Esther 3:1-7

This and the next section, together accounting for all of Esther 3, will be my last two posts in this aborted series. Lack of interaction suggests that there is little advantage in posting the rest of our commentary here.

But later in the spring I’ll add a few posts about some of my recent linguistic studies.

Act II—The Rise of Haman (3:1-15)
Scene 1—Haman’s Rage against Mordecai and the Jews (3:1-7)
Esther 3:1-7 sets the context for the rest of the narrative of Esther, particularly the conflict between Haman and Mordecai. The king decides to advance Haman in his service, and moreover he commands that others do obeisance to him. Mordecai, however, refuses, and the stage is set for the struggle between Mordecai and Haman. Although this particular passage has no exact antithesis later in the book, it is generally mirrored by the downfall of Haman and advancement of Mordecai in chapters 6 and 8, respectively.

1After these things King Ahashverosh exalted Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and he promoted him and set his authority over all the rulers who were his peers. 2And all the servants of the king who were in the gate of the king would bow and prostrate themselves before Haman, because thusly the king commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow and he would not prostrate himself. 3And the servants of the king who were in the gate of the king said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the command of the king?” 4And so it was, when they said [this] to him day after day, he would not listen to them. And they told [it] to Haman in order to see whether the deeds of Mordecai would last, because he had declared to them that he was a Jew. 5And Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing or prostrating himself before him, and Haman was filled with rage. 6And he despised in his eyes to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had declared to him the people of Mordecai. So Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were in all the kingdom of Ahashverosh, the people of Mordecai. 7In the first month (it was the month of Nisan), in the twelfth year of King Ahashverosh, one cast a ‘pur’ (that was the ‘lot’) before Haman day after day and from a month until the twelfth month (it was the month of Adar).

3:1 ‎אַחַ֣ר ׀ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה גִּדַּל֩ הַמֶּ֨לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֜וֹשׁ אֶת־הָמָ֧ן בֶּֽן־הַמְּדָ֛תָא הָאֲגָגִ֖י וַֽיְנַשְּׂאֵ֑הוּ וַיָּ֙שֶׂם֙  אֶת־כִּסְא֔וֹ מֵעַ֕ל כָּל־הַשָּׂרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר אִתּֽוֹ׃

In v. 1 the narrator indicates that the king elevates Haman within the court, though it does not explain why he does so.

אַחַ֣ר ׀ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה גִּדַּל֩ הַמֶּ֨לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֜וֹשׁ אֶת־הָמָ֧ן בֶּֽן־הַמְּדָ֛תָא הָאֲגָגִ֖י. Qatal 3ms Piel √גדל. The PP אחר הדברים האלה occurs frequently at beginning of a new section in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 15:1; 22:1; etc.). It is a Topic-fronted adjunct to the verb גדל. The fronting of the PP results in the inversion to verb-subject order. Piel גדל “to cause to grow,” “to bring up,” “to magnify” (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.) is the bivalent version of the monovalent Qal גדל “to grow up,” “to become great,” “to be great” (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.). The complement is the NP המן, which is modified by the restrictive appositive בן המדתא. This appositive NP identifies which Haman (among all possible Hamans) is being referred to. The gentilic noun האגגי is also an appositive, though it is unclear whether the head is המן or the closer המדתא, though the choice between the two makes little difference, since the father and son share the same ethnicity. The salient point of including האגגי is that it connects Haman genealogically to Agag, the Amalekite king that Saul defeated and Samuel killed (1 Samuel 15). Within the narrative of Esther, mentioning Haman’s ancestry serves to reinforce the antagonism that develops between Haman and Mordecai, who is of the line of Saul (or a brother line; see comments on v. 2 and 2:5, 6).

וַֽיְנַשְּׂאֵ֑הוּ. Wayyiqtol 3ms Piel √נשׂא‎ with 3ms clitic pronoun. The Piel נשׂא overlaps with the Qal in the basic sense of “to raise high,” though the Piel alone seems to have the specific nuance of “to promote” that occurs here (see HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.). The subject of the bivalent verb is a null pronoun and refers back to King Ahashverosh and the complement is the 3ms clitic pronoun. In Esther, complements of finite verbs are attached as clitic pronouns 17 times (2:7, 9, 17; 3:1, 10; 4:5, 7, 10; 5:11 [2]; 6:9, 11, 13; 7:5, 9; 8:2; 10:2), whereas they are attached to the particle את only twice (9:22, 25; see Bergey 1983:85, esp. n.3; see Introduction §).

