My Issues with Esther

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The story of Esther in the bible is a good one, written like a novella; it’s complete with a decent twist, a satisfying ending and a moral.  I like the story, but that’s all I think it is, just a story.

Some people will point out that ‘God’ is never directly mentioned, but that’s not even what caught my eye.  I’d like to go through and point out a few subtle things that make this story appear to be a story as opposed to being a literal account of historical events.  This will not be a long list, but bear with me and feel free to disagree.

I won’t take the time to rehash the story, but you can read it here if you’re not familiar with it, it really is worth the read, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Esther+1&version=NIV.

I mainly want to focus on three main issues:

  • Haman’s Wife
  • A 75’ Tall Tower to Hang People On
  • Xerxes’ conclusion that Haman was trying to rape Esther

1)  Haman was upset with Esther’s uncle, Mordecai.  He didn’t know that Esther and Mordecai were related, but he did know that Mordecai was a Jew (See verses 5 & 6 of chapter 3).  He was so upset with Mordecai, that Haman wanted to destroy Mordecai’s people, the Jews.

Haman comes home one day, even more upset with Mordecai.  Haman’s wife, Zeresh suggests that Mordecai build some gallows, towering to 50 cubits in height (around 75 feet), and hang Mordecai on them for everyone to see (Esther 5).

This plan gets foiled because King Xerxes discovers he likes Mordecai and Haman rushes home even more upset.  Zeresh, his wife, then says in the 6th chapter starting around verse 13, that since Mordecai was a Jew, Haman would not be able to stand against him…

This is the problem that I see.  His wife had been giving Haman suggestions for having Mordecai killed, but now, at the end of the story his wife all of sudden knows that nothing can be done to harm a Jew?  This looks like a triumphal story written for Jews, by Jews, as I do not see this scenario and Zeresh’s interactions taking place in real life.

“Kill him!  Kill Him,” and then, “oh, well of course you couldn’t kill him, he’s a Jew.”  Come on.

 

2)  That 75’ tower built to hang Mordecai on? It was evidently built over one night and on a whim.

At the beginning of Chapter 5, Esther asks Xerxes if he and Haman will attend a feast that she prepared for the two of them.  They both attend and at the feast Xerxes says he’d give Esther anything she wanted.

She asked for them to attend a similar feast the next day and they agree.  As Haman is going home, he’s in high spirits, thinking he’s being greatly honored by Esther’s feasts.  He was feeling very good about himself until he saw Mordecai again.  He couldn’t enjoy himself any longer knowing that Mordecai was still out there, being Mordecai.  Once Haman gets home and tells his wife about Mordecai, she suggests that he build a 75’ tall tower and hang Mordecai on it.

The next day, when they’re at Esther’s feast, once Xerxes decides to kill Haman, someone points out that Haman conveniently has a 75’ gallows in his front yard and they hang him on it.  Nice and tidy; evil Haman is killed on the structure that he intended for Mordecai.  Not only is this twist a little too convenient, how did Haman procure the man power and the materials to completely build a 75’ tower on a whim?

I think it would be challenge for anyone to do today and that it would require a lot of logistical organization and detailed planning.  Where did he get all those laborers?  How did he get all the building materials in such a short time?  Even if all this happened the night Haman’s wife thought of it and it continued until the time of the feats the following the day, we couldn’t be talking more than 24 hours – how is that possible?

 

3)  At Esther’s final feast, she reveals that she’s a Jew (Haman was trying to kill all the Jews), along with Mordecai whom the king now liked. Xerxes runs out of the feast… due to shock, I guess.  While Xerxes is out, coming to grips with Esther’s drama, Haman begins pleading to Esther for her mercy and understanding, since he obviously wouldn’t have tried to kill the people of the Queen.

While Haman is on his knees pleading, and reaching for the queen in a frantic and pathetic fashion, he falls onto her bed/couch, right where they had been feasting.  As he’s there on her bed/couch and reaching for the queen as he begged her, who should happen upon them but Xerxes.

Now, Xerxes had been there just moments before as an active participant in the same feast as Haman and Esther, but Xerxes is the world’s worst detective and makes the giant leap and concludes that Haman is now trying to rape the queen.  This is when they decide to hang Haman on his own  75 foot tower of terror.

Xerxes is just too absent minded for me to buy.  To me this more like a story where the writer is wanting all this bad stuff to fall on top of the villain at the end, in order to convey the idea that the world and fate want to punish Haman.

 

These are the three main reasons that Esther appears to be a work of historical fiction to me.  To many this conclusion may be anticlimactic, however to those in fundamentalist groups, like the one I grew up in, the notion that any book of the bible is merely fiction, is heresy and is quite a big deal.

Esther isn’t the book that made me begin to think the bible was not from god, but it is one that jumped out to me later.  I just thought I’d share.

A Parable

A boy was told that he was betrothed from birth and had to marry a woman in a far away land. He received letters from her, but they were dictated and actually penned by a servant – she didn’t even sign them; he supposed that was another custom. He was allowed to speak to her on the phone, but due to their customs, she was not allowed to speak back through the phone.

He had been told by his parents and others that she was exceedingly beautiful and of unmatched character.  The boy read her letters (which weren’t written by her hand) and emptied his heart to her over the phone, and fell deeply in love with her.  He agreed to marry her, according to their customs, which meant the ceremony was conducted without them in the same room.

After their marriage, he was still not allowed to move to her or her to him.  She sent no more letters, but he could still speak to her on the phone, although she was still not permitted to herself – but he was told that he had the perfect marriage.  In moments of doubt or physical need, he would reread her letters and find her there, and would look at his wedding ring and find comfort in his union.

But one day a thought popped in his head; “what if he wasn’t really married.” He first tried to discard the thought, but he couldn’t.  It stayed on his mind so much that he went looking for her – where he was told she lived… and found no one. He searched other places to see if maybe he understood the location wrong, etc… but still nothing… He came away feeling stupid, thinking that he had been fooled.

But some in his family kept reminding him about the letters she sent or the phone calls they shared, and the wedding ring – and urged him not to get a divorce.

But he realized that those things weren’t really evidences of a wife, they were evidences in what he had done or what he had, but not in a person. He realized that the reason no one ever spoke back to him over the phone was because no one was there. He realized that he had never received a letter written by her own hand was because she wasn’t real.  He realized the wedding ring was just evidence of metal on his finger, and not an actual person.  He realized that everything he knew or felt about her were just products of his own imagination and desire.

He realized that he trust he had in wife, was only ever a trust in what people told him about the alleged wife.  There was need for a divorce, because there had never really been a union with anyone at all.

The God of Christianity is this wife.  No one has ever seen him or heard him directly.  We rely on prayers where only we speak, and can only imagine a response if there’s one at all.  We rely on the written claims of old men we never knew, which lived in superstitious time.  We trust the men who came later that picked which books and letters should be discarded while selecting the books and letters to retain – other men who translated them…  where is god?  Faith in such a god is first faith in the men who made the claims.  With man at the foundation, how could the built up structure of god be any stronger than the men who make up that foundation?

Is there a god?  I do not know, but I feel quite certain there is no god of the bible.