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An Introduction to the Apocrypha-Part Eight


by Jared L. Olar

In a previous installment of our study of the Apocrypha, we explored the story of Judith, a fictional Jewish heroine said to have saved the Jews from the threat of extinction at the hands of Gentile invaders. In many ways, the character and deeds of Judith resemble those of Queen Esther, which the Jews commemorate every February or March on the Feast of Purim. Both Judith and Esther are Jewish heroines who save their people from threatened destruction at the hands of Gentiles. Fittingly, the Book of Esther immediately follows the Book of Judith in the ancient Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. The Septuagint's literary coupling of Judith and Esther is even reflected in a letter that St. Clement I, third bishop of Rome, wrote to the Corinthian church around 95 A.D. 1

The Greek Additions to Esther:

Although the Book of Esther was written originally in Hebrew, it has come down to us in two basic versions: the original, shorter version in Hebrew, and a later, expanded version in Greek. The original Hebrew version is found in Protestant and Jewish translations of the Old Testament, while Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include the longer, Greek form of the book. The Greek version contains six chapters (a total of 107 verses) that do not appear in the original Hebrew version. Some of these additions seem to show signs of having been written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic and translated into Greek, but most of them were written originally in Greek.

The name of Greek Esther's translator, along with the general time the book was translated, is indicated in the very last verse of the book:

``In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemy and Cleopatra [i.e., 78-77 B.C.], Dositheus, who said he was a priest and Levite, and his son Ptolemy brought the present Letter of Purim [to Egypt], saying that it was genuine and that Ptolemy's son Lysimachus, of the community of Jerusalem, had translated it.''

Lysimachus may well have been not only the man who translated Esther into Greek, but also the one who interpolated the six extra chapters.

When St. Jerome prepared the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible in the late 300s A.D., he favored the original Hebrew form of Esther over the Greek version. 2 For his version of Esther, St. Jerome excised the additional Greek verses and moved them to an appendix at the end of the book. To indicate where those verses appeared in the Greek version, he assigned the six chapters an identifying letter, from A to F, and used those letters as cross-references in the body of the story. Modern English translations of the Greek Esther, such as that in the New American Bible, restore the additions to their proper places, so that the book has the following (somewhat confusing) chapter divisions:




Chapter A:1-17

Mordecai's dream; discovery of a plot against Ahasuerus.

Chapter 1:1-22

Banquet of Ahasuerus; removal of Queen Vashti.

Chapter 2:1-23

Esther becomes queen.

Chapter 3:1-13

Mordecai offends Haman, who then plots the Jews' extermination.

Chapter B:1-7

Ahasuerus' letter authorising extermination of the Jews.

Chapter 3:14-15


Chapter 4:1-16

Mordecai asks Esther for help.

Chapter C:1-30

Prayers of Mordecai and Esther.

Chapter D:1-16

Esther appears before Ahasuerus.

Chapter 5:1-14

Esther's first banquet.

Chapter 6:1-14

Mordecai rewarded by Ahasuerus.

Chapter 7:1-10

Esther's second banquet; Haman is executed.

Chapter 8:1-12

Mordecai elevated; Ahasuerus decrees that the Jews


can defend themselves.

Chapter E:1-24

Ahasuerus' letter authorising Jewish self-defense.

Chapter 8:13-17


Chapter 9:1-32

Victory of the Jews; institution of the Feast of Purim.

Chapter 10:1-3


Chapter F:1-10

Mordecai's dream fulfilled.

Comparison of Hebrew Esther to Greek Esther:

Although the six added chapters are the main difference between the Hebrew and Greek versions of Esther, there are several other noteworthy differences. One way they differ is in the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew text's proper names. In most cases, the transliterations of the original Hebrew are recognisable: ``Astin'' for Vashti, ``Mardochaeus'' for Mordecai, ``Aman'' for Haman, etc. However, the Hebrew version says Esther was the daughter of Mordecai's uncle Abihail, a name which appears as ``Aminadab'' in the Greek.

