Esther 1:1-9

One of our doctoral candidates, John Screnock, and I are finishing our grammatical commentary on the book of Esther for the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series. As we do final revisions before submitting, I thought it would be useful to post much of the commentary here, in sections of 5-10 verses, in order for potential readers to ask questions, seek clarification, or point out confusing comments or typos. We thus hope to make the product cleaner and more usable. (We posted a shortened version of a section of our introduction, dealing with the historical linguistic profile of Esther, here.)

So, without further ado, below is the commentary for Esther 1:1-9, with subsequent sections to be posted one per day for the next three weeks. Consider yourself solicited for feedback!

*Note that the cross-references to our Introduction are not filled in.


Episode 1—The King’s Banquet (1:1-9)
1So it was, in the days of Ahashverosh—he was the Ahashverosh who ruled, from India to Cush, 127 provinces—2in those days, as King Ahashverosh sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Susa, the citadel, 3in the third year of his reigning, he prepared a banquet for all his nobles and his servants. The army of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the nobles of the provinces were before him, 4when he showed [them] the riches of the glory of his kingdom and the worth of the beauty of his greatness, (for) many days, 180 days. 5When these days were completed, the king prepared a banquet for all the people who were found in Susa, the citadel, for both great and small, over seven days, in the courtyard of the king’s pavilion garden. 6White linen and violet (linen) were fastened with ropes of fine linen and purple upon rings of silver and columns of alabaster. Beds of gold and silver were upon floorings of porphyry and alabaster, pearl, and precious stone. 7Drink-serving was in vessels of gold vessels, that is, vessels differing from each other. And wine of the kingdom was abundant, according to the hand of the king. 8The drinking was according to the regulation “No Constraint!”, because thus the king established upon every chief of his house: to act according to the desire of each man. 9Moreover Vashti, the queen, prepared a banquet for women, in the house of the kingdom, which belonged to King Ahashverosh.

1:1 וַיְהִ֖י בִּימֵ֣י אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ ה֣וּא אֲחַשְׁוֵר֗וֹשׁ הַמֹּלֵךְ֙  מֵהֹ֣דּוּ וְעַד־כּ֔וּשׁ שֶׁ֛בַע וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים וּמֵאָ֖ה מְדִינָֽה׃

Vv. 1-2 establish the basic setting of the book of Esther, telling use when and where the story takes place: during the reign of Ahashverosh, in one of the royal cities of his kingdom, Susa.

וַיְהִ֖י. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √היה. The 3ms ויהי and והיה exhibit two functions in Biblical Hebrew: in certain cases they fill the expected clause-level role of a copular verb, linking a Subject and a copular Complement (in traditional terms, the predicate nominative) by both indicating an equative/identifying or predicative/classifying relationship and providing a landing site for Tense-Aspect-Mood (TAM) marking (Cook 2012a:309). However, in many cases in BH narrative, ויהי and והיה function as a “discourse-level TAM signal, often at the opening or closing of a scene or episode” (310). The ויהי here is just such a discourse marker, opening the book by establishing this story to be, at the outset, about something in the past. See also 2:8; 3:4; 5:1, 2. Note the absence of dagesh in the י of wayyiqtol וַיְהִי. The omission of the dagesh often affects the consonants ו, י, ל, מ, נ, ק, and the sibilants when they occur with a shewa (see JM §18m; GKC §20m).

בִּימֵ֣י אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ. Although it is tempting to take this PP with the preceding ויהי “and it was in the days of Ahashverosh,” discourse ויהי does not take any modifiers but stands alone in its own clause. This ב PP is thus the first in a series of temporal Adjuncts preceding the main verb, which is עשׂה in v. 3.

ה֣וּא אֲחַשְׁוֵר֗וֹשׁ הַמֹּלֵךְ֙ מֵהֹ֣דּוּ וְעַד־כּ֔וּשׁ. Null copula clause with Subject הוּא and NP Complement. This clause is a parenthesis. Parenthetical clauses interrupt the flow of the narrative to fill in information that is helpful or necessary for understanding the sequence of events or the identities of the characters. Here the parenthesis further specifies who this Ahashverosh is―the king “who was ruling from Hodu to Cush.” Parentheses are identifiable by 1) the departure from the syntax and verbal sequences used in the surrounding clauses and 2) maintaining a referential connection to some constituent in the preceding clause. In this case, the proper name אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ provides the link to the preceding clause while the shift from the narrative TAM established by the discourse ויהי to a null copula clause signals the syntactic and narrative break. Parentheses occur often in Esther (e.g., 1:8, 1:14, 1:20, 3:7, 8:12, and 9:24). אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ is the Hebrew version of Persian ḫšayāršā (rendered Ξερξης in Greek, and thus “Xerxes” in English; HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; cf. Gehman 1924:322; Stiehl 1956:10-12; Moore 1971:3-4; Bush 1996:345).

הַמֹּלֵךְ֙. The initial ה introduces the following as a relative clause (Holmstedt 2010:28-30; 2013a: 352; cf. WO §19.7). Relative clauses are either restrictive and so identify or define the head of the relative clause from among a group of possible referents, e.g. “the man that you saw yesterday,” identifies a particular man among a group of men—i.e., that you know but that you did not see yesterday or non-restrictive and so add discourse salient but non-identifying information (see Holmstedt 2008: 65, esp. n. 16). The relative clause הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד־כּוּשׁ is restrictive, identifying Ahashverosh to an audience who apparently no longer knew who he was (which is why we have added “the” in our translation).

מֹלֵךְ. Participle ms Qal √מלך. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, מלך is either monovalent (“to be king”) or bivalent with an על PP Complement (“to rule over X”). The usage here, with the number phrase שׁבע ועשׂרים ומאה מדינה as its Complement, is unique to the language of Esther. The BH participle has long been understood as an intermediate form between verbs and nouns, since sometimes it appears verbal, e.g., it takes Complements, while other times it appears nominal, e.g., it takes possessive pronouns (GKC §116; see WO §37; JM §121). It is best understood as an adjective that encodes an activity or event rather than a quality (Cook 2008). Participles are thus Complements of a copular verb, which is mostly null but is occasionally manifested as the lexical copula היה. The core semantics of the BH participle is progressive aspect, which can be extended for durative, habitual, and gnomic statements. Thus, here מֹלֵךְ could be a (past) progressive (“who was ruling”), durative/habitual (“who ruled”) or gnomic (also “who ruled”; cf. Introduction §§:##). The first option fits the context the best: Ahashverosh was not in the habit of ruling, nor was it an enduring truth that he ruled; rather, at the time specified at the outset of the story, he was in the middle of his activity as ruler of the Persian Empire.

