Esther 2:1-4

So, to make up for yesterday’s long text, today’s is rather short. It all evens out over the long haul, though.

Scene 2—Esther is Chosen as Queen (2:1-20)
Together with chapter 1, which it mirrors (see introduction to Act I), chapter 2 serves as an introduction to the main story in chapters 3 and following.

Episode 1—Ahashverosh Seeks a Replacement for Vashti (2:1-4)
Chapter 2 begins after the king’s anger has subsided, and recounts the way in which the problem of Vashti’s removal from queenship is remedied.

1After these things, when the wrath of King Ahashverosh abated, he remembered Vashti and what she did and what had been decreed concerning her. 2And the king’s courtiers who attended him said, “Let someone seek for the king young ladies, virgins who are good-looking. 3And let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom. Let them gather every young lady, any virgin that is good looking, to Susa, the citadel, to the harem, into the authority of Hegai, the eunuch of the king, who keeps the women, providing their cosmetics work. 4And let the young lady who will please the king rule instead of Vashti.” And the word was pleasing to the king, and he did thus.

2:1 ‎‫אַחַר֙  הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה כְּשֹׁ֕ךְ חֲמַ֖ת הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ זָכַ֤ר אֶת־וַשְׁתִּי֙  וְאֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֔תָה וְאֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־נִגְזַ֖ר עָלֶֽיהָ׃

After the king calms down, he realizes that his decree has implication for the court that will require action.

אַחַר֙  הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה כְּשֹׁ֕ךְ חֲמַ֖ת הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ. Inf Constr Qal √שׁכך. The temporal אחר-PP (see also 3:1) and the כ-PP/infinitive clause are both fronted adjuncts to the main verb זכר. The fronted adjuncts are scene-setting Topics (Holmstedt 2009:126-29). The verb שׁכך “to subside, lessen” (HALOT s.v.; cf. BDB s.v.) is found only here and in Esther 7:10, Gen 8:1, Num 17:20 (where it is in the Hiphil), and Jer 5:26. Within the infinitive clause, the NP חמת המלך אחשׁושׁרושׁ is the subject of the monovalent verb שׁך.

הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ. See comment on 1:2.

זָכַ֤ר אֶת־וַשְׁתִּי֙  וְאֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֔תָה וְאֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־נִגְזַ֖ר עָלֶֽיהָ. Qatal 3ms Qal √זכר, qatal 3fs Qal √עשׂה, and qatal 3ms Niph √גזר. The verb זכר is bivalent, requiring a subject (here a null subject) and one NP complement, which is here a compound NP consisting of three conjoined items all introduced by את: the NP ושׁתי and two null constituents that are each defined by a restrictive אשׁר relative clause. Note the pausal form of עָשָׂתָה (the contextual, non-pausal form is עָשְׂתָה, with a vocal sheva in the second syllable). Although pausal forms often occur with disjunctive accents (as here), they do not always, and thus they possibly testify to “patterns of formation of speech units” in earlier than the Masoretic system of accentuation (Revell 1980:176). The Qal of גזר is bivalent and primarily means “to cut (something)” or “to divide (something),” though by extension it connotes an act of deciding or decreeing (BDB, s.v.; HALOT, s.v.; DCH, s.v.). The Niphal, “(something) is cut, divided,” reflects a decrease in valency, wherein the complement of the bivalent active Qal becomes the subject of the passive monovalent Niphal (see Introduction §1.3). According to BDB (גזר Qal 6) and Paton (1908:166), the meaning “decree” for גזר is an Aramaism (cf. Jastrow גְּזַר). The collocation גזר על appears only here in the Bible but occurs 11x in the Mishna (Ma‛aś. Š. 5:13; Roš Haš. 2:9; Ta‛an. 1:5, 6 (2x); 2:9; 3:6 (2x); 4:6; Soṭah 9:14 (2x)); see Bergey 1983:109-110 and our Introduction §. Theעל-PP is an adjunct to the passive verb and either signals the entity about whom the decision concerns— i.e., “what had been decreed concerning her”—or the entity to whose advantage or disadvantage the action is taken—i.e., “what had been decreed against her” (WO §11.2.13c). In the context, that is, for Ahashverosh’s purposes, the difference between these two options in negligible and the result is the same: he lacks a queen.

