Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

General Editor for the Old Testament:—


dean of ely


With Introduction and Notes


The Rev. A. W. STREANE, D.D.

Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge


at the University Press


[All Rights reserved.]


by the


The present General Editor for the Old Testament in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges desires to say that, in accordance with the policy of his predecessor the Bishop of Worcester, he does not hold himself responsible for the particular interpretations adopted or for the opinions expressed by the editors of the several Books, nor has he endeavoured to bring them into agreement with one another. It is inevitable that there should be differences of opinion in regard to many questions of criticism and interpretation, and it seems best that these differences should find free expression in different volumes. He has endeavoured to secure, as far as possible, that the general scope and character of the series should be observed, and that views which have a reasonable claim to consideration should not be ignored, but he has felt it best that the final responsibility should, in general, rest with the individual contributors.




  I.  Introduction

1.  Title and outline of contents

2.  Character and purpose of the Book

3.  Date and Authorship

4.  Value of the Book

5.  Place in the Canon

6.  Relation of the Original Hebrew to the Septuagint Version

7.  Relation of the Book of Esther to other literature

8.  Character of the Hebrew


  II.  Text and Notes

  III.  Appendix, Chapters found neither in the Hebrew nor in the Chaldee

  IV.  Additional Notes

1.  The Feast of Purim

2.  Haggâdâ

3.  Specimens of the first and second Targums on Esther




§ 1. Title and outline of contents

The Book of Esther, while it is among the shorter of those comprised in the historical portion of the Old Testament Canon, has features which claim for it a peculiar interest. Its clear-cut narrative, the skilful development of the plot of the story, the artistic contrasts as presented by the narrator, the frustration of evil designs and the vindication of the innocent, all combine to furnish the Book with an undoubted attractiveness, even apart from the deeper questions as to its character and purpose, with which we shall presently have to deal.

The heroine of the Book rises from a humble station to be a queen, and by the use of the position she has obtained rescues her nation from wholesale destruction devised against them by Haman, the favourite courtier of king Ahasuerus (Xerxes, b.c. 485–465).

The story opens with the description of a banquet given by Ahasuerus, king of Babylon, in the third year of his reign at Shushan (Susa), one of his capitals, first for one hundred and eighty days to the chief personages in his kingdom, and then for seven more days to the people of Shushan. Heated by wine, Ahasuerus summons the queen Vashti to his presence in order to shew the people and the princes her beauty. On her refusal to submit to the insult of being required to appear at this scene of intoxication, the king at the instigation of his counsellors deposes her from the rank of queen, and by way of giving a lesson to his subjects publishes her disgrace, upon which he founds an edict that every man shall be master in his own house. Elaborate arrangements are made for the assembling of the most beautiful maidens at Susa and the selection of a successor. After an interval of four years, the fairest is finally adjudged to be Esther, cousin and ward of Mordecai, a Jew of the Captivity, a Benjamite. Soon afterwards he saves the king’s life by giving, through Esther, information of a conspiracy against him on the part of two of his chamberlains—a good deed which is recorded in the ‘chronicles’ of the kingdom, but inadvertently left unrewarded by Ahasuerus. Shortly afterwards an influential courtier named Haman is promoted to the office of grand vizier, and his ire is excited by Mordecai’s refusal to make obeisance to him in accordance with the king’s command, as he passes in and out of the palace gates. Haman’s offended pride scorns the idea of a simple vengeance on the particular offender. He will be satisfied with nothing short of an order for the destruction of Mordecai’s people, whom Haman describes as disloyal and worthless, and in the twelfth year of the king’s reign he obtains from him a decree for that purpose, gaining his consent the more readily by guaranteeing that as the result of his action a huge sum (10,000 talents of silver) would accrue to the royal treasury out of the plunder of the Jews. Haman further takes the utmost care by the casting of lots to find the most suitable date on which to accomplish his scheme of vengeance and confiscation of property. The edict is issued on the thirteenth day of the first month, and on that day eleven months it is to take effect. Mordecai, learning what is about to befall his nation, calls upon Esther to intervene. At first she pleads the risk to her own life if she should presume to approach the king unsummoned; but she is warned by Mordecai that she will not escape in a general massacre of the Jews. Calling upon her countrymen in Susa to join with her in an intercessory fast for the success of her enterprise, she resolves to venture. On being received favourably by Ahasuerus, she invites him to come with Haman to a banquet on the following day, and when the king on that occasion asks the nature of her request declares that she will present it, if on the morrow they will repeat the visit. Haman, exulting in his honours, and considering his purpose as regards Mordecai to be already as good as achieved, prepares a gallows for his foe. But during the intervening night the king, being sleepless, causes the chronicles of the court to be read to him, and is reminded by them of the service which Mordecai had rendered. On his finding that no reward had been bestowed on him, and Haman at that moment entering the royal presence to demand Mordecai’s execution, the minister is unexpectedly compelled to carry out for the hated Jew a programme of exalted dignity such as he had himself dictated for ‘the man whom the king delighteth to honour,’ in his overweening confidence that he was himself to be the central figure. His wife warns him of coming disaster, a presentiment which is speedily justified by the event. At the ensuing banquet Esther tells her tale and points to him as ‘the adversary and enemy’ of her people, whereupon the king, angered further by the vehemence of Haman’s despairing application for mercy to the queen, orders him to immediate execution on the gallows which, as a courtier opportunely suggests, stands ready for the purpose. Mordecai succeeds to Haman’s position. The original edict cannot be altered, but by a second decree, issued on the 23rd day of the third month, and published, like the former one, throughout the empire, the Jews are empowered to defend themselves on the day (13th of Adar) appointed for their destruction, and are everywhere victorious, slaying 75,000 of their enemies, while at Esther’s request the permission as regards Shushan is extended to the following day as well, and Haman’s sons (slain on the previous day) meet their father’s fate of impalement. Mordecai is placed in power, and many become proselytes to Judaism. The festival of Purim (lots) is instituted by Esther and Mordecai to commemorate the deliverance. It is to be an occasion of feasting and gladness, and is to be celebrated on the 14th and 15th of Adar, the former in the country parts, the latter in the cities, as being the respective days when in the country generally and in Susa in particular the Jews celebrated their victory over their foes.

§ 2. Character and purpose of the Book

The first question which naturally arises concerns the character of the narrative which has just been set forth in outline. To what extent is the Book a narrative of actual events? Three forms of answer have been given to this question.

(1) It has been maintained that the Book is, in the fullest sense of the word, historical. In support of this opinion there have been adduced the following arguments. (a) The festival of Purim, of which the Book professes to describe the origin, was an established custom as early as Josephus.[1] (b) The local colouring throughout the Book is remarkably consistent. Modern research[2] has been able to find few, if any, slips in description such as would mark a work of imagination written when Persian customs had ceased to be matters of contemporary and familiar knowledge. Details like the account of the adornments of the palace, Mordecai’s genealogy, the banquets given by Esther to the king and Haman, point in the same direction. The proper names, which are abundant, are of the character which we should expect at the date and place assigned to the story. (c) The absence of corroboration from other literature is in no wise hostile to the claims of the Book to historicity. We find e.g. that the Book of Ezra leaves the period b.c. 516–459 all but a blank (Ezra 4:5-6 forms the sole exception), while the profane historians, Herodotus and Ctesias, are occupied solely with the relations between the Persian Empire and Greece. (d) The character of Xerxes, passionate, capricious, despotic, agrees perfectly with that assigned to him by secular writers.[3] (e) Had the account not been recognised by the Jews from the first as an actual record of events, it would not have been admitted to the Canon of Scripture, inasmuch as otherwise they would have hesitated to accept a Book which makes no reference to Jerusalem, the Temple, Palestine, sacrifices or other ordinances (except fasting), and which does not even contain the name of God. (f) The ‘chronicles’ of the Persian kingdom are several times[4] referred to as contemporary evidence for particulars in the narrative. (g) The dates assigned in the Book to the great feast at Susa, and later, to the elevation of Esther to be queen, agree with Herodotus’s statement (Esther 7:8) that Xerxes in the 3rd year of his reign held a council of the governors of the provinces in Susa with reference to his projected expedition against Greece, and that he returned, after that expedition, to Susa in his 7th year.

[1] Ant. xi. 6. 13.

[2] See Rawlinson’s Ancient Monarchies, iv. 269–287.

[3] Aeschylus, Persae, 467 ff.; Juvenal, Sat. x. 174 ff.; Herodotus, Books vii., ix.

[4] Esther 2:23, Esther 6:1, Esther 10:2.

(2) There are those on the other hand who regard the Book as simply a work of imagination. The following reasons are adduced for this opinion. (a) There is an obvious tendency throughout unduly to glorify the Jews, and magnify directly and by inference their importance. Of all the selected maidens a Jewess is successful, first in being chosen queen, and then in obtaining her requests from the king. Haman, the Jew’s enemy, is overthrown. Mordecai, the Jew, succeeds to his position. Susa warmly sympathises with the Jews both in adversity and in prosperity. (b) There is an omission of all reference to the narrative in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, as well as in the apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus, and in Philo. (c) There is an absence of direct quotations from the ‘chronicles’ of the Persian kingdom (we may contrast in this respect the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah), which therefore may be presumed to exist only in the imagination of the writer, and can thus be compared with the equally unreal ones from which Ctesias professes to draw. (d) The accumulation of coincidences and contrasts is characteristic of fiction rather than of real history.[5] (e) There are other features in the details of the narrative itself which point in the same direction. Such are the banquet’s duration for one hundred and eighty days (Esther 1:4; but see note there), the prolonged ignorance of Esther’s Jewish parentage on the part of the court, the suspiciously Semitic character (as against one of the arguments on the other side given above) of certain of the Persian proper names, the decree for universal massacre of Jews, as well as the publication of such a decree eleven months beforehand, and the subsequent permission for slaughter. (f) It is impossible satisfactorily to identify either Esther or Vashti with Amestris, whom we gather from Herodotus and Ctesias to have been Xerxes’ only wife.[6]

[5] In particular, the conflict between Haman the ‘Agagite’ and Mordecai the Benjamite (see notes on Esther 3:1), the former’s exultation and sudden fall, the two edicts and the circumstances under which they were promulgated, the Jews’ peril and their deliverance.

