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.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

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


Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations