Thursday, July 21, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 6: Martin Luther (cont.)



We must carefully distinguish between Luther's actual reasons for rejecting Esther, from Luther's arguments against it, which he used to justify its rejection, and convince other to do so.

There is indeed an obvious difference:  Luther's rejection of Esther, as stated by him is probably honest enough:  the book is too Jewish.  He finds further fault with it in that it promotes Judaism.  This is an important observation, not that the book necessarily promotes Judaism, but that Luther perceived it that way.

For it is a reasonable admission that the book does portray Judaism in a positive light.  We make this point, because others have attempted to interpret the book as casting Jews and Judaism in a negative light.
For instance, in his article on Bible.Org, entitled  Miss Persia ,
 Bob Deffinbaugh
Ezra and Nehemiah are the account of the godly Jews who returned to the promised land and who sought to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple amidst great difficulty and opposition.
Esther, on the other hand, is an account of those who became too attached to the land of their sojournings and thus disobeyed God by not returning when it was not only allowed, but commanded.

...While Ezra and Nehemiah focus on the return to the land by the faithful remnant, Esther depicts the fate of those who remain in the land of their captivity. We should not expect Mordecai and Esther to be godly Jews, for they are living in disobedience. No wonder there is no mention of God, and no wonder that Esther’s Persian name is the name of a heathen God, Ishtar."
(- Deffinbaugh, Miss Persia )
Thus we have the ironic situation of Luther rejecting Esther for its vindication of Judaism, while modern commentators who claim to embrace the book's Scriptural status interpret it in the most negative way possible.

One can't help feeling that anti-Semites have become quite sophisticated in their use of Esther.  It is now clung to, almost revelled in, and held up as yet another piece of "evidence against the Jews",  and so is willingly accepted as Canon, provided the anti-Judaism diatribe be allowed to continue.

No wonder ordinary Christians are utterly confused about the book of Esther.

Luther's open rejection of Esther has itself been abandoned, in favor of a new interpretation, denigrading Esther, Mordecai, and pretty much all the Jews in the Babylonian empire!   Although safely hiding behind a "high view of Scripture", and the methods of 'rational-historical criticism', its the same old anti-Semitism, this time more sinister, and camera-shy.

The reasons which Luther initially gave for rejecting Esther, have become tools to be used in its new interpretation.
Observe Deffinbaugh's clever performance here:
"What a wonderful, heart-warming story. It could have begun, “Once upon a time . . .” and ended “. . . happily ever after.” But before we feel too good about what we have read, we should give the matter a little more thought. Here are a few questions with which to begin:
(1) Why is the name of God never mentioned in the Book of Esther?
(2) Why is prayer never specifically mentioned in the book?
(3) Why does the New Testament never mention or refer to anything concerning the Book of Esther?
(4) The Book of Esther gives the historical basis for the feast of Purim. Why is this feast never mentioned in the New Testament?
(5) Why have neither Calvin nor Luther chosen to write a commentary on the Book of Esther, and why did Luther indicate he wished the book did not exist?
(6) Why is the Book of Esther the number one favorite of all the Old Testament books among the Jews?
(7) Why do later Greek translations add so many verses (107) to the Hebrew text (157) and try so hard to change our understanding of the earliest texts?
(8) Since the book concerns Jews living outside the promised land, why is there never any mention of God’s Law, of the Holy Land, or of Jerusalem and the temple?
(9) Why are we so easily inclined to look upon King Ahasuerus as evil and to view Mordecai and Esther as godly?
(10) Why are we happy to see Esther on the throne, even though she has misrepresented her nationality and kin, is living outside the promised land, and is married to a heathen king, the winner of a contest which included sleeping with the king?
Something is drastically wrong with God’s people as represented in the Book of Esther. We should not delight in Esther’s “success” in becoming queen; we should be distressed."
 Deffinbaugh actually does us a small favor, listing some of the main historical objections to the book of Esther.

Questions (3) and (4) are illegitimate, because they are anachronistic.  The OT Canon was established before the NT was written.
Question (5) is a ludicrous innuendo, given Luther's rampant anti-Semitism.  Calvin too is another anachronistic "authority".  If the NT must be legitimized by the OT, how much more so does a 16th century critic need to be set straight by the word of God, and not vice versa?
(6) is the most remarkable attempt at 'guilt by association'.  Why wouldn't a people or tribe be enthusiastic about their own national literature?  Do the Greeks like Homer?  Could a question be stupider?
Question (9) is something better left for psychology students, but of no concern to commentators or interpreters.

Question (10) attempts to impose some kind of 19th century Victorian moral standard upon an ancient Biblical story.  We doubt any Biblical story would survive that standard of measure.

We are left with perhaps 3 or 4 historical and textual questions worth investigating.   After all, if the book of Esther is being accepted or rejected based upon historical-critical methods, we had best have a look at evidence.


(to be continued...)

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