ESTHER, APOCRYPHAL BOOK OF:
The canonical Book of Esther undoubtedly presents the oldest extant form of the Esther story. In times of oppression the Jews found comfort in this narrative, for it presented an example of sudden divine salvation in the days of distress (Esth. ix. 22, 28), and it strengthened their hope of being liberated from their desperate condition, especially in the days of the Maccabees. Naturally, the Jews' well-known skill in transforming and enriching traditional narratives was applied especially to those incidents which were touched but lightly in the Biblical Book of Esther. Such variations and additions have been preserved in Greek, but the assumption that they were based on a Hebrew original has been proved erroneous (comp. Scholz, "Kommentar über das Buch Esther mit Seinen Zusätzen," 1892, pp. 21 et seq.), the difficulty of translating many of these additions into Hebrew being especially significant (Fritzsche, "Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen des Alten Testaments," 1851, p. 71; Wace, "The Apocrypha," in "The Speaker's Commentary," i. 361-365). The additions were probably made in the time of the Maccabees, when the people were hoping for another sudden liberation by divine intervention. They aimed chiefly to supply the religious element signally lacking in the canonical book (comp. Reuss, "Geschichte der Heiligen Schriften des Alten Testaments," 2d ed., §§ 470 et seq.; Bleek-Wellhausen, "Einleitung in das Alte Testament," 5th ed., § 120; J. S. Bloch, "Hellenistische Bestandtheile im Bibl. Schriftum," 2d ed., p. 8; Ryssel, in Kautzsch, "Die Apocryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments," i. 197). Fritzsche (l.c. p. 73) has pointed out linguistic similarities between the additions and the second Book of the Maccabees.Editions and Critical Helps.
The latest date that can be given to the additions is the year 30
For textual criticism there are, also, the two Latin translations; not so much the Vulgate—in which Jerome translated very freely, and in part arbitrarily—as the Old Latin, which, in spite of its arbitrariness and incompleteness, and its additions, probably made in part by Christians, has preserved a few good readings of the Codex Vaticanus (comp. Fritzsche, l.c. pp. 74 et seq.; Ryssel, in Kautzsch, l.c. p. 199; B. Jacob, l.c. pp. 249-258). On the forthcoming new edition of pre-Jerome texts of Esther, comp. Ph. Thielmann, "Bericht über das Gesammelte Handschriftliche Material zu einer Kritischen Ausgabe der Lateinischen Uebersetzung Biblischer Bücher des A. T." Munich, 1900; "Sitzungsberichte der Königlichen Bayerischen Academie der Wissenschaften," ii. 205-247. For an explanation of the Greek additions to the Book of Esther see Fritzsche, l.c. (the older interpreters, p. 76; the later, pp. 69-108); F. O. Bissel, "The Apocrypha of Old Testament," New York, 1880; Fuller-Wace, l.c. i. 361-402; O. Zöckler, "Die Apocryphen des Alten Testaments," Munich, 1891; Ball, "The Ecclesiastical, or Deuterocanonical, Books of the Old Testament," London, 1892; V. Ryssel, in Kautzsch, l.c. i. 193-212.The Dream of Mordecai.
The dream of Mordecai precedes in the Septuagint, as i. 11-17, the canonical story of Esther, and corresponds in the Vulgate to xi. 2-12 and xii. (Swete, "The Old Testament in Greek," ii. 755 et seq.). This version contradicts the account in the canonical book, for, according to the apocryphal version (i. 2), Mordecai is already in the service of King Artaxerxes, and has this dream inthe second year of that king's reign, whereas in the canonical version (ii. 16) Esther was not taken into the royal house until the seventh year of his reign, and Mordecai did not sit "in the king's gate"—that is, enter the king's service—until after that event (ii. 19-20). The author of the apocryphal Esther speaks of two conspiracies against Artaxerxes, and says that Mordecai preceded Esther in coming to court. His account is as follows: Mordecai as a servant in the palace sleeps with the courtiers Gabatha and Tharra (Esth. ii. 21, "Bigthan" and "Teresh"; Vulg. "Bagatha" [whence "Gabatha"] and "Thara"), and overhears their plot against the king. He denounces the conspirators, who are arrested and confess. The king and Mordecai write down the occurrence, and Mordecai is rewarded. As the conspirators are condemned to death (according to B. Jacob in Stade's "Zeitschrift," x. 298, the words of Codex B, διότι ἀνέρήθησαν, are to be added here; comp. Jerome: "qui fuerant interfecti"), Haman, who evidently was in league with them, plans to take vengeance on Mordecai (Apocr. Esth. ii. 12-17).
