Saturday, February 25, 2012

Herodotus and Esther

Looney has a good post today on Herodotus and Esther.

There are many biblical scholars who have argued that Esther is not historically accurate because it contradicts Herodotus on certain issues. For example, in Herodotus, we read that Persian queens could only be chosen from seven royal families. Because Esther was not from one of those families, the argument runs, the Book of Esther is inaccurate to say that the Persian king chose her to be his queen.

When I wrote about this in my post here, Looney astutely responded:

"Herodotus lived a very long way from the Persian Empire and had no direct inside knowledge. For example, there is no mention of Persepolis in his writings or any other Greek writings until Alexander the Great, yet this was the main Persian capital. The claim that 'Persian queens had to come from one of the seven noble Persian families' is a story in Herodotus involving seven conspirators who decide to kill the impostor king. The footnote preceding this section by Rawlinson notes that this really looks like a Greek interpolation. In fact, Darius marries Atossa who isn't a daughter of one of the seven noble Persian families (i.e. the seven conspirators). Thus, Herodotus isn't even internally consistent on this matter."

In his post this morning, Looney looks at a story in Herodotus' work that appears to have some of the same themes as the Book of Esther: an exchange of messages, and a woman doing her duty even though it may cost her life. Looney is not suggesting that Herodotus is talking about Esther in his story, for the topic of Herodotus' story is quite different. But it's interesting to see some of the overlapping themes between Herodotus' story and the Book of Esther. I can envision more liberal biblical scholars saying that there were stock themes in certain stories back then, and the Book of Esther was drawing from those themes.


  1. :)

    I haven't heard much about how Esther was written that seemed more than pure speculation. Herodotus lists the Babylonian tribute to the Persians as including 500 eunuchs each year. Given that Nehemiah was undoubtedly one of these eunuchs, my speculation is that there was a community of Jewish eunuchs in the palace who are sharing information and telling the story of Esther. Only they could know the inner workings of the palace and they were part of Haman's household also. References to what happens outside Susa are presented as reports that come back to the palace. Thus, the author is maintaining some discipline in what information he presents.

    The 'liberal' argument can work in the opposite direction: That the story of Phaidyme is a corruption of Esther!

    The only thing I have found problematic is the timeline for Mordecai. He seems to have lived a very long time.

  2. Perhaps even longer if he was the great grandson of Kish, depending on how one interprets Esther 2:5!

  3. Regarding Hebrew, I am now about half way through my first semester. There is a second semester that I will attempt on line as well. After that, I am curious if there are other classes out there to help get into the language deeper, or perhaps to start becoming familiar with other Hebrew writings. Do you have any suggestions along this line?

    There is the use-it-or-lose-it principle that I am trying to avoid.

  4. I'm not sure, offhand. Perhaps you could take an online class, say, with Liberty University. I know some people who teach those.

    Probably a good next step is to get BibleWorks and read texts. There are also rabbinic texts that are online, but you'd need a rabbinic grammar to get what's going on there, since rabbinic Hebrew is different from biblical Hebrew. For biblical Hebrew, good tools to have might be Waltke-O'Connor's book on biblical syntax, and Gesenius' grammar.


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