Articles & Opinions of Interest

Relatively Complicated: Examining The Story of Esther

” And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.” 

-Esther 2:7-

The Bible has plenty of incestuous relationships within its pages. Indeed, the Bible is a veritable anthology of incest according to some. Blatant accounts of such relationships span all the way from Abraham to Jesus. In an effort to understand if the bible condones incest in today’s society, people are digging deeper into the historical accounts of these often familiar stories. At times, these brief new looks into biblical stories provides new historical context, cultural insights, and occasionally includes new theories into the moral lessons and religious laws. Today, the biblical account of Esther has become perhaps the greatest example of this.

Much of what people have come to understand about the story of Esther is taken from biblical accounts. Many readers would be surprised to find the biblical translations can vary immensely. Making matters more complicated, the Jewish version of the story has seen errors in translation. Additionally, the “gaps” in plot or historical accounts have various explanations accounted for in different midrash. This means that Christians can walk away with a different understanding of Esther’s story depending on how in-depth they wish to research or even the various accounts they chose to read. Surprisingly, one of these varying accounts puts an incestuous spin to Esther’s story making the context vastly different.

One version of Esther’s story suggests that Mordecai was not only Esther’s first cousin, but also her husband. This idea seems to stem even into Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible as they can be found in the Septuagint. According to this version, Mordecai took Esther to live  with him as his wife instead of an adopted daughter. Some historical sources indicate Esther would have been around the age of fourteen and therefore of marital age. Because other traditions see Mordecai only as an adoptive father however, Esther’s age is popularly stated to be around forty making her even more likely to be married. This idea makes Esther’s story vastly different and complicates the idea of her later being married off to the King of Persia.

If Esther was already married to Mordecai, then her relationship with the King could be seen as adulterous. This view though fails to take into account the Jewish laws of the time. Since Esther would have had no choice but to accept the King’s sexual advances and expectations, her actions would not have been considered adulterous. Mordecai was well within his right to view Esther as a loyal and respectable wife. In some Jewish traditions not only did Mordecai view Esther as such, but he continued to live with her despite the marriage to the King of Persia.

What changes Esther’s story, remains rooted in the concept of choice. Esther could only remain Mordecai’s wife if her sexual relationship with the King was viewed as forced. The moment Esther chose to go before the King herself, the dynamics of their relationship changed. Not only would Esther lose Mordecai as her husband, but she would be seen as adulterous. Supporting this version of the story, midrash states Esther lost the spirit of divine inspiration the moment she went to the King’s palace. This additional element to Esther’s story highlights yet another obstacle Esther must overcome to save her people.

Interestingly, Esther and Mordecai’s relationship to each other doesn’t seem to disappear after Esther does indeed save her people. In fact, Esther sees to it that Mordecai is given a high position within the King’s palace. This position is given to Mordecai after the King learned how Mordecai is related to Esther, and the new position allows Mordecai to enter the palace at his leisure. The not so subtle gesture continues to permit Mordecai to visit Esther, while maintaining a sense of propriety and sensibility. Whether or not Esther and Mordecai continue their relationship, or even how Esther handles the implications of her actions, remains unwritten.

What can be known from Esther’s story remains written down for all to read into the text. Suddenly the strange focus on Mordecai despite the book being Esther’s story makes more sense. The conflicting emotions Esther’s feels about going before the King are only added to making Esther all the more bold and daring. Esther’s story is not only about saving her people, but also about preserving her biblical marriage as long as possible. Whether this version of the story is accurate or not, it certainly has compelling implications.

Incestuous relationships may not be anything new to the bible, but viewing them as sanctified or divinely inspired is often  difficult. Many readers and Christians scoff at the idea of incest being permissible. When we take a closer look at the biblical stories however, incest continues to be a common theme. Not only are the incestuous relationships of the Old Testament almost too numerous to count, but we’re starting to see positive relationships carrying over to Christ and His message within the New Testament as well. If the bible portrays incest in a positive light, what implications does that present to society today?

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