Esther & the Hidden God
Esther, the heroine of the book named after her, was a quiet lady. Not only did she refrain from revealing her people and family (2:10), she seems not to have said very much of anything. Her recorded words fill fewer than a dozen verses of the Bible.
Esther appears, rather, as a quiet and lovely presence, much like stars that adorn the night. Indeed, the aptness of this simile is suggested by the etymology that associates Esther with the heavens. Although she was called Hadassah in Hebrew, the name by which she is better known relates her to the Babylonian sky goddess, Ishtar, a name related to the Persian sitar, meaning “star.” Esther’s name is likewise associated with the Greek noun for star, astron, as well as with the equivalent Latin words aestrum and stella. (And while we are on the subject, it is worth mentioning the English verb stare, meaning to fix one’s gaze. This is what the stars do.)
Given the context and themes of the Book of Esther, these etymological considerations are far from idle. First, the book’s setting is Persia, where the religion (until the Muslim invasions more than a thousand years later) was that of Zoroaster, the Greek name of the philosopher Zarathustra. The Greek form of his name includes astron, meaning—as we have seen—“star” and reminding us that a great reliance on the reading of the stars was a major characteristic of religion in that part of the world.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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