There is a second conspiracy after Esther has been made queen, in the seventh year of the king's reign (Esth. ii. 21 et seq.). Mordecai in his dream (Apocr. Esth. i. 4-11) sees two dragons coming to fight each other (representing Mordecai and Haman, ib. vi. 4); the nations make ready to destroy the "people of the righteous," but the tears of the righteous well up in a little spring that grows into a mighty stream (comp. Ezek. xlvii. 3-12; according to Apocr. Esth. vi. 3, the spring symbolizes Esther, who rose from a poor Jewess to be a Persian queen). The sun now rises, and those who had hitherto been suppressed "devoured those who till then had been honored" (comp. Esth. ix. 1-17).The Destruction of the Jews Decreed.
The second addition contains an edict of Artaxerxes for the destruction of all the Jews, to be carried out by Haman (Apocr. Esth. ii. 1-7; it follows Esth. iii. 13; comp. Swete, l.c. pp. 762 et seq.). The mere mention of the fact that an edict for the destruction of the Jews had gone forth, was a temptation to enlarge upon it. The "great king" (verse 1), as in Esth. i. 1, sends a letter to the governors of the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of his kingdom—that extends from India even unto Ethiopia—saying that although personally he is inclined toward clemency, he is bound to look to the security of his kingdom.
In a conference on the matter, he said, Haman, the councilor ranking next to him in the kingdom, had pointed out that there was one evilly disposed class of people in his realm, which, by its laws, placed itself in opposition to all the other classes, persisted in disregarding the royal ordinances, and made a unified government impossible. Under these circumstances, he said, nothing remained but to adopt the suggestion of Haman, who, having been placed in charge of the affairs of the state, could in a sense be called the second father of the king; this suggestion was to destroy by the sword of the other nations, on the fourteenth day of Adar (thirteenth of Adar in Esth. iii. 13, viii. 12, ix, 1), all those designated as Jews, together with their wives and children. After these disturbers of the peace had been put out of the way, the king believed the business of the realm could again be conducted in peace.Mordecai's Prayer.
The remaining additions are closely connected with this affair. The next in order is Mordecai's prayer for help (Apocr. Esth. iii. 1-11; Vulg. xiii. 8-18); in the Septuagint it is added to iv. 17 (Swete, l.c. pp. 765 et seq.). It follows the story of Esth. iv. 1-16, according to which Esther commanded Mordecai to assemble all the Jews for a three-days' fast before she herself interceded for them before the king. The prayer begins with the usual praise of divine omnipotence. Heaven and earth are a paraphrase for the idea τὸ πᾶν(verse 2; comp. Gen. i. 1;Isa. xlv. 18). The plight of the Jews was occasioned by the refusal to kiss Haman's feet (comp. Esth. iii. 2-5), a refusal caused not by pride, but because honor as high as that which such an act implied belongs to God alone (comp. the refusal of the προσκύνησις of the Greek ambassadors to Darius). "This scrupulousness is characteristic of post-exilic Judaism; in ancient Israel the honor was unhesitatingly accorded to every nobleman (I Sam. xxv. 23 et seq.; II Sam. xviii. 21, 28): even Judith (x. 23 ) honored Holofernes in this way in order to allay his suspicions.
But, Mordecai continues, this refusal was merely a pretext to destroy God's chosen people (κληρονομία, verse 8; comp. Apocr. Esth. iv. 20; vii. 9 = Hebr. ; Ps. xxviii. 9, xciv. 5, etc.; μερίς, verse 9; comp. LXX. on Deut. xxxii. 9; κλῆρος, verse 10 = , Deut. iv. 20), and he implores God to protect them now as He had their fathers in Egypt (comp. in Deut. ix. 26). The prayer closes with the supplication to save His people and turn their mourning into gladness (really "feasting"; comp. vi. 22 et seq.; see also Esth. ix. 17-19, where the prayer also ends in feasting and in the sending of gifts of food to one another). Here, as in Ps. vi. 6 (A. V. 5), xxx. 10 , cxv. 17; and Ecclus. (Sirach) xvii. 25, the reason for harkening to the prayer is the desire ascribed to
Closely connected with this is the prayer of Esther (Apocr. Esth. iii. 12-30; Septuagint, xiii. 8-18, xiv. 1-19; Swete, l.c. pp. 766 et seq.; Vulg. xiv. 1-19): she takes off her royal garments (τὰ ἱμάτια τῆς δόξης αὐτῆς [in Esth. i. 11, ii. 17 only the royal crown is mentioned]), and, putting on mourning-robes (, Judges viii. 5 ; Neh. ix. 1), strews ashes on her head (comp. Isa. iii. 24; Mal. ii. 3; II Sam. xiii. 19, commonly ; Job ii. 9). She winds her hair about her (verse 13) and takes off all adornments (ἐ;ταπείνωσεν comp. , Lev. xvi. 29, 31; Isa. lviii. 3). In this way the pity of God would be aroused and His anger allayed (I Kings xxi. 21-29).
The prayer refers to the threatening danger (comp. iii. 11): as God once released Israel's ancestors from the Egyptian yoke (verse 16), so Esther beseeches him now to save the Jews from their impending fate, though they deserve it for having participated in Persian idolatry (verses 17, 18 refer to this, and not to the preexilic idolatry; comp. II Kings xvii. 29-33, 41). Following Lagarde and Ryssel, the reading in verse 19 is ἔθηκαν τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν επῖ τὰς χεῖρας τῶν εὶδώλων ("they put their hands in the hands of the idols"; on , to confirm an agreement by clasping of hands, see Ezra x. 19). This means: "The Persian oppressors have vowed to their gods [verse 19] to make vain the divine promise, to destroy Israel [i.e., the divine heritage], to close the mouths of those that praise God, and to extinguish the glory of the house and the altar of God [verse 20]. Furthermore, they swear that the mouth of the heathen will be opened in praise of their impotent [gods], and their mortal king [the Persian] will be for ever admired" (verse 21). Hence God is besought not to give His scepter into the hands of the "non-existing" (τοῖς μὴ οὖσιν; comp. I Cor. viii. 4), and not to make the Jews a laughing-stock to the heathen, but to let the plans of the latter turn against themselves. "Mark him [παρλδιγμάτισον; comp. Heb. vi. 6] who began [to act] against us."
In verse 24 Esther adds a prayer for the success of the petition which, according to Esth. iv. 16, she intends to make to the king. "Put orderly speech into my mouth in face of the lion" (the Persian king is thus called also in the Aramaic version of Mordecai's dream; see Merx, "Chrestomathia Targumica," p. 164, 3; comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] xxv. 16, 19). The object of her petition—to turn the anger of the king against Israel's persecutors—anticipates the events of Esth. vii. 9. She prays God to help her, the desolate one (τῇ μόνῃ; corresponding to in Ps. xxv. 17 [A. V. 16], where it occurs next to , "lonely and deserted," differing from verse 14, σὺ εἶ μόνος, referring to the singleness of
Esther's reception by the king (iv. 1-15; Swete, l.c. pp. 767 et seq.) follows in the Septuagint immediately upon the prayer (xv. 4-19; Vulg. xv. 1-19). Here the events told in Esth. v. 1, 2 are amplified. In xv. 1 (Septuagint) the "third day" corresponds to Esth. v. 1. According to Septuagint v. 1 she took off the garments she had worn at divine service; in the apocryphal version (iii. 13) she had put them on. Divine service consistedin fasting, according to Esth. iv. 16; in praying, according to Apocryphal Esther iii. 12. In iv. 1 (Apocr. Esth.) she puts on her royal apparel, to which the crown probably belongs, according to ii. 17. After a supplication to God, she appears (iv. 1) accompanied by two handmaidens (ἅβραι= "favorite slaves"; comp. Judith viii. 33); according to Esth. ii. 9, she had seven handmaids. In Apocryphal Esther iv. 2 it is said she was escorted to the king by two maidens, "and upon the one she leaned, as carrying herself daintily" (verse 3: ῶς τρυφευομήνη); "and the other followed, bearing up her train." In the canonical Book of Esther no mention is made of this escort.