וַיָּ֙שֶׂם֙  אֶת־כִּסְא֔וֹ מֵעַ֕ל כָּל־הַשָּׂרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר אִתּֽוֹ. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √שׂים. The verb שׂים is trivalent, taking a subject and two complements—the thing placed (here כסאו) and the location it is placed (here the מעל-PP). The PP מעל is the combination of מן and על and the semantics of the compound are resolved towards the spatial meaning of על (on compound prepositions, see WO §11.3.3; JM §133j). The NP complement כסאו, “his seat” or “his throne” (HALOT s.v.), is used as a metaphor for authority (BDB s.v.; cf. HALOT s.v. and DCH s.v.).

אֲשֶׁ֥ר אִתּֽוֹ. A null subject, null copula relative clause with the PP אתו as the complement. This relative clause modifies the NP השׂרים, who were not necessarily “with” Haman in a spatial sense, but rather conceptually: they were his peers.

3:2 ‎וְכָל־עַבְדֵ֨י הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁ֣עַר הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ כֹּרְעִ֤ים וּמִֽשְׁתַּחֲוִים֙  לְהָמָ֔ן כִּי־כֵ֖ן צִוָּה־ל֣וֹ הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ וּמָ֨רְדֳּכַ֔י לֹ֥א יִכְרַ֖ע וְלֹ֥א יִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶֽה׃

V. 2 informs the reader that the king has commanded his servants to do obeisance to Haman. As with the advancement of Haman in v. 1, the reason for the king’s command in v. 2 is never given. The conflict between Mordecai and Haman, central to the book of Esther, begins in this verse when Mordecai does not bow to Haman. No clear reason is given for Mordecai’s refusal, although the narrator’s mention of both Mordecai’s tribal affiliation (Benjaminite) and Haman’s ancestry (Agagite) suggests that tribal enmity is the intended backdrop (see Fox 2001:42-44 for a good summary and evaluation of the various options).

וְכָל־עַבְדֵ֨י הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁ֣עַר הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ כֹּרְעִ֤ים וּמִֽשְׁתַּחֲוִים֙  לְהָמָ֔ן. A null copula clause with a compound participial complement (mp Qal √כרע and Hishtaphel √חוה). Though both כרע and השׁתחוה are bivalent and require a locative complement, there is but a single PP that may fill both verb’s valencies—להמן. There are two syntactic explanations: either the two participles are considered a single valency unit, which allows a single PP to fulfill the valency requirements, or the first verb has a null pronominal complement that cataphorically co-referential with להמן. This linguistic issue has not yet been studied for BH grammar and so we cannot determine which analysis is preferable. Rather than a wayyiqtol, the null copula and participle construction is used here to convey habitual actions, “all the servants (except Mordecai) would habitually bow down to Haman.” In later BH texts, the participle increasingly displaces the yiqtol for generic, i.e., gnomic and habitual, statements (Cook 2012a:233; cf. 2005:124). The tense of the habitual activities is determined by context—the null copula‒participial clause is bounded by the qatal and wayyiqtol in v. 1 and the wayyiqtol in v. 3, all of which have a clear past temporal setting.

כָל־עַבְדֵ֨י הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁ֣עַר הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ. This complex NP is the subject of the null copula‒participial clause. Within the relative clause modifying כל עבדי המלך is a null copula clause with a null subject and a ב-PP complement. The servants were probably government officials, since the idiom “to sit in the gate of the king” refers to holding a government office (see comment on 2:19).

וּמִֽשְׁתַּחֲוִים֙. Participle mp Hishtaphel √חוה. The participle משׁתחוים is from the root חוה (not שׁחו or שׁחה as in BDB and DCH, respectively; cf. HALOT חוה II). The identification ofחוה as the root and the Hishtaphel as the binyan is strongly supported by Ugaritic evidence (see WO §21.2.3d; JM §§59g, 79t). The š infix is common in other Semitic languages as the causative morpheme (parallel to the h prefix of the Hiphil in Hebrew) and the t infix signals reflexivity, as in the Hithpael; thus the Hishtaphel would prototypically be a causative reflexive, e.g., “to make oneself bow dow.”

