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by Johann Peter Lange
THEOLOGICALLY AND HOMILETICALLY EXPOUNDED,
FR. W. SCHULTZ,
PROFESSOR IN ORDINARY OF THEOLOGY AT BRESLAU, PRUSSIA
TRANSLATED, ENLARGED, AND EDITED
JAMES STRONG, S.T.D.,
professor of exegetical theology in drew theological seminary, madison, n. j.
THE BOOK OF ESTHER
§ 1. Contents And Composition
This book, which in the subscription of many of the old manuscripts of Alexandria (as subjoined to Esther 9:26) is designated as ἡ ἐπιστολὴ τῶν Φουρίμ, and briefly as אֶסְתֵּר, ’Εσθήρ or as מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר, and by the rabbins is called simply מְגִלָּה [the roll], stands peculiar in more than one respect in the Old Testament canon. Compared with the historical books of the Canon, it towers far above them, if we examine its composition—which may be said to be nearly perfect—while it falls behind them, if viewed as to the spirit of its statement. First, then, let us consider its composition. The history which it portrays, appears like a well-planned drama; developing scene after scene in rapid succession, and progressing by fascinating movements, to a consummation which we may compare to the tying of a knot. But when the ἀκμή is reached, the solution is also near at hand. There ensues a highly successful and impressive péripétie, a sudden turn of fortune, and all difficulties, though seemingly impossible, that stand in the way of a desirable conclusion, are continually and completely overcome as chapter succeeds chapter. The first chapter gives us the introduction to the whole, and the last gives us a supplement. Of the eight main chapters, the first four are devoted to the tying, and the last four to the untying of the knot. Two out of these eight regularly belong together in the first part, because of the relation of the plot to the counterplot; in the second part, because they refer to the removal of an identical difficulty.
Ahasuerus (Achashverosh), the powerful king of Persia, who has dominion from India to Æthiopia, i.e., over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, in the third year of his reign prepares a feast for the magnates of his kingdom, which lasts a half year. In this feast he exhibits to his subjects—and thus to the readers of the book likewise—the wealth and magnificence of his kingdom. The reader might readily anticipate the significance of the enmity or friendship of such a ruler with respect to the Jews and the honor accruing to Esther when he selects her as his consort. Neither are we likely to lose sight of the distinction that Mordecai receives by being made his all-powerful representative. When finally the king would parade the beauty of his wife Vashti (Vashthi), she declines to appear before him and his guests, and the consequence is that, by the advice of his seven counsellors he repudiates her. This is the substance of the first chapter; the real point of issue of the history is developed out of the second chapter. Ahasuerus prefers the Jewess Esther, who is to be a substitute for Vashti, before all other virgins. He solemnly elevates her to Vashti’s position; at the same time Mordecai, her uncle, from whom her elevation removed her, remains near the court. She does not reveal her Jewish origin, and Mordecai makes the king his debtor by discovering a conspiracy against the life of Ahasuerus. One would think that now better days would dawn upon the Jews in all the lands of Persia (Esther 2:0). The first elevation is followed by a second. Haman, who on account of his name and descent might be called a declared heathen and enemy to Judaism, is by Ahasuerus made his prime minister. Irritated by Mordecai’s disrespectful attitude, he procures a decree which, so far as human foresight can predict, must inevitably result in the complete termination of the Jewish name. Haman loses no time in promulgating this decree in all the provinces (Esther 3:0). In the fourth chapter we find in consequence that, in the entire Persian domain all who are called Jews are in deep distress, covered with sackcloth and ashes. Conspicuous among them is Mordecai in a mourning suit, standing with loud lamentation at some distance from the king’s portal, so as to draw the attention of the female servants and eunuchs of queen Esther. By great exertions he finally succeeds in obtaining her promise that she will dare the utmost for the salvation of her people; and she is even ready to perish in the attempt. She induces him, together with all the Jews in Susa (the palace) to join her and her maids in preparation for the decisive event by a strict fast of three days’ duration (Esther 4:0). But she is graciously received by her consort, whom she approaches without previous permission; yet she deems it expedient to first invite the king to dine with her once or twice, and this in company with Haman, who is thus even by her highly honored and distinguished. Here although the reader begins to anticipate, that just this distinction will become, in the artfulness of fortune, the beginning of his end, nevertheless Haman himself does not yet perceive it, but puffs himself up, as those often do who are delivered over to the divine judgment, against his mortal enemy Mordecai. Just as he departs from the first of Esther’s banquets, in order to go to his home, and by this manifest distinction having become of greater self-importance, and especially having already received a second invitation, it happens that he finds Mordecai again sitting in the gate of the king’s palace and still refusing to give him the required homage. After he has taken counsel with his wife and friends, and finds that the only drawback to his great fortune is this disrespect of the hated Jew, he resolves, in order that he may enjoy the happiness and honor of the next banquet without alloy, to remove this proud Mordecai out of his way the very next morning. He causes a gallows fifty cubits high to be constructed, on which, in order that the punishment might be the more terrifying and disgraceful, he would have Mordecai hung. In short, while the Jews themselves are prostrated in mourning, fearing the very worst, nor yet hoping a more fortunate turn of affairs to be brought about by the intercession of Esther, their mortal enemy, purposely and in consequence of Esther’s intercession carries his head especially high, thinking that his highest triumph is now near at hand, (Esther 5:0). But in the succeeding night sleep flees the pillow of the king. In consequence he calls his scribe to read to him from the annals of the kingdom. In these is recorded how Mordecai disclosed the conspiracy against him, thereby saving his life, and precisely this passage is read to him. This occasions the question, how Mordecai had been rewarded for having made himself so greatly deserving of his favor; or rather, since hitherto he had not been rewarded, how or what reward should now be given him? Hence, just as Haman enters in the early morning, with the design of obtaining permission for the execution of Mordecai, he has this question put to him, and an immediate answer is required. As the question is quite general and indefinite, namely, what should be done to a man whom the king would delight to honor; and as no doubt arises in the mind of the self-conceited Haman that his own preference is spoken of, it so happens as the point of culmination of this effective development that, in the same moment in which he expects to annihilate his mortal enemy, he both pronounces his own doom and elevates his enemy to the highest honor. The king forthwith instructs him to carry out his own sentence (Esther 6:0). But upon this first blow, which of course naturally falls heavily upon him, and which even to his wife and friends presages his downfall, there follows in the seventh chapter the second. In the second banquet he is boldly confronted by Esther, and Ahasuerus, extremely incensed against him, has him hung on the same gallows which was erected for Mordecai. Thus in chapters 6 and 7 the originator of the danger that threatened the Jews is removed. Now the question remains, whether and how the special regal decree, which ordered the destruction of the Jews, can be made ineffective, in spite of the irrevocableness which it has as the king’s decree. Chapter 8 relates how little Mordecai and Esther are content with that which they had gained in Haman’s downfall, and how Esther now entreats the king for her people, and how Mordecai, to whom the king assigns the matter, adopts counter measures, by which the Jews are restored to their rights and protected. Mordecai gave them permission to assemble and defend themselves in the day in which they were to be attacked. Chapter 9 adds how fortunate the Jews were in consequence, as they averted the calamity from themselves and threw it upon their enemies. Indeed they succeeded so well that the day in which they apprehended their destruction, became a day of rejoicing; and Mordecai, as well as Esther, by means of letters and ordinances established this day to be celebrated annually as a day of joy, solemn reflection and memorial. With a view to indicating not only their deliverance, but likewise the elevation and honor, which both Mordecai and Judaism experienced, chapter 10 is added as a supplement. There also it is stated how powerful was the sway of Ahasuerus over land and sea, and how Mordecai, still promoting the welfare of his people, was the second in the kingdom. If we briefly condense the whole matter, we have the following summary:—
Part First. The origin and increase of danger to the Jews (Esther 1-5).
Introduction. The occasion of the history. The State-banquet of Ahasuerus and the rejection of his spouse Vashti (Esther 1:0).
First Section. The rise and meeting of the contrasts (Esther 2:3).
Esther takes the place of Vashti, and Mordecai deserves well of Ahasuerus (Esther 2:0).
Haman attains to consequence and power, and irritated by Mordecai, resolves and decrees the destruction of the Jews (Esther 3:0).
Second Section. The conflict between the contrasts, (Esther 4:5).
Mordecai, deeply mourning for his people, urges upon Esther to beseech the king for mercy, and obtains her consent (Esther 4:0).
Esther is graciously received by the king. Haman, highly honored by the queen, resolves to have Mordecai hung (Esther 5:0).
Part Second. The removal of the danger (Esther 6-10).
First Section. Haman’s downfall (Esther 6:7).
Haman, while expecting the highest distinction for himself, is deeply humiliated, in the very act of seeking the destruction of Mordecai, his mortal enemy, by being obliged by his own judgment to concede, and even with his own hand to impart to him the greatest distinction (Esther 6:0).
Accused by Esther, he is hung on the same tree which he had erected for Mordecai (Esther 7:0).
Second Section. The removal of the danger which threatened the Jews in consequence of the decree of annihilation issued against them (Esther 8:9).
Esther and Mordecai obtain permission for their people to defend themselves, (Esther 8:0).
The Jews rid themselves of their enemies and resolve, by the advice of Mordecai and Esther, annually to celebrate the day of their deliverance, as the feast of Purim (Esther 9:0).
Addenda. Authority, consequence and power of Mordecai the Jew in the powerful Persian world-monarchy (Esther 10:0).
§ 2. Aim And Historical Character Of The Book
Could authentic evidence be brought to show that there was a custom, in order to enhance the attractiveness of the annual celebrations, of publicly reading a festival-book (such as in the last Mazzoth day, Solomon’s Song; on the second of the Feast of Weeks, the book of Ruth; on the 9th of Ab, as being the day of the destruction of Jerusalem, the Lamentations of Jeremiah; on the third day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Ecclesiastes), and could this be traced back to the time of the authorship of our book, then we should be apt to suppose that the book of Esther was written for the express purpose which it afterward served, viz. as the festival-book (the Megillah or volume) of the feast of Purim.
It is manifestly the intention of the author to exhibit the reason for the feast of Purim, i.e. to narrate the remarkable events to which that feast had reference. He is so engrossed with this festival of Purim, that he declares to us in the ninth chapter how it came that not only the 14th, but even the 15th, of Adar was celebrated as a festival; and in vers. 24 sqq., he again briefly condenses the chief facts of the history, in order to give them in a definite and comprehensive manner as the ground of the feast; and finally he makes the name Purim conspicuous as having special reference to these events. Of course, the occasion of the feast receives from him particular attention, because it is of such moment to the history as well as faith of the Jews, and in order to show that there is in the government of the world a justice which protects Judaism and preserves it amid the greatest dangers.
It is a manifest design of the book to promote a revival of the Jewish faith, for the strengthening of which this feast of Purim was designed, and to demonstrate that the heathen enemies fall themselves into the pit which they dug for Judaism, and that the Jewish people have an easy rise to the surface though they may have fallen for a time into abjectness and dependence.
Now the question arises, whether, in order to attain this object, the author has treated his theme historically or poetico-didactically; and if the latter be true, whether he has employed a free poetic style or merely given to historic facts a poetic adornment. The historic treatment has tradition on its side. This view obtains not only with the Rabbins, but universally in the Christian Church also. In its defence even Clericus (in his Dissert. de scriptoribus librorum hist., § 10) says: “It is a truly wonderful and paradoxical history (who will deny it?); but many wonderful things and foreign to our customs formerly obtained among orientals as also among many other peoples.” The first attacks upon its credibility were made by Semler (Apparatus ad liberaliorem V. Test. interpret., p. 152 sq.), by Oeder (Untersuchungen über einige Bücher des Alten Testaments, p. 12 sqq.), and Corrodi (Beleuchtung des jüdischen und christlichen Bibel-Kanons I., p. 64), and later by Bertholdt (Einl. V., p. 24 sq), De Wette, Gramberg (Gesch. der Religionsideen I., p. 317), Vatke (Bibl. Theol. I., p. 580), and also by Bleek (Einl. zum Alten Testament); but they were aimed against details, which are not definite; and they do not therefore much militate against a correct understanding of the plan and method of our book. Historical investigation, however, cannot reject such doubts because they seem to contradict the received opinions respecting the canon. The latter may possibly be corrected. Even conservative theology has been compelled to make the concession that the book of Job, indeed even its introduction and conclusion, although having the form of a historical statement, are nevertheless to be received as poetical works, and that the declarations of Solomon in Koheleth have a poetical garb. It has been conceded that the book of Jonah has not so much value as a historical book, but rather as a book of doctrine, since otherwise it would not stand in the same category with the prophetical books.1
We must, therefore, not pass too hastily the question, whether in the later periods of canonical literature there had not a new branch of literary activity developed itself, which might be termed, in some sense at least, as that of religious romance. In the Greek-Alexandrian period as is shown by our Apocrypha, this was very rife. It might also occasion the thought, that in all public readings on festival days, only those writings were selected to be read which belonged fully to poetry, such as Canticles and Lamentations, or which at least in a certain sense pass over into poetry, as the books of Ruth and Ecclesiastes.
