The seventeenth book of the OT in the traditional English order. Harem politics, anti-semitism, and an audacious Jewish heroine combine to make this story from the later Persian period (early 4th cent. BCE) full of suspense as it unfolds. The beautiful Esther, who also has the Hebrew name Hadassah which means myrtle (Esther 2: 7), pleads successfully with King Ahasuerus = Xerxes I (486–465 BCE), her husband, for her people and her adoptive father Mordecai against the wrath of Haman, who had suffered a supposed slight. The tables were neatly turned and it was Haman who was hanged (Esther 7: 10). Esther’s triumph does not at all suggest or encourage a Jewish victory over the foreign power, but rather implies that there is a comfortable place for Jews within the empire.

There is no mention of God in this tale—which is generally thought to be a legend designed to validate the feast of Purim in March. But in the LXX there are additions to the book of Esther which give it and the festival associated with it a religious tone previously lacking. The reversal of fortunes which Esther secured, attributed to her beauty and her daring in the book, are ascribed, in the Additions, to her piety. These Additions, written by several hands between the 2nd cent. BCE and the 1st cent. CE, are to be found in the Apocrypha in Protestant Bibles, but Catholics have inserted them in the appropriate places within the text. To make it clear that those sections are not part of the Hebrew text, the Catholic NJB prints them in italics.

The date suggested (above) for the composition of the book is borne out by the language’s total absence of any Greek influence, while its lack of interest in the Jerusalem Temple, and the context of Jews scattered round the empire, argue for an authorship in the diaspora. It was a model for women there to establish their sense of worth, but surely not without embarrassment about Esther’s submissive immorality (her greater beauty excited the king more than the modesty of Queen Vashti, who was promptly divorced). There is also the unbecoming and ruthless vindictiveness of Esther (9: 12).

Passages in the Greek Esther contain 50 references to God which are not in the Hebrew, thus enhancing its religious appeal.