THE ADDITIONS TO ESTHER
INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
SIDNIE WHITE CRAWFORD
The so-called Additions to Esther, found in the Greek versions of Esther (LXX and AT), make the book of Esther a very different literary work from that in the Hebrew Bible (MT). The additions add drama, plumb the emotional depths of the characters, add information to fill in the gaps of the the MT, and, most important, supply an overt religious element that is lacking in the MT. To fully appreciate the LXX version of Esther, it is helpful to read it in its entirety, as it is found in the apocrypha of the NRSV. For the purposes of this commentary, however, each Addition will be treated separately. The Additions are not all from the same author, nor were they all composed in the same language. Josephus, who was certainly familiar with LXX, does not use all the Additions (e.g., he does not include Add. A), perhaps indicating that he did not know them all or did not consider them original.
The most striking change in the LXX version of Esther is the addition of religious elements. The additions continually mention God, and the LXX redactor introduces the name of God within the (translated) text of the MT:
"to fear God and obey his commandments" (2:20)
"call upon the Lord" (4:8)
"and the Lord drove sleep from the king that night" (6:1)
"for God is with him" (6:13).
Also, the Additions contain a dream sent by God (Addition A), prayers by Mordecai and Esther, fasting explicitly directed toward God, a manifest concern for keeping the purity laws, especially those concerning food and marriage, a mention of the Temple (all in Addition C), and a Gentile acknowledgment of the power of the God of Israel (Addition E).2 The effect of all these changes is that God becomes the hero of the Greek story, and the importance of human action is greatly lessened; the LXX redactor makes clear to the reader that God acts to save the Jews and that, because of God’s protective concern for the Jews, the outcome of the crisis is never in doubt.
This change in emphasis also leads to changes in the main human characters, Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai, as the recipient of the dream sent by God, becomes a typical biblical hero, like Joseph or Daniel, and is the chief human character in the drama. Esther, on the other hand, loses status from her portrayal in the MT: She becomes a romantic and emotional heroine, as in the Hellenistic romance novel, and, as such, is less attractive to modern readers.3
(See the annotated bibliography for the Hebrew book of Esther.)
Outline of the Additions to Esther
I. Esther Addition A 1–17, Mordecai’s Dream and the Eunuchs’ Plot
A. A 1–11, Mordecai’s Dream
B. A 12–17, The Plot of the Eunuchs
II. Esther Addition B 1–7, The Letter of Haman
III. Esther Addition C 1–30, The Prayers of Esther and Mordecai
A. C 1–11, The Prayer of Mordecai
B. C 12–30, The Prayer of Esther
IV. Esther Addition D 1–16, Esther Appears Before the King
V. Esther Addition E 1–24, Mordecai’s Letter
VI. Esther Addition F 1–11, The End of the Greek Esther
A. F 1–10, The Interpretation of Mordecai’s Dream
B. F 11, The Colophon of the Greek Esther
ESTHER ADDITION A 1–17 (AT 1:1–18; VG 11:2–12:6)
Mordecai’s Dream and the Eunuchs’ Plot
Addition A was composed in a Semitic language (Hebrew or Aramaic). This Addition probably dates to the late second century bce, after the time of the Maccabean wars. Gentiles, according to Addition A, have become completely hostile to the Jews, such that their only hope of salvation lies with God.
ESTHER ADDITION A 1–11, MORDECAI’S DREAM
Addition A opens with a date formula. The story is set in the reign of Artaxerxes, probably Artaxerxes I, the son of Xerxes (465–424 bce), and takes place in the second year of his reign, one year earlier than the opening scene of the MT (understanding the change of kings from Xerxes to Artaxerxes). It begins on the first day of Nisan, which, as we have seen in MT Esther (3:12; 8:9), strikes a note of salvation as it is the month of the exodus and Passover; this is also the time of the spring new year festival in Babylonian, Persian, and Second Temple Jewish calendars. Mordecai, who is clearly the central human character of Greek Esther, is introduced and his full genealogy given. It is appropriate to give his full genealogy when he is introduced, but if this were part of the original book of Esther, it would be unnecessary to repeat it in 2:5 (an indication of the secondary character of Add. A). The first thing Mordecai does in Greek Esther is to have a dream. This places him in the company of two other visionaries on whom he is modeled: Joseph and Daniel. Like theirs, Mordecai’s visionary capacity is understood as a gift from God. He is then further identified as a palace functionary (something alluded to but never openly stated in the MT) and as one of the exiles brought to Babylon in 597 bce (again, a point of unclarity in the MT). If Mordecai was brought to Babylon as a young man in 597, in the second year of Artaxerxes I he would have been approximately 175 years old—an incredibly venerable person!
Mordecai’s dream is recounted in vv. 4–10. Chaos is consuming the earth. Two dragons appear, roaring and ready to fight. Both chaos and the dragon are major symbols found in apocalyptic imagery. Chaos, the upheaval of the natural order, signals the absence of God and the break-down of the social order (cf. Isa 34:9–11; Joel 2:2–3). The word "dragon" (δράκων drakōn) encompasses a wide range of terrifying, yet real, beasts in the LXX, such as the jackal in Jer 9:11, and mythical animals such as Leviathan (Job 26:13; Ps 74:12–13 [LXX 73:12–13]), while in apocalyptic literature it becomes a major symbol of evil (Rev 12:3; 2 Bar 29:3–8). Thus it is clear that Mordecai’s dream is a bad omen. A problem in the decoding of their appearance here in Esther, however, is that the dragons do not symbolize real beasts or nations (which are separately mentioned in v. 7), but humans. Further, there is not just one, but two, which is an anomaly; and the second is meant to symbolize Mordecai, one of the heroes of the book. The symbolism of "dragon" does not fit the (positive) character of Mordecai, so the author’s choice of it is mysterious.
