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PURIM SPECIAL: How did the Greeks view Esther….You might be surprised!

There are numerous additions to the Book of Esther in the Septuagint, the Biblical Greek translation from prior to the Common Era (CE). Schechter’s Dr. Etka Liebowitz delves into one of these ‘extras’ relating to Esther’s qualities. 


In light of the upcoming festival of Purim, I would like to compare the Hebrew Book of Esther with the lesser known Septuagint or Greek version in order to gain insights into the character of Esther.

Some background on these two texts. Scholars have defined the Book of Esther as a historical novel and the date of its composition ranges from the late 4th century to the 3rd century BCE. The Greek book of Esther is dated to about 200 years later and offers a retelling of the events included in the Hebrew Esther. Most important, it contains six Additions which do not appear in the Hebrew version, including the mention of God’s name over 50 times! These additions contain various episodes, and most significant for our purposes, they add the prayers of Mordecai and Esther (known as Addition C). This Addition describes Esther as an exceedingly pious Jew even though she is married to a non-Jew! It expresses her loathing of sharing the King’s bed since he is a non-Jew: “I abhor the bed of the uncircumcised one” (C:26); and her abstinence from non-kosher food and wine: “And your slave has not eaten at Haman’s table, and I have not honored the king’s banquet nor drunk the wine of libations” (C:28).

Now let us delve into the most well-known aspect of Esther’s appeal, her beauty, which facilitates her ascent to the throne.

When Esther first appears upon the scene, the Hebrew text stresses that “the maiden was shapely and beautiful” and the Greek states that “the girl was beautiful in appearance.” These descriptions of Esther’s beauty have served to discount her other qualities.

For example, the scholar Lewis Paton asserts that Esther “wins her victories not by skill or by character but by her beauty.” Paton’s commentary, published in 1908, was influenced by a patriarchal view of women, and attributes Esther’s victory solely to her physical beauty and not her brains. This assumption is disproved by the continuation of the story.

Following Mordecai’s admonishment that: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come from another place…,” Esther is then transformed into an active protagonist with her own ideas of how to save her people. Esther weaves a complex plot to cause the downfall of Haman. First, she causes Haman to be confident that he is in favor with her; then she arouses the king’s wrath by approaching the king, announcing that she and her people are in peril of death, and naming Haman as the culprit.

Indeed, Esther’s courage is emphasized in both the Hebrew and Greek Esther, which state that Esther will approach the king even if this entails her death.

Following the deliverance of the Jewish people, Esther acquires more authority in both the Hebrew and Greek texts – she appoints Mordecai over Haman’s house and she sends a letter ordering the Jews to observe the festival of Purim.

To conclude, Esther is no mere beauty queen.

The Hebrew version portrays her as a brave Jewish leader albeit not overly concerned with religious practice. The Greek text adds her piousness. In fact, Esther’s success is achieved by a combination of charm, courage, rhetoric, strategy and taking on the reins of authority. Unfortunately, many scholars concentrate upon Esther’s “charm” while ignoring her other attributes.

Etka Liebowitz is the Director of the Research Authority and a Coordinator of Development, including matters pertaining to Schechter’s activities in Ukraine. She received her PhD in Jewish History in 2012 (specializing in women in the Second Temple period) and has published several academic articles in her field. Dr. Liebowitz is fluent in English, Hebrew, Russian and Spanish.

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