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The Book of Esther

The Book of Esther

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Aug 19, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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THE BOOK OF ESTHER BY WALTER F. ADEEY, M.A.ITRODUCTORY.THERE is a striking contrast between the highestimation in which the Book of Esther is nowcherished among the Jews and the slighting treatmentthat is often meted out to it in the Christian Church.According to the great Maimonides, though the Pro-phets and the Hagiographa will pass away when theMessiah comes, this one book will share with The Lawin the honour of being retained. It is known as " TheRoll " par excellence, and the Jews have a proverb, " TheProphets may fail, but not The Roll." The peculiarimportance attached to the book may be explained byits use in the Feast of Purim — the festival which issupposed to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewsfrom the murderous designs of Haman, and theirtriumph over their Gentile enemies — for it is then readthrough in the synagogue. On the other hand, thegrave doubts which were once felt by some of theJews have been retained and even strengthened in theChristian Church. Esther was omitted from the Canonby some of the Oriental Fathers. Luther, with thedaring freedom he always manifested in pronouncingsentence on the books of the Bible, after referring tothe Second Book of Maccabees, says, " I am so hostileto this book and that of Esther, that I wish they did35* EZRA, EHEMIAH, AD ESTHER.not exist; they are too Judaising, and contain manyheathenish improprieties." In our own day two classesof objections have been raised.
The first is historical. By many the Book of Estheris regarded as a fantastic romance ; by some it is evenrelegated to the category of astronomical myths; andby others it is considered to be a mystical allegory.Even the most sober criticism is troubled at its con-tents. There can be no question that the Ahasuerus(Ahashverosh) of Esther is the well-known Xerxes of history, the invader of Greece who is described inthe pages of Herodotus. But then, it is asked, whatroom have we for the story of Esther in the life of that monarch ? His wife was a cruel and superstitiouswoman, named Amestris. We cannot identify herwith Esther, because she was the daughter of one of the Persian generals, and also because she was marriedto Xerxes many years before the date of Esther'sappearance on the scene. Two of her sons accom-panied the expedition to Greece, which must havepreceded the introduction of Esther to the harem.Moreover, it was contrary to law for a Persian sovereignto take a wife except from his own family, or from oneof five noble families. Can Amestris be identified withVashti ? If so, it is certain that she must have beenrestored to favour, because Amestris held the queen'splace in the later years of Xerxes, when the uxoriousmonarch came more and more under her influence.Esther, it is clear, can only have been a secondary wifein the eyes of the law, whatever position she may haveheld for a season in the court of the king. The pre-decessors of Xerxes had several wives ; our narrativemakes it evident that Ahasuerus followed the Orientalcustom of keeping a large harem. To Esther, at best,THE BOOK OF ESTHER: ITRODUCTORY. 353therefore, must be assigned the place of a favouritemember of the seraglio.
Then it is difficult to think that Esther would nothave been recognised as a Jewess by Haman, sincethe nationality of Mordecai, whose relationship to herhad not been hidden, was known in the city of Susa.Moreover, the appalling massacre of "their enemies"by the Jews, carried on in cold blood, and expresslyincluding " women and children," has been regarded ashighly improbable. Finally, the whole story is so wellknit together, its successive incidents arrange them-selves so perfectly and lead up to the conclusion withsuch neat precision, that it is not easy to assign it tothe normal course of events. We do not expect tomeet with this sort of thing outside the realm of fairytales. Putting all these facts together, we must feelthat there is some force in the contention that the book is not strictly historical.But there is another side to the question. This book is marvellously true to Persian manners. It is redolentof the atmosphere of the court at Susa. Its accuracyin this respect has been traced down to the mostminute details. The character of Ahasuerus is drawnto the life ; point after point in it may be matched inthe Xerxes of Herodotus. The opening sentence of the book shows that it was written some time after thedate of the king in whose reign the story is set, becauseit describes him in language only suited to a laterperiod — " this is Ahasuerus which reigned from Indiaunto Ethiopia," etc. But the writer could not havebeen far removed from the Persian period. The book bears evidence of having been written in the heart of Persia, by a man who was intimately acquainted withthe scenery he described. There seems to be some23354 EZRA, EHEMIAH, AD ESTHER.

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