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SHORT NOTES A NEW CLUE IN THE DATING OF THE COMPOSITION OF THE BOOK OF ESTHER1

In his classic An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, Samuel R. Driver concluded,
Materials do not exist for xing otherwise than approximately the date at which the Book of Esther was composed. Xerxes [B.C. 485-465] is described . . . in terms which imply that his reign lay in a somewhat distant past when the author wrote. By the majority of critics the Book is assigned either to the early years of the Greek period (which began B.C. 332), or to the 3rd cent. B.C. With such a date the diction would well agree, which, though superior to that of the Chronicler, and more accommodating to the model of the earlier books, contains many late words and idioms, and exhibits much deterioration in syntax.2

Since these remarks were made over a century ago, little progress has been made despite the great eVort expended by scholars in arriving at a more precise date.3 After a rigorous examination of arguments, Michael Fox, concludes that a Hellenistic, third-century date is most likely.4 An unusual and surprisingly overlooked feature of Esther,5 I submit, provides a crucial clue with which to date the books composition with a remarkable degree of precision. This unusual feature is the month formula, used in dating with quali ed consistency throughout Esther. Nachmanides (Ramban) noted long ago in his commentary on the Pentateuch6 that the Hebrew months of the Bible do not have a name,7 but rather only a number, beginning in the spring (1 = Nisan). The Jews in exile adopted the Babylonian names for the months: the names of the months ascended with us from Babel ( y. Ro Ha 1:2). The postexilic books of Zechariah, Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther are thus distinguished within the Bible by their use of the Babylonian lunar system in dating. There is, however, a diVerence in usage among these postexilic books. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah the recently adopted
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2000 Vetus Testamentum L, 4

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Babylonian nomenclature is employed to the exclusion of the old, priestly ordinals (Ezra vi 15; Neh. i 1, ii 1, vi 15). In Zechariah (i 7, vii 1), however, and in Esther (seven of eleven times) a compound formula is employed that suggests a lack of familiarity with the new Babylonian system: in the . . . nth month, that is to say month x (ii 16; iii 7 bis, 13; viii 9, 12; ix 1; vs. the name alone in ix 15, 17, 19, 21). In some cases we can directly compare the formulation in Esther with that of the exclusively Babylonian Ezra-Nehemiah.8 For two particular months, Nisan and Adar, the diVerence is striking:
bd hr "wn hw" d nysn (Esth. iii 7) wyhy bd nysn (Neh. ii 1) l d nym r hw" d "dr (Esth. iii 7, 13; viii 12) wb nym r d hw" d "dr (Esth. ix 1) d ywm tlth lyr "dr (Ezra vi 15)

In other instances there is no minimal pair, but nevertheless the diVerence in formulation is real:
bd hyry hw" d bt (Esth. ii 16) bd hlyy hw" d sywn (Esth. viii 9) brym wm h l "lwl (Neh. vi 15) wyhy bd kslw (Neh. i 1)

The compound formulas in Zechariah may also be noted for comparison:


b"rb h ld hty y bkslw (Zech. vii 1) l ty r d hw" d b (Zech. i 7, exactly as in Esther)

The four exceptions There are four instances in Esther ix, as noted above, that record the date in the Babylonian system exclusively, omitting the priestly ordinal. The rst three exceptions are vv. 15, 17, 19. These exceptions, in contrast with the examples examined above, would appear to indicate a familiarity with the Babylonian lunar calendar. However, there certainly is a plausible explanation: the opening sentence of this pericope (beginning at ix 1 and extending to ix 19) already begins in the typical manner, with the compound formula; and from there the narration proceeds with the various incidents that culminate in the conclusive victory of the Jews over their persecutors (the rationale for

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the Purim festivities). Since Adar has already been identi ed as the twelfth month of the year, there can be no need for the more precise compound formula throughout the pericope so introduced. The fourth and nal exception is found at Esth ix 21. Once again, the same logic applies: Adar has already been identi ed in ix 1; and thus there is no need to do so again for the remainder of the book. Some scholars have considered section ix 20-x 3 an autonomous unit,9 from a diVerent writer and quite possibly from a late period.10 If so, our author and his audience may well have been more familiar with the new Babylonian nomenclature, thus prompting the authors omission of the parallel ordinals. Signi cance and implication One would reasonably suppose that the postexilic transition from the earlier, priestly ordinals to the Babylonian nomenclature was not instantaneous. During that transitional period, parallel designations would have been employed for greater clarity. As the Jewish population became familiarized with the names of the months that came with us from Babel, authors could dispense with the primitive numbering. Lack of numbering is evident already in Ezra-Nehemiah in the late Persian period (last half of the fourth century B.C.E.). But typical of the transitional period, the prophet Zechariah (his prophecies date from 520-18 B.C.E.) employs both the compound formula (i 1, 7) and the primitive ordinals (viii 19). Thus Zechariah, employing the priestly ordinals together with the compound formula, must represent the cusp, the incipient stage. Esther, in contrast, no longer uses the simple numbering system at any point; instead we nd the compound system (with the quali cation of the four instances in ix that have been provided with a natural explanation above). If the explanation of the four exceptions in Esth ix be accepted, it must follow logically that the composition of Esther follows that of Zechariah; but quite clearly precedes that of Ezra-Nehemiah. If this simple diachronic analysis goes through, it would force back the date of the composition of the book of Esther almost two hundred years into the early Persian period (late fth century B.C.E.),11 but certainly not earlier than the rule of Darius the Great (521-485 B.C.).12 Toronto Albert D. Friedberg