2:2 ‎‫וַיֹּאמְר֥וּ נַעֲרֵֽי־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ מְשָׁרְתָ֑יו יְבַקְשׁ֥וּ לַמֶּ֛לֶךְ נְעָר֥וֹת בְּתוּל֖וֹת טוֹב֥וֹת מַרְאֶֽה׃

The king’s courtiers suggest that the king’s problem (his lack of a queen) be remedied by a kingdom-wide search. This verse echoes the story of David and Abishag the Shunammite in 1 Kgs 1:1-4, where David’s servants suggest that יְבַקְשׁוּ … נַעֲרָה בְּתוּלָה for the king (cf. Fox 2001:28; Levenson 1997:54).

וַיֹּאמְר֥וּ נַעֲרֵֽי־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ מְשָׁרְתָ֑יו. Wayyiqtol 3mp Qal √אמר and Participle mp Piel √שׁרת‎ with 3ms clitic pronoun. The eunuchs of the king appear in 1:10, where they seem to be officials assigned to deal specifically with the king’s women. Additionally, the king’s highest officials or “cabinet” appear in 1:14. Here in 2:2, the נערים appear—who are they? The uses of נַעַר fall into three general categories: 1. boy; 2. young man; 3. servant (HALOT, s.v.; DCH, s.v.). Here the third category is more likely in view and the age-related nature of the first two categories irrelevant. The more general designation עֶבֶד appears in 1:3 and 2:18, but here the נערים may refer to a narrower group of servants, the king’s courtiers. The participle phrase משׁרתיו modifies the NP נערי־המלך in an unmarked relative clause: “servants … (who) attended him”; compare the relative participle שׁרת in 1:10.

יְבַקְשׁ֥וּ לַמֶּ֛לֶךְ נְעָר֥וֹת. Jussive (or irrealis yiqtol) 3mp Piel √בקשׁ. Note the absence of the dagesh in the ק even though its presence is a characteristic of the Piel pattern (see comment on ויהי in 1:1). The Piel בקשׁ is a bivalent verb, taking a subject (here null) and an NP complement (here נערות בתולות טובות מראה). The PP למלך is an adjunct indicating the person who benefits from the action (the so-called dativus commodi; JM §133d; WO §11.2.10d). This clause is a classic example of a null subject clause in which the null subject is not picking up on a referent identifiable and available in the discourse but rather is truly unspecified and thus an arbitrary agent, similar to English “someone,” as in “let someone find a beautiful wife for the king” (Paton 1908:166). This and similar occurrences are often translated as passives, e.g,. “let young ladies be sought” (Moore 1971:17; Bush 1996:357; cf. WO §22.7a; Fox 2001:282), but this poorly reflects the Hebrew grammar and is an accommodation to English literary conventions.

נְעָר֥וֹת בְּתוּל֖וֹת טוֹב֥וֹת מַרְאֶֽה. The NP בתולות modifies the NP נערות as an appositive that provides an attribute of the נערות—it indicates that these maids must have the quality of virginity (see comments on apposition in 1:6, 10). The NP בתולות is in turn modified by the complex adjectival phrase טוֹבוֹת מראה, in which the adjective טוֹבוֹת is bound to the clitic host מראה, “good of appearance.” The phrase טובות מראה echoes כי־טובת מראה היא in 1:11 and signals that the search for the new queen centers around the attribute that Vashti possessed and was asked to exhibit publicly, great beauty.

2:3 ‎‫וְיַפְקֵ֨ד הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ פְּקִידִים֮  בְּכָל־מְדִינ֣וֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ֒ וְיִקְבְּצ֣וּ אֶת־כָּל־נַעֲרָֽה־בְ֠תוּלָה טוֹבַ֨ת מַרְאֶ֜ה אֶל־שׁוּשַׁ֤ן הַבִּירָה֙  אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַנָּשִׁ֔ים אֶל־יַ֥ד הֵגֶ֛א סְרִ֥יס הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ שֹׁמֵ֣ר הַנָּשִׁ֑ים וְנָת֖וֹן תַּמְרוּקֵיהֶֽן׃

The courtier suggests that the search for the new queen extend to all the provinces of the kingdom, with contestants gathered to the king’s harem in Susa.