At the roaring of the dragons, the nations, as separate entities, prepare to fight. These nations will battle against the righteous nation, certainly to be identified with Israel (Wis 16:23; 18:7). This symbolism in Add. A turns the LXX version of Esther into an apocalyptic struggle between other nations and Israel (cf. Joel 2:2, 10–11; Zeph 1:15), not a conflict between individuals, as in Hebrew Esther. It should be noted that in the AT and the OL, the nations are ready to fight and are afraid, but their hostility is not directed toward Israel. Verses 8–9 sum up the vision in apocalyptic tones (cf. Joel 2:2; Matt 24:29). Israel is ready to perish from fear. There is no salvation on the human horizon. This dream sets the battle upon the cosmic stage, among the otherworldly powers, rather than on the human stage in a court conflict.
The response, then, must come from the cosmic realm, from God, who responds to Israel’s cry (see Exod 3:7–9, where God responds to Israel’s cry by sending the human savior Moses). This first mention of God in LXX Esther signals the major difference between the Hebrew and the Greek versions: the presence of God as an active character in the drama. God’s salvation, however, is enigmatic; a mighty river comes from a tiny spring, and light and sun follow. Water and light are symbols of salvation in Israelite literature (Zech 14:7–8; Wis 5:6). The referents of the symbols used here are not transparent; "spring" must symbolize Esther, but how the river achieves salvation is not explained, nor are the dragons ever destroyed. However, it is clear that God acts to save Israel, for it is stated that the lowly (exiled Israel) will "devour" the esteemed, a typical Jewish eschatological scenario (cf. Luke 1:52–53). Mordecai, like Joseph and Daniel, is puzzled as to the meaning of his dream. Mordecai may be troubled, but the reader is not meant to be; like Joseph’s dream about his brothers (Gen 37:5–8), Mordecai’s dream foreshadows the action to come. Therefore, the reader is reassured from the beginning of the book that everything will turn out well, for God’s plan is at work. God becomes the main character in the LXX edition of Esther. God is the real hero; everything that happens is a result of the divine plan and maneuverings.
The absolute conflict between the nations and Israel in the LXX is far more severe than the sporadic and occasional hostility between Gentile and Jew, interspersed with episodes of goodwill, found in the MT. This is a product of the historical period of the LXX, during which the Hellenistic empires were, in their later period, far less tolerant of Jewish monotheism and ethnic solidarity than the Persians had been.7 It is also, perhaps, far more typical of the Jewish experience in the diaspora than is the scenario of MT Esther. In later times, Western Christendom in particular has been radically intolerant of Jewish "otherness." Since the message of LXX Esther reassures the Jews that God will defend them, Christians are called to reexamine their past vis-à-vis the Jews and to consider a different, more tolerant path in the future.
God is vividly present from the very first verses of LXX Esther and is seen unabashedly as the deliverer of the Jews. This brings Esther into conformity with the general biblical theology in which God intervenes in the events of history for Israel’s benefit. The LXX redactor had no doubts about the hints in MT Esther: It was God who delivered the Jews, with Mordecai and Esther acting as divine instruments.
ESTHER ADDITION A 12–17, THE PLOT OF THE EUNUCHS
These verses, more than any others in LXX Esther, are in conflict with MT Esther. They repeat, with variations, the episode found in Esth 2:21–23. If this material in Add. A were original, then Esth 2:21–23 would be redundant; however, it is more likely that A 12–17 comes from a later redactor. There is also a time conflict; this episode takes place before Esther becomes queen, while Esth 2:21–23 takes place after she has become queen. It is not possible that these are two separate episodes; the plot, the characters, and the result are the same. (Other conflicts will be pointed out as we move through the verses.) Finally, neither the OL nor Josephus contains these verses, indicating their lack of originality.
The names of the two eunuchs, Gabatha and Tharra, are probably corruptions of the Hebrew names Bigthan and Teresh and are otherwise unidentified. Mordecai overhears their plot (v. 12), thus clearing up an ambiguity in MT 2:21. He then informs the king himself, rather than going through Esther, as in Esth 2:22. Of course, since Esther is not yet the queen, it is impossible for her to inform the king, but this is a blatant contradiction of the MT. The king, as in the MT, takes direct action, and the eunuchs are executed.
As in the MT, the king makes a record of these events, although it is not titled "the book of the annals." The NRSV’s 12:4b, where Mordecai also writes an account, is derived from the AT, but its purpose is not clear. Mordecai is ordered to serve in the court, but according to Add. A 2, Mordecai already serves in the court, an internal contradiction. Mordecai is also rewarded by the king, an appropriate action on the king’s part; however, now MT 6:1–11 is entirely superfluous because Mordecai has already been rewarded.
The last verse of this section reveals its real purpose: to introduce Haman and to explain his enmity toward Mordecai. Haman is called the son of Hammadatha, as in the MT, but he is identified as a Bougaion. This may be a corruption of "Agagite," but it may also be a reference to the Aramaicבגהי (bagōhî), the name of a notorious eunuch under Artaxerxes I who desecrated the Temple. It is also possible that bagōhî is a eunuch’s title, rather than a name; the implication would then be that Haman was a eunuch, but this is contradicted by the fact that he had children. In any case, "Bougaion" (Βουγαῖον) is clearly a term of opprobrium. The AT has "Macedonian" rather than "Bougaion"; this refers to the successors of Alexander the Great, who conquered the Persian Empire in 332 bce. The Persians and the Greeks were long-standing enemies; Xerxes had attempted to conquer the Greek mainland and was defeated at Salamis and Plateia, and Artaxerxes continued to have trouble with the Athenians. Referring to Haman as a Macedonian thus makes him an enemy infiltrator of the Persian court. Further, in the Hellenistic period, the Macedonians, in the form of the Seleucid emperors beginning with Antiochus IV Epiphanes, became the major enemies of the Jews.10 There can be no doubt that Haman is an enemy both to the Jews and to the Persians; indeed, the verse implies that, despite his "great honor" with the king, he was behind the plot of the eunuchs. Therefore, his enmity toward Mordecai stems from the fact that Mordecai foiled his plot to assassinate the king, rather than from Mordecai’s failure to bow to him. This clears up the ambiguity of the conflict between Haman and Mordecai in the MT, since a reference to the conflict between Saul and Agag may not have been clear to a Greek-speaking Jewish audience. It also explains the inclusion of this episode at the beginning of the book.
