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 8 – The Vision of the Ram and the Goat

Vision de Daniel à Suze
By: Stephanus Garsia (11th Century)

8:1-2 – Daniel has a vision three years after the dream of chapter seven (approximately 550BC) while Belshazzar was still in Babylon (and his father, Nabonidus, still king of all Babylon)Perhaps the reason he repeats the “vision” three times is because it was so disturbing to him (8:27).  Daniel was taken (much like Ezekiel) in this vision to the “citadel of Susa” (another name for the “city”) located 220 miles east of Babylon and 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf.  This city was later to become one of the royal cities of Medo-Persia acting as a winter palace (cf. Est.1:2; Neh.1:1; 2:1).  The location is important as it had not yet become a location of prominence again having been destroyed some years before and the Medo-Persians having not yet rebuilt it for full use yet at the time of Daniel’s vision.

8:3-4 – A Ram Appears.  The ram has two horns, one longer than the other, but the shorter growing longer than the former.  According to one fourth century AD writer (Ammianus Marcellinus 10:1 – see Goldingay 208) the Medo-Persians always carried a golden head of a ram into battle with them as their symbol.  More importantly this ram is later interpreted as Medo-Persia and it can be surmised that the initially longer horn was Media which was the initially predominant power of the two, until Persia became the more powerful.  The charging of the ram is to the west, north and south following essentially the path of Medo-Persia in her conquests of Babylon, Lydia, Asia Minor, and Egypt.  There appeared to be none that could stop this empire.  In what sense might the kingdoms of this world all be understood as “animals” in light of the implications of verse 4?  What does this suggest about all worldly kingdoms even though they be ordained of the LORD?
8:5-8 – A Goat Appears.  This goat is described with a “prominent horn between his eyes” suggesting a single ruler and kingdom (Alexander the Great of Macedon as the interpretation of Dan.8:21 declares).  The ram notably charges across the earth “without touching the ground” in a similar manner to the four-headed leapord-like creature of Dan.7:6 that suggested Greece as well.  The enraged goat destroyed the ram and the two horns.  However, the “large horn” before it could become even greater than it had already become was “broken off” and replaced by “four” (again the connection to Dan.7:6).  Alexander’s untimely death off in Babylon (323BC) left his empire shattered and ten years later it was divided among four of his generals.
8:9-12 – A Small Horn.  From among one of the four horns of the goat there appeared a small horn initially that grew in the south, east and toward the “Beautiful Land” (Heb. sebî : that is toward “Jerusalem”; cf. Dan.11: 16, 41; Jer.3:19; Eze.20:6, 15)  On this occurring see 1 Macc.1 and 2 Macc.5-6.  Who is this “small horn” that grew?  History now tells us it was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175BC-163BC) of Syria who assassinated the high priest Onias III in 170BC replacing him with another priest, ended the sacrifices and desecrated the temples setting up an altar to Zeus and sacrificing a swine on the altar in 167BC, that the temple was restored and dedicated December 14, 164BC (Hanukkah), while he died shortly thereafter in 163BC.  But who are the “host of heaven” that he threw down to the earth and trampled?  Certainly not angels.  More likely this refers to the faithful of Israel (cf. Dan.12:3; see also Gen.15:5; 22:17; Deut.17:3; Enoch 46:7; Mt.13:43; Phil.2:15; Rev.12:4).  Further, he set himself up against the “Prince” of the host…which suggests God Himself.  This is done by his taking away the “daily sacrifice” (Heb. tāmîd “continually”; cf. Exo.29:38-42; Num.28:3-8) and desecrating the temple.  Why would the LORD allow it to prosper in everything it did and truth to be “thrown to the ground”?  Does the LORD have a greater purpose than the immediate or temporary?
