Nov 30, 2008

Canonical Rule 5

Thus far we have discovered four cardinal rules that determine inspiration and canonicity.

1. Messianic Test - does it witness to Christ per John 5: 39, Luke 24: 27, 44?
2. Profitability Test - Does it do the things scripture is said to do per II Tim. 3: 15, 16?
3. Origination Test - Did it originate by divine initiative and revelation? Is it cited by other scripture writers and consistent with other scripture? Is it from a prophetic or apostolic source? (Per II Peter 1: 20?)
4. Consistency or Truth Test - is it free of error and contradiction? (Per John 10: 35?)

The "oracles" of God

5. Does it contain the oracles or utterances of God per Rom. 3: 2?

"This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us." (Acts 7: 38 KJV)

"What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." (Romans 3: 1, 2 KJV)

"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God..." (Hebrews 5: 12 KJV)

"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God..." (I Peter 4: 11 KJV)

Strictly speaking, no accepted inspired book of the Bible contains only the oracles of God. For instance, all of the Book of Genesis is not the direct verbal utterances of God, or his "oracles." It does contain God's verbal utterances. Yea, the very first oracle is the one given to Adam and Eve, which announced to them the coming "seed of the woman" and his victory over the "seed of the serpent." But, the other parts of Genesis are the words of Moses in commentary, explanantion, and narration. Yes, these are true and inspired, but they are not the utterances of God.

Genesis is inspired because it contains the oracles or very words of God spoken to a prophet by the mouth of God. Thus the prophets were often recorded as saying, "the word of the Lord came unto me" or "thus says the Lord," or "these be the words God has given me," etc.; And, where these divine utterances are recorded, they become his written oracles. But, strictly speaking, they are different from other parts that are not the express utterances of God. Can we say that the chronologies and genealogies in the Old Testament books are the utterances or oracles of God? We can say they are truthful and accurate, as a result of God's providence, but can we say they are the "oracles" of God? No, clearly not.

But, if a book contain an "oracle" or "thus says the Lord," or other such markers of inspiration and revelation, then it passes this test of inspiration and canonicity.

Does the Book of Esther contain any oracle of God?

Nov 28, 2008

40 Questions on Esther

1. Have you ever read the Book of Esther?
2. What was your first impression when reading it?
3. What lessons did you find in the reading?
4. What was the major theme of the book?
5. How many times have you re-read the Book of Esther?
6. How much has the Book of Esther been part of your meditations? (versus other books of the bible?)
7. How many sermons or bible study lessons have you heard on it?
8. What type of Hebrew Literature is it?
9. Who is the author of the Book?
10. Are there any memorable words in the Book?
11. Are there any oracles of God in the Book?
12. Are there any Messianic references or allusions in the Book?
13. Is there any instruction in righteousness in the Book?
14. Is there any reproof for sin in the Book?
15. Is there anything in the Book profitable for doctrine?
16. Is there anything in the Book to make a person wise unto salvation?
17. Is there any correction in the Book?
18. Does the Book have the words to perfect the man of faith?
19. Does the Book equip the man of God for good works?
20. Does the Book have historical or other errors?
21. Does the Book contradict itself?
22. Are there doubts about the inspiration of the Book? Or, is there universal agreement?
23. How does the Book measure up to the rules for judging inspiration?
24. What have the church fathers and leading apologists said of the Book?
25. Is the Book cited by Christ, another bible writer, or an apostle?
26. Is the feast of Purim of heaven or of men?
27. Is the feast of Purim an addition to the seven feasts of Yahweh as given by Moses?
28. How does the feast of Purim teach about redemption?
29. Did Jesus observe Purim as a religious observance?
30. Did Jesus countenance the general Jewish practice of Purim?
31. Did he participate in the carnivals and merrymaking?
32. Did the apostles and early Christian Jews participate in Purim?
33. Why did the Christian Jews in Qumran not recognize it?
34. Are the leading Hebrew characters in the Book examples of faith?
35. Was Esther an heroine of the faith? Was Mordecai a hero?
36. What are the godly characteristics of Esther? Of Mordecai?
37. What are the ungodly characteristics of each?
38. What is the setting or context of the story?
39. Does the Book edify and build me up in the most holy faith?
40. What was God's purpose in having this Book to be accepted as his inspired word?

Nov 26, 2008

White's Frustration

James White wrote today in his blog:

"I will continue my response to David Allen on Tuesday of next week. I must admit I am grieved by this whole situation. I know there are some who live for "blog conflict" and the like. I am not one of them. When I engage in controversy I try to do it for the sake of the furtherance of the truth of the gospel and the edification of God's people. I must admit, I am sick and tired of those who seem utterly intent upon promoting a narrow agenda, one-string banjo players who seem to have little else to do in life but to pluck their very limited number of notes."

see here for his article

First, I see the "pot calling the kettle black" as far as White's use of such a style of journalistic writing. White has consistently attacked the type of writing that Brother Bob Ross does and yet, it seems to me, White uses the same type of journalism! Had Ross written about "one string banjo players" who can only "pluck their very limited number of notes," White would have ridiculed it!

What is White frustrated about? He dislikes the debate going on in the blogosphere among Christians, among Calvinists and Arminians? Why? I thought he liked and promoted debates and theological discussions? Or, is he decrying a certain kind of blog discussion?

Could it be that he favors brethren calling for him to debate the thing for them as their champion? Could it be that he would actually love to take all this interest in the blogosphere and turn it into a real debate where he takes center stage? He wants to debate Caner and Allen and any other "professor" at one of the seminaries, but not Bob Ross, nor myself, nor anyone else who will challenge him on the things I have mentioned relative to Hyper Calvinism. He wants the debate to stop among the ordinary church members and pastors in the blogosphere, but he wants to debate the "greats" in the seminaries! Something is "rotten in Denmark" here.

He doesn't like this "blog conflict"! Yet, he loves the "conflict" he has with the Muslims, Atheists, JWs, etc.!

Some "live for" blog conflict? Is James not guilty here? Is he any better than others in this regard? Besides, what does he mean by this statement? What is he insinuating? Maybe he is falsely judging his brothers? If one regularly follows the ongoing debate in the SBC relative to Calvinism and other Baptist issues, does that mean they "live for" conflict?

How can a man who spends most of his time in debate and conflict say that he does not "live for" it? Oh, yes, he is "not one of them"!

I have debated several times in my life and will probably, the Lord willing, do it again. In fact, I am supposed to be having two debates in the future with two "Church of Christ" preachers. But, I cannot say that I "live for" it, for I have probably averaged one debate for every three years I have been a teacher of the bible.

His judgment seems harsh on others in their blog debating, but seems very soft in regard to himself. He says "I am not one of them." Is that so, James? Can you say that with good conscience?

