Looking for the Roots of Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Christian Interpretations of the Book of Esther

Dec. 14 2016

In Jews and Anti-Judaism in Esther and the Church, the scholar Tricia Miller analyzes the historicity and origins of the biblical book of Esther, its ancient Greek translations, and readings of the book in early Christian literature. She then argues that these readings gave rise to anti-Semitic ideas, which have since been revived by modern-day Christian enemies of the Jewish state in the Middle East and elsewhere. Key to her argument are the two Greek versions of Esther, which contain passages not found in the Hebrew Bible but incorporated into the Bibles used by Catholics and several other Christian denominations. Rivkah Fishman-Duker writes in her review:

Miller argues that . . . Christian interpretations of the book of Esther [are] part of the background of [many current] anti-Jewish and anti-Israel accusations, especially regarding the right of self-defense against acts of terrorism and the use of “disproportionate” or “excessive” force against the enemy when under attack. [At the core of these accusations is the notion that] Jews must remain passive and never respond to any provocation, threat, or attack, or inflict casualties upon their enemies, and any Jewish retaliation [like that at the end of Esther] must be regarded as an attempt to commit wanton slaughter or even genocide against the Palestinians. . . .

[Miller notes that Haman’s] decree to kill all the Jews and despoil them is rather straightforward in the Hebrew text (Esther 3:8-9), stating that the Jews “have laws that differ from those of other peoples and do not keep the king’s laws,” but both Greek texts contain more intensely negative descriptions of the Jews. The Septuagint’s text refers to Jews as “hostile” and their laws “opposed to other peoples.” They are in a state of “military alertness against everyone,” are “ill-disposed toward our affairs,” and “commit . . . the worst deeds.” . . . Such descriptions reflect the common Greek and Roman perceptions of the Jews as “xenophobic” and “misanthropic.”

Miller points out that many Christian interpreters of Esther expressed either ambivalence or outright antipathy toward the book itself and to acts of Jewish self-defense. However, it is difficult to attribute their negative views of Jewish retaliation against enemies directly, or even partially, to such interpretations of Esther. It is more likely that they gleaned their opinions from a wide range of scriptural texts cited in anti-Jewish arguments by Christian thinkers. . . . [Similarly, whether today’s anti-Israel Christian religious leaders] gleaned their views from their reading of Esther or from a wider historical context remains an open question.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Christianity, Esther, History & Ideas, Septuagint

No, Israel Hasn’t Used Disproportionate Force against Hamas

Aug. 15 2018

Last week, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza launched nearly 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, in addition to the ongoing makeshift incendiary devices and sporadic sniper fire. Israel responded with an intensive round of airstrikes, which stopped the rockets. Typically, condemnations of the Jewish state’s use of “disproportionate force” followed; and typically, as Peter Lerner, a former IDF spokesman, explains, these were wholly inaccurate:

The IDF conducted, by its own admission, approximately 180 precision strikes. In the aftermath of those strikes the Hamas Ministry of Health announced that three people had been killed. One of the dead was [identified] as a Hamas terrorist. The two others were reported as civilians: Inas Abu Khmash, a twenty-three-year-old pregnant woman, and her eighteen-month daughter, Bayan. While their deaths are tragic, they are not an indication of a disproportionate response to Hamas’s bombardment of Israel’s southern communities. With . . . 28 Israelis who required medical assistance [and] 30 Iron Dome interceptions, I would argue the heart-rending Palestinian deaths indicate the exact opposite.

The precision strikes on Hamas’s assets with so few deaths show how deep and thorough is the planning process the IDF has put in place. . . . Proportionality in warfare, [however], is not a numbers game, as so many of the journalists I’ve worked with maintain. . . . Proportionality weighs the necessity of a military action against the anguish that the action might cause to civilians in the vicinity. . . . In the case of the last few days, it appears that even intended combatant deaths were [deemed] undesirable, due to their potential to increase the chances of war. . . .

The question that should be repeated is why indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli civilians from behind Gazan civilians is accepted, underreported, and not condemned.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict