Easton's Bible Dictionary
The authorship of this book is unknown. It must have been obviously written after
the death of Ahasuerus (the Xerxes of the Greeks), which took place B.C. 465.
The minute and particular account also given of many historical details makes
it probable that the writer was contemporary with Mordecai and Esther. Hence we
may conclude that the book was written probably about B.C. 444-434, and that the
author was one of the Jews of the dispersion.
This book is more purely historical than any other book of Scripture; and it has
this remarkable peculiarity that the name of God does not occur in it from first
to last in any form. It has, however, been well observed that "though the name
of God be not in it, his finger is." The book wonderfully exhibits the providential
government of God.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
One of the latest of the canonical books of Scripture, having been written late
in the reign of Xerxes, or early in that of his son Artaxerxes Longimanus (B.C.
444, 434). The author is not known. The book of Esther is placed among the hagiographa
by the Jews, and in that first portion of them which they call "the five rolls."
It is written on a single roll, sin a dramatic style, and is read through by the
Jews in their synagogues at the feast of Purim, when it is said that the names
of Hamans sons are read rapidly all in one breath, to signify that they were all
hanged at the same time; while at every mention of Haman the audience stamp and
shout and hiss, and the children spring rattles. It has often been remarked as
a peculiarity of this book that the name of God does not once occur in it. Schaff
gives as the reason for this that it was to permit the reading of the book at
the hilarious and noisy festival of Purim, without irreverence. The style of writing
is remarkably chaste and simple. It does not in the least savor of romance. The
Hebrew is very like that of Ezra and parts of the Chronicles; generally pure,
but mixed with some words of Persian origin and some of the Chaldaic affinity.
In short it is just what one would expect to find in a work of the age to which
the book of Esther professes to belong.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
This book completes the historical books of the Old Testament. The conjunction
"w" (waw = and), with which it begins, is significant. It shows that the book
was designed for a place in a series, the waw linking it on to a book immediately
preceding, and that the present arrangement of the Hebrew Bible differs widely
from what must have been the original order. At present Esther follows Ecclesiastes,
with which it has no connection whatever; and this tell-tale "and," like a body-
mark on a lost child, proves that the book has been wrenched away from its original
connection. There is no reason to doubt that the order in the Septuagint follows
that of the Hebrew Bible of the 3rd or the 4th century BC, and this is the order
of the Vulgate, of the English Bible, and other VSS:
The initial waw is absent from Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles and Nehemiah.
The historical books are consequently arranged, by the insertion and the omission
of waw, into these four divisions: Genesis to Numbers; Deuteronomy to 2 Kings;
1 Chronicles to Ezra; Nehemiah and Esther.
1. The Canonicity of Esther:
Of the canonicity of the book there is no question. That there was a distinct
guardianship of the Canon by the Jewish priesthood has figured less in recent
discussions than it should. Josephus shows that there was a Temple copy which
was carried among the Temple spoils in the triumph of Vespasian. The peculiarities
of the Hebrew text also prove that all our manuscripts are representatives of
one standard copy. In the Jewish Canon Esther had not only a recognized, but also
a distinguished, place. The statement of Junilius in the 6th century AD that the
canonicity of Esther was doubted by some in his time has no bearing on the question.
The high estimation of the book current among the ancient Jews is evident from
its titles. It is usually headed "Megillath Esther" (the volume of Esther), and
sometimes "Megillah" (the volume). Maimonides says that the wise men among the
Jews affirm that the book was dictated by the Holy Spirit, and adds: "All the
books of the Prophets, and all the Hagiographa shall cease in the days of the
Messiah, except the volume of Esther; and, lo, that shall be as stable as the
Pentateuch, and as the constitutions of the oral law which shall never cease."
2. Its Authorship:
By whom was the book written? This is a point in regard to which no help is afforded
us either by the contents of the book or by any reliable tradition. Mordecai,
whose claims have been strongly urged by some, is excluded by the closing words
(Esther 10:3), which sum up his life work and the blessings of which he had been
the recipient. The words imply that when the book was written, that great Israelite
had passed away.