[6] Amestris was daughter of a Persian general, and was married to Xerxes so long before the date with which the Book of Esther deals that two of her sons went with his expedition against Greece.

(3) There is, however, a third and intermediate view, which seems on the whole best to fit in with the evidence. The arguments on behalf of the wholly fictitious character of the Book, such as we have just enumerated, no doubt carry considerable weight, but they need not preclude us from holding that there is at bottom a veritable historical basis, though we may admit that the element of romance has its share in the general result. When we place Esther alongside of the apocryphal Books of Tobit and Judith, the comparison from the point of view with which we are now dealing is distinctly in favour of the Canonical Book. While the other two are obviously lacking in historical characteristics, there is no corresponding reason on the other hand why Esther should be regarded as simply ‘a novel with a purpose,’ such as has become so common a feature of modern literature.

Esther herself has in all probability been idealised. The actual details which we derive from other sources with respect to Xerxes’ time make us hesitate to aver that she was more than a favourite member of the royal seraglio. But there is no difficulty in supposing that during the reign of that monarch one who occupied the position of a secondary wife was made the means of averting some calamity which threatened at least a portion of her compatriots, and that upon this foundation was framed the narrative which we possess. If therefore the above account of its origin be correct, it may be compared to the ‘semi-historical tales, of which the Persian chronicles seem to have been full.[7]’

[7] See Sayce, The Higher Criticism, and the Verdict of the Monuments etc., pp. 469 ff.

That an historical romance, or even a ‘novel with a purpose’ (if the Book could be shewn to be such), should be contained in the ‘Divine Library’ which we call the Old Testament, need not cause difficulty to any thoughtful reader. The various kinds of literature represented respectively by the Books of Kings, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Daniel, Jonah may well admit beside them one which is not perhaps altogether unlike the last named in the circumstances of its origin. ‘No one asks whether our Lord’s Parable of the Prodigal Son was a true story of some Galilean family. The Pilgrim’s Progress has its mission, though it is not to be verified by any authentic Annals of Elstow.[8]’

[8] Adeney, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther (the Expositor’s Bible), p. 354.

It must be confessed that a conspicuous characteristic of the Book—not, however, confined to it among Old Testament writings, but yet receiving a special prominence by the whole drift of the story—is the fierceness of revenge, brought into particular relief in Esther’s request (Esther 9:13) directed against the family of Haman. Here, as with such examples as are disclosed by earlier Jewish records, we can but point to the fact that Old Testament times furnished but a praeparatio evangelica, and that, in accordance with the law of development acting in the sphere of religion, the world was not yet ready to realise the duty of Christian forgiveness.

A perplexity of another kind connected with this Book arises from the well known peculiarity that the Divine Name is wholly absent from it. Elsewhere we find Biblical writers dwelling explicitly upon the relation between God and His people. His attitude towards men and theirs towards Him is set forth without reserve. Here on the contrary all such treatment of the matters handled is held rigidly in check.

The explanation may probably be traced to one or other of two causes, if it be not indeed the result of their joint influence.

(1) The Book, as we shall see, was in all probability written at a time intermediate between the fervently religious spirit that found its home among the prophets and psalmists, and the revival of the same enthusiasm under the Maccabean leaders.[9] During this intervening period there had arisen a sort of timidity or reserve in the expression of religious emotion. Language on the subject of the Divine Being was held under strict control by the sentiment, ‘God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few.[10]’ A veil was drawn between the creatures of earth and the majesty of the Godhead, and there was a reluctance to speak plainly of the mysteries which lay beyond man’s ken.

[9] It is remarkable, however, that in the history of the Maccabean war, as contained in the First Book of the Maccabees, according to the true text the same reticence is displayed, the name of God not once occurring in that Book. As a substitute we find either the word ‘heaven’ (e.g. 2:21, 3:50, 60), or simply a pronoun (e.g. 3:22).

[10] Ecclesiastes 5:2.

(2) Again, it is probable that the writer had the feast of Purim in his mind as the chief occasion on which the Book would be read. This festival was sometimes attended, we may believe, with excessive conviviality. Moreover, unlike the Passover, it was a purely secular celebration. Accordingly, there may have been a desire to avoid the risk that the name of God should be lightly used amid such surroundings.

But although the Book presents the peculiarity we have just noticed, it would be far from correct to say that it wholly lacks the religious element. God’s providential care of His people is in fact one of the most prominent of the lessons taught. ‘He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep[11]’ might well be the motto of the narrative, relating, as it does, how a series of apparently providential occurrences combine to evince the constancy of the Divine protection. Moreover, Mordecai’s warning to Esther that, if she will not assume the perilous distinction to which the crisis summons her, then shall there relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place (Esther 4:14), and his question, ‘who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ (Esther 4:14), indicate, though with a reticence unlike the general tone of prophetic and priestly utterances in the Old Testament, an unfailing trust in the overruling Hand. Whatever be the sense in which we may apply the word inspired to the Book of Esther, we can at any rate claim that from this point of view it is undoubtedly inspiring. ‘The name of God is not there, but the work of God is.[12]’

[11] Psalm 121:4.

[12] Stanley, Jewish Church, iii. 180, where he also remarks, ‘It is necessary for us that in the rest of the sacred volume the name of God should constantly be brought before us, to shew that He is all in all to our moral perfection. But it is expedient for us no less that there should be one book which omits it altogether, to prevent us from attaching to the mere name a reverence which belongs only to the reality.’

Notwithstanding all this, we must admit the cogency of Ewald’s criticism that in this Book ‘we fall as if from heaven to earth[13],’ that the exaltation of the Jewish people is a prominent aim in the mind of the writer, while the absence of explicit reference to the Supreme Being tends at least to obscure the relation between Him and His people as set forth generally in the Old Testament. There is here no indication of the sense of national sin or of punishment as its due, no trace of any consciousness of being unworthy of the Divine favour. Even when the deliverance comes, rejoicing, not gratitude, is depicted as at any rate the paramount feeling. Patriotism, rather than religion, is the prevailing sentiment, and this suggests that the Book belongs to a period of decline in religious life, arising from long exposure to the influences of surrounding heathenism.

[13] Hist. of Israel, Eng. trans., 4th ed. (Longmans), i. 197.

One main purpose of the Book, as we have already indicated, was to encourage the observance of the feast of Purim, and perhaps to bring about its more intelligent and reverent celebration. We may also safely assume that a foremost object with the author was to enforce upon the Dispersion those lessons as to the Divine providence to which we have referred.

§ 3. Date and Authorship

Very varying opinions have been held as to the date of this Book. Some, influenced by the life-like and on the whole accurate picture of Persian manners which it presents, have attributed it to an author at least as early as the reign of Xerxes’ immediate successor, Artaxerxes Longimanus (b.c. 465–425), while others have gone to the opposite extreme of considering it to be a romance reflecting Egyptian circumstances and opinions belonging to the later Ptolemaic times.[14] On the other hand, Grätz and others see in the Book a Maccabean colouring, and hold that under the name of Ahasuerus we have a veiled representation of Antiochus, and that the intention of the author is to warn the Syrian power that Israel will not be forced into idolatry, and that, if driven to extremities, they may once again prove too strong for the heathen oppressor. These theories, however, are exceedingly farfetched, and it is difficult to believe that a work written later than the third century b.c. could give a picture of the Persian court of Xerxes’ time which is on the whole so faithful. In support of a late date indeed there has been adduced the fact that in the list of famous persons in Sirach 44-49 there is no reference to characters in this Book: but the argument from omission is generally a precarious one.[15] Again, it is pointed out that there is found no reference to the feast of Purim as an established custom earlier than 2Ma 15:36, and that there under the name of ‘the day of Mordecai’ it is spoken of as to be preceded for the future by a celebration (on the 13th of Adar) of the overthrow of Nicanor. It is further remarked that in the corresponding part of 1 Macc. (1Ma 7:43; 1Ma 7:49), where the celebration of Nicanor’s defeat is instituted, no mention is made of Mordecai, and the inference is drawn that the feast of Purim did not come into vogue till after the writing of the earlier Book, i.e. little if at all before b.c. 120–110. Here again, however, even if we were to grant that the feast of Purim was not observed in Palestine during the turmoil and oppression of Maccabean times, it seems unsafe, in the face of countervailing evidence, to conclude that the Book, which clearly has for one of its purposes to enjoin the custom, was not yet written. Such countervailing evidence is to be found in the features upon which we have already dwelt. The reign of Ahasuerus is indeed spoken of as one which had already passed away (Esther 1:1 f.) but the writer is still close enough to the age he has depicted to preserve a verisimilitude in detail which would certainly have been lacking, if the memory at least of the days preceding the substitution of Greek for Persian supremacy had not been still fresh.

[14] Perhaps in circ. b.c. 180. This view is thought to receive some support from the wording of the note which forms 11:1 (LXX., 10:11) in the apocryphal Additions to Esther, and which asserts that ‘the Epistle of Phrurai’ was brought to Egypt ‘in the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra.’ See below in § 6.

[15] Ezra, e.g., whose existence as an historical character in the 5th century b.c. is undoubted, does not appear in that list.

We conclude then, as being on the whole the most satisfactory hypothesis, that the Book was written, very possibly in Persia itself, by a Jew familiar with the character of the time with which he dealt, and scarcely later than b.c. 300.

The idea that Mordecai was the author[16] arose out of a mistaken interpretation of Esther 9:20, viz. from not perceiving that ‘these things’ have to do only with the letter of which the substance is there given. The Book has also been ascribed to Ezra[17], to Joiakim the son of Jeshua the high priest (see Nehemiah 12:10; Nehemiah 12:26), and by a Jewish tradition to ‘the men of the Great Synagogue.[18]’ These, however, are obviously but guesses, of which in the case of the last the very meaning is obscure.

[16] Held e.g. by St Clement of Alexandria, and by the Jewish writer Ibn Ezra.

[17] So St Augustine, De Civit. Dei, c. 36.

