Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Book of Esther
1. Name, Contents, Object, and Unity of the Book of Esther
This book bears the name of אסתּר or אסתּר מגלּת, book of Esther, also briefly that of מגלּה with the Rabbis, from Esther the Jewess, afterwards raised to the rank of queen, to whom the Jews were indebted for their deliverance from the destruction with which they were threatened, as related in this book.
Its contents are as follows: - Ahashverosh, king of Persia, gave, in the third year of his reign, a banquet to the grandees of his kingdom at Susa; and on the seventh day of this feast, when his heart was merry with wine, required the Queen Vashti to appear before his guests and show her beauty. When she refused to come at the king's commandment, she was divorced, at the proposal of his seven counsellors; and this divorce was published by an edict throughout the whole kingdom, lest the example of the queen should have a bad effect upon the obedience of other wives to their husbands (Est 1). When the king, after his wrath was appeased, began again to feel a tenderness towards his divorced wife, the most beautiful virgins in the whole kingdom were, at the advice of his servants, brought to the house of the women at Susa, that the king might choose a wife at his pleasure. Among these virgins was Esther the Jewess, the foster-daughter and near relative of Mordochai, a Benjamite living in exile, who, when brought before the king, after the customary preparation, so pleased him, that he chose her for his queen. Her intercourse with Mordochai continued after her reception into the royal palace; and during his daily visits in the gate of the palace, he discovered a conspiracy against the life of the king, and thus rendered him an important service (Est 2). Ahashverosh afterwards made Haman, an Agagite, his prime minister or grand visier, and commanded all the king's servants to pay him royal honours, i.e., to bow down before him. When this was refused by Mordochai, Haman's indignation was so great, that he resolved to destroy all the Jews in the whole empire. For this purpose he appointed, by means of the lot, both the month and day; and obtained from the king permission to prepare an edict to all the provinces of the kingdom, appointing the thirteenth day of the twelfth month for the extermination of the Jews throughout the whole realm (Est 3:1-15). Mordochai apprised Queen Esther of this cruel command, and so strongly urged her to apply to the king on behalf of her people, that she resolved, at the peril of her life, to appear before him unbidden. When she was so favourably received by him, that he promised beforehand to grant whatever she had to request, even to the half of his kingdom, she first entreated that the king and Haman should eat with her that day. During the repast, the king inquired concerning her request, and she answered that she would declare it on the following day, if the king and Haman would again eat with her (Est 4:1-8). Haman, greatly elated at this distinction, had the mortification, on his departure from the queen, of beholding Mordochai, who did not rise up before him, in the gate of the palace; and returning to his house, formed, by the advice of his wife and friends, the resolution of hanging Mordochai next day upon a gallows; for which purpose he immediately caused a tree fifty cubits high to be prepared (Est 5:9-14). Next night, however, the king, being unable to sleep, caused the records of the kingdom to be read to him, and was thereby reminded of the obligation he was under to Mordochai. When, on this occasion, he learnt that Mordochai had as yet received no reward for his service, he sent for Haman, who had resorted thus early to the court of the palace for the purpose of obtaining the royal permission for the execution of Mordochai, and asked him what should be done to the man whom the King desired to honour. Haman, thinking his honour concerned himself, proposed the very highest, and was by the king's command obliged, to his extreme mortification, himself to pay this honour to Mordochai, his wife and friends interpreting this occurrence as an omen of his approaching ruin (Est 6:1-14). When the king and Haman afterwards dined with Esther, the queen begged for her life and that of her people, and pointed to Haman as the enemy who desired to exterminate the Jews. Full of wrath at this information, the king went into the garden of the palace; while Haman, remaining in the room, fell at the feet of the queen to beg for his life. When