Esther 2:5-10

Here is the next instalment — a partial section. The rest of the section will likely follow in two days.

Episode 2—Esther Wins the King’s Favor (2:5-20)
5A Jewish man was in Susa the citadel. His name was Mordecai, son of Ya’ir, son of Shimi, son of Qish, a Benjaminite,6who was taken into exile from Jerusalem with the exiles who were taken into exile with Jeconiah, the king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, took into exile. 7And he was foster-fathering Hadassah (she was Esther, the daughter of his uncle), because she didn’t have any parents. The young lady was shapely and good-looking. After the death of her father and her mother, Mordecai took her to himself as a daughter. 8So it was, when the word of the king and his law were heard, and when many young ladies were gathered to Susa, the citadel, to the authority of Hegai, Esther was taken to the house of the king, to the authority of Hegai, who kept the women. 9And the young lady was pleasing to him, and she received kindness before him. And he hastened to give her her cosmetics work and her portions, and to give her the seven ladies who were chosen from the house of the king. And he transferred her and her ladies to the best of the house of women. 10Esther did not declare her people or her kindred, because Mordecai commanded her that she should not declare [them]. (to be continued)

2:5 ‎‫אִ֣ישׁ יְהוּדִ֔י הָיָ֖ה בְּשׁוּשַׁ֣ן הַבִּירָ֑ה וּשְׁמ֣וֹ מָרְדֳּכַ֗י בֶּ֣ן יָאִ֧יר בֶּן־שִׁמְעִ֛י בֶּן־קִ֖ישׁ אִ֥ישׁ יְמִינִֽי׃

In vv. 5-7, the events of the narrative are paused while we are introduced to the next pair of main characters: Mordecai, a critical supporting character (v. 5) and Esther, the protagonist (v. 7).

אִ֣ישׁ יְהוּדִ֔י הָיָ֖ה בְּשׁוּשַׁ֣ן הַבִּירָ֑ה. Qatal 3ms Qal √היה. The lexical copula היה is nearly always bivalent (few cases of the monovalent existential היה occur in the Hebrew Bible and most of them are in Genesis 1). Here the subject is the NP אישׁ יהודי and the complement is the PP בשׁושׁן הבירה. The avoidance of the wayyiqtol by using the qatal fulfills a number of narrative functions: it signals a scene change (away from the King’s concerns, at least until v. 8) and the introduction of a new character to the narrative (Mordecai). The main narrative progression does not resume until the discourse ויהי in v. 8. The gentilic noun (or, demonym) יהודי is in apposition to אישׁ and qualifies it attributively (see comment on המלך אחשׁורושׁ in 1:2), thus, “a man, being a Yehudi”. Note that English treats gentilics as adjectives, hence the typical translation “a Jewish man.” The gentilic noun יהודי “Judean, Jew” (HALOT s.v.) could refer to someone of the kingdom of Judah (2 Kgs 16:6) or, as in this case, someone from the Persian province of Yahud.

וּשְׁמ֣וֹ מָרְדֳּכַ֗י בֶּ֣ן יָאִ֧יר בֶּן־שִׁמְעִ֛י בֶּן־קִ֖ישׁ אִ֥ישׁ יְמִינִֽי. A null copula clause, with the NP שׁמו as the subject and the PN מרדכי (“Mordecai”) as the copular complement. The name מרדכי is the Hebrew rendering of Babylonian mardukā, which contains the theophoric element relating to the Babylonian god Marduk (HALOT s.v.; Moore 1971:19; Yamauchi 1980:106; Fox 2001:30). The phrase בן יאיר בן שׁמעי בן קישׁ אישׁ ימיני contains four appositives, with בן יאיר appositional to מרדכי‎, בן שׁמעי appositional to יאיר (not בן יאיר‎), בן קישׁ appositive to שׁמעי‎, and אישׁ ימיני appositive to קישׁ. Qish may or may not be intended to refer to the father of Saul; regardless, the mention of Qish here serves to evoke Saul and so connect Haman to Saul and his conflict with Agag (see comments on 3:1, 2). On the appositional syntax of the gentilic ימיני, see comment above on אישׁ יהודי.

