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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Interpretative Problems and Canonicity.

1.

Esther is the only book in the Hebrew canon for which no fragments have been discovered at Qumran. Its absence from the corpus of Dead Sea scrolls attests to the difficulty it had in reaching canonical status in early Judiasm; and the fact that the Western Fathers merely mention it while the Eastern Church did not accept it as part of the canon until the eighth century CE is indicative of its controversial nature in early Christianity. For both Jews and Christians, the most prominent reason for its disputed status is its lack of explicit religiosity. God is never once mentioned, nor are basic biblical concepts such as covenant, Torah, and temple. Also absent are standard elements of Jewish piety such as dietary laws, sacrifice, and prayer; and virtues such as mercy and forgiveness are not present. The reasons for such omissions are only speculative (see the summary in Moore 1992: 636–7), but the fact that many of these ‘missing’ elements appear prominently in the Additions to Esther demonstrates clearly how deficient the canonical Esther seemed. Not only are its deficiencies troubling but so also are some of its features, such as the apparent vindictiveness with which the Jews avenge those who would have destroyed them, although that particular aspect may be part of the peripety (unexpected reversal of fortunes) that characterizes the literary structure of the book.

2.

Controversy has also surrounded the value of Esther and her deeds as a female role model. Some biblical scholars have downplayed her activities, making Mordecai into the true hero of the tale (see Moore 1971: lii) and questioning Esther's sexual ethics (as Paton 1908: 96). Some radical feminist critics would rather make Vashti the heroine (Gendler 1976 ); they object to Esther's use of sexuality and food to achieve her ends (as Fuchs 1982 ). Others writing with a feminist perspective (e.g. LaCocque 1990; White 1989; 1992 ) are respectful of such tactics of indirection, which serve as models for the powerless, whether individuals or communities, who struggle to establish and maintain a semblance of agency in their lives. For those who view her positively, Esther becomes a sage in her own right: she dominates the action, surpassing Mordecai and subordinating the king to her will (Hallo 1983: 24–5). The characterization of Esther in post-biblical Jewish tradition, such as the Additions (see Day 1995 ) and rabbinic literature (as Bronner 1994 ), is another aspect of feminist interest in this biblical book.

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