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Ἐσθὴρ: An Open Window Onto the Jewish Bible

December 11, 2011

Addition C, which follows 4:17, is the prayer of Mordecai and the prayer of Esther, asking for deliverance….  As more and more scholars are coming to see, the early fluidity of the Hebrew text and the variety of ways that the story was retold, in Hebrew or other languages, belong to the history of early Jewish biblical interpretation. The Septuagint is a window onto how Greek-speaking Jews of the early pre-Christian centuries read and understood the story of Esther.

— Adele Berlin, The JPS Bible Commentary: Esther אסתר

Buch der Maccabcier … Ich bin dem Buch und Esther so feind daß ich wollte sie wären gar nicht oorhanden denn sie judenzen zu sehr und haben siel heidnische Unart … Die Juden halten vom Buch Esther mehr denn von irgend einem Propheten den Propheten Daniel and Jesaiam verachten sie … die Juden dieser zweier heiligen Propheten herrlichste Weissagung verachten da doch der eine Christum aufs Allerreich ichst und Reinest lehret und prediget der andere iber die Monarchien und Kaiserthum sampt dem eich Christi aufs Allergewissefte abmalt und be chreibt…. Indessen ist es doch erschrecklich, daß das Buch Esther bei den Juden in größerem Ansehen steht als Jesaias oder….

— Martin Luther

In his volumes (i.e., Sämtliche Werke), the Prostestant Christian reformer, Martin Luther, does not say whether he regards the Greek translations of the Book of Esther as biblical.  But he does make clear that, in whatever language, he wants the Book of Esther out of the Bible because presumably Jewish people value it so highly, and they value it, he says, more than the Books of the Prophets, which, he says, point to the Christian Christ.  So here we do have a point of agreement, a small agreement, between Luther and Adele Berlin:  they both acknowledge the Jewish biblical importance of Esther.

In her Introduction to the JPS commentary on Esther, Berlin goes further.  She asserts that the Jewish biblical importance of Esther extends to the Greek additions to the book.  And she invites readers to open up the window of Addition C in particular to find particularly Jewish interpretations of the scriptures.

This post is a follow up to an earlier one that focused only on smaller additions to the Hebrew Bible made by the Jewish translators using Greek.  Here we present all of the Old Greek Addition C, which was not part of the Hebrew text at all (as far as we can tell).  Again, I’m giving you the NRSV English translation of the Greek, but you’ll see the Old Greek, verse by verse, following that. The only other comment I want to make is one that Karen Jobes makes when translating both the Old Greek and the Alpha Text Greek for the New English Septuagint Translation; Jobes says:

“Moreover, addition C shows influence from the Greek translation of Moyses’ intercessory prayer in Deut 9.26 LXX.”

Here’s the NRSV English translation of the Old Greek Addition C:

Then Mordecai prayed to the Lord, calling to remembrance all the works of the Lord.
καὶ ἐδεήθη κυρίου μνημονεύων πάντα τὰ ἔργα Κυρίου,

He said: “O Lord, Lord, you rule as King over all things, for the universe is in your power
καὶ εἶπεν Κύριε κύριε βασιλεῦ πάντων κρατῶν, ὅτι ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ σου τὸ πᾶν ἐστιν,

and there is no one who can oppose you when it is your will to save Israel.
καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ ἀντιδοξῶν σοι ἐν τῷ θέλειν σε σῶσαι τὸν Ισραηλ·

for you have made heaven and earth and every wonderful thing under heaven.
ὅτι σὺ ἐποίησας τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ πᾶν θαυμαζόμενον ἐν τῇ ὑπ’ οὐρανὸν,

You are Lord of all, and there is no one who can resist you, the Lord.
καὶ κύριος εἶ πάντων, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ὃς ἀντιτάξεταί σοι τῷ κυρίῳ.