Addition A consists of two separate episodes, neither of which is original to proto-Esther and may be the work of different authors. The dream may have circulated separately before its inclusion in the Esther story; its imagery and symbols do not quite fit the events of the story, as its interpretation in Add. F reveals. The episode of the eunuchs’ plot, however, is intrinsic to the story of Esther and Mordecai; its inclusion here, with its obvious reworkings, appears to be the work of a clumsy redactor.
ESTHER ADDITION B 1–7 (AT 4:14–18; VG 13:1–7)
The Letter of Haman
The inclusion of a copy of Haman’s letter, which comes between 3:13 and 3:14 of the MT, stands in the tradition of including other copies of Persian decrees and letters in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Ezra 1:2–4; 4:17–22; 6:3–12; 7:11–28). The purpose of including it is to lend the narrative an air of historical veracity. The original language of this Addition is Greek; this is shown by its flowery rhetorical style and lack of the Semitic constructions usually found in Septuagintal Greek.13 In content the letter is similar to another Greek composition, the letter of King Ptolemy Philopator, found in 3 Macc 3:12–29. The letter in 3 Maccabees reflects the anti-Semitism common throughout the Hellenistic Empire.
Verses 1–3. The extent of Artaxerxes’ kingdom, described in v. 1, agrees with MT 1:1, as does the otherwise unknown 127 provinces. The wordτοπάρχης (toparchēs, "governor") signifies the governor of a district. The preamble emphasizes the king’s good intentions, but it is clearly disingenuous—what monarch has ever claimed not to want to bring peace and prosperity to his or her kingdom? The identity of the counselors is unknown, although the wise men of MT 1:13–14 may be meant. The grand rhetoric concerning Haman’s goodness and wisdom is ironic—an unusual touch for the LXX redactor, who does not ordinarily imitate the ironic tone of the MT (recall that Haman is writing the decree!).
Verses 4–5. These verses contain the reasons for the decree. The anti-Semitism expressed is much more blunt than Haman’s corresponding rhetoric in MT 3:8: The Jews are hostile; their laws (the Torah) are contrary to every other nation’s; they do not obey the king’s ordinances; and they follow a "perverse" law and are ill-disposed to the imperial government. This is typical of the heightened rhetoric of a Greek composition and may also reflect the Jews’ experience of more extensive anti-Semitism during this period (cf. 3 Macc 3:13–29). Their destruction, according to Haman, is crucial to the stability of the kingdom.
Verses 6–7. The Jews are never identified by name, in keeping with MT Esther; however, one wonders how the identity of the intended victims is to be made known. The date, the fourteenth of Adar (v. 6), may be a copyist’s error or may reflect confusion over the date or the reason for the celebration of Purim. If Purim is understood by the LXX redactor as a celebration of the defeat of the enemies, rather than as rest from the threat of destruction as in MT, then the original date of destruction must be the same as the date of the celebration. The writer of 2 Macc 15:36 refers to the fourteenth of Adar as the "Day of Mordecai," which may indicate some knowledge in the second century bce of the festival that was later known as Purim. The mention of Hades in v. 7 indicates the letter’s Greek origin.
Unfortunately, between the time of the writing of MT Esther and the writing of LXX Esther, the nature of the charges leveled against the Jews had grown in strength and violence. That pattern has continued into the twentieth century: The Jews have been accused of forming a worldwide economic cabal, of drinking blood, of sacrificing Christian babies, and of corrupting Christian women. None of these charges has been proved true, but that has not stopped some Christians (and some Muslims as well) from believing them. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a scurrilous diatribe against the Jews, first circulated in czarist Russia, is still available in the United States. Christians, as a group, have not had the will to condemn anti-Semitism as wrong and to fight against it. This would not surprise the redactor of LXX Esther, since he did not believe, as did the author of MT Esther, that it was possible for Jews and Gentiles to live together harmoniously. He believed, rather, that Jews will survive only with the active and overt intervention of God.
ESTHER ADDITION C 1–30
The Prayers of Esther and Mordecai
This Addition, which follows MT 4:17, adds in the LXX tradition what was perceived as a lack in MT Esther: prayer and direct reference to God. The prayers are paraphrased by Josephus, indicating that they were present in his tradition. This Addition, although now found only in Greek, was probably originally a Semitic composition. There exists in a late medieval manuscript an Aramaic version of Mordecai’s prayer, containing similar passages in identical sequence. Moore suggests that the two compositions are related through the same original Hebrew text.16 In addition, 4QTales of the Persian Court contains a prayer by an unknown protagonist that contains similarities to Mordecai’s prayer (see Introduction).
