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

Commentary on Esther (Greek)

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Addition E ( 16:1–24 ): The Official Repeal of the First Edict

Similar in style to Addition B, Addition E undoes the substance of the earlier edict and carries forward the divine plan for the rescue of the Jews. Most of the Addition is devoted to the discrediting of Haman, beginning with a lengthy reflection on the fact that some people who receive great honours respond by plotting evil against their benefactors and the innocent (vv. 2–6 ). The real threat to the peace and stability of the kingdom comes not from the Jews but from Haman. Haman was not a Persian by birth but an alien devoid of Persian kindliness, whose real goal was to use his position of power to transfer the kingdom of the Persians to the Macedonians (v. 14 ). The second theme, the role of the Jews, is dealt with rather quickly, by dismissing Haman's earlier charges and emphasizing the righteousness of the Jews' laws and their status as ‘children of the living God, most high, most mighty’, who also directs the affairs of the Persian kingdom (vv. 15–16 ). Finally, the edict orders the populace not to put the earlier letters into execution, since their author himself has been executed. This new edict, which must be circulated and displayed, allows for the Jews to live under their own laws, and to be given reinforcements so that they may defend themselves from attack. The thirteenth day of Adar is to become a day of joy rather than destruction. The edict concludes by specifying this day as a festival day not only for the Jews but for the entire empire, as ‘a reminder of destruction for those who plot against us’ (v. 23 ) and promises swift punishment for those who transgress its stipulations (v. 24 ).

Though ostensibly addressed to the Persian empire by Artaxerxes, the edict, like the prayers of Mordecai and Esther, is more plausible as a message from the implied author to the diaspora Jewish audience of Greek Esther itself. As such it sanctions the celebration of Purim, celebrates the reversal of fortunes and the fulfilment of Mordecai's dream, and, perhaps most important, stresses that Jews should live by their own excellent laws even in the Diaspora. This focus on the reader may also explain the edict's references to Haman as a Macedonian, which contrast with the earlier, obscure descriptions of Haman as a bougaios (A, 12:6; 3:1 ). Moore suggests that this variation is an updated term of reproach, meant not to provide historical accuracy but to identify Haman as a despised person from the point of view of the reader. The label can be used to support a Hasmonean date for the book, since the term ‘Macedonian’ would have been a term of disparagement familiar to readers in this period (Moore 1977: 178, 236).

( 8:13–10:3 ) Events of Adar

This section describes the posting of the letter, the elevation of Mordecai, and the conversion of many Gentiles, albeit out of fear. The narrator apparently delights in the Persians' fear of the Jews, and of Mordecai in particular, whose name was to be held in honour throughout the kingdom ( 9:3 ). Esther continues to exercise a role as royal counsel, advising the king to let the Jews continue their killing on the morrow, and to hand the bodies of Haman's sons over to the Jews for hanging. These two points are responsible for Esther's post-biblical reputation as a bloodthirsty woman on a par with Jael of Judg 4–5 (ibid. 242). The narrator notes that on the next day 300 people were killed but no looting occurred, while in the countryside 15,000 Gentiles were killed (compared to 75,000 according to the MT), without plundering. The description, institution, and validation of the annual festival, whose main features are merrymaking and the giving of gifts to friends and to the poor, are associated with both Mordecai and Esther, implying their parity not only vis-à-vis the Persian kingdom but also as leaders of Persian Jewry.

Addition F: Interpretation of Mordecai's Dream ( 10:4–13 ); Colophon ( 11:1 )

The explanation of Mordecai's dream in its general outlines is no doubt superfluous to the reader/listener who has been led to recognize the Purim story itself as the fulfilment of that dream. Nevertheless the interpretation of its details provides a satisfying closure to the narrative. The river in the dream is Esther, while the two dragons are Haman and Mordecai. These identifications lead Moore (ibid. 181) to conclude that Esther is the human hero of the piece, rather than Mordecai, whom he sees as the hero of the MT Esther. The righteous nation is Israel; the surrounding nations—the Gentiles—are her enemies. The Lord rescued Israel, an event which led to joyous celebration on the thirteenth and fourteenth days of Adar. The dream and its interpretation, as introduction and conclusion, therefore provide a soteriological framework for the story as a whole, placing the events in the context of God's love for Israel and the divine propensity to come to Israel's rescue from persecution and destruction at the hands of idolatrous enemies.

Addition F concludes with a colophon that purports to provide the details of the text, its date, and its translation. Whether or not the colophon is authentic, and can therefore be used for dating the text, it, like Additions B and E, creates an aura of authenticity as well as providing explicit acknowledgement of the status of this story as a translation of a Hebrew original. The colophon is absent from AT, which follows the interpretation of Mordecai's dream with a concluding statement concerning the joyous celebration on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar.

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