Some words of explanation are needed before I start the next book. Esther is of course part of the Old Testament canon, and I read it last year, back in September. But the version of the book that I read is the Hebrew version, and there is a Greek translation of the text, found in something called the Septuagint, a Greek document of 70 books that the Jews in dispersion read during the inter-testamental period. This version has 6 extra sections, which expand on the Hebrew text, filling in a few gaps and adding one or two fantastical moments.
My NRSV gives them chapter and verse numbers that are not in order, and slots them in to the the whole text of Esther. I’m going to call them A, B, etc up to F, like my NRSV does, and read them in 6 bits, reminding myself of the rest of the story of Esther as I go.
The text of Esther that I read last year begins very abruptly: “This happened in the days of Artazerxes ...” What happened?
Addition A provides the answer. It introduces Mordecai, describing him as a “great man,” living in Susa in Artaxerxes’ court. And he has a dream. In the dream, there are dragons, and war, and tumult and confusion. In the midst of all this, the Jews cry out to God, They are called “the righteous nation” and as result of their prayers first a tiny spring, then a great river springs forth, the horrible night is over and dawn breaks.
Next we hear how Mordecai thwarted a plot to assassinate the king, and how Haman was displeased at Mordecai’s loyalty and wishes him harm. Thus the stage is set for the first chapters of the Biblical Esther: the fall from grace of the previous queen Vashti, and the rise of Esther, chosen after a beauty contest to be her successor. Esther, like Judith, is famously beautiful.