3. Its Date:
Light is thrown upon the date of the book by the closing references to Ahasuerus
(Esther 10:2): "And all the acts of his power and of his might, .... are they
not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?" The
entire history, therefore, of Xerxes was to be found in the state records when
the book was written. In other words, Xerxes had passed away before it saw the
light. That monarch was assassinated by Artabanus in 465 BC. This gives us, say
460 BC, as the highest possible date. The lowest possible date is the overthrow
of the Persian empire by Alexander in 332 BC; for the royal records of the Median
and Persian kings are plainly in existence and accessible, which they would not
have been had the empire been overthrown. The book must have been written, therefore,
some time within this interval of 128 years. There is another fact which narrows
that interval. The initial waw shows that Esther was written after Neh, that is,
after 430 BC. The interval is consequently reduced to 98 years; and, seeing that
the Persian dominion was plainly in its pristine vigor when Esther was written,
we cannot be far wrong if we regard its date as about 400 BC.
4. Its Contents:
The book is characterized by supreme dramatic power. The scene is "Shushan the
palace," that portion of the ancient Elamitic capital which formed the fortified
residence of the Persian kings. The book opens with the description of a high
festival. All the notabilities of the kingdom are present, together with their
retainers, both small and great. To grace the occasion, Vashti is summoned to
appear before the king's guests; and, to the dismay of the great assembly, the
queen refuses to obey. A council is immediately summoned. Vashti is degraded;
and a decree is issued that every man bear rule in his own house (Esther 1). To
find a successor to Vashti, the fairest damsels in the empire are brought to Shushan;
and Hadassah, the cousin and adopted daughter of Mordecai, is of the number. Esther
(2) closes with a notice of two incidents:
|(1) the coronation of Hadassah (now and henceforth named
"Esther") as queen;
(2) Mordecai's discovery of a palace plot to assassinate the king.
Chapter 3 introduces another leading personage,
Haman, the son of Hammedatha, whose seat the king had set "above all the princes
that were with him." All the king's servants who are at the king's gates prostrate
themselves before the powerful favorite. Mordecai, who is not a trained courtier
but a God-fearing Jew, refrains. Though expostulated with, he will not conform.
The matter is brought to Haman's notice for whose offended dignity Mordecai is
too small a sacrifice. The whole Jewish people must perish. Lots are cast to find
a lucky day for their extermination. The king's consent is obtained, and the royal
decree is sent into all the provinces fixing the slaughter for the 13th day of
the 12th month.
The publication of the decree is followed by universal mourning among the Jews
(Esther 4). News of Mordecai's mourning is brought to Esther, who, through the
messengers she sends to him, is informed of her own and her people's danger. She
is urged to save herself and them. She eventually decides to seek the king s presence
at the risk of her life. She presents herself (Esther 5) before the king and is
graciously received. Here we breathe atmosphere of the place and time. Everything
depends upon the decision of one will--the king's. Esther does not attempt too
much at first: she invites the king and Haman to a banquet. Here the king asks
Esther what her petition is, assuring her that it shall be granted. In reply she
requests his and Haman's presence at a banquet the following day. Haman goes forth
in high elation. On his way home he passes Mordecai, who "stood not up nor moved
for him." Haman passes on filled with rage, and unbosoms himself to his wife and
all his friends. They advise that a stake, fifty cubits high, be prepared for
Mordecai's impalement; that on the morrow he obtain the royal permission for Mordecai's
execution; and that he then proceed with a merry heart to banquet with the queen.
The stake is made ready.
But (Esther 6) that night Xerxes cannot sleep. The chronicles of the kingdom are
read before him. The reader has come to Mordecai's discovery of the plot, when
the king asks what reward was given him. He is informed that the service had received
no acknowledgment. It is now early morn, and Haman is waiting in the court for
an audience to request Mordecai's life. He is summoned to the king's presence
and asked what should be done to the man whom the king desires to honor. Believing
that the king can be thinking only of him, he suggests that royal honors be paid
him. He is appalled by the command to do so to Mordecai. Hurrying home from his
lowly attendance upon the hated Jew, he has hardly time to tell the mournful story
to his wife and friends when he is summoned to Esther's banquet. There, at the
king's renewed request to be told her desire, she begs life for herself and for
her people (Esther 7). The king asks in astonishment, who he is, and where he
is, who dared to injure her and them. The reply is that Haman is the adversary.
Xerxes, filled with indignation, rises from the banquet and passes into the palace
garden. He returns and discovers that Haman, in the madness of his fear, has thrown
himself on the queen's couch, begging for his life. That act seals his doom. He
is led away to be impaled upon the very stake he had prepared for the Jew. The
seal of the kingdom is transferred to Mordecai (Esther 8). Measures are immediately
taken to avert the consequence of Haman's plot (Esther 9-10). The result is deliverance
and honor for the Jews. These resolve that the festival of Purim should be instituted
and be ever after observed by Jews and proselytes. The decision was confirmed
by letters from Esther and Mordecai.