What does he mean by "and the like"? One can only guess! Could the "like" be some of White's own behavior on the internet? What about the videos and diatribes he has made against Bob Ross? Could that not be part of the "like" conflict about which he is talking?

He says - "When I engage in controversy I try to do it for the sake of the furtherance of the truth of the gospel and the edification of God's people."

Oh, he is so pure in his motives! Oh how we all need to emulate the humility of brother White! Oh how soft and gentle he is in his internet comments about others! Did he not gently condemn debate in the blogosphere? In the manner of a "left-handed compliment"?

He "insinuates" or implies that others who "engage in controversy" (which expression defines what he means by "blog conflict") do it with an evil motive, that it is NOT for the purpose of edifying others and for the furtherance of the truth! How does he know the heart and mind of all these people?

Now, surely, he had some specific bloggers in mind. Why did he not name them? What was his criteria for judging this kind of thing? Will the criteria he uses condemn himself?

Why does White not allow comments on his blog? Is he "not one of them" who does, like Johnson and Ascol? Does White think that his method is better than theirs?

White said:

"I am sick and tired of those who seem utterly intent upon promoting a narrow agenda."

What does he mean by this? Why does he not speak plainly? What is he implying and insinuating? Does he believe he is not doing the same, in some respect? What does James promote? Some might reasonably argue that he promotes himself. He seems to love those who love him and despise those who don't "take a likin" to him.

Besides, what more "narrow agenda" can you get then to spend all one's time seeking debates with Baptist professors and cult leaders?

Frankly, in summation, I found White's recent comments ironic, if not hypocritical.

Reviewing White on God's Will

There has been a lot of discussion lately (in the blogosphere) about "Hyper Calvinism" and whether apologist James White classifies as one. I posted an entry awhile back on this subject. See here

The criterion being used in these discussions (since it was raised recently at the John 3:16 conference) is whether God "wills" or "desires" the salvation of all men.

Phil Johnson (pyromaniacs blog) gave as a criterion, for discerning a Hyper Calvinist, the question of whether God wills and desires the salvation of all men. To Johnson, if one does not believe that God, in some sense, wills and desires the salvation of all, then he IS a Hyper Calvinist.

Reading what James White has written on this topic leads me to believe that he fits this criterion. It is not the only criterion, as I showed in the posting linked above. To deny that the gospel is a means in regeneration, and to affirm that regeneration occurs before one can benefit from it, is a mark of Hyper Calvinism. To put "regeneration" before faith takes the gospel and faith out of the equation.

I believe God wills and desires the salvation of all men generally, but the elect especially or particularly. See my posting here

I want to look at a few citations from what White wrote today in his blog. White wrote (emphasis mine):

"The Pyromaniac (Phil Johnson) himself has weighed in on the John 3:16 Conference allegations that if you don't believe God is eternally bummed about failing to save those He desires to save you are a hyper-Calvinist."

I too believe that God's sovereign special desire, in regard to the salvation of the elect, will be satisfied and not frustrated. The question is, does he have any kind of will or desire at all in regard to the non elect? I believe he does and the posting I made on I Tim. 2: 1-6 and II Peter 3:9 dealt with this issue.

I use to take the common Calvinistic approach on these passages, restricting them to the elect. "God is longsuffering to usward (the elect)..." But, I have since come to see that there is clearly a sense in which God does will and desire that all come to the knowledge of the truth, believe in Jesus, and be saved.

I would ask White one question. Do you believe God is ever "displeased"? And another - "Is there anything in scripture that speaks of God's "displeasure"? By the way White argues, God is never displeased! Yet, the scriptures say he is displeased!

God's sovereign pleasure, in regard to the elect, and to his government of the world, cannot be frustrated. God will do all his pleasure. Yet, this cannot be taken in an unlimited sense, for then we would have to conclude that God is never "displeased."

White said:

"Hence, when I seek to be fully consistent in my beliefs, and as a result, refuse to portray God as having eternally decreed His own unhappiness, I am labeled a "hyper-Calvinist."

Does White believe that God is never "grieved"? Yes, in a sense, God is never displeased as respects his sovereign decrees, for he always does his pleasure. But, does this mean he in no sense is "unhappy"? Does God not use these anthropopathisms to teach us that he is, in some sense, displeased?

I could use an illustration from among men. Do men not ordain their own displeasure when they go on a diet, or do strenuous exercise? Are they not willing their own temporary displeasure for the achievement of a lasting pleasure? It is not a thing enjoyable in itself to do these things, but the results make the temporary displeasure a means of achieving lasting pleasure.

White then says:

"That's why I take the position I do regarding 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4: I simply have not found any counter-exegesis that makes any sense of the passages."

White should read my posting on these verses (see link above)! Let him read it and demonstrate how my "counter-exegesis" does not "make any sense of the passages."

White says further:

"Evidently, if I find my Presbyeterian brothers to be co-laborers in the kingdom, firm believers in the gospel of grace, compatriots in the battle against the powers of darkness and brothers in their passion for the freedom of God in salvation and the glory of Christ as Savior and Mediator, I'm just not quite "Baptist" enough for him (Malcom Yarnell)."

Personally, this is one of the things I dislike about White and many of today's Baptist Calvinists, those of the neo "reformed" persuasion, and those associated with the "Founder's" organization.

They are brethren who have forsaken one of the leading "Baptist distinctives," that of believer's baptism, and which avows that church fellowship and the sharing of the communion table is to be restricted to those who have been properly baptized. I dislike how these brethren have all but rolled out the red carpet for men like R. C. Sproul.

Our Baptist forefathers fought hard against the errors of the Pedos. They surely would not countenance this opening of the door of church fellowship to those who promote infant baptism and church membership.

The desire to have fellowship with Calvinists have caused Baptist Calvinists to "lower their standard" on these Baptist distinctives.

They come back with the retort that they can cooperate with other Christians with whom they disagree. Surely! But, within limits!

The Calvinists among Southern Baptists and other Baptist groups are concerned that today's "Reformed" Calvinists are trying to "Presbyterianize" the Baptist church. They have joint conferences with the baby baptizers, and have them in their pulpits, and never (or surely rarely) attack the great error of the Pedos! They are even promoting the Presbyterian type of church government with their "ruling elders."

So, yes, White is not quite "Baptist" enough for me either.

See here for White's writing.

Nov 24, 2008

Esther as Comedy

Of prime importance in understanding the Book of Esther is to understand its genre. To understand the genre will aid us in understanding the author, his personage and purpose in writing.

Is the author writing as an historian?

Is the author writing as a prophet?

Is the writer a poet?

Is Esther to be interpreted literally? As a record of historical events?

What is the snapshot of history, or the novella (if that is what it is), relative to the Jews in Persia (after the formal ending of the exile), given by the narrator, intended to accomplish in the readers (or hearers)?

