Friday, September 16, 2016

Lovely Susanna became the great Queen Esther


Image result for beautiful ancient jewess

 

by

 

Damien F. Mackey

 

 

 

Part One: Mordecai as ‘Marduka’

 

 

And Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus. He was a man held in respect among the Jews, esteemed by thousands of his brothers, a man who sought the good of his people and cared for the welfare of his entire race.

 

Esther 10:3

 

 

Introduction

 

With the assistance of a significantly revised Neo-Babylonian dynasty through to the early Medo-Persian period, as set out in, for example: 

 


 


 

I have been able historically to identify the King Belshazzar of Daniel 5 as King Evil-Merodach, son of Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’, and the un-named second ruler in Belshazzar’s kingdom as Jehoiachin (or Coniah), whom Evil-Merodach had exalted over the other princes in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30).

These are all historically verifiable kings.

Now, if Jehoiachin (Coniah) is also, as I have tentatively identified him:

 


 


 

then that leads us into the Book of Esther, and to Mordecai, who, with Queen Esther herself, would expose the machinations of Haman.

Is there any evidence that this Mordecai, too, was a real historical person?

There may be. David J. Clines, in his article “The Quest for the Historical Mordecai” (https://www.academia.edu/2454296/The_Quest_for_the_Historical_Mordecai), writes of one “Marduka” in Susa during the Persian period whom various scholars have considered as a possible candidate for Mordecai. I am interested here in what Clines writes about these various opinions, since Clines himself seems pre-disposed to dismiss the Book of Esther as merely “a romance”:

 

…. it appears to be necessary to insist that evidence for a Persian official at Susa named Marduka, if that is really what we have, is next to useless in any debate about a historical Mordecai. For if on other grounds it seems probable that the book of Esther is a romance and not a historical record, it is quite irrelevant to the larger question of the historicity of the writing to discover that one of its characters bears a name attested for a historical person. Fictitious characters usually do.

 

Clines tells of these other estimations of Marduka:

 

In the standard works, commentaries, encyclopaedias and monographs, wherever the historicity of the Book of Esther is discussed, there is usually to be found some reference to the possible extra-biblical evidence for Mordecai. Here is an extract from a typical encyclopaedia article in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:

 

Reference must be made to a single undated cuneiform document from the Persian period, found at Borsippa, which refers to a certain Marduka who was a finance officer of some sort in the Persian court at Susa during the reign of Xerxes I. While a connection between such an individual and the Mordecai of the book of Esther is in no sense established, the possibility of such a historical event as is related in Esther cannot be dismissed out of hand. ….

 

Carey A. Moore, the author of the Anchor Bible commentary on Esther, is a little more positive about the implications of the reference to Marduka. This official, who ‘served as an accountant on an inspection tour from Susa’, could be, he suggests, ‘the biblical Mordecai because, in all likelihood, Mordecai was an official of the king prior to his being invested in [Est.] 8.2 with the powers previously conferred on Haman’. To Moore, ‘at first glance all of this seems rather persuasive, if not conclusive’. While he is indeed careful to point out the uncertainties that surround the identification of Marduka with Mordecai, he nevertheless concludes that

 

since the epigraphic evidence concerning Marduka certainly prevents us from categorically ruling out as pure fiction the Mordecai episodes in the Book of Esther, it is safest for us to conclude that the story of Mo[r]decai may very well have to it a kernel of truth. ….

 

Robert Gordis, rather more boldly, appears to have no reservations whatever about the identification of Mordecai with Marduka. For him, the attestation of the names Marduka and Mrdk … is ‘the strongest support thus far for the historical character of the book’. …. He writes:

 

A Persian text dating from the last years of Darius I or the early years of Xerxes I mentions a government official in Susa named Marduka, who served as an inspector on an official tour … [T]he phrase yōšēb ša‘ar hammelekh, ‘sitting in the king’s gate,’ which is applied to Mordecai repeatedly in the book, indicates his role as a judge or a minor official in the Persian court before his elevation to the viziership.

 

The conclusion to be drawn is rather obvious:

 

That there were two officials with the same name at the same time in the same place is scarcely likely. ….

