by supposing that both these books were included by him under Ezra, a supposition that may be admitted in reference to Nehemiah, but is less probable in reference to Esther. Origen inserts it, though not among the historical books, but after Job, which is supposed to indicate some doubt regarding it on his part. In the catalogues of the Council of Laodicea, of the apostolical canons, of Cyrill of Jerusalem, and of Epiphanius, it stands among the canonical books; by Gregory of Nazianzus it is omitted; in the Synopsis Scrip. Sac. it is mentioned as said by some of the ancients to be accepted by the Hebrews as canonical; and by Athanasius it is ranked among the ἀναγινωσκόμενα, not among the canonical books. These differences undoubtedly indicate that this book did not occupy the same unquestioned place in general confidence as the other canonical books of the O.T.; but the force of this, as evidence, is greatly weakened by the fact that it was not on historical or critical grounds, but rather on grounds of a dogmatical nature, and of subjective feeling, that it was thus treated. On the same grounds, at a later period, it was subjected to doubt, even in the Latin Church (Junilius, De partibus Leg. Div. c. 3). At the time of the ReformationI, Luther, on the same grounds, pronounced the book more worthy to be placed "extra canonem" than "in canone" (De servo arbitrio; comp. his Tischreden, 4:403, Berlin ed. 1848), but in this he stood alone in the Protestant churches of his day; nor was it till a comparatively recent period that his opinion found any advocates. The first who set himself systematically to impugn the claims of the book was Semler, and him Oeder, Corrodi, Augusti, Bertholdt, De Wette, and Bleek have followed. Eichhorn with some qualifications, Jahn and Havernick unreservedly, have defended its claims.
The objections urged against the canonicity of the book resolve themselves principally into these three —
1. That it breathes a spirit of narrow, selfish, national pride and vindictiveness, very much akin to that displayed by the later Jews, but wholly alien from the spirit which pervades the acknowledged books of the O.T.;
2. That its untheocratic character is manifested in the total omission in it of the name of God, and of any reference to the divine providence and care of Israel; and,
3. That many parts of it are so incredible as to give it the appearance rather of a fiction or romance than the character of a true history (Bertholdt, De Wette, etc.). In regard to the first of these; whilst it must be admitted that the spirit and conduct of the Jews, of whom the author of this book writes, are not those which the religion of the O.T. sanctions, it remains to be asked whether, in what he narrates of them, he has not simply followed the requirements of historical fidelity; and it remains to be proved that he has in any way indicated that his own sympathies and convictions went along with theirs. There can be little doubt that among the Jews of whom he writes a very different state of religious and moral feeling prevailed from what belonged to their nation in the better days of the theocracy. The mere fact that they preferred remaining in the land of the heathen to going up with their brethren who availed themselves of the permission of Cyrus to return to Judaea, shows how little of the true spirit of their nation remained with them. This being the case, the historian could do nothing else than place before us such a picture as that which this book presents; had he done otherwise he would not have narrated the truth. It does not follow from this, however, that he himself sympathized with those of whom he wrote, in their motives, feelings, and conduct, or that the spirit dominant in them is the spirit of his writing. It is true, occasions may frequently present themselves in the course of his narrative when he might have indulged in reflections of an ethical or didactic character on what he has narrated, but to do this may not have been in the plan and conception of his work, and he may therefore have intentionally avoided it.
Observations to the same effect may be made on the second objection. If the purpose of the author was to relate faithfully and without comment the actions and words of persons who were living without any vital recognition of God, the omission of all reference to God in the narrative will be sufficiently accounted for by this circumstance. If it be said, But a pious mat would have spontaneously introduced some such reference, even though those of whom he wrote gave him no occasion to do so by their own modes of speech or acting, it may suffice to reply that, as we are ignorant of the reasons which moved the author to abstain from all remarks of his own on what he narrates, it is not competent for us to conclude from the omission in question that he was not himself a pious man. If again it be said, How can a book which simply narrates the conduct of Jews who had to a great extent forgotten, if they had not renounced the worship of Jehovah, without teaching any moral lessons in connection with this, be supposed to have proceeded from a man under God's direction in what he wrote, it may be replied that a book may have a most excellent moral tendency, and be full of important moral lessons, even though these are not formally announced in it. That it is so with the book of Esther may be seen from such a work as M'Crie's Lectures on this book, where the great lessons of the book are expounded with the skill of one whose mind had been long and deeply versed in historical research. As the third objection above noticed rests on the alleged unhistorical character of the book, its force will be best estimated after we have considered the next head.
