Friday, July 18, 2014

Esther -- Part 3

Problems with the Story
Thomas Allen

    The story occurs during the reign of Xerxes I (486-465 B.C.), who is called Ahasuerus in Esther. No historical records show that Xerxes ever had a queen named Esther or a Jewish queen. Moreover, Xerxes’s marriage to Esther would have been contrary to the law. According to Persian law, the king could only marry a wife belonging to one of the seven great Persian families.[25] (Likewise, Ahasuerus’s marriage to Vashti, if Vashti were her real name, would also have been illegal. Vashti is an Elamite name.) Between the seventh year and twelfth year of Xerxes’s reign (2:16; 3:7), when Esther is supposed to be his queen, his queen is Amestris, the daughter of a Persian general, Otanes.[26] Furthermore, at that time for a Jewess to marry voluntarily a Gentile was unthinkable.

    No historical record shows Haman, Mordecai, or Vashti. That a Persian king would appoint a foreigner to be his prime minister, grand vizier, is highly unlikely. Haman is an Agagite (3:1, 10), i.e., an Amalekite (Agags were kings of Amalek, Israel’s bitter enemy). Mordecai, of coarse, is a Jew.

    Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah mentions them. Sirach, who wrote about 180 B.C., does not include Esther, who supposedly saved the Jewish people, or Mordecai among the Hebrew notables (Sir. chap. 44-49).

    Moreover, no historical record shows a massacre in Susa. A lack of any historical record independent of the Bible does not mean that the event described in the Bible did not happen as described.

    Another conflict in the book is Ahasuerus (Xerxes) ordering Vashti to appear before his party unveiled. Such an act was contrary to custom and Persian law.[27] (If Vashti were a real person, violating the custom and law accounts for her refusal to obey the king.) Some scholars doubt such custom and believe that the king’s command was not improper.[28]

    The explanation commonly offered to all these violations of Persian laws and customs is that the king just ignored them. If true, why did he not ignore the Persian law against rescinding a royal decree? If he were in the habit of ignoring Persian law, why did he not merely revoke the decree that authorized Haman to kill the Jews and take their property?

    Esther did ask him to revoke it (8:5). Was she saying one thing with her lips and another with her body language? Did her body language say do not revoke the decree instead grant us Jews the right of revenge? If so, the king obeyed her body language instead of her lips.

    Many scholars believe that the kings of Persia could revoke their decrees. Historical evidence does not support Persian royal decrees being irrevocable.[29]

    A major problem with Esther is its lack of any religious substance. It does not mention God. No direct reference is made to worship. Although it alludes to fasting (4:16) and the “cry” of the people (9:31), they appear to have no religious connection.

    To explain away Esther’s lack of religious content, Martin offers, “A possible explanation is that the book was written at a time when the mention of the name or religion of the God of Israel was either unwise or dangerous or both.”[30] A problem with this excuse is that believing God would sanction such cowardice is difficult. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not shy away from mentioning the God of Israel although it meant their lives. For the most part the Persians were friendly enough with the Jews to allow them to rebuild the Temple and to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

    C. Pfeiffer rejects Martin’s excuse and quotes Edward Young to explain away the lack of religious substance. Young writes:
 . . . since these Jews were no longer in the theocratic line, so to speak, the Name of the Covenant God is not associated with them. The Book of Esther, then, serves the purpose of showing how Divine Providence overrules all things; even in a distant, far country, God’s people are yet in His hands. But since they are in this distant, far country, and not in the land of Promise, His Name is not mentioned.[31]
Nehemiah and Malachi came after Esther if the earlier date is correct, and they are filled with religious substance. Moreover, why would God excuse “His people” ignoring Him when they are not around Jerusalem? Abraham, Joseph, and Moses did not ignore Him when they were in Egypt. Jacob did not stop worshiping God when he went to a far country. David did not stop worshiping Him when he entered a foreign country. Living in a foreign country is no excuse. However, the Jews in Esther show no reverence to God. Like Martin’s excuse, Young’s excuse is extremely poor.

    Their peculiar laws (3:8) seem to be the only thing that distinguished the Jews from the Gentile in the story. However, they quickly abandon their peculiar laws when it suits their purpose (2:9). Thus, Esther can easily conceal that she is a Jewess (2:10).

    While Mordecai convinces Esther to conceal that she is a Jewess and causes her to violate Jewish laws, he practically boasts of being a Jew. (To conceal her Jewishness, Esther would have to eat unclean foods and bow to the king, who was considered a deity — thus, violating the first commandment.) Yet Mordecai risks exposing her as a Jewess by his daily visits and inquiries (2:11).

    The moral height of the book is Esther’s resolve to risk her life by going to the king and pleading for her people (5:1-8). However, if she believes Mordecai’s argument, she has everything to gain and nothing to lose. He claims that if Haman’s decree were executed, she would be killed (4:13). Apparently, Mordecai convinces her that Haman would not make an exception for the queen, and the king would allow her execution. Moreover, if she does not intervene to save the Jews, someone else will (4:14). Therefore, if she does not act, she will not receive the glory. She does not ask why she should risk her life to intercede for the Jews if they will be saved without her intercession.

 25. Fausset, p. 213.

26. Davis, Westminster, p. 172. Fausset, p. 213. Paton, p. 230.

27. Fausset, p. 213.

28. Archibald Duff, “Esther,” in A Commentary on the Bible, ed. Arthur S. Peake and A.J. Grieve (New York, New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, n.d.), p. 337.

29. Richardson, pp. 233-234.

30. Martin, p. 919.

31. C. Pfeiffer, p. 447.

Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Coley Allen.

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