מֵהֹ֣דּוּ וְעַד־כּ֔וּשׁ. The collocation of מן … ועד is a strategy for specifying extent, such as the two poles of a cline, e.g., “youngest to oldest” (3:13) or “smallest to largest” (Gen 19:11; 1 Sam 5:9; 1 Sam 30:2; 2 Kgs 25:26; Jer 8:10; Jer 42:1; Jer 44:12; 2 Chr 24:30). Here the phrase specifies the furthest points of the Persian Empire on an East-to-West line (see also 8:9). The PN הֹדּוּ (“India”) is derived from Old Persian and Avestan Hindu. But note Babylonian Indū and Arabic Al-Hind: these Semitic cognates suggest that if the word had entered Hebrew by way of, say, Babylonian, the form would have been *hiddū הִדּוּ. The existing form, which may have entered Hebrew directly from Persian during the Exilic period, appears to reflect the assimilation of the first vowel to the second (“vowel harmony”), with subsequent stress-induced lowering of the /u/ to /o/: *hindū > *hundū > *huddū > hóddū. The word כושׁ could refer to a variety of locations, but probably refers to “the lands of the Nile in southern Egypt, meaning Nubia and Northern Sudan” (HALOT s.v.; cf. BDB s.v.; Moore 1971:4).

שֶׁ֛בַע וְעֶשְׂרִ֥ים וּמֵאָ֖ה מְדִינָֽה. Note the form of the clitic conjunctionו—when attached to words beginning with ב‎, מ, or פ or with a sheva, the normal וְ becomes וּ (GKC §104e; JM §104c). There are several good examples of Hebrew numeral syntax in chapter one. Here, מאה “hundred” is not bound, which indicates that the syntactic relationship between the numeral and the quantified noun מדינה is appositional. Compare verse four, where מאה is bound (מְאַת יוֹם). For a full discussion of numeral syntax, see Introduction §. Note that מדינה “province” does exist in the plural (see 1:3), but that often with the higher cardinal numerals, the quantified noun is presented as a collective singular (WO §15.2.5a).

1:2 בַּיָּמִ֖ים הָהֵ֑ם כְּשֶׁ֣בֶת ׀ הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֗וֹשׁ עַ֚ל כִּסֵּ֣א מַלְכוּת֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּשׁוּשַׁ֥ן הַבִּירָֽה׃

V. 2 establishes, with v. 1, that the events occurs during the reign of Ahashverosh, and moreover that the story takes place “in Susa.”

בַּיָּמִ֖ים הָהֵ֑ם. This PP is appositive to בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ in v. 1; the appositive does not so much clarify the initial PP but rather pick it up again after a large interruptive element. The qameṣ (Masoretic [ɔ] < BH [a:]) in the article of הָהֵם reflects the lengthening (or in Masoretic phonology, backing) of the pataḥ, the base vowel of the article. This is motivated by the resistance of the so-called guttural consonants (ע, ח, ה, א) and ר to lengthening in cases where the cliticization of a proclitic (e.g., מִן when attached to the following word) results in the assimilation of a consonant at the syllable juncture (e.g., min+melek > mimmelek, but min+ʿim > mēʿim, not *miʿʿim). Though the second consonant of the article remains a mystery, it attachment normally results in the lengthening of the initial consonant of the host word (e.g., ha?+melek > hammelek). In words beginning with the consonants lists above, though, the attachment of the article changes not the initial consonant but the length (or quality, in the Masoretic phonology) of the vowel of the article. See also GKC §35c; JM §35d.

כְּשֶׁ֣בֶת … עַ֚ל. Inf Constr Qal √ישׁב. The bivalent Verb ישב takes a locative PP Complement in Esther (1:2; 2:19, 21; 5:1, 13; 6:10; 9:19; and arguably 3:15), as it typically does elsewhere in Biblical Hebrew. The Complement indicates where the person sat, either with ב (e.g., “in the gate”) or על, as here.

הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֗וֹשׁ. It is possible that the proper name אחשׁורושׁ is in apposition to המלך, “the king, Ahashverosh.” Like relative clauses, appositives can be restrictive (the appositive defines the head noun) or non-restrictive (the appositive adds non-definitional information that the author/speaker deems otherwise important for the discourse). In non-restrictive apposition, the relationship between the head and appositive can represent equivalence (“X, that is/namely Y”), attribution (“X, being Y”) or inclusion (“X, for example/especially Y”). In the case of המלך אחשׁורושׁ, because the identity of המלך within the story is clearly established as אחשׁורושׁ in v. 1, the appositive אחשׁורושׁ would be non-restrictive and so represent an equivalence relationship: “the king, namely Ahashverosh.” However, it is also possible, and perhaps more likely, that the phrase “the King PN” is a titling convention, much like “President Lincoln” or “Emperor Constantine” (more accurately called “pseudo-titles” in Meyer 1992:47-48; contra WO §12.3e). For more on this, see the comment on ושׁתי המלכה in v. 9.

כִּסֵּ֣א מַלְכוּת֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּשׁוּשַׁ֥ן הַבִּירָֽה. Within the אשר the null copula clause has a null Subject and the ב PP בשׁושׁן הבירה as the copular Complement (on null Subjects, see Holmstedt 2013c). Note the NP מַלְכוּת, which is one of two primary words for “kingdom” used in the Hebrew Bible. מַלְכוּת, used here and throughout Esther (26 times), appears to be a later term used in later books (Esther, Chronicles, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah; BDB s.v.; HALOT s.v.). The other term, מַמְלָכָה, is used in earlier works (BDB s.v.; HALOT s.v.; Moore 1971:5; see also Dresher 2012; Introduction §§:##). Although the clitic host and embedded NP מלכות immediately precedes the אשׁר relative clause, interpretative sense suggests that the it is the slightly farther phrasal head כסא is the relative head, “the throne … that was in Susa.” The PN שׁוּשַׁן is modified appositionally by הבירה, a non-restrictive appositive of attribution (i.e., Susa is the citadel). The word בירה is a loanword from Akkadian (birtu) via Aramaic meaning “fortified town, citadel” (HALOT s.v.; cf. BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.; Paton 1908:134). Translating בירה as “the capital” (e.g., NRSV) without qualification is a bit misleading—while Darius I did build a royal residence there, his primary project was making Persepolis into his primary royal city, a status it retained two hundred years after Darius (Brosius 2006: 20).

1:3 בִּשְׁנַ֤ת שָׁלוֹשׁ֙  לְמָלְכ֔וֹ עָשָׂ֣ה מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה לְכָל־שָׂרָ֖יו וַעֲבָדָ֑יו חֵ֣יל ׀ פָּרַ֣ס וּמָדַ֗י הַֽפַּרְתְּמִ֛ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י הַמְּדִינ֖וֹת לְפָנָֽיו׃

After briefly establishing even more specifically the timeframe of the story (the third year of Ahashverosh’s reign), v. 3 moves to the actual story: Ahashverosh throws a party for some select individuals while his great army is paraded before him.

בִּשְׁנַ֤ת שָׁלוֹשׁ֙ לְמָלְכ֔וֹ. Inf Constr Qal √מלך‎ with 3ms clitic pronoun indicating the syntactic Subject. The numeral syntax in this PP (שׁנת שׁלושׁ “third year”) is not appositional as in v. 1; instead, the noun שְׁנַת is bound to the numeral, lit., “year of three” (see Introduction §). The use of a ל PP is typical for dating formulas (“in the third year [belonging] to his reigning”; cf. also 3:7 and 9:15). The Complement to the ל PP in such dating formulas is usually a noun (Gen 7:11, 1-2 Kings throughout [e.g., 15:9], Jeremiah throughout [e.g., 25:1], Hag 1:1, Zech 7:1, Dan 1:1, Ezra 6:3; Samaria Ostraca 1.1-2, 2.1-2, etc.), not an infinitive as here (though infinitives are not altogether unattested in other texts; e.g., 1 Ki 6:1; 2 Ki 24:12; Jer 1:2; cf. comment on 2:16).

עָשָׂ֣ה מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה. Qatal 3ms Qal √עשׂה. The fourth word of v. 3, the Verb עָשָׂה provides the first main clause Verb with lexical content in the book (the only preceding main clause verb is the discourse ויהי). Hebrew (similar to English) allows an indefinite number of temporal phrase Topics to be fronted before the main verb (see Gen 7:11, where three temporal PPs, all of which are then modified by an appositive PP, precede the main verb). Even so, the complexity of vv. 1-3 here, with four temporal PP Adjuncts and a parenthesis preceding the main verb, exceeds even that of Gen 1:1 (see Holmstedt ##). The range of meaning for the Verb עשׂה is large, extending well beyond the meanings of English “to do.” Possible meanings, depending on the immediate context and the arguments used with the Verb, include “to do,” “to make,” “to create,” “to manufacture,” “to treat,” “to act/behave,” “to produce,” and “to observe” (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.). With the Complement מִשְׁתֶּה (“feast” or “banquet”), we should understand something like English “to prepare” (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.). משׁתה is a maqtal noun built off the root שתה “to drink” (*maštay > mištê); although its root suggests that its meaning originated in a specifically drink-oriented setting, the biblical noun refers to more than drinking, including eating, socializing, and merry-making, i.e., a banquet.

לְכָל־שָׂרָ֖יו וַעֲבָדָ֑יו חֵ֣יל ׀ פָּרַ֣ס וּמָדַ֗י הַֽפַּרְתְּמִ֛ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י הַמְּדִינ֖וֹת לְפָנָֽיו. Note the form of the clitic conjunction ו—when attached to words beginning with a ḥatef sheva (normally a א‎, ה‎, ח‎, and ע‎), the normal וְ takes the full vowel corresponding to the ḥatef, thus here וַ ((GKC §104e; JM §104c). Beginning at חיל, there is a null copula clause with compound NP Subject (חיל… המדינות) and PP Complement (לפניו). The larger segment of text (לכל… לפניו) is typically understood as one PP specifying the people for whom Ahashverosh prepared a banquet: “for all his nobles and his servants, the ḥayil of Persia and Media, the aristocrats and nobles of the provinces before him.” Such an understanding demands that we take חַיִל (the free form of the bound חֵיל), as referring to the “chiefs of the army” (so RSV; cf. Levenson 1997:42), or to “nobility, aristocracy, upper classes” (Bush 1996:347). However, taking חיל in either of these ways is somewhat doubtful: “chiefs of the army” is unattested, and there is only one possible example of “nobility” (Neh 3:4; HALOT s.v. and Bush 1996:347). Although various attempts to emend the text have been made (see Moore 1971:6 and BHS), these are doubtful (Fox 2001:274; Bush 1996:347). Instead, we suggest that a new clause begins with חיל (so Keil 1873:322; NRSV): “The army of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the chiefs of the provinces (were) before him.” Note that our analysis does not follow the Masoretic verse division, since this null copula clause begins in the middle of v. 3 and continues into v. 4 (where it is modified by a temporal infinitive).

הַֽפַּרְתְּמִ֛ים. This is a Persian loanword meaning “aristocrat” or “noble” (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.); it appears twice in Esther (here and 6:9) and once in Daniel (1:3). See Introduction §§ on the use of Persian loanwords.

1:4 בְּהַרְאֹת֗וֹ אֶת־עֹ֨שֶׁר֙ כְּב֣וֹד מַלְכוּת֔וֹ וְאֶ֨ת־יְקָ֔ר תִּפְאֶ֖רֶת גְּדוּלָּת֑וֹ יָמִ֣ים רַבִּ֔ים שְׁמוֹנִ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת יֽוֹם׃

V. 4 hints at the extravagance of the first banquet, by which Ahashverosh showed off his wealth and power. The details of such extravagance are described in greater detail for the second banquet, in vv. 6-8.

בְּהַרְאֹת֗וֹ. Inf Constr Hiph √ראה. The Qal ראה is bivalent (“X sees Y”), whereas the Hiphil, as a causative, increases the valency (“X causes Y to see Z”). Besides a Subject, which is the agent of the action—the one doing the showing (here the 3ms clitic pronoun וֹ referring to Ahashverosh), the trivalent Hiphil of ראה normally takes two Complements: a recipient (the one being shown) and a patient (the thing being shown). However the occurrence here has only one overt Complement: patient (the thing shown), expressed by the compound NP את־עשׁר כבוד מלכותו ואת־יקר תפארת גדולתו “riches … and preciousness …” As a result, some interpreters understand the verb to be bivalent “X displays Y” (NRSV; Moore 1971:1; Fox 2001:14; Bush 1996:339; Levenson 1997:42): “while he displayed the great wealth of his kingdom”; alternatively (but for similar reasons), BHS suggests the reading בְּהַרְאֹתָם instead of בְּהַרְאֹתוֹ. But since ראה is trivalent elsewhere (see, e.g., 1:11), and since the recipient is clear from context (the people listed at the end of v. 3 are those to whom the wealth is being shown), it is simpler and more consistent to understand the clause to include a null Complement for the recipient: “while he showed [them] the riches of his glory.” Hebrew often allows easily identifiable constituents to be unexpressed; and yet, such constituents, known as null or covert constituents, are syntactically real and should be represented overtly in a language like English, which does not allow for the same null patterns (Holmstedt 2013c; cf. Creason 1991).

