King Saul’s Hidden Role in the Book of Esther

Drawing on ancient rabbinic interpretations as well as archaeological evidence, Marc Zvi Brettler suggests understanding the book of Esther (which will be read Saturday night and Sunday for the holiday of Purim) as a counterpoint to the story of Saul in the book of Samuel, beginning with the fact that its hero Mordecai (and, by extension, his cousin Esther) is, like Saul, a member of the tribe of Benjamin:

“In the fortress of Shushan lived a Jew by the name of Mordecai, son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite.” [Thus the text introduces Mordecai]. . . . [A]s is often the case in genealogies, “son” here likely means “descendant,” and it appears that the Kish mentioned here is intended to refer to the very same Kish who is the father of the Benjaminite King Saul (1 Sam 9:1-2). . . . Targum Sheni, an expansive midrashic translation of Esther (written in the 8th or 9th century CE) makes this explicit by charting Mordecai’s lineage directly to Saul. . . .

As a result of his failure to fulfill precisely God’s command in the battle against Amalek, the kingship is taken away from Saul and given to David. . . . The story of Mordecai and his cousin Esther thus represents Saul’s successful second chance or comeback. As such, it contains many [implicit linguistic] references to the stories concerning Saul and his family found in Samuel. . . .

In Esther the evil protagonist is Haman, who five times is called “the Agagite,” [meaning] the descendant of Agag. This term, used only here in the entire Bible, refers to Agag, the Amalekite king whom King Saul spared rather than killing as he was commanded (1 Samuel 15:8-9). [Indeed, this act of disobedience led to God’s decision to reject Saul.]

In Esther, by contrast, Saul’s descendants bring about the death of the vile descendant of Agag, king of Amalek. And Mordecai, unlike Saul, does not even need a divine command; . . . he knows to do so by himself. And while Saul had nothing to fear, Mordecai had much to fear: he endangers himself and Esther by pressuring her to speak with Ahasuerus.


More about: Esther, Hebrew Bible, King Saul, Purim, Religion & Holidays

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy