What We Can Learn from Esther’s Failure on the Silver Screen

Feb. 26 2021

The book of Esther, which features a beautiful and heroic queen, an evil scheme, suspense, and a dramatic reversal, seems to be perfect material for a cinematic adaptation. Indeed, there have been multiple attempts to make the biblical book into a movie, from the 1960 feature film Esther and the King (starring Joan Collins) to the heavily Christian The Book of Esther of 2013. To Yosef Lindell, none are particularly impressive artistically, except perhaps a 1999 made-for-TV adaptation. Almost every one, for instance, turns Ahasuerus into a dashing figure in order to make his marriage to Esther into a romance:

But there is a cost to all this. Turning the book of Esther into a love story diminishes Esther’s agency. In the biblical account, Esther saves the day.

Yet perhaps we ought to cut the movies some slack. For all their flights of fancy and questionable storytelling choices, the Esther films are following a long tradition: interpreters have never been satisfied just to leave the story of Esther as it is.

The Septuagint translation of Esther adds over 100 verses not found in the traditional Masoretic text. Further, there are more midrashic collections on Esther than on any other biblical book, and they all embellish the story significantly.

Maybe the book of Esther has been so frequently recast because of its unusual features. Unlike other biblical stories, it lacks important religious elements like prayer, troublingly fails to mention God, and is told in a decidedly unbiblical comic voice that is full of hyperbole, repetition, caricatures, and surprising reversals. It’s likely that both Esther’s irreligiosity and its irreverence led interpreters to propose readings that made it more consistent with the rest of the biblical canon. The Septuagint’s additions, for example, comprising largely of prayers and declarations of piety, fill this religious lacuna.

Read more at Moment

More about: Esther, Midrash, Movies

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount