Regarding the Greek additions to Esther, added for Hellenized Jewish readers: Why would using her skills to help her people not be enough? 

I loved your question. I too would have thought Esther’s sacrifice would be enough, but by the Greek period, Hellenized Jews seemed to think Esther was more whore than hero. Perhaps that was because of her sexual training and the Greek emphasis on female virginity. (Hestia, Artemis, and Athena were considered virgins, and Greeks even named the famous Athenian temple the Temple of the Virgin (Parthenon, after parthenos or virgin). Here’s an interesting blog article by classicist Edith Hall on ancient Greek virginity tests, their invalidity, and their persistence today: http://edithorial.blogspot.com/2013/08/what-greeks-knew-about-virginity-testing.html 

Another obvious problem with Esther to intertestamental, Hellenized Jews was her diet. We don’t have much discussion of Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) before Daniel and Tobit, both written in the Hellenic or Greek period (Daniel dates from about 164 BCE and Tobit is probably later). Yes, the laws are mentioned in Deuteronomy and especially Leviticus, but we don’t see the evidence of their importance before Daniel and the Apocryphal texts:

  • Both Daniel and Tobit prohibit eating the meat and “wine of the gentiles,” though vegetables are permitted, partly because eating these foods, especially wine, might lead to intermarriage. God is shown sending angels (popular in the Greek period) to defend them when gentiles torture them for their diet.
  • In the Greek text 4 Maccabees in the Apocrypha, seven sons of their father go to their deaths at the hands of Antiochus IV (the same villain mentioned in Daniel) because they will not eat the pork of the gentile oppressors. Their mother is lionized as “mother of the nation, vindicator of the law and champion of religion…more noble than males in steadfastness, and more courageous than men in endurance” (4 Mac 29-30).  
  • In the New Testament, Acts discusses Paul’s struggle with the Jerusalem Jesus movement over dietary laws, and Jesus, an observant Jew, seems to follow them in some gospels while actively defying them in others (Mark 7).

My point is that, somewhere between the time the original Esther was written and the Greek additions were composed, diet became the single greatest sign of Jewish separateness, for those who advocated it. 

I suggest that these two issues–Esther’s sexuality and her diet–were every bit as disturbing to later readers as the lack of mentions of God, and both are addressed in the Apocryphal additions to Esther. Even in the first century CE, Esther is not mentioned or found among the Dead Sea scrolls. It isn’t till the third century CE that Esther is considered canonical by the Jews–some argue because Esther was a festival scroll (megillot) that justified an important Jewish holiday, Purim. 

Still, I agree that her sacrifice should have been enough, for those who saw women as capable of sacrifice. But the Mediterranean world that “closed” the Torah canon was every bit as misogynist as the early Christians. 

For more on dietary laws, see these books about the kashrut:

  • Kraemer, David C. Jewish Eating and Identity through the Ages. London: Routledge, 2007.DOI: 10.4324/9780203941577A history of major developments in Jewish eating practices, from the Bible to the present.
  • Rosenblum, Jordan D. The Jewish Dietary Laws in the Ancient World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.A good survey of Jewish dietary laws, as referenced in both Jewish and non-Jewish sources, from the Hebrew Bible through the Rabbinic/Patristic period.

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