 

From Edwin M. Yamauchi we even gain the impression that the identification of Marduka with Mordecai has now become the consensus scholarly view:

 

Mardukâ is listed as a sipîr (‘an accountant’) who makes an inspection tour of Susa during the last years of Darius or early years of Xerxes. It is Ungnad’s conviction that ‘it is improbable that there were two Mardukas serving as high officials in Susa.’ He therefore concludes that this individual is none other than Esther’s uncle. This conclusion has been widely accepted. ….

 

Siegfried H. Horn concurs:

 

The result of this disco[c]very has been a more favorable attitude toward the historicity of the book of Esther in recent years, as attested by several Bible dictionaries and commentaries published during the last decade. ….

 

So secure is the identification of Mordecai with Marduka in his eyes that he can even invite us to reconstruct the personal history of Mordecai on the basis of what we know about Marduka:

 

It is quite obvious that Mordecai, before he became gatekeeper of the palace, must already have had a history of civil service in which he had proved himself to be a trusted official the trusted councillor of [t]he mighty satrap Uštannu, whom he accompanied on his official journeys.

 

[End of quotes]

 

Since my re-setting of Mordecai’s engagement with Haman has it occurring far earlier than the standard time for it, in the reign of “Xerxes” (C5th BC) - and nearer to the return from Captivity - it thus becomes necessary to demonstrate a compatible revised chronology of Marduka. 

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Mordecai as Joakim, Husband of Susanna

 

 

Now there was a man that dwelt in Babylon, and his name was Joakim: And he took a wife whose name was Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, a very beautiful woman, and one that feared God. For her parents being just, had instructed their daughter according to the Law of Moses. Now Joakim was very rich, and had an orchard near his house: and the Jews resorted to him, because he was the most honourable of them all.

 

Daniel 13:1-4

 

 

When in the process of searching for greater information about Mordecai in the Bible it occurred to me that a possible candidate for him might be Joakim the well-respected husband of Susanna. Admittedly, I have very little to go on here, considering the brevity of the information provided about Joakim in the Story of Susanna.

 

  • Joakim was apparently a Jew, as was Mordecai (Esther 2:5): “Now in the citadel of Susa there lived a Jew called Mordecai son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin …”, and a man of great standing.

 

  • Joakim, as “a man that dwelt in Babylon”, was apparently also of the Babylonian Captivity, as was Mordecai (2:6), “who had been deported from Jerusalem among the captives taken away with Jeconiah king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon”.

 

  • Joakim was a contemporary of a young Daniel, who figures prominently in the Story of Susanna (Daniel 13:45). Mordecai was taken into captivity about a decade after Daniel had been, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah” (Daniel 1:1).

{That does make for a very tight chronology for Daniel, though, who was apparently still “a young boy”, or a “young youth”, or “young man”, in the Story of Susanna}.

 

  • Joakim “was very rich”. Mordecai, according to The Legends of the Jews (V. 4), “became a wealthy man”.
     
  • Joakim, since his house was used for “matters of judgment” (Daniel 13:6), may himself have been a judge, as we found (in Part One) Marduka (= Mordecai?) likely was.  
     
  • Joakim is a figure very much in the background in the Story of Susanna, in which young Daniel comes to the fore. And Mordecai, too, tended to work quietly behind the scenes, advising his niece, Queen Esther, whilst Haman and King Ahasuerus take centre stage.
     
  • Joakim was well respected by many amongst the Jews, he being “the most honourable of them all”. And this we read similarly about Mordecai (Esther 10:1-3):

 

King Xerxes imposed tribute throughout the empire, to its distant shores. And all his acts of power and might, together with a full account of the greatness of Mordecai, whom the king had promoted, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.

 

Part Three: Susanna’s Aged Accusers

 

According to Rabbinic traditions, the two lustful elders who accused Susanna were the same persons as two wicked judges referred to and named by the prophet Jeremiah (29:21-23):

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says about Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying lies to you in my name: ‘I will deliver them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will put them to death before your very eyes. Because of them, all the exiles from Judah who are in Babylon will use this curse: ‘May the Lord treat you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon burned in the fire.’ For they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and in my name they have uttered lies—which I did not authorize. I know it and am a witness to it,’ declares the Lord”.

