Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why is Greek Esther frummer than the Esther we know?

Background:

The LXX version of Esther is much longer than the one we know, and read on Purim. [What is the LXX, and where did it come from?] It contains 6 extra chapters, and more than 100 additional verses. These additions contain the following extra information:

Additions

A:   The beginning of the story. It tells about a dream of Mordecai which foreshadows Haman's plot, and about his discovery of a plan to assassinate the king. After Mordecai reports this to the King, he is rewarded with a position in the Court. It is this appointment that spurs Haman's anger.

B:   The exact wording of Haman's edict regarding the destruction of the Jews

C:   A prayer of Mordecai, in which he asks God to save the Jews from Haman and a similar prayer of Esther in which she says specifically that she never eaten from the non-kosher tables and that she abhors the king's bed. She also mentions the Temple.

D:  A longer and more dramatic description of Esther's entry into the King's throne room, in which she compares the King to an angel of God, and specifically asks God for His help.

E:   The exact wording of the King's edict on behalf of the Jews. Oddly, he tells Gentiles to celebrate Purim, too.

F:   An interpretation of Mordecai's dream (this makes the link between the Esther and Joseph stories more explicit)

The royal edicts are thought to have originally been written in Greek, but the other additions are considered to have a Hebrew Vorlage.

Additionally, there are many minor difference in the text. For instance:

1:10-22 The kings servants, and close advisors have different names; Vashti is called both to display her beauty and to be officially coronated "in order to proclaim her as Queen."

2: 1 -12 In the Greek, the king no longer remembers Vashti, or is concerned about her. Esther's Hebrew name is not given, and her father is Aminadav, not Avichayil.

2:7 In some translations of the Greek, Esther is said to be Mordecai's wife. Moore suggests the LXX translator read bt as BAYIT rather than as BAT

2:14 The MT suggests that the Queen was selected based on sexual prowess alone (the audition is one night with the king) In the LXX the candidate goes to the king in the afternoon, not the evening, and returns at some indistinct point during the next day suggesting there was time for conversation. (Day)

2-20 We're told that Esther didn't change "her mode of life" while in the palace and that Mordecai expressly instructed her to "fear God and keep his laws" This does not appear in the Hebrew.

3:1 At his first mention, Haman is identified as a Bougean, not an Aggagite

4:1 We're told the contents of Mordecai's long and bitter cry "An innocent nation is being destroyed."

4:8 Mordecai tells Esther to speak to the King, and also to pray to God.

6:1 In the MT, the King is simply unable to sleep; in the LXX we're told that the Lord kept him awake.

6:13 Zeresh tells Haman that he can't win because the "living God" is with Mordecai

8:17 The Heb says many of the gentiles became Jews; in the Greek they also circumcise themselves.

9:16 In the LXX the Jews kill 15000 people; in the MT the number is 75000.

Observations:
  • Greek Esther (the character)  is frummer. There are no two ways about this. She and Mordecai pray and demonstrate knowledge and observance of ritual law. In the Hebrew, Esther's religious observations are not mentioned and she seems like a Jew by ethnicity, not practice. Esther even mentions a distaste for intermarriage that we recognize as a prominent concern of Ezra's.
  • Greek Esther(the book)  is also frummer. God's presence is explicit, with His name mentioned more than 50 times. In the Greek, we're told specifically that God planned Esther's ascension, and that he kept the King awake; in the Hebrew all of this is only implied. Instead of suggesting that the victory of Purim was random, without God's direct and obvious involvement, the Greek makes it clear that God rescued his people.
The scholarly suggestion is that second temple Jews added some of the material discussed above for the purpose of making the Megilla seem more biblical.

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