ESTHER ADDITION C 1–11 (AT 5:12–17; Vg 13:8–18), THE PRAYER OF MORDECAI
Mordecai begins his prayer by addressing God in the language of praise typical of other Hebrew Bible prayers: God is ruler of the cosmos, creator of all things, and protector of Israel (e.g., Psalms 8, 19, and 21). In vv. 5–7 the question of Mordecai’s motive in refusing to bow to Haman, which was unclear in the Hebrew text (see Commentary on 3:1–6), is explained: Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, not because of his own pride, but because he will bow only to God. Therefore, according to his own explanation, Mordecai is acquitted of wrongdoing, a charge not so easily dismissed in the Hebrew text. Mordecai, in fact, claims that, left to himself, he would have been willing to kiss the soles of Haman’s feet, the ultimate act of homage in the Persian court, but his sense of God’s honor would not allow him to do so. His protestation does not reflect the actual practice of the Jews, who refused to worship other gods, but freely paid homage to human beings, including foreigners, and may be slightly self-defensive (see Commentary on 3:1–6).
Mordecai closes his prayer with references to God’s historical acts in the life of Israel, references lacking in MT Esther. He refers to God as the God of Abraham, thereby invoking the covenant of Genesis 15 and 17; he reminds God that Israel is God’s "inheritance," the chosen people (see, e.g., Deut 32:9). He mentions the exodus from Egypt, the paradigmatic salvific event in Israel’s history, which is only obliquely alluded to in MT Esther by the mention of the month of Nisan (3:12; 8:9). Finally, Mordecai requests that his petition be granted so that Israel can escape death and continue to praise God, in keeping with the biblical notion that it is only the living who can praise God (see Ps 30:8–10 for similar language). The whole thrust of Mordecai’s prayer is that God is the only one capable of saving Israel, and Israel trusts in God’s protection as God’s special possession—all sentiments missing in the MT. In fact, the wordκύριος (kyrios, "Lord"), the Greek translation of יהוה (Yahweh), the proper name of God, is repeated eight times in the eight verses of the prayer, emphasizing God’s special relationship with Israel. All Israel joins with Mordecai’s prayer "as loudly as they could" in v. 11.
Mordecai’s prayer counteracts the charge of the book of Esther’s irreligiosity by placing LXX Esther squarely within the framework of Israel’s covenant theology as expressed both in the historical and the prophetic traditions in the Hebrew Bible and in the psalms. The prayer, which is sincere and moving, expresses the faith that was implicit in MT Esther: It is God’s plan that the Jews should survive, for they are God’s chosen people. However, in the MT this is hardly hinted at, let alone made explicit; only in the actions of the characters, who act in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, is the author’s theology visible. The LXX makes this implied theology explicit, thereby making the book more palatable to a pious audience (but also removing the suspense in the process).
Mordecai’s prayer in Add. C is one of the first instances of "reflection" on MT Esther that we possess. Some readers might feel an emptiness at the heart of MT Esther as a biblical book: Where is the faith that should direct Mordecai’s actions? The answer is given here: Mordecai’s faith is based on the covenant between God and Israel, represented by Abraham and the exodus. Mordecai recalls the scriptural tradition of Israel and concludes that God will not abandon the Jews, even though the circumstances look very bleak. His prayer is mirrored by the prayers of Jews and Christians every day, when they turn to Scripture for comfort, hope, and reassurance.
ESTHER ADDITION C 12–30 (AT 5:18–29; Vg 14:1–19), THE PRAYER OF ESTHER
Esther’s prayer, like Mordecai’s, serves to add a theological element to the narrative and also allows the reader to view Esther in a new light: as a pious Jewish female (the word "Lord" appears nine times in her prayer). As such, her character is more in keeping with the accepted Jewish norms of the Hellenistic period. Esther is completely reliant on others and, in this moment of extreme crisis, on God; she "flees to the Lord." All of the author’s theological ideas are biblical; there are no new insights, as might be argued are present in MT Esther. The prayer itself is reminiscent of Dan 9:3–19, from approximately the same period in time. Daniel, like Esther, is fasting and wears sackcloth and ashes; he confesses Israel’s sins and petitions for God’s aid.
The scene opens with Esther repeating all the gestures of mourning—sackcloth and ashes—in which Mordecai engaged (4:1). Esther goes even further, however; she puts dung on her head as well, a gesture testified to in the HB (Mal 2:3) only in cases of extremity. Thus disfigured, she begins her prayer.
Esther addresses God not only as the true king (as opposed to Artaxerxes), but also as the helper of the distressed. She will repeatedly stress two aspects of God’s character: power and mercy. She also immediately makes her prayer personal; God must help her, for no one else can, and she is in extremis (reminiscent of Elijah’s prayer during his struggle against Ahab and Jezebel, 1 Kgs 19:9–14). In v. 16, she reminds God of the covenant and of God’s special relationship with Israel (the OL here contains a 134-word addition reciting the mighty acts of God). According to the LXX, Esther has received her knowledge from her family’s tribe, but according to the AT she learned "from my father’s book," thus implying the existence of the Torah. According to Esther, the Jews are in trouble because of idolatry (vv. 17–18); this is a typical deuteronomic formula and must refer to the Babylonian exile (2 Kgs 21:10–15; 23:26–27). Such prayer is formulaic; there is no mention of idolatry in the book of Esther, in which the Jews are innocent victims of Haman’s enmity. Verses 18–21 make the conflict into one not between humans but between Yahweh and the other gods, similar to the cosmic conflict in Add. A; the Jews exist as Yahweh’s people and are threatened by the gods of other peoples, who are implacably hostile. The mention of "house and altar" is the only reference to the Temple in the book of Esther and may indicate a wider audience than the eastern diaspora, since MT Esther makes no mention of any of the cultic institutions of Israel. The expression "turn their plan against them" recalls the major theme of reversal in MT Esther.