III. Credibility. — In relation to this point three opinions have been advanced:
1. That the book is wholly unhistorical, a mere legend or romance;
2. That it has a historical basis, and contains some true statements, but that with these much of a fabulous kind is intermixed;
3. That the narrative is throughout true history. Of these opinions the first has not found many supporters: it is obviously incompatible with the reception of the book into the Jewish canon; for, however late be the date assigned to the closing of the canon, it is incredible that what must have been known to be a mere fable, if it is one, could have found a place there; it is incompatible with the early observance by the Jews of the feast of Purim, instituted to commemorate the events recorded here (comp. 2 Macc. 15:36); and it is rendered improbable by the minuteness of some of the details, such as the names of the seven eunuchs (Es 1:10), the seven officers of the king (Es 1:14), the ten sons of Haman (Es 9:7-10), and the general accurate acquaintance with the manners, habits, and contemporary history of the Persian court which to author exhibits. (See the ample details on this head collected by Eichhorn and Havernick, Einleit. II, 1:338-357). The reception of the book into the canan. places a serious difficulty in the way of the second opinion; for if those who determined this would not have inserted a book wholly fabulous, they would as little have inserted one in which fable and truth were indiscriminately mixed. It may be proper, however to notice the parts which are alleged to be fabulous, for only thus can the objection be satisfactorily refuted. First, then, it is asked, How can it be believed that if the king had issued a decree that all the Jews should be put to death, he would have published this twelve months before it was to take effect (Es 3:12-13)? But, if this seem incredible to us, it must, if untrue, have appeared no less incredible to those for whom the book was written; and nothing can be more improbable than that a writer of any intelligence should by mistake have made a statement of this kind; indeed, a fiction of this sort is exactly what a fabulist would have been most certain to have avoided; for, knowing it not to be in accordance with fact and usage, he must have been sure that its falsehood would be at once detected. Secondly, It is said to be incredible that the king, when he repented of having issued such an edict, should, as it could not be recalled, have granted permission to the Jews to defend themselves by the slaughter of their enemies, and that they should have been permitted to do this to such an extent as to destroy 75,000 of his own subjects. To our habits of thinking this certainly appears strange; but we must not measure the conduct of a monarch like Xerxes by such a standard: the caprices of Oriental despots are proverbially startling, their indifference to human life appalling; and Xerxes, as we know from other sources, was apt even to exceed the limits of ordinary Oriental despotism in these respects (comp. Herod. 1:183; 7:35, 39, 238; 9:108-113; Justin, 2:10, 11). Now if it be true, as Diodorus Siculus relates, that Xerxes put the Medians foremost at Thermopylse on purpose that they might all be killed, because he thought they were not thoroughly reconciled to the loss of their national supremacy, it is surely not incredible that he should have given permission to Haman to destroy a few thousand strange people like the Jews, who were represented to be injurious to his empire, and disobedient to his laws. Nor, again, when we remember what Herodotus relates of Xerxes in respect to promises made at banquets, can we deem it incredible that he should perform his promise to Esther to reverse the decree in the only way that seemed practicable. It is likely, too, that the secret friends and adherents of Haman would be the persons to attack the Jews, which would be a reason why Ahasuerus would rather rejoice at their destruction. Thirdly, it is asked how can we believe that the king would issue an edict to all his subjects that every man should bear rule in his own house (1:22)? We reply that, as the edicts of Oriental despots are not all models of wisdom and dignity, here seems to us nothing improbable in the statement that such an edict was, under the circumstances, issued by Ahasuerus. Fourthly, Is it credible, it is asked, that Esther should have been so long a time in the palace of the king without her descent being known to the king or to Haman, as appears to have been the case? We reply that it does not appear certain that her Jewish descent was unknown; and, if it were, we are too little acquainted with the usages of the Persian royal harem to be able to judge whether this was an unlikely thing to occur or not: we may suggest, however, that the writer of the history was somewhat more likely to know the truth on such points than German professors in the 19th century.
