The Book of Esther


By Robert J. Littman

The Book of Esther has been called one of the strange books of the Bible. There is no reference to God in the entire book. The story is one of the few books of the Bible set outside of Israel. It reads like a folk story and has nothing very Jewish about it. It was written probably in the second century BCE, and purports to tell the story of Esther and Ahasueros, the King of Persia.

Ahasueros (Hebrew for the Greek King Xerxes) ruled from 486 BCE to 465 BCE. We have a great deal of information about his reign from the Greek historian Herodotus, who was a contemporary, as well as from inscriptional evidence from Persia. He was married to Amestris, a Persian noble woman, and never had a wife called Esther or Hadassah.

Even the names in the story are fanciful. Esther is the Aramaic rendering of the Babylonian name Ishtar, the Goddess of sexual love, and sometimes war. Readers of the book have long puzzled about the two names of Esther, Esther and Hadassah. In fact, the goddess Ishtar was called Ishtar Hadasha, “Ishtar the Bride.” Readers and Biblical commentators have misunderstood Hadassah to derive from hadasa, “myrtle.” Mordecai again is a Babylonian name which means “Follower of Marduk.” Marduk was the Babylonian god of war, and is associated with Ishtar in the Babylonian.

Even rabbinic Judaism tried to reject the Book of Esther and not include it in the canon of accepted books of the Bible. But its popularity among common people, and the popularity of Purim kept the book alive. It is a good yarn that describes how a Jewish folk heroine helps her people survive, and triumph. It does not matter that this was originally a Persian or Babylonian story and festival that has been usurped. This Purim, let us write the name of Haman on the bottom of our shoes and stamp out his name, along with all those who would oppress the Jewish people.

Upcoming Events
  1. Rosh HaShanah

    September 29 @ 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
  2. Rosh HaShanah Services – September 30

    September 30 @ 9:00 am - 12:30 pm
  3. Rosh HaShanah Services – October 1

    October 1 @ 9:00 am - 12:30 pm
  4. Shabbat Shuva Services

    October 5 @ 9:50 am - 12:00 pm
  5. Book Club – 10/6

    October 6
  • Forbidden Fruit, Rosh HaShanah, and Our Climate Crisis
    According to Hasidic traditions, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, from the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, worked in a deeper way than we usually think about it. It’s not just that after the eating of the fruit we humans could distinguish between good and evil. The test […]
  • Modern Jewish Mystical Masters
    This fall, as part of the Me’ah Select program at Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Natan Margalit will teach a class on the thought, practices and lives of some of the most profound and influential Jewish mystics of the modern era. Building on the earlier mystical traditions of heavenly ascents, Zohar, Lurianic Kabbalah, numerology and early […]