 

The  colourful account of Susanna and the two elders is well summarised by Jennifer A. Glancy of the Jewish Women’s Archive: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/susanna-apocrypha

Susanna: Apocrypha


 

The brief, self-contained story of Susanna appears in Greek but not Hebrew manuscripts of the Book of Daniel. Most modern editions of the Bible include it among the Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books as Daniel 13. Although readers will respond to and remember most vividly Susanna and her predicament, the story’s conclusion emphasizes Daniel’s emergence as a young figure of wisdom. On account of this, some ancient Greek versions place the Book of Susanna before Daniel 1.

The text first introduces Joakim, a wealthy man living in the Babylonian diaspora (Greek for “scattered abroad,” Jews who lived outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile of 587 b.c.e.). Joakim, however, plays a minimal role in the unfolding of the story.

 

Mackey’s Comment: My earlier proposed identification of this Joakim with the great Mordecai will serve to open up, as this series progresses, some intriguing new possibilities.

Glancy continues with her commentary:

 

Susanna’s introduction defines her in terms of her relationships to two men, as wife of Joakim and daughter of Hilkiah, and tells that she is beautiful and righteous and was trained “according to the law of Moses” by her parents (vv. 2–3).

Joakim’s house functions as a courthouse for the Jewish community. Two elders who serve there as judges separately develop lustful feelings toward Susanna, whom they spy walking in the garden when the house empties at midday for the community to go to their own homes for lunch (vv. 8–12). One day the two elders catch each other lingering behind in order to watch Susanna, and they conspire together to entrap her (vv. 13–14).

On a hot day Susanna decides to bathe in the garden (v. 15). She believes herself to be alone with her maids because the elders have concealed themselves (v. i6). When Susanna sends her maids away to bring ointments for her bath (vv. 17–18), the elders reveal themselves and try to coerce her into sexual relations. They say that, unless she lies with them, they will testify that she sent her maids away in order to be with a young lover (vv. 19–21). Susanna’s dilemma is this: to submit to the elders is to disobey the law of Moses, which she has been raised to follow, but to resist the elders is to invite the death penalty for adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22). She articulates her decision, “I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord” (v. 23). Susanna cries aloud, and so do the elders (v. 24). Their shouting attracts members of the household (v. 26), specifically identified as “servants,” who, when they hear the elders’ story, are “very much ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna” (v. 27).

Susanna’s trial occurs on the following day at her home, described as “the house of her husband Joakim” (v. 28). Susanna comes before the two elders and the people, accompanied by her parents, her children, and other unspecified relatives—her husband is not mentioned (vv. 29–30). The lascivious elders ask that she be unveiled so that they may continue to look at her (v. 32). Those who weep with her weep at this disgrace (v. 33), which in Theodotion’s version amounts to an unveiling of Susanna’s face. (The NRSV follows Theodotion, an alternate Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.) In the Septuagint version, Susanna is stripped naked, in accordance with ritual Jewish law (Ezek 16:37–30; Hos 2:3–10). The elders proceed with their accusations (v. 34). They claim that they saw Susanna in the garden, embracing a young lover whose strength enabled him to elude them as they attempted to detain him; they further claim that Susanna has refused to cooperate in naming the lover (vv. 36–41a). Because of the credibility of the elders in the community, the assembly believes them and condemns Susanna to death (v. 41b).

No one offers testimony on Susanna’s behalf. She, however, turns to heaven for help, crying aloud to God that she is innocent (vv. 42–43). The text records, “The Lord heard her cry” (v. 44). Just as Susanna is being taken to her death, God stirs “the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel” (v. 45). Announcing that he cannot be part of Susanna’s execution (v. 46), he asks the assembly for the right to cross-examine the elders (vv. 47–49). Before the reassembled court, Daniel separates the two elders and questions each about the location of the lovers’ intimacies. The first elder identifies a mastic tree (v. 54) as the site of the illicit coupling, and the second elder identifies an evergreen oak (v. 58). Daniel thus reveals their deceit and the innocence of Susanna, “a daughter of Judah,” a descendant of southern Judah (v. 57). The two elders are then sentenced to the fate they intended for their victim: death (v. 62).

[End of quote]

According to R. Charles, as cited at:


… the first half of the story rests on a tradition regarding two elders (Ahab and Zedekiah) who seduced certain women by persuading them that they would thus become the mother of the Messiah. This tradition has its origin probably in Jer 29:21-23, where it is said that Yahweh would sorely punish Ahab and Zedekiah because they had "committed villany in Israel," having "committed adultery with their neighbours' wives" ….