וְאֶ֨ת־יְקָ֔ר תִּפְאֶ֖רֶת גְּדוּלָּת֑וֹ.This sequence of words is complex chain of bound nouns, lit., “the preciousness of the beauty of his greatness.” Though the bound forms of יקר and תפארת are homophonous with their respective free forms, the lack of an article on either one along with the definiteness encoded by the 3ms clitic pronoun on the last NP, גדולתו, indicate that this complex bound phrase analysis is correct. Interestingly, the disjunctive accents over יקר and תפארת (zaqef-qaton and tifḥa, respectively) may indicate that the Masoretes heard and so signaled a pause on each of the three words, perhaps to highlight the extraordinary show of wealth and power. יְקָר is not the adjective יָקָר “rare,” “precious,” or “noble” (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.), but the noun יְקָר “preciousness,” “price,” or “honor,” used in Esther (10 of 17 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible; DCH s.v.; HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.). The form of this noun, with the qameṣ in the final, closed and unstressed syllable, does not reflect the paradigmatic form of bound nouns in BH, but rather that of Aramaic, in which the qameṣ reflects a long vowel, /ā/, which does not reduce like the BH lengthened /a/ the qameṣ typically represents (JM §88Ef, 96Dd). On the use of Aramaic words in Esther, see Introduction §§; cf. Bergey 1983:93.

יָמִ֣ים רַבִּ֔ים. This NP is a temporal Adjunct to the verb בהראותו and indicates the duration of the activity. The use of an NP as a verbal Adjunct without a preposition introducing the phrase is sometimes referred to as the “adverbial accusative” (WO §10.2.2).

שְׁמוֹנִ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת יֽוֹם. This number phrase is in apposition to the preceding NP ימים רבים. Similar to שׁנת שׁלושׁ in v. 3, the compound numeral שׁמונים ומאת and the quantified noun יום are in a bound relationship. However, with שׁנת שׁלושׁ the quantified noun is bound to the numeral, whereas here the numeral is bound to the quantified noun (cf. JM §142g; see Introduction §). On the collective singular use of יום, see comment on מדינה in v. 1.

1:5 וּבִמְל֣וֹאת ׀ הַיָּמִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה עָשָׂ֣ה הַמֶּ֡לֶךְ לְכָל־הָעָ֣ם הַנִּמְצְאִים֩  בְּשׁוּשַׁ֨ן הַבִּירָ֜ה לְמִגָּ֧דוֹל וְעַד־קָטָ֛ן מִשְׁתֶּ֖ה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בַּחֲצַ֕ר גִּנַּ֥ת בִּיתַ֖ן הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃

After the completion of the first banquet, the king throws another banquet, not equal to the first in length (seven days compared to 180), but surpassing the first in the size of its guest list (everyone in Susa). The sheer size and length of these two banquets establishes the monumental stage on which the ensuing drama will unfold.

וּבִמְל֣וֹאת ׀ הַיָּמִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה. Inf Constr Qal √מלא. The verb מלא can be monovalent (stative, “to be full, fulfilled, accomplished, completed”) or bivalent (“to fill,” taking a Complement of the thing filled) (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.); it may even be trivalent in rare occasions (1 Kgs 18:34; Isa 14:21), where an NP designates the material with which something is filled (see 7:5). Here מלא is monovalent, with the NP הימים האלה “these days” the Subject. Note the form of the ו conjunction; see comment on v.1

עָשָׂ֣ה הַמֶּ֡לֶךְ לְכָל־הָעָ֣ם … מִשְׁתֶּ֖ה. Qatal 3ms Qal √עשׂה. As in v. 3, Qal עשׂה takes an NP Complement (משׁתה) and here also has a PP Adjunct (…לכל־העם). The Verb עשה with the preposition ל can be trivalent, but in that case the meaning of the Verb is “make something into (ל) something else” (e.g., “make him king”); since that meaning is not possible here (the banquet is not made or transformed into people), the Verb is bivalent and the ל PP an Adjunct. The long AdjunctPP before the short Complement is unexpected, since longer constituents are typically moved toward the end of the sentence‑Hebrew follows the cross-linguistically common pattern referred to as “heavy noun phrase shift” (HNPS), which reflects the observation that, all other things being equal, phrases with fewer items (“light” constituents) will precede those with more items (“heavy” constituents). The departure from the pattern typically signals some sort of discourse pragmatic marking on the one or both of the constituents in question. Here it is possible that the expansive guest list is being highlighted and so this very heavy PP is placed in front of the very light NP Complement משׁתה. With regard to the position of the Verb and Subject, the initial temporal phrase (… במלואת) triggers inversion from basic Subject-Verb order to Verb-Subject (see Introduction §).

הַנִּמְצְאִים֩ בְּשׁוּשַׁ֨ן הַבִּירָ֜ה. Participle mp Niph √מצא. The Participle stands within a ה relative clause that modifies עם “the people who were found.” Within the relative, the PP בשׁושׁן is an Adjunct to the passive נמצאים. The NP בירה is appositional to שׁושׁן, as in v. 2.

לְמִגָּ֧דוֹל וְעַד־קָטָ֛ן. The ל preposition takes as its Complement the compound PP, מגדול ועד קטן “from great unto small” (on מן … ועד, see comment on v. 1). This complex PP is either appositional to the PP לכל־העם, “for all the people … , (that is,) for great to small,” or it modifies the NP כל העם and the ל has the general nuance of relationship, “with regard to” (see MNK §39.11), thus, “for all the people … , with regard to great unto small.” We consider the former (appositional) analysis to be more likely and have translated accordingly.

שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים. Here the numeral is bound to the noun (see Introduction §). The number phrase as a whole is a verbal Adjunct (see v. 4 on NPs as Adjuncts without an introductory preposition).

