Esther: Wait…Esther’s not Apocryphal, is it?
Every Christian knows about the book of Esther – the story of a young Jewish woman who marries a Persian king and whom God uses to rescue his people from the hands of the wicked Haman. Many probably also know that this is one of the only books in the Bible that never mentions God explicitly. I’ve heard one preacher describe this book as revealing the silhouette of God by sort of describing around him. He is at work through the entire book even though he never makes a prominent appearance.
What many Christians do not realize is that the version of Esther preserved in most modern, protestant Bibles is not the only version that exists. The Apocryphal version of Esther includes a number of revisions and additions – some of which attempt to embolden God’s place in the story. In today’s ‘Exploring the Apocrypha’, we’ll take a closer look at the differences between the canonical and apocryphal versions of the book of Esther.
The Differences Between the Two Esthers
In case you’re unfamiliar with the story of Esther, here’s a quick summary: King Ahasuerus of Persia doesn’t like it when his wife, Vashti, won’t parade around for a party he’s throwing. So he gets rid of her. But then he needs a new wife. So he sends an all-call out to all of the eligible ladies of the kingdom. Meanwhile, Esther is a beautiful young Jewish woman whose uncle, Mordecai, raised her. The King picks Esther to be queen in what is, essentially, an ancient version of ‘The Bachelor.’ Haman, one of the King’s officials, plots to kill all of the Jews. Together, Mordecai and Esther foil Haman’s plot and save God’s people. Everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
So, what does the Apocryphal version of Esther include that the canonical version leaves out? The Apocryphal version of Esther includes six additional sections that fit in various locations throughout the text. Each of these is designated with a letter of the alphabet (Addition A, Addition B, etc.). The length of each addition ranges in size from a few verses to entirely new chapters. But what do they contain?
Addition A introduces Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, at the very beginning of the story. In this non-canonical chapter, Mordecai has an apocalyptic dream that pits two dragons against one another. In the dream, it looks like chaos is about to be unleashed on the world but then God’s people “cried out to God; and at their outcry, as though from a tiny spring, there came a great river, with abundant water; light came, and the sun rose, and the lowly were exalted and devoured those held in honor.” Mordecai sees this vision as a prediction of what God is about to do. Along with this apocalyptic vision, Addition A has Mordecai saving King Ahaseurus from an assassination plot (he does this again in Esther 2).
This first addition includes some historically inaccurate facts. Mordecai is said to be both an official of Ahaseurus and one of the captives carried off by the Babylonians 112 years earlier. Likewise, I don’t believe that Mordecai’s vision has a basis in any vision that the real Mordecai had. However, it does provide some nice context to a similar scene from book of Revelation (See Revelation 12). If nothing else, it’s interesting to note the similarities between the two passages.
In the canonical version of Esther, Haman prompts the King to send a letter throughout his kingdom, commanding that the Jews be destroyed. Addition B purports to be that official letter. All that it really does for the story is lend it a more ‘official’ or ‘credible’ feel. But there’s no outside evidence that this letter is genuine.
Honestly, this letter adds very little to my personal reading of the book.
As I’ve already mentioned, the canonical version of Esther includes no explicit mention of God. Addition C corrects this by including two prayers, one from Mordecai and one from Esther. These prayers are back-to-back and appropriately placed right before Esther goes into the King’s throne room. The psalms and other Old Testament prayers definitely influenced this addition. It’s definitely worth reading.
There are some very worthwhile lines in these prayers but my favorite comes at the very end when Esther prays, “O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing, and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!” I love that line!
Addition D comes immediately after Addition C and replaces Esther 5:1-2. In the canonical text, Esther’s entry into the throne room only takes two verses. In this addition, it takes 16. There’s much more detail in how she enters and interestingly, the King initially looks “at her in fierce anger.” But God steps in and “changed the spirit of the king to gentleness.” As I’ve already said, Apocryphal Esther features God in a much more prominent role than Canonical Esther.
This addition to the text certainly adds an extra layer of tension and excitement to the story. As I’ve said regarding Tobit and Judith, it isn’t scripture but it is worth reading. If nothing else, it will make you think about the ways that our more familiar version of the book reveals God’s silhouette.
This addition is very similar to Addition B. Just as Addition B purported to be Ahaseurus’ letter concerning the destruction of the Jews, Addition E is supposedly is letter revoking that command. The same things I said about Addition B apply here.
Addition F ends the book of Esther with Mordecai reflecting on the dream he had in Addition A. Now he’s able to see how the vision has been fulfilled – Esther was the great river that put a stop to the dragons’ schemes. Mordecai also declares that God’s people will always remember the story of Esther and thus, establishes the festival of Purim.
This addition doesn’t add a whole lot, but it point us in a direction with regard to the way the original audience of Revelation may have understood Revelation 12:15-16.
But is it Worth Reading?
The additions to Esther definitely highlight God’s activity in ways that the canonical version does not. These make for interesting reading because they force us to really think about how God works throughout the events recorded here. The prayers of Mordecai and Esther are also worth reading and reflecting on. While the additions may not make the book more accurate, they do make it more interesting.
Want to Read it for Yourself?
If you’d like to read Judith, you can find it online here.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of the entire Apocrypha, you can get it from Amazon, here.