Esther is one of the most famous people from the Old Testament. The story of her life, as told in the Biblical book bearing her name, has been adapted to the stage and film. Joan Collins played her in Esther and the King (1960); Tiffany Dupont played her in One Night with the King (2006) based on the novel by Tommy Tenney. In 2013, Jen Lilley played the role in The Book of Esther.
It is easy to see why the book has captured the interest of storytellers in several media. It has court intrigues, romance, poetic justice, a beauty pageant, culture clashes, political and religious oppression, just to name a few elements a storyteller or reader of almost any persuasion might latch onto. You can bring many viewpoints to this book and carry many interpretations from it, though the book also provides its own interpretation.
Esther takes place during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (generally identified as Xerxes I). He puts aside his wife, Queen Vashti, and his princes arrange an elaborate campaign to find a replacement. Esther is forcibly recruited into the competition. Esther is a Jewish woman, a ward of her relative Mordecai, who serves in Ahasuerus’ court. He secretly advises her, her humility and kindness win her favor in with the head caretaker of the harem, and her beauty wins the king. Meanwhile, Haman, a high official who has come to hate Mordecai, hatches a plan to destroy the Jewish people through the empire. Esther risks her life to appeal to the king and thwart Haman’s plan. This summary hardly does justice to the story, though even in the Bible the style is plain.
These events are the genesis of the Jewish festival of Purim. This is where the internal interpretation of the book comes in. Esther is celebrated for her courage to act. In addition to that, the hand of God, who is barely mentioned in the book, is seen throughout the events. He puts someone in place to rescue the Jewish captives from their enemies. He elevates Esther and Mordecai to give them protection while they are under the rule of foreigners. Though the people were threatened with genocide, God used the situation to preserve them and possibly even set up their eventual return to their homeland.
The historical books of the Bible are generally written in a plain, narrative style, though it occasionally records songs or other literary forms. Esther stands out in that it is almost novelistic. The conflict escalates to a climax followed by a brief denouement. This makes it a very engaging book.
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