Esther and Additions to Esther
- LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0114
- LAST REVIEWED: 20 September 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0114
The biblical book of Esther is the story of a Jewish heroine (Esther, or Hadassah—the character’s Hebrew name) and Mordecai, her adopted uncle, who live in Persia and involve themselves with the Persian authorities in order to save the Jewish people, who are under threat. The story is the liturgical text used during the Jewish celebration of Purim, and it may have been written to serve as an etiology for the festival because it authorizes its observance by providing a historical situation origin for it. Critical discussions of the book of Esther were once dominated by historical debates that focused on identifying an event in the Persian period to which it corresponded and the origin of the traditions of Esther, Mordecai, and the festival of Purim. Recently, more attention has focused on literary matters including the story’s genre and its artistry as well as its applicability to contemporary situations of oppression and genocide. The tale of Esther is a good story with heroes and villains, court intrigue, the threat of destruction, feasting and fasting, intimate relations, and great reversals. It lends itself to—even invites—the application of different approaches, and there have been many. It has been fertile ground for the application of feminist approaches, for example—the story begins with the deposition of one queen and the installation of another; it is one of the few books of the Old Testament to be named after a woman; and the titular character is a woman who acts courageously in the midst of threatening times and as a marginalized individual within a marginalized group, but theological and other thematic readings have been made as well. There is something about the scroll of Esther that welcomes different approaches, various analyses, and seemingly endless discourses. This has been as true with the reception of the book since the intertestamental period when at least two Greek manuscripts (the Old Latin version is now thought to give evidence of a third) with different stories of Esther circulated among Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt and elsewhere outside the homeland. Moreover, the Targumim (Aramaic translations and paraphrases of biblical texts) evidence a number of significant aggadic (homiletic) expositions interwoven within the story. This article presents a guide to enable the reader to wade through the enormous variety of studies of the scroll of the Hebrew Esther and its Greek relations.
There are several helpful overviews to the book of Esther that give solid introductions to its critical issues, such as its date, its composition history, its connection to actual historical events, and its genre and purpose, as well as its place in the canon. The most recent overviews are Nielsen 1998, Larkin 1996, and Meyers 2001, but the two contributions by Moore (Moore 1985, Moore 1992) remain classical studies. A general orientation that also introduces the feminist issues relevant to the study of the scroll of Esther is Crawford 1998. A bullet-pointed introduction to the main historical discussions of the book is Malick 1996. Finally, an early introduction to the study of Esther from a Jewish perspective is Hirsch, et al. 1905, available online, and a newer critical overview can be found in Baumgarten and Sperling 2007.
Baumgarten, Albert I., and David Sperling. “Scroll of Esther.” In Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2d ed. Vol. 18. Edited by Fred Skolnik and Michael Berenbaum, 215–218. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
A short overview of the scroll of Esther in scholarship and Jewish interpretation. Available online by subscription.
Crawford, Sidnie Ann White. “Esther.” In Women’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, 124–129. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998.
A general introduction to the biblical book of Esther including critical issues as well as issues of feminist critique. First published in 1992.
Hirsch, Emil G., John Dyneley Prince, and Solomon Schechter. “Esther.” In The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Vol. 5. Edited by Isidore Singer, 232–237. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1905.
Reflective of early-20th-century Jewish interpretation of the book of Esther delineated under the headings “Biblical Data-Haman and Mordecai,” “In Rabbinical Literature—The Rabbinic Account,” “Mordecai and Esther,” “Esther before Ahasuerus,” and “Critical View—Improbabilities of the Story, Probable Date.”
Larkin, Katrina J. A. Ruth and Esther. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
A concise introduction to the critical issues of the book organized under four headings—“Is Esther Theologically Valuable?” “Is It Historical?” “The Tradition History,” and “Esther as Literature.” This is a good resource in that each chapter concludes with reading lists for further study.
Malick, David. An Introduction to the Book of Esther. Bible.org. 1996.
An outline following a traditional line of argument of the main historical discussions of the book including authorship, date of composition, historicity, purpose, and canonicity.
Meyers, Carol. “Esther.” In The Oxford Bible Commentary. Edited by John Barton and John Muddimann, 324–330. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
A summary overview of the critical issues of the Hebrew book of Esther and its contents.
Moore, Carey A. “Esther Revisited: An Examination of Esther Studies over the Past Decade.” In Biblical and Related Studies Presented to Samuel Iwry. Edited by Ann Kort and Scott Morschauser, 163–172. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1985.
A survey of some of the important studies in the 1970s and 1980s that provides an orientation to the literature of the time as well as a powerful rebuttal to Gerleman’s emphasis on Exodus as a model for Esther (see Gerleman 1973, cited under Commentaries —Textual, and Gerleman 1966, under Tradition History).
Moore, Carey A. “Esther, Book of.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 2. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 633–643. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
A guide to the biblical book of Esther and critical discussions pertaining to its interpretation.
Nielsen, Kirsten. “The Book of Esther.” In The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues. Edited by Steven L. McKenzie and M. Patrick Graham, 185–191. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998.
A careful overview of the critical issues in relation to the book, with particular attention to its literary features.
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