2:6 ‎‫אֲשֶׁ֤ר הָגְלָה֙  מִיר֣וּשָׁלַ֔יִם עִם־הַגֹּלָה֙  אֲשֶׁ֣ר הָגְלְתָ֔ה עִ֖ם יְכָנְיָ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־יְהוּדָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֶגְלָ֔ה נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּ֖ר מֶ֥לֶךְ בָּבֶֽל׃

V. 6 continues to describe the back-story of Mordecai: he was descended from a man deported to Babylon with Jeconiah.

אֲשֶׁ֤ר הָגְלָה֙  מִיר֣וּשָׁלַ֔יִם עִם־הַגֹּלָה֙. Qatal 3ms Hoph √גלה. The verb גלה in the Qal means “to uncover” and “to leave,” and by a narrow extension “to go into exile”; the Hiphil relates specifically to this last meaning by referring narrowly to the action of deporting, and the Hophal is simply the passive “be deported.” The מן and עם-PPs are both adjuncts to the passive Hophal verb. The grammatical crux in this verse involves the identification of the head of the אשׁר relative clause. All things being equal, the closest viable antecedent is normally the head of a relative clause in Hebrew (Holmstedt 2002:23, 105). However, discourse connections (e.g., anaphora) can and do override the closest antecedent principle. The question here is thus: who went into exile? Was it Mordecai, the noun standing at the front of this long phrase begun in v. 5, or Qish, the closest available and appropriate potential head? For the various arguments for each option, including discussion regarding the identity of Qish (i.e., was this Saul’s father or simply Mordecai’s great-grandfather who also had that name?), we suggest consulting the standard commentaries. We take the head of the relative clause to be קישׁ and the tribal designation “Benjaminite” sufficient for the narrative’s play on Mordecai’s and Haman’s descent. The word “Jerusalem” is usually spelled יְרוּשָׁלִַם, without the י between the ל and ם at the end. This instance is one of the few cases where it is spelled with two י, including one just before the ם (also Jer 26:18; 1 Chr 3:5; 2 Chr 25:1; 32:9; JM §16f; cf. WO §7.3d). See also the Qere-Ketiv in 4:7. The noun גּוֹלָה (or גֹּלָה as it is spelled here) is derived from the verbal root גלה and refers to the group of people that has been taken into exile: “the deported, exiles,” “deportation, exile” (HALOT s.v.), “one who goes into exile,” “diaspora” (DCH גלה Qal 2b, c), “exiles, exile” (BDB s.v.).

אֲשֶׁ֣ר הָגְלְתָ֔ה עִ֖ם יְכָנְיָ֣ה מֶֽלֶךְ־יְהוּדָ֑ה. Qatal 3fs Hoph √גלה. The fs NP גֹּלָה is the clear head of this relative clause—it signalled by the gender agreement between the fs NP and the 3fs verb הגלתה. As with the previous occurrence of the Hophal גלה, the verb is monovalent with an עם-PP adjunct.

אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֶגְלָ֔ה נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּ֖ר מֶ֥לֶךְ בָּבֶֽל. Qatal 3ms Hiph √גלה. Unlike the previous relative, there is some ambiguity concerning the head of this relative clause. Using the principle that “unless context suggests otherwise, a modifier is associated with the closest appropriate antecedent” (see comment on v. 5), we take the nearest NP, יכניה מלך יהודה, to be the relative head. Whereas in the previous two relative clauses, the head was also the subject within the relative, in this case the head functions as the complement of the Hiphil verb within the relative (the non-relative syntax would be נבוכדנאצר מלך בבל הגלה יכניה מלך יהודה, “Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, exiled Jeconiah”). Note the prefix vowel in the Hiphil הֶגְלָה—although the reasons are not clear, it is common to find seghol instead of the paradigmatic hireq (see JM §§54c, 79q). The NP נבוכדנאצר מלך בבל (as well as the syntactically similar יכניה מלך יהודה earlier in this verse) contains an appositive modifier: “Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.” This structure is the same as that used frequently for Vashti in chapter 1 and always for Esther throughout the book (cf. comment on 1:2). Whereas “Vashti, the queen” has the article with “queen,” מלך here has no article because it is bound to the proper noun בבל, and therefore inherits its semantic definiteness. Here, the name Nebuchadnezzar is spelled with נ in the second-to-last syllable; in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Akkadian pronunciation Nabû-kudurri-uṣur is often more accurately reflected by the spelling נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר, with ר in the second-to-last syllable. The spelling with נ (either נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר or נְבֻכַדְנֶאצַּר) is found in 2 Kings, Jeremiah (8 times), Daniel, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah. The spelling with ר is found in Jeremiah (29 times) and Ezekiel.

2:7 ‎‫וַיְהִ֨י אֹמֵ֜ן אֶת־הֲדַסָּ֗ה הִ֤יא אֶסְתֵּר֙  בַּת־דֹּד֔וֹ כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין לָ֖הּ אָ֣ב וָאֵ֑ם וְהַנַּעֲרָ֤ה יְפַת־תֹּ֙אַר֙  וְטוֹבַ֣ת מַרְאֶ֔ה וּבְמ֤וֹת אָבִ֙יהָ֙  וְאִמָּ֔הּ לְקָחָ֧הּ מָרְדֳּכַ֛י ל֖וֹ לְבַֽת׃

In v. 7 we are finally introduced to the protagonist, Esther. Her back-story includes adoption by her relative Mordecai after the death of her parents, and, of crucial importance to the story, the narrator specifically mentions her beauty.

וַיְהִ֨י אֹמֵ֜ן אֶת־הֲדַסָּ֗ה. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √היה. The participial phrase אמן את הדסה is the complement to the copula היה, with a null subject (contextually identifiable as Mordecai). The verb אמן usually means “to support,” but can mean, as it does here, “to foster” (DCH אמן II), i.e., “to act as a foster-father” or “to nurse” (act as a foster-mother) (BDB s.v.), here with the sense of acting as “guardian” (HALOT אמן II; cf. Num 11:12; Isa 49:23; and Ruth 4:16; cf. Moore 1971:20). Later in this verse we read that Mordecai took Esther into his care “as a daughter.” Though it has been suggested that the name הדסה is a Hebrew version of Akkadian ḫadaššatu “bride,” which is an epithet of the goddess Ishtar (see below on the name אסתר), it is more plausibly derived from the masculine noun הֲדַס “myrtle” (HALOT s.v.; Moore 1971:20; Fox 2001:275; Bush 1996:363).

הִ֤יא אֶסְתֵּר֙  בַּת־דֹּד֔וֹ. A null copula clause with subject הִיא and NP complement. As in 1:1 and 3:7, here a pronoun introduces a parenthetical clause. Note that it is the nature of parenthetical clauses to provide information that makes critical connections for the audience; here, the parenthesis clarifies that the הדסה introduced is the very same as אסתר (who is presumably well-known to the audience). The attributive appositive בת דדו modifies אסתר: “Esther, the daughter of his uncle.” It is syntactically possible to take בת דדו as an appositive to הדסה, but the accentuation and proximity suggests otherwise. The name אסתר may derive either from the Babylonian divine name Ištar or from the Persian noun stāra “star” (HALOT s.v.; Keil 1873:336; Moore 1971:20; Fox 2001:30; Bush 1996:363; Levenson 1997:58). The noun דוד can mean “beloved” (as in Song of Solomon) or “paternal uncle” (i.e., father’s brother) (BDB s.v.; HALOT s.v.). BDB mentions the possibility that this second meaning could be broader, connoting any sort of relative. If דוד means specifically “father’s brother,” then Mordecai is Esther’s cousin, which is how most commentators have understood the word (Keil 1873:336; Paton 1908:170; Moore 1971:26; Fox 2001:30; Bush 1996:363; Levenson 1997:58). The fact that Mordecai is Esther’s cousin, along with reading v. 5-6 so that it has Mordecai a part of the deportation from Judah, have been used together to argue that the book of Esther is not historical, since Esther would then have been entirely too old to seduce King Ahashverosh. But given the syntactic ambiguity of the relative clauses in v. 6, it is possible that Mordecai himself was not part of the deportation but three generations removed from that event. The point is that Mordecai’s age cannot be determined. Even within the world of the narrative, he may have been around the same age as Esther, acting as a father figure in spite of his age, or he may have been considerably older than Esther. To inquire into Mordecai’s age in order to correlate the book with historical reconstruction is to misidentify the genre (or, at least, misunderstand its conventions) and so impose upon it inappropriate expectations. See the Introduction §§ for a discussion of literary genre and history.

כִּ֛י אֵ֥ין לָ֖הּ אָ֣ב וָאֵ֑ם.‎ An אין copula clause with subject אב ואם and ל-PP complement. A copula with ל-PP indicates possession (cf. comment on 1:9). The subordinate כי clause grounds the action or even of the main clause (יהי אמן) by providing the reason why Mordecai was acting as a foster-father to Esther. The אין functions as a negative copula, negating the possessive predication between the subject אב ואם and the complement לה. In copular clauses the expected word order is subject-copula-complement (see Introduction §). Here, the copula-complement-subject order most likely reflects the Focus-fronting of the predicate (the copula and complement together). The compound subject אב ואם is one conceptual unit, i.e., “parents”; that the two nouns operate as a word pair is indicated by the qameṣ (the lengthened ā) under the conjunctionו (see comment on בהט ושׁשׁ in 1:6).

וְהַנַּעֲרָ֤ה יְפַת־תֹּ֙אַר֙  וְטוֹבַ֣ת מַרְאֶ֔ה. A null copula clause with subject הנערה and a compound adjective phrase complement. The etymology of תאר is uncertain (HALOT s.v.); if the noun is derived from תאר, “to change direction” (HALOT s.v.), it may refer to the “outline” or “form” of something (see BDB s.v). The word is always used to describe the “appearance” of something, whether good or bad (HALOT s.v.). טובת מראה, “beautiful of appearance,” is how the eligible young women—and Vashti—are described in 1:11, 2:2 and 2:3. The point seems to be that based on her appearance alone (and perhaps the point being made that queens were chosen primarily for their looks), Esther is an ideal candidate. Other women described with this phrase in the Hebrew Bible are Rebecca (Gen 24:16 and 26:7) and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:3).

וּבְמ֤וֹת אָבִ֙יהָ֙  וְאִמָּ֔הּ לְקָחָ֧הּ מָרְדֳּכַ֛י ל֖וֹ לְבַֽת. Qatal 3ms Qal √לקח‎ with 3fs clitic pronoun. The ב-PP is a Topic-fronted scene-setting (temporal) adjunct. It describes an event that occurred before the action specified by the main verb לקחה, that is, Esther’s parents die, and then Mordecai takes her as his daughter (i.e., the two actions do not occur at the same time; see comment on 1:4). Note the compound clitic host, אביה ואמה, for the bound noun מות (the free form is מָוֶת)‎. On the form of the conjunction וּ, see comment on וּמֵאָה in v. 1.‎ The verb לקח is bivalent with an NP complement indicating the thing taken. The NP complement in this clause is represented by the 3fs pronominal clitic, which refers back to Esther. The ב temporal phrase causes inversion to verb-subject order. Note that, since the complement is attached to the verb as a clitic pronoun, it raises with the verb over the subject. “Light” PPs like לו (i.e., PPs with pronominal clitic complements) often attach themselves syntactically to the verb in the same manner and thus follow the verb up and stand between verb and subject (Holmstedt 2010:63; see, for example, חפץ בה in 2:14, and צוה לו in 3:2). The PP לו in this clause has not attached itself to the verb, because the clitic pronoun has already done so, effectively blocking the raising of לו. The ל-PP indicates possession (cf. comment on 1:9, and comment above on אין לה), specifically meaning “into his care” or “into his family/household.”

לְבַֽת. According to the Septuagint, Mordecai did not take Esther “as a daughter,” but “as a wife” (εἰς γυναῖκα). Because of this (and the evidence of several ancient interpreters), it may be that לקחה מרדכי לו originally lacked לבת and was intended to suggest a marriage (or future betrothed) relationship (cf. Levenson 1997:58; Fox 2001:275-276). It is more likely, however, that the Septuagint’s εἰς γυναῖκα reflect a misreading of בת as ב(י)ת, “house,” which in early Rabbinic Judaism was a euphemism for “wife” (the same interpretive move was apparently made by the Talmudic tractate B. Meg. 13A; Fox 2001:276; Paton 1908:171). Whatever Mordecai’s intentions might have been, if Esther had actually been married or formally betrothed, it would likely have removed her from eligibility for the king’s search (Moore 1971:20-21). Moreover, according to Bush the Hebrew phrase לקח … לבת (“to take someone as a daughter”) is a calque of the Babylonian phrase ana mārūtim legū “to take for son/daughter,” used to connote legal adoption (1996:364).