On the basis of all of the above, we may be able to give names to Susanna’s ill-fated accusers:

Ahab and Zedekiah.

 

The German orientalist, Georg Heinrich August Ewald (d. 1875), had thought that the account of the two lustful elders who were infatuated with Susanna must have been inspired by a Babylonian tale involving the goddess of love and two old men.

 

Once again, however, this is a case of biblical historians and commentators presuming that a given biblical story was inevitably dependent upon a pagan myth (or myths) of a similar theme.


Ewald (Geschichte(3), IV, 386) believed that [the story of Susanna] was suggested by the Babylonian legend in which two old men are seduced by the goddess of love (compare Koran 2 96). ….

Looking at this Koran (Qur’ān) reference, 2:96, I find:

And you will surely find them the most greedy of people for life - [even] more than those who associate others with Allah . One of them wishes that he could be granted life a thousand years, but it would not remove him in the least from the [coming] punishment that he should be granted life. And Allah is Seeing of what they do.

 

Whilst I myself am unaware of the Babylonian legend to which Ewald referred, I would find it very intriguing if this Babylonian “goddess of love” was Ishtar herself - as I think she must have been.

My reason for saying this will become clear later in this article, as I proceed to develop a wider identity for Susanna in a biblical context.

 

 

Part Four: Similarities between Susanna and Esther

 

Commentators have picked up some striking likenesses between the story of Susanna

(in the Book of Daniel) and the drama surrounding Queen Esther.

 

G.J. Steyn, for instance, has discovered some “striking similarities” between, not only Susanna and Esther - of relevance to this present series - but also including the Jewish heroine, Judith. Here I take just two short portions from Steyn’s most insightful article (pp. 167-168) http://www.repository.up.ac.za/bitstream/handle/2263/8985/Steyn_Beautiful(2008).pdf?sequ

 

“BEAUTIFUL BUT TOUGH”.

A COMPARISON OF LXX ESTHER, JUDITH AND SUSANNA”


 

FEARLESS IN THE FACE OF DEATH

 

  • Esther requests that her people fast and pray three days and nights for her and then she will approach the king without being summoned by him – which is against the royal custom. If she then dies, she dies (4:16). Esther then uses her mightiest weapon, her beauty, as an instrument to save her people.

 

  • Judith took a similar decision as Esther by going voluntarily into the presence of the very man who seeks to destroy her people. She went forth, out of the city gates and down the mountain (10:9-10). Her beauty gave her entry past the soldiers (10:14, 19, 23), right into the tent of Holofernes, the chief captain of the Assyrian army (10:17, 20-21). She stays three days in the camp (12:7) and beheaded Holofernes the fourth night, passing again by the Assyrian soldiers.

 

  • Susanna knows very well that whatever her decision would be, she is destined to die (Sus 1:22). She “sighed” (… Sus 1:22) and “cried with a loud voice” (… Sus 1:24). She chose to turn down the advances of the two elders rather “than to sin in the sight of the Lord” (… Sus 1:23).

 

and:

 

TRUST IN GOD AND PRAYER

 

Esther approached God in her moments of fear and anxiety and expressed her trust in God. This becomes clear from the contents of her prayer in LXX Addition C (14:1-19): “… she prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said: O my Lord, you alone are our King. Help me in desolation – not having a helper, but you. For my danger is in my hand (… 14:3-4); “You are righteous, O Lord!” (… 14:7); “O King of the gods and of all powers” (14:12).

 

Judith confesses her trust in the Lord when she spoke to the elders of the city … (Jud 8:20). Her trust in God surfaces again in her prayer … (Jud 9:7-8).

 

Susanna too, approached God in her moment of fear on her way to be executed. She prays to the “everlasting God” (… Sus 1:42) who knows all secrets and who knows the false witness that was borne against her (Sus 1:42-43).

 

Part Five: Susanna and Esther identified as one

 

Having previously touched briefly upon the similarities between the story of Susanna (in the Book of Daniel) and the drama narrated in the Book of Esther, I take matters a step further here, testing a possible identification of Susanna with Esther.