כִּי־כֵ֖ן צִוָּה־ל֣וֹ הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ. Qatal 3ms Piel √צוה. This verb appears in both bivalent and trivalent forms (se also 2:10). When the verb is trivalent, the complements include both what and whom is commanded; the bivalent form of the verb may take either. Here the verb is bivalent, with NP המלך as the overt subject, the deictic adverb כן functioning as the complement (and pointing back to the content of the command—bowing to Haman), and the PP לו as an adjunct indicating not whom was commanded but with regard to whom the command was made, i.e., Haman. The initial כי establishes the clause as causal, giving the reason or cause for the preceding clause (see comment on 1:8). Both כי and the fronted כן trigger word order inversion to verb-subject. Note that the light PP לו raises with the verb over the subject (see comment on 2:7; Holmstedt 2010:63).

וּמָ֨רְדֳּכַ֔י לֹ֥א יִכְרַ֖ע וְלֹ֥א יִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶֽה. Yiqtol (irrealis) 3ms Qal √כרע and Hishtaphel √חוה. Both negation of the verb and irrealis semantics would normally trigger verb-subject order, but מרדכי is here fronted for Focus (he is contrasted with everyone else who would bow to Haman). The contrast signalled by the word order suggests an adversative semantic relationship between these two clauses, with the focused NP מרדכי read with contrastive stress: “but Mordecai would not bow.” Note, though, that it is the word order and contrast that suggest the adversative relationship; this does not directly concern the grammar of the ו conjunction (see comment on 1:12). The irrealis yiqtol יכרע parallels the generic‒habitual semantics of the participles in the preceding clause.

3:3 ‎וַיֹּ֨אמְר֜וּ עַבְדֵ֥י הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁ֥עַר הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ לְמָרְדֳּכָ֑י מַדּ֙וּעַ֙  אַתָּ֣ה עוֹבֵ֔ר אֵ֖ת מִצְוַ֥ת הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃

‎In v. 3, the servants of the king question Mordecai about his refusal to bow. The purpose of their question, however, is not clear. Do they want to help Mordecai (using a rhetorical question to suggest that he start bowing), hurt Mordecai (by gleaning harmful information—i.e., that he is a Jew—that they can repeat to Haman; cf. comment on v. 4), or are they merely curious?

וַיֹּ֨אמְר֜וּ עַבְדֵ֥י הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ אֲשֶׁר־בְּשַׁ֥עַר הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ לְמָרְדֳּכָ֑י. Wayyiqtol 3mp Qal √אמר. The subject, עבדי המלך with its restrictive relative clause, is a “heavy” constituent of the type that often moved towards the end of the clause for easier processing (see comment on 1:5). Here, though, the other constituents are also relatively “heavy”—the adjunct PP למרדכי (see comments on 2:7; 3:2) and the direct speeh complement. Thus, we see an example of prototypical word order within a triggered verb-subject wayyiqtol clause. On the syntax of עבדי המלך אשׁר בשׁער המלך, see comment on v. 2.

מַדּ֙וּעַ֙  אַתָּ֣ה עוֹבֵ֔ר אֵ֖ת מִצְוַ֥ת הַמֶּֽלֶךְ. Participle ms Qal √עבד. A null copula clause with a pronominal subject and participle phrase complement. As in v. 2, the participle signals generic-habitual activity. Within the participial domain, the NP את מצות המלך is the complement that fulfills the valency of bivalent Qal עבר. As with the same participial context in v. 2, the null copula‒participial clause here establishes its temporal frame from the context, which in this case is the present time setting within the direct speech. In null copula clauses (with or without participles), inversion of the order of subject and verb is not triggered as it is in finite verbal clauses; thus, the initial interrogative מדוע does not affect the order of אתה and עובר (see Introduction §). The interrogative מדוע is the fusion of מה and the Qal 3ms passive participle ידוע, “what is known” > “why?” (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; JM §102a). The noun מצוה is a miqtal-pattern feminine noun from צוה: *miṣway-at > *miṣwaya > miṣwâ (see JM §88Lf).