[18] For these see further in § 5 (‘Place in the Canon’).

That it is the work of a single author is generally admitted, with the exception of the two Purim letters (Esther 9:20-32), the style of which has given rise to some doubt as to whether they formed part of the original Book. Some of the reasons for this surmise depend upon a careful comparison of the Hebrew of these sections with that of the rest, others upon alleged slight inconsistencies. The evidence, however, seems insufficient upon which to base anything like a certain conclusion.

§ 4. Value of the Book

Attention has been called in the preceding sections to certain features which have caused difficulty to some readers in recognising the Book of Esther as rightly belonging to that portion of the Divine revelation which is preserved for us in the Old Testament. It is equally incumbent upon us to recognise the importance of the place which the Book nevertheless holds in the pre-Christian literature of the Bible, and its value as a contribution to the Jewish life and thought of its day.

1. It presents us, as has been already shewn, with such a vivid picture of life in the Persian court and royal harem at that day as is not to be had in any other source of information. The honours, almost divine, rendered to a king, who might yet be, as was Xerxes, utterly weak and worthless, the court intrigues by which viziers might successfully conspire against a queen, and on the other hand a queen might procure the sudden ruin of a favourite minister, the luxury and prodigality of a palace joined with the most ruthless cruelty and an entire absence of compunction for the wholesale destruction of human life, the ever present danger of assassination dogging the footsteps of the highest—these are set before us with a mixture of skill and simplicity, and give us a picture of a state of society which leaves its lasting impression upon the mind.

2. If, as we have seen occasion to believe, the date of the Book may be placed within the Persian period or shortly after, it furnishes us with a unique picture of the Jews of the Dispersion during that period. ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people’ (Esther 3:8). We see their mysterious isolation from other nations, while they yet dwell in the midst of them, self-centred, but in daily intercourse with the heathen (like Christians of later days), ‘as unknown and yet well known, … as chastened and not killed.[19]’ The remarkable absence of all reference to Palestine, or even to the Law[20] or to Jewish worship, serves to bring into fuller relief the strength of the tie of race, as distinguished from that of religion, which bound together these proud aliens scattered throughout the many provinces of the Persian Empire, and which infused into them, even though in an exaggerated form, the subtle influence of kinship.

[19] 2 Corinthians 6:9.

[20] Unless it be in Haman’s words to Ahasuerus just quoted.

3. The masterly sketches of character that are presented to us are surely not without ‘example of life and instruction of manners.’ Ahasuerus e.g. is a mere puppet worked by those who successively gain his ear, while he fancies that his will is law throughout his dominions; helplessly weak, and all the time imagining himself possessed of absolute power; dissolute, vengeful, vain, yet not without a certain sense of justice and generosity.

In Haman we have the combination of overweening vanity and unscrupulous cruelty, the former being the direct cause of the latter. His egotism destroys all sense of proportion. On the other hand beneath all his vigour and energy he is a coward and pleads in abject humiliation for his life. In him ‘poetic justice’ receives complete satisfaction. He is ‘hoist with his own petard.’ The ‘power that makes for righteousness’ does not necessarily confine its operations to the world to come.

Mordecai teaches us one lesson in common with Joseph and Daniel, viz. that devotion to the interests of those with whom one’s lot is cast, aliens though they may be, is fully compatible with loyalty to one’s faith and nation. He also exemplifies the man who is content to ‘do good by stealth,’ to carry out obvious duties without aims of an ambitious kind. Fame comes to him, but it comes unsought. We cannot, however, fail to see the imperfection of one part of his character as viewed from a Christian standpoint. We shudder at the vengeful spirit which is united with his fervour of racial sentiment and confidence that his nation is destined to survive all perils.

Once more, the central figure who gives her name to the Book must be full of significance to every reader. Possessed of independence of character, she yet accepts the task set her by her guardian, while fully conscious of its peril. ‘To whom much is given, of him shall much be required.’ She rises to the demand, and the deliverance of her people, possible for her alone, is effected by a combination of heroism and tact. But with all that is admirable and noble in the character whose lineaments are so skilfully drawn for our benefit, we are yet startled, perhaps even more in her case than in that of Mordecai, by her thirst for vengeance upon the foes of her nation. After all, ‘certain hard lines betray the fact that Esther is not a Madonna, that the heroine of the Jews does not reach the Christian ideal of womanhood.[21]’

[21] See Adeney, Ezra etc., p. 391, in a chapter to which are due some of the thoughts embodied in this section.

4. An important lesson which the Book teaches us may be stated thus: ‘May it not be taken as a great example to Christians whose lot has fallen among those who are not Christians? For, though there is no naming of the name of God, yet there is a deep sense of personal vocation to do His work; there is a faith in self-sacrificing intercession; and a type of courage, loyalty, and patriotism such as is scarcely found elsewhere in the Bible.[22]’

[22] Note by Lock in Sanday’s Inspiration, pp. 222 f.

5. Finally, the Book is of value as shewing us the Jewish people in a state of preparation, albeit unconscious preparation, for the ‘central event’ in the world’s history, the Incarnation of the Son of God. It depicts for us the links which bound together the widely scattered nation, settled throughout the known world. ‘Of this vast race, for whom so great a destiny was reserved when the nation should fail, the Book of Esther recognised, as by a prophetic instinct, the future importance.[23]’

[23] Stanley, Jewish Church, iii. 176.

§ 5. Place in the Canon

Among Old Testament Books, as arranged in the Hebrew Bible, Esther is placed as the last of the five Megilloth (Rolls)[24], and thus is included in the Hagiographa or last of the three sections into which the Jews divide their Scriptures, the former two being the Law and the Prophets. The position, however, which the Book thus occupies in the Jewish Canon was not always an assured one. In fact there was for a while a more or less distinct line of separation between Canonical Books and those as to the inclusion of which there was felt some degree of hesitation. Thus we cannot be at all certain that Esther was one of ‘the other Books of our fathers’ which are referred to (b.c. 132) by the Greek translator of the Prologue to the apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus, as being well known to his grandfather, the writer of that book (circ. b.c. 180). The earliest reference to the Book as included in the Jewish Scriptures occurs in Josephus[25], who by placing the limit of the records ‘justly held sacred’ in the reign of ‘Artaxerxes, king of the Persians[26],’ seems to imply such inclusion. The Jewish councils of Jerusalem and Jamnia (1st century a.d.), which virtually closed the Canon of the Old Testament, accepted the Book as canonical. Its claim also seems to be acknowledged in the apocryphal 2nd Book of Esdras (end of 1st century a.d.) from the number which it assigns[27] to the sacred Books. The Mishnah, which is the basis of the subsequently formed Talmud, a heterogeneous embodiment of Jewish tradition, was committed to writing by R. Jehudah circ. a.d. 200, and includes Esther in its list of the Books of Holy Scriptures. The Talmud (Baba Bathra, 14) ascribes the Book (meaning apparently its editing or acceptance as of canonical authority), together with the Book of Ezra, the twelve Minor Prophets, and Daniel, to ‘the men of the Great Synagogue.[28]’ The hesitation felt on the subject is apparent, however, in more than one Talmudic statement. In the Talmud of Babylon (Megilloth, 7a) we detect the existence of an element of uncertainty among Jewish teachers of that day as to the full inspiration of the Book. In Sanhedrin (100a), a Talmudic treatise, a certain Levi bar Samuel and R. Huna bar Chija even call the contents ‘Epicureanism,’ i.e. heathenish. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah, פ׳ ר׳) we read that eighty-five elders, including more than thirty prophets, disputed as to the ordinance of Esther and Mordecai with respect to the Purim festival until God opened their eyes and they found divine sanction for it in Exodus 17:14. It should nevertheless be said that the original wording of this last Talmudic passage leaves it at any rate possible that the reference is not to the Book as a whole, but only to the directions about fasting in Esther 9:29-32.

[24] Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther. Even at the present day the books read aloud in the worship of the synagogue are written in columns in the form of Rolls. There is a wooden roller at the beginning and end, and the successive columns, as they are read, are rolled round the first of these. The Megilloth, as their name indicates, formed separate volumes, and were severally read on five anniversaries in the Jewish year, viz. Song of Songs on the Feast of the Passover, Ruth on the Feast of Weeks, Lamentations on the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, Ecclesiastes on the Feast of Tabernacles, and Esther on the Feast of Purim.

[25] contra Apionem, i. 8.

[26] It should be noted that Josephus, in common with the LXX., erroneously makes the Persian monarch not to be Xerxes but his immediate successor (Artaxerxes Longimanus, b.c. 465–425).

[27] 14:44, a passage, however, by no means free from difficulty, owing to varieties of reading.

[28] That is, a succession of learned Jews, whose existence, however, has been shewn by modern research to be somewhat problematical. See Ryle, Canon of the O.T., Excursus A.

We may add that the discursive character of the Talmud, uncertainties as to the chronology of the various elements of which it is composed, and the unsatisfactory condition of its text detract considerably from its value as evidence, where accuracy in dates is needed.[29]

[29] See further in Ryle, ch. x.

Whatever was the case in the first few centuries a.d., later Jewish opinion presents a complete change. So far from a disposition to undervalue the Book, it came to be held of more importance than the rest of the Hagiographa, the Prophets, and even than the Law itself. The intensity of its patriotic spirit laid fast hold on the sentiment of the nation. At various epochs of persecution, the perusal of its pages has given the Jews courage, and has strengthened their confidence in themselves as reserved through all trials and troubles for a lofty destiny. The Book was entitled the Megillah (or Roll) par excellence, and the copies of it were specially adorned and beautified. Maimonides[30], the most celebrated Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, declared that in the days of the Messiah the only Scriptures left would be the Law and the Roll.[31] It was specially directed that women and children should hear it read on the occasion of the Purim festival. Gathered annually in their synagogue at the close of the 13th day of the month of Adar, as the minister unfolded the Roll and read the story, the congregation repeated after him in loud and triumphant tones the passages relating to the victory of the Jews over their enemies, while at the mention of Haman’s name the assembly, and specially the younger portion, hissed, stamped, shook the clenched fist, and pounded noisily on the benches, saying, ‘Let his name be blotted out,’ ‘Let the name of the wicked perish.’ Moreover, it was customary for the reader to utter the names of Haman’s ten sons in one breath, in allusion, it was said, to their all dying at the same moment. In the Jewish rolls the names of the sons were written in three vertical and parallel lines of 3, 3, and 4 words, to indicate that the ten were hanged on three parallel cords. At the conclusion of the reading the whole congregation exclaimed: ‘Cursed be Haman, blessed be Mordecai; cursed be Zeresh, blessed be Esther; cursed be all idolaters, blessed be all Israelites; and blessed be Harbonah, who hanged Haman.[32]’

[30] d. a.d. 1204.

