Scholarly studies on the book of Esther


Carey A. Moore, the author of the highly praised Anchor Bible commentary on the biblical book Esther collected 37 scholarly articles on Esther which he placed in this book, many of which would not otherwise be available.[1] He includes his own 81 page Prolegomenon with notes and extensive bibliography.

Moore highlights that Esther was quite controversial in ancient and modern times. Maimonides (1138-1204) “rated it after the Pentateuch while Martin Luther felt the book should never have been written because it has “much pagan impropriety.” Some people were bothered that the Persian king, for example, “is mentioned 190 times in 167 verses, yet the Lord God of Israel is not mentioned even once,” nor is any Jewish law or practice, or even the Torah.

The following are some ides mentioned in the 37 articles:

  • A. D. Cohen sees the pur, Haman’s lottery to decide when to murder the Judeans, in Esther 3:7, as a central theme of Esther. “The pur is nothing less than the intentional symbol of chance, fate, which is at once concealed, and appears to govern these events.” But “God acts behind the veil of causality and chance, on behalf of the people of Israel.” By casting lots immediately before the Jewish holiday of Passover, Haman was showing his contempt for the [Jewish] claim of God’s providential care of his people; on the other hand, by delivering them one month to the day before Passover, God showed them anew his providential care for them,”
  • B. W. Anderson: “The story is implicitly religious to the Jew even though it is couched in non-religious language…. To the Jew, the book dramatizes ‘the eternal miracle of Jewish survival.’”
  • A. E. Morris: The author of Esther was a Hellenizer who wrote Esther sometime between 175 and 172 BCE to illustrate to Jews the value of their cooperating with the non-Jewish King Antiochus IV, Epiphanies – a time before Antiochus showed his true terrible colors in the story of Chanukah. The author stresses that Mordecai and Esther were successful as long as they complied with the demands of the heathen king.
  • A. S, Yahuda contends that the name Esther is Persian “equivalent of [her Hebrew name] Hadassah; both mean “myrtle.”
  • L. A, Rosenthal and Moshe Green state that whether Esther is fact or fiction, it has been effected by biblical books especially the story of Joseph in Genesis.
  • G. Gerleman sees Esther being patterned on the Exodus story. For example, Both Esther and Moses were adopted, both kept their identity secret, both initially were reluctant to help their people, both fought against Amalek – Moses against the tribe and Esther against an Amalek descendant, and the enemy of both were killed in large numbers.
  • R. Gordis calls Esther an “historical novel,” some parts are true. The flow of action in the story is superb. The author “strips the plot of all non-essentials, concentrating on events rather than motivation, and incidents rather than on descriptions of characters.” This accounts for the many obscurities in the tale. Gordis explains 2:19’s “second gathering of virgins” after Esther had been selected as queen as a “second procession of the unsuccessful contestants, whose undeniable charms served to set off in more striking relief Esther’s beauty.” He understands Mordecai standing at the king’s gate as denoting he was a court official. When Esther became queen she arranged to have Mordecai appointed to a government position.
  • Bruce W. Jones points out that there are misconceptions about this book. Despite many thinking that both Vashti and Esther were passive and fools and the book is anti-feminist, Vashti stood up against her drunken husband and after Esther understood Haman’s design, Esther took the lead in the story and Mordecai had a secondary role. The book should be understood as being filled with humor and mockery. The Persian court and its actions are portrayed as ridiculous. Even the constitutional needs of the monarchy are subordinated to the sexual pleasures of the king. The preparation of virgins soaked in perfumes for a year is a mockery. The king tells Esther that he cannot change the edict instructing his people to kill Judeans, but then he effectively does so and “becomes the object of humor.” “Who [among the general population] would be so stupid as to observe [and carry out] Haman’s obsolete edict, not knowing of the second one, published more efficiently?” Were the 800 people of Susa and the 75,000 in the provinces so stupid? This is hyperbole; it is a joke. “Surely, the author did not expect his readers to keep a straight face while hearing the great king rejoice that so many of his subjects have been killed” [by the Judeans]. “Pity the theologians who were offended because they could not laugh.”


[1] Studies in the Book of Esther, Edited by Carey A. Moore, Ktav Publishing House, 1982, 612 pages.