Brief Introduction to the Book of Esther

This is a story of feasts or banquets (Esther 1:3, 5, 9; 2:18; 5:2-5; 5:8; 8:17; 9:17-19) and thus “the major purpose of the book of Esther is to provide the historical grounds for the celebration of the feast of Purim” (599).  This festival was to be “binding” (the Piel of the Heb. qûm Esther 9:21, 27, 29, 31-32) for every following generation.  In relation to this festival re-enactment, the book is filled with “intrigue, brutality, nationalism, and secularity” (Childs 604).  Purim may perhaps be regarded as “a carnival performance of misrepresentation” which finds its characterizations in the account of Esther (Brueggemann 347).  “All Israel shares in the joy of rest and relief….It is a time to remember by hearing again the story of Purim.  The effect of the reshaping of the festival is not to make a secular festival into a religious one, but to interpret the meaning of Purim in all its secularity in the context of Israel’s existence, which is religious” (Childs 605).  We should say that Esther gives emphasis to the particularity of Jewishness and through the annual celebration of Purim this Jewishness is again renewed and the Jewish question must always again be raised, just as Paul has done so in Rom.9-11 (cf. Brueggemann 344, 347-8). 

As a part of this festival intention for the book, the implicit intent seems to be to show the preservation God’s people through the actions (and at times despite the actions) of His people.  God is at work even when God is not explicitly ever mentioned as being at work.  At least this is the manner in which the text is presented in the Hebrew version.  The Greek LXX versions record a spiritualized text that includes many elements not found in the Hebrew account.  The LXX versions include 105 additional verses beyond the Hebrew version.  When Jerome was translating Esther into the Latin in the fourth century AD, he removed the additional verses to the end of the book because he felt they did not belong to the original text and so in the Latin Vulgate they are numbered 10:4-16:24 even though these various additions make little sense removed from their particular contexts.  The additions are as follows: Addition A—Mordecai’s dream (inserted before Esther 1:1); Addition B & C—The edict of Artaxerxes (the name of according to the LXX) against the Jews & Prayers of Mordecai and Esther (inserted after Esther 3:13); Addition D—Esther appears before the king (inserted after Esther 4:17); Addition E—The decree of Artaxerxes on behalf of the Jews (inserted after Esther 8:12); Addition F—Interpretation of Mordecai’s dream (inserted after Esther 10:3).  The LXX text represents a very “free and paraphrastic” translation of its Hebrew original.  Josephus also includes some additional material as well and there are more Targums (Aramaic texts expounding on a Biblical book) on Esther than any other besides the Torah.  This demonstrates “that surrounding the Esther story there was, from early times, a body of interpretive lore that found its way into the Greek versions and Josephus, and…into rabbinic exegesis” (Berlin lii).
The author is unknown, though the first century Jewish historian Josephus thought that Mordecai was the author (Ant.11.6.1).  Ibn Ezra, later Jewish rabbi, also believed Mordecai wrote Esther and he further explained that the reason the names for God are omitted from the text were because there would have been a copy made for the Persian court and thus Mordecai feared that the Persians would have replaced the name of the LORD with the name of one of their own Gods (Young 345).  This, however, is all conjecture, but it certainly demonstrates an early tradition.  Whoever the author was, they wrote as if they were familiar with the Persian names and customs and thus it seems most likely they were writing in the Persian period and not later (Archer 403-4; Bush 295-7).
Most probably it was not written before 465BC, which is the generally accepted date for the death of Xerxes though it seems even more likely to have been written some time later, perhaps even into the fourth century (Harrison 1088).  The feast is mentioned (though there called Mordecai’s) in 2 Macc.15:36 which records events occurring about the year 161BC.  The events that are recorded in Esther cover approximately the years 483BC (Esther 1:3) to early 478BC (Esther 2:16) and over this time period Xerxes was known to have waged an unsuccessful campaign against the Greeks.  Upon returning from this campaign he apparently chose Esther, even though normally the Persian king would have been expected to choose a queen from among the seven noble families (Herodotus 3.8).  However, it was not unheard of for a Persian king to just take any woman he wanted for a queen (Plutarch’s Lives: Artaxerxes 23.3).  It is actually recorded that the king took for himself 400 women when he took Esther (Jos.Ant.11.200) and that he also had 500 young men annually castrated and made into eunuchs to serve him (Herodotus 3.92).  The Greek historian Herodotus records that at the end of his life Xerxes was actually assassinated in his own bedroom because of his sexual overindulgences that led to liaisons with several of his officers wives (9.109-113).  In other words, Xerxes had lived a lascivious self-serving life that used people for self-pleasure and in the end this cost him his life.  This would not be unlike the self-seeking of Haman whose end would be brought about by his own plans for self-gratification.
The genre of Esther has been variously described.  Several commentators view it as a sort of satirical “comedy” not in the modern sense of the word, but in the classical sense.  It is considered “comedic” in the way in which the story develops and is resolved (Berlin xvi-xxii; Birch, 444).  Mervin Breneman argues that the genre of Esther should be regarded as “historical narrative” because (in his words) it is composed of the three elements of ideology, historiography, and aesthetic appeal (287).  Certainly the author’s introduction to the book (Esther 1:1 “This is what happened”; cf. the similar formula in Joshua, Judges and Samuel) “suggests he intends for his readers to understand the ensuing story as events that actually happened,” despite how one might judge the historicity of such events (Jobes 57).  Concerning the numerous objections to the historicity of Esther note the fairly convincing (though dated) arguments presented by Archer (404-6), Harrison (1090-8) and Young (346-8).  Perhaps we might best consider Esther to be a satirical historical narrative and thus should allow the story to speak for itself (on such satirical issues see the commentary proper).

Archer, Gleason.  “Esther,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.  Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994.  pp.401-406. Berlin, Edele.  Esther.  The JPS Bible Commentary. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2001.  Birch, Bruce C., Walter Brueggemann, Terence Fretheim, and David L. Peterson.  A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999.  Breneman, Mervin.  Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.  The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Vol. 10. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 1993.  Brueggemann, Walter.  An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian
.  Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. pp. 343-349.  Bush, Frederic.  Ruth/Esther.  Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 9.  Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson, 1996.  Childs, Brevard S.  “Esther,” An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia, PA: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1979.  pp. 598-607.  Harrison, Ronald K.  “The Book of Esther,” Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1969. pp. 1085-1102.  Jobes, Karen H.  Esther.  The NIV Application Commentary.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.  Young, Edward J.  “Esther,” An Introduction to the Old Testament.  London: The Tyndale Press, 1956.  pp. 345-350.

Daniel 11 – The Vision of the Kings of the North and the South

11:2-4 – Persians and Greeks.  Why should there be note of telling “the truth”?  It appears to emphasize that because what follows is given as prophecy of kings and kingdoms that are yet to come, even though some of these things may seem incomprehensible they are yet “the truth” and therefore to be believed.  The four kings to appear may refer to those who immediately follow Cyrus: Cambyses (530-522BC), Smerdis (522BC), Darius I Hystaspes (522-486BC) with Xerxes I (486-465BC), or Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6; Esther 1:1), as the final one who was “richer than all the others” and attacked Greece provoking the hatred of Greece for many years to come.  The revelation does not follow everything in detail, which is never to be expected of Scripture, but leaves gaps.  The “mighty king” of Greece refers to Alexander the Great (336-323BC) who died suddenly with both of his sons, Alexander IV and Herakles, being murdered within a few short years after his death.  His empire was thus divided up among his generals who fought for control of their respective regions and to dominate one another.
11:5-20 – The Kings of the South and North.  The “king of the South” (vs.5) was Ptolemy I Soter (323-285BC) of Egypt and “one of his commanders” refers to Seleucus I Nicator (312-280BC) who was made satrap of Babylonia.  However, another general of Alexander by the name Antigonus seized Babylon and Seleucus was forced to flee to Egypt in 316BC.  In 312BC, Antigonus was defeated and Seleucus re-instated, though he managed to separate himself from Ptolemy I and establish a kingdom (Syria) far greater than Egypt.  Conflict broke out between the two kingdoms (Egypt and Syria) and a treaty was able to be brokered between Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246BC) when he gave his daughter, Berenice, in marriage to the grandson of Seleucus I, Antiochus II Theos (261-246BC).  As part of the treaty, Antiochus II was to put aside his marriage to his wife, Laodice, but when the treaty went bad, Antiochus II took back Laodice who in turn murdered him and Berenice and their son so as to secure the throne for herself and her own son, Seleucus II Callinicus (246-226BC).  As an aside, according to tradition, it was Ptolemy II who ordered the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in Alexandria that were called the “Septuagint”.
Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221BC), succeeded her father and sought revenge against Syria.  He was very successful in his campaigns against them and managed to restore many of the territories to Egypt, to return idols that had been captured many years earlier, and to make Syria a province for a time.  However, he made peace with Seleucus II after winning in 240BC in order to try to conquer territories of the Mediterranean.  Two sons of Seleucus II, Seleucus III Ceraunus (226-223BC) and Antiochus III (223-187BC) both took up the former wars of their father against Egypt.  The “large army” (vs.11) likely refers to the conflict at Raphia in Palestine where Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-203BC) had a decisive victory in 217BC with his 70000 infantry, 5000 cavalry and 73 elephants against Antiochus III’s 62000 infantry, 6000 cavalry and 102 elephants (Polybius Histories 5.79).  The Syrians came back with a vengeance because Egypt did not press their victory and so the Ptolemies never dominated again.  In 202BC, Antiochus III invaded the territories of the Ptolemies (following the death of Ptolemy IV in 203BC) and captured the important fortress at Gaza from Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203-181BC) in 201BC.
Daniel 11:14 refers to those of Israel who would join in the conflict against the king of the South and calls the “violent men” (lit. “sons of violence”).  This likely refers to Jewish rebels who aided Antiochus III against Ptolemy V (Jos. Ant.12.3.3).  Even though he was eventually defeated, the Egyptian general Scopas punished the rulers of Jerusalem and Judah who had participated in the rebellion (Polybius Histories 16.39.1).  Scopas was captured holed up in Sidon in 198BC by Antiochus III who then gained control of Palestine and Phoenicia.  Antiochus III gave his daughter, Cleopatra I, to Ptolemy V as a wife in order to try to gain control of Egypt, but she sided with the Ptolemies against Syria.  Antiochus III then began a conquest of much of the Mediterranean but was defeated in 191BC at Thermopylae by the Roman Lucius Cornelius Scipio.   This forced Antiochus III to flee back into Asia Minor, where he was again defeated, and this time at the Battle of Magnesia near Smyrna in 190BC.  Antiochus III was forced to surrender much of his territory and this son Antiochus IV as well as make a heavy tribute of 1000 talents to Rome in 188BC.  He returned home in defeat and was killed by an angry mob in 187BC (Dan.11:19).  His “successor,” Seleucus IV Philopator, was thus left with a heavy debt to collect and sent the collector Heliodorus to do so.  However, Heliodorus managed to poison Seleucus IV and tried to take the kingdom in 175BC.  Thus Seleucus did not die “in anger or in battle” (Dan.11:20).
11:21-35 – The “Contemptible” King of the North.  Antiochus IV Ephiphanes (175-163BC) took the throne of Syria upon returning from Rome and another of his brothers, Demetrius I Soter, who was rightful heir to the throne, was held there instead.  He put Heliodorus, his father’s murderer, to death and assumed his rule.  In 169BC, Ptolemy VI Philometor (181-146BC) attacked Syria in hopes of regaining Palestine and Phoenicia but failed and was himself captured.  At this time he deposed Onias III as High Priest in Israel and finally had him murdered in 172BC.  He then entered a “covenant” with Antiochus IV in order to retake the throne of Egypt from his brother Ptolemy VII Euergetes II which was successful enough to take Memphis, but not Alexandria.  However, Ptolemy VI broke his covenant with Antiochus IV to try to do away with the Syrian influence in Egypt at Pelusium by reuniting with his brother.  Antiochus IV returned home and found Palestine in revolt so he slaughtered 80000 and looted the Temple with the help of the priest Menelaus (2 Macc.5:12-21).  In 168BC, Antiochus IV attempted to reinvade Egypt but failed when he was met by the Roman commander Gaius Popilius Laenas who it is reported drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and told him to consider carefully before stepping out of the circle whether he was willing to face the legions of Rome if he continued in his invasion of Egypt (Polybius Histories 29.27; Livy 45).  In his anger at not being able to wage war against Egypt he sent his commander Apollonius in 167BC to Israel to collect tribute as a ruse and on the Sabbath he attacked and killed many, rewarding the wicked High Priest Menelaus (1 Macc.1; 2 Macc.4-6).  On Chislev 167BC, the altar of the Temple was desecrated by setting up some sort of image (?) to Olympian Zeus on it and ten days later sacrificing a swine on it (1 Macc.1:54, 59).  Many remained faithful to the LORD, but they paid with their lives for this (1 Macc.1:62-63).  The sons of the priest, Mattathias, led a revolt beginning in 165BC against Antiochus and his generals and successfully restored the Temple.  They were called the “Maccabees” in particular after the son Judas called “maccabeus” (meaning “hammer”) who died in batt
le on Mount Azotas in 160BC (1 Macc.9:3, 15-18).  Antiochus IV died in Persia in 163BC according to several reports: “insane” (which plays off the name many gave him of “Epimanes” meaning “insane” in place of “Ephiphanes” meaning “glorious”; Polybius 31.9; 1 Macc.6:16; 2 Macc.9:1-29).
According to John Walvoord’s count there are 135 prophetic statements made in these first thirty-five verses of Daniel eleven and all of them have demonstrated an amazing accuracy (Walvoord 269).  This has bearing on the significance of the prophetic messages which remain in the rest of the book concerning another king that is similar to Antiochus IV in his vehement opposition to the LORD’s people and proper worship, but this king will do much that Antiochus never did.
Several notable features throughout this eleventh chapter are the repeated mentions of things being done for “a time” which serves to emphasize that all of the kingdoms of this world have their limitations.  The LORD alone will rule forever and His kingdom alone is without end.  All other kingdoms have only a set time or “appointed time”.  They rise and fall; they are replaced by others who also rise and fall, but they all eventually meet their end despite the ongoing struggle.  Another thing to note in this chapter is the entrance of the fourth beast that was mentioned in Daniel 2 and 7 (?) that speaks of the Romans who were not even on the horizon in the days of Daniel’s writing.  This pointed ahead to the last kingdom that would rule before the end and thus to the establishment of God’s kingdom.