11 November 2011

The Esther Killings: Do they belong on God's list?

Esther is one of the two books in the Bible in which God is not even mentioned (the other is the Song of Solomon).

Maybe that's why some Bible believers, such as Martin Luther, believed that it should be excluded from the Bible. In Luther's case, however, it probably had more to do with his extreme antisemitism. Because the point of the Book of Esther, if it has a point, is this: God loves Jews more than everyone else and anyone who has ever had a bad thought about them should be killed. (And Luther had lots of bad thoughts about Jews.)

There is a whole series of killings in Esther, mostly to avenge antisemitism. But since the Book of Esther does not mention God's name, it's difficult to blame him directly for these killings. Still, since Esther is included in the Bible, the God of the Bible must approve of the killings, insofar as a nonexistent being can approve of anything.

The Book of Esther also has an important message for women: your job in life is to look pretty and to please, honor, and obey men. If that means dancing naked in front of your husband's drunken guests, dance naked. Be an Esther, not a Vashti. (Which is, of course, bad advice. Vashti is the hero of the Book of Esther and she gets my vote for the best person in the Bible.)

So what about the Esther killings? Do they belong on God's list? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Here's the story.

After the Esther wins the dancing-naked-before-the-king contest, she goes on a killing spree.
She begins by telling the king to hang two men that her friend (Mordecai) said wanted to kill the king.
Two of the king's chamberlains ... sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus. And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king ... And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree. Esther 2:21-23
Then, for some strange reason, the king told everyone in the kingdom to bow and show reverence to a guy named Haman.
All the king's servants ... bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded. Esther 3:2a
But Esther's Jewish friend Mordecai refused.
But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence. Esther 3:2b
So Haman, did what any proper Bible villain would do: he tried to kill every Jew in the kingdom.
When Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath ... Wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom. Esther 3:5-6
Haman offered to give the king 10,000 talents (~300,000 kg) of silver if he would kill all the Jews. And the king said, "OK, that sounds like a good idea. Let's kill all the Jews."
Haman said unto king Ahasuerus ... let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver.
And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman ... the Jews' enemy.
And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee. Esther 3:8-10
The king sent out a decree to all the provinces declaring a kingdom-wide Kill-the-Jews Day. It was to take place on the 13th day of the 12th month. "All Jews, both young and old, little children and women" were to be killed on that day.
Letters were sent by posts into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. Esther 3:13
Haman, at his wife and friends' suggestion, decides to begin by building a 25 meter tall gallows to hang Mordecai on.
Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon ... And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made. Esther 5:14
Meanwhile, at one of the king's drunken parties, the king told Esther that he'd give her whatever she wanted, up to half the kingdom.
So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen. And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine ... what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom. Esther 7:1-3
Esther asks the king not to murder all the Jews. And the king says, "Huh? Who is trying to kill the Jews?" (The king had completely forgotten that he had ordered the genocide of the Jews back in chapter 3.)
The king ... said unto Esther ... Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Esther 7:5-6
So the king hangs Haman high.
So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king's wrath pacified. Esther 7:10
After hanging Haman at Esther's request, the king gave Esther (and her buddy Mordecai) Haman's ring and house.
The king took off his ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.
I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews. Esther 8:1-7
Then, at Esther's request, the king ordered a preemptive strike on all 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. Everyone who planned to kill Jews will be killed by Jews, along with their wives and children. And all this killing is to take place on a single day -- the day after the first decree ordered all the Jews to be killed. (How are the Jews to figure out who planned to kill them and who didn't? Were they supposed to just kill everyone and let God sort it out? And why did they need to kill the women and children?)
"Mordecai commanded ... the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces ... to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women.
Upon one day in all the provinces ... the Jews should be ready against that day to avenge themselves on their enemies. Esther 8:9-13
On the day when all Jew-haters (and their families) were killed by Jews, "the Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour ... a feast and a good day." (Esther 8:16-17a)

