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Esther Critical Analysis

Esther Critical Analysis

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Published by Lucas Scott Wright
A Short and Basic Analysis of Esther for an Old Testament Course at Fuller Theological Seminary
A Short and Basic Analysis of Esther for an Old Testament Course at Fuller Theological Seminary

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Published by: Lucas Scott Wright on Mar 09, 2011
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Lucas WrightOT500: The Writings as Introduction to OTMarch 7, 2011
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Content and ContextChapters 7 and 8 from the Hebrew book of Esther, contain essential narrative events withregard to the overarching narrative of the book it its entirety. Before the events in these twochapters occur, King Ahasuerus has declared Esther queen (2:17); Mordecai had discovered theplot of two of the King¶s eunuchs to do harm to the King (2:21), which then led to the promotionof Haman (3:1). The progression of the story to this moment is especially interesting with regardto the theme of fate, being in this particular case both good and bad. It was by chance thatMordecai discovered the plot against the King, which may be read as positive but also, as a resultof this discovery that Haman comes into a position by which he can enact genocide upon theJewish populace, which is negative (3:8-11).Chapter 7 of the book of Esther is the continuation of the plan for salvation from theimpending destruction of Jewish population in the Persian Empire as initiated by Mordecai,through Esther, in chapter 4 (4:12-17). Chapter 7 portrays the second banquet Esther organizes inwhich the plot of Haman to destroy the Jewish people will be exposed to the King (7:5-6).Interestingly, the King had given royal approval to Haman¶s plot previously (3:11) but seems tohave forgotten this fact, or is merely confused as to who the people Esther claims as her own areand thus, fails to initially make the connection between her request and Haman¶s genocidaldecree.Upon hearing of this impending genocide of Esther¶s people, King Ahasuerus isoutraged(7:7). He orders Haman hanged to death upon the gallows Haman had constructed for the death of Mordecai (7:10). After this, chapter 8 illustrates Esther again requesting therevocation of Haman¶s genocidal decree (8:5). King Ahasuerus not only gives permission for thedecree to be revoked but moreover, permission is given to Mordecai to write in the name of the
 
2King whatever he wishes to be done with regard to the revocation (8:8-14). The Jewish peoplehave permission to defend their lives (8:11-12).Concerns of Esther 7 and 8The argument will be that despite the uncertainty of the text¶s exact sociopoliticalcontext, concerns presented in Esther in general terms are sufficient for understanding howchapters 7 and 8 function properly insofar as they indicate the general features of contextsurrounding the composition. Such concerns include current sociopolitical structures imposedupon the Jewish people, outside the text, which threaten to undermine Jewish existence andidentity, as well a correlate concern for the Jewish realization of the necessity to challenge suchimperially sanctioned structures. Chapters 7 and 8 are especially important to these themes asthey are the turning points of the overarching narrative and serve as the events, which arecelebrated, in the newly instituted holiday of Purim.A. General ConcernsThe general concerns discussed here include debate over the historical context of Esther¶scomposition and how such a context shapes an interpretation ofthe themes of resistance againstimperial violence, as well as the need for the survival of Jewish identity in the book as a whole.Chapter 7 functions as a paradigmatic narrative by which Jews are empowered to move beyondthe constraints of proper etiquette in attempts to survive amidst a hostile foreign culture.Similarly, chapter 8 provides the basis for an armed defense of Jewish identity.These areprimarily theopolitical and societal concerns that are relative to the particular context in whichthey arose.As with any critical analysis of a text, understanding the context in which the book of Esther is situated is important for comprehendingthe text¶s meaning and concerns. This analysis
 
3focuses upon some of the differing arguments in contemporary scholarship, namely, theargument in which Esther¶s historicity is something of a general local concern in a Hellenizedcontext, which then evolves into the canonized story, up against an interpretation that situates theauthorship during the historical Jewish exile within the period of Persian hegemony. After illustrating these two differing perspectives, the former will be taken up as the interpretivecontext by which to engage the symbolic nature of the text¶s concerns; i.e. the issues of empireand Jewish identity in a Hellenized Palestine along with the parallels drawn from the story of Joshua in Genesis.The latter interpretation of Esther¶s context, here labeled the³correspondence´interpretation of historicity, posits the historical context of Esther as found within the PersianEmpire¶s rule of Palestine. William Dumbrell notes two primary features of the Esther text thatgive evidence for such an interpretation; these factors being the linguistic evidence in the book and the detailed accounting of the Persian court with respective sociopolitical etiquette. Both areimportant for understanding how a direct historical correspondence is applicable to the book as awhole, as well as for how such an interpretation will affect the specific interpretation of chapters7 and 8.With regard to the linguistic evidence for a correspondence reading of the historicity of the text, Dumbrell notes, ³the number of Persian words in Esther and its numerous Aramaismssuggest the story¶s composition during a period not far removed from the event it describes´.
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Inaccordance with this linguistic evidence, the association of the text with a particular Jewishgroup, specifically the group of Eastern Jews left in Persia, of the diaspora lends itself as themost credible people of which Esther may be attributed if a correspondence reading is
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William J. Dumbrell,
The Faith of Israel 
. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic , 2002. 298.

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