[31] See Carpzov, Introd. xx. § 6.

[32] See Stanley, Jewish Church, iii. 178. Further particulars will be found in Additional Note I.

In the earliest days of the Christian Church as well there was a certain amount of hesitation as to the acceptance of the Book. Melito, Bishop of Sardis[33], who made careful enquiry from the Syrian Jews as to the limits of the Old Testament Canon, omits Esther from the list which he compiled.[34] St Athanasius and St Gregory of Nazianzus omit the Book from their lists of canonical writings. The former, however, placed Esther (with the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Judith and Tobit) in an intermediate class between canonical books on the one hand, and such apocryphal writings as were to be excluded from use in public worship on the other. This intermediate class was permitted for use in Churches, and was hence entitled (books) publicly read (ἀναγινωσκόμενα). St Augustine, and St Cyril of Jerusalem accept the Book as canonical, as do Origen and St Jerome, although these two place it last on their lists.[35]

[33] Latter half of 2nd century a.d.

[34] See Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. iv. 26. Some writers on the Canon, however, consider that this omission is accidental.

[35] See further in Ryle, ch. xi.

We should remember, however, that as many of the Fathers were ignorant of Hebrew, they were dependent upon the form in which the Book appeared to the Greek-speaking world in the LXX., thus including the apocryphal Additions (see next section); and difficulties naturally felt about receiving these Additions may have brought suspicion upon the whole. Further, there may have been occasional confusion even in those days between the Books of Esther and Ezra, or even those of Esdras, as we know to have been the case in at least one instance at a much later date. The book which Martin Luther has been charged with contemptuously tossing into the Elbe was not Esther but Esdras.[36] It is, however, quite true that the former Book was far from being a favourite with that Reformer, who says[37] that he wishes that ‘it did not exist, for it hath too much of Judaism, and a great deal of heathenish naughtiness.’ This, however, is not the only one of Luther’s utterances as to parts of the Bible, which may well be thought to savour of impetuosity rather than sober judgment. We have already sought to indicate the point of view whence profitably to regard a Book which, differing though it does in more than one striking respect from what we might a priori expect to find as a constituent part of Holy Writ, is yet, upon thoughtful and sympathetic consideration of its Jewish authorship, far from deserving to be excluded from the Books which are ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.[38]’

[36] See Stanley, Jewish Church, iii. 178 for authorities.

[37] Table Talk, clix. 6; Bondage of the Will, in Works, iii. 182.

[38] 2 Timothy 3:16.

§ 6. Relation of the Original Hebrew to the Septuagint Version

On turning to the Greek form of the Book of Esther, we are confronted with the fact that it contains a considerable amount of additional matter. These Additions consist of seven sections, the first placed as an introduction to the Book, and the others at various points in the story. These sections appear together in an English form in that book of the Apocrypha which bears for its full title, ‘The Rest of the Chapters of the Book of Esther, which are found neither in the Hebrew, nor in the Chaldee.’ In the English Version they present a confused and unintelligible appearance, if we attempt to read them as continuous, inasmuch as they are there severed from their proper contexts in which they form parts of a consecutive history, and the section which stands first (Esther 10:4–11:1) ought properly to be placed last. The severance came about thus. When St Jerome, in the course of his labours in producing the Latin Version of the Scriptures, arrived at the Book of Esther, his acquaintance with Hebrew at once made apparent to him the discrepancy between the existing Hebrew and Greek forms of the Book. Accordingly, he proceeded first to render the Hebrew into Latin, but, not wishing to ignore the shape in which the Book was accepted by Greek-speaking Christians, he appended the several sections, commencing with that which in the LXX. followed immediately upon the close of the Hebrew part of the Book, viz. Esther 10:4–11:1 (the last verse forming an explanatory note as to the date of the Greek translation), and adding the remaining sections peculiar to the LXX. in the order in which they lay imbedded in the rest of the narrative, with a note in each case stating at what point in the Hebrew it was to be inserted. In the course of time, however, the notes disappeared, and so arose the confused result above mentioned.

The original position of the Additions is as follows[39]:

[39] Taken from the Table in Churton’s Uncanonical and Apocryphal Scriptures, p. 211.

Chapter Esther 10:4–13 and Esther 11:1, Interpretation of the Dream, etc., was the 7th Addition, forming the conclusion of the Book.

Chapter Esther 11:2–12 and Chapter 12, the Dream and the Conspiracy of the two Eunuchs, was the 1st Addition, forming the Introduction to the Book.

Chapter Esther 13:1–7, the Royal Decree against the Jews, was the 2nd Addition, and was placed after chap. Esther 3:13.

Chapter Esther 13:8–18, the Prayer of Mordecai, was the 3rd Addition, and was placed after chap. Esther 4:17.

Chapter 14, the Prayer of Esther, was the 4th Addition, and was placed after the Prayer of Mordecai.

Chapter 15, Esther’s Interview with the King, was the 5th Addition, and was placed before chap. Esther 5:3.

Chapter 16, the Royal Decree in favour of the Jews, was the 6th Addition, and was placed after chap. Esther 8:12.

Even irrespective of the fact that this additional matter has no counterpart in the Hebrew, there are certain inconsistencies and discrepancies contained in these sections rendering it clear that they are rightly called ‘Additions.’ The date which they assign to Mordecai’s discovery of the conspiracy against the king is in the second instead of the seventh year of his reign. Moreover, a reward is at once bestowed for the service thus rendered. Again, the language of Ahasuerus’s edict in favour of the Jews (16) is inconsistent with the unalterable character ascribed in the Book to the law of the Medes and Persians.[40]

[40] Inconsistencies are also noticeable in 11:2 ff., cpd. with Esther 2:21; 12:5, cpd. with Esther 6:3; 12:6, cpd. with Esther 3:1; Esther 3:4 f.; 15:18, cpd. with Esther 9:12; while we may perceive such expressions as ‘Hades’ (13:7), ‘drink-offerings’ (14:17), ‘chosen people’ (16:21) to be unsuitable in the mouth of a Persian king.

A main object of these insertions in the original story was evidently to remove the uneasiness arising from the secular tone of the latter. There is no longer any scruple in introducing the name of God. Prayer assumes a prominent place, and throughout we see the effort to give a strongly religious character to the Book. The royal edicts, moreover, inserted doubtless in imitation of the genuine extracts contained in Ezra and Nehemiah, bear internal evidence that they are invented for the occasion, and, moreover, are probably not the work of the writer mainly responsible for the other additional matter.

The question may be asked, What was the primary language in which the Additions were written? Have they a Hebraic (Hebrew or Aramaic) origin behind the Greek form in which we know them? It has been held by some that the LXX. text is a translation from an original, of which the existing Hebrew text is an abbreviated form. The latter, it has been suggested, was made for use in the synagogues to supersede the older, inasmuch as the other, with its more directly religious tone and its frequent use of the name of God, was held to be unsuitable for reading in connexion with the scenes of conviviality into which the celebration of the feast of Purim had degenerated. None of the arguments, however, which are adduced for this view are satisfactory[41], and it is opposed to both external and internal evidence. Josephus[42], while elsewhere in his narrative following with tolerable fidelity the LXX. Version as based on the Hebrew, shews in the part of his account corresponding to these Additions a marked independence, thereby apparently indicating that he held them in less esteem than the rest. Moreover, the character of the Greek itself lends little or no support to the view that it represents a Hebraic original. This is especially true of the diffuse and bombastic style of a part of it, viz. chs. 13 and 16.[43] To perceive the difference the English reader may compare with those royal letters the extracts from the Aramaic commentary (Targum Shçnî) which are given in Additional Note III. It is true that a few expressions in the Additions have been adduced[44] as Hebraisms in support of the above mentioned theory, but in fact they shew nothing more than that the author was a Jew.

[41] They may be seen fully set forth and criticised in the Speaker’s Commentary on the Apocrypha, i. 362 ff.

[42] Antiquities of the Jews, xi. 6.

[43] See examples in the Speaker’s Comm. as above referred to.

[44] e.g. by Kaulen, Einleitung, § 271. Such are τῇ μιᾷ τοῦ Νεισά (Esther 11:2), κίνδυνός μου ἐν χειρί μου (Esther 14:5).

In connexion with the Additions there may be asked another question, to which it is not so easy to return a satisfactory answer. Did there first exist a Greek Version (now lost) of the Hebrew as it stands, and were the Additions subsequently inserted, or were they introduced at once by the Greek translator, either composed by himself, or taken from some other source? It may be suggested in reply that the inconsistencies between them and the portion of the story which exists in Hebrew as well can be more easily accounted for, if we suppose that the translator of the latter was not himself responsible for their composition, inasmuch as his work must have made him too familiar with the Hebrew form of the narrative to have been himself guilty of deviating from it even in the details here referred to. But, after all, this argument is precarious, and a comparison between the Greek rendering of the Hebrew and the Greek of the Additions does not seem to justify us in differentiating with any degree of confidence the authorship of the two parts, or in assuming the existence of an otherwise unknown Greek Version corresponding to the Hebrew form of the Book.

The Greek Version of the Book is on the whole a tolerably good rendering but decidedly paraphrastic and exhibiting certain omissions. Such omissions are (a) the somewhat obscure clause in the Hebrew of Esther 1:22 (see note there), (b) Esther’s name, Hadassah (Esther 2:7), (c) Mordecai’s refusal to acknowledge Haman (Esther 5:9), (d) the clause concerning the ‘crown royal’ (Esther 6:8), (e) difficulties in Esther 8:10; Esther 8:14, (f) the whole of Esther 9:30.