בַּחֲצַ֕ר גִּנַּ֥ת בִּיתַ֖ן הַמֶּֽלֶךְ. Hebrew ביתן is derived (by borrowing) from Akkadian bītānu and refers to the inner parts of a palace or temple (HALOT s.v.). Within the Hebrew Bible it is used only in Esther (see also 7:7, 8). Although it is often translated simply as “palace” (and so גנת ביתן as “the garden of the palace”), the noun ביתן does not refer to the palace as a whole or in general; rather it refers to an interior pavilion within the palace (Subtelny 2004:18-19 n. 61, and 20 n. 68).

1:6 ‫ח֣וּר ׀ כַּרְפַּ֣ס וּתְכֵ֗לֶת אָחוּז֙  בְּחַבְלֵי־ב֣וּץ וְאַרְגָּמָ֔ן עַל־גְּלִ֥ילֵי כֶ֖סֶף וְעַמּ֣וּדֵי שֵׁ֑שׁ מִטּ֣וֹת ׀ זָהָ֣ב וָכֶ֗סֶף עַ֛ל רִֽצְפַ֥ת בַּהַט־וָשֵׁׁ֖שׁ וְדַ֥ר וְסֹחָֽרֶת׃

In v. 6, the furnishings of the courtyard are described, heightening the sense of extravagance (Keil 1873:325; Moore 1971:7). It is possible that this verse and its two null copula clauses (and also v. 7) are intended as an exclamation in amazement about the richness of the furnishings, “And, oh, the white and violet …!” (Bush 1996:339, 347; also, e.g., Moore 1971:7; Fox 2001:274). But without an obvious grammatical indicator, such as an initial presentative הִנֵּה, an exclamative force for the verse is speculative and the more natural reading is simply descriptive. The lack of finite Verbs in this verse creates some interpretive confusion: Bush suggests that the verse contains two “incomplete sentences” (1996:347), while Fox calls the verse a “long string of nouns … used as a way of predicating existence” (2001:274; also pp. 16-17) and Moore says that the verse is “syntactically unrelated to the preceding material” (1971:7; cf. Paton 1908:138). The simplest analysis is to read the verse as two null copula clauses.

ח֣וּר ׀ כַּרְפַּ֣ס וּתְכֵ֗לֶת אָחוּז֙ בְּחַבְלֵי־ב֣וּץ וְאַרְגָּמָ֔ן עַל־גְּלִ֥ילֵי כֶ֖סֶף וְעַמּ֣וּדֵי שֵׁ֑שׁ. A null copula clause with the Passive Participle ms Qal √אחז as the copular Complement. The NPsחור כרפס ותכלת (“white linen material and violet”) are part of a compound Subject with a null copula and אחוז (“fastened”) as its Complement: “white linen material and violet (were) fastened …”

ח֣וּר ׀ כַּרְפַּ֣ס וּתְכֵ֗לֶת. The words חור and תכלת are nouns, not adjectives as suggested by the English glosses. חור (“white-ness,” i.e., “white fabric” or “white material”) appears in the Hebrew Bible only in Esther (here and 8:15); similarly, כרפס appears only here. Derived from the Persian kirpās, כרפס refers to a “fine fabric” (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; cf. DCH s.v.). The use of several rare words in v. 6 (חור, ‎כרפס, ‎שׁשׁ, ‎בהט, ‎דַר, and סחרת) to describe the king’s palace is a stylistic feature—rare words better portray exoticness of the foreign palace. The noun כרפס is appositive to חור (contra Paton 1908:144), lit., “white material, linen.” The relationship communicated by the apposition is attribution (“white material, being linen”), specifying the material with which the “white stuff” is made. Thus חור כרפס is functionally equivalent to “white linen” (Bush 1996:348). Although כרפס is not repeated after תכלת‎ “violet,” it must be assumed, thus “and violet (linen).”

אָחוּז֙ בְּחַבְלֵי־ב֣וּץ וְאַרְגָּמָ֔ן. The passive participle אחוז means “being grasped” or “fastened.” The noun בוץ appears only in Chronicles and Ezekiel, and refers to a “fine, costly, white fabric” (HALOT s.v.; cf. DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.). The PP בחבלי בוץ וארגמן (“with ropes of fine linen and purple material”) is an Adjunct to the participle אחוז, and refers to the instrument of fastening, not the agent (WO §11.2.5d). The NPs בוץ and ארגמן combine to form a compound clitic host for the bound head חבלי and specifies the material from which the חבלי are made (WO §9.5.3d; on a coordinate phrase as the host for a single bound word, see WO §9.3b). Alternatively, ארגמן could be understood as a second Complement to ב: “with ropes of fine linen and with purple material” (WO §11.4.2). Not only is there no syntactic test to determine which option is correct, the semantic difference between “with ropes of fine linen and (with) purple material” and “with ropes of fine linen and (ropes of) purpose material” is negligible.

עַל־גְּלִ֥ילֵי כֶ֖סֶף וְעַמּ֣וּדֵי שֵׁ֑שׁ. This על PP is an Adjunct to the participle אחוז and indicates the things upon which the חור כרפס ותכלת were fastened. The coordinated NPs גלילי כסף and עמודי שׁשׁ are the compound Complement of the על preposition. Both כסף and שׁשׁ are clitic hosts specifying the material out of which the bound גלילי and עמודי, respectively, are made (WO §9.5.3d). The noun גליל appears only ten times in the Hebrew Bible. Derived from the root גלל (“to roll”), גליל refers to a “cylinder,” “rod,” or “ring” (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.). Here it probably means “ring,” although a round pole is also possible (parallel to עמודים, “columns,” to which the ropes are also fastened; cf. Paton 1908:145). The noun שׁשׁ, “alabaster, marble,” is used in this verse twice and once in Song of Songs (1:15). It is a loanword from Egyptian (šś), which, depending on whether the stone-determinative or the clothing-determinative is used, can mean “alabaster” or “fine linen,” respectively (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v. III; cf. BDB s.v.; Bush 1996:348).

מִטּ֣וֹת ׀ זָהָ֣ב וָכֶ֗סֶף עַ֛ל רִֽצְפַ֥ת בַּהַט־וָשֵׁׁ֖שׁ וְדַ֥ר וְסֹחָֽרֶת. Both the syntax and the accents suggest we begin a new clause here. The Subject is מטות זהב וכסף and is followed by a null copula and its Complement, the PP על רצפת בהט ושׁשׁ ודר וסחרת. Within the Subject, NP, the compound clitic host זהב וכסף specifies the material from which the bound noun מטות are made.