Is the Book of Esther a history of some kind? A historical romance or novella? A "historical narrative"?

Some say that "the book of Esther represents a unique genre in the Hebrew Bible."

The following are some of my notes from sources, all which support the view that the Book of Esther is of the comedy genre.

A writer wrote (emphasis mine):

"Modern biblical scholars recognize in Esther, not an historical event, accurate in every respect, but a kind of historical novel that reflects a historical context, perhaps containing a historical nucleus, or at least describing accurately many characteristics of the Persian empire, 538- 333 B.C. (“a Jewish novella,” NISB Introduction; “a pseudo-historical tale,” JSB; see JB Introduction, which points out how Tobit, Judith and Esther deal quite freely with historical and geographical facts)."

"Adele Berlin adds that Esther is a “comedy” that reflects a carnival atmosphere, where the threat of extermination alternates with scenes of grotesque humor and ferocious irony (2001:XVI-XXII). The carnival atmosphere is evident in the continuous contrasts between extermination threats and the ten banquets/festivals: (1) 1:1-4; (2) 1:5 -8, 10-22; (3) 1:9; (4) 2:18; (5) 5:4-8; (6) 5:7-8 + 6:14-7:10; (7) 8:15-17; (8) 9:16-17,19, the rural banquet; (9) 9:18, the urban banquet in Susa; (10) 9:19, 20-32, the later annual festivals of Purim. David Pleins concludes that Esther tries to “deflate the Persian government’s pretenses.” But, in addition to “provincial/ colonial” Jewish humor directed against the Persian Empire, Esther and Vashti mock vain masculine pretenses of superiority, while the eunuchs, along with confirmed bachelor Mordecai, vindicate the honor of the sexual minorities against heterosexism and the “family values” of the anti-Semitic Haman. Esther is thus a highly subversive book."

"When certain Christians insist that the Scriptures attest to Jesus Christ (John 5:39) but deny that Esther contains evangelical teachings, logically they should advocate for the elimination of Esther from the canon."

In her book "Esther as Comedy - Can a book of the Bible be funny?" - By Adele Berlin, the comedic genre of the Book of Esther is well founded.

"Despite the recognition of Esther's comic nature by many scholars, some readers may be surprised or even shocked by this idea. That is because the inclusion of a book in the biblical canon affects the way we perceive the book, or certainly the way it was perceived in premodern times and may still be perceived in traditional circles."

"The very fact that Esther is part of the Bible--a holy book with religious authority and religious teachings--forces us to make it fit the expectations we have about what the Bible is and what kinds of writing it contains. We expect a biblical book to be serious and its message to be congruent with the messages of other biblical books as they have been interpreted by the tradition."

"The comic aspects of the book are not incidental, merely to provide comic relief; they are the essence of the book. They define the genre of the book, and thus set the parameters according to which we should read it. We cannot appreciate the story fully unless we realize that it is meant to be funny."

Defining Humor

"To be sure, it is not always easy to agree on what is funny, especially in an ancient or foreign work. Nonetheless, humor of various types is well-documented in ancient Near Eastern literature, including the Bible. Most readers recognize the humor in Esther 6, when Haman realizes that he must honor the very person whom he wishes to disgrace, and in Esther 7, when the king reacts to seeing Haman fallen on Esther's couch. These scenes are not isolated touches of humor, but are among the most obvious in a book where comedy is the dominant tone."

Esther as Burlesque

"Farce is a type of comedy designed to provoke the audience to simple, hearty laughter. To do so, it employs highly exaggerated or caricatured character types, puts men into impossible and ludicrous situations, and makes free use of broad verbal humor and physical horseplay (M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, p. 26)."

"We will return to farce, for it best describes Esther, but first another term, burlesque, should be introduced. Burlesque is defined as "an artistic composition... that, for the sake of laughter, vulgarizes lofty material or treats ordinary material with mock dignity" (Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1987)."

"The lofty material that Esther vulgarizes is the Persian empire and the Persian court. The normally sedate affairs of state, the carefully organized and controlled government structure, the legal system, the efficient postal system, the impressive accumulation of wealth indicative of a successful empire--all of the achievements most praiseworthy in the Persian empire are turned into a burlesque of Persian court life, caricatured by ludicrous edicts delivered by speeding messengers, a foppish royal court with an endless hierarchy of officials, and a wooden adherence to nonsensical laws. A major policy decision, the annihilation of the Jews, is made casually, but a small domestic incident, Vashti's nonappearance at a party, becomes a crisis of state, with all the bureaucratic trappings that can be mustered."

"The term satire has also been applied to Esther, most recently by Ze'ev Weisman (Political Satire in the Bible, pp. 139-163). The line between farce and satire is hard to draw, and there are certainly elements of satire in the book, especially those directed at Persian court life. However, these elements are incidental. The book is not primarily aimed at criticizing the Persian empire or its lifestyle. After all, Ahasuerus emerges stronger at the end of the story than he was at the beginning, and Mordecai and Esther benefit handsomely from all that the Persian court has to offer and become two of its most elite members."

"It is better to understand the description of the Persian court as burlesque rather than as satire; its purpose is comedy, not critique. The burlesque of the Persian court provides the setting for the farce. Burlesque also has the connotation of bawdiness, and as we shall see, the Book of Esther does not lack bawdiness, especially in chapter 1, the chapter in which court life is most on display."

Comic Styles in the Book of Esther

"The style associated with burlesque, farce, and other types of low comedy uses exaggeration, caricature, ludicrous situations, practical jokes, coincidences, improbabilities, and verbal humor. Farce often employs repetition--of scenes, events, and phrases--and inversions or reversals. Most of these features are prominent in Esther and have been identified in the commentaries, but without the realization that they are characteristic of comedy or farce."

"Another characteristic of farce is a misunderstanding in which two characters interpret the same event in different ways (J. M. Davis, Farce, p. 62). Classic examples of this type of misunderstanding occur in chapter six, when Haman mistakenly assumes that the king is planning to honor him, not Mordecai, and in chapter seven, when Ahasuerus misunderstands or pretends to misunderstand why Haman has fallen on Esther's couch. The effect in both cases is extremely comic."

"In farce there is little concern with the subtlety of characterization. Farce tends to use exaggerated or caricatured character types. In Esther, all the characters are types: Ahasuerus is a caricature of a pampered and bumbling monarch, a ruler ruled by his advisors; Esther is a paragon of feminine heroism; Mordecai is the model of a wise courtier; Haman is the archetypal comic villain--a knave, but, in keeping with farce, not darkly evil. We are not meant to feel threatened by the comic villain--not even children are afraid of Haman--nor are we meant to sympathize with him when he meets his deserved end. He is doomed from the start and we enjoy watching his downfall."

