Monday, May 24, 2010

The fifth scroll

I have to come finally to the fifth scroll, Esther. I do not know yet where this will take me. My current writing has made me focus on theology as well as Hebrew translation. I find the way each book treats God has made me think about the personages in the text and their relationship as portrayed.

So Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz are very personal towards God, but the characters in Job are filled with near to far tension among the various names of God that they use. And Qohelet has its singular perspective. Lamentations is like the Psalms (as is the character of Job) in that the lament directly addresses God. This is not the case in either Ruth or Qohelet.

In Esther, a name meaning star but very similar to the Hebrew for hidden, no name of God appears at all. This is not even true of the Song where Yah appears briefly in chapter 8 and is hidden in the word play of the hosts of roe and the goodly hart. So how is God hidden in Esther - or should I even ask this question?

I have not read Esther for 33 years. I can date this because I was reading it to my children when we first came to Calgary (1977), and since we had no house, we were in a hotel and I was reading it to them at breakfast (I know, I know). A man at the next table was seriously affronted by my reading, though my voice was discreet (but I am a tenor), and he came up to me and said I should not be reading such a book to my children. So what will I learn from this book? I have been reluctant to start translating! 

Robert Alter gives it a mention in his 'Art of Biblical Narrative' and he calls this post-exilic story "a kind of fairytale - the lovely damsel, guided by a wise godfather, is made queen and saves her people - richly embellished with satiric invention; its comic art departs from historical verisimilitude in ways that pre-exilic Hebrew narrative seldom does,..." so in true literary critical form, I will be looking for these in the story -  they are not very hard to find in the first chapter.

But what is its serious underbelly?