Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

October 1996


Published in Bible Review XII (October 1996), pp. 28-33, 56. Copyright 1996 Biblical Archeology Society. Used by permission.


It is a commonplace that every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther has been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Actually, this is true only if you count Ezra-Nehemiah as one book-as, indeed, it is so regarded in Jewish tradition- since only a fragment of Ezra, but not Nehemiah, has been identified. But why not Esther? Some have suggested theological reasons: Esther is not a particularly religious book; it lacks any interest in Judah and its cultic institutions; and it has a sympathetic view toward the gentile King Ahasuerus. Moreover, it is the only book of the Hebrew Bible that does not mention the name of God. Others have suggested that it's a matter of happenstance. There may well have been a copy or copies of Esther among the scrolls, but they did not survive.

In 1992 the direction of the discussion drastically changed, for in that year J. T. Milik published a fragmentary (as usual) text he claimed was a model or source for the book of Esther. He denominated the text proto-Esther and tried to show that there was a relationship of direct dependency between the text from Qumran, where the scrolls were discovered, and the text found in the Hebrew Bible. Is Milik right? We are going to look at the text quite carefully before deciding. But whatever the answer, our exploration of this text will tell us a lot about how Dead Sea Scroll scholars work. A translation of the four fragments of the Qumran text is printed in the boxes on pages 31-33. A glance will show that they are extremely fragmentary, with much more missing than preserved. If you read the text at this point, it is unlikely to make any sense. So our initial task will be to try to squeeze some meaning out of it. You may be surprised at how much we will find.

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