And now we begin Esther. This is yet another book deemed fictional,
both in the Catholic and Protestant sections, but with much to teach us in the
story that it tells. The Persian emperor
called Ahasuerus is loosely based on Xerxes, and probably written a century or
two later than that monarch’s rule. It
is a story of maturation into the desire and will to serve God.
For the sake of interfaith dialogue, the
Catholic Bible now distinguishes the Greek-written additions with lettering
while accepting the Protestant numbering of Hebrew-written passages. Some contradictions or revisions resulted,
but most of it supports and elaborates on the original. The Roman Catholic Church sees the Greek
portions as expansions, further insights into the original. This is not actually far from the perspective
of some Jewish sects, which values Talmud over Torah, Torah being the bones of
revelation and Talmud being the living flesh that grows upon its
structure. Distilling something down to
its purest essence is a European perspective.
We will start with Chapter A, written in
Greek, that precedes the Hebrew Chapter 1:
1) In the second year of the reign of
Ahasuerus the great, on the first day of Nisan, Mordecai, son of Jair, son of
Shimei, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin,
had a dream.
COMMENTARY: Those of you into dreams like I am will
appreciate how this story begins with a dream!
There’s a lot of people who believe it their Christian duty to ignore
dreams, yet dreams lace the whole Bible, New and Old Testament alike, and not
just in Deuterocanonical texts. I think
this reflects a post-Renaissance European resistance to anything not material
or quantifiable, and suspicion of anything that smacks of mysticism. But religion itself is primarily mystical; I
believe that this attitude eventually undermined faith itself and paved the way
for the secularism of modern history.
And that, in turn, opened the way to the Age of Conquest. Because people still hungered for mysticism,
though they denied it consciously. They
flooded out of Europe in search of exotic new lands, still mysterious to them,
fascinated by cultures that still treasured concepts of a more-than-material
universe. And even as they fell in love
with these foreign lands, and seized possession of them, once they “owned” them
they felt compelled to suppress in them everything that they felt compelled to
suppress in themselves; they were, in fact, subduing their projected Shadow as
seen reflected in the indigenous people of other lands. At least that is my theory.
As for Mordecai’s lineage (I love that name, Mordecai!), King Saul was a son of
Kish of the Benjaminites. By putting
Mordecai in the same family tree, the storyteller associates him with the one
who defeated Agag in battle—Agag being the patriarch of the Agagites. Mordecai soon must oppose Haman the Agagite.
2) He was a Jew
residing in the city of Susa, a prominent man who served at the king’s court, 3) and one of the captives whom
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had taken from Jerusalem with Jeconiah, king
The Hebrew will repeat this in the second chapter, and tell of Mordecai
receiving an appointment as an official.
Some describe this as a contradiction—how could Mordecai be a prominent
man who serves at court at the outset, and yet later be appointed as a court
official? But I don’t see a conflict. A court has many functionaries who are not
officials, and calling him a prominent man does not necessarily mean that he
was specifically prominent at court—maybe he was prominent in his community, or
simply well-liked around the palace. I’m
a prominent blabbermouth at IASD’s PsiberDreaming Conferences, but I don’t hold
any office in IASD. (For which I am
thankful! I have enough on my plate.)
4) This was his
dream. There was noise and tumult, thunder and earthquake—confusion upon the
earth. 5) Two great dragons advanced,
both poised for combat. They uttered a mighty cry, 6) and at their cry every nation prepared for war, to fight
against the nation of the just. 7) It
was a dark and gloomy day. Tribulation and distress, evil and great confusion,
lay upon the earth. 8) The whole
nation of the just was shaken with fear at the evils to come upon them, and
they expected to perish. 9) Then they cried out to God, and from their crying there
arose, as though from a tiny spring, a mighty river, a flood of water. 10) The light of the sun broke forth; the lowly were exalted
and they devoured the boastful.