"While some of these characters show growth as the story progresses, and their various traits can be probed and described in a manner that makes them seem almost full-fledged characters (Fox has done this very successfully), they nevertheless remain types rather than full-fledged characters. This is not a defect in the narrative technique."

"The characterization in the book is intentional, cleverly done, and adds to the farcical humor. In fact, there is a striking resemblance to the stock characters in Greek comedy: the alazon, an imposter or self-deceiving braggart (Haman); the eiron, the self-deprecatory and understating character whose contest with the alazon is central to the comic plot (Mordecai); and the bomolochos, the buffoon whose antics add an extra comic element (Ahasuerus)."

Unconvincing Plot

"The plot is often unconvincing because one of the characteristics of farce is the rejection of rationality. "Farce enshrines the element of unreason" (J. M. Davis, Farce, p. 23). So the logical impossibility that looms largest--that Mordecai's Jewish identity is publicly known while Esther's remains secret--suddenly ceases to be problematic and becomes one more piece in the highly improbable plot. In fact, the entire plot turns on a succession of unlikely events, like the selection of a queen in a beauty contest and a series of ridiculous but irrevocable edicts."

"The largest interpretive problems melt away if the story is taken as a farce or a comedy associated with a carnival-like festival. The book sets out a threat to the Jews so that the Jewish audience can watch with glee and laugh with relief as it is overcome. The mad and threatening world of the beginning of the story fades into a happy ending where, for a brief moment, the Jews, through their two representatives, can play at wielding the highest power in the great empire to which they were in reality subservient and in which they were an insignificant minority."

"The story, like its accompanying festival, does what comedy and carnival are supposed to do. It confirms the belief that the power at work in the universe favors life and favors the success of the Jews. The Book of Esther affirms that all is right with the world and with the place of the Jews in it."

"Adele Berlin is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Maryland. Copyright 2001 by the Jewish Publication Society."

The Comic Style

"Another successful rhetorical strategy is the combination of a serious theme and a comic style. The threat of the destruction of the Jews is no laughing matter, but the Book of Esther is hilariously funny. The raucous Persian court, with its lavish display of luxury, and its pervasive drinking parties, is not the setting we expect for the impending annihilation of the Jewish people. The plot glories in revelry, and bawdiness (and this may be the primary reason for the absence of God's name). The frivolity of the book's style--with its hyperbole, mockery, and comic misunderstandings and reversals--undercuts the gravity of its theme."

"Yet, for the Purim festival this setting, plot, and style are natural and fitting, part and parcel of the celebration of Purim. The tone of the book fits its purpose: a comic story for a carnivalesque holiday. I find in this comic style additional evidence that the purpose of the Megillah was to model and to authenticate the celebration of Purim. In the Greek versions of Esther, which deemphasize Purim, the comic elements are diminished. The Hebrew Esther and the festival of Purim bring us a uniquely irreverent and joyously optimistic celebration of Jewish identity and Jewish continuity."

The Ancient Link Between Comedy and Carnival

"It is generally accepted that there is a strong link between comedy and carnival going back to the origin of dramatic comedy, ancient Greece. Comic performances have been associated with popular carnival-like celebrations in medieval and Renaissance Europe. In fact, the Greek word komos, whence "comedy," comes, signifies a riotous celebration."

"Certainly, the celebration of Purim is carnival ‑like, with its drinking, costumes, Purim plays, and Purim carnivals. The Megillah itself sets the parameters for the celebration, and its later manifestations are completely congruent with the tone and genre of the book as well as with carnival celebrations known from many cultures."

"Carnival celebrations, best known from the Greek Dionysia, the Roman Saturnalia, and the English May Day (and in modern times Mardi Gras, Halloween, and New Year's Day), often contain elements such as eating, drinking, carousing, masks and disguises, parades and processions, and combat and mock battles."

"There is an air of wildness, boisterousness, and violence that is made acceptable, perhaps only barely acceptable, because it is done within the bounds of a socially sanctioned festive occasion. Carnival permits the release of one's urge for violence and revenge in a way that channels the violence so that it is not actually destructive."

Hilarity, Mock Destruction and a Happy Ending

"It is not a huge leap to see the Book of Esther as a festive comedy--that is, a comedy relating to the celebration of the carnival-like holiday of Purim--for the link with Purim is inherent in the book. I do not mean to suggest that the book was a script for a performance. Clearly, it is a narrative. It may be no accident, however, that the story has been acted out in generations of Purim plays. There is something about the book that lends itself to comic dramatization. (Perhaps it is the large amount of "stage direction" in terms of the positioning of characters.)"

"Esther may not be a play but it is surely carnivalesque literature. Its secret identities, gross indulgences, sexual innuendoes, and nefarious plot against the Jews are part and parcel of the carnivalesque world of madness, hilarity, violence, and mock destruction. Indeed, violence is very much a part of this world, and it is in this framework that we should understand the slaughter of the enemies of the Jews in chapter 9. The killing is no more real than anything eIse in the plot, and is completely in character with the story's carnivalesque nature."

"It is in this light that we should understand Esther. The largest interpretive problems melt away if the story is taken as a farce or a comedy, associated with a carnival-like festival. The book sets out a threat to the Jews so that the Jewish audience can watch with glee and laugh with relief as it is overcome. The mad and threatening world of the beginning of the story fades into a happy ending where, for a brief moment, the Jews, through their two representatives, can play at wielding the highest power in the great empire to which they were in reality subservient and in which they were an insignificant minority."

"The story, like its accompanying festival, does what comedy and carnival are supposed to do: it confirms the belief that the power at work in the universe favors life and favors the success of the Jews. The Book of Esther affirms that all is right with the world and with the place of the Jews in it." (Same author)

"I have found Fox's nuanced discussion of the author's deliberate absenting of God in the story and the message of that silence particularly thought-provoking. As he says in his response to Levenson's argument that God is to be understood as implicitly present, "The author's silences too must be interpreted. In my view they leave us with a maybe-a 'maybe' that demands an even bolder faith than plain statement would" (italics his, p. 290)."

"Readers will also benefit from pondering the "incongruous" humor and irony of Esther that Fox highlights. Genocide is no laughing matter, and many readers of Esther have therefore been uncomfortable with appreciating its humor. Fox's explanation of the function of humor in the story from a Jewish perspective gives us permission to appreciate it. "Humor, especially the humor of ridicule, is a device for defusing fear. The author teaches us to make fun of the very forces that once threatened-and will again threaten-our existence, and thereby makes us recognize their triviality as well as their power. `If I laugh at any mortal thing,' said Byron, `t'is that I may not weep.' Jews have learned that kind of laughter. The book of Esther begins a tradition of Jewish humor" (p. 253).

