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Entries in LXX (2)

Tuesday
May222018

Was Esther Mordecai’s (Adopted) Daughter or His Wife?

Edwin Long's Queen Esther (1878)Over the past few years, any time I read an Old Testament passage—whether preparing a passage myself or listening to someone else—I always compare the Hebrew Masoretic Text (which is the basis for most modern Old Testament translations) with the Septuagint (or LXX, the 2nd century BC Greek translation of the Old Testament, primarily used by New Testament and Early Church writers). 

Most of the time, there’s not a significant amount of difference but the basic kind of variations to be expected when literature is translated from one language to another. However, occasionally, intriguing differences stand out, such as the one below I discovered recently.

A week ago Sunday, I was able to attend my home church in Louisiana with my mother for Mother’s Day. The sermon that morning was drawn from the second chapter of Esther, and it was v. 7 that jumped out at me when I compared it to the LXX using Accordance on my iPad. The pastor was reading from the New King James Version, which I will quote below as a decent English representation of the Hebrew text. I’ve included notes for a couple of words significant to this discussion.

“Mordecai was the legal guardian of his cousin Hadassah (that is, Esther), because she had no father or mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was extremely good-looking. When her father and mother died, Mordecai had adopted [לָקַח/laqach, literally “taken”] her as his own daughter [בַּת/baṯ].”

What jumped out when looking at the LXX was the replacement of בַּת (daughter) with γυνή/gynē (wife)! Mordecai had taken Esther as his wife? And technically, he had not taken Esther as his wife, but as the LXX indicates in the phrase, “ἐπαίδευσεν αὐτὴν ἑαυτῷ εἰς γυναῖκα,” Mordecai “had instructed/trained her to be a wife for himself.”

Compare the LXX with three English translations of Est 2:7—

Of course, at this point, I was no longer concentrating on the sermon but scrambling to look at commentaries to see if there was any mention of this major distinction in regard to Esther’s relationship to her cousin, Mordecai. I consulted a half dozen or so current biblical commentaries in Accordance, and none of them mentioned the discrepancy between the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament--until I looked at Levenson’s volume in the Old Testament Library series, where he writes

“The Greek version and rabbinic midrashim tend to see the relationship between Mordecai and Hadassah (Esther) as one of marriage, and ancient custom does indeed know of adoption in anticipation of matrimony (cf. Ezek. 16:1–14).”

There was a footnote in Levinson’s commentary on Esther that led me to the Babylonian Talmud where Neusner translates the appropriate section (Meg 13.1) as follows: 

VI.1 A. “...and when her father and mother died, Mordecai took her to himself as a daughter.”

B. One taught in the name of R. Meir: Do not read [it] “as a daughter” (le-vat), but rather as a wife (le-vayit).

C. And similarly it says, “and the poor man had nothing except one small lamb that he owned and fed, and it grew up together with him and with his children; it ate from his bread, and drank from his cup, and lay in his bosom, and it was like a daughter” (2Sa. 12:3). Because it lay in his bosom is it called a daughter (bat)? Rather [it should be called] a wife (bayit).

D. Here, too, [in Esther, the word “as a daughter” (bat) should be understood to mean] “as a wife” (bayit).

This is interesting because the rabbis are suggesting that the Hebrew, which obviously does not contain vowel pointing when they are reading it, should read Esther’s role not as daughter (בַּת/baṯ) but as wife (בַּיִת/bayit). Of course, my understanding of בַּיִת relates it to meaning househousehold, or family, so perhaps this is somehow synonymous with wife as Hebrew is usually more functional than ontological in its use of language. Or perhaps I'm "reverse-transliterating" Neusner's Hebrew incorrectly. If anyone can offer insight, I’d appreciate that in the comments. 

However, this matter of unpointed Hebrew would also explain why the LXX reads that Mordecai had instructed/taught (παιδεύω/paideuō) Esther rather than the Masoretic Hebrew understanding of taken (לָקַח/laqach). Obviously, the LXX translators understood the unpointed לקח as לֶקַח/leqaḥ (taught) rather than לָקַח/lāqaḥ (taken). 

Incidentally, I often hear the LXX criticized for being too interpretive of the Hebrew text, but the vowel points added to the Hebrew by the Masoretes are often just as interpretive. The LXX probably translates Esther 2:7 as it was understood in Jewish thought around 200 BC. This understanding is backed up by the later rabbinic testimony found in the Talmud. Evidently, by the time of the 10th century AD, Esther’s relationship to her cousin as wife and not daughter was either forgotten or re-interpreted when the Masoretic Hebrew text was finalized. 

For the sake of modern readers, I should probably mention that there really would not have been any scandal around the idea of cousins marrying each other at this time. Race and tribe would have been the most important factor, so the fact that Esther was already part of Mordecai’s family made her a seemingly ideal mate in a time of exile. Esther is referred to as a girl in both Hebrew (נַעֲרָה/naʿarāh) and Greek (κοράσιον/korasion) versions of the story, so she was probably fairly young. Since her beauty is also mentioned, she had probably reached marriageable age by the time she is taken from Mordecai, but presumably the marriage had not been consummated yet as she was deemed a suitable canidate for Xerxes' harem.

So by this point, I believe I’ve convinced myself that Esther probably was brought up by Mordecai to be his wife as opposed to his merely being her legal guardian until she was of marriageable age. And that makes the story even more tragic, doesn’t it? This reading certainly explains Mordecai’s angst over Esther as he continually loiters outside Xerxes’ harem (a dangerous thing to do) to see if he could find out how she was doing. Mordecai had not just lost a family member to a pagan king—he had lost his betrothed, someone to whom he had invested years of care and instruction, and he had lost his future. No doubt, Mordecai loved Esther on multiple levels; but in the end, his forced loss of her to a pagan king led to the salvation of the Jewish people in Persia. Mordecai’s personal loss was his people’s gain.

