Jun 11, 2014

The Genre of Esther

Opinions on the genre of Esther vary widely from historical narrative to short story or novel. Early Jewish opinion saw it as “both law and history.”[1] Some interpreters have seen it as either wholly fictitious or partially so, while others have regarded it as generally historical. Whatever the case may be, the book gives itself internal evidence indicating that it was indeed a historical account. As Berg points out “The histiographical nature of the book is underlined by its opening and concluding passages. The narrator begins his work in a manner typical of biblical histories and concludes with a challenge to verify his account.”[2] Also, the cultural details, the specific names, places, and titles would at the very least imply historicity. Therefore, it is probably best to see Esther as a historical narrative woven with great artistic skill. Jobe’s words are helpful at this point. “Rather than deciding whether the book of Esther is history or literature, the real question is how to understand it as both. When reading the Esther story, it would be a shame to allow ourselves to be so distracted by the historical ‘problems’ it raises that we completely miss the point of this wonderful book. Similarly, it would be a mistake to be so impressed by its literary qualities that we dismiss the book as pious fiction.”[3]

[1] Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Esther,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (April-June 1980), 101.
[2] Sandra Beth Berg, The Book of Esther: Motifs, Themes, and Structure, Society of Biblical Literature and Dissertation Series 44 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979), 2.
[3] Karen H. Jobes, Esther, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 37.

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