the king, returning to the banquet chamber, saw Haman lying on the queen's couch, he thought he was offering violence to the queen, passed sentence of death upon him, caused him to be hanged upon the gallows he had erected for Mordochai (Est 7:1-10), and on the same day gave his house to the queen, and made Mordochai his prime minister in the place of Haman (Est 8:1-2). Hereupon Esther earnestly entreated the reversal of Haman's edict against the Jews; and since, according to the laws of the Medes and Persians, an edict issued by the king and sealed with the seal-royal could not be repealed, the king commanded Mordochai to prepare and publish throughout the whole kingdom another edict, whereby the Jews were permitted, to their great joy and that of many other inhabitants of the realm (Est 8:3-17), not only to defend themselves against the attacks of their enemies on the appointed day, but also to kill and plunder them. In consequence of this, the Jews assembled on the appointed day to defend their lives against their adversaries; and being supported by the royal officials, through fear of Mordochai, they slew in Susa 500, and in the whole kingdom 75,000 men, besides 300 more in Susa on the day following, but did not touch the goods of the slain. They then celebrated in Susa the fifteenth, and in the rest of the kingdom the fourteenth, day of the month Adar, as a day of feasting and gladness (Est 9:1-19). Hereupon Mordochai and Queen Esther sent letters to all the Jews in the kingdom, in which they ordered the yearly celebration of this day, by the name of the feast of Purim, i.e., lots, because Haman had cast lots concerning the destruction of the Jews (Est 9:20-32). In conclusion, the documents in which are described the acts of Ahashverosh and the greatness of Mordochai, who had exerted himself for the good of his people, are pointed out (Est 10:1-3).
From this glance at its contents, it is obvious that the object of this book is to narrate the events in remembrance of which the feast of Purim was celebrated, and to transmit to posterity an account of its origin. The aim of the entire contents of this book being the institution of this festival, with which it concludes, there can be no reasonable doubt of its integrity, which is also generally admitted. Bertheau, however, after the example of J. D. Michaelis, has declared the sections Est 9:20-28 and Est 9:29-32 to be later additions, incapable of inclusion in the closely connected narrative of Est 1-9:19, and regards Est 10:1-3 as differing from it both in matter and language. The sections in question are said to be obviously distinct from the rest of the book. But all that is adduced in support of this assertion is, that the words קיּם, to institute (Est 9:21, Est 9:27, Est 9:29, Est 9:31), סוּף, to come to an end, to cease (Est 9:28), the plural צומות, fasts (Est 9:31), and an allusion to the decree in a direct manner, occur only in these sections. In such a statement, however, no kind of consideration is given to the circumstance that there was no opportunity for the use of קיּם סוּף and the plur. צומות in the other chapters. Hence nothing remains but the direct introduction of the decree, which is obviously insufficient to establish a peculiarity of language. Still weaker is the proof offered of diversity of matter between Est 9:20-32 and Est 9-9:19; Bertheau being unable to make this appear in any way, but by wrongly attributing to the word קיּם the meaning: to confirm a long-existing custom.
2. Historical Character of the Book of Esther
The feast of Purim is mentioned, 2 Macc. 15:36, under the name of Μαρδοχαΐκή ἡμέρα, as a festival existing in the time of Nicanor (about 160 b.c.); and Josephus tells us, Ant. xi. 6. 13, that it was kept by the Jews during a whole week. Now the institution of this festival must have been based upon an historical event similar to that related in this book. Hence even this is sufficient to show that the assertion of Semler, Oeder, and others, that this book contains a fictitious parable (confictam esse universam parabolam), is a notion opposed to common sense. For if this festival has been from of old celebrated by the Jews all over the world, it must owe its origin to an occurrence which affected the whole Jewish people, and the names Purim and Mordochai's day are a pledge, that the essential contents of this book are based upon an historical foundation. The name Purim (i.e., lots), derived from the Persian, can be suitably explained in no other manner than is done in this book, viz., by the circumstance that lots were cast on the fate of the Jews by a Persian official, who contemplated their extermination, for the purpose of fixing on a favourable day for this act; while the name, Mordochai's day, preserves the memory of the individual to whom the Jews were indebted for their deliverance. Hence all modern critics admit, that at least an historical foundation is thus guaranteed, while a few doubt the strictly historical character of the whole narrative, and assert that while the feat of Purim was indeed celebrated in remembrance of a deliverance of the Jews in the Persian empire, it was the existence of this festival, and the accounts given by those who celebrated it, which gave rise to the written narrative of the history of Esther (thus Bertheau). On the other hand, the historical character of the whole narrative has been defended not only by Hvernick (Einl.), M. Baumgarten (de fide libri Estherae, 1839), and others, but also, and upon valid grounds, by Staehelin (spec. Einl. in die kanon. BB. des A. T. 51f.). The objections that have been raised to its credibility have arisen, first from the habit of making subjective probability the standard of historical truth, and next from an insufficient or imperfect attention to the customs, manners, and state of affairs at the Persian court on the one hand, or an incorrect view of the meaning of the text on the other. When, e.g., Bertheau as well as Bleek (Einleit. p. 286) says, "The whole is of such a nature that the unprejudiced observer cannot easily regard it as a purely historical narrative," Cleric. (dissert. de scriptoribus librr. hist. 10) far more impartially and correctly decides: Mirabilis sane est et παράδοξος (quis enim neget?) historia, sed multa mirabilia et a moribus nostris aliena olim apud orientales ut apud omnes alios populos contigerunt. The fact that King Ahashverosh should grant his grand vizier Haman permission to publish an edict commanding the extermination of the Jews throughout his empire, is not challenged by either Bleek or Bertheau; and, indeed, we need not go so far as the despotic states of the East to meet with similar occurrences; the Parisian massacre of St. Bartholomew being a sufficient proof that the apparently incredible may be actual reality.
(Note: Rosenmller (bibl. Altertumsk. i. 1, p. 379) calls to mind Mithridates king of Pontus, who, when at war with the Romans, secretly issued an order to all the satraps and local authorities his realm, to assassinate all Romans, without distinction of age or sex, on an appointed day, in consequence of which 80,000 perished on one day; also the pasha of Zaid Mehmed in the sixteenth century, who surprised the nation of the Druses, and put to death all whom he met with (comp. Arvieux, merkw. Nachr. i. p. 391); and then continues: "It is almost more incredible that a ruler should, from the blindness of religious zeal, either execute or drive out of his realm 100,000 of his most diligent and prosperous subjects; yet the history of modern Europe offers us, in Ferdinand the Catholic, who chased 300,000 Jews from Spain, and Louis XIV, who, after putting some thousands of Protestants to death, banished hundreds of thousands from France, examples of such incredible events.")
And all the other statements of this book, however seemingly unaccountable to us, become conceivable when we consider the character of King Ahashverosh, i.e., as is now generally admitted, of Xerxes, who is described by Greek and Roman historians as a very luxurious, voluptuous, and at the same time an extremely cruel tyrant. A despot who, after his army had been hospitably entertained on its march to Greece, and an enormous sum offered towards defraying the expenses of the war, by Pythius the rich Lydian, could be betrayed into such fury by the request of the latter, that of his five sons who were in the army the eldest might be released, to be the comfort of his declining years, as to command this son to be hewn into two pieces, and to make his army pass between them (Herod. vii. c. 37-39; Seneca, de ira, vii. 17); a tyrant who could behead the builders of the bridge over the Hellespont, because a storm had destroyed the bridge, and command the sea to be scourged, and to be chained by sinking a few fetters (Herod. vii. 35); a debauchee who, after his return from Greece, sought to drive away his vexation at the shameful defeat he had undergone, by revelling in sensual pleasures (Herod. ix. 108f.); so frantic a tyrant was capable of all that is told us in the book of Esther of Ahashverosh.
