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Hadassah's Author

by Tim O'Hearn

Who wrote the book of Esther? Scholars disagree. Actually, scholars disagree about who wrote most of the books of the Bible. A few identify the writer, and even some of those have been questioned. Like the book of Mark. Most scholars might even agree that it was probably written by the John Mark that sometimes accompanied Paul. Many, though, suspect that he was just the scribe or ghost writer for Peter. Of course, the most famous unnamed author is the writer of the book of Hebrews. Sometimes Paul is proposed, but mostly the author is now simply called “the writer of Hebrews.” (Some add, “whoever he or she was.”)

With Purim coming up (March 24, 2016), it might be interesting to look at who wrote the book that is read around the world on that date. As with Genesis and Hebrews, there is much disagreement on the authorship. Generally, there are two candidates most often proposed. Would it be anachronistic to propose a third?

Possibly the leading candidate for the authorship is Nehemiah. The events of the book of Esther took place in the reign of Ahasuerus, who is now commonly assumed to be Xerxes I; this in spite of the Septuagint translation and Josephus using the name Artaxerxes for the king in the book. Nehemiah served Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes I. The author’s familiarity with the royal city of Susa (Shushan) argues that the author was from that city, as was Nehemiah. He was a significant servant in the palace, and so could describe the palace and the palace customs in intimate detail. The author was also clearly Jewish, with a concern for Jewish nationalism, which also fits Nehemiah.

A second candidate, proposed by Josephus and some early rabbis, is the main male character of the story, Mordechai. Since the book is about him and his ward, Hadassah (Esther), he would know the facts. One could argue that, as an outsider, he would not have known the details of the palace; however, at the end of the book he is elevated to a position that would give him that detail. A couple of factors militate against Mordechai, however. One is that he would have had to have written the book shortly after the events recorded. The problem is that the holiday had been well established by the time of the writing. It is only barely possible Mordechai lived long enough to be the author. The other factor is the descriptions of Mordechai himself. It would not be unheard of for a man who rose from obscurity to power to blow his own horn. That, though, does not accord with Mordechai’s description in the book.

A possibility that has not been mentioned in most of the literature is that Esther wrote the book. Her age would have allowed her to live longer than Mordechai. She was intimately involved, and had an interest in showing the promotion of Mordechai. The one thing that most goes in her favor, however, is chapter 1. To the modern American mind, that chapter sounds more like it was written for a women’s magazine than for GQ. Nor is it beyond reason to believe that women have always taken more of an interest in the palace decorations. This is perhaps more of a 21st Century, chauvinist viewpoint. On the other hand, chauvinists of an earlier age would have dismissed her as the author just because she was a woman.

Ultimately, the only thing we can say with reasonable certainty is that someone wrote the book. Even though it doesn’t mention God directly, it is pretty well accepted that He is the ultimate author. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter who wrote it.