18 August 2010

Aug 18

Reference links:
Old Testament

New book! Today we start the book of Esther. According to Harris's Understanding the Bible,
Esther is a strongly nationalistic story in which a beautiful Jewish queen risks her life to help save her people from Haman's plot to annihilate them. This secular tale of heroic resistance to Gentile persecution celebrates the origin of the festival of Purim. ... 
The only book in the Hebrew Bible that does not even mention God, Esther at first glance appears to be an entirely secular tale, one in which human characters seem to act on their own initiative and without specific divine guidance. On closer inspection, however, Esther may represent a fresh and subtle way of representing God's hidden influence on human history. ... 
As a work of historical imagination, Esther interweaves some reliable information about the Persian Empire during the fifth century B.C.E. with an ingenious tale of imminent catastrophe and redemption. Scholars believe that the author may have adapted the historical background ... Attempts to verify specific events in the story, however, have been unsuccessful.
Wikipedia adds the following interesting detail:
The story is also the first time that the word Jew (יְהוּדִי) was used, thus denoting a distinction between the Hebrews, the Israelites, and their Jewish descendants in the diaspora.
Note that this is relative to the traditional ordering used in the Tanakh. As I have noted, both Ezra and Nehemiah use the term, but they come after Esther in the Tanakh.

Probably the most important thing about the book of Esther from my point of view, is that it is a good story. That is quite a relief after Ezra and Nehemiah. King Ahasuerus (a.k.a., King Xerxes), deposes his wife, Queen Vashti, when she refuses to appear before the drunken king and his drunken guests. This, in my opinion, should be any woman's prerogative, even if her husband is the king.

Having sent away Vashti, Ahasuerus gathers up all of the beautiful women of the land and adds them to his harm. He sleeps with them one by one until he finds one he likes well enough to be his king. Interesting but rather disturbing detail:
When it was time for [one of the young women] to go to the king’s palace, she was given her choice of whatever clothing or jewelry she wanted to take from the harem. That evening she was taken to the king’s private rooms, and the next morning she was brought to the second harem, where the king’s wives lived. There she would be under the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch in charge of the concubines. She would never go to the king again unless he had especially enjoyed her and requested her by name.
So for most of these women, the best of the beautiful young virgins of the land, this signals the end of their chance at a loving or even at a sexual relationship. Unless they happen to get pregnant in that one night, they will never be mothers. They will live their life out as unused possessions of the king. They probably lived a life of relative luxury, but still, it is kind of a harsh fate for a king to try and throw off so many women.

Can you tell I'm not so fond of Ahasurerus? In any case, the chosen woman is Esther, a beautiful Jewish woman. She hides her heritage under the instruction of her cousin and caretaker, Mordecai. Mordecai saves the king from an assassination plot, but he also angers Haman, the kings official, by not bowing down when Haman goes by.

This bugs Haman, so he decides to kill off all the Jews in the land. Ahasureus agrees, and a degree is sent out that in a bit less than a year, there would be a day when everyone would be allowed to kill Jews and take their property.

Oh no! We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens next.

New Testament

Paul talks about proper behavior at the Lord's Supper. During that discussion, he drops this bomb of a statement (emphasis mine),
So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.
Paul just claimed that people who approach the Lord's Supper the wrong way get sick and die. Do any Christians actually believe this? It sounds pretty ridiculous to me.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing new.