The book of Esther is a story of threat to the Jewish people and one woman’s courage and wisdom by which disaster is averted. It is a historical novella, a work of fiction set in a particular historical time and location. There are many historically accurate details in the book but there are also several improbable plot twists along with exaggeration and hyperbole. Notice how many of the characters in the story are stereotypes. But also notice how Esther character changes and develops over the course of the story. The king Ahasuerus in the book is most likely the Persian king Xerxes (486-465 BCE) but there is no record of Queen Vashti or a Jewish queen.
As with most Old Testament books, we do not know who the author of Esther was. It appears to have been an educated and cultured Jewish person writing in the late fourth or early third century BCE and living in Persia.
In Jewish tradition, Esther is read during the festival of Purim and the text tells of the origins of the festival.
Jewish and Protestant Bible has one ten chapter version of Esther, but the Septuagint has a 16 chapter version that is used in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. For protestants, the “extra” chapters are found as Additions to Esther in the Apocrypha. Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Bible not found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Esther’s place in the canon was the subject of much debate among rabbis and early Christians. It wasn’t until the third or fourth century CE that Esther was accepted as part of the Bible.
One topic of discussion for commentators- both ancient and modern is the fact that God is not explicitly mentioned in the text. Is God “left out” or is God’s active presence “behind the scenes” assumed?
The book has a beginning exposition ( ch 1-2), a middle complication (ch 3-9) and a concluding resolution ( ch 9-10).
Notice as we read that the very prominent themes of Temple, covenant, sacrifice and prayer are not part of the story. But also notice how the text deals with the difficulties of living as faithful Jews in a foreign empire. Also be aware of how Esther is portrayed in the story and consider how this does or does not seem consistent with how other women are portrayed in the Bible.
Outline of Esther (Based on Clines)
I. 1:1-2:23 Exposition
A. 1:1-4 The Royal Banquet for the Officials
B. 1:5-9 The Royal banquet for the Citizens of Susa
C. 1:10-22 Vashti’s Refusal to Obey the King’s Command
D. 2:1-4 The King’s Decision to Seek a New Queen
E. 2:5-11 Esther’s Admission to the Court
F. 2:12-18 Esther’s Accession to the Throne
G. 2:19-23 Mordecai’s Discovery of the Plot Against the King
II. 3:1-8:17 Complication
A. 3:1-6 Haman’s Promotion and Mordecai’s Refusal to Honor Him
B. 3:7-15 Haman’s Plot
C. 4:1-3 Mordecai Hears the News
D. 4:4-17 Mordecai Impresses on Esther the Need for Action
E. 5:1-8 Esther’s First Audience with the King
F. 5:9-14 Haman Grows more Incensed Against Mordecai
G. 6:1-14 Mordecai is Rewarded by the King
H. 7:1-10 The Fall of Haman
I. 8:1-17 Haman is Replaced and His Plot Overturned
III. 9:1-10:3 Resolution
A. 9:1-19 What Actually Happened on Afar 13?
B. 9:20-32 The Institution of the Festival of Purim
C. 10:1-3 Mordecai as a Symbol of Jewish Success
Read More About It:
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Ruth.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Clines, David J.A. “Esther” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Winn Leith, Mary Joan “Esther”, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition, Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.