COMMENTARY: I love that part about the mighty river
starting out as from a tiny spring! One
could say that Mordecai knew from this dream that two somethings
(villains? Events? Factors?) were about to rock his whole
world. And the dream might suggest that
not just his own life, but the fate of his people also hang in the balance. But he also has assurance that from a
seemingly small source a great flood of rescue shall come and turn the tide in
seen this dream and what God intended to do, Mordecai awoke. He kept it in
mind, and tried in every way, until night, to understand its meaning.
COMMENTARY: A sensible practice. I heartily recommend it! Here we have a) acknowledgement that dreams
can reveal what God intends to do, and b) awareness that important dreams often
take a lot of thought and interpretation of symbols—and are well worth the
effort. He didn’t go out looking for
literal dragons, but for what the dragons might represent.
see the portion that follows as matching information in chapter two, but with a
couple of differences, which many see as conflicts. But being a writer, myself, I see it more as
a prologue or synopsis of material to come.
12) Mordecai lodged
in the courtyard with Bigthan and Teresh, two eunuchs of the king who guarded
COMMENTARY: At last!
A couple of eunuchs not named Bagoas!
Courtiers weren’t only castrated to serve in harems and privy chambers,
for the record. It also seemed like a
good way to make sure that a courtier had no direct heirs and therefore less
motivation to make a play for power. But
as we soon shall see, that doesn’t always work.
overheard them plotting, investigated their plans, and discovered that they
were preparing to assassinate King Ahasuerus. So he informed the king about
COMMENTARY: His dream predisposed him to keep an eye and
ear out for anything that might cause major disruption. Otherwise he might not have paid much heed to
the whispers of fellow servants; plenty of gossip happened in Persian courts of
no great consequence for the greater realm, and eunuchs heard and saw more than
most, being allowed in everywhere that a whole man couldn’t go. Mordecai had no reason, without that dream,
to suspect that they did anything more than snicker over who they found in
whose bed when they came to change the linens.
But this night he paid attention—and caught his two dragons.
for informing the King, in the other version he has Esther inform the
King. Some see this as a
discrepancy. But if one takes Chapter A
as a prologue, the message still comes from Mordecai, the later chapter merely
filling in the details as to how the message went from Mordecai to Ahasuerus.
king had the two eunuchs questioned and, upon their confession, put to death.
COMMENTARY: They would have been questioned
separately. They had two possible
strategies to get out of this. To claim
innocence and ignorance, or to indict the other, while claiming to have protested
the plot, before the other indicted him.
The former would be the best strategy if they could rely on each other—and
if no further evidence surfaced to indicate any plot. But if one of them indicted the other, and
that other claimed innocence, then the first would go free and not have to fear
any evidence surfacing. If both threw
each other under the bus, however, they’d both look guilty, and that could be
taken as confessing for each other. (Most
people, statistically, will gamble on other people doing the wrong thing and so
they will take measures to protect themselves, even if those measures are
themselves risky or damaging.) Yet had
they both really been innocent, they’d have no fear of evidence surfacing
against them, and would not only each protest their innocence without damaging
the other, but their stories would match.
the king had these things recorded; Mordecai, too, put them into writing.
COMMENTARY: Smart move on Mordecai’s part, to keep a
record of everything. It also shows an
advantage that the Jews had even in exile.
Notice that the king has somebody else record the outcome; he wasn’t
necessarily literate, himself, but had scribes to make the records for
him. This gave scribes a lot of
power! But as I’ve mentioned before,
Jews stood out in the ancient world by maintaining universal male literacy as a
ritual requirement for adulthood.
king also appointed Mordecai to serve at the court, and rewarded him for his
COMMENTARY: Well, that was the eventual outcome,
anyway. If this is indeed a prologue/synopsis,
one should not take it as happening before the later verses.
however, son of Hammedatha, a Bougean, who was
held in high honor by the king, sought to harm Mordecai and his people because
of the two eunuchs of the king.
Nobody’s really sure, these days, as to what a Bougean is. The story later calls Haman an Agagite, so
some speculate that Bougean is synonymous with Agagite, though on what basis I
can hardly see. Footnotes propose that
maybe Bougean is a garbled attempt to translate Agagite from Hebrew into Greek,
but that’s a whole lot of garbling, if you ask me!