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March 02, 2007

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SweetJen

Interesting way of looking at the Esther story; I'd never considered it this way before.

That said...wasn't Mordechai Esther's uncle?

Ron Pass

Excuse me for nit picking but according to my Bible, Esther 2:15, Mordecai was Esther's uncle, not husband. "Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter,...."

Thanx. Keep up the good work for what you do is a great work in this culture.

God bless,

Ron

Katie Gillet

You know, it sounds like a fun holiday! I kind of wish the church hadn't abandoned the Old Testament fessts and such, as it would be a little bit odd for an Orthodox Presbyterian family to celebrate a Jewish holiday just because it sounds fun....

Batya

SweetJen and Ron, thank you for mentioning this point. Esther and Mordechai were married according to the Talmud (the Jewish oral tradition - see wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talmud.) Mordechai took Esther in as his ward when she was orphaned and he committed to marry her when she would come of age.

This raises the question of why their relationship wasn't mentioned more explicitly in the Book of Esther. Mordechai and Esther had to keep their relationship secret, lest Mordechai incur the jealousy of King Ahashvaroush who had stolen Esther to be his Queen.

The word "Esther" signifies "hidden" in biblical Hebrew. The book of Esther is also the Book of Hiddenness, so it is no surprise that there are hidden meanings deep in the text.

k.

Ron, I'll admit I havn't picked up my bible to double check, but to me it sounds like they were cousins. If Esther was Abihail's daughter, AND Abihail was Mordecai's Uncle, then wouldn't Esther & Mordecai be cousins...?

"Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter,...."

Sounds like an interesting holiday. I agree, it does sound really strange... that said, I shall wiki it.

wendy

The Book of Esther says, "And he adopted Hadassah [Esther]...and when her mother and father died, Mordechai took her to him as a daughter." (Esther 2)

The redundancy of the phrase "adopted Hadassah," and "took her to him as a daughter" are clues that something else is happening; also, "took her to him" is used in the Torah to refer to marriage.

Biblical scholars explain that the phrase "sister" and "daughter" are common expressions of endearment (Ruth 2:8, Song of Songs 4:9) part of the idea that one should love one's spouse as "naturally" as with a child or sibling.

So there is support in the verse itself for the oral tradition that says Mordechai was Esther's husband.

Thanks for the great blog, Batya--and Happy Purim everyone!

Sally

Very interesting point, I just saw the movie One Night With the King. It doesn't stick completely with the original story, but it is a very close rendition.

PS-Terms like "gentle readers" sound a bit awkward.

I always liked "gentle readers," because it reminds me of Miss Manners. Didn't see "One Night With the King," or even know it was around. I will have to see it.

Eve

"Gentle readers" reminds me of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in which the last chapter begins with a sudden surprising address to the reader: "Reader, I married him" Bronte writes. Using the word "reader" creates a certain shy trust between writer and reader.

Walt

I guess I'm somewhat confused as to how Mordecai and Esther could have been "secretly" married — not to mention what kind of marriage it must have been if Esther was still a virgin and eligible to be brought before the king in the first place. (Esther 2:2-3)

Eve

The Talmud says that the King liked Esther so much that he either didn't investigate or care about her virgin status. She was supposed to have had an ineffable grace.

The actual story of Purim, the Book of Esther, (the text that we have, which our sages tell us that Mordechai wrote) is simultaneously tragic and triumphant because Esther had to become the wife of a (at best) ridiculous man and (at worst) wicked king, in order to save the Jewish people from destruction. If Esther is secretly married to Mordechai then the story is even more painful. So the Book of Esther seems to support individual sacrifice in times of crisis when serving a larger purpose. The Book of Esther favors the life of the community over the personal happiness of one or two people.

Kriegerwulff

The book of Esther isn't canonical, and is merely a court intrigue. Early Christians didn't accept it as Canonical, the jewish Council of Jamnia of 90AD questioned its authenticity, and the 'history' provided in Esther contradicts every other historical source for that time and place. (for example, the idea of searching for a queen amongst the commoners and not the social elite is diametrically opposed to every history and common sense)

The Talmudic reason for it being canonical is contained in the words "put on her royalty" which the sages argued meant "putting on the holy spirit"...pathetic as best.

Do you not find it interesting that the whole book of Esther never mentioned God once...not even thanking him for 'saving the jewish people.'

wendy

Yes, that is actually the whole point of the book of Esther and the holiday of Purim: to see the hand of God that is hidden in our daily lives. There are actually many references to God within the megillah, but you have to know how to find them.

Anon Frummie

Just because something is part of the oral tradition doesn't make it less true. There are many reasons various religious documents do not contain the whole story and the Book of Esther is only one example. Anti-semitism and things being taken out of context or not being understood properly are just a few reasons. Personally, I think it is harder to understand the Bible without the Talmud because then you have to wonder why God would say keep the Sabbath as I've commanded, and you'll be punished by death if you don't keep it, but fail to provide the details?! There are many mysteries in the text, and our oral tradition is that detail. Half of my family is Christian so I can see why if you're Christian you might not want to accept that, but it is hardly "pathetic" that the Jews do. I think you have to read Hebrew and be able to study the Talmud in depth before you can judge it.