3:4 ‎וַיְהִ֗י בְּאָמְרָ֤ם אֵלָיו֙  י֣וֹם וָי֔וֹם וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וַיַּגִּ֣ידוּ לְהָמָ֗ן לִרְאוֹת֙  הֲיַֽעַמְדוּ֙  דִּבְרֵ֣י מָרְדֳּכַ֔י כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥יד לָהֶ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא יְהוּדִֽי׃

Mordecai’s fellow servants continue to question him about his lack of obeisance, perhaps urging him to acquiesce. But Mordecai refuses. At some point, the servants informed Haman about Mordecai’s lack of bowing—Haman must have made a habit of ignoring those who paid him homage or there would have been no need to alert him to Mordecai’s dissent (Fox 2001:45).

וַיְהִ֗י. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal היה. On the nature of the discourse ויהי, see comment on 1:1; see also 2:8, 5:1, 2.

בְּאָמְרָ֤ם אֵלָיו֙ י֣וֹם וָי֔וֹם וְלֹ֥א שָׁמַ֖ע אֲלֵיהֶ֑ם. Inf constr Qal √אמר‎ with 3mp clitic pronoun and qatal 3ms Qal √שׁמע. The ב-PP/infinitive clause is a Topic-fronted temporal adjunct to the main verb שׁמע. An alternative analysis is that both the infinitive אמר and the perfect שׁמע could be within the domain of the ב preposition and so a compound subordinate clause adjunct to the verb ויגידו. Both analyses are grammatical and there is no good way to determine which is more likely. The 3mp clitic pronoun on אמרם is its subject and, though אמר is normally bivalent with a direct speech complement, the complement is a null pronoun and refers back to the question the other servants asked in v. 3 (we have translated the null pronoun with “this”; contra Bush 1996: 376). The verb is also followed by a PP adjunct indicating the addressee, אליו, and an NP temporal adjunct, יום ויום (on the function of the repetitive apposition, see comment on 1:22). The verb שׁמע is also bivalent and either requires an NP complement of the thing heard or, as here, an אל or ל-PP complement for the person “listened to” (another pattern is the idiomatic שׁמע לקול and שׁמע בקול, which are used in the sense of “obey”). The expression of generic statement is an area of semantic overlap between the qatal, yiqtol, and participle; therefore, while it may catch our attention that the qatal is used here for a habitual statement (“[whenever they asked], Mordecai did not listen to them”) rather than the yiqtol or participle as in vv. 2-3, this usage falls squarely within the normal function of the BH verbal system (Cook 2005; 2012:250, 270).

בְּאָמְרָ֤ם. Inf constr Qal √אמר‎ with 3mp clitic pronoun. The Masoretes indicate by using the Qere-Ketiv technique that כאמרם should be read for באמרם, but the difference between the two is negligible. Both prepositions with the infinitive construct establishes a temporal subordinate clause. It may be that the two have distinct nuances, as Waltke and O’Connor suggest: “בּ denotes in general the temporal proximity of one event to another, כּ more specifically the more immediately preceding time” (WO §36.2.2b). If this is correct, then the indeterminate temporal setting indicated by the יום ויום (see 2:11) indicates the Ketiv ב is more appropriate than the Qere כ.

וַיַּגִּ֣ידוּ לְהָמָ֗ן. Wayyiqtol 3mp Hiph √נגד. The forward assimilation of the root letter, נ, produces a lengthened (“doubled”) second root letter: *yangīdū > yaggīdū. This verb is bivalent (see comment on 2:10), though here the NP complement is null: “they made [it] known”; the null complement stands for Mordecai’s observed behavior. The PP להמן is an adjunct indicating the recipient of the verbal activity. A second adjunct is the following ל-PP/infinitive clause, which provides the (or a) purpose of their involvement (see below).

