Chapter

Esther

Michael D. Coogan

in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780195288803
Published online April 2009 |
Esther

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The Greek version of Esther is a translation of the canonical Hebrew book of Esther (i.e., the one included in the “Hebrew Scriptures” portion of this Bible). The translation was made for Greek‐speaking Jews in the second or first century bce.

The translator—very likely the Lysimachus of Jerusalem mentioned in 11.1 —produced a systematic but relatively free translation of the Hebrew. Besides numerous small but often significant omissions and additions, the Greek version includes six extra sections that have no counterparts in the Hebrew. These additional sections are clearly intrusive and secondary, for they contradict the Hebrew at a number of points. While they sometimes make the characters and events more vivid or dramatic, their main purpose is to transform the comparatively subtle and enigmatic Hebrew story of Esther into a more conventional tale of divine intervention and exemplary Jewish piety.

The Additions to the book of Esther comprise more than 100 verses. Their contents are as follows:

●Addition A:Mordecai's dream ( 11.2–12 ) and his discovery of a plot against the king ( 12.1–6 )

●Addition B:The royal edict dictated by Haman, decreeing the extermination of the Jews ( 13.1–7 )

●Addition C:The prayers of Mordecai ( 13.8–18 ) and Esther ( 14.1–19 )

●Addition D:Esther's appearing unsummoned, before the king ( 15.4–19 )

●Addition E:The royal edict dictated by Mordecai, counteracting the edict sent by Haman ( 16.1–24 )

●Addition F:The interpretation of Mordecai's dream ( 10.4–13 ) and the colophon (an inscription at the end of a manuscript) to the Greek version ( 1.11 )

Although there is no mention of God in the Hebrew narrative, in the Greek version the terms “Lord” or “God” appear more than fifty times. Most of these occurrences are in the Additions, but occasionally the Greek translation inserts references to God into verses that correspond to the canonical Hebrew text (see 2.20; 4.8; 6.13 ).

The additions provide their authors with an opportunity to express their own particular theological views. Additions A and F introduce apocalyptic motifs to emphasize God's providential care for the people Israel in a universally hostile world. Addition C attests to the efficacy of prayer and expresses Queen Esther's abhorrence at being married to a Gentile, her loathing of all things worldly and courtly, and her strict observance of Jewish dietary laws—none of which is so much as hinted at in the Hebrew. Thanks largely to Addition D, the climax of the Greek version is reached when God miraculously changes to gentleness the king's “fierce anger” at Esther's unannounced entrance. Taken together, the six additions deemphasize the establishment of Purim and express a deep distrust of Gentiles.

Besides giving the story a more explicitly religious character, the additions create new emphases. A and F, which frame the story, graft onto it a new apocalyptic perspective of cosmic struggle between good and evil. The juxtaposition of C's extensive praise of God, with similar terms and phrases applied to King Ahasuerus in D, makes explicit the Greek version's intent to contrast the capricious earthly king with God the trustworthy heavenly king. Similarly, the royal decrees in B and E highlight the theme of human commandments versus the law of Moses to which Esther also alludes when she prays in C.

Originally, A, C, D, and F were probably composed in either Hebrew or Aramaic (both Semitic languages) and, if so, were already part of that particular Semitic text used by the Greek translator. The florid rhetorical phraseology of B and E indicates that they must originally have been composed in Greek, perhaps in Alexandria in Egypt, a sophisticated Greek‐Jewish center.

The additions were not composed at the same time. The latest possible date for B, C, D, and E is the late first century ce, when the historian Josephus paraphrased them in his Jewish Antiquities. The colophon's location ( 11.1 ) immediately after F suggests that A as well as F were part of the Semitic text at the time that Lysimachus made his Greek translation in the late second or first century bce.

Chapter.  8009 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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