One circumstance especially and primarily caused doubts as to the strictly historical character of this book, namely, that, in the real turning-point of the whole story, as if in order to raise the interest of the reader to a high pitch, and also to make a satisfactory conclusion as regards Mordecai and the Jews, the timely and fitting nature of many of the incidents seems to translate the reader involuntarily from the world of reality to that of ideality. Haman must take revenge upon Mordecai in the very moment of his anger, and cause the gallows upon which he himself should be hung in the morning to be erected over night. But in this very night, when Mordecai has so much at stake, the king is made to have a disturbed sleep, and thereupon cause the state documents (chronicles) to be read to him, by the means of which he is reminded of the desert of Mordecai. The question of the king, which is quite indefinite, is accordingly misunderstood by Haman, and thus misleads him, so that he applies it to himself, and in consequence of this self-deception, awards to his mortal enemy the highest distinction, and that too in the very moment when he is intent on his destruction In order to explain such facts one must have recurrence to the special divine Providence, which rules over Mordecai and over the Jewish nation in general.
However intent God may be in a plan where the salvation or protection of His own people depends upon it; and though at times He may bring about occurrences in their favor, which are so wonderful as to make His special interference manifest to the believer, nevertheless the facts are not usually so artistically arranged by Him, as appears here. Besides, it is remarkable that Mordecai should not ere this have received some suitable reward for his meritorious act; so likewise that Esther did not at the first feast bring her particular request before the king. It would really seem as if Esther had been enjoined to wait, at least until Haman should gain time to determine the execution of Mordecai. Above all, semblance is given to the thought that Mordecai’s reward is purposely postponed, in order that it might be accorded to him in the supreme and decisive moment of the whole proceeding.
But if we were to acknowledge the influence of a transformative and embellishing imagery in this chief stage of the drama, this would still be negatived by its non-appearance in other places, where it would have come within the didactic purpose of the author, and where by a change in form of the transmitted material the intended impression could have been more securely brought about.
Possibly it may be assumed that Esther did not—at least permanently—occupy the position of first (chief) wife, but held only a subordinate one, as a preferred concubine before several others in Vashti’s stead. Indeed, our book hints at such a fact; since even after Esther’s elevation, there is mention in Esther 2:19 of another collection of virgins, which appears to have had the same significance as the first one. It is well known that the profane writers are not only silent in reference to Esther, but they also relate several things as regards the chief wife of Xerxes, which have no application to Esther. They call the former Amestris, and say in reference to her, not only that she was a daughter of Otanes (Herod. VII. 64), or of Onofas (Ctesias, §20), but also that Xerxes was married to her even previous to the expedition to Greece (Herod. IX. 109). Further on it states that he married off Darius his oldest son by her, in the year 479, or immediately after the march to Greece (Herod. IX. 108), while Esther, as we shall presently see, was raised to be queen after the Grecian expedition. To this may be added that, according to Herodotus III. 108, the real queens were selected only from the seven chief Persian families. Moreover, according to the Zend-Avesta (comp. Kleuker, Anhang., I. 78), marriage proper with women of any other tribe was, to the Persians, strictly forbidden.
Perhaps it may further be stated, indeed one might safely affirm that, Haman was not really an Agagite, i.e., a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag, but that this designation was only given in a symbolical way. Hence, according to his whole manner, as is affirmed by the Targums prius et posterius, he would as the arch-enemy of Israel, hold a relation to Edom intrinsically identical, but varied in its outward expression, by being opposed to Mordecai, who had sprung from the family of Saul. Thus the name Haman, as well as that of his father (comp. on Esther 3:1), might be of significance in this relation.
The remark, that Shushan, the city (not usually the Jews resident there, but the city itself), fell into consternation and alarm at the announcement of the first regal decree, which commanded the destruction of the Jews (comp. Esther 3:15) may perhaps be somewhat exaggerated. So likewise at the publication of the second decree, in which the Jews were permitted to defend themselves, the assertion that the city rejoiced exceedingly (comp. Esther 8:15) is not to be accepted as strictly true. This remark, perhaps, has its ground in the intention of the author, to bring into prominence the cruelty of the first decree, and the justice of the second, as also the greatness both of the threatened misfortune and of the following good fortune. Finally, the statement given in Esther 9:0 that, on that decisive day seventy-five thousand persons perished at the hands of the Jews, doubtless does not rest upon an actual count; but it is rather the design of the author to represent the victory of the Jews as grand and extensive. Of course in all these points we are necessitated to content ourselves with a bare “possibility,” or even “probability.” Yet we must not forget that a judgment may in such things be rendered merely from subjective and individual point of view, and that we lack objective criteria. Finally, the conditions and circumstances of the case are to be regarded, of which we now have not sufficient knowledge.
The anti-traditional view, as held by Semler, Oeder, Corrodi, and among later critics Hitzig (Gesch. Isr. I. p. 280), and Zunz (Zeitschrift d. D. M. G. XXVII. 4, p. 684), which is that the history of our book is in several places not only poetically adorned, but really invented as a whole, in order to represent naturally a truth that seems to require statement in a historical form—is a view which would incline us to accept the theory of an apologetical tendency in reference to our book, could we thus be enabled to look upon it as actual, if not in all respects, yet at least in the cardinal points, especially as regards the persons treated of, in their manner, their destiny, or even in their names, intentions, and thoughts. Under that view Esther, who had grown great in lowly circumstances, herself poor but amiable, might represent the later Jewish nation growing up in exile, and not distinguished from other peoples by its external greatness, but rather by its internal importance and effectiveness. Esther’s name is really Hadassah, or “Myrtle.” In Zechariah 1:8 the post-exilian nation is compared to the myrtles on the shore of the roaring sea, a symbol of the moving masses of humanity. Her assumed name Esther (aster, “a star”), on the other hand, might point to the reflection of light, which flows from the fulness of salvation as from the Lord, notwithstanding the tribulation inflicted upon her nation. Or she might have simply pointed to the hope which the older generation, in the midst of the night of the tribulation of their exile, placed in the younger. This nation stands under the lead and care of the old and serious Mordecai, who perhaps derived his name from the Chaldee god Merodach. But even he desires to conduct himself according to the Jewish laws in the midst of Chaldæa and Persia, though it be at the risk of his life, defying the power of the heathen potentate. Thus as an exile, carried to Chaldæa, he might represent a type of the old generation, which, as it were, had fallen a prey to Merodach, and yet, even in this heathen land, maintained a strong repugnance against heathen morals and laws, and opposed them with an unbending inflexibility. Esther’s father, Abihail, i. q., “the man of power and skill,” had long since departed. Thus the fathers, to whose freedom and dignity the younger or rising generation would gladly have aspired, was gone. But the real fathers still remained, to whose covenant rights and inheritance a claim might still be laid. Or, if we would be guided by certain analogies in the book of Daniel, we might regard Esther as the image of a guardian angel, who, where the destinies of nations are decided, makes intercession for Israel (comp. Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20). Mordecai would then certainly represent the Jews who, above all others, are loyal and trustworthy; and he accordingly shows his loyalty to Ahasuerus, by opposing the scheme to take away the life of that ruler. Haman, on the other hand, i. q., “the one sacrificing to Somao,” the son of Hamadatha, as “belonging to the moon,” i.e., the chief heathen deity, the Agagite and the Amalekite, would be a type of the principal heathen potentates who hate and seek to destroy the people of God. Vashti’s rejection and Esther’s acceptance in preference to many others, rather would signify that Israel has long been preferred before other peoples, though this has as yet been a secret to the world. But that Haman comes to power and forthwith designs the destruction of the Jews, would indicate that in spite of the election of Israel the world is still the principal enemy to the kingdom of God. Indeed, this, which might be called, as in the N. T., the anti-Christian world, has dominion over the people of the covenant, as is strikingly evinced in the Jewish exile in contrast with the theocracy. What is stated of Ahasuerus, as being the Lord of the then known world, would remind us of the mode in which Providence seems to govern the world, leaving full liberty to the rulers inimical to God. This ruler is found to be indifferent to the distress of the oppressed and threatened people (comp. Esther 3:15), indeed he is bound by an irrevocable edict of persecution against the people of God. The troubles of this exile had been inflicted by divine justice and now the question remained how grace could have scope again (comp. Isaiah 49:24). But grace ever active, makes itself known, and remembers those who are recorded in the great book of life as God’s faithful ones. The fall of Haman would then picture forth the removal of Anti-Christ. The destruction of the remaining enemies would shadow forth the overthrow of those who are not actively hostile, but simply not receptive of the kingdom of God. Both would foreshadow the judgment of God in its negative aspect. The conversion of many in Persia (Esther 8:17) would indicate the conversion of heathen people as the positive side of the divine judgment upon the world. In short the whole would be an allegory, which would teach those who in later times are oppressed, that a higher Power is fighting for Israel; that its bitterest enemies are, by reason of their hostile machinations, the cause of their own destruction; that the faithful ones will yet get the victory, in spite of all their tribulations. This would be a vivid representation of what would come to pass after the sufferings of the exile, by way of contrast, and especially the judgment to be brought about by the coming of the Messiah, and even that which shall yet come at the end of time. Hence many things, which according to the letter of our history, seem low and worldly, indeed repulsive, would, if viewed in this aspect, contain a high religious truth, and our book would be regarded with far greater favor than has hitherto been given it. Every one feels that Esther, Mordecai and Haman have in fact a higher and more general signification. There are, however, many positive traits, which cannot be explained by this allegorical theory. Especially noteworthy is the circumstance that our book at its close (Esther 9:16), in relating the inauguration of the Feast of Purim, explicitly claims to give real facts. The occurrences which lie at the basis of the story have been apprehended by the author much more clearly than he could have done the future history of the Jews, and yet in such a light as to make them the mirror of grander developments thereafter. The chief persons, of whom he speaks, have as it were gained representative positions, so that at their mention we think also of other persons. But these are not mere pictures, and the material employed is not to be regarded as poetically invented, but as historically given.
Should we even regard the substantial part of the history of Esther as unhistorical, still the question would necessarily arise, how to account for the history of the Feast of Purim. According to 1Ma 7:40 sqq. Judas Maccabæus defeated the Syrian general Nicanor on the 13th Adar, a day before the Feast of Purim, near a place called Adasa, which might possibly be interpreted as Hadassah, “the myrtle.” As a memorial of this victory the 13th of the month Adar was to be celebrated annually as a national holiday. The fact that on this occasion the Feast of Purim was not mentioned, has been taken as a proof by J. D. Michaelis, that the author of the 1 Maccabees had no knowledge as yet of the Feast of Purim. One might even go farther and assume that the Feast of Purim took its rise from the day of the defeat of Nicanor. The author of the apocryphal additions of our book designates Haman as a Macedonian (comp. § 4), in which case a relation to Nicanor might be established. Certain it is that the day of Nicanor’s defeat gradually went over into that of the Feast of Purim.
Although the former is still mentioned in the Mishnic tract Taanith (Esther 12), also in the Babyl. Talmud (Tannit, seq. 18 b), and in Massachet Sophrim (17:4), yet, according to Grimm (on 1Ma 7:49), it has not been celebrated as a memorial of Nicanor for at least one thousand years back. For the so-called Feast of Little Purim has nothing at all to do with it; but the latter is merely the usual Feast of Purim, occurring on the 14th and 15th days of the 12th month in a leap year, when the Feast of Great Purim falls on the same days of the 13th month. Still there was required more time for such a metamorphosis, by which a Nicanor was transformed into a Haman, than is thus allowed. Even the author of 2 Macc, according to 2Ma 15:36, recognizes Purim as the Μαρδοχαικὴ ἡμέρα, and he then distinguishes the Feast of Nicanor as quite another. In agreement with him Josephus, in his Ant. xi. 6, 13, also affirms that Purim was celebrated by the Jews of the whole world as a remembrance of the occurrences detailed in our book. Indeed he himself is fully convinced that it was so celebrated since the time of Persia. Haman and Nicanor are entirely different persons, and the deliverances which, the Jews enjoyed with respect to them are too different in nature to favor the idea of a transformation of the one into the other.
Hitzig (Gesch. Israels I., p. 280) supposes that Purim had been originally the New Year’s Feast of the Persians. They began their year in the Spring, when Purim was celebrated; and in Arabic the New Year is still called Pur. Hence he also takes into account the Persian Purdeghan (Leap-year), to which Hammer had already referred as being a foundation for the Jewish festival. Zunz also (l. c.) thinks that the Jews had appropriated to themselves the Persian Spring-festival which corresponds to the German Christmas festivities. The authorities, not able to abolish this feast, or perhaps unwilling to do so, took care to legitimize it as a day of rejoicing, and hence gave it a Jewish origin and import. Hitzig also assumes further that a fact of the Parthian period first gave the significance of Purim as being that of lot (“loose”); the Parthians of Scythian origin probably had such words as Pur, lot (loose), and Agha whence Haman probably derived his epithet of Agagite (Esther 3:1); for even they also without a doubt had a Kislar-Agha (comp. Esther 2:3). But that the custom of celebrating a day of rejoicing in the month of Adar had not only crept in here and there from heathen surroundings, but that it should also have attained to recognition by these who were strict in their national observances, and even with the authorities themselves, is not to be conceived of as possible under the then existing circumstances, unless it took its rise in a historical occasion adequate to account for its adoption into Judaism. Hence the necessity of recognizing the fact which our book relates, as the real foundation, in any case. To suppose that the festival could everywhere have gained currency independently of this basis, would be to confound those ancient times, in which an inflexible opposition to Judaism was predominant, with our modern age, in which this has to a great degree ceased. Besides, the festival of Purdeghan has but little resemblance to that of Purim. The former lasted ten days. The first five were devoted to the memory of the dead, and hence were a season of mourning (comp. Herzfeld, Gesch. Israels, II. 1, p. 183). If Hitzig finds it improbable that the feast of Purim took its name from the casting of lots over Haman, on the ground that the latter retreats out of sight in the history, on the other hand we should consider that the lot of Haman was the voice of God. The day selected for the casting of the lot, if it had brought the destruction of the Jews, would have been the day of the victory of heathen gods over the God of Israel. But since that event did not occur, it became a day of the refutation of the heathen deities, i.e., of the victory and triumph both of Judaism and the Jewish law and God over them.
