Category Archives: Esther

The Book of Esther

This is a compilation of my work on the book of Esther, the second book of scripture I worked through in 2013. It represents an early stage in my finding my voice in this medium but it is relatively easy book of scripture to approach and is well loved in both Jewish and Christian traditions.

Let the Party Begin: Esther 1: 1-12
If You Make A Decision While Drunk, Make Sure You Have Good Advisers: Esther 1: 13-21
Reality TV in the Ancient World: Esther 2: 1-11
Long Live the Queen: Esther 2: 12-18
Rumors of Assassination: Esther 2: 19-23
From Insult to Genocide: Esther 3: 1-6
Rolling the Dice: Esther 3: 7-11
Bureaucracy and Collusion: Esther 3: 12-15
Waiting on the World to Change: Esther 4: 1-8
The Weight of the World on Her Shoulders: Esther 4: 9-17
A Game of Thrones: Esther 5: 1-8
Of Gallows and Egos: Esther 5: 9-14
The World is About to Turn: Esther 6: 1-14
Endgame: Esther 7: 1-6
Mechanisms of Execution: Esther 7: 7-10
Dueling Edicts: Esther 8: 1-8
Bureaucracy in Action: Esther 8: 9-14
Mordecai’s Rise: Esther 8: 15-17
Horror or Celebration in Susa: Esther 9: 1-9
The Horror Concludes: Esther 9: 11-19
The Practice Forms the Faith: Esther 9: 20-32
The Final Chapter: Esther 10: 1-3

A Young Girl in an Unfair World: A Sermon on Esther
Esther’s Crown: A Poem

The Final Chapter: Esther 10: 1-3

Esther Handwritten

This is the book of Esther written out in my hand, it spans 19 pages. This has been a part of my discipline as I write these posts.

Esther 10: 1-3

King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. 2 All the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? 3 For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.

                 And they all lived happily ever after, isn’t that how we want the story to end? For Mordecai he is afforded power and position and honor, and it is great for him and his people and his kindred.  As with the previous chapters, many scholars will argue these are additions to what the original story was. Without going into a lot of detail for Esther there are three primary ancient documents: The Masoretic Text (MT) written in Hebrew late 4th or early 3rd Century BCE, the Alpha Text (AT) which is a greek translation of the Hebrew Text (which is roughly 20% shorter than the MT) and the Septuagint which is also a Greek translation used by most early church fathers and probably most of the writers of the New Testament which comes from the Second century BCE. There are differences in each of the texts, with the Septuagint adding quite a lot (if you look in the Apocrypha in most Bibles that contain them, this is where The Additions to Esther come from). Most translations of the Bible go back to the MT, which contains chapters 9 and 10, while the AT does not. Anyways, it really matters little since the text most people read is the translation of the MT from Hebrew into English (or whatever your favorite language is) and this is the communal memory of the book.

The book end on the note of living happily ever after, and that is where we will leave it. I don’t feel a strong desire to spend any time with the Additions to Esther, but Sidnie-White Crawford, whose commentary in The New Interpreter’s Bible I’ve been reading along with as a write does cover this in depth. (Elizabeth Acthemeier, 1999, 3:945-972)

If you have followed through this journey with me, I hope you have enjoyed it and it has provoked thought. Next we are heading into one of the longer books and more challenging books of the Bible, Jeremiah. I am doing this because it is one of the books I don’t know well, like Haggai and Esther, and I want to know more. If you join me on the journey perhaps together we shall see where it leads us.

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The Practice Forms the Faith: Esther 9: 20-32

Tomb of Esther and Mordecai, Hamadan, Iran

Tomb of Esther and Mordecai, Hamadan, Iran

Esther 9: 20-32

                20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor. 23 So the Jews adopted as a custom what they had begun to do, as Mordecai had written to them.

 24 Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur– that is “the lot”– to crush and destroy them; 25 but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that the wicked plot that he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. 26 Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, 27 the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed. 28 These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

 29 Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. 30 Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, 31 and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as the Jew Mordecai and Queen Esther enjoined on the Jews, just as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants regulations concerning their fasts and their lamentations. 32 The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing.

Paschasius Radbertus (785-865), a medieval Catholic theologian gave voice to an ancient principle of how doctrine is sometimes formed by the practices of prayer and worship when he said, “the rule of prayer should lay down the rule of faith.” (Pelikan 1978, 159) Our practice informs what we believe, and within the practices of Purim, and the feasting and celebrating combined with the reading of Esther. Purim has some of the feasting and hilarity of Mardi Gras and people often dress up as Esther, Mordecai, Ahasuerus, etc. and this practice shapes the way the Jewish people approach the story in a way that Christians do not have. Esther is a beloved story as a part of this celebration, and so it is not surprising that we have in the closure two different  commands, one from Mordecai and one from Esther that establish the festival. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? You can debate back and forth does the edict establish the festival or does the edict give justification for a practice that was already ongoing.

At one point in my life, I took myself and the world way too seriously, and the life of faith is often looked upon as one of austerity, seriousness and moderation-but that has little to do with the Bible or Jesus. The world of the bible is a world of festivals and feasts, of celebrations and parties, of people enjoying participating and being a part of the story. My personal opinion is we celebrate too little. Mardi Gras for example evolved as an act of rebellion against being continually told by priests (Mardi Gras evolved in predominantly Catholic areas) of all the things they were to give up and to avoid having fun. And yet both of the primary festivals of the Christian church (Christmas and Easter) have evolved to where there is an element of feasting and celebration-but this is done with family and not with any connection to the story of the day. One of the challenges for the church as it enters the twenty first century perhaps we need to learn to celebrate and feast, to begin to live out of abundance rather than scarcity. Now one critical difference is the Christian church, at least in the United States, tells its story from a place of relative privilege, we are not (predominantly) a marginalized group. Many of our members occupy places of authority throughout the society, unlike the experience of the Jewish people throughout much of their history. Nonetheless, especially in a postmodern world which places a high value on story, we would do well to consider how our practices could be informing our faith and how we too can use these feasts throughout the year to do just that: to feast and to celebrate.

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The Horror Conclude: Esther 9: 11-19

Pablo Picasso, Guernica

Pablo Picasso, Guernica

Esther 9:11-19

                11 That very day the number of those killed in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king. 12 The king said to Queen Esther, “In the citadel of Susa the Jews have killed five hundred people and also the ten sons of Haman. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” 13 Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” 14 So the king commanded this to be done; a decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. 15 The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed three hundred persons in Susa; but they did not touch the plunder.

 16 Now the other Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and gained relief from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them; but they laid no hands on the plunder. 17 This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. 18 But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. 19 Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the open towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, a holiday on which they send gifts of food to one another.

The bloodthirsty tone continues, and again this is probably (hopefully) hyperbole, for if it is not then we have an event of horrific proportions-over seventy five thousand dead and the Emperor merely shrugs his shoulders and allows it to continue. Even though the population of the United States is many times the population of the Persian empire at its height, imagine if in one day even a thousand people lost their lives, or by way of comparison-the bloodiest days on American soil were the days where the Union and Confederate army battled at Gettysburg (over 3 days 46,286 people died). This hopefully puts some scale to the type of numbers that are thrown into the story here. Some scholars suggest the last couple chapters are additions to the book of Esther.  Regardless of how and when they become a part of the book, they become a part of the community’s memory. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, this probably gave hope to a people who were often the victims of oppression and hatred-it gives them a place where they can vent their frustrations at their powerlessness. A desired striking back, long suppressed may indeed give voice to horrific fantasies of violence. In the presence of their own people they can through stories give vent to the desire for revenge that in public society they could never do without severe reprisal. (Scott 1990, 37-44)

Esther again enters the story, the king continues to give the authority to someone else to make the decisions. Esther’s request for one more day in the city of Susa sounds cold and heartless, and the additional three hundred that die as a result may seem tiny in comparison to the seventy five thousand, but they continue to send a message along with the hanging or impaling of Haman’s sons. They are public demonstrations of power, meant to send a message to anyone who may still harbor the desire to wipe out the Jewish people. Impaling or hanging, like crucifixion in later times, makes a public spectacle of the one’s being executed in this manner and it is also a statement of shame. It dishonors the family, it denies the individual an honorable death-it is a striking statement that Haman and his sons are impaled because of their standing and wealth, it indicates a different culture than the Roman empire when crucifixion was reserved for those who were without status.

