Tory Reads the Bible - Esther
I wasn’t able to go to a religious activity this week: I had a plan to go to a Jesus carnival (how fun/weird does that sound?) but a friend called me and needed help. When it comes to helping a friend or going to a carnival, I think Jesus would’ve wanted me to help the friend. Probably.
However, I’ve been meeting up with some friends from time to time and reading and discussing the Bible! I’m not going in order anymore (oops) but we are picking books we find interesting or are curious about. We first read Esther and now have started John. I’m going to talk a little about Esther first because it was really… weird. And not at all what I expected.
We chose Esther first because we wanted to learn about some female power in the context of Christianity. Turns out, Esther is kind of a badass, but the story itself isn’t built on women empowerment. It feels very Shakespearean to me – kings and back room deals and irony. It was a thrilling read but didn’t feel like I was reading the Bible, and I wasn’t able to really connect it with my spirituality
So to recap the story, King Ahasuerus is a big deal Persian King and super rich and powerful. His wives are basically property (cool cool cool) but he has one main wife/queen, Vashti. He summons her one day to the banquet hall and she doesn’t want to come so he “disposes” of her for not obeying. It’s unclear if she is killed or just banished but let’s all admire Vashti as the real QUEEN of this story who didn’t want to listen to some bullshit king.
Anyway, now that Ahasuerus has done away with his queen, he needs a new one. A lot of people submit their daughters and family members as options for queen but he chooses Esther, who is an orphan and a Jew (which is a big deal). She had lived her life in exile and was submitted for consideration by her uncle( or maybe her cousin? Bible family stuff is weird). His name is Mordecai.
Mordecai overhears a plot to kill the king and tells him, which gets him in good favor with the king. Then the king’s grand vizier, Haman, starts having a feud with Mordecai. Haman starts building gallows to hang him and tells the king that Mordecai and all the Jews are shady and they should be killed, so the king proclaims it to be so.
Esther isn’t super happy about any of this so she starts being real nice to the King, she invites him to feasts for multiple days to get in his good favor and the king is reminded that Mordecai saved his life. And the King is like “huh, wow, maybe we shouldn’t kill all the Jews.” So he orders Haman be hanged (ironically, in the gallows he built for Mordecai), and makes Mordecai his prime minister.
As for the Jews being killed, apparently it’s like a thing when a king issues a proclamation, so he can’t take it back. What he does instead is issue ANOTHER proclamation that says “yes we (the Persians) should try to kill the Jews but they are allowed to defend themselves.” This leads to two days of fighting and bloodshed where the Jews kill a bunch of the Persians which is now celebrated by the annual feast of Purim.
Ok, phew, did any of that sound like a Bible story to you? Esther is a really interesting book. It’s one of only two books in the Hebrew Bible that doesn’t ever mention God. The implication of the story is that God acted through Esther to protect his chosen people. However, it reads like a Greek epic. Esther is a heroine and has a kind of power, but it’s very submissive power. Ultimately, she manipulates the King for what she wants, but must do so by being beautiful and obedient. The king isn’t a great guy and still holds all the cards by the end of the story, those cards just fall in the favor of the Jewish people.
I didn’t derive a ton of moral truth from this story, but I did find it so entertaining. Since it doesn’t mention God, I didn’t particularly understand its relevance to my spiritual education, but it was an interesting window into history. Even if Esther isn’t necessarily historically accurate (which, maybe it is, someone reach out to me and school me on this), it does demonstrate ancient culture and how whole races could be exiled, oppressed, and subject to genocide at a whim. It shows how truly objectified women were, and the fact that the Book is named for Esther and she is able to play any part in the deliverance of her people is remarkable given her status at the time.
I’ll get more into John next time. If you have time to read Esther, I’d recommend it. It’s short, dramatic, and totally wild.