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3 CHAPTER 1 Wine and

by Adele Berlin
3 CHAPTER 1 Wine and WomenChapter 1  serves as the prologue to the story. A prologue is not part of the main plot oraction, but  it is certainly part  of the story and is essential for setting the scene and moti-vating the plot. Chapter 1  sets the tone of the book, and it is a tone of excess, buffoonery, and bawdiness. It portrays  the Persian court in all its decadent lavishness, and, with a hint of mockery so at home in burlesque, it paints a picture of a bumbling king and his overly ambitious courtiers. Most important, it paves the way for Esther’s entrance into the storythrough the Vashti  incident.Chapter 1  also foreshadows the types of actions and reactions that will figure promi-nently in the main  plot. The scene in which the king is so easily persuaded to issue a ridiculous edict, published posthaste, prepares us for the main plot, when we again see the king casually giving approval for an unreasonable edict against the Jews and revving up his extensive com-munications network to publicize it. A sense of this chapter’s foreshadowing, and also of the reversals on which the plot is  constructed, is neatly encapsulated in the midrashic identifi cation of “ that Ahasuerus” ( 1: 1): Ahasuerus who put his wife [ Vashti] to death on account of his friend [ Memucan, who is identified with Haman], is the same Ahasuerus who put his friend [ Haman] to death on account of his wife [ Esther]. ( Esther Rabbah 1.1 and Targum Sheni) Wine: Party Time in Persia ( VV. 1: 1– 8) Through elaborate description of detail, the reader is taken into the Persian court, known in the ancient world for its opulence. After the notice of the time and place, the description moves to the banquets, whose main purpose seems to have been, as far as our story is concerned, to provide an opportunity for the king to display his wealth. We are apprised of the guest list and shown the banquet hall. The description of the hall is a marvel of texture and color, as it guides the reader’s eyes from ceiling to floor: draperies and columns, couches, and mosaic fl oor, all of the fi nest materials. Then the narrative focuses on the drinking vessels— the Persian equivalent of china and crystal— equally exquisite. From the drinking vessels it is but a small step to the wine, and here we move closer to the action, for it was when he was happy with wine that the king gave the order that set in motion the events of the story. The description of the setting is atypical of biblical narrative, not because the Bible lacks physical descriptions, but because it does not generally use them to set a scene. Descriptions like those of Solomon’s Temple and Ezekiel’s vision of the “ chariot,” which bear some simi- larities to our passage, constitute main  narratives, not introductions to main narratives. The Temple is described in 1 Kings 6– 7  step by step as it was built because the narrative is about the building of the Temple. Similarly,  the prophet’s vision is the main topic of Ezekiel 1  and vividly recounts Ezekiel’s fi rst prophetic experience. The opening description in Esther is more typical of late biblical and apocryphal books of the Persian and Greek periods, and of some Greek romances from a slightly later period ( which often describe banquet scenes). It may be compared with the opening of the Book of Judith, which also begins with a notice of the regnal date and proceeds to a detailed description, replete with measurements, of the fortifications of Ecbatana. As in Judith, the description in Esther contains many numbers— perhaps more than one would expect: the number of provinces and the number of days of each banquet. At fi rst, these numbers may seem to lend a sense of historical precision, but upon refl ection they ap- WINE AND WOMEN          C    h  a  p  t e  r   Home  |      T  O   C   

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3 CHAPTER 1 Wine and Women Chapter 1 serves as the prologue to the story. A prologue is not part of the main plot or action, but it is certainly part of the story and is essential for setting the scene and moti-vating the plot. Chapter 1 sets the tone of the book, and it is a tone of excess, buffoonery, and bawdiness. It portrays the Persian court in all its decadent lavishness, and, with a hint of mockery so at home in burlesque, it paints a picture of a bumbling king and his overly ambitious courtiers. Most important, it paves the way for Esther’s entrance into the story through the Vashti incident. Chapter 1 also foreshadows the types of actions and reactions that will figure promi- nently in the main plot. The scene in which the king is so easily persuaded to issue a ridiculous edict, published posthaste, prepares us for the main plot, when we again see the king casually giving approval for an unreasonable edict against the Jews and revving up his extensive com-munications network to publicize it. A sense of this chapter’s foreshadowing, and also of the reversals on which the plot is constructed, is neatly encapsulated in the midrashic identifi cation of “ that Ahasuerus” ( 1: 1): Ahasuerus who put his wife [ Vashti] to death on account of his friend [ Memucan, who is identified with Haman], is the same Ahasuerus who put his friend [ Haman] to death on account of his wife [ Esther]. ( Esther Rabbah 1.1 and Targum Sheni) Wine: Party Time in Persia ( VV. 1: 1– 8) Through elaborate description of detail, the reader is taken into the Persian court, known in the ancient world for its opulence. After the notice of the time and place, the description moves to the banquets, whose main purpose seems to have been, as far as our story is concerned, to provide an opportunity for the king to display his wealth. We are apprised of the guest list and shown the banquet hall. The description of the hall is a marvel of texture and color, as it guides the reader’s eyes from ceiling to floor: draperies and columns, couches, and mosaic fl oor, all of the fi nest materials. Then the narrative focuses on the drinking vessels— the Persian equivalent of china and crystal— equally exquisite. From the drinking vessels it is but a small step to the wine, and here we move closer to the action, for it was when he was happy with wine that the king gave the order that set in motion the events of the story. The description of the setting is atypical of biblical narrative, not because the Bible lacks physical descriptions, but because it does not generally use them to set a scene. Descriptions like those of Solomon’s Temple and Ezekiel’s vision of the “ chariot,” which bear some simi- larities to our passage, constitute main narratives, not introductions to main narratives. The Temple is described in 1 Kings 6– 7 step by step as it was built because the narrative is about the building of the Temple. Similarly, the prophet’s vision is the main topic of Ezekiel 1 and vividly recounts Ezekiel’s fi rst prophetic experience. The opening description in Esther is more typical of late biblical and apocryphal books of the Persian and Greek periods, and of some Greek romances from a slightly later period ( which often describe banquet scenes). It may be compared with the opening of the Book of Judith, which also begins with a notice of the regnal date and proceeds to a detailed description, replete with measurements, of the fortifications of Ecbatana. As in Judith, the description in Esther contains many numbers— perhaps more than one would expect: the number of provinces and the number of days of each banquet. At fi rst, these numbers may seem to lend a sense of historical precision, but upon refl ection they ap- WINE AND WOMEN <    <      C   h  a  p  t e  r  >> Home |      T  O   C   
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