 

 

Those “striking similarities” between Susanna and Esther, previously noted, might lead one to consider whether there might even be an actual identification of person here as well.

I seem to find solid arguments for and against such a conclusion. 

 

Joakim

The connecting link between the two dramas may be (if accurate) my identification of Joakim with the great Mordecai.

Such a connection, however, would also raise some real queries with regard to Queen Esther.

She, generally considered to have been a

  1. beautiful (2:7)
  2. young
  3. virgin, (2:2)
  4. raised as a daughter by Mordecai (2:7), would now, all of a sudden, need to be significantly reconsidered as a, still

 

  1. beautiful, but
  2. not so young,
  3. married woman
  4. with kids (“her children”, 1:30 Sus. RSV).

 

Such an apparently unorthodox reconsideration of the famous biblical queen is not, however, without its support (at least regarding Esther’s marriage to Mordecai) in Aggadic tradition. According to, for instance, Tamar Meir’s article “Esther: Midrash and Aggadah”, this tradition “casts the Biblical narrative in a different light”: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/esther-midrash-and-aggadah

The Babylonian tradition maintains that Esther was Mordecai’s wife. Esth. 2:7 states: “Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter [literally: took her le-vat],” which the midrash understands as: Mordecai took her le-bayit, that is, as a wife (BT Megillah loc. cit.). This exegesis casts the Biblical narrative in a different light. Esther was taken to the royal harem despite her being married, which further aggravated her sorry condition. This also leads to a different understanding of Mordecai’s involvement, as he walks about in the royal courtyard out of concern for his wife.  

[End of quote]

There may have been some unusual situation here.

And there was indeed, according to an article, “Thematic irony in the story of Susanna”


 

Ironic expressions in episode one (vv. 1−14)

 

This first episode consists of the introduction to Susanna (1−4), which includes the introduction of her family, her husband and the two elders (5−6), as well as the emergence of the conflict (7−14). In particular, it focuses on Susanna’s beauty and godliness on the one hand and the elders’ wickedness on the other hand. In this comparison lies the irony. The episode contains, as will be demonstrated shortly, remarkable ironic words, expressions and incidents. Most of these ironic utterances consist of the reversed use of social conventions.

The first ironic expression concerns the relationship between Susanna and her husband, expressed by the verb λαμβάνω [to take, to acquire] (cf. v. 2). There is no doubt that, in the context of the ancient Jewish patriarchal society, this verb portrays a marital relationship between husband and wife in terms of possessor and possession (Di Lella 1984:332−334, 1995:39; see also Liddell & Scott 1996:1026; Delling 2000:5; Bauer et al. 2000:583). In this environment, λαμβάνω would normally indicate the ascendancy of the husband over his wife and presupposes the insertion of the woman in her husband’s family (Fuller 2001:339) and not the contrary.

The use of λαμβάνω in this case, however, seems to contradict these established patriarchal practices. In actual fact, the relationship between Susanna and her husband, as depicted in the story, does entail the prominence of the woman. Firstly, according to the story, Jewish identity is related to the practice of the Law of Moses, piety (Kanonge 2009a:381). It is strange that nothing is said about Joakim’s piety. Besides, Susanna has a genealogy, or at least her father is named, but Joakim’s father does not appear (Moore 1977:94). In Biblical traditions, ‘genealogies can express social status, political power, economic strength, legal standing, ownership …’ (Wilson 1979:19). To have no genealogy is to be less important in a community. It seems, from this story and specifically from verse 63, that Susanna is more important in the community than her husband. In fact, according to the abovementioned verse (63), she is not inserted in her husband’s family, but the contrary is assumed. According to Archer (Ilan 1993:55), women named after their father were either ‘divorced or widowed’. This is not the case here. Indeed, Susanna is being prioritised here at the expense of her husband. It is remarkable that the normal familial order, as accepted in patriarchal societies, is changed with the reading as follows: Σουσαννας μετ Ιωακιμ το νδρς ατς [Susanna with Joakim her husband]. This order is unusual in patriarchal traditions where the husband is supposed to take the lead in everything. There is an overturned use of social conventions. ….

 

Susanna, living as she did during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, would seem to have been far too early for her - according to conventional estimations - to be identifiable as Queen Esther, supposedly living deeply into Persian history.

