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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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

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

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy