Dr. Platypus

Esther

Esther is the most “secular” book of the Bible. It is, as Adele Berlin described it, “a comic story for a carnivalesque holiday.” The tone of the book‚—especially as it is read in the synagogue, with boos and noisemakers to drown out the name of the villainous Haman—suits its purpose.

Purim is in some ways the Jewish equivalent of Mardi Gras, with its masks, laughter, drinking, and merrymaking. It makes no pretensions to being an ancient festival. Nowhere in the pages of Esther do we read that God commanded the Jews to observe Purim. By its own admission, Purim is a man-made holiday.

Esther (like Song of Songs and perhaps Ecclesiastes) may cause some of us difficulties because they don’t address what we would call “religious” themes. It makes no reference to the temple, prayer, or any distinctive religious practices. In fact, the book of Esther doesn’t even mention the name of God!

And yet, here is Esther in our Bibles, calling us perhaps to let down our hair from time to time and celebrate life. H. L. Mencken once commented that a Puritan is “a person who fears that somebody, somewhere in the world might be having a good time.” We must take God seriously. We must take the moral demands of the gospel seriously. We must certainly take religious liberty and human rights—clear concerns in Esther—seriously. But there is still a time for laughter and fun. This is especially true in a world that is sometimes grim and threatening.

Purim will fall on the 10th of March next year, so you’ve got eleven months to get ready. Perhaps you will choose to celebrate, either out of solidarity with the people of the First Covenant or just because you need a little lightness and frivolity in your life. If you do so, I promise not to tell your pastor.

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5 Comments

  1. Psalmist says:

    Hi, Dr. P. I fell in love with the book of Esther when researching it for a musical I wrote for my then all-girls choir. I took LOTS of license with it, but I hope I captured a little of the spirit you describe here. We, too, used “boos” and “yays” for the villain and heroine respectively, and had a “fun” approach. (Between the smack-down comments and rap of the first number, and the loud-mouth news reporter, it really was a comedy.)

    Anyway, thank you for writing about what is now one of my favorite books of the Bible. My choir children will never forget the story, either.

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  2. D. P. says:

    Psalmist: Last week I had my students perform a brief Purim play complete with bad puns, pop-culture references, and so forth, which I had cobbled together from various sources. I wish I had had a copy of your libretto to guide me!

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  3. Psalmist says:

    If you like, I can send you a copy of the libretto. Too late for the class project, of course, but if you’re interested, I’m glad for you to have it.

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  4. D. P. says:

    Please do!

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