In my last couple of posts I talked about one of the great short stories of the Hebrew Bible, Ruth; now I move to another – Esther. This one will take only one post. Again I am taking this material from my book The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction.
The book of Esther is another short story with a woman as the main character, and it too is about an intermarriage of a Jew and a non-Jew. But in this case it is Esther who is the Jew; her husband is a pagan figure of rather grand importance. He is, in fact, the King of Persia.
As with the other short stories, the book of Esther is difficult to date, but as its action takes place during the period of the Persian empire it is certainly postexilic, probably from the fourth century b.c.e. It tells the story of a Jewish queen who saves the entire Jewish people from destruction. As such, it provides us with the first recorded attempt of a foreign power to destroy the Jewish people in an act of genocide. In this case we are dealing with a fiction. With later stories we will not be so fortunate, as they often involve real historical events.
There is almost nothing to suggest that Esther is describing an actual set of historical events. Among other things, the main characters—King Ahasuerus, Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and the arch-villain Haman—are absent from any historical record. And there are gross historical inaccuracies. For example, it makes someone named Ahasuerus
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