Bleek's objections to the credibility of the narrative consist of the following points: a. That it is inconceivable that if the Persian despot had formed a resolution to exterminate all the Jews in his kingdom, he would, even though urged by a favourite, have proclaimed this by a royal edict published throughout all the provinces of his kingdom twelve months previously. In advancing this objection, however, Bleek has not considered that Haman cast lots for the appointment of the day on which his project was to be carried into execution; the Persians being, according to Herod. iii. 128, Cyrop. i. 6. 46, frequently accustomed to resort to the lot; while not only in Strabo's time, but to the present day, also, everything is with them decided according to the dicta of soothsayers and astrologers. If, then, the lot had declared the day in question to be a propitious one for the matter contemplated, the haughty Haman would not reflect that the premature publication of the edict would afford a portion of the Jews the opportunity of escaping destruction by flight. Such reflections are inconsistent with absolute confidence in the power of magical decisions; and even if what was possible had ensued, he would still have attained his main object of driving the Jews out of the realm, and appropriating their possessions. - b. That at this time Judea, which was then almost wholly reinhabited by Jews, was among the provinces of Persia, and that hence the king's edict commanded the extermination of almost all the population of that country. This, he says, it is difficult to believe; and not less so, that when the first edict was not repealed, the second, which granted the Jews permission to defend themselves against their enemies, should have resulted everywhere in such success to the Jews, even though, from fear of Mordochai the new favourite, they were favoured by the royal officials, that all should in all countries submit to them, and that they should kill 75,000 men, equally with themselves subjects of the king. To this it may be replied: that Judea was, in relation to the whole Persian realm, a very unimportant province, and in the time of Xerxes, as is obvious from the book of Ezra, by no means "almost wholly," but only very partially, inhabited by Jews, who were, moreover, regarded with such hostility by the other races dwelling among them, that the execution of the decree cannot appear impossible even here. With regard to the result of the second edict, the slaughter of 75,000 men, this too is perfectly comprehensible. For since, according to Medo-Persian law, the formal repeal of a royal edict issued according to legal form was impracticable, the royal officials would understand the sense and object of the second, and not trouble themselves much about the execution of the first, but, on the contrary, make the second published by Mordochai, who was at that time the highest dignitary in the realm, their rule of action for the purpose of ensuring his favour. Round numbers, moreover, of the slain are evidently given; i.e., they are given upon only approximate statements, and are not incredibly high, when the size and population of the kingdom are considered. The Persian empire, in its whole extent from India to Ethiopia, must have contained a population of at least 100,000,000, and the number of Jews in the realm must have amounted to from two to three millions. A people of from two to three millions would include, moreover, at least from 500,000 to 700,000 capable of bearing arms, and these might in battle against their enemies slay 75,000 men. Susa, the capital, would not have been less than the Stamboul of the present day, and would probably contain at least half a million of inhabitants; and it by no means surpasses the bounds of probability, that in such a town 500 men should be slain in one day, and 300 more on the following, in a desperate street fight. Nor can the numbers stated by looked upon as too high a computation. The figures are only rendered improbable by the notion, that the Jews themselves suffered no loss at all. Such an assumption, however, is by no means justified by the circumstance, that such losses are unmentioned. It is the general custom of the scriptural historians to give in their narratives of wars and battles only the numbers of the slain among the vanquished foes, and not to mention the losses of the victors. We are justified, however, in supposing that the war was of an aggravated character, from the fact that it bore not only a national, but also a religious character. Haman's wrath against Mordochai was so exasperated by the information that he was a Jews, that he resolved upon the extermination of the people of Mordochai, i.e., of all the Jews in the realm (Est 3:4-6). To obtain the consent of the king, he accused the Jews as a scattered and separated people, whose laws were different from the laws of all other nations, of not observing the laws of the king. This accusation was, "from the standpoint of Parseeism, the gravest which could have been made against the Jews" (Haev. Einl. ii. 1, p. 348). The separation of the Jews from all other people, a consequence of the election of Israel to be the people of God, has at all times inflamed and nourished the hatred of the Gentiles and of the children of this world against them. This hatred, which was revived by the edict of Haman, could not be quenched by the counter-edict of Mordochai. Though this edict so inspired the royal officials with fear of the powerful minister, that they took part with, instead of against the Jews, yet the masses of the people, and especially the populations of towns, would not have paid such respect to it as to restrain their hatred against the Jews. The edict of Mordochai did not forbid the execution of that of Haman, but only allowed the Jews to stand up for their lives, and to slay such enemies as should attack them (Est 8:11). The heathen were not thereby restrained from undertaking that fight against the Jews, in which they were eventually the losers.