That such a history is basal to the Feast of Purim, as our book relates it, will always remain by far the most probable view, and hence is maintained in more modern times by such men as Baumgarten (De fide libri Estherœ, 1839), after Haevernick; also by Keil and J. A. Nickes (De Estherœ libro el ad eum quœ pertinent vaticiniis et Psalmis libri tres, Romæ, 1856). These defend the historical character of our book in its strictness, and are reinforced by Staehelin (Spec. Einl. in d. Kan. Büchern. d. A. T.), Bertheau, and especially by Ewald (Gesch. Israels, IV, p. 296), who hold our book to be substantially historical.
Several things, which in our present condition seem to us very improbable, could perhaps be easily explained by reference to the peculiar circumstances, customs and usages of the ancient Persian empire, especially from the characteristic traits of Ahasuerus (Xerxes). We do not propose to enter upon this subject, so much for the purpose of directly corroborating the historical character of the book as in order to show that the attacks made against it are very doubtful. If De Wette thinks he finds a marked weakness in the narrative in the circumstance that Esther is represented as keeping secret her Jewish descent, not only at Esther 2:20, where she is chosen queen by the king, but up to the very time of the catastrophe, and that even Haman does not suspect her relation to Mordecai, while the king himself is surprised at her request to be saved (comp. 7:5); on the other hand we may consider that a great king, such as Xerxes, doubtless was too highly elevated to concern himself about the personal circumstances of his female favorites, and that Haman, in his official relation, had nothing to do with the harem of the king.
But the main fact that Ahasuerus at Haman’s request resolved to issue an edict which ordered the destruction of all the Jews in the entire Persian empire, is not without analogy. Mithridates, king of Pontus, in his war against Rome, issued secret orders to all the satraps and chief local authorities of his kingdom, to murder on a certain day all Romans without distinction of sex or age, whereby eighty thousand, or as some estimate, one hundred and fifty thousand persons lost their lives. Mehmed, a pasha of Zaid, in the sixteenth century, surprised the entire nation of the Druses, and caused all that were met with to be killed (Arvieux, Merkw. Nadir., I., p. 391). A similar thing occurred also in Europe. At the time of “the Sicilian vespers” there fell eight thousand Frenchmen in Catanea alone. Ferdinand the Catholic drove out of Spain over three hundred thousand Jews, and Louis 14 drove out of France several hundred thousands of Protestants, after causing thousands more to be murdered (comp. Rosenmueller, Bibl. Alterth., I., p. 379). The Parisian massacre of St. Bartholomew’s night is another specially analogous case. Keil very justly makes prominent the point in reference to these facts, that Greek and Roman authors are unanimous in their portrait of Xerxes, and paint him as a very riotous, licentious monarch, and an extremely cruel tyrant. The commentator last cited goes on to say: “Xerxes was the despot who, after the wealthy Lydian Pythius had most richly entertained the Persian army in its march against Greece, and offered an immense sum of money as a contribution to the costs of the war, on his making a petition to have the oldest of his five sons then in the army given to him as a solace for his old age, became so enraged that he caused the son asked for to be cut in pieces, and laid the pieces on both sides of the way, and ordered his army to march through between them (Herod. VII. 37–39; Seneca, De ira VII. 17); the tyrant, who caused the heads of those to be cut off who built the pontoon bridge over the Hellespont, because a storm had destroyed the bridge, and who ordered the sea to be lashed with whips and bound with chains sunk under the waves (Herod. VII. 35); the debauchee, who after his return from Greece, sought to drown the vexation of his shameful defeat by means of sensuality and revelry (Herod. IX. 108, 599). Such a frantic tyrant was he as to be capable of all that is related in our book of Ahasuerus.” Spiegel, in his Eranischen Alterthumskunde (II, p. 402), gives a very mild judgment concerning Xerxes, yet even he says: “There is no question that he fell far behind his predecessors in regard to energy and other capabilities; he seems to have been of a sanguine nature;” and the same writer also proves the great thoughtlessness of that king, especially in his relations to his uncle Artabanus (Herod. VII. 10, 11, 48, 49), and in regard to Demaratus (Herod. VII. 101–104).
Haman’s publishing of the decree of extermination eleven months previous to the day appointed for the butchery was perhaps less foolish than it would appear to us in our circumstances. Besides it is very questionable whether so short a time as a month would have been sufficient to carry the edict to the remotest parts of the empire, as Bertheau seems to suppose. Mordecai, who issued the counter-edict three months later, urged (as is expressly stated in Esther 8:10-14) the greatest speed. This was done not only to remove the terror of the Jews as soon as possible, but also to prevent any acts of oppression. To us of to-day it would indeed appear as if Haman would have made the destruction of the Jews only the more difficult, if not impossible, by what might seem to us an untimely and hasty publication of his decree. But to a Persian despot his subjects were never out of reach. The Jews might here and there have made an attempt at flight. But this might not have been very unwelcome to Haman, since the goods of the fugitives could have easily been confiscated. To Haman it was a matter of great importance to cause the decree of the king to become very early a fixed irrevocable law; and this doubtless would be attained most certainly by its publication. Besides, it was a gratification to himself to torment those detested Jews long before the blow was to be struck, and especially to let them see that their enemies were deliberate and easy in their preparation for the final blow.
The success of the orders issued by Mordecai, which appears from the statement that, in the various parts of the Persian dominion 75,000 persons perished in their attack on the Jews, will seem less doubtful than it might at first, if we consider the great extent of Persia, reaching from India to Æthiopia. The aggressors might very easily have overestimated the sympathy which they received from their own people and religious associates; and the power of resistance on the part of the Jews might easily have been underestimated. Hence it is not to be wondered at if the former were badly vanquished and perished. The number seventy-five thousand can, of course, be only assumed as an approximation, and the intention of the author may have been influenced to its acceptance by reason of the facts above stated.
The circumstance that Ahasuerus granted a new edict at the request of Esther, in which the Jews resident in Shushan were permitted to continue the massacre on the following day also, even when no new attack was attempted upon them, might be explained by the assumption that, in such a large city there was a great rabble element which had fallen upon the Jews the first day, and which would recommence the conflict after they had come forth from their temporary hiding-places. To such as had begun the conflict, and regarding whom the Jews were on the defensive, this second decree had equal reference. It only permitted them to fulfil what the first edict ordered, (Esther 9:13).
A favorable opinion is created with regard to the historical veracity of the author, in that he correctly knows and vividly describes the customs and arrangement at the Persian court, in so far as they have interest for him; and that he calls by name those persons who enter into the history portrayed by him, such as courtiers (chapter 1:10), the seven Persian princes (Esther 1:14), the keepers of the women’s houses (seraglios) (Esther 2:8; Esther 2:14), the chamberlain whom Esther sent out to Mordecai (Esther 4:5), the wife and ten sons of Haman (chapters 4:13; 9:7–9). Further, he makes reference to the annual records of the Medo-Persians, as to the source in which were described, not only the deeds of Ahasuerus, but also Mordecai’s greatness and power (Esther 10:2). Of course, a poet should correctly represent the manners and conditions which he would portray; and our author might very properly have been in possession of sufficient learning, or he may have written in a time and place where one could easily and almost intuitively learn about Persian matters. On this account we would naturally expect the absence of vulgar mistakes. Still it was not the habit with the Jewish authors of the last centuries B. C. to distinguish themselves by correct historical knowledge, or by an accurate apprehension of those far-off times. The contrary was of such common occurrence and fault that our book, in this regard, is entitled to the more distinction. It has been asserted that the office of Grand Vizier, such as was held by Haman, and afterwards by Mordecai, was not properly Persian. But Enger (Zeitschr. d. D. M. 1859, p. 239 ff.) has conclusively shown that the office of vizier really originated and had its development in Persia. To resign the proper functions of government to a favorite, must have been a chief concern to a weakling like Xerxes, who lived only for sensual pleasures. Thus also the Merovingians had their major domus who finally usurped the government and power of the kingdom.
It is especially remarkable that the events related in the narrative can, according to their historical dates, which the author gives, be very appropriately inserted in the rest of the history of Xerxes as given by Greek historians. This is of the greater importance, since the author does not at all refer to previous history. It was in the third year of his reign that Ahasuerus gave the great feast in Shushan, which lasted one hundred and eighty days (one half of a Persian year). According to Herod. vii. 8, Xerxes proclaimed an edict in the third year of his reign, after the termination of his war against Egypt; and in that edict he convoked all the princes of his empire to Shushan, in order to plan the campaign against Greece. Such deliberations were generally accompanied with festivities by the Persian kings (comp. Winer, Realwörterbuch, II., p. 229, and Baumgarten, I., p. 139). Vashti’s rejection, there fore, occurred in the third year of Ahasuerus, and soon afterwards the choice of a new queen was made. Yet Esther, according to Esther 2:16, was chosen near the close of the seventh year; and, according to Esther 2:19, another assembly of virgins was ordered, from which a further selection was to be made to take the place of Vashti. This remarkable postponement may be explained by the fact that between Ahasuerus’ third year and his seventh the time of preparation and the war against Greece intervened. Xerxes returned to Persia in the Spring of his seventh year. Thus his special history becomes, as it were, a commentary for our book.
§ 3. Canonical Dignity
It seems as if the canonicity of our book had at first been doubted among the Jews. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Megilloth, lxx. 4) and in the Midrash (Ruth, 45 c.) we find the statement that eighty-five elders, among whom were thirty or more prophets, combated the introduction of the Feast of Purim, though they finally gave it their sanction. It is also intimated that these men were contemporaries of Mordecai. This remark has really nothing to do with the book of Esther as such, but has only reference to the precepts in regard to the fasts, which were ordered by both Esther and Mordecai, (Esther 9:29-32). Still, to combat the latter would be to indirectly attack the genuineness of our book. Such an opposition to the institution of Purim, however, does not well harmonize with the reverence paid to the book as belonging to the Canon. The opinion of Herzfeld (II. 1, p. 358), that this tradition was a conclusion derived from the statement of Esther 9:29 merely, from which it was inferred that Mordecai and Esther had written a second time in reference to the introduction of the feast of Purim, is very improbable, as is also his supposition that the number of the elders was taken by mistake from Nehemiah 8-10 grouped together. There are no other oppositions found among the Jews in this regard. Even Josephus reckoned our book as certainly belonging to the Canon (comp. c. Ap. I, 8); otherwise he would not have made the remark that the history therein described reached down to Artaxerxes, who to him was none other than the Ahasuerus of our book. But the later transactions which took place with reference to the Canon, namely, at the Synod of Jerusalem, A. D. 65, where a determination was called for between the Hillelites and the Shammaites, and also at the Synod at Jamnia, A. D. 90, had reference more especially to Ecclesiastes, and next to the Canticles, and lastly to the book of Ezekiel, which some would have withdrawn from public use, because it seemed to diverge in its legal requirements from those of the Pentateuch. (גנז). Moreover, our book has been very highly esteemed among the Jews (comp. Graetz on Koheleth, Appendix I.), which may easily be seen by its designation as “the Megillah ” by eminence. Indeed it has been preferred to the “Kethubim,” and even to the “Nebiim,” and has finally been placed by the immediate side of the “Torah” itself. Moses Maimonides thought that in the days of the Messiah all the Nebiim and Kethubim would be abolished; and that only the book of Esther and the Torah, together with the oral law, would be perpetual (comp. Carpzov, Introd., I., p. 366). This special regard, however, was simply owing to the mournful circumstances under which the Jews learned to value the consolation derived from Haman’s destruction and their own victory over their opponents, events to them at the time important and precious. In our book, accordingly, these incidents are given from a nationally limited point of view.