רִֽצְפַ֥ת בַּהַט־וָשֵׁׁ֖שׁ וְדַ֥ר וְסֹחָֽרֶת. The רצפת, “pavement,” is made of four materials, but syntactically there are three constituents to which רצפת is bound, because the maqqef and the qameṣ under the ו conjunction signal that בהט־ושׁשׁ is to be taken as a single prosodic constituent (WO §39.2.1b, #8; cf., e.g., Gen 1:2 תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ and Ps 1:2 יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה). The syntax of the complex phrase is similar to English “sandwiches of peanut-butter and jelly and ham and tuna-salad,” in which the compound “of” phrase modifying sandwiches falls into the three prosodically marked constituents: (peanut-butter and jelly) and (ham) and (tuna-salad).

רִֽצְפַ֥ת. The noun רצפה, “pavement, stone flooring” (BDB s.v.; HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.)”, appears only here and in Ezekiel and Chronicles. Note the lack of the expected dageš qal in the פ at a syllable onset (compare מִדְבָּר). Bauer and Leander (1922:603) propose two possible explanations: either the sheva represents a reduced vowel, implying that the pattern is not a fem qatl-a(t) as is appears, but a bisyllabic base such as qatal+a(t), or the spirantization of the second root consonant is due to analogy with the qatal+a(t) pattern (though the motivation for this analogy is unclear).

בַּהַט. This noun appears, from context, to refer to a kind of stone, although the precise type remains unknown stone. This is a hapax legomenon (a one-time occurring word) in the Hebrew Bible. It may be related to Arabic baht, “aetite” (HALOT s.v.) or it may be a loanword from Egyptian ʾbhti, “porphyry” (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; cf. also Bush 1996:348). Both of these suggestions are difficult, however, because the typical Hebrew phonological correspondence to /t/ in other Semitic languages is also /t/ ת, not /ṭ/ ט (Lambdin 1953:147; HALOT s.v.).

דַ֥ר. This is another hapax legomenon. Comparison with Arabic durr suggests that דר means “pearl” (HALOT s.v.; Bush 1996:348; cf. BDB s.v.). With hapax legomena like בהט ,דר, and סחרת (see below) it often makes sense to look to the Septuagint’s understanding for guidance. However the Septuagint of v. 6 does not present a one-to-one equivalence for the Hebrew (cf. Tov and Polak 2009 on 1:6). As a result, we cannot rely on the Septuagint here and the meaning “mother of pearl” (LXX πιννίνου … λίθου) should not be ascribed to דַּר.

סֹחָֽרֶת. This pausal form noun (contextual form: סֹחֶרֶת) is yet another hapax legomenon. Like בהט, there is little evidence with which to reconstruct the meaning of this word. It may be related to Arabic šuḥḥār, “blackish earth” (HALOT s.v.), Akkadian siḫru (BDB s.v.), or Egyptian sḥrt, a “mineral used to make figurines and amulets” (HALOT s.v.). It is possibly related to the verbal root סחר, “to pass through” (HALOT s.v.) or “go around” (DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.), but it is unclear what the derived noun would mean. Bush argues that סחרת (as well as בהט and דר) cannot refer to a precious stone, as is typically assumed, because precious stones are not suitable for pavement (they are not hard enough; 1996:348). However, the extreme value of the materials used, perhaps because of their unsuitability for pavement, is part of the lavish description of the king’s banquet. Moreover, these precious stones need not be the primary material out of which the floor is made; rather, they could be adornment in the form of edging.

1:7 ‫וְהַשְׁקוֹת֙  בִּכְלֵ֣י זָהָ֔ב וְכֵלִ֖ים מִכֵּלִ֣ים שׁוֹנִ֑ים וְיֵ֥ין מַלְכ֛וּת רָ֖ב כְּיַ֥ד הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃

In v. 7, the utensils of the banquet are described, adding to the opulent description of the banquet in v. 6. As with v. 6, the simplest analysis of this verse is as two null copula clauses.

וְהַשְׁקוֹת֙ בִּכְלֵ֣י זָהָ֔ב וְכֵלִ֖ים מִכֵּלִ֣ים שׁוֹנִ֑ים. Inf Constr Hiph √שקה. The Hiphil שקה “to water” or “to give drink,” is the suppletive causative of the morphologically unrelated Qal שתה “to drink” (JM §85a). Here the infinitive functions as an event noun, “giving drink” or “drink-giving” (Bush 1996:348; cf. Paton 1908:146) and is the Subject of a null copula with the ב PP as complement: “drink-giving was in gold vessels.”

כְלֵ֣י זָהָ֔ב. The word כלי denotes very generally an “article” or “object” made of any material (BDB s.v.; cf. HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.); given the context here, it means “vessel” (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.). Since the infinitive השׁקות refers to “drink-serving,” not “drinking,” כלי probably refers to the large containers (e.g., pitchers) from which liquid was dispensed into smaller drinking vessels, such as cups, flagons, or chalices (cf. Bush 1996:348).

בִּכְלֵ֣י זָהָ֔ב וְכֵלִ֖ים מִכֵּלִ֣ים שׁוֹנִ֑ים. The seemingly awkward phrase כלים מכלים שׁונים only appears so due to the order of the second and third words. Flipping the words, i.e., כלים שׁונים מכלים, not only removes the difficulty but also points towards the correct syntactic analysis. The NP כלים is modified by an unmarked relative clause in which the Participle שׁונים is the Complement of the null copula and the PP מכלים is an Adjunct to the Participle: “vessels (that) differ from (other) vessels.” The Verb שנה means “to change” or “to differ” (see also comments on 2:9 and 3:8) and the repetition of כלים serves a distributive function, indicating that the object of the comparison was the same group from which the standard was drawn: “vessels differing from each other,” i.e., all the vessels were unique (Bush 1996:348; see Moore’s translation “no two alike” (1971:1); cf. Levenson 1997:43; Paton 1908:141). Within the larger context, the complex NP כלים מכלים שׁונים is in apposition to כלי זהב, not conjoined to it, and the ו is the so-called epexegetical ו, which often introduces appositives (WO §39.2.4): “vessels of gold, that is, each a unique vessel.”

כְּיַ֥ד הַמֶּֽלֶךְ. This PP, “according to the hand of the king,” builds on the metaphorical meaning of יד as “power” and results the idiom, “according to royal power.” That is, the king provided wine in quality and quantity as only the king could do. The same phrase is used in 2:18 and 1 Kgs 10:13.