Besides omissions of this sort, there is also a certain amount of freedom observable in the Greek translation. Thus ‘Artaxerxes’ (Ἀρταξέρξης) and ‘the king’ (ὁ βασιλεὺς) are used interchangeably, and the Hebrew for ‘princes’ is rendered sometimes by one word (φίλοι, Esther 1:3, Esther 2:18, Esther 3:1), sometimes by another (ἄρχοντες, Esther 1:14; Esther 1:16; Esther 1:21). In the Hebrew of Esther there is considerable room for this variation in rendering, as it abounds in particular turns of expression and repetitions.[45]

[45] The translator occasionally shews lack of acquaintance with words belonging to the later Hebrew, e.g. v’illu, וְאִלּוּ, in Esther 7:4. In Esther 1:6 on the contrary he read v’dar, וְדַר, as though it were a word of the new or later Hebrew, and equivalent to the Greek ῥόδον. Also in the same place he connected v’sôchareth (וְסֹחָרֶת) with the Aramaic s’chôr (סְחוֹר = Heb. sâbhibh, סָבִיב).

Thus freedom of translation and a certain lack of accuracy detract somewhat from the value of the LXX. in this Book as a witness to the original. But specially in proper names the Greek is often startlingly different.

In Esther 1:2 the LXX. adds the words, ‘when Artaxerxes the king was enthroned’ (ὅτε ἐθρονίσθη Ἀρταξέρξης ὁ βασιλεύς). Now the substantive (ἐνθρονισμὸς) corresponding to this verb is a peculiarly Egyptian term for the enthronement or coronation festival of the Ptolemaic dynasty. This insertion therefore seems to point to Egypt as the place where the Book was translated.

The Greek form of the Book appears in two recensions[46], which differ considerably from one another, both in the portion representing the original and in the Additions. That which is the later of the two recensions (called G* in the notes) probably is not earlier than the 3rd century a.d. The date of the former, as we shall now see, precedes this by several hundred years.

[46] Both to be found in Lagarde (libr. canon. Vet. Test. i. pp. 504 ff.) and in Fritzsche’s Lib. apocr. Vet. Test., pp. 30 ff. G* gives us the text known as ‘Lucianic.’ Lucian (martyred at Nicomedia, circ. a.d. 311) acquired a great reputation for Biblical learning as the author of a 3rd century revision of the Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments as used in Syria. For the evidence that certain extant ‘cursive’ Greek MSS. preserve for us the text as revised by him see Swete, Introd. to the O.T. in Greek, pp. 82 f.

A kind of note or subscription to that which in the LXX. forms the last of the ‘Additions,’ and which now appears in the apocryphal portion of the English Book as Esther 11:1, runs as follows:

‘In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, Dositheus, who said he was a priest and a Levite, and Ptolemy his son, brought the epistle of Phrurai here set forth, which they said was the same, and that Lysimachus the son of Ptolemy, that was in Jerusalem, had interpreted it.’

The indication of date contained in this apparently explicit statement is much less satisfactory than it may at first sound. Among Egyptian royal personages both Ptolemy and Cleopatra were names far from uncommon, and there were no fewer than four Ptolemies (Epiphanes, Philometor, Physcon, and Lathyrus) who each married a Cleopatra. The most natural hypothesis is, however, to make the above reference to apply to Philometor, whose fourth year was b.c. 179–8. The ‘epistle of Phrurai’ probably refers not, as some have thought, merely to the section Esther 9:20 ff., but to the whole of Esther, and ‘may have been written with the purpose of giving Palestinian sanction to the Greek Version of that book, but it vouches for the fact that the version was in circulation before the end of the second century b.c.[47]’

[47] Swete, Introduction to the O.T. in Greek, p. 25; but cp. pp. 257 f., where he questions the historical value of the note.

§ 7. Relation of the Book of Esther to other literature

Josephus in telling this story[48] frequently differs in details. He seems to have had few if any other materials[49] for the story than those we now possess in the shape of the Hebrew text and the Greek Additions; but he handled those materials in some cases with considerable freedom. He gives nothing corresponding to the note or subscription which we have considered at the end of the last section. His method in dealing with the materials now extant is exemplified in his treatment of the prayers of Mordecai and Esther (Esther 13:8–18, 14). In the former Mordecai is made by him to ask that his refusal to bow down before Haman may not bring misfortune upon the innocent nation. In the latter Esther prays for personal beauty, that she may thereby move the heart of the king.

[48] Antiquities of the Jews, xi. § 6. His book was completed a.d. 93–4.

[49] Such may possibly be the additional passages (xi. § 6. 10) which he speaks of as read to Ahasuerus from the chronicles of the kingdom.

Two principal Targums, or Aramaic paraphrases, upon Esther exist.[50] The latter is the more interesting of the two, and exhibits in a marked degree the characteristic features of Jewish commentaries in the shape of fantastic legends.[51] Both probably owe their origin to the desire to provide literature suitable for the convivialities of Purim. A third Targum[52] gives the Aramaic rendering without additional matter. They are all assigned to the authorship of a society or College of learned Jews, named Geonim, who flourished a.d. 600–1000.[53] In this connexion may be mentioned the still later work said to be by Josippon ben Gorion, which contains clear traces of the Greek Additions, and, lastly, the Midrash, or Hebrew Commentary named Megillath Esther.[54]

[50] The earlier is to be found in Walton’s Polyglott, vol. ii., the second (Targum Shçnî) in Bomberg’s Hebrew Bible, Venice, 1517, and appears in English as Appendix I to P. Cassel’s Comm. on Esther (T. and T. Clark). Both are given in Lagarde, Hagiographa Chaldaice.

[51] See Additional Note II (Haggâdâ).

[52] See Antwerp Polyglott, vol. iii.

[53] The word Gěônim denotes in Hebrew excellent. The title therefore properly denotes eminent or illustrious teachers of the various seats of Jewish learning in those days. In actual use, however, it often bore a narrower import as a title belonging to the heads of the renowned Academy of Sura, on the Euphrates. See further in Abrahams’ Short History of Jewish Literature, pp. 37 ff.

[54] See A. Wünsche, Biblioth. Rabb., Part ix., Leipzig.

§ 8. Character of the Hebrew

The Book is written in an easy and simple style, and the sentences for the most part are straightforward and free from ambiguity. It contains, however, a certain number of words characteristic of later Biblical Hebrew; also Persian words, to which attention is drawn from time to time in the notes. It might have been thought that this admixture of later forms and constructions would be likely to afford us considerable help in the direction of determining the date of the Book of Esther. We do not however in point of fact derive much assistance from this source. For even after the later Hebrew, such as we find e.g. in the Mishnah, had come into use, we must allow for the tendency to write books in a style imitative of classical Hebrew models.



538.  Capture of Babylon by Cyrus and Foundation of the Persian Empire.

529.  Cambyses.

522.  Pseudo-Smerdis and Darius I (Hystaspes).

485.  Xerxes.

480.  Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis.

465.  Artaxerxes I (Longimanus).

424.  Darius II (Nothus).

405.  Artaxerxes II (Mnemon).

359?.  Artaxerxes III (Ochus).

336.  Darius III (Codomannus).

333.  Alexander the Great overthrows the Persian Empire.

223.  Antiochus III (the Great).

198.  He obtains possession of Palestine.

182.  Ptolemy Philometor.

175.  Antiochus IV (Epiphanes).

168.  He seizes Jerusalem and desecrates the Temple.

167–165.  Rise and Victories of the Maccabees.



Chap. Esther 11:2–11. Mordecai’s dream

This and the following section form the introduction to the Book in the LXX. The interpretation comes in the chapter numbered Esther 10:4–13 (see p. 64), forming the last of the Additions found in that version.

2. In the second year] the year preceding that with which the Canonical Book opens (see Esther 1:3).

Nisan] See on Esther 3:7. G* calls the month ‘Adar-Nisan, which is Dystrus-Xanthicus.’ The latter names are the Macedonian equivalents for Adar and Nisan.

Mardocheus etc.] See on Esther 2:5. The difference in the forms of the proper names is due to the fact that in the Canonical part of the Book they are drawn from the original Hebrew, whereas in the Additions they come to us through a Greek medium (Mardochçus = Μαρδοχαῖος).

3. Susa] See on Esther 1:2.

servitor] elsewhere in the A.V. only in 2 Kings 4:43, where R.V. has ‘servant,’ marg. ‘minister.’

4. he was of the captivity] See on Esther 2:6.

7. The conflict between the two dragons (representing Mordecai and Haman) was the signal for all nations to join in an attack upon the Jews. A similar assemblage is depicted in Joel 3:2; Zechariah 14:2.

8. Cp. Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:15; Matthew 24:29.

10. cried unto God] Direct mention of the name of God is a prominent characteristic of the Additional Chapters as contrasted with its absence from the Canonical Book.[79] See Introd. p. xv.

[79] The words God and Lord occur 42 times in these chapters.

a little fountain] Esther.

a great river, even much water] an emblem of irresistible power. Cp. Astyages’ dream as given in Herod. i. 107.

11. The light and the sun rose up] The rival powers of good and evil strove for the mastery, the former prevailing.

the lowly were exalted] G* (reading ποταμοὶ for ταπεινοί), has ‘the rivers were swollen and swallowed up those of high repute.’

devoured the glorious] The adjective is plural, but the allusion is to Haman.

Chaps. Esther 11:12–12:6. Mordecai’s good fortune

12. until night] The natural sense of this verse, combined with the following, is that the conspiracy of the two eunuchs against Ahasuerus belonged to the same (second) year as the dream just related. But Esther 2:21 (cp. v. 16) seems to place the former five years later, and G* accordingly adapts its wording here so as to harmonize with the date given in the Canonical part of the Book.[80]

[80] ‘And Mardochçus, arising from his sleep, hid his vision in his heart, and at every opportunity was studying it out, until the day on which Mardochçus slept in the court of the king etc.’

Esther 12:1. Gabatha and Tharra] corresponding to Bigthan and Teresh, as given in Esther 2:21. Gabatha may be a transposition of Bagatha (Vulg.).