8:13-14 – The Conversation.  Daniel is meant to overhear a conversation among some of the “holy ones” (angels?).  It seems that even they are concerned with the question of humanity, “How long?” (cf. Ps.6:3; Isa.6:11; Zech.1:12)  The two speaking are concerned with how long it will take for all of the declared to happen to actually occur.  The answer is declared to Daniel (though the LXX and Syriac read that the answer was given to the other holy one) that it will take “2300 evenings and mornings”.  How should we understand this?  As 1500 days or as 2300 days?  The latter seems preferable given the manner in which Hebrew chooses to express the form for the numbers with mornings and evenings.  Thus this would be about seven years time from beginning to end.  In other words, there is a definite limit set to the wickedness of this king and his kingdom.  There is no reason to automatically assume that this “horn” is to be identified with the “horn” of chapter seven since that one belonged to the fourth beast (rather than the third which was Greece) and came from one of the four horns as opposed to that fourth beasts little horn that came up among the ten horns and displaced three.  While both chapters speak of little horns, they are distinguished considerably even while both being arrogant and prideful and opposing the LORD and the saints.
8:15-18 – Gabriel Arrives.  While Daniel was contemplating all that he had seen and heard he received a messenger like “a man” (Heb. gāber) who would explain the vision.  There are only two angels ever named in Scripture and this is the first occasion where one is named.  “Gabriel” appears again at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1:19) and Jesus birth (Luke 1:26).  “Michael” is the other angel named in Scripture (Dan.10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev.12:7); though in the approximately second-third century BC apocryphal work of 1 Enoch there are several others named as well: Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqqel and Remiel (1 Enoch 9:1; 20:1-8).  Gabriel task appears always to be that of messenger in the Scripture (thus “angel” is a fitting name though he is not called that here in Daniel).  Daniel kept falling in fear before Gabriel and actually may have passed out, but Gabriel lifted him up.  The message Gabriel had for Daniel was that these things pertained to “the time of the end”, but the “end” of what?  The end of that era or the end of all things?  The former seem
s more likely if one postulates the historical interpretation at all, but if one still holds to any future sense then there must be also something remaining of the actual “end” of this world and the reign of the LORD. 
There are actually four main views for interpreting Daniel 8: (1) Historical – All of Daniel 8 was historical and has been fulfilled; (2) Futuristic – All is still in the future; (3) Dual Fulfillment – The chapter referred both to what happened historically now and what will happen at the Second Coming; (4) Typological – The chapter refers to historical fulfillment but also things typical of that which points to the end of the age (see Walvoord 192-196).
8:19-27 – The Interpretation.  Gabriel interprets the vision for Daniel (who earlier in the book had been the interpreter for others) and explains that the ram was Medo-Persia and the goat was Greece and specifically the horn was the first king of Greece.  What Daniel has seen up to this point is over two hundred years in the future from his time.  He is told that the kingdom of Greece will be divided into four kingdoms none of which will come close to the power of Greece and from one of those will be raised up a particular king (this actually foretells what will occur 350 years in the future).  It is noteworthy that this king is raised up when wickedness is complete (cf. Gen.15:16; 1 Th.2:16).  The king is noted for his appearance, intelligence, and unknown source of power; and though everything he does even against the LORD and the saints seems to succeed it will only be temporary until the LORD Himself destroys him.  What does it mean for Daniel to “seal up” (Heb. sātam) the vision?  This term when “applied to a book is not strictly ‘seal’ but rather ‘guard from use’ and therefore from misuse (cf. 12:3)” (Baldwin 179).  Why should the LORD have told Daniel any of this and not saved such matters for another more near to the time of the incidents?  What was the purpose of revealing this in the third year of Belshazzar?  Also, does this not point ahead beyond Antiochus IV Epiphanes to one who like him will do much the same even as it would appear that almost similar sorts of calamity overtook Judea in the latter part of the first century (cf. Matt.24; Mark 13; Luke 21:5ff), but still point ahead to “the end”?

Daniel 1 – When In Exile….