The purge comes to an end, and then comes celebration. The story is winding down, the victory is won. The remainder of the story will be codifying the celebration of Purim and lifting up the status of Mordecai and Esther. It has been a long journey through this close of the book, but we are almost there.

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Horror or Celebration in Susa:Esther 9: 1-10

Alfred P Murrah Federal Building after it was bombed in Oklahoma City April 19, 1995

Alfred P Murrah Federal Building after it was bombed in Oklahoma City April 19, 1995

Esther 9: 1-10

Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes, 2 the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin; and no one could withstand them, because the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples. 3 All the officials of the provinces, the satraps and the governors, and the royal officials were supporting the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. 4 For Mordecai was powerful in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces as the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. 5 So the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. 6 In the citadel of Susa the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people. 7 They killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, 8 Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha,9 Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha,10 the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews; but they did not touch the plunder.

We are at the part of Esther where one has to make a choice on how they will hear this. Many Christians throughout history have come upon this section with distaste, this is certainly one of the reasons Martin Luther didn’t like the book. The slaughter of over five hundred people, an event that would dwarf events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, Sandy Hook Elementary, or Columbine, in fact by percentage of population it would probably rival the loss of life on the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. If you take the numbers as literal, this is a horrific event (at least if you are not a Jew). In my opinion the numbers are probably hyperbolic, but in either case this is another of those events of violence in the Old Testament that can be difficult to stomach. This is definitely a mindset of retributive justice (you threatened me, so I will do violence to you) that still plays out in wars and genocides even in recent history.

On the other hand, this does reflect a world where anti-Semitism continues to be a real and present force in the lives of Jewish people. This was probably one memory where, instead of being victim, the Jewish people were feared because they actually had power through Mordecai and Esther. Much like Ahasuerus becomes a foil for whatever king they find themselves under and Haman becomes the oppressors they have, this victory probably becomes a counter story in the midst of their lives. When they are weak and powerless they can look back to a time when they were strong.

It is so easy for the oppressed, when given power, to become the oppressor-and even many Christians, who should take Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and non-violence seriously, have become the worst offenders. One doesn’t need to know much history to pull up events like the Holocaust (a “Christian” nation attempting to wipe out the Jews), Bosnia/Kosovo (Serbs, who are predominantly Christian attempting to wipe our Croats who were predominantly Muslim), or Rwanda (predominantly Christian), or Sudan (Muslim north vs. a Christian south) and the list could go on and on. Violence and death are here to stay with us, and in America we are very sheltered from the horror, we in the past year grieved the events in Sandy Hook and that was a major domestic event for us.

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Mordecai’s Rise: Esther 8:15-17

Pieter Lastman, The Triumph of Mordecai (1624)

Pieter Lastman, The Triumph of Mordecai (1624)

Esther 8: 15-17

 15 Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king, wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. 17 In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

