Thursday, May 03, 2012

Why No Esther in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Probably every tour guide who visits the site of Qumran makes note of the fact that a portion of every Old Testament book was discovered in the nearby caves with the exception of Esther (given that Ezra-Nehemiah were a single book). You may have heard a suggestion or two offered for this lack, but I found helpful a summary of possibilities given by Sidnie White Crawford in her article on the Book of Esther in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1: 269).

1. The fact that no fragments have been preserved is simply owing to accident or chance. The book is relatively short and may have been in existence in the community but simply not preserved or discovered.

2. The male community at Qumran was not interested in a book in which the hero was a female.

3. The Qumran community was opposed to the book which describes a Jewish woman marrying a Gentile king and not following the Jewish laws.

4. The book of Esther was not known in the land of Israel in the first century.

5. The book was written too late to be included in the body of sacred scrolls.

I would be inclined to believe that because of #2 and #3, #1 is true. It may also be observed that the book of Esther is never quoted in the New Testament, nor is Purim mentioned.

Qumran cliffs with caves aerial, tb010703350

Cliffs near Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found

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11 Comments:

  • That is one great photo, Todd!!

    By Blogger David Hansen, at Thu May 03, 08:00:00 AM  

  • Perhaps Esther was not accepted by the Qumran community because it does not contain the name of God. It is the only book in the HB canon that doesn't have the name.

    By Blogger Jamie, at Thu May 03, 08:53:00 AM  

  • #s 2 & 3 are rather good insights.

    Given the nature of Qumran and the gender roles within that community and also the larger socio-religious context it shouldn't be unexpected that they would have a problem. Yet, why is Ruth there?

    Maybe the Gentile point is more germane, but also taking a late dating for Esther is also reasonable.

    By Blogger Robert Angison, at Thu May 03, 10:08:00 AM  

  • I would like to comment on 4,5.

    4. II Mac. mentions the "Day of Mordecai" so I would assume that the tradition is around (I seem to recall an Egyptian reference from the second century BC too but I can't find it). That is not to mention the LXX.

    5. I Enoch and other "late" sacred writings were copied/referenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so this reason does not seem valid for excluding Esther simply due to the date (if the later dates for composition are affirmed).

    I think the message was not as germane and so it was not much discussed (thus 1. and 2.). Esther has never been a linchpin for the apocalypse ;) and hence, the apocalyptic community at Qumran.

    By Blogger thomas mid, at Thu May 03, 10:17:00 AM  

  • How did you take that picture Todd? Obviously, you were in a small plane or helicopter?

    By Blogger Brian Milam, at Thu May 03, 11:32:00 AM  

  • Also against 4 and 5 (following on Thomas' heels) are the fragments of 4Q550, which appear to indicate some familiarity with Esther.

    A.D.

    By Blogger A.D. Riddle, at Thu May 03, 12:38:00 PM  

  • The latest BAR points to this: http://torleifelgvin.wordpress.com/english/ . According to that, the first Nehemia fragment has been found.

    This just makes #1 all the more likely.

    By Blogger Itay Zandbank, at Thu May 03, 02:16:00 PM  

  • Brian - I was in a small plane.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Sat May 05, 04:58:00 AM  

  • I believe the reason is simple. Esther does not contain the Hebrew name of God and is it not necessary to "save" the text (by burial) according to Jewish Law. All other Biblical texts cannot be destroyed according to Jewish law and must be buried-to avoid desecration of the "holy name." I think the simplest reason is the best one.

    By Blogger Jason Hunter, at Sat Feb 22, 09:44:00 PM  

  • The Septuagint (LXX) suggest an earlier version of Esther had both the Name of God and His commandments.

    By Blogger Ro Ri, at Sun Mar 02, 02:02:00 PM  

  • Jamie is correct. The complete answer explains the purpose of at least some of the Qumran caves. These served as a genizah - a storage place for old and worn out scrolls that contained the Name of God יהוה - because the written Name of God was, in the eyes of Jewish tradition, holy. Any documents containing God's name could not be destroyed in their eyes, but kept, if it were possible, forever. Hence the genizah in Qumran. It was, and probably still is, common for a genizah storage place to be in every Synagogue. It is considered by some researchers that, perhaps, Qumran was the storage place for all temple documents from Jerusalem. As Jamie proposed, the absence of the Name of God in the book of Esther did not require that this scroll should be included in the genizah. Interestingly, the Name of God is in the scroll of Esther, but only as an acrostic coded entry - three times. Only the faithful Hebrew worshipers would recognize this and it confirms the justification of including Esther in the bible canon. More detail if wanted.

    By Blogger Frank Harrison, at Tue Mar 04, 04:49:00 PM  

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