The Esther Scroll: The Story of the Story

Written by D. J. A. Clines Reviewed By Walter Moberly

This brilliant book is the most illuminating study of Esther I have read (and, indeed, expect ever to read). An exceptional piece of work.

The book’s thesis is presented in four sections. The first section is a superb literary analysis of the story of Esther which focuses on plot and narrative development. Although Clines is at pains to do justice to the story as a whole in its familiar Hebrew, i.e. Masoretic, form, his analysis nonetheless shows how in terms of the internal concerns of the story it is most likely that the story originally ended at the end of chapter 8, and that chapters 9 and 10 are subsequent additions that developed the story in new directions.

The next two sections are technical studies of textual history and development which, though exemplary in content and presentation, are perhaps too technical for most non-specialists. The author argues, first, that one ancient Greek version of Esther, the Septuagint A text, whose significance has generally been discounted by scholars, is, in its own original form, evidence for a similar story line and ending to Esther such as he has argued for the Masoretic text; and, secondly, that such differences as exist between the A text and the Masoretic text point to the A text being an older version of the story than the Masoretic, and so of prime importance.

In a final, non-technical, section Clines outlines a possible development for the various versions of the story of Esther, with a particularly valuable discussion (pp. 151ff.) of its various theological dimensions.

Apart from arguments over details, one difficulty that some readers may have is the question of the historical reliability of the contents of Esther. Although the author does not address the question as such, his argument clearly implies minimal historicity of content; and, indeed, that prepossession with historical questions is likely to be largely beside the point. But if it is possible that evangelical scholars have sometimes made too sweeping claims about the correlation between the truth and value of a narrative and the historicity of its content, then this book may lead to a fresh understanding of a little-read and little-appreciated portion of Scripture.

Walter Moberly

Durham University