When, however, c. Bleek finds it "utterly unnatural" that, after the Jews had slain 500 of their foes in one day in Susa, the king should, at the request of Esther, whose vengeance and thirst of blood were not yet appeased, have granted an edict that the slaughter should be renewed on the following day, when no attack upon the Jews was permitted, his objection rests upon a sheer misunderstanding of the whole affair. The queen only requested that "it should be granted to the Jews in Susa to do to-morrow also, according to the decree of to-day" (Est 9:13), i.e., "to stand for their lives, and slay all who should assault them" (Est 8:11). This petition presupposes that the heathen population of Susa would renew the attack upon the Jews on the next day. Hence it is evident that Bleek's assertion, that the heathen were not allowed on that day to renew their attack upon the Jews, is an erroneous notion, and one at variance with the text. Together with this erroneous assumption, the reproach of vengeance and bloodthirstiness raised against Esther is also obviated. Her foresight in securing the lives of her people against renewed attacks, betrays neither revenge nor cruelty. Unless the heathen population had attacked the Jews on the second day, the latter would have had no opportunity of slaying their foes. How little, too, the Jews in general were influenced by a desire of vengeance, is shown by the fact so repeatedly brought forward, that they laid not their hand on the spoil of the slain (Est 9:9, Est 9:15), though this was granted them by the royal edict (Est 8:11). - d. Bleek's remaining objections are based partly upon misrepresentations of the state of affairs, and partly upon erroneous notions of Eastern customs.
(Note: E.g., the remark that, though all Susa was thrown into consternation by the edict of Haman, it rejoiced greatly at the second; where Bleek has inserted all to make the matter appear incredible by exaggeration. In the text we only read "the city of Susa was perplexed" (Est 3:15), "the city of Susa rejoiced and was glad" (Est 8:15); i.e., in the city of Susa there was in the one instance perplexity, in the other rejoicing. Also that the king published a special decree in all the provinces of his kingdom, that every man should be master in his own house, - a misinterpretation of the passage Est 1:22; see the explanation of this verse. Finally, the difficulty that Esther, as queen-consort, should have concealed her nationality so long as is stated in the narrative, can exist only for those unacquainted with the state of affairs in the harem of an Oriental prince. The Persian monarchs, who had a fresh concubine for each day, would certainly be ignorant of the descent of each; and though, according to Herod. 3:84, the queens were generally of the race of Achaemenides, yet the same historian also relates (3:31) of Cambyses, that the royal δικασταί declared to him, with respect to his marriage with a sister, that: τῷ βασιλεύοντι Περσέων ἐξεῖναι ποιέειν τὸ ἂν βούληται. The case, too, of a concubine being raised to the rank of queen by a Persian monarch is not inconceivable.)
If, then, all the objections raised against the credibility of the narrative may by thus disposed of, we are perfectly justified in adhering to a belief in the historical character of the whole book, since even Bleek cannot deny, that some at least of "the customs and arrangements of the Persian court are both vividly and faithfully depicted." To this must be added the statement of the names of the individuals who take part in the narrative, e.g., the courtiers, Est 1:10; the seven princes of Persia, Est 1:14; the keeper of the women's houses, Est 2:8 and Est 2:14; the ten sons of Haman, Est 9:7-9, and others; and the reference to the book of the chronicles of the Medes and Persians, as the documents in which not only the acts of Ahashverosh, but also the greatness of Mordochai, were written (Est 10:2). As the numerous and otherwise wholly unknown names could not possibly be invented, so neither can the reference to the book of the chronicles be a mere literary fiction. When, therefore, Bertheau thinks, that the writer of this book, by thus bringing forward so many small details, by stating the names of otherwise unknown individuals, and especially by giving so much accurate information concerning Persian affairs and institutions, - the correctness of which is in all respects confirmed both by the statements of classical authors and our present increased knowledge of Oriental matters, - certainly proves himself acquainted with the scene in which the narrative takes place, with Persian names and affairs, but not possessed also of an historical knowledge of the actual course of events; we can perceive in this last inference only the unsupported decision of a subjectivistic antipathy to the contents of the book.