לִרְאוֹת֙  הֲיַֽעַמְדוּ֙  דִּבְרֵ֣י מָרְדֳּכַ֔י. Inf constr Qal √ראה and yiqtol 3mp Qal √עמד. The subject of the infinitive is not overt, but the null pronoun can be contextually identified as the עבדי המלך. The complement of bivalent ראה is the embedded interrogative clause, which presents an indirect question (JM §161f): “to see whether the deeds of Mordecai would stand” (< the direct question: “will Mordecai’s words/deeds stand?”). עמד דבר is a collocation unique to Esther. It is sometimes argued to be equivalent of קוּם דבר elsewhere (e.g., Deut 19:15), with the sense of “the word persists,” i.e., is valid, legitimate (Fox 2001:277-278; cf. Bush 1996:379). On whether דבר connotes “word” or “deed” in this clause, see the next comment.

כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥יד לָהֶ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא יְהוּדִֽי. Qatal 3ms Hiph √נגד and null copula clause with subject הוא and complement יהודי. The אשׁר nominalizes the null copula clause הוא יהודי so that it may serve as the NP complement of the bivalent הגיד. The כי introduces the clause as the reason or basis for the servants’ telling Haman about Mordecai. There are two plausible analysis for the role of the כי clause in the discourse and they are tied to the meaning of דברי מרדכי in the higher clause. First, Mordecai’s דבר may be a claim implied by the following causal clause, כי הגיד להם אשׁר הוא יהודי. That is, the reason that the servants reported Mordecai was to test his claim that his status as a Jew exempted him from bowing to Haman. Alternatively, Mordecai’s דבר may refer to his behavior (“deed”) and so the servants’ purpose would be “to see whether his deeds/behavior would last.” In this second analysis, that Mordecai had told his peers he was a Jew may have encouraged their actions but is not explicitly behind his refusal to bow. The former analysis makes better sense of the כי clause (which feels extraneous in the second analysis) as well as Haman’s reaction. If this כי clause implies that Mordecai made a public claim about his exemption due to his Jewishness, then we are given further reason for Haman’s response—he realizes that it is not just Mordecai’s individual stubbornness that is at issue, but no good Jew would pay him homage by bowing. And so, the narrator deftly makes Mordecai’s behavior representative of faithful Jews, in much the same way that Daniel’s behavior is presented in the book of Daniel.

3:5 וַיַּ֣רְא הָמָ֔ן כִּי־אֵ֣ין מָרְדֳּכַ֔י כֹּרֵ֥עַ  וּמִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֖ה ל֑וֹ וַיִּמָּלֵ֥א הָמָ֖ן חֵמָֽה׃

Perceiving Mordecai’s intentional slight against him, Haman is infuriated.

וַיַּ֣רְא הָמָ֔ן כִּי־אֵ֣ין מָרְדֳּכַ֔י כֹּרֵ֥עַ  וּמִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֖ה ל֑וֹ. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √ראה, participle ms Qal √כרע and Hishtaphel √חוה. The verb ראה is bivalent; here the subject is the PN המן and the complement is not an NP but the כי nominalized אין copula clause. The wayyiqtol of ראה is shortened (וירא), giving evidence that it came from a shorter prefix conjugation (see comment on 1:21). כי nominalizes the אין negative copula clause, which has מרדכי as the subject and the compound participles כרע ומשׁתחוה as the copular complements. The use of the participles within the כי clausal complement to ראה either presents Mordecai’s habitual activity (“he would not bow”) or past progressive/durative action (“he was not bowing”). Both fit the semantics of the event and there is no clear way to discern which is more accurate. But the difference is meaning is very nuanced, so it makes little difference to the interpretation of the narrative. On the root חוה, see comment on v. 2.

וַיִּמָּלֵ֥א הָמָ֖ן חֵמָֽה. Wayyiqtol 3ms Niph √מלא. The word חמה “heat” is often used metaphorically for “wrath” or “rage.” Niphal מלא typically appears with an NP complement specifying the substance that the subject is or becomes full of (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.). Only a few occurrences of Niphal מלא are missing a complement (Exod 7:25 is one example). Thus, we should understand חמה as a complement to Niphal מלא, making this a rare example of a bivalent Niphal. Although the NP המן was an overt subject in the preceding clause, it is again overt in this clause (versus the use of a null pronoun) in order to clarify which of the two discourse available agents, המן from the preceding main clause or מרדכי from the preceding subordinate clause, has become angry. While it would natural for the listener or reader to assume that the agent of the preceding main clause carried through to this main clause, the overt use of המן removes any possible doubt (see Levinsohn 2000 on participant reference in BH narrative).

