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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen