donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Adele Berlin, Esther (JPSBC), JPS, 2001; in: Interpretation

Adele Berlin, Esther (JPSBC), JPS, 2001.

Review in: Interpretation 2002 56: 98
Review door: Timothy K. Beal
Gevonden op:

by Adele Berlin
Translated by Am Oved. JPS Bible Commentary. The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2001,
169 pp. 34.95 (Cloth). ISBN 0-8276-06990.

THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS have seen an explosion of interest in the book of Esther, a text whose ancient Jewish-Persian context is as hard to access as its contemporary relevance is uncanny. This new commentary is among the very best. Berlin provides a rich and highly readable analysis and interpretation of the text and its early social and literary contexts.

Berlin's commentary is unique in the way it draws extensively from early Greek literature of the Persian period as a context for understanding the Esther narrative. We see how the story world of Esther is like and unlike other contemporary literature about Persia. At the same time, she reads the book of Esther in relation to other biblical narratives and early Jewish interpretive tradition. The result is an expansive appreciation of the Esther story in relation to what comes before it, what surrounds it, and what it inspires within the interpretive communities that inherit it.

At one point in the introduction Berlin indicates that her commentary does not pose "questions about the roles of women versus men, the relationships of sex and power that are in play in the story, and similar questions that reflect modern feminist ways of reading" (p. lv). Depending on how one approaches them, such questions need not reflect modern ways of reading any more than trying to understand a biblical text in its original context does. And if Berlin did in fact bracket such questions out of her commentary, that would be a serious problem. Indeed, the text of Esther begs that they be asked, especially among those of us concerned with how this story world reflects and comments on the social world of Persia in which it is set. Yet, happily, I find that Berlin's commentary does more than it promises in this regard. The analysis of sexual-political dynamics offers many valuable insights into the ways gender identities and roles were constructed and represented in ancient Persian culture as well as in early Jewish interpretive culture. Berlin does not avoid questions about gender and power in the story world and its social world. She does, however, expand, reframe and complicate those questions in ways that will enable future gender studies of the text and its early contexts to move forward in new and important directions.

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