2. purposes] lit. anxieties, misgivings as to the success of their plot.

3. examined] doubtless by torture.

they were led to execution] A.V., following an erroneous reading of the Greek (ἀπήγχθησαν), which differs by but one letter from the best text (ἀπήχθησαν), has ‘they were strangled.’

4. wrote these things for a memorial] See on Esther 2:23.

6. a Bugean] See note on Esther 3:1.

because of the two eunuchs of the king] implying that Haman was, if not a joint conspirator, at any rate on friendly terms with them.

Chap. Esther 13:1–7. Artaxerxes’ letter

In the Greek text this section follows chap. Esther 3:13.

The letter betrays its Greek origin by its style, a fact which is yet more forcibly brought out in the florid and diffuse wording of the king’s decree, ch. 16. We may contrast it with other Persian decrees or letters found in the Bible (Ezra 1:2-4; Ezra 4:17-22; Ezra 6:3-12; Ezra 7:11-26) both in its general style and particularly in its moral disquisitions.

1. The great king] This is one of the titles of Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, in the Behistun inscription (see on Esther 16:7), where he is also called ‘the king of kings.’ Cp. 2 Kings 18:19.

governors] satraps. See on Esther 1:3.

3. my counsellors] See on Esther 1:14.

6. and is a second father unto us] lit. our second father. The Vulgate paraphrases, ‘whom we honour as a father.’ The title ‘father’ is again applied to Haman in Esther 16:11.

be utterly destroyed] lit. be destroyed root and branch (ὁλορριζεί).

the fourteenth day] This is evidently a slip on the part of the composer of the letter. The confusion between this day and the thirteenth (see Esther 3:13, Esther 8:12, Esther 9:1, also Esther 16:20) doubtless arose through the connexion in thought between the commemoration festival, celebrated on the fourteenth, and the previous day’s slaughter which was averted.

Adar] G* has Dystrus. See on Esther 11:2.

7. malicious] rather, as in v. 4, malignant.

Chap. Esther 13:8–18. Mordecai’s prayer

In the Greek text Mordecai’s prayer follows upon Esther 4:17.

12. See on Esther 3:2.

13. to kiss the soles of his feet] a form of homage which seems in Persia to have been confined to kings.

15–17. heritage—portion—inheritance] three words emphasizing God’s ownership of His people. Cp. Esther 14:9.

17. feasting] not simply ‘joy,’ as A.V.

destroy not the mouths] to be taken literally. It is the living who praise God (cp. Isaiah 38:19). If Israel be destroyed, His praises will cease.

Chap. Esther 14:1–19. Esther’s prayer

In the Greek Bible, as here, Esther’s prayer immediately follows upon that of Mordecai. See the introductory note to the preceding paragraph.

3. thou only art our King] The keynote of the prayer is God’s absolute rule, thus controlling, if He wills it, even the ‘fleshly king’ (v. 10) who assumes the title ‘king of kings.’ See on Esther 13:1. The Greek is ‘Thou alone … help me that am alone.’

4. in mine hand] close upon me. The reading of G*, ‘My life is etc.,’ is smoother.

5. progenitors] a closer rendering than that of the A.V., ‘predecessors.’

7. we glorified their gods] meaning that Israel’s exile was due to its idolatry.

8. they have stricken hands with their idols] They have made an agreement or bargain with them. For the expression in this sense cp. 2 Kings 10:15; 2 Chronicles 30:8 (marg.); Ezra 10:19; Lamentations 5:6; 1Ma 6:58; 1Ma 11:50; 1Ma 11:66.

9. This verse may well preserve for us a reminiscence of the state of things which ensued in Jerusalem, as related in Ezra 4:6, when the activity in the restoration of the city and Temple which prevailed in the days of Darius was succeeded, on the accession of Xerxes, by the ‘accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem,’ that brought about ‘great affliction and reproach’ (Nehemiah 1:3). The present passage in that case points to the support which the ‘accusation’ received in Persia.

11. give not thy sceptre] Transfer not the authority, symbolized in the case of an earthly king by a sceptre, to what has no real existence. For this mode of designating idols cp. 1 Corinthians 8:4; 1 Corinthians 10:19.

12. This verse forms the transition from intercession on behalf of the nation to supplication for personal safety.

the gods] A.V. wrongly ‘the nations,’ possibly through an accidental reminiscence of Jeremiah 10:7.

13. before the lion] the king. Cp. Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2; 2 Timothy 4:17.

14. O Lord] a better division than that of the A.V., where these words come in the next verse.

15–18. She deprecates punishment for her union with the king, as being unavoidable. Such passages as Ezra 10:2, Nehemiah 13:23 ff. shew us in what abhorrence marriages with Gentiles were held. In private she does her utmost to counterbalance and atone for what she is compelled to do in public, including her presence at feasts.

16. the sign of my high estate] the crown royal, which she is obliged to wear when she appears before the king.

17. the wine of the drink offerings] For this expression in its application to heathen gods cp. Deuteronomy 32:38. See Sayce, Ancient Empires of the East, p. 269, for the nature of the offerings made by the worshipper of Ormazd.

19. hear the voice of the forlorn] Cp. Jdt 9:11 for an amplification of this thought.

Chap. Esther 15:1–16. Esther’s interview with the king

In the LXX. this narrative follows upon the prayer just recorded. In the Vulgate it is preceded by three verses, relating how Mordecai urged Esther to appeal to God for protection, and to face the king with the petition on behalf of her people (cp. Esther 4:13 f.). The narrative itself is an expansion of Esther 5:1-2.

1. And upon the third day] See Esther 4:16, Esther 5:1. The Midrash (see Wünsche, Midrash on Esther, German trans., p. 67) says, “Never did the Israelites find themselves in trouble longer than three days.” In illustration are quoted this case and those of Abraham (Genesis 22:4), of the patriarchs (Genesis 42:17), of Jonah (Jonah 1:17). We may compare Hosea 6:2.

her garments of service] The A.V. has erroneously, ‘her garments of mourning,’ referring to those which are actually so called in Esther 14:1. The word rendered ‘service’ (θεραπεία) is that translated ‘purifications’ in Esther 2:12, and in all likelihood refers to worship which she had just been offering to God.

7. fierce anger] lit. the perfection of his anger, the expression forming a counterpart to ‘the perfection of her beauty’ in v. 5. The king’s wrath seems to have been caused by her neglect of the rule of etiquette which forbade the approach of anyone without being summoned to the king’s presence. See on Esther 4:11.

10. our commandment is for our subjects] less well marg. the commandment is as well mine as thine. LXX. ‘our commandment is common.’ The sense seems to be that Esther, as queen, is above any such regulation.

13. as an angel of God] a remarkable title to be put in the mouth of one of Jewish birth when addressing a heathen. Hence it is omitted in the Midrash and other later versions of the story. The title is given to king David on three occasions (1 Samuel 29:9; 2 Samuel 14:17; 2 Samuel 14:20; 2 Samuel 19:27).

Chap. Esther 16:1–24. The king’s decree concerning the Jews

In the Greek this chapter follows Esther 8:12. It has been already remarked (ch. 13; introductory note) that there is an obvious contrast between both the phraseology and moral reflections of this decree and the contents of actual State documents of Persian kings which have come down to us.

2. The reference is to Haman, as is more plainly set forth later (v. 12). For the title ‘benefactor’ as applied to those in authority, we may compare Luke 22:25. It may be noted that Ptolemy III of Egypt (b.c. 247–242) obtained the actual cognomen of Euergetes (benefactor) through his restoration of the images of Egyptian gods, carried off by Cambyses to Persia.

3. abundance] lit. satiety. Persons like Haman, the king would say, surfeited with the prosperity that they have attained, actually turn upon the bestowers of it.

4. the boastful words of them that were never good] A.V. ‘the glorious words of lewd (marg. needy) persons that were never good (marg. that never tasted prosperity).[81]’ ‘Glorious,’ unlike the same word in the English of Esther 11:11, is here equivalent to vain-glorious. Cp. for this use, now obsolete, ‘He preferreth the penitent Publican before the proud, holy, and glorious Pharisee,’ in Part I of the Sermon (Homily) on the Misery of Mankind. G* by a change of two letters in the original (ἀπειρόπαθοι for ἀπειράγαθοι) has ‘unused to suffering,’ i.e. suffering forms a preventive against boastfulness.

[81] Thus giving a double translation (‘lewd persons’ and ‘that were never good’) to the same expression in the original Greek. This may have arisen from the accidental retention of both of two renderings which lay before the A.V. translators as alternatives.

5. The king seeks to justify himself for his share in the murderous edict, using, however, somewhat vague and allusive language.

fair speech] persuasiveness.

hath enwrapped them] as though in a garment.

7. ancient histories] such as are referred to in Esther 2:23, Esther 6:1.

what hath been wickedly done of late] The famous inscription on the rock of Behistun, recording events in the reign of Xerxes’ father and predecessor, Darius Hystaspes (b.c. 522–485), tells of the rebellions of Smerdis and of Gomatas. The reference in this verse, however, is doubtless meant to include Haman’s action. The LXX. says, ‘at our feet.’ Cp. the English phrase ‘at our doors.’

9. by changing our purposes] This seems in conflict with the character of ‘the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not’ (Daniel 6:8). But see on Esther 1:19. A conjectural emendation of the Greek text, however, has some support from Josephus (Ant. xi. 6. 12), and would give us the sense not giving heed to (lit. using) calumnies.

For Xerxes’ vacillation of purpose in connexion with his expedition against Greece see Herod. vii. 8 ff.

judging things that come before our eyes with more equal proceeding] discriminating as to matters brought before us in a more equitable way. Cp. Esther 13:2, where the same adjective is rendered ‘with equity.’

10. a Macedonian] See on Esther 3:1.

11. our father] used as a title of respect. Cp. 2 Kings 5:13.

12. went about] a somewhat archaic expression for sought, endeavoured. Cp. Psalm 38:12 (Prayer Book Version), ‘They that went about to do me evil’ (R.V. ‘they that seek my hurt’). So Romans 10:3 (A.V.).