Eve

Batya's blog highlights the "hidden-ness" of the book of Esther and, as Wendy wrote, that is the point of the megillah. In fact, "Esther" means "hidden" in Hebrew. The whole book values modesty, hidden-ness, a holding back during certain moments. Yet, the presence of God is everywhere. The book challenges the spiritual and learned person to notice these moments. The book suggests that in times of great crisis it's a challenge to discern even flickers of the divine. At the same time, there is at least one overt reference to God when Mordechai refers to a higher power when he says to Esther, "Who knows? Perhaps you were made Queen for the purpose of saving the Jews. Do not think that you will be spared if you don't take advantage of this position you were put in. Help for the Jews will come from elsewhere, and then you will not survive."

Esther calling for a fast is another hint of her and Mordechai's connection to the divine.

Elin

I was going to quote the same verse (Esther 4:14) as evidence of the presence of God in (or behind) the text of the book of Esther, but I see Eve beat me to it!

As for the canonicity of Esther for Christians: the Church has generally accepted as canonical (for the Hebrew Scriptures) whatever was accepted as canonical by the Jewish community. So if Esther was considered canonical by the Jews, it would have been accepted as canonical by the Christians. Certainly by the time of Irenaeus and Tertullian (second century C.E.)all the Hebrew Scriptures, including Esther, were considered canonical by the Church. The major discrepancy in the canon is not over the book of Esther itself, but over which version of Esther was considered canonical - the Hebrew version or the Greek version of the Septuagint. The Greek version was generally accepted in the early church (because the Septuagint was what was used by Jews throughout the Diaspora) and still is by the Roman Catholics, despite St. Jerome's opinion that only the original Hebrew was to be considered canonical. The Protestant Churches follow St. Jerome. Either way, the Book of Esther is very much a part of Christian Scripture.

The idea that Esther was the wife of Mordecai was new to me, however, as that's in the Talmud and not in the text itself. As many have mentioned, it gives an extra dimension of poignancy to the text.

What's interesting is how, as Batya points out, there is so much hiddenness and modesty in the megillah, and Purim is such an over-the-top outburst of a holiday. Could it be that the former creates the possibility of the latter? It seems counter-intuitive - but then that's the whole essence of the story, and of the feast itself.

Happy (Belated) Purim to all the Jewish readers & contributors! (I know it's late, but I just finished preparing a Purim gift basket for a friend who's getting back from Israel tomorrow night, so I'm still feeling the spirit of it!)

Peace,
Elin

Rahel

Re: Esther being Mordecai's wife.
Before dismissing the idea outright, one needs to remember that Hebrew has no vowels.
This means that the original Biblical text consists of consonants only, and the vowels were added much, much later.
In Hebrew, the word for daughter, (bat) and house, )beit) consist of the same consonants. The vowel points make all the difference. It should also be noted that House is a euphamism for a wife. So, instead of Bat, read Beit. This is how the oral tradition comes up with the idea of Esther being Mordecai's wife. Christians should remember that the vowels they depend on in order to create the translations for their scriptures depend directly on Jewish tradition, and that that same tradition holds that, because the vowels are of much later origin, they aren't considered part of the text and so can be interchanged. I hope this helps.

Ranee Mueller

And actually the Greek text does explicitly make reference to God, and that is the text used by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.

wendy

Elin and Ranee: I did not know this about the Greek text. This conversation has been most enlightening for me. Thanks for the belated Purim wishes!

kriegerwulff

Re: canonicity

The first Christian canon was given by Melito of Sardis, as contained with Eusebius...it lacks Esther. Athanasius specifically excludes Esther from the canon.
You mention "that which the Jews accepted, the early church accepted"...this is not entirely accurate. For, as I mentioned, Esther's canonicity was directly questioned by the rabbis, some even deciding that it was not canonical, in the Council of Jamnia in 90AD. Further, Origen argues a great deal regarding the canonicity of the Book of Susanna...which the Jews had thrown *out* of the canon because it made them look bad. (Fascinating story, y"all should read it, it used to be apart of the Book of Daniel, and the Daniel spoken of who rescued Susanna is the same Daniel of the lion's den) And indeed, the Book of Susanna is now accepted by the Eastern Church and the Roman church.

"The Protestant Churches follow St. Jerome."

I have no idea where you got that...as Jerome was the translator of the Latin Vulgate, which was rejected by Protestants and formally accepted by the Roman Church in the Council of Trent.

There are two parts to Esther...that which was written in Hebrew and that which was written in Greek; the former being older than the LXX and the latter originating with the LXX. The Greek portion, the apocryphal portion according to Protestants, not only contradicts the Hebrew portion (go look...why does the added Greek parts say Mordicai was in the King's court?) but doesn't include the entire story...it is therefore quite literally an addition. It is only within this addition that you have the direct references to God, and giving him thanks for the protection he provided.

Eve

Regarding kriegerwulf's reference to the rabbi’s debate at the Council of Yavne (or Jamnia):

It is not at all clear that the Yavne rabbis in 90 CE were dealing with canonical concerns. See Sidney Z. Leiman’s book on the subject. Leiman and other modern scholars and rabbis have shown that there is hardly any evidence upholding the opinion that debates about what belongs in “the Jewish canon” took place in Yavne. Several important decisions were made at Yavne, but no one has proven that books were actually “canonized” there.

There is a gemorah (a section in the Talmud) where the rabbis debate the status of The Book of Esther. Perhaps that is what kreigerwulf was referring to? But again, the debate (which can be found in Megillah 7A) is not about canonization; rather, it is about the Book of Esther's level of holiness, which is another subject entirely.

Batya's initial point about divine modesty is even stronger in light of this discussion. There is a certain modesty about a holy book that is ambivalent about being put up on a pedestal.

FWBBC BABY

Mordecai was Esters uncle and nothing more

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