In v. 23, Esther turns from the general situation to her own role in it. She needs courage and eloquent speech and, unlike MT Esther, is not reliant upon her own resources, but upon God. The "lion"—i.e., the king—is a symbol of anger, strength, ferocity, and judgment (cf. Prov 20:2). Lions appear constantly as a symbol of royalty in Assyrian and Persian reliefs, and in biblical thought the royal tribe of Judah is portrayed as a lion (Gen 49:9).
Esther, like Mordecai, claims her own innocence and answers the objections raised against her portrayal in the MT by protesting her piety (vv. 25–29). She hates intercourse with a non-Jew; there is a very strong strand in Jewish thought against intermarriage (see Deut 7:3–4; Ezra 10:2; Neh 13:23–27), although there is a counterstrand that does not condemn it (the book of Ruth). Esther keeps the dietary laws, and she has not "drunk the wine of libations"—i.e., wine poured out in offering to the gods. In other words, she has not participated in pagan worship practices. In fact, she keeps herself generally separate from the heathen. Although these claims are necessary in order for Esther to demonstrate her piety, obviously she would not be able to live in this fashion and keep her Jewish identity secret, a necessary plot device. The description of her crown as a "filthy rag" is particularly sharp; the Greek termῥάκος καταμηνίων (rakos katamēniōn) is better translated as "menstruous rag." In Jewish tradition, menstrual blood is ritually unclean and should not be touched (Lev 15:19–24). Esther’s whole life as queen is, in fact, miserable to her. Josephus, since he is attempting to present a portrait of Esther that will be attractive to his Gentile audience, omits these verses (they are also lacking in OL).
Esther ends her prayer on a personal note, asking once again for courage, which is appropriate, for now she must act.
Esther appears in these verses as a much more pious, and much more typical, biblical heroine. She more closely resembles the pious Judith, who likewise prays to God, covered in sackcloth and ashes, for aid during her crisis (Jdt 9:1–14) and keeps the dietary laws while in a heathen camp (Jdt 12:1–4). However, by her cleverness Judith avoids intercourse with a Gentile (Jdt 13:1–10); the redactor of LXX Esther, on the other hand, cannot avoid the fact that Esther is married to a Gentile king. The best he can do is to have her declare her hatred of the situation, but then it is unclear how she would have been able to fool the king so thoroughly.
The redactor’s emphasis on Esther’s separateness, for reasons of purity, from the Gentile court around her is exactly the kind of behavior that has made the Jews vulnerable to charges of hostility toward other cultures. However, this charge should be seen as insecurity on the part of the accusers, since the Jews do no harm to the greater community by keeping special dietary restrictions or practicing endogamy. Since God enjoins the Jews to keep the law, then any attempt to obstruct Jewish practice should be understood as a violation of God’s will.
The author’s theological understanding emerges in Esther’s prayer, as it does in Mordecai’s: God is ruler of all, righteous yet merciful. Israel is God’s chosen people; yet they can be punished for sinning. However, when faced with true repentance, God is merciful and, further, always comes to the aid of the helpless in distress. Finally, the author of the prayer believes that nothing can be accomplished without God’s help. These beliefs need no explanation, since they permeate the biblical text and are shared by the faithful in all times.
ESTHER ADDITION D 1–16 (AT 6:1–12; VG 15:4–19)
Esther Appears Before the King
This Addition, which follows immediately after Add. C, replaces Esth 5:1–2 in the MT. It is a much better dramatic scene than that in the MT, which is rather anticlimactic. This Addition is the dramatic climax of the Greek Esther and has some of the elements of a Hellenistic romance. In it God, the real hero of Greek Esther, gets full credit for the positive outcome. Addition D probably had a Semitic source text, possibly the same as Add. C.
Addition D begins on the third day, in accordance with the fast that Esther requested in 4:16. After putting aside the sackcloth she wore in Add. C, she dresses to exploit her best weapon: her beauty. Unlike the MT, where Esther relies on no one but herself, in this scene she again invokes God’s help (placing emphasis once more on prayer) and takes with her two maids for support. Esther is evidently a great actress; she looks happy, even though she is petrified (recall that in Add. C she claimed to "loathe the bed of the uncircumcised"; that may be true, but the king is not aware of it!). In vv. 2–5, Esther is the epitome of royal feminine beauty, while in v. 6 the king is the epitome of royal masculine power. The two forces stand juxtaposed.
While in the MT this scene was rather disappointing because Esther’s acceptance by the king seemed so cut and dried, and she seemed not to be in danger, the LXX exploits the dramatic potential of the situation to the full. The king is fiercely angry; both the AT and the OL compare him to a bull, a metaphor for rage. As we saw in chap. 1, the rage of this king is cause for alarm. Esther is, in fact, so terrified that she faints. She has failed completely; she has been neither courageous nor eloquent of speech. This is in contrast to MT Esther, where she is completely successful. This major difference in the two Esthers makes the LXX character "a delicate Victorian," much less appealing to the female reader than MT Esther, who has the strength of character to act calmly in spite of tremendous danger. If the LXX emphasizes the danger, it also emphasizes Esther’s feminine "weakness."
Esther’s failure enables the true hero to act. God gets the credit for making the king do a complete turnaround; the theme of reversal, now clearly the result of God’s activity, reappears. Whereas earlier the king seemed about to kill Esther, now he comforts and reassures her. He reminds her that he is her husband (the Greek word is "brother [αδελφος adelphos], meaning "close kinsman"; cf. Cant 4:9–10; 5:1–2) and informs her that the law does not apply to her. Does this mean that all the suspense has been for nothing? Evidently not, for he still touches her neck with the scepter.
Esther now seems to have the power of eloquent speech, for she compares the king to an angel of God and confesses her terror. Her use of the phrase "angel of God" is a little strange under the circumstances, since the king is not supposed to know that she is Jewish, but this may be asking for a little too much on the part of the redactor. Esther then faints again, leaving the reader a bit suspicious: Is her emotion genuine or melodramatic? In any case, it has the desired effect upon the king.