Also, the Persian king who is called Ahasuerus (Achashverosh) in Hebrew is called ``Artaxerxes'' in Greek. Consequently, the Jewish historian Josephus placed the events of Esther during the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus (464-432 B.C.). In fact, Hebrew Achashverosh is now known to be the same as Persian Khshayarsha, which became ``Xerxes'' in Greek (cf. Ezra 4:6), while ``Artaxerxes'' is Artachshashta in Hebrew and Artakhshathra in Persian. Consequently, the events of Hebrew Esther are placed in the reign of Xerxes I (485-464 B.C.), while the events of Greek Esther are placed in the reign of Xerxes' son and successor Artaxerxes I.

Xerxes I is said by Herodotus to have had a wife named Amestris (cf. Vashti and Esther), while a palace official named ``Marduka'' (cf. Mordecai) is known to have served at the court of Xerxes. No such historical correlations are known during the time of Artaxerxes I. Those facts, with the equation of the names Ahasuerus and Xerxes, indicate that the original author of Esther intended to relate events (whether real or fictional) of the reign of Xerxes I rather than the reign of his son.

Another peculiar Greek transliteration of the original Hebrew's proper names alters the ethnicity of the villain Haman. In the Hebrew version, Haman is an Agagite (ch. 3:1)-i.e., a descendant of Agag, King of the Amalekites, an Edomite tribe particularly known for general cruelty and deep hostility to Israel (Gen. 36:12; Ex. 17:8-16; Num. 24:20; Deut. 25:17-19). In I Sam. 15:1-33 we read that King Saul, son of Kish the Benjamite, refused to completely exterminate the Amalekites as God had commanded him. It is certainly no coincidence that Haman the Agagite comes to a fitting end through Esther and Mordecai, descendants of a Benjamite named Kish who was carried into captivity with King Jeconiah of Judah in 598-597 B.C. (ch. 2:5-7) Thus, through the death of Haman, Esther and Mordecai completed a task that their ancestral uncle King Saul had failed to accomplish.

However, in the Greek version this hereditary conflict between the families of Agag and Kish is obscured in two different ways. First, ``Agagite'' is rendered in Greek as ``Bugaean'' (ch. A:17), which seems to be merely a clumsy transliteration. However, further on in Greek Esther, King Artaxerxes says that Haman was ``a Macedonian, certainly not of Persian blood,'' who had plotted ``to transfer the rule of the Persians to the Macedonians'' (ch. E:10, 14). This is a historical anachronism, for Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, didn't threaten the Persian Empire until the 330s B.C., well over a century after the reign of Artaxerxes I. Thus, the author of the additions to Esther credited God and the Jews with delaying the overthrow of the Persian Empire by Macedonia. 3

A More ``Religious'' Esther:

The abovementioned differences are all relatively minor compared to the chief difference between the Hebrew and Greek versions of Esther. The Hebrew version never mentions or names God, nor do we ever see or hear Esther and Mordecai pray. The only direct reference to religion in Hebrew Esther is found in ch. 4:16, where a three-day fast is mentioned. Two verses before, ch. 4:14, we find an indirect allusion to God, the only one in the whole book.

The story's apparent irreligion troubled many Jews, and some rabbis wanted to exclude Esther from their biblical canon for that very reason. It is therefore probably not a coincidence that almost every one of the six additional chapters found in Greek Esther make direct reference to God, and often mention important aspects of Israel's religion, such as prayer, visions, or the Temple. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a Jewish writer-perhaps Lysimachus of Jerusalem, as we saw above-added those six chapters to produce a rewritten Esther that would not be subject to the criticism of being irreligious. 4

Thus, from the very beginning, the Greek Esther unabashedly appeals to the supernatural and the divine: ``In the second year of the reign of the great King Artaxerxes, on the first day of Nisan, Mordecai . . . had a dream . . . . Having seen this dream and what God intended to do, Mordecai awoke'' (ch. A:1, 11). In chapter C, Mordecai and Esther pray to the ``Lord God, Almighty King, . . . my Lord, our King'' (ch. C:2, 14), asking Him to save His Chosen People Israel. In particular, Esther states that she has done everything she could to maintain her religion in purity despite being the wife of a pagan king (ch. C:26-29). After Artaxerxes learns the truth of Haman's machinations against the Jews, he practically renounces his pagan religion, proclaiming that the Jews ``are not evildoers, but rather are governed by very just laws and are the children of the Most High, the living God of majesty, who has maintained the kingdom in a flourishing condition for us and for our forebears'' (ch. E:15-16). Finally, in an epilogue Mordecai realises that his vision had been fulfilled: ``This is the work of God. I recall the dream I had about these very things, and not a single detail has been left unfulfilled'' (ch. F:1-2).