A Comic View of Esther

"During the public reading of the Scroll of Esther in synagogues on Purim, the readers (like myself) may feel that we are reenacting the events of the story. When the Jews are in danger – we almost cry. When the Jews are saved – we feel relieved. But dramatizing the scroll is usually very difficult in the carnivalesque atmosphere of Purim: most of the congregants are busy making noise when Haman’s name is mentioned, even at the most dramatic points in the story! Although most Jewish commentators have read Esther as a book about a very serious event, popular tradition has always seen it as terribly funny."

"Adele Berlin’s new commentary on Esther gives scholarly support to this tradition. True, she is definitely not the first to notice comic elements in the Scroll. Many modern readers have categorized Esther as satire, comedy meant as critique, directed against the Persian court. Berlin, however, views it as farce and as burlesque, and I believe she is the first to write a commentary along these lines. Farce and burlesque are forms of comedy for its own sake. As farce, the Scroll uses exaggerated character-types and absurd situations. As burlesque, it uses vulgar language for important matters, and dignified language for the ordinary. Esther is a book written about Purim, but also for Purim, with both book and holiday celebrating Jewish survival in the Diaspora:

“Certainly the celebration of Purim is carnival-like, with its drinking, costumes, Purim plays and Purim carnivals. The Megillah itself sets the parameters for the celebration…” (p. xxi)

"This view of Esther solves a number of exegetical problems in the Scroll, some of which we will mention here. First, the royal decree in chapter 1, removing Vashti from the throne, but also prescribing male dominance in households throughout the empire:

“The danger that Memucan sees in Vashti’s refusal is preposterous. How will it provoke a rebellion by all the wives in the empire against their husbands?” (p. 17)

"Second, the Scroll – as opposed to other books in the Bible – does not see any problem in violence, intermarriage, or eating non-kosher food. Third, it is impossible to believe that everyone knew Esther was related to Mordecai the Jew, but that her own Jewish identity could be kept hidden. Fourth, Haman’s ability to convince Ahasuerus to annihilate the Jews without even mentioning their name seems absurd, as do the irrevocability of royal decrees and the large number of enemies killed by the Jews in battle (75,800). Fifth, we must consider the absence of God’s name in Esther, a book that in many aspects is modeled after other Biblical texts."

"When viewing the book as a farce, however, these absurdities, exaggerations and moral/religious problems become irrelevant. The problems faced by characters in a farce, as well as their ways of solving them, are absurd, exaggerated and over-violent by generic convention. Thus there is no reason why Vashti’s refusal to show herself at the banquet would provoke a women’s rebellion:

“The burlesque of the great Persian empire, drowning in luxury, wine, courtiers, and incompetent management, reaches one of its high points here, with a touch of male sexual anxiety added for good measure.” (p. 17)

"The book has no opinion whatsoever on intermarriage or kosher food. (Mock) violence has a place of its own in carnival, as it “symbolize[s] both the aura of make-believe and the permissible reversing of the rules of society.” (p. xlviii)

"Haman could not have convinced the king to annihilate the Jews. Royal decrees were indeed revocable. The Jews could not have killed so many enemies in such a short time. There is no way Esther could have kept her Jewishness hidden. But in this type of story, these things are irrelevant.

"The absence of God’s name is also due to the book’s genre:

“…the absence of religious language in the Masoretic Text is completely appropriate, if not absolutely necessary, given that it is a farce associated with a carnivalesque occasion.” (p. xlix)

"Here, the theological problem that many readers would see in the book’s fictionality is addressed as well:

“The distinction between history and story, which is such an important issue for us, would not have engaged readers in the Persian period in the same way it does us. To the ancient reader an imaginative story was just as worthy, or even as holy, as a historically accurate one, so to declare Esther to be imaginative does not in any way detract from its value. The message of the Book of Esther and the significance of Purim remain the same whether or not the events of the book were actual.” (Ibid.)

"The religious importance of the book, in Berlin’s eyes, is the establishment of a new Jewish holiday, Purim, whose history is intertwined with that of the Scroll of Esther. Both book and holiday celebrate the Jews’ ability to survive in the Diaspora, against all odds."

"Although some of these arguments may not sound convincing to many readers, myself included, Berlin’s comic reading is an important development in Esther studies, on three accounts. First, she adopts an extreme viewpoint on the question of comedy in Esther, an argument which previously had only one extreme opinion, that which rejected the idea altogether. Berlin’s overall comic reading will provide an alternative hypothesis for dealing with the Scroll in general. This will enable us to come to more balanced conclusions than previously, when dealing with various exegetical matters."

Second, her commentary has shown us that not all questions have answers. Not every genre of literature pays the same amount of attention to every detail, and there may be matters considered important in some genres, but irrelevant in others.

Third is the issue of Greek parallels. As Esther was written at approximately the same time as Herodotus’ Histories and other early Greek historical works, such a comparison is warranted. Also, viewing Esther as a comedy warrants comparison to Greek comedies. However, until now, no other scholar has undertaken a systematic study in this direction. Berlin’s verse-by-verse commentary is filled with Greek parallels to Esther, from historical texts and comedies, with comments on both the similarities and the differences between the texts. For example, the Jews’ battle against their enemies in chapter 9 is compared to the killing of the Magi in Herodotus 3:79:

“The death of the Magi… has often been compared to Esther because it, too, tells of a festival arising from a victory against an enemy; and like Esther it is violent and bloodthirsty.” (p. 82)

But the differences are even more important than the similarities for understanding Esther:

“Here, as elsewhere, the biblical account is less graphic than the Greek, with much less blood and guts… It is not important how the Jews killed their enemies, only that they did so, that they had been authorized to do so (by royal decree and by the rightness of their cause), and that they were amazingly successful in their undertaking. Another difference between the Greek and the Hebrew accounts is that the author of Esther is describing Jewish actions for a Jewish audience, while Herodotus is describing Persian actions for a Greek audience. For the Greeks… the narrator is… reporting unsympathetically about the practice of a strange tribe. The biblical narrator… approves of the Jews’ acts and is cheering them on and enjoying their success.” (pp. 82-83)

In short, Berlin’s commentary is remarkable for her view of Esther as farce, and for her systematic use of Greek parallels. Although in farce, not every detail has meaning, Berlin offers us an excellent close reading, making maximal use of the language and style of the scroll, with comparisons to both Greek parallels, and those from the Hebrew Bible and the Apocrypha.

Greek versions of Esther are mentioned, and a few pages of the introduction are devoted to them (xlix-lii), but they are not used as systematically as in other commentaries, and the Greek additions to Esther are not treated as part of the story. This is a specifically Jewish commentary, so the basic text is the MT, although Berlin does make use of textual criticism.

The commentary to each chapter is preceded by an introduction, giving the readers an overview of its events and major themes, while contributing to our ability to read the commentary fluently.

So all in all, Berlin’s commentary is original and engaging, with plenty of new ideas for the expert, and easy enough to read for the layperson. Especially with regards to the issues of comedy and Greek parallels, this should be considered a major work in Esther studies for years to come.