Moore points out the similarities, mentioned above, of Adds. C and D to the book of Judith, an apocryphal work written in Palestine in the late second century bce. Both contain pious Jewish women who exploit their beauty to overcome, with God’s help, Gentile enemies for the sake of their people. It is probable that the book of Judith (whose main character may have been created in reaction to the too-secular Esther) influenced the redactor of LXX Esther. Levenson suggests that "both heroines reflect an ideal of womanhood widespread in late Second Temple Judaism."
Again in Addition D the redactor of LXX Esther wants to ensure that the reader understands that God, only subtly alluded to in the MT, is present and orchestrating each event of the story. What was left to the perception of the faithful reader of the MT is spelled out by the LXX: God causes the king to accept Esther at the crucial moment. The two versions may be compared to the way in which a person might perceive the same event while it is happening and again at a later date: While the event is happening, things may appear to be coincidences, and events seem to happen at random. Someone might speak of having "good luck" or describe an event as "serendipitous." Later, the same event, viewed as part of a whole from the perspective of faith, may be seen as God’s acting throughout to bring the event to its proper conclusion. Good luck becomes a blessing; serendipity becomes grace. The LXX Esther, which perceives the finger of God in the king’s reaction, thus is a later retrospective on MT Esther.
ESTHER ADDITION E 1–24 (AT 8:22–32; VG 16:1–24)
This Addition, which follows MT 8:12, serves the same function as does Addition B, giving the narrative an air of historical verisimilitude by rendering the actual text of the decree. Like Add. B, Add. E’s original language was Greek; they are probably the products of the same author. Josephus paraphrases Add. E, while the Targums have their own versions of the king’s letter.
Verse 1. Addition E’s opening is similar, but not identical, to the opening of Add. B. The key difference is the expression "those loyal to our government," implying that there are those who are not loyal to the government. It is addressed to the 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia (1:10)—that is, the entire empire.
Verses 2–6. These verses contain a series of truisms concerning the corruption of power. Power without humility breeds arrogance and contempt (Prov 22:4); of course, the letter is referring to Haman. It is strange that Artaxerxes, by all historical accounts a faithful Zoroastrian, mentions the Jewish God; but recall that it is Mordecai who is writing. Like other Hellenistic stories (such as Daniel or Judith), it follows the conventional style in which the piety of the Jewish protagonist causes the conversion, or at least the acknowledgment of the power of the Jewish God, of the Gentile king or hero (Dan 2:47; 3:28–29; 4:1–3, 34–37; 6:26–27; Jdt 14:10). These verses also provide the king with an excuse: He was misled by one whom he considered a friend (this may be both a technical term and a sarcastic one), even though he himself was benevolent.
Verses 7–11. The letter now turns from general truths to the matter at hand. "More ancient records" probably refers to public monuments rather than to private records. Verse 8 recalls Add. B, in which the king desired to secure peace and quiet in the empire, indicating the same author. Verse 9, with its hint that the king did not do his job properly, is an indication that this is not a genuine royal edict—an ancient Near Eastern monarch would not have admitted weakness to his subjects! Haman is identified as a Macedonian (AT, "Bougaion"), and Macedonia is the subject of an overt racial slur (recall that the Persians and the Macedonians were enemies). Haman’s honors are also recited (reminiscent of Add. B).
Verses 12–14. Haman’s deception of the king in MT 3:8–11 is recalled, but it is not the destruction of the Jews per se that is condemned, but rather the destruction of Mordecai and Esther, which would cause direct injury to the king. The use of the term "savior" (σωτήρ sōtēr) in reference to Mordecai may be jarring in the light of its present christological overtones, but it was a common title for the Hellenistic emperors (e.g., Antiochus I Soter), and points to the Hellenistic date of this Addition. In v. 12, Haman is accused of seeking to destroy the king as well; this is not part of the plot of MT Esther, where Haman has no idea of the connection between Mordecai, Esther, and the king, but it is part of the LXX, where in Add. A Haman is behind the plot of the eunuchs. The ultimate end of Haman’s scheme is revealed in v. 14: Haman would hand over the Persian Empire to the Macedonians! This makes no sense within the story world of Esther, but, in the wider historical context of the LXX, that is precisely what happened. The Macedonians, under Alexander the Great, conquered the Persian Empire, much to the detriment of both the Persians and the Jews.
Verses 15–16. God is given credit for Persian success; recall that under Persian rule the Jews were relatively unmolested. The description of Jewish law as "most righteous" reflects the sentiments of the author and should be contrasted with Haman’s accusations in MT 3:8 and Add. B 4.
Verses 17–18. The point of the letter is reached in these verses, which essentially annul Haman’s edict. This is contrary to what happens in MT Esther, where the Jews are given permission to defend themselves against the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked. The idea of annulment, however, agrees in substance with the AT at 8:16. The instruction not to execute Haman’s decree should preclude the need for the slaughter in chap. 9, since that was supposed to be defensive in nature. However, it appears that by the time the LXX edition was redacted, chap. 9 was already part of Hebrew Esther. The author handles this contradiction by including the mention in v. 20 of the possibility that the Jews might still be attacked on the thirteenth of Adar.
Verse 18 also contains contradictions to MT chap. 9, which Add. E is supposedly anticipating. Haman is hanged at the gates of Susa, rather than at his own home. His whole family is hanged with him, contrary to the MT, which places the deaths of his sons months later. These differences might imply different sources or simply the work of a careless redactor.
