Greek Versions of Esther

Same story, different perspective

Print this page Print this page

Addition A, which stands at the beginning of the story, contains a dream of Mordecai foreshadowing destruction, and Mordecai's discovery of a plot against the king. Addition B, which follows 3:13, contains the wording of the edict against the Jews. Addition C, which follows 4:17, is the prayer of Mordecai and the prayer of Esther, asking for deliverance. Addition D, which follows Addition C, is an account of Esther's appearance before the king. It is longer and more dramatic than the account in the Masoretic Text. Addition E, which follows 8:12, gives the contents of the edict on behalf of the Jews. Addition F, which comes at the end of the story, after 10:3, is the interpretation of Mordecai's dream, relating it to the events of the story.

The Greek versions also include the religious elements so obviously absent in the Masoretic Text--the name of God and prayer. The name of God occurs not only in the Additions, but at several other points in the story. There are a number of other differences in the details of the story and in the way the story is told. For instance, Haman is not an Agagite, Purim does not receive as much emphasis, and Esther is characterized differently.

Making Esther More Biblical

The Greek versions, especially the Septuagint, have a different tone and reflect a different view of the Jewish characters from the Masoretic Text. David Clines (The Esther Scroll: The Story of the Story), who believes that the religious elements were originally absent and were added in the Septuagint, has perceptively argued that the Septuagint added the religious dimension in order to "assimilate the Book of Esther to a scriptural norm."

That is, the Septuagint sought to make the book sound more biblical, more like the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, where God's presence is felt in the events that unfold and where the characters engage in religious activities (praying and invoking God's name). Mordecai's dream and its interpretation is also similar to what we find in Daniel. And thirdly, the inclusion of the contents of the edicts also resembles the practice in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel, which include what purports to be verbatim copies of Persian documents. We have discussed above how the Masoretic Text of Esther sought to fashion itself, in part, on the model of earlier biblical writings, now we see that principle carried further, for different effect, in the Septuagint.

A Different Worldview

But "assimilation to a scriptural norm" does not account for all the differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint. There are other differences that reflect the Septuagint's Hellenistic worldview as opposed to the earlier worldview of the Masoretic Text. The Hellenistic world was one in which, according to R. Frye (Minorities in the History of the Near East), religious identity had replaced ethnic identity. That may explain even further why the Jewish characters are more religious, for it is religious practice that defines one as a Jew.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Adele Berlin

Adele Berlin is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Maryland.