The New Edict.
iv. (Apocr. Esth.) describes the impression her beauty produced: she was ruddy through the perfection of her beauty, and her countenance was cheerful and love-kindling; but her heart was heavy with fear of the danger of appearing uncalled before the king (comp. Esth. iv. 11). Having passed through all the doors, she stood before the king, who sat upon his throne clothed in the robes of majesty (see Fuller in Wace, l.c.; compare the representation of the king on his throne in the picture of Persepolis according to Rawlinson). Verse 7: Then, lifting up his countenance (that shone with majesty), he looked very fiercely upon her; and the queen fell down, and was pale, and fainted; after she had regained consciousness she bowed herself upon the head of the maid that went before her. Verse 8: Then God changed the spirit of the king into mildness. In concern he leaped from his throne, and took her in his arms till she recovered her composure, comforting her with loving words. In Verse 9 he asks: "Esther, what is the matter? I am thy brother," thereby placing her on the same level with him. In verses 10 et seq. he assures her that the death penalty is meant to apply only to the unauthorized entrance of the king's subjects (comp. Esth. iv. 11), and that it does not apply to her: "Thou shalt not die. . . ." Touching her neck with his golden scepter, he embraced her, and said, "Speak unto me." Then said she unto him, "I saw thee, my lord, as an angel of God [comp. Ezek. viii. 2], and my heart was troubled for fear of thy majesty." And as she was speaking, she fell down for faintness. Verse 16: Then the king was troubled, and all his servants comforted her.
Interpretation of Mordecai's Dream.
The king now issues an edict canceling the former edict, and decreeing protection to the Jews (Apocr. Esth. v. 1-24; Vulg. xvi. 1-24; Septuagint addition to viii. 12; comp. Swete, l.c. pp. 773-775, the amplification of the edict mentioned in Esth. viii. 13). The first edict against the Jews is revoked; its instigator, Haman, is accused of conspiracy against the king; and every aid is ordered to be given to the Jews. Verses 2-4: "Many, the more often they are honored with the great bounty of their gracious princes, the more proud they are waxen, and endeavor to hurt not our subjects only, but, not being able to bear abundance, do take in hand to practise also against those that do them good, and take not only thankfulness away from among men, but also, lifted up with the glorious words of lewd persons that were never good, they think to escape the justice of God, that seeth all things, and hateth evil." Verses 5-6: "Oftentimes, also, fair speech of those that are put in trust to manage their friends' affairs [comp. Jacob in Stade, l.c. x. 283, note 2] hath caused many that are in authority to be partakers of innocent blood, and hath enwrapped them in remediless calamities [comp. I Sam. xxv. 26; II Sam. xvi. 4], beguiling with the falsehood and deceit of their lewd disposition the innocency and goodness of princes." Verse 7: "Now ye may see this, as we have declared, not so much by ancient histories, as by observing what hath wickedly been done of late through the pestilent behavior of them that are unworthily placed in authority." Verses 8-9: "We must take care for the time to come that our kingdom may be quiet and peaceable for all men, by changing our purposes and always judging things that are evident with more equal proceeding." Verses 10-14: The king had accorded this gentle treatment to Haman, but had been bitterly deceived by him, and was therefore compelled to revoke his former edict. (According to Dan. vi. 9, 13 this was inadmissible, but Fuller, l.c. pp. 397 et seq., cites a number of cases in which it was done. Verse 10 is about Haman, called in i. 17 "the Agagite," here "the Macedonian"; in verse 14 he is accused of having betrayed the Persian empire to the Macedonians.) "For Aman, a Macedonian, the son of Amadatha, being indeed a stranger to the Persian blood [comp. Vulg. "et animo et gente Macedo"], and far distant from our goodness, and a stranger received of us, had so far obtained the favor that we show toward every nation that he was called our 'father,' and was continually honored of all men, as the next person unto the king. He had also been bowed down to [comp. Esth. iii. 2-6]. But he, not bearing his great dignity, went about to deprive us of our kingdom and life; having, by manifold and cunning deceits, sought of us the destruction, as well of Mordecai, who saved our life, and continually procured our good, as of blameless Esther, partaker of our kingdom with the whole nation. For by these means he thought, finding us destitute of friends, to have translated the kingdom of the Persians to the Macedonians." According to these verses Haman was guilty of a threefold sin, since he tried to wrest from the king wife, kingdom, and life.
v. 15-16, 18-19: "But we find that the Jews, whom this wicked wretch hath delivered to utter destruction, are no evil-doers, but live by most just laws; and that they are children of the Most High and Most Mighty God, who hath ordered the kingdom both unto us and to our progenitors in the most excellent manner. Therefore, ye shall do well not to put in execution the letters sent unto you by Aman, the son of Amadatha; for he that was the worker of these things is hanged [ήσταυρωσθσι = "impaled"] at the gates of Susa with all his family [according to Esth. vii. 10, viii. 7, Haman alone was hanged; according to Esth. ix. 10, the Jews killed his ten sons; in Dan. vi. 25 the wives and children were thrown into the lions' den], God, who ruleth all things, speedily rendering vengeance to him according to deserts. Therefore he shall publish the copy of this letter in all places [ἐκτιθήναι; Stade, l.c. x. 282, a phrase used in the promulgation of royal commands], that the Jews may live after their own laws" (comp. Ezra vii. 25 et seq.; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 3, § 3, xvi. 6, § 2).