Verses 19–20. These verses contain commands that would bring joy to the Jewish reader. The Jews are to be allowed to live under their own laws, a major issue in the Hellenistic period. Under the Persians, each ethnic group was allowed to be self-governing, provided they obeyed their Persian overlords. At the beginning of the Hellenistic period, under the Ptolemies until 198 bce and then under the Seleucids until 175 bce, the Jews were also allowed to govern themselves by the Torah. However, during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 175, that privilege was revoked, and from then on the Jews were constantly engaged in a struggle to follow both the law of the land and their own law. The inclusion of this provision in v. 19 points to a date after 175 bce.
Verses 21–22. Not only are the Gentiles to leave the Jews alone, but also they are to aid them (v. 20); according to v. 22, they are also to celebrate Purim (the celebration is enjoined for Adar 13, contra MT). This indicates a level of Jewish-Gentile cooperation not envisioned in other documents of the period (v. 22 is omitted by the AT and Josephus). This cooperation is in obedience to God, who made this day joyful for the "chosen people," a phrase not likely to be found in a genuine Persian edict.
Verses 23–24. The threats at the end are typical of royal edicts (e.g., the Behistun inscription), and the style is mimicked in Jewish literature that preserves royal decrees (e.g., 3 Macc 3:29). This language is also reminiscent of Isa 34:10, 13–15:
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
no one shall pass through it forever and ever.
Thorns shall grow over its strongholds,
nettles and thistles in its fortresses.
It shall be the haunt of jackals,
an abode for ostriches.
Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
and find a place to rest.
There shall the owl nest and lay and hatch and brood in its shadow;
there too the buzzards shall gather,
each one with its mate. (NRSV)
We should be both heartened and distressed by Addition E—heartened, because the author envisions a level of Jewish and Gentile cooperation rarely seen. The Jews live by their own laws, as do the Gentiles; but the Gentiles help the Jews and even celebrate their holidays with them, all for the honor of God. However, the author indulges in a blatant racial slur against the Macedonians, indicating that the lessons of one situation do not necessarily carry over to the next one.
ESTHER ADDITION F 1–11 (AT 8:53–59; VG 10:4–13; 11:1)
The End of the Greek Esther
ADDITION F 1–10 (AT 8:53–58; Vg 10:4–13), THE INTERPRETATION OF MORDECAI’S DREAM
This addition, which comes at the end of MT Esther, is a partner to Add. A, which introduced the Greek Esther. It contains the interpretation of the dream found in Add. A. Like Add. A, it was originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. Moore suggests that the dream was originally a separate entity that circulated independently and that when it was later adapted into the Esther story, its interpretation, based on the Esther story, was added. Neither the dream nor its interpretation fits very well in the Esther story, and some of the elements of the interpretation vary among the versions. It is possible that Adds. A and F had a Palestinian provenance, given their strong anti-Gentile sentiment, characteristic of Jewish literature from Palestine in this period.
Verse 1 opens with Mordecai (again, not Esther, making Mordecai the main human character) giving his final valediction of the events that have just been narrated. God is given the credit for everything that has happened, which is the main point of the LXX version of Esther. Mordecai realizes, in retrospect, that his dream foreshadowed the events and proceeds to interpret them. Some of the elements of the interpretation are obvious: The two dragons are Mordecai and Haman; the nations are the hostile Gentiles; and the righteous nation is the Jews. Notice that the hostile Gentiles gather to destroy the "name" of the Jews—that is, to destroy them so thoroughly that even their name will be forgotten. This reflects the very human fear that somehow one’s life will be blotted out, because there is no one to remember it. Here the fear is not individual, but that of an ethnic group. Ironically, this fear that Israel’s name will be blotted out is the mirror image of Moses’ command in Deut 25:17–19 that Amalek’s (the tribe of Haman) name be utterly blotted out.
Other elements of the interpretation are not so obvious, however. According to the LXX, Esther is the river, while the tiny spring, the light (but cf. 8:16), and the sun are unaccounted for. It is not clear why Esther is the river and not the spring, or what the river has to do with resolving the conflict. In the AT, the tiny spring is Esther, the river is the enemies of the Jews, and the light and the sun are manifestations of God. This explanation for the spring and the river makes even less sense, for why would the enemies of the Jews come forth from Esther? Further, how is the conflict between the dragons resolved? What this shows is that the dream was not originally part of the story of Esther and only awkwardly relates to it.
The dream was selected, however, because it makes the main point of the Greek version very clearly. The Jews are saved because they cried out to God. The source of salvation is God, not human action, as could be argued in the MT. What is more, the story reflects the eternal, cosmic struggle between Jew and Gentile, in which God is on the side of the Jews. This is emphasized in v. 7, in which the nations are divided into lots, one lot for the Jews and one for everyone else. The lots are an obvious allusion to Purim (Esth 3:7; 9:24), but also are used a good deal in Jewish literature from Palestine during the Hellenistic period in a figurative sense to mean "portion" or "destiny." In the Community Rule from Qumran, one’s "lot," or destiny, is either for good or for evil. In the War Scroll, the battles of the eschatological age are divided into "lots," belonging either to God or to Belial, with the final "lot" going to God. Here "lots" seems to mean "portions," and Israel is God’s portion (Deut 32:9). In ultimate conflicts, such as the one just recorded, God will vindicate Israel. This is comforting if you are on the right side. In the cosmic conflict between Jew and Gentile, of which the book of Esther is but one incident, the Jews, according to the redactor, will be vindicated.
As a result, the Festival of Purim should always be celebrated as a memorial to God’s vindication, not as a celebration of human victory. It is here a two-day festival (although some Greek mss omit "the fifteenth"). It is not just a diaspora festival, but a festival everywhere, as befits a commemoration of a cosmic victory.