But many of the Jew-haters became Jews rather than be killed for wanting to kill Jews.
Many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them. Esther 8:17b
So the Jews kill everyone who ever had a bad thought toward them, along with their Jew-hating families.
The Jews had rule over them that hated them. The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces ... to lay hand on such as sought their hurt: and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people.
...
The Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them. Esther 9:1-5
They killed 500 men in Shushan.
In Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men. Esther 9:6
They killed the ten sons of Haman.
The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they. Esther 9:10
Esther asks the king to kill all those who planned to kill the Jews and hang the already dead bodies of Haman's ten sons on trees.
The king said unto Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman ... what is thy request further? ... Then said Esther ... let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do to morrow also according unto this day's decree, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged.
...
And they hanged Haman's ten sons. Esther 9:12-13
Then the Jews killed another 300 men at Shushan,
The Jews ... slew three hundred men at Shushan. Esther 9:15
And 75,000 other Jew-haters.
The other Jews ... slew of their foes seventy and five thousand. Esther 9:16
The day after killing all the Jew-haters and their families, the Jews took a day off to party. (This is the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim.)
On the fourteenth day of the same rested they, and made it a day of feasting and gladness. Esther 9:17
And then, at Esther's request, the king hung Haman and his ten sons (again).
When Esther came before the king, he commanded ... that he [Haman] and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Esther 9:25
After the killings, "Modecai the Jew was ... great among the Jews ... seeking the wealth of" the Jews. And so ends the Book of Esther.

Here is a list of the Esther killings:

People killed Number Esther verse
The two treasonous chamberlains 2 2:21-23
Haman 1 7:10
Men in Sushan 500 9:6
Haman's sons 10 9:12-13
More men in Sushan 300 9:15
People who planned to kill Jews on Kill-the-Jews Day 75,000 9:16
Total 75,813


December 14 note: See God hath done these things: The Apocrypha to the Rescue! for the happy resolution to this problem.

God's next killing: Job’s children and slaves

5 comments:

nazani said...

Yes, they belong. You've included other killings of people that were mean to Jews or simply had something that the Hebrews wanted; I see no fundamental difference here.

I'd always thought that the independent behavior of Judith and Esther was the main reason their books were kicked out. Actually, i still think that.

skanksta said...

Sorry, but can't see yahweh's fingerprints on this crime scene AT ALL.

SamuEL said...

Picture the Nazi's, but place that character in people who lived 3000 years ago..savages. We still up to not long ago where hunting them for killing Jews (and hanging them). Esther was written of people who lived in Babylon after Israel was returned it's land by Darius. This book shows with out mention of God, (because he wasn't being worshiped by them), but he shows he still is with them as he promised to be. It is the literary genuis of the Holy Spirit to leave out mention of God and yet show his presence.

G. Schwartz said...

"But since the Book of Esther does not mention God's name, it's difficult to blame him directly for these killings. Still, since Esther is included in the Bible, the God of the Bible must approve of the killings, insofar as a nonexistent being can approve of anything."

You have missed an important point when discussing narrative in the biblical text. Just because something is in the Bible does not mean that God approved of what happened. On your logic, the death of Uriah due to the scheming of David would have been approved by God, merely because it is in the Bible. But clearly God did not approve of Uriah's death, because he sent Nathan to David to confront him with his sin.

The mere presence of an event in the biblical text is not God's rubber stamp on what happened. There are clearly times in the Bible when God did not approve of what happened. But these events are included in the biblical text for a reason, not haphazardly.

And furthermore, the narratives of the Bible are not always meant to be normative for Christian practice. Sometimes these narratives are merely descriptive passages which preserve for us the events that happened.

Earl Purple said...

The Jews were armed to defend themselves. The people came out to battle with them but were probably taken by surprise as they were expecting to mass-murder unarmed Jewish civilians but instead came up against a well-trained army, and got killed themselves.

Aside from Vashti, whose death may have been the will of G-d, I don't see any of the others as unjustified homocides.

It does not say anywhere that the deaths including innocent civilians or children.