Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Old Testament never to allude to God, and to refer to neither the Covenant, the sacred institutions of Israel, nor to Jewish religious practice. The book has long engendered a fascinated revulsion in many of its readers, not only for its notable lack (or writing-out?) of God, but also for its overt celebration of genocide and the dubious moral qualities of its protagonists. Luther famously wanted the book excised from the Christian canon altogether, and the nineteenth-century biblical scholar Heinrich Ewald declared that the story of Esther ‘knows nothing of high and pure truths’, and that on coming to it from the rest of the Old Testament ‘we fall, as it were, from heaven to earth’. Humphreys terms Esther one of the ‘most exclusive and nationalistic units within the Bible’, and for Anderson, writing in the aftermath of the Second World War, the tale resonates horribly with twentieth-century history and ‘unveils the dark passions of the human heart: envy, hatred, fear, anger, vindictiveness, pride, all of which are fused into an intense nationalism’.
Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, on the other hand, placed the Book of Esther on a par even with the Torah, a sentiment echoed, centuries later, by Maimonides, who famously declared that when the Prophets and Hagiographa pass away, only Esther and the Law would remain. And this triumphant assertion of the scroll's worth is reminiscent of the attitude of Josephus, who specifically includes Esther in his list of the twenty-two Jewish records, and who devotes the extensive central section of AJ 11 to the Esther pericope. The dating, both relative and absolute, of the texts of Esther has been fiercely disputed, and need not concern us here; it should suffice to note that two extant Greek translations, or rather adaptations, of the Book of Esther—the Septuagint (LXX) and the highly variant Alpha Text (AT)—offer countless minor variations on the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), and insert six extended passages into the narrative.