וְיַפְקֵ֨ד הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ פְּקִידִים֮  בְּכָל־מְדִינ֣וֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ֒. Jussive 3ms Hiph √פקד. Note the “short” ṣere /ē/ vowel that characterizes the Jussive and wayyiqtol forms of the Hiphil, in contrast to the “long” ḥiriq-yod /ī/ of the same form of the Yiqtol (JM §§45b, 54a; see also Holmstedt 2000). Modality, whether associated with a Jussive or an irrealis yiqtol or qatal, inverts the basic subject-verb word order to verb-subject. The Qal פקד is notoriously difficult to reduce to a central lexical value (HALOT, s.v.; DCH, s.v.); contextually פקד appears to mean “visit,” “observe,” “register,” “assign,” “punish,” “muster,” “deposit,” and “care”! The verb is mostly bivalent, but can also be trivalent when it means “to visit sins upon somebody” (e.g., Exod 20:5) or “to appoint someone to something” (e.g., Gen 40:4; Num 4:27; Deut 20:9; Jer 49:19 par. 50:44). The semantics of the Hiphil is more consistently trivalent and are limited to the semantic range of “appoint, assign X to Y” with an על-PP complement (“to appoint X over Y”) or, as here, a ב-PP complement. The noun פָּקִיד is derived from the same root and means “overseer” (HALOT; see also DCH, s.v.; BDB, s.v.). Here it desribes those who have been appointed to a temporary position and who are tasked to find eligible נערות in the kingdom.

וְיִקְבְּצ֣וּ אֶת־כָּל־נַעֲרָֽה־בְ֠תוּלָה טוֹבַ֨ת מַרְאֶ֜ה אֶל־שׁוּשַׁ֤ן הַבִּירָה֙. Jussive 3mp Qal √קבץ. The subject of יקבצו is null and is either the unspecified and arbitrary “someone,” or is now assumed to be the פקידים appointed in the previous clause. The latter analysis makes better sense to us. The verb קבץ in the Qal is bivalent with a subject and NP complement. The PP אל־שׁושׁן הבירה is an adjunct indicating the location or goal of the gathering activity. Though the form of the verb יקבצו is ambiguous—it could be a realis yiqtol or a jussive—the fact that it follows the unambiguously jussive יפקד in the preceding clause and both are part of the same speech act strongly suggests that both should be read as jussives. On verbal sequences and semantics, see Cook 2012a:312-337 and 319 table 4.5.

נַעֲרָֽה־בְ֠תוּלָה טוֹבַ֨ת מַרְאֶ֜ה. On the syntax of this NP, see the similar phrase in v. 2.

אֶל־שׁוּשַׁ֤ן הַבִּירָה֙  אֶל־בֵּ֣ית הַנָּשִׁ֔ים אֶל־יַ֥ד הֵגֶ֛א. The first אל-PP is the adjunct to the verb יקבצו and the following two PPs are successively embedded appositives, with אל בית הנשׁים appositive to אל שׁושׁן and אל יד הגא appositive to אל בית הנשׁים. Each appositive serves to further specify the reference of the location identified by the PP it modifies: the location is successively narrowed from the citadel to the harem to the control of a specific administrator. On שׁושׁן הבירה as “Susa, the citadel,” see comment on 1:2.
בֵּ֣ית הַנָּשִׁ֔ים. This phrase is used only in chapter 2 (vv. 3, 9, 11, 13, 14). It refers either to a physical structure where the king’s wives and concubines were housed—that is, the harem (Bush 1996:357)—or more generally to the whole institution: the structure, the women, and the administration of it all (see Moore 1971:18). Since the physical structure makes better sense when the phrase is used again in 2:11, we understand it similarly here.

אֶל־יַ֥ד הֵגֶ֛א סְרִ֥יס הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ שֹׁמֵ֣ר הַנָּשִׁ֑ים. Participle ms Qal √שׁמר. The phrase אל יד is idiomatic for placing someone or something under the authority or control of the person specified (for other metaphorical uses of יד in Esther, see 1:7, 12; 2:21). The name of the eunuch in charge of the women is spelled differently here than elsewhere: here it is הֵגֶא, whereas in vv. 8 (twice) and 15 it is spelled הֵגַי (or הֵגָי in pause). However, it must be the same person, since in v. 8 young ladies (and Esther) are said to be gathered (קבץ) “to Susa, the citadel, to the hand of Hegai” (אל־שׁושׁן הבירה אל־יד הגי; cf. Moore 1971:15; Bush 1996:358; Levenson 1997:53). The PN הגא is followed by stacked non-restrictive modifiers, first the appositive NP סריס המלך and then the participial relative clause שׁמר הנשׁים. The verb שׁמר means “to keep, watch, preserve, protect” (HALOT, s.v.; DCH, s.v.; BDB, s.v.); here the sense is that Hegai has charge over the women and is responsible for them (Keil 1873:334). The semantics of the participle שׁמר within the null copula relative clause is progressive; with a specific subject, הגא, and a kind-referring activity, שׁמר, the result is a habitual statement: Hegai keeps the women (on gnomic and habitual statements as generics and their manifestation in BH, see Cook 2005 and Introduction §).