You know all things;
σὺ πάντα γινώσκεις·

you know, O Lord,
σὺ οἶδας, κύριε,

that it was not in insolence or pride
ὅτι οὐκ ἐν ὕβρει οὐδὲ ἐν ὑπερηφανίᾳ

or for any love of glory that I did this,
οὐδὲ ἐν φιλοδοξίᾳ ἐποίησα τοῦτο,

and refused to bow down to this proud Haman;
τὸ μὴ προσκυνεῖν τὸν ὑπερήφανον Αμαν,

for I would have been willing to kiss the soles of his feet, to save Israel!
ὅτι ηὐδόκουν φιλεῖν πέλματα ποδῶν αὐτοῦ πρὸς σωτηρίαν Ισραηλ·

But I did this so that I might not set human glory above the glory of God,
ἀλλὰ ἐποίησα τοῦτο, ἵνα μὴ θῶ δόξαν ἀνθρώπου ὑπεράνω δόξης θεοῦ,

and I will not bow down to any one but to you, who art my Lord;
καὶ οὐ προσκυνήσω οὐδένα πλὴν σοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου

and I will not do these things in pride.
καὶ οὐ ποιήσω αὐτὰ ἐν ὑπερηφανίᾳ.

And now, O Lord God and King, God of Abraham, spare your people;
καὶ νῦν, κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ βασιλεὺς ὁ θεὸς Αβρααμ, φεῖσαι τοῦ λαοῦ σου,

for the eyes of our foes are upon us to annihilate us,
ὅτι ἐπιβλέπουσιν ἡμῖν εἰς καταφθορὰν

and they desire to destroy the inheritance that has been yours from the beginning.
καὶ ἐπεθύμησαν ἀπολέσαι τὴν ἐξ ἀρχῆς κληρονομίαν σου

Do not neglect your portion, which you redeemed for yourself out of the land of Egypt.
μὴ ὑπερίδῃς τὴν μερίδα σου, ἣν σεαυτῷ ἐλυτρώσω ἐκ γῆς Αἰγύπτου·

Hear my prayer, and have mercy upon your inheritance; turn our mourning into feasting,
ἐπάκουσον τῆς δεήσεώς μου καὶ ἱλάσθητι τῷ κλήρῳ σου καὶ στρέψον τὸ πένθος ἡμῶν εἰς εὐωχίαν,

that we may live and sing praise to your name, O Lord;
ἵνα ζῶντες ὑμνῶμέν σου τὸ ὄνομα, κύριε,

do not destroy the lips of those who praise you.”
καὶ μὴ ἀφανίσῃς στόμα αἰνούντων σοι. –

And all Israel cried out mightily,
καὶ πᾶς Ισραηλ ἐκέκραξαν ἐξ ἰσχύος αὐτῶν,

for their death was before their eyes.
ὅτι θάνατος αὐτῶν ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτῶν.

Then Queen Esther, seized with deathly anxiety, fled to the Lord.
Καὶ Εσθηρ ἡ βασίλισσα κατέφυγεν ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον ἐν ἀγῶνι θανάτου κατειλημμένη

She took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning,
καὶ ἀφελομένη τὰ ἱμάτια τῆς δόξης αὐτῆς ἐνεδύσατο ἱμάτια στενοχωρίας καὶ πένθους

and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung,
καὶ ἀντὶ τῶν ὑπερηφάνων ἡδυσμάτων σποδοῦ καὶ κοπριῶν ἔπλησεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτῆς

and she utterly humbled her body;
καὶ τὸ σῶμα αὐτῆς ἐταπείνωσεν σφόδρα

every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair.
καὶ πάντα τόπον κόσμου ἀγαλλιάματος αὐτῆς ἔπλησε στρεπτῶν τριχῶν αὐτῆς

She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said:
καὶ ἐδεῖτο κυρίου θεοῦ Ισραηλ καὶ εἶπεν

“O my Lord, you only are our King;
Κύριέ μου, ὁ βασιλεὺς ἡμῶν, σὺ εἶ μόνος·

help me, who am alone
βοήθησόν μοι τῇ μόνῃ

and have no helper but you,
καὶ μὴ ἐχούσῃ βοηθὸν εἰ μὴ σέ,

for my danger is in my hand.
ὅτι κίνδυνός μου ἐν χειρί μου.

Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family
ἐγὼ ἤκουον ἐκ γενετῆς μου ἐν φυλῇ πατριᾶς μου

that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations,
ὅτι σύ, κύριε, ἔλαβες τὸν Ισραηλ ἐκ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν

and our fathers from among all their ancestors,
καὶ τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν ἐκ πάντων τῶν προγόνων αὐτῶν

for an everlasting inheritance,
εἰς κληρονομίαν αἰώνιον

and that you did for them all that you promised.
καὶ ἐποίησας αὐτοῖς ὅσα ἐλάλησας.

