King Ahasuerus and the Persian Court

Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90

This Purim, we turn to Robert Alter’s excellent new translation, Strong as Death Is Love: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel.

Robert Alter writes that the Book of Esther, unlike any other book of the Bible, seems to have been written primarily for entertainment. Alter notes:

It has variously been described as a farce, a burlesque, a satire, a fairy tale, and a carnivalesque narrative, and it is often quite funny, with sly sexual comedy playing a significant role. The portrait of King Ahasuerus and the Persian court makes no pretense of serious correspondence to historical reality, as the original audience surely must have known. The Persian emperors were famous for their tolerance toward ethnic minorities—a policy clearly enunciated in the Cyrus Cylinder—and so Ahasuerus’s accepting Haman’s plan to massacre all the Jews of the realm is a manifest fantasy.

Strong As Death Is Love: The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, and Daniel, A Translation with Commentary. W. W. Norton & Company.

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