Herstory in the Bible: Esther
Mar 20, 2023 • By Matthew Moore
“Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
(Esther 4:14b-17, NRSV)
In honor of Women’s History month, Spark and Echo Arts is proud to recognize the work of female artists (both past and present) as they interpret the stories and roles of women in the Bible. I am proud of this article written by our very own Relationships Manager, Matthew Moore as he reflects on the tapestry of art works illuminating the role of Queen Esther as told in the book of the Bible named after her.
Israeli Woman is Photographing Women in Biblical History: Fact or Fiction?
While they were drinking wine, the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Esther answered, “This is my petition and request: If I have won the king’s favor, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet that I will prepare for them, and then I will do as the king has said.”
(Esther 5:6-8, NRSV)
Esther Prepares a Feast for King Xerxes, Photo Credit Dikla Laor
It’s a FACT: Israeli photographer Dikla Laor wants to celebrate all the females of the Bible (even if their story may be fictional) by designing and photographing frozen tableaus near her home in the Golan Heights.
But is the subject FICTION? The book of Esther is hotly debated among scholars: Is it a historical novella? Or an account of actual events, such as the famed Feast of Xerxes? Does it matter?
That’s too much to debate here, but, in the end, Dikla shares the same mission as SEA—to help us experience the Bible differently and celebrate the women of biblical history—from those well-known like Esther, to the lesser-known like Sheshan’s daughter. (Learn more about Dikla Laor’s amazing mission and work in Biblical, storytelling photography.)
Sheshan’s Daughter from I Chronicles 2, Photo Credit Dikla Laor
Bringing Esther’s Banquet for Xerxes Full Circle with Spark+Echo
Esther said, “A foe and an enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very pole that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hung Haman on the pole that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
(Esther 7:6,9-10, NRSV)
Haman’s Last Meal, Painting by Vesper Stamper
Visual artist Vesper Stamer was commissioned by SEA to illuminate the end of Xerxes’ famed banquet and celebrate Esther’s role in the story. Vesper explains her symbolism:
“The rush of air from dragging out the schemer Haman causes the curtains to blow; Haman’s wine glass, a moment ago a symbol of comfort and merriment, is overturned, foreshadowing his blood that will shortly be spilt; the candle that represents his life has been snuffed out, while a candle representing the Jewish nation remains lit.”
As Dikla interpreted the beginning of the feast, Vesper artistically interprets the end. It’s an interesting juxtaposition in an inspirational story, even if the feast never actually happened.
So, How Much of the Bible is Written in Artistic Form?
Queen Esther daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, gave full written authority confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther enjoined on the Jews, just as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants regulations concerning their fasts and their lamentations. The command of Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing. (Esther 9:29-32, NRSV)
Biblical scholars cannot agree if the story of Esther actually happened or if it might be written as historical drama. This raises the question: what’s the total percentage of the Bible that is made up of art forms like prosaic narrative (such as historical drama) and poetry?
We are being sneaky because scholars can’t fully agree on that either, but most put the percentage at about…
That’s when you separate the art forms of prose and poetry from propositional truth (as found in the epistles).
We are honored to echo the creativity found in the Bible with newly commissioned art works that illuminate the important, spiritual Truths found in Scripture! If you are interested in participating in our project or if there’s an artist you’d recommend, you know where to find us!