INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE IN THE BOOK OF ESTHER: A POSER FOR REDACTION CRITICISM

Author: Uzuegbunam Emmanuel Nwachukwu
Department: Religion and Human Relations
Affiliation: Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka

Sacred writings are as old as the organized human society and have been part of the instruments with which human life and society are ordered. Although they are associated with divine or spiritual origin, they are, at closer look, the product of redactors or editors who interpret and re-interpret the writings to positively or negatively influence the human society. Scholars have studied the nature of redaction in the Old Testament and how this has been influenced by prevailing socio-political and religious challenges. The Book of Esther was composed at a time in the history of Israel when the exclusivist and restrictive life proposed by the reforms of the previous era had started to attract anti-Semitic reactions against the Israelites, culminating in the threat to wipe out their entire race. The Ezra-Nehemiah reforms credited to the Priestly redactors, had described Israel as a holy race ( ז ר עַ הַ קּדֹ שֶׁ ) and had presented any marital relationship between an Israelite and a citizen of the neighbouring countries as treachery ( מָ ע ל ) against God. This frame of mind, prompted by redaction, produced in the Israelites a feeling of superiority by which they looked down on everyone else and this attracted hostile reactions against them. Two hundred years after, a new set of redactors, intent on correcting this attitude, composed the Book of Esther espousing the gains of interfaith marriage while advocating a freer and more interactive Israelite society as a way of promoting coexistence in a multi-faith environment. This work employed the veritable methods of Masoretic, Septuagint and interpretative Old Testament and extra-biblical readings for data collection, as well as conventional historicalcritical and exegetical procedures for analysis and presentation. While the Priestly redactors were believed to have brought the redaction of the Old Testament to a close, this study reveals the work of a new strand of post-Priestly redactors whose work helps a great deal in discovering the consequences of the post-exilic religious reforms on the later history of the Jewish religion and significantly sheds some light on the pattern of redaction in the inter-testamental period. Redaction is thus presented, not as a once-finished event but as an on-going phenomenon continually adapting itself to the new challenges that emerge in the human society.

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