2:8 ‎‫וַיְהִ֗י בְּהִשָּׁמַ֤ע דְּבַר־הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙  וְדָת֔וֹ וּֽבְהִקָּבֵ֞ץ נְעָר֥וֹת רַבּ֛וֹת אֶל־שׁוּשַׁ֥ן הַבִּירָ֖ה אֶל־יַ֣ד הֵגָ֑י וַתִּלָּקַ֤ח אֶסְתֵּר֙  אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־יַ֥ד הֵגַ֖י שֹׁמֵ֥ר הַנָּשִֽׁים׃

Now that Esther and Mordecai have been introduced, the narrative resumes, recounting that Esther is among the contestants to become the new queen.

וַיְהִ֗י. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √היה. With this wayyiqtol the narrative is resumed (Moore 1971:21). On the nature of the discourse ויהי, see comment on 1:1 (see also 3:4; 5:1, 2).

בְּהִשָּׁמַ֤ע דְּבַר־הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ וְדָת֔וֹ Inf Constr Niph √שׁמע. The ב-PP/infinitive clause בהשׁמע דבר המלך ודתו consists of the Niphal passive verb and a compound subject דְּבַר־הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ (“the word of the king and his law”). It is the first of two Topic-fronted temporal scene-setting phrases that are adjuncts to the main verb, ותלקח.

וּֽבְהִקָּבֵ֞ץ נְעָר֥וֹת רַבּ֛וֹת אֶל־שׁוּשַׁ֥ן הַבִּירָ֖ה אֶל־יַ֣ד הֵגָ֑י. Inf Constr Niph √קבץ. A second temporal ב-PP/infinitive clause is conjoined to the first by a ו. Such conjoined temporal clauses may present sequential actions/event or simultaneous actions/events and the only clear determinative is the sense of the passage. Here in v. 8, the action of the second infinitival clause occurs after the action of the first infinitival clause (the word of the king first goes out, and then young ladies are gathered). Niphal קבץ is monovalent (the אל-PP is not a complement to the verb, but an adjunct; see comment on v. 3). The NP נערות רבות is the subject of the passive verb. The second אל-PP, אל יד הגי, is in apposition to the first, אל שׁושׁן הבירה; see comment on v. 3. This verse restates much of v. 3 (Moore 1971:21), but as a fact of what happened rather than a proposal for what should happen. Young ladies (נערות) are gathered (הקבץ) to Susa the capital (אל שׁושַן הבירה), specifically, to the authority of Hegai (אל יד הגי), who has charge over the king’s women (שׁמר הנשׁים). On the expression אל יד הגי, see comment on v. 3.

וַתִּלָּקַ֤ח אֶסְתֵּר֙  אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־יַ֥ד הֵגַ֖י שֹׁמֵ֥ר הַנָּשִֽׁים. Wayyiqtol 3fs Niph √לקח. The wayyiqtol initiates the main clause. The fact that two temporal adjunct phrases (the PP/infinitive clauses) precede the wayyiqtol provides further evidence that one of the primary functions of the ו is as a phrase edge marker (i.e., it does not start a new main clause here, but marks the edge of the phrase that includes the primary predication). The fronting of the two temporal infinitives (…בְּהִשָּׁמַע … וּבְהִקָּבֵץ) has triggered verb-subject order (ותלקח אסתר), as does the very nature of the wayyiqtol itself (see Holmstedt 2009, 2011). The two אל-PPs are in apposition; see last paragraph and comment on v. 3. Niphal לקח is monovalent, with a locative/goal PP adjunct (אל יד הגי שׁמר הנשׁים). “The house of the king” (בית המלך) here seems to be synonymous with בית הנשׁים (“the house of women”) in v. 3, referring to a house belonging to the king that is for the women’s use. Alternatively, בית המלך here may carry its typical meaning, referring more generally to the king’s palace (the larger property on which the בית הנשׁים is located). On the expression שׁמר הנשׁים, see comment on v. 3.

2:9 ‎‫וַתִּיטַ֨ב הַנַּעֲרָ֣ה בְעֵינָיו֮  וַתִּשָּׂ֣א חֶ֣סֶד לְפָנָיו֒ וַ֠יְבַהֵל אֶת־תַּמְרוּקֶ֤יהָ  וְאֶת־מָנוֹתֶ֙הָ֙  לָתֵ֣ת לָ֔הּ וְאֵת֙  שֶׁ֣בַע הַנְּעָר֔וֹת הָרְאֻי֥וֹת לָֽתֶת־לָ֖הּ מִבֵּ֣ית הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ וַיְשַׁנֶּ֧הָ  וְאֶת־נַעֲרוֹתֶ֛יהָ  לְט֖וֹב בֵּ֥ית הַנָּשִֽׁים׃

Esther charms Hegai and wins his favor, which results in preferential treatment for Esther.

וַתִּיטַ֨ב הַנַּעֲרָ֣ה בְעֵינָיו֮. Wayyiqtol 3fs Qal √יטב. On the expression יטב בעיני “was pleasing,” see comments on 1:19, 1:21, 2:4, and 3:6. It is not immediately clear to whom the 3ms pronominal clitic in בעיניו refers. The larger context, specifically the statement in v. 4 that the king is seeking a pleasing young lady, might suggest to the reader that Esther has already pleased the king in v. 9. This development would occur too early in the narrative, though, and as the reader continues it becomes clear that Hegai is the referent of ו in בעיניו. Interestingly, in the AT, which testifies to a Hebrew source that may preserve an earlier version of the story (see introduction §), the content from MT’s vv. 9-17 is significantly abbreviated, such that Esther is said to go in to the king and impress him immediately after v. 9.

וַתִּשָּׂ֣א חֶ֣סֶד לְפָנָיו֒. Wayyiqtol 3fs Qal √נשׂא. With prefix conjugations, the נ of I-נ roots (excepting those with a guttural second root; see JM §72b) is assimilated to the second radical; the resulting long or “doubled” consonant is represented by a dagesh: *wayyinsāʾ > wayyissāʾ. The verb נשׂא with complement חֵן and/or חֶסֶד is found only in Esther: here (נשׂא חסד לפני), in 2:15 (נשׂא חן בעיני), in 2:17 (נשׂא חן וחסד לפני), and in 5:2 (נשׂא חן בעיני). The idiom נשׂא חסד seems to be synonymous with מצא חן (“to find favor”; HALOT נשׂא Qal #1; BDB נשׂא Qal #3; DCH נשׂא Qal #8; cf. Keil 1873:337), which is used often in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Gen 6:8; Esther 5:8; 7:3; 8:5; see comment on 5:8). Moore suggests that “[נשׂא חן] is more active while [מצא חן] more passive in character” (1971:21; cf. Fox 2001:31; Bush 1996:364), which makes some contextual sense: נשׂא when the narrator speaks, emphasizing Esther as a heroine, and מצא when Esther speaks to the king, emphasizing her “dependence on the king’s good will” (Moore 1971:21).

וַ֠יְבַהֵל אֶת־תַּמְרוּקֶ֤יהָ  וְאֶת־מָנוֹתֶ֙הָ֙  לָתֵ֣ת לָ֔הּ. Wayyiqtol 3ms Piel √בהל and Inf Constr Qal √נתן. The verb בהל in the Hebrew Bible typically has to do with “being frightened” (the Niphal passive) or “frightening” (the Piel active). In later biblical texts, the word takes on an additional Aramaic-influenced meaning (related to Arm. בהל in the Pa’el), “to be hasty” (Jastrow s.v.), that is, ‘to hasten’ (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.; cf. Paton 1908:177; Bergey 1983:111). In the Hebrew Bible, this verb takes an infinitive complement only here and in 6:14 (where it is in the Hiphil; for an extra-biblical example, see 4Q215 fragment 1 column 3 line 5). The complement is a compound constituent consisting of two infinitive clauses, two separate occurrences of לתת. Notably, in both infinitive clauses the complement NP precedes the infinitive verb (את תמרוקיה ואת מנותה before the first לתת and את שׁבע הנערות הראיות before the second לתת; cf. 3:13). This word order is rare in BH but relatively common in later (including Biblical) Aramaic (Keil 1873:337; Paton 1908:177; Moore 1971:22; cf. Rosenthal 2006:§185; cf. Daniel 2:9 and throughout). The pattern also occurs in the Hebrew documents from Qumran (Carmignac 1966; cf. Qimron 1986 §400.05), though this may reflect Aramaic influence. Alternatively, את תמרוקיה ואת מנותה and את שׁבע הנערות הראיות could be taken as a compound complement to finite verb בהל, with the two לתת infinitives as purpose clauses adjunct to בהל. However, in this unlikely scenario the compound complement would be split by an infinitive adjunct and the second occurrence of לתת לה would be redundant. On the meaning of תמרוק, see comment on v. 3.

לָתֵ֣ת לָ֔הּ. Inf Constr Qal √נתן. The infinitive of נתן has lost both the first and last letters of its root. The first radical נ is dropped because it does not have a vowel (aphaeresis; JM §72c) and the third radical נ assimilates to the feminine morpheme -t, which is added “to re-establish the triliteralism (Barth’s law of compensation)” (JM §72d). Long, or geminate, consonants in word-final position shorten (or “degeminate”; JM §18l), which accounts for the lack of the expected dagesh in the ת to represent the assimilated נ. The derivation of the i-class verb is thus: *ntin > *tin+t > *titt > *tit > tēt (stress-lengthening of i > ē). Finally, the vowel of the monosyllabic prepositions when added to a monosyllabic word is often a qameṣ, as here: lā-tēt לָתֵת. The verb נתן is trivalent, taking an NP complement (את תמרוקיה ואת מנותה) and a ל-PP (לה).

וְאֵת֙  שֶׁ֣בַע הַנְּעָר֔וֹת הָרְאֻי֥וֹת לָֽתֶת־לָ֖הּ מִבֵּ֣ית הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ. Inf Constr Qal √נתן. The second infinitive clause complement to בהל has the same order as the first, with the infinitive’s complement preceding the non-finite verb (see comment above). The PP מבית המלך, “from the house of the king,” is a verbal adjunct specifying the location from which the seven ladies were given. It may be tempting to take the PP מבית המלך as a modifier of the NP שׁבע הנערות, “seven from-the-king’s-house female attendants,” that is, “seven royal female attendants,” but such “NP-internal” modifiers are almost always immediately adjacent to the modified NP; here the distance between the NP and the PP indicates that the PP is a verbal adjunct. Nevertheless, the PP indicates that the seven “chosen” ladies came from the house of the king; whether or not they are from the king’s personal maidservants, that they belong to the “house of the king” indicates that they are of high quality (presumably most contestants would not receive “house of the king” ladies; cf. Paton 1908:175). The numeral שׁבע is bound to הנערות (see Introduction §).

הַנְּעָר֔וֹת הָרְאֻי֥וֹת. Passive Participle fp Qal √ראה‎. In the NP הנערות הראיות the plural noun הנערות is modified by a ה relative clause in which the subject is null, the verb is a null copula, and the verbal complement is the Qal passive participle ראיות, lit. “the ladies who (they) (were) chosen.” This is the sole occurrence of ראה as a Qal passive Participle in the Hebrew Bible, though it is used frequently in the Mishnah and other Rabbinic literature (Keil 1873:337; Paton 1908:177). The verb in this instance is used in the sense of ‘seen’ > ‘chosen, selected’ (HALOT s.v., CDH s.v.) or “suitable” (BDB s.v.; cf. Bush 1996:364).

וַיְשַׁנֶּהָ  וְאֶת־נַעֲרוֹתֶיהָ  לְטוֹב בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים. Wayyiqtol 3ms Piel √שׁנה. Qal שׁנה can be monovalent or bivalent, meaning “to change” or “to change (something)”; the Piel is the causative of the bivalent Qal and means ‘(to cause) to change,’ ‘to alter,’ or ‘to transfer’ (in)to something (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; on the Piel binyan in general, see comment on 3:1). Note that when the clitic pronoun (here a 3fs complement pronoun) is attached, the ה of the III-ה root falls off (or “apocopates”). The verb takes a compound complement, the 3fs clitic pronoun attached to the verb and the NP את נערותיה. The verb שׁנה occurs in the Piel only eight times in the Hebrew Bible (1 Sam 21:14; Jer 2:36; 52:33; Ps 34:1; 89:35; Job 14:20; Prov 31:5; Esth 2:9) and the nuance in this verse is not immediately clear. There are at least four plausible analysis. First, שׁנה could mean “to transfer” (i.e., “to change [place or position]”) and the sense of the clause could be that Hegai “transferred Esther and her attendants to the best place in the house of women” (Keil 1873:337; Paton 1908:175-78; Moore 1971:9; Fox 2001:30; Bush 1996:357; HALOT s.v.). Second, שׁנה could mean that Hegai “transformed” (i.e., “to change [quality or characteristic]”) Esther and her attendants into the “best” of the harem, taking לטוב as a second complement PP indicating the new state or quality (WO §11.2.10, exx. 38-45; on superlative adjectives, see §14.5c). A third analysis takes שׁנה to have the sense of “to mark out, distinguish” (causative of Qal “to differ”) as in Rabbinic Hebrew (Ehrlich 1914:112); if so, the ל-PP must modify the verb as a purpose PP with superlative adjective—“he distinguished them as the best of the house of women”—though how Hegai could have agentively “distinguished” them as the “best” is not clear. Finally, the PP לטוב could be taken as a purpose infinitive with an adjunct NP: “he distinguished them so that they did well in the house of the king” (Levenson 1997:60). This is grammatically feasible, since טוֹב is the appropriate morphological form for the infinitive from the II-ו root; moreover, בית הנשׁים can function as an adverbial NP or represent the assimilation of the ב preposition to the word בית (see JM §133c). The only weakness of this fourth proposal is the lack of other cases where the Piel שׁנה takes an infinitival complement; however, with only eight occurrences of the Piel שׁנה, the lack of another infinitival complement could be coincidence. All things considered, we prefer the first option, although it is difficult to identify determinative features for any of the four.