As regards the ancient Christian teachers, Melito, bishop of Sardes (about 172) does not give the book of Esther in his list of the canonical books. Neither are the Apocrypha nor Pseudo-apocrypha mentioned by him. He was importuned by his Christian brother Onesimus to give him a more specific and correct statement with regard to the number and order of the O. T. books, since he had made researches respecting them in his journey to Palestine. The book of Nehemiah, concerning which he is also silent, he doubtless includes in Esther. But that he should thus have embraced the book of Esther likewise, as belonging to that of Ezra, although he himself never included the one in the other, as was the case with Nehemiah, is not, with Eichhorn, Haevernick, and others, to be supposed (comp. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., VI. 25). Epiphanes (died about 402) (in his De mens. et ponder. c. 22, 23), Hilary (in Prol. in Psalm.) and Jerome (in Prol. Gal.) all include Esther in the Canon, but place it at the end. Origen places it after the prophets and Job, which he brings in as the last. Epiphanius places it after the prophets and 1 and 2 Ezra. Jerome places it after the other Kethubim, especially after Chronicles and Ezra. Hilary places it after the prophets and Job. Athanasius in his Epist. Test. omits it from the list of the canonical books, and assigns it to the ἀναγιγνωσκόμενα, i.e., the books to be read before the congregation, which, with him, form a middle class between the canonical and apocryphal books. In the Iambi ad Seleneum written between 350 and 400, it is also omitted; yet the remark is made at the end, “Some add the book of Esther to these.” True, the Synopsis (probably by the Alexandrian church and after to Athanasius) remarks that some say that Esther was regarded by the Hebrews as belonging to the Canon; but this also proves that it did not have canonical authority in the Christian church, at least not in that of Alexandria. Still more, Junilius (De partibus legis div., c. 3) writes that in his time (in the sixth century) it was very much doubted whether the book of Esther belonged to the Canon. It was, of course, not the former vacillating treatment of this book by the Jews that caused the opposition of Christians to its reception, but rather its high estimation with the later Jews. Its contents might very easily be objectionable to Christian views and sentiments. This is evinced by Luther, if indeed we can justly apply his harsh judgment to the Hebrew book2 of Esther. As the passage referred to is somewhat ambiguous, we quote it in the original Latin: “Licet recusare possim jure hunc liberum (Ecclesiasticum), tamen interim recipio, ne cum jactura temporis me involvam disputationi de receptis libris in canone Ebrœorum, quem tu non nihil mordes ac rides, dum Proverbia Solomonis et Canticum (ut scommate ambiguo vocas) amatorium comparas cum libris duobus Esræ, Judith, historia Susannæ et Draconis, Esther, quamvis hunc habeant in canone, dignior omnibus, me judice, qui extra canonem haberetur.” [We translate as follows: “Although I might justly reject this book (Ecclesiasticus), yet for the present I admit it, lest with a loss of time I involve myself in the dispute concerning the books received in the canon of the Hebrews, which you not a little attack and deride, while the Proverbs of Solomon and the amatory canticles (as by an ambiguous sneer you call them) you compare with the two books of Ezra, Judith, the history of Susanna and the Dragon, and Esther; though this last they have in their canon, yet it is, in my judgment, more worthy than all the others to be kept out of the canon”]. In his Tischreden (ed. Walch, xxii., p. 268) Luther had also to do with the apocryphal books. He undertook to correct the second book of Maccabees, and he then uttered these words: “I am,” said he, “so inimical to this and the book of Esther, that I could wish they did not at all exist; for they are excessively Jewish, and contain many disreputable heathen practices.” It is, therefore, not at all improbable that he had reference not so much to the Hebrew, but rather to the Greek book of Esther, which was so greatly corrupted by other additions. Besides, he had just made the remark, “The third book of Esther I will throw into the Elbe. In the fourth book, in which are noted what Esther dreamed, there are many pretty and otherwise very good jests, such as: Wine is strong, the king stronger, women still stronger, but truth is the most powerful of all” Here he doubtless clearly mistook Ezra for Esther, and the fourth book of Ezra for the third (comp. p. 13). It is clear, also, that the apocryphal books were in his mind. The remark that his objection had its ground in the contents of the Hebrew book of Esther, instead of the comparatively innocent apocryphal additions, is opposed by the fact that the second book of Macc., of which he had just spoken, is placed before it. His objection to it seems to have consisted more in the fabulous than in the morally objectionable elements of both books.
What makes us especially suspicious with regard to the canonical dignity of this book is the fact that there is wanting in it the religious patriotic spirit which we find in the other Old Testament historical books. The author makes prominent the attractions of Esther in the eyes of Ahasuerus over all other virgins, and thus she became the guardian genius of her people. If he had written his book after the manner of the older canonical books, we might have reasonably expected that he would first of all speak of her piety. Indeed we should have looked that he would treat of it as the reason why God gave her favor in the king’s sight, and that he would regard it as the source of her gracefulness and loveliness. But we find no trace of this. Least of all is there a reference to a joyful confession on her part to Jehovah. But we rather discover that Mordecai shrewdly advises her to keep secret her Judaistic descent from Ahasuerus. And she faithfully follows this injunction. Nor does she point to the Lord as being the Almighty Protector and Avenger of those who do him homage, even when she is compelled, in order to save her people, to declare her Jewish origin to the king. She seems rather to aid her nation, not because it is God’s people, but because it is her people.
So also, according to our author, Mordecai refuses to bow the knee to Haman. A more ancient author would no doubt have faithfully given a clear and definite religious reason for his conduct. But our author gives it so little space, that most interpreters have misunderstood him. He rather permits us to guess the reason, so to speak, by designating Haman as an Agagite. And of Mordecai he testifies that he braced himself by his Judaism in his conduct. Hence that fact which would, we might imagine, have added the proper interest to the book, and should really have been the soul of it, and would have given it the best dedication—the truth that reverence for man does not militate against the honor due to God, and yet should not be given to those condemned and rejected by God—does not very clearly appear, and indeed might easily be wholly overlooked. The entire proceeding almost assumes the appearance of a common court-intrigue, in which Mordecai would hardly rank higher than his opponent.
As regards the measures taken by Mordecai and Esther for the deliverance of their people, we should naturally have judged that our author ought to have made their necessity more apparent, in order not to be misunderstood in a moral aspect. He should have called especial attention to their necessity for the maintenance of true religion. The first edict of the king against the Jews was irrevocable. Hence the authorities could not be called on for their protection. There remained, therefore, only the one way, namely, for the Jews to assemble and stand for their lives in a common self-defence. This was virtually a war in the time of peace. Still it was forced upon the Jews, and although thus premeditated and organized, it was, under the circumstances, their only available mode of defence. But instead of making prominent the fact that this deplorable conflict could not be avoided, and instead of showing that upon it depended the defence of law and religion, the author speaks only of the honor which Mordecai attained by adopting these measures with the king’s sanction. He states that Mordecai passed out from the regal palace dressed in royal apparel, having a large golden crown upon his head, and that the whole city of Shushan, especially the Jews throughout the empire, rejoiced exceedingly (Esther 8:15-17). Indeed, instead of telling us definitely that only a common defence was intended and permitted against anticipated hostile attacks, he employs the same expressions as when speaking of Haman’s edict in Esther 3:13, namely, the jus talionis. In this edict it was permitted the Jews to destroy, to kill and plunder the whole of the people and country, or whoever should attack them; and they were not even to exempt women and children. The measures thus have the appearance of having been adopted, not as being the only ones at hand, but because they were most agreeable to the Jews. Nor does it appear as if the author had in any wise regretted or disapproved of them, but rather that the joy of Mordecai and of the Jews was shared also by him. He is equally liable to misconstruction as regards the petition of Esther by virtue of which the Jews were permitted to repeat also on the second day the same self-vindication exercised on the first. He contents himself with the satisfaction experienced from the great success which attended the measures of Esther and Mordecai on the first and second day, namely, that in Shushan five hundred fell on the first day, and three hundred on the second (Esther 9:11-15).
One thing, however, he repeatedly and pointedly makes reference to, namely, that the Jews did not lay hands on the spoil of their enemies (Esther 9:10; Esther 9:15-16). This trait nevertheless can only be regarded as redounding to their honor if all the other transactions had a higher religious import. But if these are to be understood as having merely a common national meaning, they exclude indeed a base covetousness, but do not negative a passionate eagerness and vindictiveness which are but little removed above the desire of gain.
That the Jews should also slay defenceless women and children while attacking the men, and that they did actually kill such a great number as seventy-five thousand persons (Esther 9:16), was too common a characteristic of ancient warfare, to deserve a specially severe censure. But the author had quite other intentions than to regard the war as being conducted in the interest of higher principles, and as absolutely necessary; indeed he has expressed himself in terms which lead to quite a different conclusion. (Comp. Esther 9:5 : “Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them.”) His narrative creates quite a different impression and gives greater offence than if he had stated that the Lord had given a great victory to His people, in the course of which seventy-five thousand perished. This might easily have been done in a way and by a connection in which the greatness of the danger and the persecutions of the people of Jehovah would have been strongly manifested.
The satisfaction which the author, together with Mordecai and the Jews, felt we can easily enough excuse, because of the greatness of the defeat of the attacking enemies, inasmuch as they suffered great insults and injuries, of which their heathen enemies were by no means sparing. It was in fact only the natural instinct of a worm, when in danger of having its life trodden out under the march of the peoples of the world, and therefore only escaping with life when its destroyers were themselves destroyed. But the author would have given us a much more satisfactory justification of these things had he designated his own people as the people of Jehovah, in opposition to the heathen as such, instead of terming them Jews merely, of whom one does not anticipate a higher task or even a higher principle.
But with all the foregoing criticisms we have not yet looked at the chief point of the discussion. It is remarkable that we do not even once find mention made of the name of God, much less of Jehovah. If under other circumstances, this would perhaps be something external or accidental; here it is closely connected with the general view of things.3
There seems to obtain another kind of historical portraiture in this book from that of those of the more ancient histories. The latter are very properly called sacred history, because their purpose was to derive the incidents which they describe from God, or from His justice, or yet from His gracious intentions towards man. They also seek to show the bearing of that which has been attained upon the ultimate honor of God. But our book appears to give us a different mode of historical description, in that it takes up the lower facts and things lying nearer, be they causes or aims. We find it nowhere distinctly stated that at the very beginning a higher Power was at play, which finally placed Esther in her high position. In this position she could become the intercessor for her people. This power was likewise manifest later in causing Ahasuerus at the proper time to remember Mordecai, and to reward him. Thus also the great and threatening danger to the Jews was averted, and victory leaned to the side of the people of God in their conflict with their enemies. Nowhere do we discover expressions of religious feelings or thoughts in the persons of whom the author speaks. Even in Mordecai these are not manifest, since he is not a representative of Jehovah-worship; nor yet do those principles appear to have actuated him which his religion would have enjoined him to observe. On the contrary his motives and sentiments are indefinite and scarcely national. It is simply because of his Judaism that he refuses to do reverence to Haman. Neither are any such feelings or thoughts as we might have presumed perceptible in Esther, who, in common with Mordecai, instead of employing the office of prayer for the removal of the danger, brings into requisition the Jewish custom of fasting. Certainly Mordecai expresses a firm assurance that help would come to the Jews from some source; but it would hardly do to suppose that he thought of God, when in Esther 4:14 he expects deliverance even if Esther should not venture to petition the king. He might easily have meant another human person instead of Esther, who would have taken her place. There is never a mention made of prayer, pressing as were the occasion and circumstances that justify our expectation of its employment.
Now it is very necessary for a correct estimation of our book to place the above-cited phenomena in their proper light. Without doubt we would do great injustice to the author if we were to hold him to be religiously indifferent or entirely irreligious because of his non-religious mode of statement. To a man enthusiastic for Judaism and Judaistic law, irreligious feelings are hardly possible. Even if his enthusiasm had been pre-eminently national, so that in his eyes Esther, Mordecai and the Jewish nation, in short all that was Jewish, deserved, as such, preference and distinction, it would still have shown some religious side. This would have been nationally religious, since it would have based itself on the preference of Israel on the part of God. Even though it would have led to a certain religious externality, in which a more intimate relation to God would not have been possible, this would not exclude the fact that the name of God would have received mention now and then. The reason why our book is silent with respect to God demands another explanation. The subject of which the author treats points to the preference or choice of Israel on the part of God. The fact of his belief in the continuance of Israel, as it is expressed by Mordecai, is proved too plainly and definitely for him to have placed no meaning or merit in it. We may add to this, that the rule of a higher providential Power, although nowhere noticed particularly as such, is nevertheless sufficiently expressed, both in the entire plan of the book and in the facts themselves.
If we regard Haman as representing the enemies of the people of God and thus as carrying out their plans of destruction against Israel; if in Mordecai and the Jews the people of true religion as such suffered; if in Ahasuerus the higher government of the world was awake, and if in Esther the good Spirit, which ever watched over Israel, brought his petitions before the throne of the highest decisive tribunal; if the battle of the Jews against the Persians is the conflict of the oppressed and deeply humiliated kingdom of God against heathendom, and if the destruction of these enemies is the removal of all that is unimpressible, and past improvement, and is the means by which the true happiness of mankind is to be prepared,—in short, if the author intended to speak in such far-reaching pictures rather than to write history, then a sufficient explanation is discovered of his seemingly irreligious tendency and of this parabolic method. What would otherwise appear as having no reference to religion, would then be full of the religious element. It would be like a N. T. parable, where there is no express reference to God and His kingdom, since the higher is the lower. We may, indeed, be compelled to admit that the intention of the author is not clear; nor do we plainly see how far the author has sought to employ this parabolic mode of statement. Whether or not he intended to make these representative persons transparently illuminated types, cannot be certainly known. But this much may possibly be affirmed, indeed it can be proved, that he is in this religious aspect reticent, because he desires to call in the attention of the reader,—to point out, as from afar, what was yet to come—and also to bring into requisition the expanding, even advisory activity of the reader, since he seems to have thought he could thus write the more appropriately and advantageously.