 

My streamlined version of the Chaldean to Medo-Persian history, though, as outlined in this series and developed elsewhere, for example in:


 


 

This article will be an attempt to streamline the Neo-Babylonian (or Chaldean) Dynasty according to the author’s view that its present arrangement may contain duplications.

 


 

The Book of Daniel is commonly charged with all sorts of historical inaccuracies, a fault more likely of the perceived history, as we are finding, rather than of the book itself.

 


 

Beyond the outline of a streamlined Neo-Babylonian (or Chaldean) Dynasty, I shall attempt now to add some flesh to the bare bones.

 

has greatly shortened the chronological distance between king Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’ and the Medo-Persians, with Nebuchednezzar’s death occurring, now, only a handful of years before the emergence of Darius the Mede - he, in turn, being my choice for the Book of Esther’s great monarch:

 

King Ahasuerus

 

Darius the Mede was already an old man when he came to the throne (Daniel 5:31): “So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two.

He, I have identified with king Cyrus, and as: 

 

"King Ahasuerus" of Book of Esther

 


 

Any consideration of the age of Queen Esther - which will be an issue in this present article - may need to factor in the age of the Great King whom she married.

Although historical chronology is no longer a major issue according to my revised context, the actual age of participants in the drama - the young Daniel, and Susanna in connection with Queen Esther - will be. It has already been determined that Queen Esther, if she were also Susanna, would have been a married woman with children of her own, and, hence, not a virgin. That her husband was none other than Mordecai himself - which comes as quite a surprise - is borne out, though, as we have learned, by an Aggadic tradition.  

 

Ages of Daniel, Susanna (and Esther)

 

Taking the Vulgate Latin version of the story of Susanna in the Book of Daniel, we find Daniel himself described as puer junior, which would appear to indicate an extremely young male, and which is translated as “young boy”. According to my Latin dictionary junior equates with juvenis. Though this description tends to indicate a male up to the age of 17, it is “frequently used of older persons … 20th - 40th year”.

That gives us a lot more leeway in the case of Daniel.

Say he was, as some estimate, 14-15 years of age when taken into captivity, his intervention in the case of Susanna could have occurred - in light of the above “20th-40th year” - as late as approximately the 25th year of Nebuchednezzar II.

Susanna, with children, must have been, say, 20 at the time, and, if so, about 38 at the death of Nebuchednezzar. By about the 3rd year of Ahasuerus (Esther 1:3), when she - if as Esther - was chosen, she would have been in her early 40’s, and mid-40’s when married in the 7th year (2:16).

King Ahasuerus would have been, by then (his 7th year), nudging 70.

The Vulgate gives the females chosen for the king as (Esther 2:3) puellas speciosas et virgines.

The Septuagint Greek has, for the same verse, κοράσια (young women) άφθορα, which can mean “unblemished”. When Tamar (Themar) is called a “virgin” in the Greek II Kings 13:2, the word used is a different one, “parthenos” (παρθένος).  

Esther herself is never directly referred to as a virgin. She is pulchra nimis et decora facie (“exceedingly beautiful and becoming”).

In Esther 2:7, “Esther [is] … quoque inter ceteras puellas”. The Latin word puella (singular) may indicate married or not.

And in Esther 2:9, the short-list is now septem puellas speciosissimas (“seven most beautiful women”).

The outstanding woman, Esther, had made an early impression (2:8-9):

 

Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.

 

Presumably eunuch Hegai’s action was prompt and ‘immediate’ because he had appreciated the true quality of Esther, and not because - as necessitated in the case of the woman who went to the plastic surgeon because she had a wrinkled face and crow’s feet (but came out with wrinkled feet and a crow’s face) - she had lost her looks.

Women in their 40’s can still be beautiful.

Having accounted for the tricky matter of age, those similarities between the story of Susanna and the Book of Esther that we have already discussed - and those between Susanna and Esther - can now really kick in.

In both cases we encounter a beautiful and pious woman, a Jew (cf. Susanna 13:57; Esther 2:7), who had been taught the Law by her parents (cf. Susanna 13:3; Esther 14:5), who, as we read previously, trusted fully in the Lord, and was prepared to die rather than to compromise herself.

 

 

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