Thursday, June 26, 2014

Esther -- Part 1

Fact or Fiction
Thomas Allen

[Editor's note: Footnotes in original are omitted.]

    What is the purpose of the book of Esther? It never mentions God. It lacks religious content. Unlike all the other books of the Old Testament, man instead of God is credited with deliverance. It is man-centered instead of God-centered. Neither Jesus nor any of the writers of the New Testament quote it or even allude to it. Consequently, its purpose is not religious. Is its purpose to show the courageous acts of a young Jewish woman to save the Jewish people? Does it serve as justification for Purim? Or does it have another purpose? Did God have it placed in the Bible as a warning? Is it a warning to Christians about the Pharisees and Pharisaism, which are now called Jews and Judaism?

    Esther is the only book of the Old Testament not yet found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[1] The early Church fathers did not consider Esther canonical. Even the Jews rejected it as authoritative until the first century A.D.,[2] but now they give it special honor. (Esther has always been popular with the common Jews. Because of its popularity, the rabbis canonized it.) After the Jews accepted Esther as canonical, the Christian church followed and accepted it in 397 A.D.[3] However, not all notable Christians have cared for Esther. About Esther, Martin Luther said, “I am so hostile to this book that I wish it did not exist; for it Judaizes too much and has too much heathen naughtiness.”[4]

    Some consider Esther historical fiction or historical romance. Among them are Clarke, Duff, Jones, Miller and Miller, Paton, and Richardson. Others consider Ester actual history. Among them are Fausset, Halley, Martin, C. Pfeiffer, and Unger. People who adhere to this interpretation generally believe that Esther is describing a real historical event. Whether Esther is real history or historical fiction is irrelevant to the conclusion drawn in this article.

    When Esther was written is disputed. Paton believes that it was written in the first century B.C.[5] Demaray,[6] C. Pfeiffer,[7] Smith,[8] and Unger,[9] place its writing in the fourth century B.C., probably early in the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus (465-425 B.C.). Clarke[10], R. Pfeiffer,[11] and Richardson[12] believe that it was written in the second century during the Maccabean period. Davis places it in the third century B.C. during the Greek period.[13]

    The events described in Esther occurred about 40 years after the Temple was rebuilt and took place between the third and twelfth year of Xerxes’s reign. They most likely happened between 485 and 470 B.C.[14]

1. Donald E. Demaray, Cowman Handbook of the Bible (Los Angeles, California: 1964), p. 91.

2. John C.H. How,“Esther,” in A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, ed. Charles Gore, Henry Leighton Goudge, and Alfred Guillaume (New York, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1928), p. 304. Lewis Leary Paton, “Esther (Person and Book),” in A New Standard Dictionary , ed. Melancthon W. Jacobus, Edward E. Nourse, and Andrew C. Zenos (New York, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1926), p. 231.

3. How, p. 304.

4. Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane Miller, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 6th ed. (New York, New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1959), p. 174. Paton, p. 232. H. Neil Richardson, “The Book of Esther,” in The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, ed. Charles M. Laymon (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1971), p. 233.

5. Paton, p. 229.

6. Demaray, p. 91.

7. Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, ed., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago, Illinois: 1962), p. 447.

8. William Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, ed. F.N. Peloubet and M.A. Peloubet (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), p. 182.
9. Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1960), p. 326.

10. W.K. Lowther Clarke, Concise Bible Commentary (New York, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1953), p. 93.

11. Robert H. Pfeiffer,“Esther,” in The Abingdon Bible Commentary, ed. Frederick Carl Eiselen, Edwin Lewis, and David G. Downey (New York, New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1929), p. 477.

 12. Richardson, p. 232.

13. John D. Davis, The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, Rev. by Henry Snyder Gehman (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1944), p. 172.

14. William C. Martin, The Layman’s Bible Encyclopedia, (Nashville, Tennessee: The Southwest Company, 1964), p. 918.

Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Coley Allen.

Part 2

More articles on religion.