5. The Greek Additions:
The Septuagint, as we now have it, makes large additions to the original text.
Jerome, keeping to the Hebrew text in his own translation, has added these at
the end. They amount to nearly seven chapters. There is nothing in them to reward
perusal. Their age has been assigned to 100 BC, and their only value consists
in the indication they afford of the antiquity of the book. That had been long
enough in existence to perplex the Hebrew mind with the absence of the name of
God and the omissions of any reference to Divine worship. Full amends are made
in the additions.
6. The Attacks upon the Book:
The opponents of the Book of Esther may undoubtedly boast that Martin Luther headed
the attack. In his Table-Talk he declared that he was so hostile "to the Book
of Esther that I would it did not exist; for it Judaizes too much, and has in
it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness." His remark in his reply to Erasmus
shows that this was his deliberate judgment. Referring to Esther, he says that,
though the Jews have it in their Canon, "it is more worthy than all" the apocryphal
books "of being excluded from the Canon." That repudiation was founded, however,
on no historical or critical grounds. It rested solely upon an entirely mistaken
judgment as to the tone and the intention of the book. Luther's judgment has been
carried farther by Ewald, who says: "We fall here as if from heaven to earth;
and, looking among the new forms surrounding us, we seem to behold the Jews, or
indeed the small men of the present day in general, acting just as they now do."
Nothing of all this, however, touches the historicity of Esther.
The modern attack has quite another objective. Semler, who is its real fens et
origo, believed Esther to be a work of pure imagination, and as establishing little
more than the pride and arrogance of the Jews. DeWette says: "It violates all
historical probability, and contains striking difficulties and many errors with
regard to Persian manners, as well as just references to them." Dr. Driver modifies
that judgment. "The writer," he says, "shows himself well informed on Persian
manners and institutions; he does not commit anachronisms such as occur in Tobit
or Judith; and the character of Xerxes as drawn by him is in agreement with history."
The controversy shows, however, no sign of approaching settlement. Th. Noldeke
(Encyclopaedia Biblica) is more violent than De Wette. "The story," he writes,
"is in fact a tissue of improbabilities and impossibilities." We shall look first
of all at the main objections urged by him and others and then at the recent confirmations
of the historicity of Esther.
7. Some of the Objections:
|(1) "There is something fantastic, but not altogether unskillful,"
says Noldeke, "in the touch whereby Mordecai and Haman are made to inherit an
ancient feud, the former being a member of the family of King Saul, the latter
a descendant of Agag, king of Amalek." It is surely unworthy of a scholar to make
the book responsible for a Jewish fable. There is absolutely no mention in it
of either King Saul or Agag, king of Amalek, and not the most distant allusion
to any inherited feud. "Kish, a Benjamite" is certainly mentioned (Esther 2:5)
as the great-grandfather of Mordecai; but if this was also the father of Saul,
then the first of the Israelite kings was a sharer in the experiences of the Babylonian
captivity, a conception which is certainly fantastic enough. One might ask also
how an Amalekite came to be described as an Agagite; and how a childless king,
who was cut in pieces, became the founder of a tribe. But any semblance of a foundation
which that rabbinic conceit ever had was swept away years ago by Oppert's discovery
of "Agag" in one of Sargon's inscriptions as the name of a district in the Persian
empire. "Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite" means simply that Haman or his
father had come from the district of Agag.
(2) The statement that Esther 2:5,6 represents Mordecai as having been carried
away with Jeconiah from Jerusalem, and as being therefore of an impossible age,
is unworthy of notice. The relative "who" (2:6) refers to Kish, his great-grandfather.
(3) "Between the 7th and the 12th years of his reign, Xerxes' queen was Amestris,
a superstitious and cruel woman (Herod. vii.114; ix.112), who cannot be identified
with Esther, and who leaves no place for Esther beside her" (Driver). Scaliger
long ago identified Esther with Amestris, an identification which Prideaux rejected
on account of the cruelty which Herodotus has attributed to that queen. Dr. Driver
has failed to take full account of one thing--the striking fact that critics have
leveled this very charge of cruelty against the heroine of our book. It is quite
possible that Esther, moving in a world of merciless intrigue, may have had to
take measures which would form a foundation for the tales recorded by the Greek
(4) The aim of the book is said to be the glorification of the Jews. But, on the
contrary, it is merely a record of their being saved from a skillfully planned
(5) The description of the Jews (Esther 3:8) as "dispersed among the peoples in
all the provinces of" the kingdom is said to be inapplicable to the Persian period.