1:8 ‫וְהַשְּׁתִיָּ֥ה כַדָּ֖ת אֵ֣ין אֹנֵ֑ס כִּי־כֵ֣ן ׀ יִסַּ֣ד הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ עַ֚ל כָּל־רַ֣ב בֵּית֔וֹ לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת כִּרְצ֥וֹן אִישׁ־וָאִֽישׁ׃

In v. 8 the king’s extravagance in throwing banquets is described in one final way. Besides being extreme in duration (v. 4), size of guest-list (v. 5), furnishings and utensils (vv. 6-7), the king’s banquets are said to make place no limitations on the attendees with regard to drinking. In other words, the entire city of Susa has an open bar at the king’s expense.

וְהַשְּׁתִיָּ֥ה כַדָּ֖ת אֵ֣ין אֹנֵ֑ס. This is a null copula clause, with the NP שׁתיה the Subject and the כ PP the copular Complement. The noun שׁתיה, “manner of drinking, time for drinking” (HALOT s.v.; cf. DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.) derives from √שׁתה “to drink” and appears only here in the Hebrew Bible. The word echoes the infinitive השׁקות “drink-serving” in the preceding verse. The form שְׁתִיָּה reflects the III-ה form (qǝtiyy-) of deverbal noun pattern קְטִילָה used in rabbinic Hebrew for actions relating to Qal verbs (see Pérez-Fernández 1997:57). See Introduction §.

דָּ֖ת אֵ֣ין אֹנֵ֑ס. The noun דת is a borrowing of Persian dāta and refers to an “order, decree” or “regulation, law” (HALOT, s.v.; DCH, s.v.). The clause אין אנס may be appositive to דת, giving the content of דת: “The drinking was according to the regulation ‘There is no constraint!’.” Alternatively, we could understand a new clause at this point: “The drinking was according to regulation. There was no constraint, because …” Finally, we could understand אין אנס as parenthetical: “The drinking was according to regulation (no constraint existed), because the king …” Regardless which option we choose, we should understand the דת not as a legal precept established in Persia at the time, but rather as a regulation the king has given solely for this banquet; the implied content of the דת is filled out by the statements “there was no constraint” and “the king had established to do as each man wished.”

אֹנֵ֑ס. Participle ms Qal √אנס. The root אנס appears only here in the Hebrew Bible and, based on later Hebrew usage and Aramaic cognates, must mean “to compel” (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; cf. Bush 1996:348). Here the sense is that, since the people were neither compelled to drink nor compelled to abstain, it was an “anything goes” drinking environment (Paton 1908:142; Moore 1971:8; Fox 2001:274; Bush 1996:348).

כִּי־כֵ֣ן ׀ יִסַּ֣ד הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ עַ֚ל כָּל־רַ֣ב בֵּית֔וֹ. Qatal 3ms Piel √יסד. Both the כי and the fronted adverb כן trigger inversion to Verb-Subject order. The function word כי can serve a variety of functions (MNK §40.9; cf. Aejmelaeus 1986); here is gives the basis or cause for the clause that preceded it (MNK §40.9 I.3; WO 38.4a). The Piel Verb יסד appears with an על PP Adjunct in Ps 24:2 and Song 5:15, where physical items (“the earth” and “legs,” respectively) are founded or laid upon another physical item. Here, however, the context is not physical space but conceptual space: the king has “laid down” or “established” a principle for the chiefs of the palace to uphold. Although typically יסד takes an NP Complement, here the Complement is the adverb כן, which is then defined by an extraposed appositive infinitive clause לעשׂות כרצון אישׁ ואישׁ: “the king had established thus …—to act according to the desire of each man.” The PP על כל־רב ביתו is an Adjunct indicating with respect to whom or what the activity of יסד pertains (WO §11.2.13c)

לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת כִּרְצ֥וֹן אִישׁ־וָאִֽישׁ. Inf Constr Qal √עשׂה. The repetitive phrase אישׁ ואישׁ reflects a convention of using apposition for a distributive meaning, “each man” (see v. 22; WO §12.5). רצון means “favor,” “will,” or, as here in a non-religious context, “pleasure, liking” (HALOT s.v.; DCH s.v.; cf. BDB s.v.). The Subject of the infinite לעשׂות is not explicit in the clause, but is assumed from the previous clause, each רב is to act however he wants.

1:9 ‫גַּם וַשְׁתִּ֣י הַמַּלְכָּ֔ה עָשְׂתָ֖ה מִשְׁתֵּ֣ה נָשִׁ֑ים בֵּ֚ית הַמַּלְכ֔וּת אֲשֶׁ֖ר לַמֶּ֥לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֽוֹשׁ׃ ס

In what initially feels like a hastily added aside, v. 9 introduces Vashti, one of the central figures of chapter 1, and her banquet for the women. As the next episode clarifies, the introduction of Vashti is hardly inconsequential. This verse thus serves to close the first episode, which focuses on the exorbitant feasting, and transitions to the next episode, which presents the first complication of the story’s plot.

גַּם וַשְׁתִּ֣י הַמַּלְכָּ֔ה עָשְׂתָ֖ה מִשְׁתֵּ֣ה נָשִׁ֑ים בֵּ֚ית הַמַּלְכ֔וּת. Qatal 3fs Qal √עשׂה. In vv. 3 and 6 עשׂה has an NP Complement משׁתה and a ל PP Adjunct designating the people for whom the banquet was prepared. In this verse, though, there is no corresponding ל PP Adjunct. Rather, the beneficiaries of the feast are signaled by the clitic host נשׁים of the NP משׁתה נשׁים. The function word גם often marks a constituent for Focus (e.g., “even Vashti offered a banquet”), but here it more likely serves as an additive conjunction (MNK §41.4.5) and indicates simply that “Vashti also offered a banquet.”