3:6 ‎וַיִּ֣בֶז בְּעֵינָ֗יו לִשְׁלֹ֤ח יָד֙  בְּמָרְדֳּכַ֣י לְבַדּ֔וֹ כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥ידוּ ל֖וֹ אֶת־עַ֣ם מָרְדֳּכָ֑י וַיְבַקֵּ֣שׁ הָמָ֗ן לְהַשְׁמִ֧יד אֶת־כָּל־הַיְּהוּדִ֛ים אֲשֶׁ֛ר בְּכָל־מַלְכ֥וּת אֲחַשְׁוֵר֖וֹשׁ עַ֥ם מָרְדֳּכָֽי׃

Haman’s fury at Mordecai is exceeded only by the extent of his plans for revenge: his anger extends beyond Mordecai to his people, that is, to all those who would dare claim exemption like Mordecai has.

וַיִּ֣בֶז בְּעֵינָ֗יו לִשְׁלֹ֤ח יָד֙  בְּמָרְדֳּכַ֣י לְבַדּ֔וֹ. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √בזה. The verb בזה “to despise” or “to regard with contempt” (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.) is normally bivalent, with an NP subject (here a null pronoun that refers back to המן) and an NP complement (e.g., Gen 25:34 ‏וַיִּבֶז עֵשָׂו אֶת־הַבְּכֹרָה), though here the complement is the ל-PP/infinitive clause. The PP בעיניו is an adjunct that specifies the instrument by which the verbal activity occurs, “with his eyes.” This expression often connotes “opinion, esteem” (DCH s.v., 3b); see also 1:17. And yet, the meaning of Haman “despising [something] with his eyes,” that is, “despising [something] in his opinion” is elusive. Many either emend the verb to a Niphal (suggested in BHS) or interpret the Qal in this case as functionally equivalent to the Niphal: “he considered it beneath his dignity” (HALOT, s.v. בזה) or less periphrastically, “it was contemptible in his eyes” (see DCH, s.v. בזה), where the infinitive phrase לשׁלח יד במרדכי must be the syntactic subject. The emendation to Niphal would not involve any consonants, but simply a re-pointing of Masoretic vowels to וַיִּבָּז. However, it is worth noting that only two other collocations of בזה and בעינים occur in the Hebrew Bible: Ps 15:4, where the Niphal occurs, and in Esth 1:17, with the Hiphil (see comment there). Given the rarity of the collocation, it is quite possible that we simply do not understand the nuance of the idiom and so emendation has little support. We assume the normal semantics and valency of the Qal are in play and admit that the precise nuance of בעיניו eludes us. On the idiom לשׁלח יד במרדכי, see comment on 2:21.

כִּֽי־הִגִּ֥ידוּ ל֖וֹ אֶת־עַ֣ם מָרְדֳּכָ֑י. Qatal 3mp Hiph √נגד. This clause mirrors similar statements in 2:10; in 2:10, however, there is no ל-PP designating the person whom is told something, showing that Hiphil נגד is bivalent and that the ל-PP is a verbal adjunct (cf. comment on v. 4). The plural verb signals that the null pronominal subject does does not refer back to the last verbal subject, המן, but further back to the last plural subject, עבדי המלך (v. 3).

וַיְבַקֵּ֣שׁ הָמָ֗ן לְהַשְׁמִ֧יד אֶת־כָּל־הַיְּהוּדִ֛ים. Wayyiqtol 3ms Piel √בקשׁ. The narrative verb triggers verb-subject order. The subject is overt due to the switch from the plural subject (identifiable as עבדי המלך) of the preceding clause to the singular המן. The bivalent verb בקשׁ takes an infinitive clause complement (להשׁמיד, “to destroy…”).