That argument is based upon an ignorance of the ancient world which investigation
is daily correcting. We now know that before the time of Esther
Jews were settled both in Eastern and in Southern Egypt, that is, in the extreme
west of the Persian empire. In the troubles at the end of the 7th and of the 6th
centuries BC, multitudes must have been dispersed, and when, at the latter period,
the ties of the fatherland were dissolved, Jewish migrations must have vastly
(6) The Hebrew of the book is said to belong to a much later period than that
of Xerxes. But it is admitted that it is earlier than the Hebrew of Chronicles;
and recent discoveries have shown decisively that the book belongs to the pers
(7) The suggestion is made (Driver) "that the danger which threatened the Jews
was a local one," and consequently, that the book, though possessed of a historical
basis, is a romance. But against that are the facts that the observance of the
feast has from the first been universal, and that it has not been observed more
fully or more enthusiastically in any one place than in the others.
(8) There is no reference to it, it is urged, by Chronicles, Ezra or Ben Sira
(Ecclesiasticus). But Chronicles ends with the proclamation of Cyrus, granting
permission to the Jews to return and to rebuild the Temple. There is little to
be wondered at that it contains no reference to events which happened 60 years
afterward. In Ezra, which certainly covers the period of Esther, reference to
the events with which she was connected is excluded by the plan of the work. It
gives the history of the return, the first part under Zerubbabel in 536 BC, the
second under Ezra himself, 458 BC. The events in Esther (which were embraced within
a period of a few months) fell in the interval and were connected with neither
the first return nor the second. Here again the objector is singularly oblivious
of the purpose of the book to which he refers. There is quite as little force
in the citation of Ecclesiasticus. In dealing with this time Ben Sira's eye is
upon Jerusalem. He magnifies Zerubbabel, "Jesus the son of Josedek," and Nehemiah
(49:11-13). Even Ezra, to whom Jerusalem and the new Jewish state owed so much,
finds no mention. Why, then, should Esther and Mordecai be named who seem to have
had no part whatever in rebuilding the sacred city?
(9) The book is said to display ignorance of the Persian empire in the statement
that it was divided into 127 provinces, whereas Herodotus tells us that it was
partitioned into 20 satrapies. But there was no such finality in the number, even
of these great divisions of the empire. Darius in his Behistun inscriptions gives
the number as 21, afterward as 23, and in a third enumeration as 29. Herodotus
himself, quoting from a document of the time of Xerxes, shows that there were
then about 60 nations under the dominion of Persia. The objector has also omitted
to notice that the medhinah ("province") mentioned in Esther
(1:1) is not a satrapy but a subdivision of it. Judea is called a medhinah in
Ezra 2:1, and that was only a small portion of the 5th satrapy, that, namely,
of Syria. But the time is past for objections of this character. Recent discoveries
have proved the marvelous accuracy of the book. "We find in the Book of Esther,"
says Lenormant (Ancient History of the East, II, 113), "a most animated picture
of the court of the Persian kings, which enables us, better than anything contained
in the classical writers, to penetrate the internal life and the details of the
organization of the central government established by Darius."
8. Confirmations of the Book:
These discoveries have removed the discussion to quite
another plane--or rather they have ended it. Since Grotefend in 1802 read the
name of Xerxes in a Persian inscription and found it to be, letter for letter,
the Ahasuerus of Eat, research has heaped up confirmation of the historical character
of the book. It has proved, to begin with that the late date suggested for the
book cannot be maintained. The language belongs to the time of the Persian dominion.