The similarities to the Joseph story continue, take a look at Genesis 41:41-43 (also the previous scene where the king has Mordecai paraded around town), and yet it is amazing (at least to a modern mind)in a story that centers around Esther, now the glory goes to yet another man. The text comes from an androcentric (man-centered) world, and while Esther may be the one who took the risks it will be Mordecai who is lifted up here. Once again he is honored and elevated, once again wearing royal robes. Esther will again return to prominence in the next chapter, but here it is Mordecai who will bear the honor and light and gladness of the people.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this reminds me a lot of the partisanship we find where it is a win/loss proposition. If your candidate/agenda/party happens to be in office it is a win for you and a loss for the others, in this case for the Jewish people it is a time of light and gladness, of joy and honor to the point where people are falling over themselves to become Jewish because the political clout of Mordecai (and indirectly Esther). I wonder if there were those who were willing to go as far as circumcision (at other points in history some were willing to undergo a reverse circumcision as painful as that sounds to avoid being immediately identified as Jewish). If nothing else it gives me a reason to go to this fun little scene from Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Yet, this has been a story of reversals, as is much of scripture, and Mordecai has gone from being and exile and his identity as a Jew being the cause of his oppression to being put in royal robes, being a Jew being a title of honor, and Haman (and we will soon see his family) will find themselves destroyed, killed and annihilated.

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Bureaucracy in Action: Esther 8:9-14


Esther 8: 9-14

 9 The king’s secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred twenty-seven provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language. 10 He wrote letters in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed them with the king’s ring, and sent them by mounted couriers riding on fast steeds bred from the royal herd. 11 By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods 12 on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. 13 A copy of the writ was to be issued as a decree in every province and published to all peoples, and the Jews were to be ready on that day to take revenge on their enemies. 14 So the couriers, mounted on their swift royal steeds, hurried out, urged by the king’s command. The decree was issued in the citadel of Susa.

The bureaucracy springs into action, and perhaps like all bureaucracies this is the reason for the unexplainable delay, for the previous sections took place in the first month and now we are in the third month. Did Mordecai need to do a study, convene a committee, and enter into a debate with the Jews of Susa to come up with the right wording (I’m being snarky here). I don’t think that the Jews before would have been unable to defend themselves, but the edict with the force of Mordecai and the king’s authority with it puts them in a much stronger position, and perhaps, like in Nazi Germany, the new edict strips away the permission  to act out against the Jewish people and still to be following orders.

On the one hand, this gives the authority for a preemptive strike, to kill, destroy and annihilate anyone who might attack.  Now I wouldn’t want to go too far in this direction, remember the Jewish people are a small people in exile dependent on the favor of a powerful empire, but the edict and Mordecai’s force behind it does create fear. It is so easy for the oppressed to become the oppressor when the roles are reversed. This may be a story of reversals, but it is not a story of mercy.

Now for the Jewish people this is a story of triumph, what was to be a early Kristallnacht becomes a day of deliverance. God (although unmentioned) once again chooses the weak and the powerless and turns the tables on those who want to take advantage of them. Yet the violence of the end of the story does trouble me, yet it is the way of the story.

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Dueling Edicts: Esther 8:1-8

Esther and Mordecai by Aertz de Gelder

Esther and Mordecai by Aertz de Gelder

Esther 8: 1-8

On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. 2 Then the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. So Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.

3 Then Esther spoke again to the king; she fell at his feet, weeping and pleading with him to avert the evil design of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. 4 The king held out the golden scepter to Esther, 5 and Esther rose and stood before the king. She said, “If it pleases the king, and if I have won his favor, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. 6 For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” 7 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, “See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. 8 You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”


The king lives a sheltered life, and even here at the end of the story he basically passes authority to Esther and Mordecai. They may write and seal it with the king’s seal. The king himself doesn’t take any more responsibility for the actions of Esther and Mordecai than he did for Haman. Even though these are irrevocable matters, they are still delegated. Much as in the story of Joseph, now Mordecai ascends to be in charge of everything and second only to the king, which makes him the person who really makes the decisions.

This makes me think a little of our own system of elected government where we may elect officials, but these officials may have to answer to groups and lobbyists who may be pulling the strings more than we want to admit. Granted, if the king decides to act on his own people have two choice, obey or assassinate the king while elected officials find themselves having negative adds financed against them, or members of their own party who try to take their seat in the next election cycle. I want to believe that the people we elect are there to make the best decisions on behalf of the American people, but the skeptical side sees way to many hands trying to craft their own policies to place under the signet ring of officials.