14. he thought … to have translated the kingdom of the Persians to the Macedonians] See on Esther 3:1. It seems, however, as though the position which Haman held already at the Persian court left him little, if anything, to gain from such a risky proceeding. The motives attributed to him in the Canonical Book are much more natural, viz. hostility to Mordecai (Esther 3:5 f.), and desire of pecuniary gain (Esther 3:11, Esther 7:4).

15. most ungracious wretch] lit. thrice wicked one. The same epithet is given to Nicanor, one of the generals under Lysias in the war made upon the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes (2Ma 8:34; 2Ma 15:3).

16. God, who hath ordered etc.] “Darius Hystaspes, the father of Xerxes, was wont to attribute—judging from the inscription over his tomb at Naksh-i-Rastám—all that he had done to the favour of Ormazd” (Speaker’s Comm. ad loc.). This language (cp. Jeremiah 27:6), owing to its monotheistic tone, was easily adapted to Jewish belief. Cp. Daniel 4:34 ff.

18. hanged] impaled.

with all his family] According to the Canonical Book the ten sons were not impaled at the time that this decree was published, but on the fourteenth day of Adar (Esther 9:13 f.), which was the day after they had been slain (v. 12).

19. live after their own laws] Cp. the permission given to Ezra by Xerxes’ son (Ezra 7:25 f.).

21. the chosen people] an improbable expression for a Persian king, however natural in the mouth of a Jew (1 Kings 3:8; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalm 105:6; Isaiah 43:20).

22. high] lit. notable.

24. with fire and sword] lit. as marg. of R.V. with spear and fire.

most hateful to wild beasts and fowls for ever] Cp. the language used in Ezekiel 32:13.

The LXX. proceeds, ‘And let these copies be set forth visibly to men’s eyes in all the kingdom, and that all the Jews should be ready etc.,’ continuing as in Esther 8:13.

Chap. 10:4–13. The fulfilment of Mordecai’s dream

The A.V. follows the Vulgate in placing this section first of the Additions. See Introd. p. xxvii.

4. These things] the history contained in the preceding chapters.

5. the dream] viz. that which is given in chapter 11. (vv. 5–11), the interpretation thus, according to the arrangement of the English (following the Latin Vulgate), preceding that which is interpreted.

River and sun are alike typical of Esther, as being the source of deliverance and life to her people, bringing them ‘light and gladness, and joy and honour’ (Esther 8:16).

7. the two dragons] See Esther 11:6.

8. and the nations] See Esther 11:7.

The less well attested of the two Greek recensions (G*)[82] interprets the individual features of the dream somewhat differently: ‘The little fountain is Esther; and the two dragons are I and Aman. The river is the nations that were assembled to destroy the Jews. The sun and light which appeared to the Jews are a manifestation of God. This was the judgment.’ For the expression ‘manifestation of God,’ as indicating a visible revelation of the Divine presence, see 2Ma 3:24, and cp. 2Ma 14:15; 2Ma 15:27.

[82] For the explanation of this symbol see Introduction, p. xxxi.

10. two lots] See on Esther 3:7. There, however, the reference is to the lots cast by Haman, so as to secure, if possible, a lucky day for the execution of his design. Hence, according to Esther 9:24, the name of the commemorative Feast (Purim). Here the word means the committal to Divine arbitrament of the decision between the people of God and their foes.

11. G*, for ‘day of judgment (κρίσεως) before God,’ has ‘the day of the rule (κυριεύσεως) of the Eternal.’

12. justified] i.e. declared as Judge that their cause was just. The same use of the word is found in Deuteronomy 25:1; Sir 13:22.

13. the fourteenth and fifteenth day] See Esther 9:17-18.

Chap. Esther 11:1. On the historical value of this Appendix and its bearing upon the date of Esther see Introduction § 6.




(1) Its observance

The observance of Purim seems at first to have been of a purely social and convivial character. Gradually the religious side of the festival was introduced, and the reading of Esther in the synagogue prescribed. This regulation is attributed to ‘the Men of the Great Synagogue.[83]’ In some places it is not chanted in the regular manner of the synagogue, but read like a letter (’iggereth, see notes on Esther 9:26; Esther 9:29). It is also customary to open all the roll before reading, so as to give it the appearance of an epistle.

[83] See p. xxiv.

Purim included at least one festive meal, and for it cakes were made of a certain shape, symbolizing the history. In Germany they were called Hamantaschen (Haman-pockets) and Hamanohren (Haman-ears), in Italy orecchi d’Aman. The orthodox Jews of eastern Europe include masquerading among the observances of the season. Boys and girls walk from house to house wearing masks and singing doggerel rhymes.

For further particulars see the Article ‘Purim’ in the Jewish Encyclopaedia, and I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages.

(2) Origin of the name

In chap. Esther 3:7 (‘they cast Pur, that is, the lot’) the writer explains the word Pur (which does not occur outside Esther) as equivalent to the Heb. word gôrâl (גּוֹרָל), lot, meaning ordinarily either (a) the means used for the decision of questions, or for the marking out of persons or things, etc. (e.g. Joshua 18:6; Proverbs 16:33), or (b) that which is so assigned, such as a portion of land (e.g. Numbers 36:3). From the nature of the case pur is presumably a Persian word, and in Esther 9:24-26 the title of the feast is definitely stated to be drawn from Haman’s casting of ‘Pur, that is, the lot,’ to destroy the Jews.

Apart from the apparent unsuitability of giving the festival a name suggested by a mere detail in the story, a difficulty in accepting this meaning of the word Pur (plural Purim) arises from the fact that we know of no word in this or an approximate form in the Persian language which bears the meaning required. It seems, however, as though some such word must have been known to the author of this Book.

Under these circumstances many attempts have been made to solve the problem thus presented. These attempts may be classed under the two following heads.

A. It has been sought to give at least a partial support to the Biblical explanation of the word (a) by connecting it with the Persian pâre, a piece or fragment (perhaps etymologically related to the Latin pars, portio), or (b) by taking it to be a lost Aramaic word pûrâh, פּוּרָה, lot, from פרר, to break in pieces. The latter view is defended by Halévy (Revue des Études Juives, Tom. xv. 1887, Notes et Mélanges, p. 289) on the ground that the idea of ‘lot’ in Semitic languages is closely connected with that of fraction or partition, and hence may here be applied to the partition or distribution of gifts at this feast (Esther 9:19). (c) Dieulafoy (see on Esther 1:2) adduces as a specimen of the method used in casting lots, an object found by him in excavating the Memnonium at Susa, viz. a quadrangular prism bearing different numbers on its four faces. Holding that this may have been used for the purpose of casting lots, he considers the solidity of its form to have given rise to the name through the significance of the Persian pur, full. (d) The word has been connected with the Assyrian puru or buru, a stone, and held to have been used (like the Greek ψῆφος) in the secondary sense of lot (so Jensen, quoted with approval by Wildeboer, in ‘Esther,’ Marti’s Kurzer Hand-Commentar, p. 173).

B. On the other hand many commentators have sought to discover an origin for the Purim festival wholly independent of that assigned to it by Jewish tradition, and therefore also of any word bearing the sense of partition or lot. It will be seen that a feature common to all this class of explanations is that they break completely with the traditional sense.

(a) J. Fürst (Kanon A.T.) and others connect the word Purim with the Persian bahar, ‘spring,’ and so consider it to denote a spring festival existing among the Babylonians and adopted by the Jews at Susa. So also Zunz, who thinks that afterwards, when it had acquired too firm a hold to be abolished, it was given a religious character by means of this Book.

(b) Hitzig (Gesch. Isr.) connects the word with Phur, which means in modern Arabic the New Year. He accordingly makes it a New Year festival, and ascribes to it a Parthian origin, the Book being designed to commend the festival to the Jewish people.

(c) According to von Hammer, whose theory is developed by Lagarde (‘Purim,’ Ein Beitrag zur Gesch. der Religion, 1887), the feast of Purim is a Jewish modification of the old Zoroastrian Farwardigân, or Festival of the Dead, observed at the end of the year. He seeks to connect this Persian name with the various forms under which the name appears in the LXX. texts (φρουραι, φρουραια, φρουριμ). He proceeds to connect with the Heb. word פּוּר by very precarious etymological arguments. Renan (Hist. du peuple Isr.) takes a similar view, the objections to which are stated by Halévy (op. cit.).

(d) Grätz (Monatsschrift, xxx. 10–12) traces the name to the Heb. פּוּרָה (Isaiah 63:3), wine-press, and considers that it answers to the Greek festival named Πιθοιγία, jar-opening, characterised by riotous mirth and the giving of presents. He supposes that it was adopted by the Palestinian Jews in the time of Ptolemy IV (b.c. 222–205) through the Hellenizing influence of Joseph (died b.c. 208), nephew of the high-priest Onias II. Apart, however, from the improbability that a Greek institution adopted by the Jews of that period would survive the antihellenic spirit so strong a generation or two later under the Maccabees, we may notice that the word ‘wine-press’ suggests an autumn rather than a spring celebration, whereas the Greek feast was held early in the year.

(e) Zimmern (Zeitschrift für die Alttest. Wissenschaft, 1891) derives it from an ancient New Year festival, having for one of its names Zagmuku, which was celebrated with much pomp and mirth at Babylon in the earlier part of Nisan (cp. Esther 3:7). It included a function entitled ‘assembly (Assyr. puḥru) of the gods,’ under the presidency of Marduk, the chief Babylonian deity, to settle the fates (lot) of the nation for the coming year. Jensen (see above) supports this view, and identifies the chief characters in the story of Esther with Babylonian or Elamite deities, considering that the Jewish fancy, working amid Persian surroundings, combined elements relating to the conquest of the latter by the former.

(f) Wildeboer (Marti’s Kurzer Hand-Commentar, p. 173) unites with this theory the idea (cp. Lagarde above) of a Festival of the Dead (All Souls’ Day), thus explaining the fastings, as well as feastings and sending of gifts (originating in repasts and offerings for the dead), customary on such occasions in Persia and elsewhere. In this way also he accounts for the omission of the name of God, inasmuch as its introduction in connexion with a semi-heathenish celebration would have excluded the Book from synagogue use.

