Journey Through the Deuteroncanonicals: Esther (Greek)

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Introduction

This is part of a series I am writing on my first reading of the Deuterocanonical books of the Bible. As I said in the initial post, Catholic Bible includes those books and writings that are usually removed in Protestant Bibles (helpful comparison chart), and I figured it was about time to start reading them. I am recording my initial thoughts here (you can follow along at Apocrypha.org if you do not have your own copy).

This is the first section of the Deuterocanonicals that consists of “additions.” Specifically – the Greek portions of the book of Esther. Because Protestants accept only the Hebrew material, their book of Esther ends at 10:3 (Yes, a three-verse chapter in a book consisting of, on average, 20 verse chapters. Odd!) The Catholic canon includes slightly over 100 verses across 6 more chapters (plus the material in chapter 10).

The story of Esther is a familiar one to many. While Israel was in exile in Babylon, it was conquered by Persia (Dan. 5), and this signals the beginning of the end of the exile. Some Jews returned to Israel, but others remained. after captivity. One of these who remained behind, Esther, marries king Ahasuerus and becomes queen of Persia. When Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, refuses to bow down to one of Ahasuerus’s officials by the name of Haman, Haman retaliates by planning to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. Mordecai finds out about this and tells Esther she needs to do something about it. Like many biblical heroes of the female gender, Esther is not only beautiful but very smart and she talks Ahasuerus into ending the plot – which he does by killing Haman on the very gallows which he had built to kill Jews! The jews are also given the right to kill their enemies (which they do), they institute the festival of Purim in remembrance of this event, and Mordecai gets elevated to second in command of the kingdom.

For Catholics, Esther’s story continues and is expanded. In response to these blessings . . .

 Outline and Summary

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10. Mordecai Rejoices and Recounts his Prophetic Dream.
11. Mordecai’s Dream of Two Dragons.
12. Mordecai Stops Plot against Artaxerxes*
13. Artaxerxes’s Letter and Mordecai’s Prayer
14. Esther’s Prayer
15. Esther Approaches the King
16. Artaxerxes’s Reversal Letter

*In the Greek the king’s name is “Artaxerxes”, which is supposed to be what “Ahasuerus” is called – and which makes contextual sense. However, I have seen a lot of debate as to whether this is Ahasuerus or his son. I think nearly all the kings of this era had the same name, so it’s very confusing. Many think Ahasuerus/Artaxerxes is the king historically known as Xerxes I. 

NOTE ON CONTENT ORDER: When Jerome translated Esther, he lumped the Greek sections together at the end with explanatory notes indicating where they should be placed in the Hebrew text. These notes were later removed and the Greek portion numbered in consecutive order right after the Hebrew material. Thus, the end of chapter 10 is chronologically the end of the book, with chapter 11 looking back at what Mordecai is talking about in chapter 10. So chapters 11-16 actually take place (chronologically) before 10 (in fact 11:212:6 takes place before the rest of the book). So, if you want to read it as it was originally written it would be:

11:212:6 . . . 1:1-3:13 . . . 13:1-7 . . . 3:14-4:17 . . . 13:8-14:19 . . .5:1 – 5:2 . . .
15:1-16 . . .
5:3-8:12 . . . 16:1-24 . . . 8:13-10:3 . . . 10:4-11:1

Chapter 11 recounts Mordecai’s apocalyptic Day-of-the-Lord kind of dream he had which turned out to be a prophetic picture of the story of Esther. In chapter 12 Mordecai overhears a plot to assassinate the king (cf. which is related in 2:21-23 and alluded to in 6:2.)  He stops the plot and is given a high place in the king’s court – which makes a certain Haman jealous. Chapter 13 is Artaxerxes’s letter concerning the Jews – his proclamation that they shall be killed by their enemies so that “those who have long been and are now hostile may in one day go down in violence to Hades, and leave our government completely secure and untroubled hereafter” (Esth. 13:7). Mordecai asks God’s favor to avoid this – the result of his not bowing down to Haman, saying, “I would have been willing to kiss the soles of his feet, to save Israel! But I did this, that I might not set the glory of man above the glory of God (Esth. 13:13-14).

