Esther: Preface

Esther is a modern book. Despite the twenty-five centuries which separate us from the events it describes, the book’s general feeling and the issues it raises are very up-to-date.

To start off, God appears to be absent from the book. There is no mention of his name; no-one speaks of him, nor calls on him. This secularism makes the book very modern. But God is not absent. He is acutely present in the story of Esther, yet his presence is veiled. God is not the leading actor who draws all of the attention to himself, but the director who orchestrates the general action from behind the scenes. When he intervenes, the situation changes dramatically.

The book of Esther is also full of questions which preoccupy modern man: sexism, feminism, racism, genocide. But how should we categorize them? Is it a model for feminists and oppressed minorities? Opinions are divided; some use the book as a guide for minorities who contest a totalitarian power, whereas others thunder against a work which despises women. The question of how the weak can resist such a totalitarian power is also raised. Do they have the right to seduce and deceive in order to achieve their aims? Is Esther an example to follow? In the book’s last chapters, they raise the question of sanctions: Is legitimate defense, even capital punishment, permitted or even demanded by God? The book of Esther is passionate and up-to-date. Its contribution to the question of survival in a hostile world merits contemplation.

On the literary level, Esther is dynamic and balanced; the book is at the same time pleasant and fascinating to read. It also calls for and causes reflection, because the author knows to conceal some information to make the reader reflect more. Why didn’t Vashti want to present herself before the king? Why didn’t Mordecai want to prostrate himself before Haman? Why didn’t Esther immediately express her request to the king, but instead postponed it twice? In the world of (court) intrigues, the book is itself intriguing.


Our study of Esther begins with four chapters devoted to the book as a whole. 


  1. An indication of the echo which the book has received in different circles.

  2. A synthesis of the information on the main persons’ characters.

  3. Other literary considerations of the book’s structure, literary genre and message.

  4. An examination of historical questions: context, identification of the main characters, date of writing and author, questions linked to the account’s historicity.


In the commentary, each chapter is preceded by several general considerations, because the commentary’s purpose is to interpret throughout the details in light of the whole.

To make reading easier, certain technical developments and some of the interpretations are found in the footnotes. Readers who are interested in these aspects can thus easily refer to them. As far as the other readers are concerned, the reading will thus not be weighed down by secondary elements. Thus, the analysis of the Greek translation of the Septuagint is relegated to a separate annex. In Chapter 4, readers who are less motivated by critical questions can skip some of the developments of historical questions.