The casual way in which the author of 2 Macc. 15:36 alludes to the feast of Purim, under the name of "Mardochaeus's day," as kept by the Jews in the time of Nicanor, is another strong testimony in its favor, and tends to justify the strong expression of Dr. Lee (quoted in Whiston's Josephus, xi, chapter 6), that "the truth of this history is demonstrated by the feast of Purim, kept up from that time to this very day." The style of writing is remarkably chaste and simple, and the narrative of the struggle in Esther's mind between fear and the desire to save her people, and of the final resolve made in the strength of that help which was to be sought in prayer and fasting, is very touching and beautiful, and without any exaggeration. Even De Wette observes that the book is simple in its style, free from declamation, and thus advantageously distinguished from the similar stories in the Apocrypha (Introduction, Parker's translation, Boston, 1843).
IV. Authorship and Date. — Augustine (De Civitate Dei) ascribes the book to Ezra. Eusebius (Chronic. 47, d. 4), who observes that the facts of the history are posterior to the time of Ezra, ascribes it to some later but unknown author. Clemens Alexandrinus (Stromata, lib. 1, page 329) assigns it and the book of Maccabees to Mordecai. The pseudo-Philo (Chronographia) and Rabbi Azarias maintain that it was written at the desire of Mordecai by Jehoiakim, son of Joshua; who was high-priest in the 12th year of the reign of Artaxerxes. The subscription to the Alexandrian version states that the epistle regarding the feast of Purim was brought by Dositheus into Egypt, under Ptolemy and Cleopatra (B.C. cir. 160); but it is well known that these subscriptions are of little authority. The authors of the Talmud say that it was written by the members of the Great Synagogue (q.v.), who also wrote Ezekiel and the twelve Prophets. But the whole account of the Great Synagogue, said to have been instituted by Ezra, and concluded by Simon the Just, who is said to have closed the canon, and whose death took place B.C. 292, is by some looked upon as a rabbinical romance. Of all these suppositions, the ascription to Mordecai seems the most probable. The minute details given of the great banquet, of the names of the chamberlains and eunuchs, and Haman's wife and sons, and of the customs and regulations of the palace, betoken that the author lived at Shushan, and probably at court, while his no less intimate acquaintance with the private affairs both of Esther and Mordecai well suits the hypothesis of the latter being himself the writer. It is also in itself probable that as Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, who held high offices under the Persian kings, wrote an account of the affairs of the nation, in which they took a leading part, so Mordecai should have recorded the transactions of the book of Esther likewise. The termination of the book with the mention of Mordecai's elevation and government agrees also with this view, which has the further sanction of many great names, as Aben Ezra, and most of the Jews, Vatablus, Carpzov, and many others. Those who ascribe it to Ezra, or the men of the Great Synagogue, may have merely meant that Ezra edited and added it to the canon of Scripture, which lee prob. ably did, bringing it, and perhaps the book of Daniel, with him from Babylon to Jerusalem. SEE MORDECAI.
That the book was written after the downfall of the Persian monarchy in the time of the Maccabees is the conclusion of Bertholdt, De Wette, and Bleek. The reasons, however, which they assign for this are very feeble, and have been thoroughly nullified by Havernick. The latter supposes it to have been written at a much earlier date, and the reasons he urges for this are —
1. The statement in Es 9:32, compared with Es 10:2, where the author places what he himself has written on a par in point of authenticity with what is recorded in the Persian annals, as if contemporary productions;
2. The vividness, accuracy, and minuteness of his details respecting the Persian court;
3. The language of the book, as presenting, with some Persianisms, and some words of Chaldaic affinity, which do not occur in older Hebrew (such as מִאֲמִר, מִזָּיוֹן, פִּתשֶׁגֶן, שִׁרבּיט), those idioms which characterize the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles; and,
4. The fact that the closing of the canon cannot be placed later than the reign of Artaxerxes, so that an earlier date must be assigned to this book, which is included in it. SEE EZRA. Whether the book was written in Palestine or in Persia is uncertain, but probability inclines to the latter supposition.