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Brief Introduction to the Book – Daniel was taken into captivity in the summer of 605BC while Jehoiachim son of Josiah was king of Judah some time after the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish.  Jehoiachim had actually been placed upon the throne by Egypt and thus it seemed only fitting that the defeat of the Egyptians spelled the defeat of Judah.  Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, was officially made king of Babylon later that summer upon the death of his father (Miller 56).  Daniel and his friends were among those initially taken and he survived until some time after the Babylonian captivity ended with the defeat of the Babylonians by the Perians in 539BC.  The book of Daniel was included in the Hebrew canon among the writings because he does not belong particularly to the prophets (as in the LXX canon and our own), but this does not mean the book was regarded as non-prophetic.  Daniel contains several additions in the Catholic canon (Song of the Three, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon; and in the original KJV[!]), but this was not received into the Protestant canon of Scripture (these will be briefly discussed at the conclusion of this series).  Many reject Daniel as being written in the 6th century and instead date it to the Maccabean period (250-167BC), but Archer (421-448) Baldwin (14-80), Walvoord (11-25), and Miller (22-41) have argued rather persuasively for a 6th century date of authorship perhaps shortly after the date of the Babylonian exile in 539BC.  The book has been variously divided between the Hebrew sections (Dan.1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13) and Aramaic section (Dan.2:4b-7:28), but the most helpful distinction is between the stories (Dan.1-6) and the visions (Dan.7-12).  “This biblical witness challenges the faithful to be awake for the unexpected intervention of God in wrapping up all of human history.  The stories of Daniel and his friends picture men who bear eloquent testimony is both word and deed to an unswerving hope in God’s rule.  As a consequence, they were made free to hang loosely on the world because they knew their hope rested elsewhere” (Childs 622).
1:1-2 – The beginning of captivity.  The time note that Daniel provides refers to the year 605BC and though there are no records of any actual siege of Jerusalem, it is not necessary that Jerusalem was laid siege so much as taken captive in that year.  Nebuchadnezzar is called “king” because either it refers to his functioning role in the very end of his father’s reign or because it refers to him this way as one who later was king of Babylon.  Who is emphasized as responsible for the victory of Nebuchadnezzar over Jerusalem and what is the significance in relation to the book of Daniel?  The Lord rules all the nations…great and small.  The “temple articles” were promised to be taken to Babylon because of the sin of Hezekiah in showing the Babylonians his treasures (cf. 2 Chron.36:7, 10, 18, 20-23; Isa.39:2, 4, 6; Ezra 1:7-11 and comes into play later in Daniel 5:2-4).  Literally, the articles were carried off to “Shinar” (cf. Gen.10:10) which was an ancient name of a city recognized to be a place of opposition to God (Gen.11:1-9; Zech.5:11).  What is the significance of putting the articles of the temple of God into the temple of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods? (cf. 1 Sam.4-5)  “To all appearances, the God of Jerusalem has been defeated by the gods of Babylon” (Goldingay 21), but Daniel will point in a radically different direction.
1:3-7 – The training of the best of the young exiles.  The descriptions of those who were to be trained were that they were taken from the best families (royal and/or nobility; cf. Isa.39:7) and of fine appearance and high aptitude.  The terms used are those of the wisdom literature (cf. Prov.1:1-6) with regard to the acumen of these young men (Heb. yělādîm which “covers men from birth to marriage” – Goldingay 5).  The literature and language of the “Babylonians” (lit. “Chaldeans” Heb. kaśdîm, Aram. kaśdāy) included magical, astrological, medicinal, temple, wisdom, and legal texts among others.  How could Daniel and his friends spend three years of intensive training in such things and yet remain true to the LORD?  John Goldingay astutely notes that the “wise person knows how to learn from the wisdom of other peoples without being overcome by it” (24).  The food and wine they were assigned came directly from the king’s table and thus was luxurious but would also have been offered to the god/s of the king (cf. Oppenheim 188-92) before they received it.  Four of the chosen young men are named as particularly faithful and deserving of mention: Daniel (“God is my judge”; became Belteshazzar “Bel, protect his life!”), Hananiah (“The LORD has been gracious”; became Shadrach “Command of Aku” the moon god), Mishael (“Who is what God is?”; became Meshach “Who is what Aku is?”), and Azariah (“The LORD has helped”; became Abednego “Servant of Nebo” the god of Nebuchadnezzar’s namesake) – on name changes see Gen. 41:45; Esther 2:7.  Why were their names changed and why did they not protest this and the learning of the Chaldeans, but did protest the diet that follows?
