JPS Bible Commentary: Esther Page 9...

In this latest addition to the Jewish Publication Society's commentary series, the reader will further be reworded with many productive and original insights: in this particular case on the background of the feast of Purim.

ix PREFACE The Book of Esther is, among Jews, one of the best- known and most enjoyed books of the Bible. The book’s fame is due almost entirely to its connection with Purim. If we did not have Purim, with the reading of Megillat Esther as its centerpiece, Esther would languish in obscurity. In fact, it seems likely that Esther was included in the Bible because of the celebration of Purim. The converse is also probable: if we did not have the Book of Esther we would not have Purim, for Esther gives us the account of the origin of Purim and the reason for its annual celebra- tion. Without the book, there would be little reason to perpetuate the observance of Purim. Whether the book preceded the festival or the festival the book, the two are now inextricably bound together. Esther is a joyous book for a joyous festival. It is my hope that this commentary will add to the joy and pleasure of reading the Book of Esther. There are many excellent commentaries and studies, traditional and modern, on the Book of Esther. I have drawn extensively on the recent works by Frederic W. Bush, David Clines, Michael Fox, Amos Hakham, Jon D. Levenson, Carey A. Moore, and the commentary edited by Jacob Klein et al. in the series ‘ Olam Ha- tanakh. My purpose is not to collect all previous interpreta- tions but to present a coherent view of the book, emphasizing the literary qualities that give the book its distinctive character and message. My approach to the book’s interpretation will stress two main points: ( 1) that the book is a comedy, and ( 2) that the author drew heavily on the literary motifs associated with Persia that were current at the time the book was written. Motifs about Persia survive almost exclusively in the Greek writings from the Persian period, and I will cite the Greek sources often for I fi nd in them the key to understanding Esther. My purpose in providing these citations is to give the modern reader a sense of the world of storytelling from which Esther emerged, and to show what connotations specifi c themes and motifs might have had to an ancient reader. While Esther should be seen as part of the broader literary world of the ancient Near East during the Persian period, it is, at the same time, a Jewish book refl ecting Jewish experiences and aspirations. It drew on earlier biblical works and was itself included in the biblical canon. It is equally important, therefore, to note the particular aspects that refl ect its biblical and Jew- ish origin and the ways that later generations of Jews interpreted it. So, in addition to reading Esther as an example of storytelling from the Persian period, my reading of it will also attend to Esther as a biblical book and as part of the canon explicated in the rabbinic tradition. These are the contexts that have infl uenced the book’s place in Jewish life. As is inevitable, these contexts changed the way the book was read and changed the meaning of the story, so that the Book of Esther as understood by Hellenistic Jews and by the rabbinic tradition is a different story from the one told in the Masoretic Text. Samplings of these postbiblical interpretations will be offered throughout the commentary. I began work on this commentary while I was a Fellow of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I am grateful to the center, and its director, David Ruderman, for providing an ideal research environment. My thanks go to Sol Cohen for sharing his linguistic and textual knowledge, and to the staff of the library, who provided materials from near and far. I benefi ted from discussions with the 1997– 1998 fellows and with other colleagues who were kind enough to take an interest in the work. Among these I am especially indebted to Linda Bregstein, Barry Eichler, Tikva Frymer- Kensky, Sy Gitin, Jacob Klein, Bernard Levinson, Gary Rendsburg, Jeff Tigay, and Ziony Zevit. I was privileged to offer a course on Esther at the University of Pennsylvania during the fall 1998 semester. Thanks to the members of this class— Ami Butler, Paul Delnero, Leah Kaplan- PREFACE          C    h  a  p  t e  r   Home  |      T  O   C   

JPS Bible Commentary: Esther


About Book JPS Bible Commentary: Esther

FRONT MATTEREditorsTitle pageCopyright pageDedication PageTable of contentsPREFACEA Note on Bibliography, Translation, and TransliterationTransliteration of the Hebrew ConsonantsPronunciation Guide for VowelsABBREVIATIONSINTRODUCTION TO THE COMMENTARY: THE BOOK OF ESTHER AND ITS LITERARY WORLDWhy Was the Book of Esther Written?Esther as ComedyNarrative Artistry: Structure, Style, and LanguageGreek Storytelling about PersiaThe Persian Period: A Brief OverviewEsther as a Diaspora StoryEsther's Links with Other Biblical BooksWhen and Where Was the Book of Esther Written?When Was Esther Included in the Canon?PurimThe Greek Versions and JosephusRabbinic InterpretationEsther and Biblical WomenNotes to the IntroductionTHE COMMENTARY TO ESTHERNOTES TO THE COMMENTARYBIBLIOGRAPHY
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