Book of Esther

Constance Gane (Old Testament)

Cultural Backgrounds to the Biblical Book of Esther

The biblical Hebrew book of Esther closely reflects and interacts with the rich cultural backdrop of the ancient Medo-Persian empire during the reign of Xerxes, against which its drama is played out. Now a wealth of extrabiblical data illuminating the diverse cultures of the empire during this historical period is available through fairly recent archaeological discoveries that shed light on the lifestyles and societies of royals, nobles, military and civil servants, and commoners.

Due to the tight relationship between the book of Esther and its cultural backgrounds, modern interpreters of Esther have been finding that enhanced understanding of these backgrounds through study of extrabiblical and Septuagint data clarifies the story, personalities of protagonists, and message of the Hebrew text on various levels, from the composition of Esther’s cosmetics to her ethics, the dynamics of palace intrigue, the purpose of Persian feasts, and the social status of women and Jews.

A considerable amount of research has been done on backgrounds to Esther, but due to the vastness of extant evidence that is potentially relevant, especially in the area of archaeology, there is plenty of room for additional discoveries, insights, and conceptual syntheses by scholars such as myself, whose training gives them access not only to working with the Hebrew text, but also to analysis of ancient Iranian and Mesopotamian data. Utilization of such access for this kind of investigation is the purpose of the project proposed here.     

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