v. 20-24: "Ye shall aid them, that even the same day, being the l3th day of the 12th month Adar, they may be avenged on them who in the time of their affliction shall set upon them [comp. Esth. ix. 1; but see above Apocr. Esth. ii. 6, where the 14th day is fixed upon; according to Esth. iii. 13, Haman had appointed the thirteenth day for exterminating the Jews]. For Almighty hath turned to joy unto them the day wherein the chosen people should have perished. Ye shall therefore, among your solemn feasts, keep it an high day with all feasting [following Grotius, Fritzsche, and Ryssel κλήρων (sc. ὴμιν) is to be added after; according to this the Persian king instituted the Jewish Feast of Purim, as a day to be celebrated also by the Persians], that both now and hereafter there may be safety to us [the reading here should be ὑμιν instead of ἡμιν] and the well-affected Persians, and that it may be, to those which do conspire against us, a memorial of destruction. Therefore every city and country whatsoever which shall not do according to these things, shall be destroyed without mercy with fire and sword, and shall be made not only impassable for men, but also most hateful for wild beasts and fowls forever."
In the Septuagint the interpretation of Mordecai's dream is separated from the dream itself, which forms the beginning of the additions, and constitutes the end of the whole apocryphon (vi. 1-10), with verse 11 as subscription (Swete, l.c. pp. 779 et seq.). In the Vulgate the passage stands at the end of the canonical Book of Ezra (x. 4-11), preceding all other apocryphal additions as well as the dream itself, which here occupies xi. 2-11. Neither dream nor interpretation is found in Josephus. The expression "God hath done these things" (comp. Matt. xxi. 42) refers to the whole story of the Book of Esther. Verse 2 refers to the dream told in the beginning of the book, which has been fulfilled in every respect. "The little fountain that became a river" (vi. 3) signifies the elevation of Esther (see i. 9), who became a stream when the king married her and made her queen. The light and the sun (see i. 10) signify the salvation and joy that Esther brought to the Jews (comp. Esth. viii. 16). The two dragons are Mordecai and Haman. The nations that assembled to destroy the name of the Jews (see i. 6) are theheathen (comp. Esth. iii. 6-8). "And my nation is this Israel, which cried to God and were saved" (vi. 6; comp. iii. 11). "Therefore hath he made two lots, one for the people of God, and another for all the Gentiles" (vi. 7; comp. Esth. iii. 7). "And the two lots were drawn [ἦλϑον; lit. "they came, sprang out at the right time"]: one for his people [Fritzsche and Ryssel add τῷ λαῶ αὐτοῦ], the other for all the other peoples." "So God remembered his people and justified [decided in its favor; compare Deut. xxv. 1; I Kings viii. 32; Ecclus. (Sirach) xiii. 22; Vulg. freely rendered, "misertus est"; compare old Latin "salvavit"] his inheritance" (vi.9). "Therefore those days shall be unto them in the month of Adar, the fourteenth and fifteenth day of the same month, with an assembly, and joy, and with gladness before God, according to the generations forever among his people" (vi. 10; comp. Esth. ix. 18, 21). In II Macc. xv. 36 the fourteenth day is called ἥ Μαρδοχαικὴ ἡμέρα.
The subscription, verse 11 (in Swete, ii. 780, inserted in the German Bible between Esther's reception by the king and Ahasuerus' second edict), refers to the whole Book of Esther together with the apocryphal additions, as does also the expression τὴυ προκειμέυηυ ἐπιστολὴυ τῶυ φρουραί (Swete), meaning "the above letter on Purim" (compare Esth. ix. 20, 29).
This letter was taken to Egypt by Dositheus—who called himself a priest and Levite (?)—and his son Ptolemy, who maintained that it was the original (Apocr. Esther). Lysimachus, Ptolemy's son, an inhabitant of Jerusalem, translated the letter in the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra (according to some in 455; see Fritzsche, l.c. pp. 72 et seq.). Four Ptolemies had wives by the name of Cleopatra (Epiphanes, Philometor, Physkon, and Soter). Soter II. lived about that time; but all these notices are untrustworthy; compare, on the date of the letter, Jacob in Stade's "Zeitschrift," x. 274-290, especially p. 279.