For the Jewish people in the story this turn of events is a very positive thing, now they have their own guy who bears the signet ring and can craft policy for their benefit. Maybe I am naïve to hope for a government that is better than this, a government that can move beyond what is good for one group or another and look at what is best for the population and even beyond that, the world. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’ve come a long way-but in our antagonistic and partisan world we can dream of something better.

One final note, I’ve highlighted several times that Mordecai wouldn’t bow to Haman, but this is apparently not a Jewish thing since Esther has no problem bowing before the king. We will never know the why behind Mordecai’s not bowing throughout the story, it could be a personal hatred, an ethnic dislike or any number of other things (and even here Mordecai doesn’t bow with Esther-although it may not be the time or place).

We are left with dueling decrees that cannot be revoked. One that will allow anyone to kill and loot Jewish families and one that allows the Jewish people to assemble and allow for their protection. Perhaps what is most important is not the edict but who has the power to enforce it.

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Mechanisms Of Execution: Esther 7: 7-10

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn- Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn- Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Esther 7: 7-10

 7 The king rose from the feast in wrath and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him. 8 When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining; and the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the words left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

 There is a scene in the 1990s movie Pretty Woman, at the end where the Philip Stukey, the character played by Jason Alexander attacks Vivian, the main character played by Julia Roberts, causing the Edward, the protagonist played by Richard Gere, to throw out his main advisor. A similar thing is happening here. The king storms out, furious (even though he is at least partially to blame for the circumstance), Haman realizes the game is up and his only chance at mercy is not from the king, but the queen and he throws himself at her at the time the king returns and a convenient solution is presented. Haman has assaulted the queen, that allows the king to act immediately and the attendants (silent throughout the scene) now suddenly appear visible. Haman moves from favored one to traitor to death in the span of three terse verses. Ultimately it is the designs of his own hatred that end up being the mechanism for his own execution.

The book of Esther is a story set in a world where the death penalty is not only acceptable, but used not just for murder. Some people critique Esther for not extending mercy, which is their right, but that misses the context of the story and what was considered just punishment. Even if Esther wanted to extend mercy to Haman, and I see little reason to believe she would be inclined to, she may feel that she has pushed the benevolence of the king to its limit asking for the salvation of her life and people. The story turns on poetic justice, but I don’t think we need to make this prescriptive for the justice we seek in our own society.

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Endgame: Esther 7:1-6

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rinj- Ahasuerus, Haman and Esther at the Feast of Esther

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rinj- Ahasuerus, Haman and Esther at the Feast of Esther

Esther 7: 1-6

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me– that is my petition– and the lives of my people– that is my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

The plot has reached it’s decisive moment, Esther lays out her petition and what remains to be seen is how it will play out with the king. Esther has played well, she has patiently waited until the proper moment and this puts the king in a difficult situation for he, although perhaps through negligence and failing to investigate who the people he allowed Haman to consign to destruction, is the one behind the edict. It is his signet ring that marked the letters and decrees that went forth. The king has become so isolated from what is going on in his kingdom, so dependent upon his advisors that his own actions have placed his beloved queen at risk. Nobody knows that Esther is Jewish, or that Mordecai is her uncle but the king is furious.

Part of the appeal of Esther is it is the type of story that allows a veiled critique of whichever person is in power. Ahasuerus becomes a cipher for the king or governor that people want to laugh at, and are able to do it within the confines of the story even when they may be talking about another (and sometimes rather obviously). I am not sure if Purim (where the book of Esther is read) ever becomes a ritual of reversal, like Carnival, where the normal social rules are suspended for the duration of the festival and it becomes a time and space for the social rules to be suspended to express disapproval of the current state of affairs by a people who do not have the ability to change them. (See James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts for more about rituals of reversals. (Scott 1990, 172-182) )

The king may not be the sharpest nail in the toolbox, but ultimately action falls back to him. Ahasuerus is the one in the story who the buck stops with, and ultimately he must provide the solution to the problem. At stake is a decree and law which cannot be altered, and his own complicity in the action.

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