A similar phenomenon, and one which is entirely appropriate as yielding the proper explanation, is found in the first Book of Maccabees. In it the mode of writing history is not that of the more ancient authors, any more than in our book. “One nowhere reads how God had awakened or directed the hearts and minds in this sacred warfare for the faith, as one can still find in the books of Ezra or Nehemiah (Ezra 8:31; Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:12; Nehemiah 2:20; Nehemiah 4:9; Nehemiah 7:5). Of none of the heroes arising in this war is it said that he was inspired by the Spirit of God. According to Nehemiah 13:7 the spirit of the people again revived, but the people was not influenced by the Spirit of God. It would almost seem as if the author had lost sight of the fact that the immediate indwelling and governing presence of Jehovah in and among His peculiar people, was essential to the Hebraistic conception.” (Grimm on 1 Macc., p. xviii.). As in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we miss that theocratic pragmatism which throws a supernatural illumination over the events transpiring, the same can be much more truly affirmed of the first book of Maccabees. In like manner with the author of our book, the writer of that history also avoids the mention of the name of God, and it is not found even once, whether by the term θεός or κύριος. Those passages of several of the editions of the Alexandrian text, which have θεός, (Esther 3:18; 4:24; 7:37, 41), are, as Grimm also holds, critically more than doubtful (comp. Rosenthal, Das 1 Mack.-Buch, eine historische und sprachlich-Kritische Studie, Leip. 1867). Still the religious spirit, though it be peculiar, is present in that book. It is also clear that it is more than mere enthusiasm for the law and legal sentiment as to the mode of worship, etc. The faith is just as important to the author as is the faithfulness to law. In him, too, we find the designation of the people as the people of the faith (Macc. 3:13; 2:59, 61, etc.). In distinction from our author, however, he frequently reveals to us the fact that his heroes pray. His reference to God is at times so manifest that Luther did not hesitate to add the name of God, even where the author speaks very indefinitely of the law, or covenant, or of a will in heaven; and where it is unquestionable that God’s law, covenant or will is meant (1Ma 2:21; 1Ma 2:54; 1Ma 3:60).
This spirit is further seen in the apocryphal book in question not only in such expressions as : ἵλεως ἡμῖν καταλιπεῖν, etc. (“God forbid that we should forsake,” 1Ma 2:21), but also when the author says that they cried (to God) in prayer ( 1Ma 5:33, etc.). This is especially true of the language and prayers of his heroes, who, though zealous for the law and the faith, are still prevented from calling God by name. Judas says: “Victory (strength) cometh from heaven” 1Ma 3:19). And still speaking of heaven he says: “He (αὐτός), (the Lord) Himself will overthrow them” 1Ma 3:22). Again: “Let us cry to heaven” (Esther 4:10), “if peradventure He (the (Lord) will have mercy upon us.” Of their victories it is even said that, “they turned back and praised (the Lord) heaven that He (the Lord) had been good, and His mercy endureth for ever” 1Ma 4:24).
From this comparison of the books of Maccabees we arrive at the following explanation with reference to the matter in question: The naive and direct piety of former times, being devoid of reflection, gradually give way to a different state during the exile. The Jews were in that age very sensitive not to manifest their innermost and holiest thoughts to the gaze of day, after the manner of their forefathers. It was a great satisfaction to the Jewish national feeling, groaning under oppression and opposed to heathenism, to know that the secrets of their faith and law were well known and understood by themselves without having to enter expressly upon a declaration of them; and also that these were unknown and unattainable by the heathen. The more general the fidelity to the law and the faith of the fathers became, at least externally, the more they took courage. The more apparent the contrast became between heathenism and Judaism,—which was however gradually lost by their political dependence, their political character, also being thus effaced,—the more the characteristics of their religion shone forth. Indeed, the Jews were henceforth persecuted only because of their laws and faith, in a word, their being different from their captors. Hence it was quite natural that the Jews, as such, should feel themselves to be the people of the true God, before all others. So it was also with the author, who represented them as being in this exalted relation, without even distinctly so expressing himself. To all this was added the progressive spiritualizing of God, which had previously reached a high stage in the prophetical times. This was now carried to a still higher pitch of development. Hence, those modes of anthropomorphism and anthropopathism, which before were a necessity of the more vital piety, were now avoided. Thus in bringing out the exalted character of God, as being above the creature, His transcendental character was brought into greater prominence, and His imminence was more and more kept out of sight. It is well known that the name Jehovah was entirely withdrawn from usage, as being too holy. We might very easily suppose that God Himself was held to be too holy and exalted to be much spoken of, even in divine worship. But once having entered upon this tendency of mind, a further step was not difficult of execution. Some, as our author, would not even mention in a general way the influence of a higher power, while others, as the author of 1 Maccabees, contented themselves with a little less reserve.
It is doubtless true that such a tendency had its great dangers. While the Old Testament theism, being faith in a living God, active in the development of the world and of mankind, held the proper middle ground between pantheism and deism, by believing in an ever-present real divine Spirit, it gradually and unmistakably leaned over to deism, in strong contrast with pantheistic heathendom. We thus have it exhibited to us in the Apocrypha. There, in place of the living immanent Spirit of God, we have the transcendental νοῦς or the abstract σοφία. Hence a childlike trust in God and a true moral fear of God, had no more a proper place. Indeed it went still farther and degenerated into an abstract one-sidedness. Of this we have an example in later Judaism as opposed to Christianity. This also characterizes Mohamedanism. By cherishing such a worldly and materialistic spirit which ignores God, is very apt to grow more and more inveterate, as was especially manifest in Israel in later times.
Still, we must not suppose that this tendency had in the time of the present author proceeded to such a length; it was as yet but the normal development of the people of Israel. In its proper limits, and proceeding from a good foundation, it had a worthy aim. This was first of all to bring to general recognition the religious element as something self-evident and elevated above all exposition. Our author does not really intend to lose out of sight the mysteries of the faith and law. He rather presupposes them as self-evident. This is apparently from the circumstance that he not only represents the history of which he treats as being decidedly providential in its development, but also from the manner in which he gives the reason why Mordecai refused to bow the knee. So also in respect to the time in which the edict of Haman was published, and which should prove so destructive to the Jews (it was during the time of their Paschal festival), he is very indefinite, simply indicating it. Again we may note how he causes Mordecai to speak so indefinitely and yet in a manner so easily understood with reference to the help that would certainly come to the Jews. So also Esther is urged to take refuge in fasting which is almost inseparable from prayer, instead of praying at once as the nearest remedy at hand. The feeling arises in us on reading these passages, that he thought far more than he said, and that his silence has its ground in something quite different from infidelity.
Besides, the style of our book is most appropriate to its contents. Indeed we can readily recognize a divine providence in the fact, that just such a style and not a more religious one should have been employed. The deliverance of the Jewish people within the Persian dominions, which forms its subject was, of course, in itself a great and important event. But this was not brought about by a divinely-inspired hero, nor yet by the faithful valor of the people, but through the influence which a woman exerted over the king. In how different a manner will the soldiers (combatants) of the kingdom of God gain the victory in the future time of decision! Not through the charms of flesh, but by the Spirit and living energy of the Lord. Not by means of a forcible uniting and a bloody massacre, but by a willing submission. Instead of destroying others, they rather endure the utmost injury. It is in this succumbing that the highest power and glory is revealed; not in persecuting but in blessing! The plot is wrought out according to a human method. To have regarded the representative character of the persons and events described as being after the earthly type, and yet to have exalted them to a higher and holier tone, by which they would be brought into an immediate relation to God, would have created a discord. This would hardly have satisfied or edified the religious sentiment, but rather would have been a cause of irritation.
Certain it is, that although our book does not expressly take notice of and cultivate religion as such, still it forms a very essential part of the religious history of the kingdom of God. We were early reminded, in the introduction to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, § 1, that the Diaspora remaining in heathen countries was by no means a rejected branch of the people of the covenant, but rather that it had a very important purpose to fulfil as regards the final accomplishment of the mission of Israel. This was clearly seen in the apostolic-Christian period. Hence the preservation of the despised Jews might very easily have become just as important as was the new founding of the people in Judæa and Jerusalem. Our book has to do with the preservation of this Diaspora, which, conditioned by peculiar circumstances, had taken on a low form, because living in a heathen world. But this in its deeper aspect still continued to be a part of the history of God’s kingdom. It was an act of God by which He confessed Himself to this people as to His own peculiar people, and drew it up to Himself as its God. In addition to this the book is not only evidence that there is a just government of the world—that he who digs a pit for another will fall into it himself—that the enemies of the elect people are destroyed because of their enmity; but it also teaches, if we rightly understand it, the very simple and yet difficult duty of placing God’s honor above that of man, and God’s cause above the interest of man. At least it encourages us so to do. It represents to us the conflict into which the God-fearing man, as also the whole people (or church) may be plunged, in the execution of that duty. When the State is no more guided by divine principles, and as such is no more either theocratic or Christian, but purely human and heathen, this book points to the victory which the true people will in some way or other continue to obtain.
If we place this book, having such an important message, by the side of both the other post-exilian books as regards Judaism, namely Ezra and Nehemiah, it clearly testifies, as do also those, that the people of God, conceived as a religious society, can exist without having political independence, and fulfil their final destiny. But it shows also that they could maintain their integrity, even if separated and scattered. This is a truth which nowhere else finds such definite expression, but yet it forms the basis of existence for the most of the Israelites during all the following periods of time. Hence, also, the peculiar reverence paid to our book in preference to others by later Judaism. And this is not from any pathologically unsound cause. It rests not upon a passion aroused by the inimical and oppressive acts of other people, but it can be justified by a genuine religious reason. In so far as it celebrates the victory of the divine law over the world, and reveals its inviolableness in this new and distinct method, thus becoming an indispensable support of the Torah, it justifies the remarkable manner of its statement, as Maimonides and later writers have fully shown. In so far as it teaches that the glory of God is pre-eminent over that of man, that those who refuse to honor man lest they deprive God of His due regard will not fail to receive their reward from God; in so far must Esther be to us indeed a star which leads us to battle on faithfully and courageously, should the State seek to put forth its power and endeavor to enter the religious domain in too absolute a manner.
If the canonical merit of the Old-Testament books consists to a great extent in the fact of their passing beyond the bounds of their own nation; if they have a more general relation, on account of which they are closely related to the cosmopolitan New Testament, still we must not forget that the national tendency of our author had not yet reached this point. He had not attained to that sense of superiority and contrast which ultimately made the Jews jealous of the communication that was given to them for transmission to other nations. He was at least indifferent to the weal or salvation of others, and even sought to obtain advantage over them, and to injure them. He does not reveal any timidity, such as we find in the book of Judith, where Nebuchadnezzar is degraded far below Ahasuerus. There, however, the Jews appear in a far more ideal light.
Thus in Esther 8:17 he gives prominence to the fact that many of the people of the land— even though incited by fear—were converted over to Judaism; and he thereby indicates that, in addition to the negative effect, which for the purpose in hand be is necessitated to notice, this judgment of God over the world had also a decidedly positive result, namely, the reception among His people of heathen subject to His influence. The writer also recognizes in the great ruler noticed in this book a capacity to appreciate Judaism and its representatives to some extent at least. So also among the majority of the heathen populace he indicates a sense of justice and humanity which did not suffer them to rejoice at the promulgation of the first unrighteous decree for the extermination of the Jews, but on the contrary he shows that they were exceedingly glad because of the second favorable edict. He seems to be impressed with the fact that they have both the inclination and the capacity at some time to arrive at a knowledge of the true God, and for his part he would gladly leave the door open for them.
[Excursus on the Liturgical Use of the Book of Esther.]
[By The American Reviser.]
[It is well known that this book is a favorite with the Jews, by whom it is often entitled הַמְּגִלָּה, the Roll, by way of distinction from all others; and it is more frequently used in a separate form than any other of the sacred books. The extravagant estimate of the Rabbins is well represented sented by the saying of Maimonides, above alluded to, that in the days of the Messiah all the books of the Old Testament will pass away, except the Pentateuch and Esther. This fondness for the book in question has doubtless arisen from the fact that it so highly gratifies the Jewish national pride.
The Feast of Purim (פּוּרִים, lots, so called from the fact stated in Esther 9:26-32) is a standing memorial of the historical character of this book. As we have seen, it has been commemorated even since the days of the writer of the second book of Maccabees (15:36—the “Mordecai’s day”— ἡ Μορδοχαϊκὴ ἡμέρα). The festival was so popular in the time of Josephus that he tells us: “Even now all the Jews that are in the habitable earth keep these days festivals, and send portions to one another” (Antiq. XI. 6, 13). That popularity has not diminished since. It has even been maintained by many (Petavius, Olshausen, Stier, Wieseler, Winer, Anger, Alford, Ellicott, etc., after a suggestion by Kepler) that our Lord observed this festival (ἑορτὴ τῶν ’Ιουδαίων, John 5:1); but the absence of the Greek article there is not at all decisive (as Winter himself admits, Gramm. of N. T. Idioms, Mayer’s Ed., p. 125), and there are very great objections to the identification of the “feast” in question with that of Purim, especially the fact that the parallel gospels show that the one which our Lord at that time attended was during the harvest-season (Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:22; Luke 6:1).
