1) The Book of Esther is the Hebrew Bible’s most secular book. It is the only book in the Hebrew Bible in which God is not mentioned. Nor is there any mention of Mordecai and Esther praying; they rely on their own resources to save their people rather than on Divine intervention. Moreover, Esther marries a gentile, hosts feasts with no mention of dietary laws, the book shows no interest in the Land of Israel or The Temple, and the last chapter endorses violence, nationalism, and jingoism (so does the Book of Joshua but Joshua carries out his massacres on Divine instruction not on his own initiative).
2) Some sages argue that although not explicitly mentioned God is implicitly responsible for Persian Jewry’s rescue from Haman’s planned genocide. This must have been the view of the Jews of Alexandria who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek and inserted God into the translation. God is also restored to the narrative in midrashic literature, specifically The Babylonian Talmud Tractate Megillah and Esther Raba, a collection of midrashim inspired by the Book of Esther.
3) The names Mordecai and Esther are not Hebrew names but pagan names of gods and goddesses: Mordecai is derived from Marduk (a middle eastern creation god) and Esther from Ishtar-Astarte (a goddess of fertility, sexuality and war).
4) A temporal analysis of The Book of Esther reveals that the action of its nine chapters transpires over fourteen years.
5) The book’s narrative provides a detailed portrayal of the Persian royal court.
6) Scholars disagree about which Persian King the book’s King Achashverosh is supposed to be; the main candidates are Xerxes (who failed to conquer Greece) and Artaxerxes II.
7) And yet there is no historical evidence to support the story of an averted genocide in the Persian empire.
8) Indeed the Book of Esther may well have been written long after Alexander conquered the Persian empire as an allegory about Greek anti-semitism set in Persia to evade Greek censors.
9) Although written in Hebrew the book’s author was writing for a Hellenized readership and its dramatic plot borrows as much from Euripides as it does from any earlier book of the Hebrew Bible (no wonder it lends itself to dramatization).
10) Nonetheless Esther resembles Moses in that both were Hebrews who lived incognito in gentile royal courts, and when they do identify themselves they appear before the monarch repeatedly to intervene on behalf of their people.
11) The Book of Esther is the Hebrew Bible’s most diaspora centric book. It is not the only book set entirely in the diaspora; four of the five Books of Moses take place outside the Land of Israel as does Ezekiel, the last two thirds of Isaiah, and Daniel. Unlike Mordecai, however, Daniel is never referred to as “the Jew,” and unlike the other books of the Hebrew Bible set in the diaspora The Book of Esther expresses no longing to return to the ancestral land. Rather the aim is to avert catastrophe and resume normal day to day life in the same place.
12) Even so, the vulnerability of the Persian Empire’s Jewish community and the narrative of its near eradication can easily inspire a Zionist interpretation of the text.
13) But had such a genocidal plot ever been executed in the Persian Empire the Jews of the Land of Israel, then under Persian rule, would not have been spared. Likewise if during World War II Rommel’s invasion of Egypt had succeeded and had he also conquered Palestine the nascent Jewish state in all but name would have been annihilated.
Chag Purim Sameach (Happy Purim)!
For NYC Purim events see my two previous articles, NYC Purim week events and its addendum, and my article from last year for Shoshana Cooper’s hamantashen recipe.