VI. Commentaries. — The following are separate exegetical works on the canonical potion of the book of Esther, in addition to the formal Introductions to that portion of Scripture, and exclusive of the purely rabbinical treatises on the Jewish usages referred to in the book; the most important have an asterisk (*) prefixed: Raban Maurus, Commentarii (in Opp.); Arama, פֵּרוּשׁ (Constantinople, 1518, 4to); Bafiolas, פֵּרוּשׁ (Riva di Trento, 1560, 4to); Strigel, Scholia (Lips. 1571, 1572, 8vo); Brentius, C(ommentarii (Tubing. 1575, 4to; in Engl. by Stockwood, Lond. 1584, 8vo); Askenz, יוֹסַŠ לֶקִח (Cremona, 1576, 4to, etc.); Feuardent, Commentaria (Par. 1585, 8vo, etc.); Melammed, מִאֲמִר מָרדּכִי (Constantpl. 1585, 4to); *Drusius, Annotationes (Leyd. 1586, 8vo); *Senarius, Commentarii (Mogunt.1590, fol., etc.); Zahalon, יִִֵשׁ ָאלֵהַים (Ven. 1594, 4to); Alsheich, מִשׂאִת משֶׁה (Ven. 1601, 4to); Cooper, Notes (London, 1609, 4to); D'Aquine, Raschii Scholia (Par. 1622, 4to); Wolder, Dispositiones (Dantz. 1625, 4to); *Sanctius, Commentarii (Leyd. 1628, fol.); Conzio, Commento (Chieri. 1628, 4to); Duran, סֵפֶר מגַלִּת (Ven. 1632, 4to); Crommius, Theses (Lovan. 1632, 4to); Merkel, מַירָא דָכיָא(Lublin, 1637, 4to); *Bonart, Commentarius (Colossians Agr. 1647, fol.); Montanus, Commentarius (Madr. 1648,. fol.); Trapp, Commentary (London, 1656, fol.); De Celada, Commentarii (Lugd. 1658, fol.); Jackson, Explanation (London, 1658, 4to); Barnes, Paraphrasis poetica (Lond. 1679, 8vo); Adam, Observationes (Groningen, 1710, 4to); Rambach, Notce (in his Adnot. V.T. 2:1043); Heumann, Estherae auctoritas (Gotting. 1736, 4to); Meir, מַשׁתֵּה יִיַן (Fürth, 1737, 8vo); Nestorides, Annotazioni (Ven. 1746, 4to); Aucher. De auctoritate Estherae (Havn. 1772, 4to); Crusins, Nktzl. Gebrauch der B. Esther (from the Latin, Lpz. 1773, 4to); *Vos, Oratio (Ultr. 1775, 4to); Zinck, Commentarius (Augsb. 1780, 4to); De Rossi, Var. Lect. (Rome, 1782, 8vo); Pereles, גֻּלּת הִכֹּתֶרֶת (Prague, 1784, 4to); Tolfssohn, אֶסתֵּר (Benl. 1788, 87vo); Lamson, Discourses (Edinb. 1804, 12mo); Lowe, אוֹר הָרָשׁ (Nouydwor, 1804, 4to); *Schirmer, Observationes (Vratislav. 1820, 8vo); *Kele, Vindiciae
(Freib. 1820, 4to); *Calmberg, Commentarius (Hamb. 1837, 4to) *M'Crie Lectures (Works, 1838, 8vo); *Baumgarten, De fide Esthere (Hal. 1839, 8vo); Morgan, Esther typical (London, 1855, 8vo); Crosthwaite, Lectures (London, 1858, 12mo); Davidson, Lectures (Edinb. 1859, 8vo); *Bertheau (in the Kurzgef. exeg. fandb. Lpz. 1862, 8vo); Oppert, Commentaire d'apris les inscriptions Perses (Par. 1864, 8vo). SEE OLD TESTAMENT.