Three Faces of a Queen: Characterization in the Books of Esther

Article excerpt

Three Faces of a Queen: Characterization in the Books of Esther. By Linda Day. JSOTSup 186. Sheffield: JSOT, 1995, pp. 254, $45.00.

Scholarly interest in the book of Esther remains lively, and this monograph is no exception. Originally a Ph.D. dissertation under D. T. Olson at Princeton Seminary, it explores new terrain by studying Esther's "three faces," i.e. her characterization in each of the three ancient versions (M [MT], B [LXX] and A). Day pursues literary interests, not redactional ones (p. 18). Specifically, she assesses the differences between the three portraits (p. 10). The introductory chapter sketches Day's theoretical framework for treating literary characterization and defends the selection of episodes for study. She offers no definition of "characterization," but obviously she understands it as a character's various traits rather than the author's strategy of presenting them. This absent definition is the reader's first clue to what I regard as the major weakness of Day's work-terminological and methodological imprecision.

Two lengthy chapters follow and form the bulk of the book. In chap. 2 ("Comparative Analysis"), Day offers detailed analysis of the character of Esther in nine episodes in which the queen looms large. First, she lays out the versions of each episode verse-by-verse in parallel columns, but unlike K. Jobes' recent book, Day also provides her own "literal" (Day's term) English translation of them. She underlines any Greek and Hebrew text that, in her "best judgment" (p. 29), portrays Esther differently from its parallel(s). Second, Day highlights differences in wording to assess how such textual variants impact the characterization of Esther. For example, she notes how the expanded v. 6 of episode 6 in "A" (MT 7:6) "reveals more interaction between Esther and the king" (p. 125) than do its two parallels.

Finally, Day analyzes the characterization of Esther in each episode in each version. Thus, concerning Es-ther's climactic revelation of Haman's plot against the Jews, Day observes that Esther is confident, courageous and rational in A, empathetic toward the Jews and emotionally oriented in B, and "an extremely balanced person" in M (pp. 130-134). In all candor, I found this chapter to be very tedious reading, but in fairness to Day I see no other way to present the "guts" of her analysis than the tack she takes. In any case, Day has laid out a rich interpretive lode to be mined. And Day's comparative method visually highlights differences between versions, for example, episodes narrated by only two versions (e.g. Episode 3 [only B and A] and Episode 9 [only M and B]) or told in particularly terse style (e.g. Episode 4 in M). Further, comparisons often serve to tease out insights from the text that one might otherwise miss. For instance, juxtaposing the assassination-plot pericope in B and M (MT 2:22) shows how subservient E"other is to Mordecai ("in the name of Mordecai") at this point in the narrative (p. 165).

On the other hand, I find some of Day's inferences to be questionable. To cite one example, when Esther risks her life to approach the king (Episode 4), A and B stress Esther's turbulent emotions, while M portrays Esther as "a strong person" (p. 103). But I am hard pressed to see how M by itself justifies Day's characterization of her as "without need of others," "assured" and "in control of the situation." Further, what does M say that supports Day's claim that "being in the king's presence causes [Esther] no anxiety" (p. …