3. Authorship and Date of the Book of Esther
No certain information concerning the author of this book is obtainable. The talmudic statement in Baba bathr. 15. 1, that it was written by the men of the Great Synagogue, is devoid of historical value; and the opinion of Clem. Al., Aben Ezra, and others, that Mordochai was its author, as is also inferred from Est 9:20 and Est 9:23 by de Wette, is decidedly a mistaken one, - the writer plainly distinguishing in this passage between himself and Mordochai, who sent letters concerning the feast of Purim to the Jews in the realm of Persia. Other conjectures are still more unfounded. The date, too, of its composition can be only approximately determined. The opinion that in Est 9:19 the long existence of the feast of Purim is presupposed, cannot be raised to the rank of a certainty. Nor does the book contain allusions pointing to the era of the Greek universal monarchy. This is admitted by Sthelin, who remarks, p. 178: "The most seemingly valid argument in support of this view, viz., that Persian customs are explained in this book, Est 1:1, Est 1:13 (for Est 7:8, usually cited with these passages, is out of the question, and is the king's speech in answer to Est 8:5), is refuted by the consideration, that the book was written for the information of Palestinian Jews; while Hvernick, ii. 1, p. 361, refers to a case in Bohaeddin, in which this biographer of Saladin, p. 70, though writing for Arabs, explains an Arabian custom with respect to prisoners of war." On the other hand, both the reference to the chronicles of the Medes and Persians (Est 10:2), and the intimate acquaintance of the writer with Susa and the affairs of the Persian monarchy, decidedly point to the fact, that the date of its composition preceded the destruction of the Persian empire, and may perhaps have been that of Artaxerxes I or Darius Nothus, about 400 b.c. The omission, moreover, of all reference to Judah and Jerusalem, together with the absence not only of theocratic notions, but of a specially religious view of circumstances, favour the view that the author lived not in Palestine, but in the more northern provinces of the Persian realm, probably in Susa itself. For though his mode of representing events, which does not even once lead him to mention the name of God, is not caused by the irreligiousness of the author, but rather by the circumstance, that he neither wished to depict the persons whose acts he was narrating as more godly than they really were, nor to place the whole occurrence - which manifests, indeed, the dealings of Divine Providence with the Jewish people, but not the dealings of Jahve with the nation of Israel - under a point of view alien to the actors and the event itself, yet a historian acquainted with the theocratic ordinances and relations of Judah would scarcely have been capable of so entirely ignoring them.