2:10 ‎‫לֹא־הִגִּ֣ידָה אֶסְתֵּ֔ר אֶת־עַמָּ֖הּ וְאֶת־מֽוֹלַדְתָּ֑הּ כִּ֧י מָרְדֳּכַ֛י צִוָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ  אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תַגִּֽיד׃

V. 10 takes the reader out of narrative flow to relate a bit more backstory—Esther tells no one that she is Jewish, in accordance with Mordecai’s instructions. This point is crucial, since it establishes Esther’s anonymity in her dealings with the king and sets up the confrontation with Haman.

לֹא־הִגִּ֣ידָה אֶסְתֵּ֔ר אֶת־עַמָּ֖הּ וְאֶת־מֽוֹלַדְתָּ֑הּ. Qatal 3fs Hiph √נגד. The נ of the root has assimilated: *hingīdā > higgīdā (cf. comment on ותשׂא in v. 9). The verb נגד always appears in the Hiphil and means “to declare.” It is bivalent and requires both a subject and an NP complement. The negation of the verb in this clause triggers inversion to verb-subject order. The word מולדת is a maqtal-pattern noun in the feminine. The וֹ vowel is the result of the assimilation and monophongization (*aw > *au > ō) of the initial a vowel of the noun pattern and the original ו of the root *ולד. The segholate ending is the result of the consonantal cluster produced by the addition of the feminine ending -t and the subsequent loss of case vowels. Thus, the derivation is *mawlad-t > *môladt > môlédet. The noun can refer to one’s ‘descent’ (e.g., line of descent, place of origin), one’s relatives, or one’s offspring or descendants (see HALOT s.v.; CDH s.v.). Here it refers to Esther’s relatives and so overlaps with עמה “her clan, kin, people” (HALOT s.v.; see CDH עם I.3).

כִּ֧י מָרְדֳּכַ֛י צִוָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־תַגִּֽיד. Qatal 3ms Piel √צוה and Yiqtol (irrealis) 3fs Hiph √נגד. Although כי triggers inversion to verb-subject order, here the Focus-fronting of מרדכי brings the subject back to a higher position than the verb, immediately after the כי. The Focus-fronting signals that it was Mordecai’s (not Esther’s) idea to hide her ethnicity (cf. v. 4) (cf. Moore 1971:22). The verb צוה “to command” only occurs in the Piel or Pual. It is typically a trivalent verb, with an enclitic pronoun or NP complement indicating whom is commanded and a second complement—an NP, infinitival clause (even a speech clause with לאמר), or a complement clause (introduced, for example, by אשׁר)—for what is commanded. In some cases, as here, an על or אל-PP is used for the whom complement. Thus, in this clause the PP עליה is one complement, and the nominalized clause אשׁר לא תגיד is the second NP complement: “that she should not declare.”

לֹא־תַגִּֽיד. Yiqtol (irrealis) 3fs Hiph √נגד. Hiphil נגד is bivalent: “to declare (something),” though a PP adjunct specifying the addressee is often present. In this clause, the NP complement is null and can be contextually reconstructed from the preceding clause as את עמה ואת מולדתה.

One Response to “Esther 2:5-10”

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