THE BOOK OF ESTHER IN MODERN RESEARCHWritten by SIDNIE WHITE CRAWFORD AND LEONARD J. GREENSPOON Reviewed By Robin Gallaher Branch
The Book of Esther in Modern Research does what its title states: it explores via thirteen essays aspects of the book of Esther available to scholars today. A bonus is that every essay includes some historical treatments of Esther.
Eleven contributors come from the United States, and one each from Canada and the United Kingdom. Notably lacking are scholars from Asia and Africa. A cumulative bibliography (242–57) serves all the authors. The articles, well written and edited but bereft of heavy citation, present a thoughtful study of a controversial book that was included in the canon, includes multiple versions, and continues to ignite interest worldwide.
Writing tongue-in-cheek, essayist Carey Moore wishes to be remembered for believing Mordecai supplied the brains and Esther the beauty (8). He had better be careful when, where, and to whom he says that!
Adele Berlin believes American Jews like the book more than do Israeli Jews “because they see themselves in it to a greater extent” (9).
Leonard Greenspoon examines thirty-two commentaries and selects translational differences to highlight.
Starting with modern translations and moving backward to the Persian period, Scott Langston concludes that “Esther is a book supremely concerned with power, its possession and its confrontation” (216).
Judith Neulander shows how the character Esther captures the imagination of Jews, Catholics, and Protestants alike (176). Ori Soltes collected scrolls of Esther (159–75). They look glorious! Too bad the miniature pictures are not in color!
In an interesting article, Barry Walfish points to ways to resolve a predicament present in midrash and Greek traditions that Esther was married to Mordecai before being taken to the king’s palace and becoming queen (111–12). For example, one view was that the coupling of Mordecai and Esther, two righteous ones, was a lamp unto God and something worthy and necessary to bring about Israel’s redemption (133).
Sidnie White Crawford, contrasting the books of Esther and Judith, finds sexuality predominates both (64). Their most striking difference is the role that religion and piety play. Esther is notorious for a dearth of religious piety, and in the Masoretic Text (MT), God is not mentioned at all (68). In contrast, the text says Judith prays, fasts, fears God, and provides sound theology to Bethulia’s leaders (Judith 8:8, 11–27) (68).
Kristin De Troyer notes the book of Esther comes in various sizes. The size that became canonical is the MT; the Hebrew also was translated into Greek (LXX). The LXX is characterized by six additions; the most common addition is in the Alpha Text (AT). These three main texts (MT, LXX, AT) present, in De Troyer’s opinion, a good example of how stories were reshaped in Judaism (49).
Timothy Laniak writes that the book of Esther affirms Purim and that Exodus affirms Passover; the event ought to be institutionalized each time God delivers his people (86).
In what to me was the most fascinating essay, Elizabeth Groves, argues strongly that Esther 2:19 (“At a second gathering of virgins”) represents a significant decrease in power for the heroine. This verse, which Groves learned has puzzled scholars, presents, in her view, the revelation that Ahasuerus quite possibly had tired of Esther and sought more virgins to deflower. Esther’s decision to attempt to thwart Haman’s plan to kill the Jews shows her faith and courage in the face of personal danger. Groves writes that should Esther “appear in his court unbidden in direct defiance of Persian law, the penalty for which was death, she would conveniently provide him with the perfect excuse to dispatch her and search for a new queen by gathering virgins a third time” (108, emphasis in original).
David Clines in an entertaining essay walks the reader through a cacophony of interpretations and a symphony of readers’ voices. He sees the future of the commentary as hypertext in which no one will read every word but everyone who uses it can find more than they thought they wanted (23).
Michael Fox examines three different heroines. The AT Esther is Mordecai’s pliant tool (57). The LXX Esther deliberately uses her feminine frailty to give the king confidence (59). The MT Esther shows how an ordinary person, one with little initial promise, rises to a crisis, grows to meet its demands, and becomes a force to be reckoned with (54, 53).
Clearly, the book of Esther offers enough variety for all kinds of literary bents. The selected essays remind the modern reader to see the humor, foolishness, buffoonery, and sexual aspects in the book of Esther as well as its enduring themes of courage and miraculous deliverance.
Robin Gallaher Branch
Sterling College, Sterling, Kansas