‘Esther is a book of theological inferences rather than plain statements. It speaks of fasting, but not of the prayer that always accompanied fasting, nor does it mention the answers to prayer that are clearly part of the story. Again, when Mordecai challenged Esther to rescue her people he told her that if she failed to act, relief and deliverance for the Jews would arise ‘from another place’, implying that God was sure to work out deliverance for his people. Faith in God can be implicit in people who, for whatever reason, scarcely ever let their faith be known.’ (NBC)
The artistic features contained in the book ‘could be thought to suggest that the book is to be classified as fiction, and some scholars have argued that the story is improbable in several details. They cite the 180 days of the king’s feast (Esth 1:4), the queen’s refusal to attend (1:12), the appointment of non-Persians like Esther and Mordecai to positions of importance in the land, and the king’s permission for a whole people to be wiped out. In addition, the characters are said to be recognizable role-types rather than individuals. Such judgments, however, are made from a modern standpoint. In view of the lack of literature surviving from this period in Persia it is impossible to verify what happened or to appreciate the account in its literary environment. Historians have verified the author’s accurate knowledge of Persian royal palaces and customs, and independent evidence has come to light that a certain Marduka (?Mordecai) was in authority in Susa, serving as an accountant in the early years of the reign of Xerxes. Evidence of the use of lot-casting or ‘pur’ has also tended to support the historicity of the narrative. The part played by irony and satire in the author’s narration accounts for some of the book’s ‘improbable’ aspects.’ (NBC)
‘In our English Bibles the book of Esther follows the history books, and adds its contribution to the history by illustrating life in the fifth century BC among Jews in western Asia. In the Hebrew canon it is among the ‘Writings’, and is usually the last of the ‘five scrolls’ allocated to festivals. Esther is the text for Purim, celebrated in the twelfth month of the Jewish year, and therefore the last. The popularity of this festival caused many copies of the book to be needed, and early translations contain a variety of readings different from the Hebrew. The LXX, probably translated as early as the second century BC, contains over 100 verses that are not in the Hebrew. They were probably added to introduce a more obviously religious emphasis, and can be found collected together in the Apocrypha.’ (NBC)
Ethics and morality
A number of the moral and ethical practices of Esther have been considered questionable. Esther hid her identity from the king, was willing to marry a Gentile, did not feel out of place in a harem, had no mercy on Haman, did not observe dietary laws, was at first not willing to help her own people, and sanctioned the plundering of enemies. Furthermore, the author never explicitly condemns her shortcomings, but seems to describe her triumphs with approval.