And now we have sinned before you,
καὶ νῦν ἡμάρτομεν ἐνώπιόν σου,

and you have handed us over to our enemies,
καὶ παρέδωκας ἡμᾶς εἰς χεῖρας τῶν ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν,

because we glorified their gods.
ἀνθ’ ὧν ἐδοξάσαμεν τοὺς θεοὺς αὐτῶν·

You are righteous, O Lord!
δίκαιος εἶ, Κύριε.

And now they are not satisfied that we are in bitter slavery,
καὶ νῦν οὐχ ἱκανώθησαν ἐν πικρασμῷ δουλείας ἡμῶν,

but they have covenanted with their idols
ἀλλὰ ἔθηκαν τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τὰς χεῖρας τῶν εἰδώλων αὐτῶν,

to abolish what your mouth has ordained
ἐξᾶραι ὁρισμὸν στόματός σου

and to destroy your inheritance,
καὶ ἀφανίσαι κληρονομίαν σου

to stop the mouths of those who praise you
καὶ ἐμφράξαι στόμα αἰνούντων σοι

and to quench your altar and the glory of your house,
καὶ σβέσαι δόξαν οἴκου σου καὶ θυσιαστήριόν σου

to open the mouths of the nations for the praise of vain idols,
καὶ ἀνοῖξαι στόμα ἐθνῶν εἰς ἀρετὰς ματαίων

and to magnify forever a mortal king.
καὶ θαυμασθῆναι βασιλέα σάρκινον εἰς αἰῶνα.

O Lord, do not surrender your scepter to what has no being;
μὴ παραδῷς, κύριε, τὸ σκῆπτρόν σου τοῖς μὴ οὖσιν,

and do not let them mock at our downfall;
καὶ μὴ καταγελασάτωσαν ἐν τῇ πτώσει ἡμῶν,

but turn their plan against themselves,
ἀλλὰ στρέψον τὴν βουλὴν αὐτῶν ἐπ’ αὐτούς,

and make an example of the man who began this against us.
τὸν δὲ ἀρξάμενον ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς παραδειγμάτισον.

Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction,
μνήσθητι, κύριε, γνώσθητι ἐν καιρῷ θλίψεως ἡμῶν

and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion!
καὶ ἐμὲ θάρσυνον, βασιλεῦ τῶν θεῶν καὶ πάσης ἀρχῆς ἐπικρατῶν·

Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion,
δὸς λόγον εὔρυθμον εἰς τὸ στόμα μου ἐνώπιον τοῦ λέοντος

and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us,
καὶ μετάθες τὴν καρδίαν αὐτοῦ εἰς μῖσος τοῦ πολεμοῦντος ἡμᾶς

so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him.
εἰς συντέλειαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τῶν ὁμονοούντων αὐτῷ·

But save us by your hand,
ἡμᾶς δὲ ῥῦσαι ἐν χειρί σου

and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord.
καὶ βοήθησόν μοι τῇ μόνῃ καὶ μὴ ἐχούσῃ εἰ μὴ σέ, κύριε.

You have knowledge of all things;
πάντων γνῶσιν ἔχεις

and you know that I hate the splendor of the wicked
καὶ οἶδας ὅτι ἐμίσησα δόξαν ἀνόμων

and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and of any alien.
καὶ βδελύσσομαι κοίτην ἀπεριτμήτων καὶ παντὸς ἀλλοτρίου.

You know my necessity –
σὺ οἶδας τὴν ἀνάγκην μου,

that I abhor the sign of my proud position,
ὅτι βδελύσσομαι τὸ σημεῖον τῆς ὑπερηφανίας μου,

which is upon my head on the days when I appear in public.
ὅ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς μου ἐν ἡμέραις ὀπτασίας μου·

I abhor it like a menstruous rag,
βδελύσσομαι αὐτὸ ὡς ῥάκος καταμηνίων

and I do not wear it on the days when I am at leisure.
καὶ οὐ φορῶ αὐτὸ ἐν ἡμέραις ἡσυχίας μου.