The "us" versus "them" mentality displayed in the book of Esther, particularly pointedly here and in Add. A, may make us uncomfortable, especially since the hostility seems aimed at some contemporary readers of the book. In fact, this mentality has left the book of Esther open to a lot of criticism over the centuries (see Introduction). It is important to remember the historical circumstances that led to that way of thinking, and the subsequent persecutions the Jews have had to endure throughout their history, as a tool to understanding the theology of the book of Esther. The important lesson for the contemporary reader to take away from this passage is that God is on the side of the oppressed. If we are in the position of oppressor, we can be sure that God will not vindicate us.
By sandwiching the story of Esther between the episodes of Mordecai’s dream and its interpretation, the redactor makes clear that God is constantly and thoroughly in control of events. Thus when persecution occurs, even to those who, like Esther and Mordecai, are pious, the reader may find strength in the hope that God is working to carry out the divine purpose. MT Esther is, perhaps, more honest in alluding to the fact that not every evil situation is rectified (see Introduction, but LXX Esther makes the hope that motivates the characters in the MT a reality in Mordecai’s statement, "These things have come from God").
ESTHER ADDITION F 11 (AT 8:59; Vg 11:1), THE COLOPHON OF THE GREEK ESTHER
This colophon, one of very few attested in Jewish literature of the Hellenistic period, purports to answer the questions of the date and provenance of the Greek version of Esther; in fact, however, it raises more questions than it answers. According to the colophon, which is a note appended to a manuscript in order to authenticate it, the "letter about Purim" was brought to Egypt in the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra. All the emperors of Ptolemaic Egypt were named Ptolemy, so the search must be narrowed to one who reigned at least four years and had a wife named Cleopatra. There are three possibilities:
Ptolemy VIII, Soter II, in 114 bce
Ptolemy XII, in 77 bce
Ptolemy XIV, in 48 bce
The most likely possibility seems to be Ptolemy XII, bringing the Greek Esther into Egypt in 77 bce and putting its composition sometime in the late second century bce, a date I have argued for on other grounds (see the Commentary on Add A). Who brought it? A man named Dositheus and his son Ptolemy. Both are Greek names, indicating Greek-speaking Jews. The colophon states that Dositheus "said" that he was a priest and a Levite. Does this indicate suspicion of his veracity? The equivalence of priest and Levite, which are usually distinct categories, is ambiguous. Where did Dositheus and Ptolemy bring their book? The Greek simply says "brought in"; the NRSV supplies "to Egypt," implying that they brought it to Alexandria, which had one of the largest Jewish communities in the world at that time. What did they bring? The "preceding Letter about Purim," which must have included the whole of MT Esther plus Addition F, which includes this colophon, and Addition A, which goes with Add. F. It did not necessarily include the other Additions, although we cannot be certain. Note that by 77 bce the festival was called Purim and was known in Judea. Why did they bring it? They claimed it was "authentic," which implies the existence of other, "inauthentic" versions. The AT existed in a previous form (see Introduction), the proto-AT, which ended before chap. 9 and did not contain the LXX Additions. Is this the "inauthentic" version that was circulating in Egypt and that Dositheus and Ptolemy wished to supplant?28 If so, why did they wish to supplant it? It is also possible to understand "authentic" as referring to Purim itself. The letter would thus be an attempt to answer objections that Purim was an "inauthentic" holiday.
The colophon claims that this "letter of Purim" was translated by Lysimachus, son of Ptolemy. Is this the same Ptolemy mentioned earlier? Is Lysimachus the grandson of Dositheus, "the Priest and Levite"? Is this version supposed to be official in some way? It may have been, but since we cannot identify Lysimachus, Ptolemy, or Dositheus, we do not know the source of their authority. Further, it is unclear what it means to be a "resident" of Jerusalem. It does not imply that Lysimachus was born there; rather, it connotes the presence of a community of Greek-speaking Jews, originally from Alexandria but now living in Jerusalem. It is possible that these Jews came in contact with a Hebrew book of Esther, certainly containing chaps. 1–10 and possibly containing Adds. A, C, D, and F, which had a Semitic source. Recognizing that this version differed from the one with which they were familiar in Alexandria, the proto-AT, they translated it into Greek and took it back to Alexandria to introduce it to the Jewish community there. Because it supposedly came from Jerusalem, it bore a certain authority; and its presence caused the proto-AT to go through a process of editing to conform to this Addition. It may have been in this period that Adds. B and E, more likely of Egyptian provenance, were added to both versions. While this process is admittedly speculative, it does account for the differences that have been noted between the AT and the LXX, and between the Greek versions and the MT.
The colophon to Esther reflects in microcosm the problems of acceptance the book of Esther has had in various communities throughout the centuries. The missing theological obviousness in MT Esther had to be rectified by LXX Esther before it was accepted in Judea (although not everywhere in Judea, if its absence at Qumran is indicative). An "inauthentic" Greek version was supplanted by an "authentic" one. The book of Esther had trouble gaining canonical status in both Judaism and Christianity. Even after its place in the canon was secure, it was the object of vitriol, as evidenced by Martin Luther’s comments about it.
Today various groups again would like to reject Esther. Why is this book so hard for the faithful to accept as part of the Bible? It may be because Esther offers no easy answers. The world according to Esther is not a comfortable and easy place: In MT Esther, God is hidden, and humans must live with theological ambiguity. In LXX Esther, hostility between peoples is an accepted fact, and life is a constant struggle. Just for these reasons, however, the book of Esther speaks most profoundly to the twenty-first century. Life is difficult; people are trapped in hostile situations; God often seems hidden. Faithful people are called to live in ambiguity, hoping, like Esther and Mordecai, that they have come to their situation "for such a time as this." Ultimately we must believe that "relief and deliverance … will arise" from God. That is the fundamental message of hope that the book of Esther contains.
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