הַיְּהוּדִ֛ים אֲשֶׁ֛ר בְּכָל־מַלְכ֥וּת אֲחַשְׁוֵר֖וֹשׁ עַ֥ם מָרְדֳּכָֽי. Some prefer to change the vocalization of the text to עִם מרדכי “with Mordecai” instead of עַם מרדכי “the people of Mordecai” (BHS; cf. Moore 1971:37). If this revocalization were correct, there would be two possible syntactic interpretations. First, the PP could modify the null copula of the relative clause: “who were in all the kingdom of Ahashverosh with Mordecai.” Second, the PP could modify the verb of the infinitive clause: “to destroy all the Jews… along with Mordecai.” The MT as it is pointed is not difficult, though—עם מרדכי can be understood as an appositive to היהודים. Although separated from היהודים by a relative clause, appositives can be stacked with relative clauses, such that both modify the same head: “the Jews, who were in…, the people of Mordecai.” Thus, there is no need to change the MT vocalization (cf. Keil 1873:344; Bush 1996:377; Fox 2001:278).

3:7 ‎בַּחֹ֤דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן֙  הוּא־חֹ֣דֶשׁ נִיסָ֔ן בִּשְׁנַת֙  שְׁתֵּ֣ים עֶשְׂרֵ֔ה לַמֶּ֖לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ הִפִּ֣יל פּוּר֩ ה֨וּא הַגּוֹרָ֜ל לִפְנֵ֣י הָמָ֗ן מִיּ֧וֹם ׀ לְי֛וֹם וּמֵחֹ֛דֶשׁ לְחֹ֥דֶשׁ שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֖ר הוּא־חֹ֥דֶשׁ אֲדָֽר׃ ס

‎V. 7 disrupts the narrative flow. It relates the casting of lots before Haman, perhaps to determine the date of the attack against the Jews.

בַּחֹ֤דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן֙  הוּא־חֹ֣דֶשׁ נִיסָ֔ן בִּשְׁנַת֙  שְׁתֵּ֣ים עֶשְׂרֵ֔ה לַמֶּ֖לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ. There are two Topic-fronted ב-PP temporal phrases modifying the verb הפיל. Multiple Topic-fronted temporal phrases are also found in 1:2, 2:1, and 2:8. The sequence הוא חדשׁ ניסן is a null copula clause between the two ב-PPs; its status as a parenthetical gloss clarifying the referent of החדשׁ הראשׁון is signalled by the fact that it changes the syntact pattern (from qatal clause to null copula clause) and it interrupts the syntax of the clause surrounding it. There are many such parentheses in Esther, introduced by personal pronouns (see comments on 1:1 and 2:7). The PN ניסן is the Hebrew version of Akkadian nisannu, the Babylonian name of the first month (HALOT s.v.; BDB s.v.; cf. Paton 1908:200; Moore 1971:38). The second temporal PP, בשׁנת שׁתים עשׂרה למלך אחשׁורושׁ, reflects the convention for dating an occurrence of an event, with the NP-internal ל-PP signalling possession (see comment on 1:3).

הִפִּ֣יל פּוּר֩  ה֨וּא הַגּוֹרָ֜ל לִפְנֵ֣י הָמָ֗ן מִיּ֧וֹם ׀ לְי֛וֹם וּמֵחֹ֛דֶשׁ לְחֹ֥דֶשׁ. Qatal 3ms Hiph √נפל. Hiphil נפל means “to throw down” (HALOT s.v.); combining Hiphil נפל with the NP גורל is the expression for casting lots (BDB s.v.; DCH s.v.). The null subject of the verb is generic and impersonal, “one cast lots,” and is often transformed in English translation to a passive, “lots were cast” (e.g., Bush 1996:377). The null copula clause הוא הגורל (subject הוא and complement הגורל) is another explanatory parenthesis (see preceding comment). The PN פור, found only in Esther, is a loanword from Babylonian Akkadian pūru, “lot” (HALOT s.v.; cf. Bush 1996:377). The compound PP מיום ליום is another way of expressing “daily” (cf. BDB יוֹם on the related phrase מִיּוֹם אֶל יוֹם); how this expression differs from יום ויום in 3:4 or בכל יום ויום in 2:11 is unclear. The compound PP מחדשׁ לחדשׁ similarly means “monthly.”