Among the modern Jews the festival of Purim is regularly held on two days, the 14th and 15th of Adar, the last month of the year, corresponding to our March in general. In intercalary years it is repeated in full on the same days of the 13th month, Ve-adar. A preliminary fast, called “the fast of Esther,” is appointed to be observed on the 13th day, in accordance with the command of Esther (4:5, 6); and sundry prayers of repentance, humiliation, etc. (סליחות) are introduced into the regular ritual for that day. As on all the fast days, the lesson from the Law consists of Exodus 32:11-14; Exodus 34:1-11; and that from the Prophets of Isaiah 55:6 to Isaiah 56:9. If the 13th of Adar falls on a Sabbath, the fast takes place on the Thursday preceding, as no fasting is allowed on that sacred day, and it could not be held on Friday, because those engaged in preparing food for the Sabbath would necessarily have to taste the dishes to try them, or at least would be occupied in the labor connected with that preparatory day. If the 14th happened to fall on a Sabbath, or on Monday, or Wednesday, the commencement of the festival is deferred for similar reasons of convenience till the next day. On the evening closing the 13th and beginning the 14th, as soon as the stars appear, candles are lighted in token of rejoicing, and the people assemble in the synagogues. After the usual evening service, consisting of prayer and thanksgiving, the entire book of Esther is read through by the prælector from a roll written separately in Hebrew characters on good parchment with ink (Mishna, Megillah, II. 2). Any one is qualified to read it, except deaf people, fools and minors (ibid. II. 4), and it is lawful to read it in a foreign language to those who can only so understand it (ibid. II. 1). The prælector reads it in a histrionic manner, suiting his tones and gestures to the changes in the subject matter. Whenever he comes to the name of Haman, the congregation stamp on the floor and cry out: “Let his name be blotted out! The name of the wicked shall rot!” At the same time, in some places, the boys who are present make a great noise with their hands, with mallets, with rattles, and with pieces of wood and stone, on which they had written the name of Haman, and which they rubbed together so as to obliterate the writing. The passage in which the names of Haman’s ten sons occur (9:7–9) is read very rapidly, and, if possible, in one breath, to signify that they were all hung at the same time. For this reason that passage is written in larger letters, and the names are arranged under one another. The tradition is that the names are written in three perpendicular columns to represent the hanging of Haman and his sons upon three parallel cords, three upon each cord, one above another (Staehelin, Rabbini. Literat., II. 349). The Targum on Esth. in Walton’s Polyglott (ad loc.), however, states that they all hung on the gallows 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 Psalms 109:9-10). After the roll is finished, the reader dismisses the congregation with a short benediction. All go home and partake of a repast said to consist of milk and eggs.
On the morning of the 14th, the proper feast-day, the Jews again attend the synagogue, where several appointed prayers are added to the usual daily ritual, and instead of the regular lesson, the passage is read from the law (Exodus 17:8-16) which relates the destruction of the Amalekites, the people of Agag (1 Samuel 15:8), the supposed ancestors of Haman (Esther 3:1). This is read by three persons—a priest, a Levite, and an Israelite. After this the roll of Esther is read through again in the same manner, and with the same responses as on the preceding evening. All who possibly can are bound to hear it read—men, women, children, cripples, invalids, and even idiots—though they may, if they please, listen to it outside the synagogue (Mishna, Rosh ha-Shanah, III. 7). When the service in the synagogue is over, all give themselves up to merry-making. Games of all sorts, with dancing and music, begin. The rest of the day is spent in feasting and rejoicing. Open house is kept; poor and rich, young and old, have free access to come and enjoy themselves. In the evening a quaint dramatic entertainment is often held, the subject of which is connected with the occasion. The men sometimes put on female apparel, declaring that the feast of Purim (Esther 9:22) suspends the rule in Deuteronomy 22:5. A dainty meal then follows, sometimes with a free indulgence of wine, which the Rabbins allow on this occasion to the extent of absolute intoxication (Gemara on Megillah, VII. 2).
On the 15th day of Adar the rejoicing is continued, and gifts consisting chiefly of sweetmeats and other eatables are interchanged. Offerings for the poor are also made by all who can afford to do so (Esther 9:19; Esther 9:22). See Ginsburg, in Kitto’s Cyclopœdia, s. v. Purim; Clark, in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, s. v. Purim; Shickart, in the Critici Sacri, III., 1184; Mills, British Jews, p. 188; Eskuche, De festo Judœorum Purim, Marburg (1734, 4to.); Axenfeld, על פורים Betrachtung, etc. (Erlang., 1807).]
§ 4. Composition, Time Of Origin And Integrity
The discussion respecting the author of this book had to be reserved until after the preceding questions had been determined, inasmuch as an answer to it would otherwise have been only of the most uncertain kind. Nor could we have hoped, by the solution of this point, to throw much light on the historical character of the book, or its canonical dignity. In Esther 9:20 it is stated that: “Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters unto all the Jews;” in verse 23, “The Jews undertook to do…as Mordecai had written to them;” and in verse 26, “Therefore for all the words of this letter.” We are not, hence, to conclude that our book was written by Mordecai, nor that it is so claimed, but that the author had knowledge of such writings referable to Mordecai himself, with respect to Purim, and also that he made use of them. In the rest of the book we are at a loss for even a hint in regard to the person of our author. Even as relates to the locality where it was written we are in great uncertainty. Still the unusual familiarity which it evinces with Persian matters, which is in strong and remarkable contrast with the ignorance of later apocryphal books, and especially its total lack of allusion to Judæa or Jerusalem, makes it very probable that the author did not belong to the parent body in Palestine, but to the Diaspora in Asia. According to the Talmud (Baba Bathra, p. 15, c. 1), the book of Esther belonged to those (Ezekiel, the twelve lesser prophets, Daniel and Esther) which were written by the scribes of the Great Synagogue. But it is evident that this tradition has reference not so much to its composition as to its authoritativeness, a final editorial supervision. In the same sense the Talmud speaks of Hezekiah and his college, that they wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Canticles, and Ecclesiastes.
As regards the time of the origin of our book, we are told by Zunz [Zeitschr. d. D. M. G., 1873, p. 687) that among other results obtained, he not only finds in it Persian and later Hebrew expressions, but also some terms derived from the Mishna. He assumes that the composition of Esther belongs to the post-Maccabæan period, in which the knowledge of the persecutions in Palestine had reached the Eastern countries. But he has cited only a very few expressions “which remind us of the linguistic usage of the Mishna,” viz.: עָבַר with and without מִצְוַת, in the sense of “transgressing” from (Esther 3:3; Esther 9:27-28), עָשָׂה יוֹם טוֹב (Esther 9:19) and וּמָה רָאוּ (Esther 9:26), expressions which equally belong to the ante-Maccabæan period, and to the later age. Certain it is that our book belongs to the last written (youngest) in the Canon. In its language it stands nearest to Ecclesiastes, after that to Ezra, Nehemiah, and the book of Daniel. It has three later words, in common with Ecclesiastes, (זמן בקשה בירח) as well as with Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 Chron., and שׁלט in common with Ecclesiastes and also with Nehemiah and the 119th Psalm. Five expressions are in common with Eccles. only (כשר יותר ממני זע ובכן אִלוּ). The entire method or style, so far as it deviates from the mode of old and sacred historical composition, and approaches that of the 1 Book of Macc., and especially where the author endeavors to preserve an artistic and fascinating mode of development, would clearly show that he had already past one æra of progress, such as had not yet shown itself in the time of Ezra or Nehemiah, or at least first began in the age of those writers to break a way for itself. This fact also appears from the manner in which the author treats or rather neglects to treat of the relation which Judaism bears to heathenism, namely, its religious element, and more particularly in his non-reference to God and the divine government. Perhaps, in the period in which he wrote, the Greek age was near at hand or had already come. This would agree with the reference of Ahasuerus to Xerxes, whose position in ancient history is well defined. Still we must not insist too much on this feature, lest we come into conflict with the authorship of the Greek manuscripts and the consequent age of the Greek translation of the book.
The subscription to these Greek copies, which may have been added later, and has the air of being based upon an invention or supposition, relates that a certain Dositheus had brought to Egypt, in the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, a translation of this epistle of Purim (i.e., of our book of Esther, perhaps without the apocryphal additions), prepared by Lysimachus in Jerusalem. Among the four kings of the name of Ptolemy, who had queens named Cleopatra (B. C. 204–81), the one above-mentioned was probably Ptolemy Philometor, in whose reign, which was so friendly to the Jews (B. C. 181–145), the feast of Purim, and therefore also our book, might most readily find entrance into Egypt (comp. Fritzsche, Exeg. Handbuch zu den Apokr., I., p. 72sq.). It also says that there was a translation of Esther as early as the first half of the second century before Christ. Were we to conclude from 1Ma 7:49, where the festival of Purim is not mentioned on the occasion of the celebration of the day of Nicanor the day previous, that the festival of Purim and the book of Purim had not found an earlier and more general recognition in Palestine than it did in Egypt so that at the time of the Maccabees it was not even known, still there would be nothing strange or contradictory in such an assumption. Nevertheless we could not reach any conclusion from this with respect to the time of the origin of our book. The Jews in Palestine were not threatened by the occurrences related in Esther, nor did the danger to the Jews there mentioned, or the defeat they brought upon their enemies, have much to do with their existence in that country. No inimical heathen people lived among the Palestinian Jews, to rise against them, or cause them to perish. Neighboring nations could only have shown their enmity by means of an invasion, which would not have differed greatly from an ordinary war (comp. Herzfeld, Gesch. Israels, II. 1, p. 8). Hence there was no immediate occasion for a festival of Purim for them. At all events such a conclusion as a mere argumentum e silentio would be very hazardous. It may not be improbable, indeed, that the day of the defeat of Nicanor, so far as we know concerning it (comp. § 2), might have been similar to our more modern days of battles and victories; and although at first there was a purpose of celebrating it annually, as a festival day, yet after several times, at last its memory became obliterated and it was forgotten by the majority. Hence the author of the 1st book of Maccabees had no real occasion to bring it into any relation to the day of Purim which came a day after.
Finally, we come to the question of the integrity of our book. If we hold fast to the Hebrew text, we will find that, as we have seen above (comp. Esther 1:9; Esther 1:19; Esther 10:0), it forms a beautifully arranged and greatly progressive whole, in which every individual part furnishes an integral and indispensable portion, and in which nothing essential is found wanting. But the case is very different in the second half of Esther 9:0. J. D. Michaelis asserts the beginning of this latter section to be the seventeenth verse, but Bertheau holds it to begin at Esther 9:20-32, in which reference is made to a letter by Mordecai to the Jews, and some of its contents are brought to light. Even the style of expression of this part is in unmistakable contrast with the rest of the book. קִיִּם, in the sense of “establishing ordinances” or “making them authoritative,” in Esther 9:21; Esther 9:27; Esther 9:29; Esther 9:31-32 (elsewhere only in Ruth 4:7; Ezekiel 13:6; Psalms 119:28; Psalms 119:106); the singular immediately preceding the plural of the subject, as in Esther 9:23 (וְקִבֵּל הַיְּהוּדִים); the fem. substantive in a neuter sense, as in Esther 9:25 (וּבְבֹאָהּ); further the mode of speech עִס־הַסֵּפֶר (Esther 9:25), וּמָה־רָאוּ Esther 9:26), etc., all this does not again occur in the rest of the book. To this we are also to add matters of fact. The short report which is given in Esther 9:24-26 concerning the occasion and significance of the festival of Purim, sounds quite different from what we would be led to expect from the previously given history. It is especially remarkable that no mention is made of Esther’s interference. But it rather seems according to Esther 9:25 (“and when it came before the king he commanded by letters”) as if the king had before been ignorant of the intention of Haman, at least with its real import, and only needed to be more fully informed with regard to it; and that he then at once proceeded against Haman. One would think that the author would have apprehended the chief facts at issue quite differently, if he himself there gave their resumé This resumé seems to be based upon a mode of statement by which many things that appear essential and important, are treated as of less significance, or are entirely omitted. Now we would not venture to assert, as does Bertheau, that the method of statement, lying at the basis, was in such flat contradiction to the substance of our book. We can easily conceive that the author may have differently presented the leading events in different parts of his work. Certainly the resumé of Esther 9:24-26 falls far short of proving the contrary. Again between Esther 9:15-19 on the one hand, in which a part of the Jews celebrate the 15th of Adar on the 14th, even in the author’s time; and Esther 9:20 sqq., on the other hand, where the celebration of both days is introduced through the writings of Mordecai, a contradiction is very unjustly urged by Bertheau (comp. Esther 9:19).
We may presume from the peculiarities found in the Esther 9:20-32 there is contained in it an element more fundamental than elsewhere. Yet we have no right to argue from the absence of all real contradictions that the author had himself expunged them.—According to verse 20 there did exist a book of Purim referable to Mordecai. Perhaps the same one is meant in Esther 9:32, by the writing in which the orders of Esther were recorded. It is quite possible that from it our author should have taken this section extending from Esther 9:20-32.
But next to the original text we must have regard to the older versions. In the Septuagint version there are several additions, which Luther threw out as being “apocryphal parts in Esther.” But these are so interwoven into the text of the Greek Bible that they could easily be held to be integral parts of the book. Thus, to begin with, there is in Esther 1 a dream of Mordecai, in which are indicated the most important phases of the subsequent history. In Esther 3:0 we find an edict by Ahasuerus ordering the extermination of the Jews. In Esther 4:0 there is a prayer by Mordecai, and also one by Esther, which they offered in their distress. Esther 5:0 has an explicit description of the appearance of Esther before Ahasuerus. Finally in Esther 8:13 we find the new edict, issued by Mordecai, favoring the Jews, and as a conclusion of the whole an interpretation of the dream that had been indicated in Esther 1:0.
