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The JPS Bible Commentary: Esther Hardcover – January 1, 2001

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This informative commentary (part of JPS's Bible Commentary series) dissects the book of Esther and, by extension, the Jewish holiday of Purim. Berlin begins with a lengthy introduction, discussing Esther as comedy and as diaspora literature; the introduction also does a fine job of explaining the Persian period and its various art forms. Concerning Purim, Berlin posits that the text of Esther may have been included in the biblical canon because the Purim holiday had already taken a strong hold. Berlin concludes that "Purim existed, in one form or another, before the book was written." The commentary section presents the Hebrew text of Esther alongside the JPS translation, with Berlin's extensive annotations below. (Feb.)Children's Religion

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Review

“This informative commentary . . . dissects the Book of Esther and, by extension, the Jewish holiday of Purim. Berlin begins with a lengthy introduction, discussing Esther as comedy and as diaspora literature; the introduction does a fine job of explaining the Persian period and its various art forms.”—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

"Berlin's literary approach to the book of Esther is a very well done, and filled with important information."—David J. Zucker, Women in Judaism
(David J. Zucker Women in Judaism)
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Product Details

  • Series: JPS Bible Commentary
  • Hardcover: 110 pages
  • Publisher: The Jewish Publication Society (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0827606990
  • ISBN-13: 978-0827606999
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.7 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on February 28, 2016
Format: Hardcover
This is a highly unusual commentary on the book of Esther; rather than treating the Esther story as historical fact, she treats it as a kind of comic historical novel, suggesting there is just too much silly stuff (e.g. royal edicts that cannot be reversed no matter how silly, the king's assumption that Haman is sexually harassing Esther instead of pleading for mercy at Esther 7:8) for the story to be real. But even if you don't agree with her conclusion, some of her ideas are interesting.

Berlin emphasizes the similarity between Esther and Greek writings about Persia, and suggests that the author was either familiar with the Persian Empire, or was familiar with Greek writings about it. For example, common motifs in writing about Persia include the widespread use of large banquets, luxury generally, kings' consultation with legal experts, strong royal women, and Persia's excellent postal system. She also uses Greek writing to clarify details about the story: for example, Herodotus wrote that the Persian king had a yearly dinner at which he distributed gifts, which seems similar to the banquets in Esther. She also uses Babylonian history, noting that Mordecai (Marduka in Babylonian) was a common Babylonian name.

In addition, Berlin discusses parallels between the book of Esther and the Hebrew Bible. For example, she compares the story of Purim to the story of Saul and Amalek: while Saul (ancestor of Mordecai) took spoils inappropriately, the Jews who defended themselves in the book of Esther refused to take spoils from their enemies (who were led by Haman, an ancestor of Saul's Amalekite enemies)- perhaps wiping out Saul's sin in a way. Berlin also discusses differences between the dominant version of Esther and the Greek Jewish version, which makes Esther seem more pious and discusses her emotions to a greater extent, but does not suggest that Haman had Amalekite ancestry.
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Format: Hardcover
Fully half of this book is devoted to a discussion of the background of the work and its interpretations. It is quite helpful in understanding and interpreting the text. There is a ten page bibliography that makes it clear the work was exhaustively researched and many points of view were considered.
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Format: Hardcover
This commentary fills a large gap between the usual superficial Bible commentaries and very advanced works like the International Critical Commentary. (The volume on Esther in that series is anyway hopelessly out of date.) It provides a lot of solid information in a large solid volume but without overwhelming technicalities. Its attitude is that Esther is a comic novel, presumably with no historical basis for its plot although the background details are confirmed by modern archaeology. Don't expect light reading, but after you have read this you will have learnt a lot.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this because I was doing research on the Book of Esther for a project on American Jewish feminism, and was impressed with the level of specificity, both in terms of Talmudic commentary and the actual historical circumstances surrounding the production of the story. Many of Berlin's arguments center around the idea that the Book of Esther is farcical, but her commentary suggests that certain aspects of it ought to be taken seriously.
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