Researching Esther – the story

I had read the Esther story in the bible a number of times, and was always fascinated by a few of what I thought were unique attributes:

  • Very strong female lead character.
  • Bad guys who were, really, quite bad.
  • Plot twists and surprises
  • And strangest of all, “God” is not explicitly mentioned even once!

I did understand that if I wanted to bring the story into the present day, I needed to do a fair amount of research on the original story – something that I had never done before.

So here are a few of the books that I went through:

The JPS Bible Commentary/Esther, Adele Berlin, 2001: Besides a great translation of the actual story, this book looked at Esther through the lens of religious (and secular) scholars. One of the insights that I took from the analysis had to do with the farcical nature of some of the character’s actions. It sparked ideas about how these same characters today might also be portrayed, and became the inspiration for some of the humor within the play. It was an exceptionally thorough analysis, where literally every sentence received about a page of scholarly discussion. The authors used Persian, Greek, as well as biblical sources; the bibliography by itself runs to 11 pages. As deep a dive as you can get.

God and Politics in Esther, Yoram Hazony, 2016: A fascinating review of the political issues, intrigues, and the use of power. Most of Hazony’s analysis brought the lesson’s of Esther into a today-context, with chapter headings such as Submission and Rule, The Morality of War, and Political Power. Reading this book gave me my first view to placing Esther in a today-corporate context.

The Purim Anthology, Philip Goodman, 1949: In this 500 page tome, the author explores the Esther story as it has been celebrated in different countries, and over time.

The Gilded Cage: Queen Esther’s Untold Story, Sorele Brownstein, 2016. A short novelette version of the Esther story, written from the perspective of Esther. It got me thinking of how I might “shift” the narrator to different characters throughout the musical. And it also helped me confirm that using a modern day setting would allow me to bring new relevance from Esther’s lessons to today’s audiences.