Now the question is, What are we to think of these expansions? The assumption of Bellarmine (De verbo Dei, chap, 7, § 10) and of De Rossi (Specimen variarum lectionum s. textus et Chaldaica Esteris additamenta, Romæ, 1782), to whom Scholz may also be added (Introd., II., p. 538 sqq.), is that, originally, there were two books of Esther in existence; a larger one, from which these additions of the Greek version were taken, and a smaller, which was perhaps only an extract of the former. That the latter, however, should be regarded as our present Hebrew book, is not to-day held by any one. Equally untenable is the position taken by Jos. Langen, that the passages referred to were taken from Mordecai’s “memoirs ” (comp. Esther 9:29 sqq.), or even from the annals of the king of Persia (comp. Esther 2:23; Esther 6:1). See Langen, Die deuterocanonischen Stücke des Buches Esther, Freiburg, 1862). The hypotheses in question were only originated to defend the canonicity of these additions decreed by the Council of Trent. A second, more enlarged book of Esther, whose expansion has been gratuitously assumed, but which was not regarded worthy of preservation, is nothing more than a wilful and highly improbable fiction, as indeed is virtually conceded by Langen. But as to these additions themselves, which according to Langen still have documentary value, we would call attention to the following considerations:
(1) The dream of Mordecai stands in such a slight connection with the rest of the history that its very presence declares it a useless and unessential work. In order that it might not appear too isolated, its author has connected it with the discovery of the conspiracy of the two court officials, as if this were the first and the chief point of the general history, especially of the enmity of Haman against Mordecai. But thereby he becomes involved in contradictions with the original book, as is evident in departures from the latter traceable in the additions. For example, it is stated that Mordecai had his dream in the second year of the reign of Artaxerxes (Achashverosh). Consequently he must then also have discovered the conspiracy. But according to Esther 2:21 sqq. these court officers entered into a conspiracy after the elevation of Esther. It must, therefore, have been in the seventh year of the reign of the king. Again Mordecai is represented as having already received some presents, by which the jealousy of Haman was intensified; whereas in Esther 6:3 it is stated that he had not yet been rewarded. But what makes the whole account very suspicious is that the contents of our book would be materially altered and weakened by this incentive to the hostility of Haman towards Mordecai. The conflict between heathenism and Judaism, as such, would be transformed into an ordinary contest between two rival aspirants.
(2) These additions contrast so strongly in their spirit and tone with the genuine book of Esther, that we are obliged to look for their origin elsewhere. The religious element, which in the real book of Esther is so rarely manifested, is in them very decidedly, we might say extravagantly, expressed—so much so that we could properly accuse them of a species of hypocrisy.
(3) Even the diction makes it clearly probable that the passages referred to were originally written in Greek. Thus the circumstance speaks against them, that where the conference between Esther and the king is related, they have a strong Græcizing, and even an Alexandrine romantic character; which, according to Ewald, reminds us very forcibly of the 2d book of Maccabees. So also the notorious fact, that for a long time they were accepted by the Jews who spoke Greek, but not by the others, at least not by the authors of the Targums. In keeping with their Greek-Alexandrine origin, is the peculiarity that the author of these additions in several places designates Haman as being a Macedonian (Μακεδών) instead of an Agagite. This is done, doubtless, to make the epithet intelligible to his own vicinity and age, as that of an enemy of the Jewish people (in accordance with the text yet to be referred to, but which is rarely found at the end of the first addition; and also according to the edict interpolated at Esther 8:13, as well as Esther 9:24, where no tampering hand would be likely to be traced).
Doubtless we here have only embellishments, which some one has permitted himself to add, on the ground of tradition, or through his own poetic fancy. The comfort which the book gave was too desirable for it to wait long to become a favorite book with the people. They might indeed, perhaps, have felt the absence of the religious element. But, as has already been remarked, the Jewish community did not stand in such a receptive attitude towards those books written later, as towards the older sacred writings, which for some time previous had received a closed form. Yet they infallibly detected these suspicious passages by the interrupting of the general scope of the work by the conjectures thereby made by the mention of edicts that were decreed, as if those missing things should be added to complete the narrative. Indeed some one had evidently felt called upon, at these interesting points of detail, to expand the narrative occasionally. But how and when were enlarging or finishing touches given? That these additions had their origin in the reason just mentioned was held by Jerome, who in the preface to Esther remarks: “The Vulgate edition draws this book hither and thither by redundant coves (laciniosis sinibus) of words, adding whatever could on the occasion be said or heard; as is the custom in school exercises, after taking a theme to think out what words he can use who has sustained an injury, or he who has done an injury.”
We may also observe the presumed progress of this tradition in the history of the book of Esther. In an earlier text of the Septuagint version (in Cod. 19, 93 and 1086 first published by James Ussher in his Syntagma de Græca LXX. interpretum versione, Lond., 1655; next by Fritzsche in his ’ΕΣΘΗΡ, duplicem libri textum, ed. Turici, 1848), we find a special mode of treatment, which, of course, is but a remodelling of the original text. This text changed what was unintelligible and objectionable, and contracted what was too broadly-asserted; thereby removing contradictions. But it also added other emendations (comp. Fritzsche, Exeg. Handbuch zu den Apokr., p. 70 sq.). Josephus, on his part, holds unreservedly to the Septuagint version, especially following the more ancient text. But he omits Mordecai’s dream and its interpretation, and thus discloses a growing tradition by relating that a Jewish slave, Barnabazu, had revealed to Mordecai the conspiracy of the door-keepers spoken of in Esther 2:0. Even the old Latin translation, made prior to Jerome’s time, used some free ornamentations (comp. Fritzsche, as above p. 74 sq.).
The Chaldee paraphrases or Targums are very important to the understanding of our book, chiefly because they have not adopted the Greek additions. If the latter had been at all genuine and authentic, they must have done very differently. A tradition would probably have arisen which, after the Talmudic period, would have asserted its authority. Still we must notice that some of them at least have embellishments. Among the earliest of the Chaldee versions we regard the Targum on Esther as now found in the Antwerp Polyglot Bible. This is nothing more than an exact translation of the Heb. book. But the so-called first Targum on Esther found in the London Polyglot (comp. Targum prius et posterius in Estheram nunc primum in ling. Lat. transl., stud, et op. Franc. Taileri, Lond., 1665, 4to.; see also another edition by Wolf, Bibl. Hebr., II., p. 1171 sqq.). This follows very closely the Hebrew book verse for verse. Hence it has no place for the dream of Mordecai. But in order to give our book a higher and wider relation, it designates Ahasuerus in Esther 1:1 as the one in whose time the building of the temple was at a stand-still, and looks upon Haman as the one to blame for that delay. It understands that the two courtiers in chapter 2:21 entered into a conspiracy against the king, because they saw Mordecai sitting in the Sanhedrim, which had been built in the king’s gate by Esther’s orders, and they deemed themselves thereby crowded out of favor.—בְּיומַיָא הָאִנּוּן מָרְדְּכַי יְתִיב בְּסַנְהֶדְרִין דְּתַקִינַת לָהּ אֶסְתֵּר בִּתְרַע־מַלְכָּא It has also discovered that Haman, who is poetically represented in the beginning of Esther 3:0 as having been promoted for the exaltation of the divine glory, is angry at Mordecai above all others, inasmuch as he himself wishes to make his own daughter queen in the place of Esther. It ignores the prayers which the Greek Bible puts into the mouth of Mordecai and Esther. Still it points out in Esther 4:16 that Esther requested not only that a fast should be observed on her behalf, but also that they should pray day and night. Besides it puts a prayer in an altogether arbitrary manner into the mouth of Esther herself in Esther 5:0, in which she does not, as is stated in the Greek Bible, have regard to her people first and chiefly, but to herself purely: “Lord of the universe, do not give me over into the hands of this uncircumcised man, and fulfil not the desire of this wicked Haman on me!” etc. The so-called second Targum which, especially in Esther 1:1, has a style at once homiletical and extravagantly rhetorical, but which in general is more simple and brief than the former one, knows just as little of Mordecai’s dream.4 But, on the other hand, in Esther 3:3, Mordecai is made to declare that God alone is to be worshipped, and to show the baseness of man and the exalted character of God. In Esther 3:8 Haman in a very round-about way exposes the customs and ordinances of the Jews. An edict of Ahasuerus, having for its object the destruction of the Jews, is here inserted though it is first properly supplemented in Esther 4:1. But this is just as peculiar as the prayer of Esther referred to in Esther 5:1.
The book ascribed to Josipon ben Gorion contains the dream and prayer of Mordecai and also that of Esther in its Esther 2:1-3. It has also very faithfully copied from the Greek Bible the statement of the appearance of Esther before the king; and it has formed the medium by which such passages might be transmitted to the Jews speaking or writing in Hebrew, in the Midrashim, etc. We find the prayer and dream of Mordecai, as given in Josipon’s work carried over verbatim into the oldest Midrash on Esther (Wolf, Bibl. Hebr., ii., p. 1332; and Zunz, as above, p. 264).
The Chaldaic section also, beginning with the superscription: “A prayer of Mordecai; a prayer of Esther, and a dream of the former,” and occurring in several not very ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament (comp. Zunz, p. 121), is really nothing more than an almost literal translation of Josipon ii. 1–2. De Rossi was certainly in error when he regarded this as a main proof for his theory, that originally there must have been a more copious book of Esther, out of which he took these Chaldaic passages to be the original documents preserved.
[The importance of these apocryphal additions to the book of Esther demands some further notice. We condense the following particulars from the article in McClintock’s and Strong’s Cyclopœdia, s. v.:—
In the Septuagint and Old Latin versions these additions are dispersed through the canonical book, forming therewith a well-digested whole; and they therefore have in those versions no separate title. Jerome separated them in his edition, and removed (or rather added) them to the end of the book because they are not in the Hebrew, and they consequently appear in the Vulgate as the last seven chapters of the book. Luther entirely severed the apocryphal books from the canonical, placing the additions in question under a separate title; and the English Version has followed him in this, designating these pieces as “the rest of the chapters of the Book of Esther, which are found neither in the Hebrew nor in the Chaldee,” and numbering them as “part of the tenth chapter after the Greek,” and chaps, 11–16.
The design of these additions evidently is to give a more decidedly religious tone to the record contained in the book of Esther, and to show more plainly how wonderfully the God of Israel interfered to save His people and confound their enemies. This the writer has effected by elaborating upon the events narrated in the canonical volume the following pieces:
1.Esther 1:1; Esther 1:1 of the canonical book is preceded in the Septuagint by a piece which tells us that Mordecai, who was in the service of Artaxerxes, dreamed of the dangers that threatened his people and of their deliverance (Esther 1:1-12). He afterwards discovered a conspiracy against the king, which he disclosed to him, and was greatly rewarded for it (Esther 1:13-18). In the Vulg. and English this constitutes 11:2–12:6.
2. Between Esther 3:13 and Esther 3:14 of the canonical book the Septuagint gives a copy of the king’s edict, addressed to all the satraps, to destroy without compassion that foreign and rebellious people, the Jews, for the good of the Persian nation, on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month of the coming year. In the Vulgate and English this Isaiah 13:1-7.
3. At the end of Esther 4:17 of the canonical book the Septuagint has two prayers of Mordecai and Esther, that God may avert the impending destruction of His people. In the Vulgate and English this Isaiah 13:8-14.
4. In the midst of Esther 5:1 and Esther 5:2 of of the canonical book the Septuagint inserts a detailed account of Esther’s visit to the king. This is Esther 15 of the Vulgate and English.
5. Between Esther 8:13 and Esther 8:14 of the canonical book the Septuagint gives a copy of the edict which the king sent to all his satraps, in accordance with the request of Mordecai and Esther, to abolish his former decree against the Jews. This is chapter 16 of the Vulgate and English.
6. At the close of the canonical book, Esther 10:3, the Septuagint has a piece in which we are told that Mordecai had now recalled to his mind his extraordinary dream, and seen how literally it had been fulfilled in all its particulars (10:4–9). It also gives an account of the proclamation of the Purim festival in Egypt (10:10–13). This is given first in the apocrypha portion of the Vulgate, and English (as 10:4–13).
7. The whole book in the Septuagint is closed with the following entry: “In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemæus and Cleopatra, Dositheus, who said he was a priest and Levite, and Ptolemy his son, brought this epistle of Phurim, which they said was the same, and that Lysimachus, the son of Ptolemy, that was in Jerusalem, had interpreted it.” In the Vulgate and English this forms 11:1.
The patriotic spirit with which the Jewish nation so fondly expatiated upon the remarkable events and characters of by-gone days, and which gave rise to those beautiful legends preserved in their copious literature, scarcely ever had a better opportunity afforded to it for employing its richly inventive powers to magnify the Great Jehovah, embalm the memory of the heroes, and brand the names of the enemies of Israel, than in the canonical book of Esther. Nothing could be more natural for a nation who “had a zeal of God” than to supply the name of God, and to point out more distinctly His interposition in their behalf in an inspired book, which, though recording their marvellous escape from destruction, had for some reasons omitted avowedly to acknowledge the Lord of Israel. The temptation was too great to be resisted, and, as in the case of all apocryphal writing, we are readily enabled by this meretricious embellishment to detect the false amid the genuine.
Besides the book implies and suggests far more than it records, and it cannot be doubted that there are many other things connected with the history it contains which were well known at the time, and were transmitted traditionally and otherwise to the nation. This is evident from the fact that Josephus (Antiq. XI. 6, 6 sq.) gives the edict for the destruction of the Jews in the Persian empire, the prayers of Mordecai and Esther, and the second edict authorizing the Jews to destroy their enemies, also mentioning the name of the eunuch’s servant, a Jew, who betrayed the conspiracy to Mordecai, and citing other passages for the Persian chronicles, read to Ahasuerus, besides that relating to Mordecai, as well as amplifications of the king’s speech to Haman, etc. The same appears in the fact that the second Targum, the Chaldee published by De Rossi, and Josephus ben-Goridon (ed. Breithaupt, p. 74 sq.) give the dream of Mordecai, as well as his prayer and that of Esther.