וְנָת֖וֹן תַּמְרוּקֵיהֶֽן. Inf Abs Qal √נָתוֹן. The verb נתן is often trivalent, “to give X to Y,” though appears also to have a bivalent use, “provide X,” in which the second, recipient complement is not explicit. The Infinitive Absolute is often used as an adverb that intensifies the verb (WO §35.2.1a); the specific nature of the intensification is open-ended and is contextually determined, e.g., “really, quickly, eventually, harshly.” Another significant usage is related to the adverbial function: an Infinitive Absolute may serve as a verb of a subordinate clause that provides attendant circumstances relating to the preceding verb (see WO §35.2.2a-c). The Infinitive is underspecified for TAM and inherits the TAM from the preceding verb, most often a main clause verb but in this case the null copula of the participial relative with שׁמר, “who keeps the women, providing their cosmetics work.” This use of the infinitive absolute occurs elsewhere in Esther (3:13; 6:9; 9:6, 16 [x3], 17 [x2]). On the place of this feature in a diachronic analysis of the Hebrew of Esther, see Introduction §. The noun תַּמְרוּק is a ת-preformative taqtul-pattern noun (JM §88Lu) from the root מרק, ‘to polish’ (DCH s.v.; BDB s.v.). Since the “majority of nouns with ת-preformative are verbal substantives or action nouns” (JM §88Lo), the derived noun תַּמְרוּק means “polishing,” which has been taken to connote here either bathing or cosmetics application (compare HALOT, s.v.; DCH, s.v.; Moore 1971:18; Bush 1996:358).

2:4 ‎‫וְהַֽנַּעֲרָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר תִּיטַב֙  בְּעֵינֵ֣י הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ תִּמְלֹ֖ךְ תַּ֣חַת וַשְׁתִּ֑י וַיִּיטַ֧ב הַדָּבָ֛ר בְּעֵינֵ֥י הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ וַיַּ֥עַשׂ כֵּֽן׃ ס

Verse 4 describes the king’s approval of the courtier’s plan and the subsequent move to enact the plan.

וְהַֽנַּעֲרָ֗ה … תִּמְלֹ֖ךְ תַּ֣חַת וַשְׁתִּ֑י. Jussive 3fs Qal √מלך. Here מלך is monovalent, meaning “to rule” (cf. comment on 1:1) and the תחת-PP is an adjunct. Though the verb is morphologically ambiguous and could be a realis yiqtol, it is the third verb in a sequence within the same speech act beginning with the unambiguously jussive יפקד (v. 3). The lengthy subject is fronted for Focus, thereby establishing a membership set including all the young women that the king interviews and contrasting the one woman that pleases the king—only the one who pleases you let become queen.

אֲשֶׁ֤ר תִּיטַב֙  בְּעֵינֵ֣י הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ. Yiqtol 3fs Qal √יטב. The yiqtol תיטב defaults to a future temporal frame within relative clauses (see Introduction §). On the idiom “to be good in the eyes of” (יטב בעיני) see comments on 1:19, 1:21; seel also 3:6 and 5:4.

וַיִּיטַ֧ב הַדָּבָ֛ר בְּעֵינֵ֥י הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √יטב. The wayyiqtol signals the end of the direct speech and the return to the past tense narrative voice. Whereas in the preceding clause, a “young lady” is said to be “good in the eyes of” (or “pleasing to”) the king, hereהדבר—that is, the direct speech of the king’s servants immediately preceding this—is pleasing to the king (i.e., “he thought it was a good idea”; cf. Moore 1971:18-19); compare the parallel in 1:21.

וַיַּ֥עַשׂ כֵּֽן. Wayyiqtol 3ms Qal √עשׂה. Note the “short” form of the wayyiqtol for the III-ה verb (see JM §47c). The Qal עשׂה is mostly bivalent and here takes the deictic adverb כֵּן as its complement. The deictic adverb points back to הדבר that pleased him. Note the parallels in this verse with 1:21, both of which show the king’s response to advice given to him:

Esther 1:21 וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׁרִים וַיַּעַשׂ הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּדְבַר מְמוּכָן
Esther 2:4                 וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ            וַיַּעַשׂ         כֵּן

The narrator presents the king as a puppet, a character who mostly follows the advice or designs of others.

2 Responses to “Esther 2:1-4”

  1. Anthony Lipscomb Says:

    Thanks for these posts, Dr. Holmstedt. BTW, 1st par, 2nd-to-last line for v. 4, “the one women” should be singular.

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