Jun 19, 2014

The Historicity of Esther: The Characters, Part 2

The historical veracity of Esther has been questioned by many interpreters. One point of contention relates to the historicity of the persons identified in the book. So part 1 examined two characters in Esther, namely, Ahasueras and Esther. In this post, Mordecai and Haman will be discussed.

Some scholars have attempted to assert that Mordecai was a fictional creation and not a historical figure. It is commonly pointed out that Mordecai does not even appear in the list of famous people in the Jewish Ecclesiasticus (44–49). However, as Wright explains, “even Ezra does not occur in this list and Ben Sirach may not have approved of Esther’s marriage to a pagan king.[1] Furthermore, “the name Mordecai is well authenticated as a personal name in the Persia of the fifth century B C . . . more particularly, a man named Marduka is mentioned on an undated text which probably belongs to the first two decades of the fifth century.”[2] This of course does not prove that the Mordecai is Marduka, but it does suggest that historical existence of Esther’s Mordecai is certainly possible.[3] It is also interesting to note that these treasury tablets from Persepolis seemingly identifies Marduka as a governmental accountant or treasurer,[4] and that Mordecai’s station at the “kings gate” (Esth 2:19, 21) suggests that he was an official in the king’s administration

The historical existence of Haman has also been called into question. The main contention is again that there are no records identifying a Haman outside of Esther. However, while no records of Haman the Agagite (Esth 3:1) exist outside of the book, it should be noted that one of the inscriptions of Sargon “mentions Agag as a district in the Persia empire.”[5] Furthermore certain Elamite texts lists names very similar to Haman’s father (Hamaddadda, Esth 3:1) and sons (Aridai, Aridatha, Esth 9:7–9).[6]

In sum, when one examines the major characters in Esther in light of the historical evidence, one usually finds either silence[7] or tentative support. This is not to deny the existance of difficulties (particularly with Esther), but that there is not sufficient extra-biblical data to discount the historicity of Esther solely on the basis of questions concerning the major characters. 

[1] Wright, “The Historicity of Esther,” 39.
[2] Joyce G. Baldwin, Esther, An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 21.
[3] Clines seems to reject this possibility on the presupposition that “Esther is a romance and not a historical record” and thus is “next to useless in any debate about a historical Mordecai.” D. J. A. Clines, “The Quest of the Historical Mordecai,” Vetus Testamentum 41 (1991): 131–32.
[4] Clines denies this identification. Ibid., 134.
[5] Archer, Survey, 21.
[6] Edwin M. Yamauchi, “Mordecai, the Persapolis Tablets, and the Susa Excavations,” Vetus Testamentum 41 (1992), 273–74. Yamauchi also records seven other names in Esther which have close parallels in the Elamite Persepolis texts.
[7] Arguments based on the silence are by nature weak. As Breneman writes, “The arguments against Esther’s historicity are based primarily not on evidence but on the absence of confirming evidence, in some cases, and on the improbabilities judged from our limited knowledge of the ancient world” (Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman , 1993], 281).

1 comment:

James Gray said...

Thanks for the study. I enjoyed it. I always enjoy your blog.