Reviewed for JBS by

Baruch Alster
Bar Ilan University

"Esther of late has received considerable attention as a comic work of first rank. Several scholars have made the case for a comic interpretation, offering valuable insight into the variety of dynamics that combine to render Esther as a magnificent illustration of the comic vision in ancient Israel. Indeed, in a most stimulating study of Esther, Michael Fox makes the striking claim: "The book of Esther begins a tradition of Jewish humor." I would agree that Esther contains a rich vein of "Jewish humor..."

"In my judgment, Esther emerges as perhaps the clearest embodiment of the comic vision among all the biblical narratives, representing a brilliantly conceived story in which plot-line, characterization of major figures, and rhetorical strategies combine to produce a finely told comedy.

"The story opens up with an opulent description of the greatness of the Persian Empire as illustrated by the wondrous wealth of the royal court in Susa. As Berg and others have argued, banquets bracket the major episodes of the narrative, focusing the theme of festivity at beginning, middle, and end, and crating the setting for the significant actions. Already the exaggerated representation found in the opening scene one discerns comic hyperbole. The vast extent of the empire stretching "from India to Ethiopia" is highlighted by the sheer number of provinces: one hundred and twenty-seven (in contrast to the twenty satrapies Herodotus mentions). The citadel of Susa becomes a microcosm that mirrors the grandeur of the huge empire: the kind "displayed the great wealth" (1: 4). No less than three banquets are given (two by the king, one by the queen), the first and most sumptuous feast lasting no less than one hundred and eighty days. On the seventh day of the second banquet, the kind "was merry with wine" (to echo a quaint, euphemistic translation), thus setting a good (or bad) example at a party (page 174)

The Bible and the Comic Vision By J. William Whedbee

("Esther As Comedy")

"If Fox has given readers permission to see the humor in the Esther story, Berlin goes so far as to identify the genre of Esther as burlesque, making it "a comic story for a carnivalesque holiday" (p. xvi). In Berlin's view, Esther is imaginative storytelling that "historicizes" the Jewishness of Purim, although she sees no authentically historical material in the Esther story."

Canonical Rule 4

Does the professed sacred scroll contradict itself? Does it have errors? Doctrinal, theological, historical, grammatical, etc.?

Jesus said "the scripture cannot be broken." (John 10: 35 KJV)

"The scripture(s)" is synonymous with "word(s) of God." And, the "word of God" is the same as "word of truth." (II Timothy 2: 15 KJV)

"And now, O Lord GOD, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant." (II Samuel 7: 28 KJV)

"Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever." (Psalm 119: 160 KJV)

"But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay." (II Corinthians 1: 18 KJV)

"And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful." (Revelation 21: 5 KJV)

"As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless." (II Samuel 22: 31 NIV)

"The word of the Lord is flawless." (Psalms 12:6 NIV)

"As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless." (Psalm 18: 30 NIV)

"Every word of God is flawless." (Proverbs 30: 5 NIV)

"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." (I Thessalonians 2: 13 KJV)

The inspired books are infallible and without error. They are inerrant. Though there are seeming contradictions in the holy books, yet these are not real, but may be shown to harmonize.

Not only must an inspired scroll not contradict other sacred books, but it must not contradict itself or contain other verifiable errors in fact. Though the bible is no history or geography book, yet the things it says about these subjects are truthful and errorless.

Nov 22, 2008

Canonical Rule 3 (cont.)

Three rules have been given thus far for determining inspiration and canonicity.

1) The Messianic rule (test)

2) The Profitability rule (test)

3) The Privacy rule (test)

A popular conservantive web site gives these rules for "Tests of Canonicity."

"Specific tests to consider canonicity may be recognized."

(1) Did the book indicate God was speaking through the writer and that it was considered authoritative?

(2) Was the human author recognized as a spokesman of God, that is, was he a prophet or did he have the prophetic gift?

(3) Was the book historically accurate? Did it reflect a record of actual facts?

There are some 250 quotes from Old Testament books in the New Testament. None are from the Apocrypha. All Old Testament books are quoted except Esther, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon."

Citations from another bible writer, particularly from a prophet, apostle, or from Christ, is included under canon rule #3, under Peter's rule that said no inspired prophetic work was of any "private interpretation." This will then be an enlargement upon that rule.

No inspired writing (or verbal message) by a prophet (or apostle, but really, all the apostles were prophets too) was capable of self production but was immediate revelation of God. It had to have "come by" the "will of God" and not "come by" the "will of man." The writing must have "come by" the "moving" of God's "Spirit," and not "come by" a self "moving" spirit of man.

Inspiration connects with authority and authority with revelation. A "scripture" or "inspired writing" must have God and his miraculous working as the sole cause of the revelation in order for the "source" to be valid.

According to Peter, if the source be not with God and his will and moving, then it is what is a "personal interpretation," a mere scruple that has no substance of truth to it, and what has arisen from a man's own spirit and imagination.

This third rule for judging canonicity and inspiration, or divine authority for written works of professed revelation, includes the confirmatory "interpretations" and "attestations" given by the prophets themselves to other fellow prophets and to their writings, and of Christ and his apostles, and of those who were companions of the apostles, and recgonized leaders among the apostles.

This third rule for inspiration and canonicity, as I have said, includes the "prophetic rule."

Peter referred to all of Old Testament scripture as being prophetic, being revelation from a God sent prophet.

Hebrews 1:1 says, "God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets. . . ."

Did God speak to the fathers by Mordecai (the supposed author of Esther)? Can we call Esther the prophecy of Mordecai?

What prophecy or revelation is in the Book of Esther?

"To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10: 43 KJV)

What a canonical rule for judging inspiration! What does the book, claiming inspiration, speak about? Does it speak of God and Christ? Of the forgiveness of sins? Of faith?

Does the Book of Esther give this "witness" that all the prophets give? Is Esther a "prophetic" book?

"...unto them were committed the oracles of God." (Romans 3: 2 KJV)

What are the "oracles" of God? Are all books of a particular "bible" the "oracles" of God? Can we call a particular book, claiming inspiration and canonicity, the "oracles" of God?

Can the Book of Esther be properly called the "oracles" or God? When it has no utterances of God in it?

The three rules I have presented thus far are a trinity that, when taken together and applied, leads one to a correct faith knowledge of inspiration.