And your servant has not eaten at Haman’s table,
καὶ οὐκ ἔφαγεν ἡ δούλη σου τράπεζαν Αμαν

and I have not honored the king’s feast or drunk the wine of the libations.
καὶ οὐκ ἐδόξασα συμπόσιον βασιλέως οὐδὲ ἔπιον οἶνον σπονδῶν·

Your servant has had no joy since the day that I was brought here until now,
καὶ οὐκ ηὐφράνθη ἡ δούλη σου ἀφ’ ἡμέρας μεταβολῆς μου μέχρι νῦν πλὴν

except in you, O Lord God of Abraham.
ἐπὶ σοί, κύριε ὁ θεὸς Αβρααμ.

O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing,
ὁ θεὸς ὁ ἰσχύων ἐπὶ πάντας, εἰσάκουσον φωνὴν ἀπηλπισμένων

and save us from the hands of evildoers.
καὶ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἐκ χειρὸς τῶν πονηρευομένων·

And save me from my fear!”
καὶ ῥῦσαί με ἐκ τοῦ φόβου μου.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2011 12:57 pm

    Originally, I wrote a long pair of comments to this post, but they were so lengthy I decided to make them an independent post.

  2. December 11, 2011 1:44 pm

    You’ve argued above that Greek Esther is more of Athens than of Jerusalem, but I think Greek Esther is not a remarkable text; rather it is yet another maudlin Greek fragment. In contrast, Hebrew Esther is most close to pure Greek comedy — and can stand on its own with the classics. This fact was certainly not lost on the interpreters of late antiquity, who wrote midrashim that brought out the comic element even more. To me, the most authentically Jewish works on the subjects are less influenced by the Hellenistic desire to write Biblical pastiche or emulate foreign character development approaches, and instead responded to the bawdiness of the original text, and took it up several notches. And those midrashim are still funny today.


    You are correct about my argument. You cannot, however, force false choices on me. I love both of your comments here, that first one in which you candidly share what first turned you off to the Greek but how Berlin rescued you in your perceptions (a bit) from Metzger; and your second comment, in which you bring out the wonderful case of the humor of Esther (in Hebrew, heightened in comedy by the midrashim). But, I am not persuaded that the Greek versions of Esther are merely “maudlin …melodrama.”

    Also, you seem to be begging the question that Jews, doing the Hellene translating, could not produce what you claim is so simply and flatly produced. I would like to discuss this more but unfortunately am very short for time at the moment. May I just say it’s also worth looking at how Sylvie Honigman re-examines the hotly debated community of Jews in Alexandria in the 3rd century and then the group much much later, and what the paradigm for producing the LXX is likely to have been? Honigman looks at the legend of the Letter of Aristeas. And there’s another compelling alternative to your claim that the Greek LXX (yes, i know we’re focusing on the Esther variants) is not particularly “Jewish.” Naomi Seidman, as you know, turns to the Talmud accounts of the production of the LXX to say that the translation(s) must be read as ‘trickster’ texts, which adds a level of nuance, sophistication (not sophistry), and flair to the interpretation of the Greek that may not be apparent at first glance. I haven’t looked as closely at the Greek Esthers as much as at the Greek Pentateuch, where there is wordplay, obvious resistance to Aristotle’s “τὸ ἑλληνίζειν” or, if you will, “proper Hellene.” There are plays on Greek words that only make sense in the Jewish narrative (in other words the lexical zing is like nothing in Greek before it) and there are plays on plays (yes, Aristophanes and Euripides and the like) and there are plays in response to Hesiod’s creation account and in contrast to Iliad and Odyssey in other Homer literature. So humor — comic, not (as you’d have me choose) melodramatic. I apologize for not developing this here in the quick comment. I’m open to the possibility that I’m going wide of the mark and the possibility of reading too much in. And yet, I want to remain open to the possibility that even Jewish humor extends to the production and the interpretation and the historiographies of the LXX. (Let me also try to make clear something that I may only have inferred in my post here: Luther’s claim that Esther was horrible isn’t based on an understanding of what the Hebrew actually does or what the Hebraic Hellene does either.)


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