Upon hearing the news, Esther prays as well (chapter 14) – specifically entreating God to not allow the idols of Persia to appear to win over the people of the true God: “O Lord, do not surrender thy scepter to what has no being; and do not let them mock at our downfall; but turn their plan against themselves, and make an example of the man who began this against us” (Esth. 14:11). In chapter 15, Esther gets all dolled up to go see the king, but faints at his terrible countenance (cf. 5:1-2). God changes the king’s heart toward her, though, and in chapter 16 the king reverses his previous decree against the Jews with another letter explaining Haman’s treachery – he not only sought to kill Mordecai, but to leave Persia defenseless against his people (the Macedonians – 16:14). The letter and book finish with the allowance of the Jews to kill their enemies, celebrate their Purim festival (on the very day they were plotted for destruction!) – and promises dire consequences to anyone who does not obey his decree.

Content Comments

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For those familiar with only the Hebrew material of the story, the Greek portions may read like the deleted scenes from a “director’s cut” (they’re even placed a t the end like on a DVD!).Given that nearly all of the Greek portions of Esther are enhancements to the overall story, I can really only say that they seem very helpful in rounding out the story, providing additional details, and restoring Esther’s place in the Bible as being a book directly about God’s work in history.

Following many of the standard higher-critical dating methods, it is often thought that the Hebrew Esther was translated into Greek around 100 B.C. Similarly, several “discrepancies” between the Greek and the Hebrew material are said to be evidence that the Greek portions were added to clarify or enhance the message of the Hebrew version but ought not be considered Scripture. These, however, are much less troubling than many of the discrepancies asserted by skeptics within the Protestant canon. For example, the attitude of Esther toward the king in 2:15-18 is said to be incompatible with her description in 14:15-16, but the former says very little about her attitude, and can be harmonized easily with the latter. The edict of 1:19 / 8:8 is said to be irrevocable, but is revoked in 16:17 – but of course, it was revoked in both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the story. Haman is said to be “hanged” on the gallows in 7:10, but “crucified” in 16:18 – this is not how the NRSV or the KJV have it (both say “hanged). It is argued that the Jews only were to keep Purim in 9:20-32, but the Persians were included in 16:22 – but the text nowhere says “the Jews only” and in fact 9:27 specifically includes the Jews, their descendents, and “all who join them.”

Conclusion

The Greek additions to the Hebrew Esther are valuable in helping to fill out the story with additional details. The spirit of Esther is strengthened by these detailed letters, dreams, and prayers, which are not found in the Hebrew. Further, this material’s inclusion in the Catholic Bible also resolves one of the odd features of the Protestant version – Esther is no longer the only book in the Bible to not mention God! In fact, the very first verse of the additions (10:4) says, “And Mordecai said, “These things have come from God.”

May we all aspire to Esther’s faith and Mordecai’s fortitude.

“I will not bow down to any one but to thee, who art my Lord.” (Esth. 13:14)

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One thought on “Journey Through the Deuteroncanonicals: Esther (Greek)

  1. I actually prefer the Greek Esther. If you were a Christian in the first century onward, before people decided to remove the text and go with the Hebrew version, you likely would have heard read the Greek version of Esther. If you were a Christian during those times, and you could both read and had access to a Greek Bible, the Greek version of Esther is what you would have read (unless you also could read Hebrew and had access to an Esther scroll).

    Whenever I read through the Bible I always read the Deuterocanonicals before going on from the Old Testament to the New Testament. There is much in the Deuterocanonicals that relates to the New Testament. Many of Jesus’ teachings have parallels with elements of them and are more clarified and/or solidified after reading the Deuterocanonicals. One example can be seen in Tobit 4:15: “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.” This, of course, parallels with Jesus’ teaching at Matthew 7:12: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.”

    Be careful, though. Many translators either are careless with them or make the translations say what they think they should say rather than what some of the texts actually do say. Sometimes it isn’t their fault as the original translator of the Greek to Latin (which became the Vulgate) turned one reference into an explicit reference to creatio ex nihilo when it wasn’t intended to be taken that way (and would not have been in the mind of the woman instructing her sons in 2 Maccabees 7:28, which you will come to later on during your reading; compare Wisdom 11:17). The more recent Nova Vulgata text moves away from that explicit reference, which is most fortunate even if many years too late.

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