(g) Lastly, in the Expositor, Aug. 1896, Mr C. H. W. Johns (referring to Peiser, Keilinschriftliche Biblioth. iv. 107) holds the name to be derived from the Assyrian puru, turn of office, turn. He points out that we thus avoid the difficulty of connecting the Heb. name (which is without a guttural) with puḥru (see Zimmern above), where the guttural (strong h) is ineffaceable. He makes the word then to be the common designation of the New Year feast on its secular side, in connexion with the annual accessions to offices.[84]

[84] The above particulars are abridged from the Article ‘Purim’ in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible.

In conclusion, we must remember that, although the question as to the source of the name Purim is of archaeological interest, yet so far as we can trace back the actual observance of the feast on the part of the Jews, it relates simply to the story as it stands in our Canonical Book. Thus the speculations mentioned above do not touch the meaning of the feast as it has been traditionally celebrated by the Jews for very many centuries.



[85] From the root nâgad (נגד NGD), to extend, flow, and thence (in Hiph‘il), to declare.

The element of romance, to which we have referred as in all probability having a share in the production of the Book of Esther, is prominent under the name of Haggâdâ in later Jewish works. The word is applied to those parts of the Rabbinic writings which do not concern themselves with legal enactments and the enumeration and solution of the numerous cases arising out of these[86], but deal largely with ‘the realms of fancy, imagination, feeling, humour.[87]’ The Rabbinic schools of learning, which produced an abundant literature of this sort, extended over many centuries, commencing in pre-Christian times. That literature is of interest, as illustrating speculations which formed the subjects of Jewish thought in the days when Haggâdâ was in course of formation. It often amplified a text or piece of historical tradition, remodelling it in accordance with what were conceived to be the needs of later times. In doing this the writer doubtless felt that he was utilising, not falsifying, history.

[86] This is the province of Halâchâ (הֲלָכָה), from hâlach (הָלַךְ, he walked), meaning the laws according to which a person’s conduct, his walk in life, is to be ruled.

[87] Deutsch, Literary Remains, p. 16.

Among subjects with which Haggâdâ dealt the glories of the Jewish nation naturally were a congenial theme. Details were elaborated, and copious additions made, and in these compositions the Jews doubtless often found real relief from the sufferings belonging to their actual surroundings.[88]

[88] See Schürer, The Jewish People in the time of Christ, Eng. trans. 11. i. 339 ff.



(on chap. Esther 2:1 ff.).

[The following extracts may be of interest, as serving to exhibit the character of the paraphrastic translations of Old Testament Books into Aramaic. These Versions seem to have had their origin in a religious necessity, when the use of the Hebrew language was dying out as the speech of ordinary life. But the Targums on Esther and the other Megilloth (Rolls) are thought, unlike earlier ones, not to have been intended for public use. They were composed after the need for Aramaic translations had passed away, but, inasmuch as these came to be permanently cherished, the later ones were modelled upon them, and thus present us in the main with the same features.[89]]

[89] See further in Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible, Art. Targum.

After these things, when he had recovered and calmed down from his excessive potations, and when the violence of king Ahasuerus’s rage had abated, he began to remember Vashti. His great men answered him and spake thus, Art thou not he that passed sentence upon her, that she should die for what she did? The king said to them, I did not command that she should be put to death, but that she should present herself before me, and when she did not present herself, I commanded that she should be deprived of her queenly rank. They said to him, It is not so, but thou didst pronounce sentence of death upon her at the instance of the seven princes. Forthwith he was violently enraged, and ordered that the seven princes should be hung upon the gibbet. And the king’s young men who ministered to him said, Let there be sought out for the king’s needs young virgins, fair to look upon, and let the king appoint officers in every province of his kingdom, and let them assemble all young virgins that are fair to look upon unto Shushan the palace to the house of the women where there are baths and washing places, and where Hegai, the king’s chief eunuch, custodian of the women, holds office, and let it be decreed that unguents for their anointing be furnished to them, and let the young woman who finds favour in the eyes of the king be raised to the rank of queen in the place of Vashti. And the thing was pleasing in the king’s sight, and he did thus.


(on chap. Esther 1:3 ff.)

In the third year of Ahasuerus’s reign he made a feast for all his great men and ministers who were set over the peoples of Persia and Media, the governors and great men, who were in charge of districts, arrayed in woollen robes, clothed in purple, eating and drinking and making merry before him.

The Scripture does not say that he displayed his riches, but it says, ‘when he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom’ (Esther 1:2), and that means that what he displayed to them was taken from the Holy House; for mortals [lit. flesh and blood] have no riches. All riches come from the Holy One, blessed be He, according as it is written, ‘The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Haggai 2:8). Six treasuries did he shew them daily for one hundred and eighty days, as it is written, ‘the riches of the glory of his kingdom and the honour of the excellence of his majesty’ (Esther 1:4): here we have six descriptive words. But when Israel saw there the vessels of the Holy House, they refused to take their seats at the feast [lit. in his presence]. And it was told the king that the Jews refused to take their seats, because they saw the vessels of the Holy House. And the king said, Then prepare another place for them to sit by themselves. And when these days were ended the king said, Now I will make a feast for the people of my city, and I will bring them to the court of the garden, which is planted with trees bearing fruit and spices. How did he prepare for them? He bent one tree towards another and made arches, and broke away spice-trees and made them into seats, and they strewed in front of them goodly stones and pearls, and placed shady trees. And they drank of vessels of gold and cups of gold, and when one had drunk of a cup, he did not drink of the same a second time, but they took the cup away from him and brought another; and there were wine-coolers there, and the cups did not match one another, since it is written, ‘the vessels being diverse one from another’ (Esther 1:7). But when they brought out the vessels of the Holy House, and the heathen poured wine into them, their lustre was changed, and therefore it is thus written, ‘the vessels being diverse one from another.’ ‘And royal wine old’ (Esther 1:7), i.e. older than the person who drank it.[90] And why (do we say) than the person who drank it? Because, suppose the man was asked, How old art thou? and answered, I am forty years old, then he was given wine to drink forty years old. And in like manner they did for every one. And for this reason it is written, ‘royal wine old’ according to the bounty of the king. ‘And the drinking was according to the law’; no one was injured by it. And why did it injure no one? Because a drinking custom prevailed among the Persians that when they brought them a large cup which held four or five Hemins[91]—the measure was called a Pithka[92]—every one was made to drink it at one draught, and they did not leave him alone till he had drunk it at one draught. And the butler [lit. mixer] who mixed wine for the Persians used to acquire great wealth. And how used he to acquire it? He used to mix wine for the guest, and when he could not drink it, he used to beckon to the butler, saying, Take it away, and thou shalt have some money; because he was not able to drink it. But king Ahasuerus said, These cups shall not be brought for drinking; according as each man desires, he shall drink. Accordingly it is written, ‘And the drinking was according to the law’ (Esther 1:8).

[90] This interpretation is deduced by the Targum from the double sense of the Heb. word רָב which means either great in quantity, abundant (its real sense here), or great in age, old.

[91] ἡμίνα, liquid measure.

[92] Probably the Persian βατιακή, a kind of cup, mentioned by Diphilus, a comic poet, who flourished in the latter part of the 4th cent. b.c. See Meinecke’s Comic Fragments, iv. 414.

Vashti the queen prepared a feast apart for the women, and mixed for them dark-coloured wine, and she seated them in the palace in order to shew them the king’s riches. And they asked her, Where does the king sleep? And she explained to all the women who requested her to do so, that they might know all particulars; and she told them the king’s arrangements, that he ate here and drank there and slept there; and because of this it is written, ‘in the royal house’ (Esther 1:9).


(on chap. Esther 3:8).

[The passage is of interest, as no doubt representing the charges brought against Jews by their Gentile neighbours at the time when the Targum was written.]

And Haman said to king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people of the Jews scattered and dispersed among the peoples of every province of the kingdom; proud and haughty in spirit, collecting melting snows in winter[93], and putting them in summer pitchers[94], and their customs are different from those of every people and their laws from those of every province, and they do not adapt themselves to our laws, and they are not minded to conform to our customs, and they refuse to do service to the king; and when they see us, they spit upon the ground and look upon us as something unclean; and when we go to speak to them and demand of them some service to the king, they climb over walls and break through fences, and disappear into rooms, and make their escape through gaps; and when we run to lay hold of them, they turn round and stand with flashing eyes and gnash with their teeth and stamp with their feet, and they frighten us and we cannot lay hold of them. We do not take wives of their daughters, and they do not take to them wives of our daughters, and any of them who is brought to do work for the king excuses himself on that day, spending it in staring and sauntering about. And on a day when they wish to buy from us they tell us it is a lawful day, but on a day when we wish to buy from them, they close the market against us and tell us that it is an unlawful day. At the first hour of the day they say, We are reciting the Shĕma‘[95]; at the second hour they say, We are occupied by our prayers; at the third they say, We are engaged with our meal; at the fourth they say, We are blessing the God of heaven for having given us food and drink; at the fifth they are going out to walk; and at the sixth they are returning; and at the seventh their wives go to meet them and say, Bring some soup of bruised beans, for ye are wearied by your service of the tyrannical king. One day in the week they keep as a day of rest. They go up to their synagogue and read in their books and expound their prophets and curse our king and utter imprecations against our rulers and say, This is the seventh day on which our great God rested.

[93] lit. of Tebeth, corresponding to the latter part of December and the first part of January. See note on Esther 2:16.

[94] lit. ‘pitchers of Tammuz,’ corresponding to the latter part of June and the first part of July. The above is Jastrow’s rendering (Dict. of the Targumim etc. s.v. חַצְבָּא), but it seems incompatible with ויתיבין. If we do not amend this to ויהיבין, we must explain it as, sitting in bathing vessels.

[95] The title of the passage Deuteronomy 6:4-9, as commencing with the word שמע, Shĕma‘, hear. It was recited twice a day by every adult male Israelite (see Schürer, The Jewish People in the time of Jesus Christ, Eng. trans. 11. ii. 84).

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