When Samuel Met Esther: Narrative Focalisation, Intertextuality, and Theology -- By: David G. Firth
STR 1:1 (Winter 2010) p. 15
When Samuel Met Esther:
Narrative Focalisation, Intertextuality,
St. John’s College, Nottingham
The book of Esther continues to be regarded as one of the strangest books of the Bible. Quite apart from being the only book in the Bible that definitely does not mention God,1 it seems to go out of its way to avoid obviously theological statements. Even its most famed comments in 4:14 about help arising for the Jews from ‘another place’ and asking whether Esther has come to power for ‘such a time as this’ are more oblique in their theology (if indeed there is any theology) than we might wish.2 Indeed, we only need to reach 4:16 to find Esther ordering a severe three day fast that excludes any reference to prayer, though this has not stopped the GNB from including it.3 In short, Esther not only does not mention God, it seems to do its best to avoid mentioning God, and in this way can be distinguished from any other book of the Bible. Indeed, although it seeks to validate the feast of Purim as a continuing element within Jewish life, its reason for doing so is not overtly theological.4 On the other hand, its place within the Bible suggests that, from the perspective of the canon, it is regarded as a theological text, albeit one that seems to avoid that which is generally regarded as central to a theological process.
This has not stopped scholars and popular readers deploying any number of methods for finding something theological in Esther. If we set aside the purely
STR 1:1 (Winter 2010) p. 16
allegorical as an exegetical process which lacks any control,5 then we are left with varying approaches which seek either to recognise the ‘God shaped holes’ left in the narrative6 or to seek the theological intent of the narrative through its literary form, in particular through its intertextual relations with other parts of the canon. By far the most popular suggestions here are that Esther draws on themes of wisdom7 or that there are links with the Joseph story, the Exodus or the book of Daniel.8 In reality of course, since there is no necessary limit to the number of texts with which a text may create intertextual allusions, we need not rule ou...
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