1:8-16 – The ten day test of food and faith.  What might have been Daniel and his friend’s motivation for refusing the food and wine of Nebuchadnezzar and choosing to have “vegetables” (technically refers to “vegetables, grain, and non-mean products generally” Goldingay 6) and water instead?  One suggestion has been that they were not “kosher” (cf. Lev.11, 17) and thus would “defile” them, but this would only pertain to meats and not to wine. As was previously mentioned it had been offered to the god/s (cf. 1 Cor.8-10; Rom.14), but so would the “vegetables” have been (cf. Bel and the Dragon 3; Oppenheim 192; those who denied consuming e
ven the “vegetables” for this reason: cf. Judith 10:5; 12:2; Add. Esther 14:17; Tobit 1:10-11).  It is also notable that Jehoiachin was recorded to have eaten daily at the kings table according to 2 Kings 25:29.  Goldingay proposes that they refused as symbols of “avoiding assimilation” (19).  They had taken the names, learned the wisdom, worn the clothes and by outward appearances become “Babylonians”, but they would hold this one thing as to the LORD.  Though Daniel’s request found favor with the chief official, the official was too afraid to grant it directly so the “guard” (or more properly the one given direct responsibility over them) exchanged portions with them thus relieving the chief official of responsibility.  This act of Daniel and his friends was an outright act of faith on their part.  At the end of the ten days they were found to be in much better appearance than the rest of those who ate the royal food so they were permitted to continue with their diet of faith.  This is not in any way offered as a vegetarian command since the Law specifically commanded certain sacrifices of meat to be made and eaten every year (though the temple was destroyed at this time and thus the sacrifices could not be made then).  “Even a small act of self-discipline, taken out of loyalty to principle, sets God’s servants in the line of his approval and blessing.  In this way actions attest faith, and character is strengthened to face more difficult situations in the future” (Baldwin 92-3).
1:17-21 – An insight into the end before getting to the end.  It is stated the God Himself gave the four young men understanding of all the things they were studying during their three years of Babylonian tutelage.  How might this be understood in light of the contents of what they studied?  What relation does God’s wisdom and knowledge have to the world’s?  It is specifically noted that Daniel was blessed with being able to understand and interpret dreams (cf. Num.12:6) which comes into play later in the book (though it is not something inherent to him, but something he still prays and seeks).  When they finally made their appearance before the king it was noticeable that these four far surpassed all the others, but they would still have opportunities to demonstrate the superiority of their God.  The note in verse 21 concerning King Cyrus (see the prophecy in Isa.44:24-45:7) maintains that while Daniel when into captivity he lived to see the end of it under the Persians (cf. Deut.30:3-5; the “seventy years” of Jer.25:12).
Archer, Gleason.  “Daniel,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.  Chicago,
IL: Moody Press, 1994.  pp. 421-448.
Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries vol. 23,
Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1978.
Childs, Brevard S.  “Daniel,” An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.  
            Philadelphia, PA: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1979.  pp. 608-623.
Goldingay, John. Daniel. Word Biblical Commentary vol. 30, Nashville, TN:
            Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.
Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. The New American Commentary vol. 18, Nashville,
TN: B&H Publishing, 1994.
Oppenheim, A. Leo.  Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. 
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
Walvoord, John F.  Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation. Chicago, IL: Moody
Press, 1971.