It is marked by the presence of old Persian words, the knowledge of which had
passed away by the 2nd century BC, and has been recovered only through the decipherment
of the Persian monuments. The Septuagint translators were unacquainted with them,
and consequently made blunders which have been repeated in our own the King James
Version and in other translations. We read (Esther 1:5 , 6 the King James Version)
that "in the court of the garden of the king's palace," "were white, green, and
blue hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple," etc. As seen in
the ruins of Persepolis, a marked feature in the Persian palace of the period
was a large space occupied by pillars which were covered with awnings. It may
be noted in passing that these were situated, as the book says, in the court of
the palace garden. But our knowledge of the recovered Persian compels us now to
read: "where was an awning of fine white cotton and violet, fastened with cords
of fine white linen and purple." White and blue (or violet) were the royal Persian
colors. In accord with this we are told that Mordecai (Esther 8:15) "went forth
from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white." The highly
organized postal system, the king's scribes, the keeping of the chronicles of
the kingdom, the rigid and elaborate court customs, are all characteristic of
the Persia of the period. We are told of the decree obtained by Haman that "in
the name of King Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring" (or
signet). It was not signed but sealed. That was the Persian custom. The seal of
Darius, Xerxes' father, has been found, and is now in the British Museum. It bears
the figure of the king shooting arrows at a lion, and is accompanied by an inscription
in Persian, Susian and Assyrian: "I, Darius, Great King." The identification of
Ahasuerus, made by Grotefend and which subsequent discoveries amply confirmed,
placed the book in an entirely new light. As soon as that identification was assured,
previous objections were changed into confirmations. In the alleged extravagances
of the monarch, scholars saw then the Xerxes of history. The gathering of the
nobles of the empire in "the third year of his reign" (Esther 1:3) was plainly
the historical assembly in which the Grecian campaign was discussed; and "the
seventh year," in which Esther was made queen, was that of his return from Greece.
The book implies that Susa was the residence of the Persian kings, and this was
so. The proper form of the name as shown by the inscriptions was "Shushan"; "Shushan
the Palace" indicates that there were two Susas, which was the fact, and birah
("palace") is a Persian word meaning fortress. The surprisingly rigid etiquette
of the palace, to which we have referred, and the danger of entering unbidden
the presence of the king have been urged as proof that the book is a romance.
The contrary, however, is the truth. "The palace among the Persians," says Lenormant,
"was quite inaccessible to the multitude. A most rigid etiquette guarded all access
to the king, and made it very difficult to approach him. .... He who entered the
presence of the king, without having previously obtained permission, was punished
with death" (Ancient History of the East, II, 113 - 14; compare Herodotus i.99).
But a further, and peculiarly conclusive, testimony to the historical character
of the book is afforded by the recovery of the palace of Xerxes and Esther. An
inscription of Artaxerxes Mnemon found at Susa tells us that it was destroyed
by fire in the days of Artaxerxes Longimanus, the son and successor of Xerxes.
Within some 30 years, therefore, from the time of Esther, that palace passed from
the knowledge of men. Nevertheless, the references in the book are in perfect
accord with the plan of the great structure as laid bare by the recent French
excavations. We read (Esther 4) that Mordecai, clad in sackcloth, walked in "the
broad palace of the city, which was before the king's gate." The ruins show that
the House of the Women was on the East side of the palace next to the city, and
that a gate led from it into "the street of the city." In Esther 5:1, we read
that Esther "stood in the inner court of the king's house, over against the king's
house." "The king," we also read, "sat upon his royal throne in the royal house,
over against the entrance of the house," and that from the throne he "saw Esther
the queen standing in the court." Every detail is exact. A corridor led from the
House of the Women to the inner court; and at the side of the court opposite to
the corridor was the hall, or throne-room of the palace. Exactly in the center
of the farther wall the throne was placed and from that lofty seat the king, overlooking
an intervening screen, saw the queen waiting for an audience. Other details, such
as that of the king's passing from the queen's banqueting-house into the garden,
show a similarly exact acquaintance with the palace as it then was. That is a
confirmation the force of which it is hard to overestimate. It shows that the
writer was well informed and that his work is characterized by minute exactitude.
The utter absence of the Divine name in Esther has formed a difficulty even where
it has not been urged as an objection. But that is plainly part of some Divine
design. The same silence is strictly maintained throughout in regard to prayer,
praise and every approach toward God. That silence was an offense to the early
Jews; for, in the Septuagint additions to the book, there is profuse acknowledgment
of God both in prayer and in praise. But it must have struck the Jews of the time
and the official custodians of the canonical books quite as painfully; and we
can only explain the admission of Esther by the latter on the ground that there
was overwhelming evidence of its Divine origin and authority. Can this rigid suppression
be explained? In the original arrangement of the Old Testament canonical books
(the present Hebrew arrangement is post-Christian), Esther is joined to Nehemiah.
In 1895 I made a suggestion which I still think worthy of consideration: More
than 60 years had passed since Cyrus had given the Jews permission to return.
The vast majority of the people remained, nevertheless, where they were. Some,
like Nehemiah, were restrained by official and other ties. The rest were indifferent
or declined to make the necessary sacrifices of property and of rest. With such
as these last the history of God's work in the earth can never be associated.
In His providence He will watch over and deliver them: but their names and His
will not be bound together in the record of the labor and the waiting for the
ahasuerus, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of esther, define, esther (queen), mordecai, old testament, xerxes