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Book: Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth - Second Centuries BCE

Chapter: At the Crossroads of Persian and Hellenistic Ideology: The Book of Esther as "Political Theology"

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.26812


The Esther narrative can be interpreted as containing the memory of Persian imperialism as well as the Hellenistic worship of rulers. In this context, it surveys the possibilities and limits of Israel's existence under the reign of foreigners. While Israel can come to terms with the concept of a human king, because of the commandments and customs through which it differentiates itself from other people, it will always be in tension with its surroundings. The precedent par excellence in which this difference is supposed to be expressed is divine kingship. By means of intertextual references and the use of reversal, the author of the book of Esther clarifies that even in the Diaspora, it is the God of Israel who holds the individual threads of events in his hands. Reading aloud the Esther narrative during the festival of Purim creates a kind of mental positioning to counter real or potential enemy threats through the remembrance of this tradition. On the one hand, the Esther narrative aims to convey courage for behavior that is loyal to both its own tradition and to its political and social environs. On the other hand, it creates a counterbalance to the threat and persecution of the Jewish people. In this way, the Festival of Purim functions as a medium of collective consciousness, which demonstrates appropriate Jewish behavior when encountering different leadership and which makes the memory of overcoming the crisis and of being saved topical for all time and newly inscribed in the consciousness.

Chapter Contributors

  • Beate Ego ( - bego) 'Ruhr-Universit├Ąt Bochum'