בַּחֹ֤דֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן֙. The numeral syntax of this phrase, with the ordinal ראשׁון, differs significantly from cases where cardinal numbers are used with an ordinal sense (e.g., לחדשׁ שׁנים עשׂר, “until the twelfth month”; see Introduction §). As an ordinal, ראשׁון modifies חדשׁ adjectivally: חדשׁ is unbound (and thus it is able to take the article) and ראשׁון agrees with it in gender, number, and person. By contrast, in the phrase חדשׁ שׁנים עשׂר later in the clause, the compound numeral שׁנים עשׂר is unbound and is either in apposition to חדשׁ, “in the month, twelve,” or is the clitic host to the bound noun חדשׁ (which, as a ms segholate noun, has an ambiguous form that could be either free or bound), “in the month of twelve.” The latter is the structure of שׁנת שׁתים עשׂרה, because שׁנת is the bound form of שָׁנָה. In numbers 11-19 the “digits” numeral precedes the “teen,” as we find in both our examples here (see Hetzron 1977:169-170). The argument that there was a linguistic shift from Early Biblical Hebrew, where the numeral often precedes the noun, to Late Biblical Hebrew, where the noun precedes the numeral, is incorrect (see Introduction §).

מִיּ֧וֹם ׀ לְי֛וֹם וּמֵחֹ֛דֶשׁ לְחֹ֥דֶשׁ שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֖ר הוּא־חֹ֥דֶשׁ אֲדָֽר. A number of modern interpreters have suggested that v. 7 is redactional and was added to the story at a later point in time, when it was used to legitimize the existence of the festival of Purim (Moore 1971:37-38; Fox 2001:258; Levenson 1997:70). Indeed, it does appear that the verse underwent some redaction or textual corruption, as evinced specifically in the awkward phrase מיום ליום ומחדשׁ לחדשׁ שׁנים עשׂר (Keil 1873:345; Paton 1908:202; Fox 2001:278; Bush 1996:377, 380). This phrase seems to be a combination of מיום ליום ומחדשׁ לחדשׁ, “day after day and month after month,” with מיום ליום מהחדשׁ הראשׁון לחדשׁ שׁנים עשׂר, “day after day, from the first month until the twelfth month.” Alternatively, it could be a corruption of מיום ליום ומחדשׁ לחדשׁ ויפל הגורל בארבעה עשׂר לחדשׁ שׁנים עשׂר (following, in part, the Septuagint), with a scribe skipping from the first instance of לחדשׁ to the second (Keil 1873:345; cf. Tov and Polak 2009). Some commentators reconstruct a different text at this point, utilizing the AT (cf. Keil 1873:345; Paton 1908:202; Moore 1971:38; Fox 2001:278; Bush 1996:377, 380-81; Levenson 1997:70). The text as it stands in the Masoretic Text is best understood as “day after day and from a month until the twelfth month”; alternatively, we could understand שׁנים עשׂר as appositional to חדשׁ: “day after day and month after month—the twelfth” (cf. Paton 1908:202). In the phrase לחדשׁ שׁנים עשׂר, the cardinal number שׁנים עשׂר (“twelve”) is used with an ordinal sense (“twelfth”) instead of an ordinal, because there are no ordinals above “tenth” (see Introduction §).

4 Responses to “Esther 3:1-7”

  1. Dan Witte Says:

    Thanks for posting these, Robert. I have followed with interest, although I haven’t commented previously.

    I’m especially interested in your Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text of Qoheleth for a translation project I’ll be working on. Any word on when that may be published? Perhaps later this year?

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Thank you, Dan. Our Qoh commentary is also nearly finished. Another editing pass through the chapters and then finishing off the introduction. Both volumes will go to Baylor in April and May.

  2. andrew.j.brown Says:

    Just so you know, there is real interest in this kind of deep study, but in my line of work (Bible college teaching), it can be difficult to extract oneself from teaching, say, Exodus and Psalms at depth, to tackle this material thoroughly right now. I would love to use it should the chance to study and teach Esther come along. And…I think blogging is a bit like this anyway. Good for humility.

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      Thank you. I am certainly committed to this kind if grammatical work in print and in my teaching. But The question has become, without any interaction (even pointing our typos or asking simple questions), whether it is worth my time to reformat for posting.


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