4. The Canonicity of the Book of Esther
The book of Esther has always formed a portion of the Hebrew canon. It is included also among the twenty-two books which, according to Josephus, c. Ap. i. 8, were acknowledged by the Jews as δικαίως πεπιστευμένα. For Josephus, who repeatedly asserts, that the history of the Hebrews from Moses to Artaxerxes was written by the prophets and worthy to be believed, relates also in his Jewish Antiquities (l. xi. c. 6) the history of Esther, Mordochai, and Haman. Certain critics have indeed desired to infer, from the statement in the Talmud, Jerush. Megill. 70. 4, that "among the eighty elders who contended against the institution of the feast of Purim by Esther and Mordochai as an innovation in the law, there were more than thirty prophets," that the Jews did not formerly attribute the same authority to the book of Esther as to the other Scriptures (Movers, loci quidam historiae canonis V. T. p. 28; Bleek, Einl. p. 404); but even Bertheau doubts whether this passage refers to the whole book of Esther. For it treats unambiguously only of the fact Est 9:29-32, which is very specially stated to have been an institution of Esther and Mordochai, and concerning which differences of opinion might prevail among the Rabbis. The further remark of Movers, l.c., that the oldest patristic testimonies to the inclusion of this book in the canon are of such a nature, ut ex iis satis verisimiliter effici possit, eum tunc recens canoni adjectum esse, because it occupies the last place in the series of O.T. writings given by Origen, Epiphanius, and Jerome, according to Jewish authority, and because the canons of the Greek Church, which more accurately enumerate the books received by the synagogue, do not contain the book of Esther, is also incorrect. For (1.) the lists of the canonical books of the O.T. given by Origen (in Euseb. hist. eccl. vi. 25) and Epiphanius give these books not according to their order in the Hebrew canon, but to that of the Alexandrinian version, while only Jerome places the book of Esther last. (2.) In the lists of the Greek Church this book is omitted only in that given in Euseb. hist. eccl. iv. 26, from the eclogae of Melito, Bishop of Sardis, and in that of Gregory of Nazianzen, while it is included in those of Origen and Cyril of Jerusalem; a circumstance which leads to the supposition that it might have been omitted by an oversight in transcription in those of Origen and Epiphanius. Only Athanasius (in his epist. fest.), Amphilochius (in the Jambi ad Seleuc.), and the author of the Synopsis Athanasius, who is supposed not to have lived till the tenth century, reckon it among the apocryphal books; while Junilius (of the sixth century) remarks that there were many in his days who doubted the canonicity of the book of Esther. From this it is sufficiently obvious, that these doubts were not founded upon historical tradition, but proceeded only from subjective reasons, and were entertained because offence was taken, first at the non-mention of the name of God in this book, and then at the confessedly apocryphal additions mingled with this book in the Alexandrinian translation. The author of the Synopsis Ath., moreover, expressly says that the Hebrews regarded this book as canonical. The well-known harsh judgments of Luther in his work de servo arbitrio: liber Esther, quamvis hunc habent in canone, dignior omnibus, me judice, qui extra canonem haberetur, and in his Table Talk, are purely subjective.
(Note: "And while the Doctor was correcting the second book of Maccabees he said: I am so hostile to this book and that of Esther, that I wish they did not exist; they are too Judaizing, and contain many heathenish improprieties.")
Luther could never reconcile himself to this book, because he felt that the saving truths of Scripture were absent from it. The later Jews, on the contrary, exalted it even far above the Thorah and the prophets.
(Note: Comp. the collection of rabbinical eulogies of this book in Aug. Pfeiffer, thes. herm. p. 597f., and in Carpzov's introd. i. p. 366.)
Later Protestant theologians, too, have, in their efforts to justify the canonicity of this book, over-estimated its canonical value, and attributed to the history therein related, Messianic references which are foreign to its meaning (comp. the verdict given upon it in Carpzov's Introd. in V. T. p. 369f.). The moderate opinion of Brentius is: hic liber utilis est ad docendam fidem et timorem Dei, ut pii non frangantur adversis, sed invocantes nomen Domini ex fide, accipiant spem salutis; impii vero alieno supplicio terreantur et ad pietatem convertantur. This opinion is one far better founded than the depreciatory decision of modern critics, that this book breathes a spirit of revenge and pride (de Wette-Schrader); or of Bertheau, that "Esther and Mordochai are full of a spirit of revenge and hostility not to Gentile ways, but to the Gentiles themselves, of cruelty, and of ungodly confidence in a victory over the world, by worldly power and the employment of worldly means," and that this book "belongs to the historical records of the revelation made to Israel, only in so far as it helps to fill up the chasm between the times of the prophets and the days of our Lord." "The book