וַשְׁתִּ֣י הַמַּלְכָּ֔ה. The name וַשְׁתִּי is possibly of Elamite origin (Bush 1996:349; HALOT s.v.), or perhaps comes from Persian vas (“to desire”; Gehman 1924:322-323) or vahista (“best”; BDB s.v.; Keil 1873:327; cf. Mayer 1961:131-132). Note the different word order with ושׁתי המלכה than with המלך אחשׁורושׁ (see comment on 1:2). In the book, the order is as here, ושׁתי המלכה “Vashti, the queen,” four times (1:9, 11, 16, 17) and the opposite, המלכה ושׁתי “Queen Vashti,” twice (1:12, 15). Interestingly, with the proper name “Esther,” the order is always אסתר המלכה “Esther, the queen” (5:2, 3, 12; 7:1, 2, 3, 5, 7; 8:1, 7; 9:12, 29, 31). It is possible that the difference in usage, “King/Queen X” (see comment on 1:2) versus “X, the queen” (always for Esther and 4x for Vashti) relates to the identifiability of the referent within the narrative. In the narrative world of the book, there is only one king and he is explicitly introduced in the first verse, making all subsequent references to “the king” unambiguous and the inclusion of the king’s name likely a simple clarifying (not defining) appositive strategy or even cultural convention (such as a title) (see comment at 1:2). In contrast, there are clearly multiple queens in the narrative’s world and so the NP “the queen” would either need to be followed by a defining Proper Noun, the name of the individual woman, or better, the name is used first and is followed by the (attributive and clarifying) appositive “the queen,” e.g., ושׁתי המלכה, which is the dominant pattern in the book.

מִשְׁתֵּ֣ה. This noun is the bound form of מִשְׁתֶּה. Unlike the common strategy for feminine nouns of replacing the ה of the free forms with a ת ending in the bound forms, masculine nouns built from III-ה roots do not use theת for the bound form. Instead, only the vowel of the final syllable changes, from the segol of the free form to the ṣere of the bound form.

בֵּ֚ית הַמַּלְכ֔וּת. The NP “house of the kingdom” is a locative Adjunct to the verb עשׂתה, though it is not introduced by a preposition, which is the more common pattern (see comment on ימים רבים in v. 4). With the particular noun בית, the expected preposition ב is often missing (see Ruth 1:9), leading some grammarians to suggest that בית in such cases is actually abbreviated writing for בבית (see GKC §118; WO §10.2.2; JM §126h, 133c). Whichever analysis is chosen, the result is the same: the phrase בית המלכות is a verbal Adjunct.

אֲשֶׁ֖ר לַמֶּ֥לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרֽוֹשׁ, lit., “which was to King Ahashverosh.” A copula (see Introduction §) with a ל PP Complement often signals a possessive relationship (WO §11.2.10d). Here the null copula clause inside the relative means “(the house) that belonged to King Ahashverosh.” The relative אשׁר למלך אחשׁורושׁ has as its head בית, not המלכות; that is, it is the “house” belonging to Ahashverosh, not the “kingdom,” that is in view.

6 Responses to “Esther 1:1-9”

  1. Bob MacDonald Says:

    I have just written a routine to translate the Hebrew into a musical score based on the te’amim patterned after the work of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. According to the interpretation she gives, the ornament over the middle of verse 5 (on found) is the high point of the story so far. The accents in verse 4 are of lesser importance. My rendition of chapter 1:1-9 is here.

    You seem to be missing some letters in the last words of verse 6 בַּהַט־וָשֵׁ֖שׁ וְדַ֥ר וְסֹחָֽרֶת׃ These are also missing in the paragraph shortly after.

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      I don’t see where I’m missing any of v. 6 or in the following paragraph. I wonder if it’s your browser.

      And I really doubt that הנמצאים in v. 5 is the high point, either in literary terms or in prosodic terms. The accent is a telisha qetana and it’s not even a disjunctive accent. I expressed skepticism the last time you mentioned this theory of the טעמים and this confirms my suspicions. Sorry, that’s a no-go for me.

      • Bob MacDonald Says:

        Yes – it could be the browser – I am glad it is not a problem. Thank you – as always – for your work.

        Re the accents, the musical high point would not want to be disjunctive but rather ornamental. The roles of the accents in your discussion so far appear to be of little consequence to the structure or grammar of the text with respect to separation of components. You accomplish this without their help by inference from usage, as should be the case for a language. David Mitchell reflects on Diqduqey and his comment that the accents are “punctuation on steroids”. While the originator of this phrase meant it as praise, I don’t think Mitchell sees it as a compliment. The accents make considerable sense as music. (http://home.scarlet.be/~tsf07148/theo/Resinging.pdf). As punctuation, they are over-designed. I think the holders of the tradition, despite their conflicts, are better designers than that.

        From my experience these past three years since the Oxford conference,on the psalms and knowing that there are serious scholars who are working on the musical interpretation, I think we have not heard the end of this topic. My experience is in music and data processing. I read Hebrew as an act of devotion (but I am Anglican so don’t worry). After only a few months of practice, I can now ‘sight read’ the music from the accents. As a programmer, I wrote a program to allow a computer to read a section of the text and create a musical score from it in less than a second without human intervention. The program respects the differences between the books of truth and the other books, but it cannot (yet) decide the optimum mode or time signature. How could these things possibly be done if the accents were simply punctuation? If I put my mind to it, I could publish in draft form the entire Bible as a musical score in the default mode and pulse. Then the patterns of the te’amim would be obvious to a musician and we could infer their optimum interpretation. Their explanation as punctuation is to me limited if not incomprehensible.

      • robertholmstedt Says:

        I don’t consider the טעמים just punctuation. But I also know as someone who spent many years in various kinds of choirs and instrument lessons that most musical breaks (i.e,. the prosody) matches the patterns of normal speech, with greater exaggeration. So, I take the system to have a dual nature. On the one hand, they help sort out the recitation prosody (which interacts with grammar, but not in a one-to-one way, of course), and on the other hand, they signal musical tropes that were layered onto the recitation in liturgical contexts.

        But, in the end, paying attention to the טעמים has nothing to do with investigating the meaning of the ancient text, since it is a later system layered onto the text tradition. So, while I might pay attention to where those later traditions took the sense breaks to be (by virtue of the prosodic breaks), I do not consider them authoritative in any sense, or always that insightful. I feel free to disagree with them when I conclude that the grammatical patterns of ancient Hebrew point in a different direction.

  2. matthaiti Says:

    Thanks for this, Dr. H. We’ll be anxiously awaiting the launch of the finalized project.

  3. andrew.j.brown Says:

    Looks great. Would serve a Hebrew exegesis or 2nd-year Hebrew class well. I note your comment that the name for ‘feast’ in Esther 1:3 is ‘מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה’, with an etymology related to drinking. It’s funny that one of the most drunken ‘feasts’ in the OT is not called a ‘מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה’, then, but a ‘לְחֶ֣ם’, in a single use in Dan. 5:1. A tiny irony.


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