Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Esther -- Part 4


Interpretations
Thomas Allen

    The traditional interpretation, as expressed by the Zionist Scofield, is that Esther shows God secretly watching over the dispersed Jews. Demaray, Fausset, Halley, Martin, C. Pfeiffer, Unger, and others also hold this view. Although the book no where suggests that God be working through Esther or Mordecai to save the Jews from persecution, this interpretation claims such provincial care exists. Many go as far as to insert numerous references to God in their commentaries, which are completely missing in the book of Esther (for example, C. Pfeiffer). Unger remarks, “The purpose of the book is to demonstrate God’s providential care of His people in their trials and persecutions. . . .”[32] Davis declares, “The great lesson of the book is, in fact, the overruling power of Providence.”[33]

    Unfortunately for the providential care argument, the book only weakly suggests it. It does not identify, or even imply, that the source of this providential care is Jehovah God. The source may just as well be a god of Freemasonry, Islam, Hinduism, or some New Age religion. Satan had won the hearts and souls of most Jews. Could he have been using them to feed his lust for blood? Based on the book as a whole, this providential care is human in origin and not divine.

    Some believe that the purpose of Esther is to justify the Feast of Purim. No other Scripture sanctions this feast. This feast celebrates the triumph of the Jews over anti-Semitism. (Today, it would be a celebration of Jews over anti-Jews as few Jews are Semites or, perhaps more correctly, over Gentiles.)

    Those who believe that Esther is a historical romance book generally view it as justification for Purim. Esther was written to glorify the Jews at a time when they were envied and hated.

    One problem with the Purim interpretation is that Purim is not a Hebrew word. It is highly unlikely that Jews would use a foreign name for one of their great commemorative celebrations. Another is that Ezra did not include it in the Priestly Code.

    Another interpretation is that Purim is a foreign holiday adopted by the Jews. It justifies the celebration of a festival that had no religious significance or basis in the Law but that had become popular with the Jews. Purim is possibly the New Year Feast of Marduk, the Ishtar feast, or the Babylonian observance in the month of Adar.

    Others believe that Esther is describing a conflict between the gods of Babylonia and Elam. On one side are Esther (Ishtar, a Babylonian goddess) and Mordecai (Marduk, chief god of Babylonia). On the other side are Haman (Hamman, chief gold of the Elamites), Vashti (an Elamite deity), and Zeresh (Kirisha, an Elamite goddess and presumably Hamman’s consort.). Jews learned this story during their captivity. Esther is a Judaized version of this conflict that Jews have converted to their own use.

    A criticism of this interpretation is that many names and characters in Esther do not fit neatly into the myth. Identifying Zeresh with Kirisha presents another problem. Moreover, Haman is identified as the son of Hammedatha and an Agagite. (That the Jewish writer of Esther would identify the chief villain of the story with Israel’s arch enemy, the Amalekites, is not surprising.)

    Another possibility is that Esther is a fiction describing in allegorical terms the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids. Under this interpretation, the writer is using the events around Phaedymia, Esther of the story, who is the wife of Darius-Hystaspis and mother of Xerxes. She saves her people from the Magi, as Esther saves hers from Haman and his rabble. Purim may come from the Persian festival of Magophonia, which celebrates the Persian massacre of the Magi. However, it celebrates the Maccabean victory. Moreover, Esther’s Jewish name is Hadassah, i.e., Myrtle, which is the same as Adasah in Judea where the Maccabeans defeated Nicanor in 161 B.C. Under this interpretation, Mordecai represents Judas Maccabeus and Haman represents Antiochus Epiphanes and particularly Nicanor. Thus, Esther explains the origins or Purim, which is a celebration of the Maccabean victory over the Seleucids, Syrians, commanded by Nicanor.

    According to C. Pfeiffer, the purpose of Esther “was an invitation to a war of conquest and revenge.”[34] He adds, “the story leads up to a wholesale massacre of non-Jews and the yearly celebration of that carnage.”[35] The moral that Esther teaches is “love your kindred, hate your enemies.”[36] “[T]he might of the Jews and the destruction of their enemies are the supreme moral ideals of the book.”[37]

    A combination of several of the above interpretations leads to a better understanding of Esther. Jewish religious leaders used a Babylonian or Persian holiday that Jews had become accustom celebrating. This holiday they converted to a Jewish holiday to celebrate the victory of the Jews over the Gentiles. (The Christian church did the same thing with Easter. It converted a pagan holiday to a holiday commemorating Christ’s resurrection.) To this holiday, they overlaid a Judaized version of a Babylonian story about the Babylonian victory over the Elamites. The gods of Babylon defeat the gods of Elam. The Jewish writer changes the Babylonian gods to Jews and Elamite gods to Agagites and Elamites, who represent Gentiles in general. Instead of a mystical war, the writer of Esther could have used the Persian slaughter of the Magi and converted the Persian holiday celebrating that event to the Jewish holiday Purim. Here the Persians become Jews, and the Magi become Gentiles. Whichever story that the writer uses, he greatly embellishes it to make it more exciting and relevant to his Jewish audience.

    Even if Esther is an accurate account of actual historical events, the conclusion of this article does not change. In fact, an actual historical account is more supportive of the conclusion than a mystical story or historical fiction.

Endnotes
32. Unger, Dictionary, p. 325.

33. John D. Davis, A Dictionary of the Bible, 4th rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Michigan: Baker Book House: 1957), p. 218.

34.  R. Pfeiffer, p. 477.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid.

Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Coley Allen. 

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