itself and its position in the canon plainly testify, that the people to whom the victory over the world was promised, separated themselves farther and farther from communion with the holy God, trusted to their own arm and to worldly power, and could not, therefore, but be worsted in their contest with the empire of the times." Such a verdict is justified neither by the circumstance, that the Jews, who reject Christ's redemption, understand and over-estimate this book in a carnal manner, nor by the fact, that the name of God does not once occur therein. With respect to the first point, the book itself is not to blame for being misused by Jews who have not accepted the redemption which is by Christ, to nourish a fanatical hatred of all Gentiles. Even if Esther and Mordochai were filled with a spirit of revenge toward the Gentiles, no reproach could in consequence be cast on the book of Esther, which neither praises nor recommends their actions or behaviour, but simply relates what took place without blame or approval. But neither are the accusations raised against Esther and Mordochai founded in truth. The means they took for the deliverance and preservation of their people were in accordance with the circumstances stated. For if the edict promulgated by Haman, and commanding the extermination of the Jews, could not, according to the prevailing law of the Medo-Persians, be repealed, there was no other means left to Mordochai for the preservation of his countrymen from the destruction that threatened them, than the issue of a counter-edict permitting the Jews to fight for their lives against all enemies who should attack them, and conceding to them the same rights against their foes as had been granted to the latter against the Jews by the edict of Haman. The bloodshed which might and must ensue would be the fault neither of Mordochai nor Esther, but of Haman alone. And though Mordochai had irritated the haughty Haman by refusing him adoration, yet no Jew who was faithful to the commands of his God could render to a man that honour and adoration which are due to the Lord only. Besides, even if the offence of which he was thereby guilty against Haman might have incited the latter to punish him individually, it could offer no excuse for the massacre of the entire Jewish nation. As for the second point, viz., the non-mention of the name of God in this book, we have already remarked, 3, that this omission is not caused by a lack of devoutness of reverence, the narrative itself presenting features which lead to an opposite conclusion. In the answer which Mordochai sends to Esther's objection to appear before the king unbidden, "If thou holdest thy peace, there shall arise help and deliverance for the Jews from another place," is expressed the assured belief that God would not leave the Jews to perish. To this must be added, both that the Jews express their deep sorrow at the edict of Haman by fasting and lamentation (Est 4:1-3), and that Queen Esther not only prepares for her difficult task of appearing before the king by fasting herself, but also begs to be assisted by the fasting of all the Jews in Susa (Est 4:16). Now fasting was a penitential exercise, and the only form of common worship practised by Jews dwelling among Gentiles; and this penitential exercise was always combined with prayer even among the heathen (comp. Jon 3:5.), though prayer and calling upon God might not be expressly mentioned. Finally, the occasion of this conflict between Jews and Gentiles was a religious one, viz., the refusal of adoration to a man, from fear of transgressing the first commandment. All these things considered, we may with Sthelin appropriate what Lutz in his bibl. Hermeneutik, p. 386, says concerning this book: "A careful survey will suffice to show, that the religious principle predominates in the book of Esther, and that there is a religious foundation to the view taken of the occurrence. For it is represented as providential, as an occurrence in which, although the name of God is unmentioned, a higher Power, a Power on the side of Israel, prevails. Even in single features a closer inspection will plainly recognise a religious tone of feeling, while the whole book is pervaded by religious moral earnestness." It is this religious foundation which has obtained and secured its position in the canon of the inspired books of the O.T. The book is a memorial of the preservation of the Jewish people, during their subjection to a universal empire, by means of a special and providential disposition of secular events, and forms in this respect a supplement to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which relate the restoration of the Jewish community to the land of their fathers.
On the additions to the book of Esther in the Alexandrinian version, which Luther, after the example of Jerome, excluded from the book and relegated to the Apocrypha under the title of Stcke in Esther, comp. my Lehrb. der Einleitung, 237, and O. F. Fritzsche's kurzgef. exeget. Hdb. zu den Apokryphen des N. T. p. 68f.
For the exegetic literature, see Lehrb. der Einl. v. 150. Comp. also E. Ph. L. Calmberg, liber Esterae interpretatione latina brevique commentario illustr., Hamb. 1837, 4, and Bertheau's Commentary, quoted p. 12.