While it is true that the six additional chapters contribute an explicit religiosity to the story that is lacking in the original version, it is also true that, literarily speaking, they generally destroy the original version's masterful use of subtlety, indirection, and foreshadowing. The additions flesh out in detail many things that were left to the reader's imagination, answering many questions left unanswered in the original version-What did the decrees of Haman and Mordecai actually say? Did Esther give up her religion completely when she became queen? In one instance, the added details in the episode of Esther's unbidden appearance before Ahasuerus/Artaxerxes change the king's character from an aloof, serene, majestic monarch to an affectionate, genuinely worried husband (See ch. D:1-16, and cf. 5:1-5).

The original Hebrew version of Esther apparently recounts actual historical events of the reign of Xerxes I, although some believe it is only a Jewish religious novel containing elements of authentic history. In contrast, Greek Esther can be nothing more than a historical novel. Still, while the additional chapters alter the story in many ways and lessen its historicity, it should be remembered that in content they contain nothing that conflicts doctrinally with the rest of the Bible. In essence both versions relate the same plot involving the same characters. Both affirm God's abiding love for and constant protection of His People Israel, and His faithfulness in executing just punishments on evildoers-and that is something worth celebrating at any time of the year, not just on Purim.


1See also part four of this series. Here is the complete passage from St. Clement's letter: ``We know how many among ourselves have given up themselves unto bonds, that thereby they might free others from them. Others have sold themselves into bondage, that they might feed their brethren with the price of themselves. And even many women, being strengthened by the grace of God, have done many glorious and manly things on such occasions. The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, desired the elders that they would allow her to go into the camp of their enemies; and she went out, exposing herself to danger for the love she bore for her country and her people who were besieged-and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman. Nor did Esther, being perfect in faith, expose herself to any less hazard, for the delivery of the twelve tribes of Israel, in danger of being destroyed. For by fasting and humbling herself, she entreated the Great Maker of all things, the God of spirits, so that, beholding the humility of her soul, He delivered the people for whose sake she was in peril.'' Notice that St. Clement not only refers to the story of Judith, but follows it immediately with the story of Esther. That is the same order that Judith and Esther have in the Septuagint. His description of Esther also shows that he was using the Greek Esther, with the additional chapters, because (as we shall see) the Hebrew Esther never shows or describes Esther praying, while the Greek Esther does.

2Another sign of the abovementioned literary pairing of Judith and Esther can be found in the last verse of the Vulgate translation of Judith: ``The feast day of [Judith's] victory was adopted by the Hebrews into the calendar of their holy days, and has been celebrated by the Jews from that time to the present.'' Jewish history has no trace of a feast connected to Judith, who of course was a fictional character-and this verse does not appear in any other version of Judith. However, it is telling that the events of Esther were in fact commemorated by a new Jewish feast, Purim.

3There is, however, an interesting, albeit purely speculative, correlation between Greek Esther's identification of Haman the Agagite as a ``Macedonian'' and the statement in I Maccabees 12:1-23 that the Jews and the Spartan Greeks were both descendants of Abraham. According to traditional Greek genealogies, the Spartan kings were descendants of Aristodemus, brother of Temenus from whom the Macedonian kings traced their origin. Aristodemus and Temenus were in turn descendants of Belus, King of Arabia, who could be the same as Bela, first King of Edom (Gen. 36:32), a descendant of Esau, grandson of Abraham. As an Amalekite, Haman the Agagite belonged to a branch of the Edomites (Gen. 36:12). Did the author of the additions to Esther believe the Macedonians were Edomites? (For more information, see my article ``The Hebrew Origins of the Kings of Sparta Revisited: An Alternate Speculation,'' Journal of Ancient & Medieval Studies, vol. XIII, 1996, pp.33-46.

4Ironically, those same additions would later condemn the book in the eyes of Martin Luther, a rabid anti-Semite who would have liked to remove Esther from the Bible because it ``Judaised'' too much for his own liking.

Issue 15


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