Tuesday
Feb142012

For Valentines Day: A Love Story from the Book of Tobit

The Wedding Night of Tobias and Sarah by Dutch painter Jan Steen (1626 - 1679)

From Tobit 6:14-18... 

τότε ἀποκριθεὶς Τωβείας εἶπεν τῷ Ῥαφαήλ Ἀζαρία ἀδελφέ, ἤκουσα ὅτι ἑπτὰ ἤδη ἐδόθη ἀνδράσιν, καὶ ἀπέθανον ἐν τοῖς νυμφῶσιν αὐτῶν· τὴν νύκτα ὁπότε εἰσεπορεύοντο πρὸς αὐτὴν καὶ ἀπέθνησκον. καὶ ἤκουσα λεγόντων αὐτῶν ὅτι δαιμόνιον ἀποκτέννει αὐτούς. καὶ νῦν φοβοῦμαι ἐγώ· ὅτι αὐτὴν οὐκ ἀδικεῖ, ἀλλ᾿ ὃς ἂν θελήσῃ ἐγγίσαι αὐτῆς, ἀποκτέννει αὐτόν. μονογενής εἰμι τῷ πατρί μου, μὴ ἀποθάνω, καὶ κατάξω τὴν ζωὴν τοῦ πατρός μου καὶ τῆς μητρός μου μετ᾿ ὀδύνης ἐπ᾿ ἐμοὶ εἰς τὸν τάφον αὐτῶν· καὶ υἱὸς ἕτερος οὐχ ὑπάρχει αὐτοῖς ἵνα θάψῃ αὐτούς.

καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ Οὐ μέμνησαι τὰς ἐντολὰς τοῦ πατρός σου, ὅτι ἐνετείλατο σοι γυναῖκα ἐκ τοῦ πατρός σου; καὶ νῦν ἄκουσόν μου, ἀδελφέ, καὶ μὴ λόγον ἔχε τοῦ δαιμονίου τούτου καὶ λάβε. καὶ γινώσκω ἐγὼ ὅτι τὴν νύκτα ταύτην δοθήσεταί σοι γυνή. καὶ ὅταν εἰσέλθῃς εἰς τὸν νυμφῶνα, λάβε ἐκ τοῦ ἥπατος τοῦ ἰχθύος καὶ τὴν καρδίαν καὶ ἐπίθες ἐπὶ τὴν τέφραν τῶν θυμιαμάτων, καὶ ἡ ὀσμὴ πορεύσεται καὶ ὀσφρανθήσεται τὸ δαιμόνιον καὶ φεύξεται, καὶ οὐκέτι μὴ φανῇ περὶ αὐτὴν ἐπανελεύσεται τὸν πάντα αἰῶνα. καὶ ὅταν μέλλῃς γίνεσθαι μετ᾿ αὐτῆς, ἐξεγέρθητε πρῶτον ἀμφότεροι καὶ προσεύξασθε καὶ δεήθητε τοῦ κυρίου τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἵνα ἔλεος γένηται καὶ σωτηρία ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς. καὶ μὴ φοβοῦ, σοὶ γάρ ἐστιν μεμερισμένη πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος, καὶ σὺ αὐτὴν σώσεις, καὶ μετὰ σοῦ πορεύσεται, καὶ ὑπολαμβάνω ὅτι ἔσονται σοι ἐξ αὐτῆς παιδία καὶ ἔσονταί σοι ὡς ἀδελφοί· μὴ λόγον ἔχε.

καὶ ὅτε ἤκουσεν Τωβείας τῶν λόγων Ῥαφαὴλ καὶ ὅτι ἔστιν αὐτῷ ἀδελφὴ ἐκ τοῦ σπέρματος τοῦ οἴκου τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ, λίαν ἠγάπησεν αὐτὴν καὶ ἡ καρδία αὐτοῦ ἐκολλήθη εἰς αὐτήν. (LXX, emphasis added)
Tobias replied to Raphael, ‘Brother Azarias, I have been told that she has already been given in marriage seven times and that each time her bridegroom has died in the bridal room. He died the same night as he entered her room; and I have heard people say it was a demon that killed them, and this makes me afraid. To her the demon does no harm because he loves her, but as soon as a man tries to approach her, he kills him. I am my father’s only son, and I have no wish to die. I do not want my father and mother to grieve over me for the rest of their lives; they have no other son to bury them.’

The angel said, ‘Have you forgotten your father’s advice? After all, he urged you to choose a wife from your father’s family. Listen then, brother. Do not worry about the demon; take her. This very evening, I promise, she will be given you as your wife. Then once you are in the bridal room, take the heart and liver of the fish and lay a little of it on the burning incense. The reek will rise, the demon will smell it and flee, and there is no danger that he will ever be found near the girl again. Then, before you sleep together, first stand up, both of you, and pray. Ask the Lord of heaven to grant you his grace and protection. Do not be afraid; she was destined for you from the beginning, and you are the one to save her. She will follow you, and I pledge my word she will give you children who will be like brothers to you. Do not worry.’

And when Tobias heard Raphael say this, when he understood that Sarah was his sister, a kinswoman of his father’s family, he fell so deeply in love with her that he could no longer call his heart his own. (New Jerusalem Bible, emphasis added)

 And you thought you had a rough time in your courtship.