Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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This is a diaspora novel telling the story of how the beautiful Esther (Hadassah) and her cousin Mordecai (Esther was Mordecai's uncle's daughter) came to power in the Persian court after having overcome the hostile plots of Haman. It became the foundation of the feast of Purim, a popular Jewish festival celebrating the triumph of Esther and Mordecai over their enemy Haman—a triumph which saved the Jews from annihilation by their enemies.48Esther is a beautiful orphan brought up by her cousin, whose beauty won for her Ahasuerus, the Persian king's, favour after his own wife (Vashti) had refused to display her beauty to all the court during a great feast (1). Esther so pleased King Ahasuerus that he made her queen in Vashti's place. This fortuitous honour brought Esther's guardian Mordecai inside the king's gate and left him well placed to inform the king, via Esther, of a plot against his life. The plotters were hanged—hanging is an important motif in the Book of Esther. Thereafter the focus is on the newly promoted Haman the Agagite (of the family of the Amalekite King Agag in 1 Sam. 15) and the rivalry between Haman and Mordecai. Jewishness is the key to the plot: Haman knows that Mordecai is a Jew, but neither Haman nor Ahasuerus knows that Esther is a Jew. The rest can easily be guessed. Haman persuades Ahasuerus of the fact that throughout his kingdom there is a people (meaning the Jews) whose laws are different and who do not keep his laws. The king grants Haman permission to have them destroyed and letters are sent throughout the empire setting the day when this will take place (3). This is a crisis Esther alone can handle: as Mordecai says: ‘who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?' (4: 14). The Jews' fate hangs on Esther's willingness to intervene with the king, and she sets about engineering the downfall of Haman. In the meantime Zeresh, Haman's wife, and all Haman's friends persuade him to have a 75-foot (50-cubits) high gallows built to hang Mordecai. Haman is, of course, defeated and hanged on the very gallows which he had had prepared for Mordecai (7). A counter-command is then sent throughout the empire permitting Jews to defend themselves on the day set apart for their destruction. Esther also gives the command for the ten sons of Haman to be hanged (9: 14). The days of feasting by the Jews which followed this escape from destruction were called Purim (9: 26), and letters were sent to the Jews throughout the empire apprising them of this feast. The story ends with a declaration of Mordecai's greatness, for he was next to the king in power and great among the Jews (10: 3). Of Esther we hear no more.

Chapter.  601 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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