Nov 20, 2008

Edersheim on Esther

"The other objections to canonicity apply exclusively to the third division of the Old Testament, the Kethubhim or Hagiographa. Here even the Book of Proverbs seems at one time to have been called in question (Ab. R. Nathan 1), partly on the ground of its secular contents, and partly as containing 'supposed contradictory statements' (Shabb. 30 b). Very strong doubts were raised on the Book of Ecclesiastes (Yad. iii. 5; Eduy. v. 3), first, on that ground of its contradiction to some of the Psalms (Shabb. 30 a); secondly, on that of its inconsistencies (Shabb. 30 b); and thirdly, because it seemed to countenance the denial of another life, and, as in Eccl. xi 1, 3, 9, other heretical views (Vayyikra R. 28, at the beginning). But these objections were finally answered by great ingenuity, while an appeal to Eccl. xii. 12, 13, was regarded as removing the difficulty about another life and future rewards and punishments. And as the contradictions in Ecclesiastes had been conciliated, it hopefully argued deeper study would equally remove those in the Book of Proverbs (Shabb. 30 b). Still, the controversy about the canonicity of Ecclesiastes continue so late as the second century of our era (comp. Yad. iii. 5). That grave doubts also existed about the Song of Solomon, appears even from the terms in which its canonicity is insisted upon (Yad. u. s.), not to speak of express statements in opposition to it (Ab. de. R. Nathan 1). Even when by an allegorical interpretation it was shown to be the 'wisdom of all wisdom,' the most precious gem, the holy of holies, tradition still ascribed its composition to the early years of Solomon (Shir haSh. R. 1). It had been his first work, and was followed by Proverbs, and finally by Ecclesiastes. But perhaps the greatest objections were those taken to the Book of Esther (Meg. 7 a). It excited the enmity of other nations against Israel, and it was outside the canon. Grave doubts prevailed whether it was canonical or inspired by the Holy Spirit (Meg. u. s.; Yoma 29 a)." (Appendix V)

See here for citation

Calvin on Esther?

A writer correctly affirmed:

"Luther and Calvin left no commentaries on Esther..."


Another writer says:

"John Calvin to never have preached the book."

See here

Another writer, a Reformed writer, wrote:

"As far as we can tell, there were no commentaries written on the book of Esther for the first seven centuries of the Church. And John Calvin, as far as we know, never preached on Esther or wrote a commentary on it. So it seems that people did have a problem with what to make of Esther."

See here

We know Luther rejected the inspiration and canonicity of the Book of Esther. Wrote one author:

"In his correspondence with Erasmus on the issue of free choice, Luther expressed his rejection on the canonicity of Esther. He grouped Esther with Ecclesiasticus, Judith, two books of Esdras (1 Esdras and 2 Esdras), Susanna and (Bel and) Dragon.

The first is that from Ecclesiasticus 15[:14-17]: “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel. He added his commandments and precepts. If thou wilt observe the commandments and keep acceptable fidelity forever, they shall preserve thee. He hath set water and fire before thee; stretch forth thine hand for which thou wilt. Before man is life and death, good and evil; that which he shall choose shall be given him.” Although I could rightly reject this book, for the time being I accept it so as not to waste time by getting involved in a dispute about the books received in the Hebrew canon. For you [Erasmus] poke more than a little sarcastic fun at this when you compare Proverbs and The Song of Solomon (which with a sneering innuendo you call the “Love Song”) with the two books of Esdras, Judith, the story of Susanna and the Dragon, and Esther (which despite their inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical)."  (
Luther’s Works, Vol. 33, page 110)

"In one of his Table Talk, Luther was reported of saying: ‘I hate Esther and 2 Maccabees so much that I wish they did not exist; they contain too much Judaism and no little heathen vice." (quoted from F.F. Bruce: The Canon of Scripture, page 101)."

See here

The French Confession of 1559 lists the book of Esther. This confession was not objected to by Calvin. It appears that Calvin had his doubts about the book, but did not feel that it was an issue that demanded his thunderous writings.

Athanasius Canon List

Athanasius on the Canon

Or, more particularly, "Concerning the Divine Scriptures."

"In proceeding to make mention of these things, I shall adopt, to commend my undertaking, the pattern of Luke the evangelist, saying on my own account, Forasmuch as some have taken in hand to reduce into order for themselves the books termed Apocryphal, and to mix them up with the divinely inspired Scripture, concerning which we have been fully persuaded, as they who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, delivered to the Fathers; it seemed good to me also, having been urged thereto by true brethren, and having learned from the beginning, to set before you the books included in the Canon, and handed down, and accredited as divine; to the end that anyone who has fallen into error may condemn those who have led them astray; and that he who has continued steadfast in purity may again rejoice, having these things brought to his remembrance."

"There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews; their respective order and names being as follows. The first is Genesis, then Exodus, next Leviticus, after that Numbers, and then Deuteronomy. Following these there is Joshua the son of Nun, then Judges, then Ruth. And again, after these four books of Kings, the first and second being reckoned as one book, and so likewise the third and fourth as one book. And again, the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book. Again Ezra, the first and second are similarly one book. After these there is the book of Psalms, then the Proverbs, next Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Job follows, then the Prophets, the Twelve [minor prophets] being reckoned as one book. Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations and the Epistle, one book; afterwards Ezekiel and Daniel, each one book. Thus far constitutes the Old Testament."

See here for the above citation

Notice how the "canon" of Athanasius excludes the Book of Esther and all the Apocryphal books, except for Baruch and "the Epistle" of Jeremiah, which he adds to the one book of Jeremiah and Lamentations.

Notice that Athanasius shows how his "canon" had great authority in the Christian world at the time of his writing it (A.D. 367), being what had a long tradition, and what must have been the majority opinion during his time. It is as much a snapshot of his times as is his "creed" on the Trinity ("Athanasian creed").

Thus, it is false to say that the Book of Esther has always been accepted by Christians (or Jews for that matter) for the first centuries!

Esther - History or Fiction?

Improbabilities of the Story

"1. It is now generally recognized that the Ahasuerus, mentioned in Esther, in Ezra iv. 6, and in Dan. ix. 1, is identical with the Persian king known as Xerxes (Ξέρζης, "Khshayarha"), who reigned from 485 to 464 B.C.; but it is impossible to find any historical parallel for a Jewish consort to this king. Some critics formerly identified Esther with Amastris (Ionic, "Amestris"), who is mentioned by Herodotus (viii. 114, ix. 110; compare Ctesias, 20) as the queen of Xerxes at the time when Esther, according to Esth. ii. 6, became the wife of Ahasuerus. Amastris, however, was the daughter of a Persian general and, therefore, not a Jewess. Furthermore, the facts of Amastris' reign do not agree with the Biblical story of Esther. Besides all this, it is impossible to connect the two names etymologically. M'Clymont (Hastings, "Dict. Bible," i. 772) thinks it possible that Esther and Vashti may have been merely the chief favorites of the harem, and are consequently not mentioned in parallel historical accounts.