The first addition, in which Mordecai foresees in a dream both the dangers and the salvation of his people, is in accordance with the desire to give the whole a more religious tone. The latter part of this addition is intended to develope more distinctly the brief statement given in the canonical book of the loyal service of Mordecai, so as to explain so important an incident. In like manner the second addition originated from the fact that Esther 3:13 of the canonical book speaks of the royal edict; hence this piece pretends to furnish said document in full. The same is the case with the third addition, which aims to supply the prayers said in Esther 4:17 to have been offered by Mordecai and Esther. So also the fourth addition, giving a detailed account of Esther’s interview with the king, originated in a desire to furnish more complete information upon a fact merely alluded to in the canonical passage. The fifth addition originated in the same manner as the second, namely, in an attempt to supply a copy of the royal edict; while the sixth addition ingeniously concludes with an interpretation of the dream in the first addition. The final entry was apparently intended to give authority to this Greek version of Esther by pretending that it was a certified translation from the Hebrew original. Ptolemy Philometor, who is here meant, began to reign B. C. 181. He is the same who is frequently mentioned in 1 Macc. (e. g., 1Ma 10:57; 1Ma 11:12; comp. Josephus, Ant. XIII. 4, 1 and 5; Clinton, Fasti Hellen., III. 393). Dositheus seems to be a Greeek version of Mattitiah. Ptolemy was also a common name for Jews at that time. Thus every one of these additions is naturally accounted for as a fabrication having an adequate and natural motive in the connection.
From what has been remarked above, it will be at once apparent that these apocryphal additions were neither manufactured by the translator of the canonical Esther into Greek, nor are they the production of the Alexandrian, nor of any other school or individual, embracing some of the numerous national stories connected with this marvellous deliverance of God’s ancient people, the authorship of which is lost in the nation. Many of them date as far back as the nucleus of the event itself, around which they cluster, and all of them grew up at first in the vernacular language of the people (i.e., the Hebrew or Aramaic), but afterwards assumed the complexion and language of the countries in which the Jews happened to settle down. Besides the above references which lead us to these conclusions, we refer also to the two Midrashim published by Jellinek in his Bethham-Midrash, I. (Lpz. 1853), 1 sq.
It is of this Septuagint version that Athanasius (Test. Epist., p. 39, Oxford translation) spoke when he assigned the Book of Esther to the non-canonical books; and this also is, perhaps, the reason why, in some of the lists of the canonical books, Esther is not named, e. g., in those of Melito of Sardis, and Gregory Nazianzen (see Whittaker, Disput. on H. Script., Parker Society, pp. 57–58; Cosin on the Canon of Scripture, pp. 49, 50), unless in these it is included under some other book, as Ruth or Esdras (Lee, Dissert, on 2 Esdras, p. 25). The fathers, who generally regarded the Septuagint as containing the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament, mostly believed in the canonicity of the additions likewise. Even Origen, though admitting that they are not in the Hebrew, defended their canonicity (Ep. ad Abiram, ed. West, p. 225), and the Council of Trent pronounced the whole book of Esther, with all its parts, to be canonical. These additions, however, were never included in the Hebrew canon, and the fact that Josephus quotes them only shows that he believed them to be historically true, but not inspired. Jerome, who knew better than any other father what the ancient Jews included in their canon, most emphatically declares them to be spurious (Prœf. in Esth.). Sixtus Sinensis, in spite of the Council of Trent, speaks of these additions in the same condemnatory manner.
See, in addition to the literature elsewhere cited in this connection, The Targum Sheni on Esther, in Walton’s Polyglott, Vol. IV.; Eichhorn, Einleitung in d. Apost. Schriften d. A. T. (Leipzig, 1795), p. 483: Hottinger, Thesaurus, p. 494; Schnurrer (ed.), Variœ Lectiones Estheris (Tüb., 783); Herzfeld, Geschichte d. Volkes Israel (Nordhausen, 1857, Vol. I., p. 363 sq.); Keil, Lehrb. der Historisch-Kritischen Einleit. (ed. 1859), p. 105 sq.]
§ 5. Literature
Jewish expositors, next to the Targums, Midrashim and Rabboth, of which Zunz speaks (Gottesdienstliche Vorträge d. Yuden, espec. p. 35, 61 and 170 sqq.), have published commentaries, some of which embrace the whole of the hagiographa (comp. the literature on Ezra and Nehemiah), while others are only on the five Megilloth (Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther).
To the latter belong ביאור (Elucidation) על חמש מגילוֹת by Abdias Sphorni, an Italian physician, printed in Venice, 4to.; also פיּרוש or exposition of the five Megilloth by Elisa Galiko, president of the Synagogue in Safed, publ, in Venice, in 1587, 4to.; also short explanations by Joseph Titatzack or Taitzack, a Spaniard, who likewise commented on Daniel (Venice, 1608, 4to.). So also Israel Aramah, a Spaniard, who commented on the Pentateuch and the Megilloth ([Constantinople, 1518, 4to.], Venice, 1573); Moses Almoshinus (Venice, 1597, 4to.); R. Abraham, of Heilbronn (under the title of אהבת ציון, Amor Sionis, Lublin, 1639), and others. As specially relating to Esther, we may mention the commentaries by R. Isaak Leon, a Spaniard (Venice, 1565, 4to.; see Bartolocci, in Bibl. magna Rabb.); by R. Salomon Ben Zemach (תפ ארת ישׂראל); by R. Abraham ben Isaak Zahalon (Zabulon or Zebulon), which is a literal, allegorical and moral exposition (&שׁע אלהים Venice, 1595,4to.); by R. Samuel ben Judah Valerius (יד המלד, Venice, 1585, 4to.; by R. Salomon Levi Alcabaz, R. Leo and others (in Carpzov, Introd., I., p. 375).
Few Christian theologians have treated of the book of Esther. The Church-fathers have left us no exposition or treatment of it at all. Of Roman Catholic authors and their works we may mention: Dionys. Carthusiani, Enarrationes in libr. Hester, etc. (Coloniæ, 1534, fol.); a German exposition of Esther by John Ferns (Mayence, 1567); Franc Feuardentii Commentaria (Paris, 1585, Colon., 1595); Serarii Comm. in Tobiam, Judith, Esther et Maccabœos. (Mayence, 1610); Olivierii Bonartii Comm. literalis et moralis (Colon., 1647); and Didaci Celadæis Comm. cum, duplici tractatu de convivio Ahasueri mystico, i.e., De Eucharistia et de Esther figurata i, e. beata, Virgine (Lugduni, 1648, fol.). The commentary of Feuardentius, which is written in easy and almost too flowing Latin, far surpasses all those before mentioned. All the others savor of an intolerably insipid allegorical identification of Esther with the beata cœlestis Regina (the Virgin Mary); whereas this of Feuardentius is marked by sober, sound and very practical exegesis, and is based on much general reading. Although he now and then includes the Lutherans among the Hamanites to be exterminated, still Feuardentius has very perceptibly and early taken pattern after the evangelical exegesis, and copied some of the work of Brenz almost literally.
On the part of the Evangelical Church Brenz treats of the book of Esther in [Commentarii (Tübing., 1575); in Engl. by Stockwood, Lond., 1584, 4to.; also in] Operr. II.; also Vict. Strigel, Libri Esdrœ, Nehemiœ, Esther et Ruth, ad Ebraicam veritatem recogniti et argumentis atque scholiis illustrati (Lips., 1571,1572, 8vo.). There follow: Cour. Pellican, Comment. Bibl. (Figuri, 1583, fol.); Lud. Lavater, Homiliœ: (Figuri, 1586); Rud. Walther (Gualtherus) Homiliarum sylva (Figuri, 158, 8vo.); Franz Burmann, a German Commentary published at Frankford, 1695; Balth. Kerner, Ehren-Krone der demuthigen Esther (Ulm, 1666); Gottfried Meisner, Niedrigen aber nachmals erhohen Esther, mit biblisch-historischen Schmuck angethan (Hamburg, 1687); Com. Adamus, Observatt. theol. phil. (Gron., 1710, on Esther 2:0).
Among those of more modern date may be mentioned a work which has not been referred to in the literature on Ezra and Nehemiah; Crusius, De usu libri Estherœ ad praxin vitœ Christianœ (Ultraj., 1775).
The question: Who is to be understood by the Ahasuerus of our book? [which will be fully discussed in the Exegetical Notes on Esther 1:1] has been treated by Franc. Wokenius in his Commentatio in l. Estherœ (1730), and by Aster in his Diss. phil. de Esterœ cum Ahasuero conjugio (Wittenberg, 1730), both of whom held that Astyages is meant, although Jos. Scaliger had given the correct interpretation, as also Joh. Wauckel, in his Dissert. de Assuero Estherœ marito, which he directed specially against Jos. Scaliger.
As introductory works we may notice: Schulze, De fide historica l. Estherœ, in the Bibl. Hagana, V., VI.; Kelle, Vindiciœ Estherœ (Frib., 1820); Mich. Baumgarten, De fide libri Estherœ Comm, hist. crit. (Hal., 1839); J. A. Nickes, De Estherœ libro et ad eum quœ pertinent vaticiniis et Psalmis libri tres (Romæ, 1856); also the articles on Esther by Roediger in Ersch and Gruber’s Encycl., by Baumgarten in Herzog’s Real-encycl., and by Reuss in Schenkel’s Bibel-Lexikon.
[Additional Literature.—Raban Maurus, Commentaria (in his Opera); Banolas, פּירוש (Riva di Trento, 1560, 4to.); Ashkenazi, יוסף לקח (Cremona, 1576, 4to., etc.); Melammed, מאמר מרדכי (Constantinople, 1585, 4to.); Drusius, Annotationes (Leyden, 1586, 4to.); Alsheich, משׂאת משׁה (Venice, 1601, 4to.); Cooper, Notes (London, 1609, 4to.); D’Aquine, Raschii Scholia (Paris, 1622, 4to.); Molder, Dispositiones (Dantzig, 1625, 4to.); Sanctius, Commentarii (Lyden, 1628, fol.); Couzio, Commento (Chieri, 1628, 4to.); Duran, ספר מגלת (Venice, 1632, 4to.); Crommius, Theses (Lovan, 1632, 4to.); Merkel, מירא דכרא (Lublin, 1637, 4to.); Montanus, Commentarius (Madrid, 1648, fol.); Trapp, Commentary (London, 1656, fol.); Jackson, Explanation (London, 1658, 4to.); Barnes, Paraphrasis poetica (London, 1679, 8vo.); Rambach, Notœ (in his Adnot. V. T. II. 1043 sqq.); Heumann, Estherœ auctoritas (Gotting., 1736, 4to.); Meir, משׁתה יין (Furth., 1737, 8vo.); Nestorides, Annotazioni (Venice, 1746, 4to.); Aucher, De auctoritate Estherœ (Hanniæ 1772, 4to.); Vos, Oratio (Ultraj., 1775, 4to.); Zinck, Commentarius (Augsb., 1780, 4to.); De Rossi, Variœ Lectiones (Rome, 1782, 8vo.); Pereles, גלת הכתרת (Prague, 1784, 4to.); Wolfssohn, אסתר (Berlin, 1788, 8vo.); Samson, Discourses (Edinburg, 1804, 12mo.); Lowe, אור הרשׁ (Nouydwer, 1704, 4to.); Schirmer, Observationes (Vratiolav, 1820, 8vo.); Calmberg, Commentarius (Hamburgh, 1837, 4to.); McCrie, Lectures (in his Works, 1838, 8vo.); Morgan, Esther typical (London, 1855, 8vo.); Cordthwaite, Lectures (London, 1858, 12mo.); Davidson, Lectures (Edinburgh, 1859, 8vo.); Bertheau, Kommentar. (in the Kurzgefastes exeget. Handbuch des A. T., Leipzig, 1862, 8vo.); Oppert, Commentaire d’après inscriptions Perses (Paris, 1864, 8vo.); Wordsworth, Notes (in his Commentary on the Bible, Lond., 1866, 8vo.); Keil, Biblical Commentary (translated from the German of Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the O. T., Edinburgh, 1873, 8vo.); Terry, Commentary (in Whedon’s Commentary on the Old Test., New York, 1873, 12mo.); Rawlinson, Commentary (in the Speaker’s Commentary, London and New York, 1873, 8vo.)
[The author has made this admission too vaguely and unguardedly. The result of modern criticism has been not to overthrow the historical basis of the books referred to, but only to confirm the opinion early broached, and not unfrequently entertained, that their dress and language is poetical.—Tr.]
In his De servo arb. (ed. Jen. III., p. 182; ed. Erlang. XII., p. 194) Luther censures Erasmus for regarding the book of Ecclesiasticus (Jesus Sirach) as authoritative (canonical), and for placing it on the same level with the book of Proverbs, in contrast with both books of Ezra (doubtless the third and fourth), Judith, the history of Susanna and the Dragon. Hence he fought against degrading the books handed down in the Hebrew Bible as canonical, and placing them on a level with those contained in the Greek Bible, which he afterward cast out as apocryphal. When he furthermore states that in his opinion the book of Esther deserved to be thrown out of the Canon, by this, as Carpzov remarked (Introd. I., p. 370 sq.), he does not mean the Hebrew but the Greek book of Esther. In other words, he objected to Jerome’s apocryphal additions to the book.
Even the rabbins took notice of this fact, and sought an explanation for it. Comp. what August Pfeiffer has written with reference to the canonicity of the book of Esther and its programme. Aben Ezra held that Mordecai, being the author of the book, had purposely expunged the names of God in it, in order that they might not be desecrated by the Persians, if they made use of them.
It is an erroneous or indefinite mode of expression when Zunz, in his work (Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge dcr Juden, p. 121), remarks: “The dream and prayers of Mordecai and Esther are found to vary very much from the Greek text, especially in the second book of the Targum of the Book of Esther,” etc.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29