I am working with Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible. The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.
How do you respond to experiencing a narrow escape from certain disaster? Perhaps the only thing to do is to look back and laugh—and this is what the book of Esther does. Another really surprising inclusion in the Bible, it is quite different from anything else we find in it.
It tells the story of how the Jews were rescued from genocide in the Persian empire of the great Xerxes in the fifth century BC, but does so in almost comic-book fashion.
The story turns on the role of Esther, the beautiful but modest Jewess who becomes Queen, her uncle Mordecai, older and wiser, who has in the past rescued Xerxes from assassination, and the scheming Haman, who hates Mordecai and wants the Jews destroyed. Through a series of bizarre reversals, Haman ends up bestowing on Mordecai the honours he wanted for himself, and he suffers the gruesome fate that he had planned for Mordecai. In one scene straight from a ‘Carry On’ film, Haman pleads with Queen Esther on her couch, and trips, and the king bursts in, sees what is happening, and thinks Haman is assaulting Esther.
Verses: Esther 7.5–10
King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing? Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman. Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realising that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.
Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining. The king exclaimed, Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house? As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.
Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman’s house. He had it made for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king. The king said, Hang him on it! So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.
One of the surprising things about the book of Esther is that God does not get a mention. He is the silent actor behind the action, and the unspoken conclusion is that all these things were meant to be. The focus is on the significance of the right people being in the right place at the right time—as Mordecai says to Esther, she has been placed in her role ‘for such a time as this.’
This week’s picture is from a stunning series of mosaics on the Esther story, using materials whose earliest mention comes in this biblical book, by Lilian Broca. Visit her website for a wonderful gallery of images. A book of the mosaics The Hidden and The Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca (Sheila Campbell, Yosef Wosk and Lilian Broca: Gefen Publishing House Ltd) is due out in September.