It is very doubtful whether the haughty Persian aristocracy, always highly influential with the monarch, would have tolerated the choice of a Jewish queen and a Jewish prime minister (Mordecai), to the exclusion of their own class—not to speak of the improbability of the prime ministry of Haman the Agagite, who preceded Mordecai. "Agagite" can only be interpreted here as synonymous with "Amalekite" (compare "Agag," king of the Amalekites, the foe of Saul, I Sam. xv. 8, 20, 32; Num. xxiv. 7; see Agag). Oppert's attempt to connect the term "Agagite" with "Agaz," a Median tribe mentioned by Sargon, can not be taken seriously. The term, as applied to Haman, is a gross anachronism; and the author of Esther no doubt used it intentionally as a fitting name for an enemy of Israel. In the Greek version of Esther, Haman is called a Macedonian.

2. Perhaps the most striking point against the historical value of the Book of Esther is the remarkable decree permitting the Jews to massacre their enemies and fellow subjects during a period of two days. If such an extraordinary event had actually taken place, should not some confirmation of the Biblical account have been found in other records? Again, could the king have withstood the attitude of the native nobles, who would hardly have looked upon such an occurrence without offering armed resistance to their feeble and capricious sovereign? A similar objection may be made against the probability of the first edict permitting Haman the Amalekite to massacre all the Jews. Would there not be some confirmation of it in parallel records? This
whole section bears the stamp of free invention.

3. Extraordinary also is the statement that Esther did not reveal her Jewish origin when she was chosen queen (ii. 10), although it was known that she came from the house of Mordecai, who was a professing Jew (iii. 4), and that she maintained a constant communication with him from the harem (iv. 4-17).

4. Hardly less striking is the description of the Jews by Haman as being "dispersed among the people in all provinces of thy kingdom" and as disobedient "to the king's laws" (iii. 8). This certainly applies more to the Greek than to the Persian period, in which the Diaspora had not yet begun and during which there is no record of rebellious tendencies on the part of the Jews against the royal authority.

5. Finally, in this connection, the author's knowledge of Persian customs is not in keeping with contemporary records. The chief conflicting points are as follows:

(a) Mordecai was permitted free access to his cousin in the harem, a state of affairs wholly at variance with Oriental usage, both ancient and modern.

(b) The queen could not send a message to her own husband (!).

(c) The division of the empire into 127 provinces contrasts strangely with the twenty historical Persian satrapies.

(d) The fact that Haman tolerated for a long time Mordecai's refusal to do obeisance is hardly in accordance with the customs of the East. Any native venturing to stand in the presence of a Turkish grand vizier would certainly be severely dealt with without delay.

(e) This very refusal of Mordecai to prostrate himself belongs rather to the Greek than to the earlier Oriental period, when such an act would have involved no personal degradation (compare Gen. xxiii. 7, xxxiii. 3; Herodotus, vii. 136).

(f) Most of the proper names in Esther which are given as Persian appear to be rather of Semitic than of Iranian origin, in spite of Oppert's attempt to explain many of them from the Persian (compare, however, Scheftelowitz, "Arisches im Alten Testament," 1901, i.)."

Probable Date

"In view of all the evidence the authority of the Book of Esther as a historical record must be definitely rejected. Its position in the canon among the Hagiographa or "Ketubim" is the only thing which has induced Orthodox scholars to defend its historical character at all. Even the Jews of the first and second centuries of the common era questioned its right to be included among the canonical books of the Bible (compare Meg. 7a). The author makes no mention whatever of God, to whom, in all the other books of the Old Testament, the deliverance of Israel is ascribed. The only allusion in Esther to religion is the mention of fasting (iv. 16, ix. 31). All this agrees with the theory of a late origin for the book, as it is known, for example, from Ecclesiastes, that the religious spirit had degenerated even in Judea in the Greek period, to which Esther, like Daniel, in all probability belongs."

"Esther could hardly have been written by a contemporary of the Persian empire, because (1) of the exaggerated way in which not only the splendor of the court, but all the events described, are treated (compare the twelve months spent by the maidens in adorning themselves for the king; the feasts of 187 days, etc., all of which point rather to the past than to a contemporary state of affairs); (2) the uncomplimentary details given about a great Persian king, who is mentioned by name, would not have appeared during his dynasty."

From Jewish Encyclopedia

See here

Nov 19, 2008

Jewish Christians on Esther

"The Jewish rabbis were still discussing the status of the Hebrew Esther in the 1st century A.D., but the book has now become very popular with the Jews.

The book belongs to a type of literature which treats history and geography with a good deal of 'Freedom.' In the book, the city of Susa is correctly described, along with some Persian customs. Ahasuerus (Hebrew transcription of Xerxes) is well known as an historical figure and the delineation of his character appears to agree with what Herodotus says of him. On the other hand, it is strange that one of the tolerant Achmenid dynasty should agree to sign the order for a Jewish pogrom. And still stranger that he should authorize a massacre of his own subjects, or that the Jews would be so blood thirsty to want to kill 75,000 fellow Persians, or that these Persians should offer no resistance to their own massacre. Moreover, at the time indicated by the narrative, the queen of Persia and consort of Xerxes was Amestris, as recorded in historical records. History leaves no room for either Vashi or Esther. And, if Mordecai was indeed deported under King Nebuchadnezzar, according to Esther 2:6, he would have been one hundred and fifty years old by the reign of Xerxes (which is not very likely).

What the story does illustrate is the hatred toward the Jews, even in ancient times. Their way of life brought them into conflict with their autocratic rulers. The bloodthirstiness of the Book of Esther is very shocking, but we must remember, as in any literary conventions, the harem intrigues and the massacres serve to dramatize. But as to its value for inclusion into the set-apart Scripture, hardly. There is not much of a redeeming factor in the Book, except maybe for the Jew as a fabricated story.

The Greek version of the Book of Esther was in existence in 114 B.C. when it was sent to Egypt to authenticate the Jewish feast of Purim (Esther 4:13-17). The Hebrew text is earlier; in 160 B.C., according to 2 Maccabees 15:36, the Palestinian Jews were celebrating a 'Day of Mordecai'; which presupposes that the story, and probably the book of Esther were well known among the Jews. The book may therefore be assigned to the end of the Persian, or the beginning of the Hellenistic period. It is very doubtful that the Book is in any way connected with the feast of Purim, because Esther 9:20-32 is written in a very different linguistic style and reads very much like it was an addition. The origin of the feast of Purim is itself obscure, and it is quite possible that the book came to be connected with it later (2 Maccabees 15:36 does not use the term 'Purim", but 'Day of Mordecai') apparently to give it some historical basis.

We at the Assembly of Yahweh, consider the Book of Esther interesting Jewish literature, a story. We do not give it any 'Scriptural validity, or place any value on it. We do not believe it has any historical basis, and consider the book in the ranks of the Books of Tobit, and Judith. They are interesting stories, but not much more. ("The Book of Esther, fiction or 'Set-Apart' Scripture?")