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1 I am indebted to Dr. Avi Hurvitz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for reading earlier drafts of this note and encouraging me to publish it, in addition to providing valuable bibliographical suggestions; and to Dr. Vincent DeCaen, Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto, for his bibliographical and copyediting assistance. Needless to say, all errors and opinions are my own. 2 S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (New York, 1960), p. 484. 3 The Late Hebrew dialect employed in Esther has been a bone of contention. R. Polzin, Late Biblical Hebrew: Toward an Historical Typology of Biblical Hebrew Prose (HSM 12; Missoula, 1976) maintains with others that Esthers usage is archaized. C. A. Moore, Esther (AB 7b; Garden City, 1971), p. lvii, arrives at the opposite conclusion, nding instead that the Hebrew in Esther is most like the Hebrew of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. The Hebrew of Esther has also been compared to the later Mishnaic Hebrew. R. L. Bergey, in his Late Linguistic Features in Esther, JQR 75 (1984), pp. 66-78, detects a linguistic proximity between the Hebrew of Esther and Mishnaic Hebrew on the basis of a number of features, primarily the referential use of b in the calendar formulas (see also his The Book of Esther: Its Place in the Linguistic Milieu of Post-Exilic Biblical Hebrew Prose: A Study in Late Biblical Hebrew, Ph.D. diss. [ The Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1983].) This conclusion was already anticipated on the basis of a less rigorous analysis by C. Rabin, The Historical Background of Qumran Hebrew, ScrHier 4 (1958), pp. 152-3, who found that Mishnaic Hebrew was woven into the grammatical fabric of Esther. It must be pointed out, however, that Mishnaic features are not necessarily diagnostic of the latest Hebrew, as already noted by M. Z. Segal, Dikduk Leshon ha-Mishnah ( Tel Aviv, 1936), pp. 10-12. A. Bendavid, Leshon Mikra u-leshon hakhamim (2 vols.; Tel Aviv, 1967), vigorously defended the idea that Mishnaic Hebrew was a popular, spoken language in use long before the Second Commonwealth period, although, admittedly, it made its literary appearance only then. In this light, features characteristic of Mishnaic Hebrew found in Esther do not necessarily re ect a post-Persian literary development. A recent, concise survey of postexilic Hebrew with select bibliography is provided by U. Schattner-Rieser, Lhbreu postexilique in E.-M. Laperrousaz and A. Lemaire (eds.), La Palestine lpoque perse ( Paris, 1994). 4 M. V. Fox, Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther (Columbia SC, 1991), chap. 3. Cf. C. A. Moores summary under Esther, Book of in ABD 2, pp. 633-43; there he concludes, Nonetheless, a late Persian period [dating] for the original of the Esther story seems a reasonable estimate, p. 641. 5 This is not to say that noted scholars have not remarked on this unique feature, though only in passing. The basic facts on the designation of the months have been detailed recently by James C. VanderKam, Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Measuring Time (London, 1998); and by Andr Lemaire, Les formules de datation en Palestine au premier millnaire avant J.-C. in F. Briquel-Chatonnet and H. Lozachmeur (eds.), Proche-Orient Ancien: Temps vcu, temps pens (Antiquits Smitiques 3; Paris, 1998), pp. 5382. [The editor wishes to thank the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia ( RIM) Project, University of Toronto, for providing access to the latter work; and Christoph Vehlinger, Biblical Institute, Fribourg, Switzerland, for drawing attention to it.] 6 Whenever we will mention the months, the miracle [of the Exodus] will be remembered. It is for this reason that the months have no individual names in the Torah. Ramban (Nachmanides), Commentary on the Torah, vol. 2 Exodus (New York, 1973), 12:2, p. 116. 7 To be accurate, months are usually designated by ordinals. In the Passover narrative the rst month of the year is h"bb ( Exod. xiii 4, xxiii 15, xxxiv 18 bis; cf. Deut. xvi 1 bis ); similarly in the description of the construction of Solomons Temple

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(1 Kgs vi-viii), three months are named: zw (second month), h" tnm (seventh) and bl (eighth). 8 A. Hurvitz has provided four lexicographical criteria for analyzing late linguistic elements in Biblical Hebrew in Linguistic Criteria for Dating Problematic Biblical Texts, Hebrew Abstracts 14 (1973), pp. 74-79, which in turn summarizes his book Bein Lashon Lelashon ( Jerusalem, 1972). There is no reason why such rigorous criteria could not be applied in diVerentiating various usages in post-Classical Hebrew. In the present study his second condition of Linguistic Opposition is directly relevant: There should be alternative elements found in earlier books which express the same meaning ( p. 76). The fourth condition of Accumulation (manifestation of numerous late elements, p. 77) does yield a tendency to a relatively later dating than posited in this study, though not unambigously; and in fact the concentration is far from heavy (or an unusual density; see methodological restriction 8, p. 76). 9 L. B. Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther (ICC; New York, 1908), pp. 57-60. See also, O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Oxford, 1966), p. 511. 10 P. Haupt, Critical Notes on Esther, AJSLL 24 (1907-1908), pp. 97-186; more recently, D. J. A. Clines, The Esther Scroll ( JSOTSup 30; She Yeld, 1984), pp. 50-63, who regards all of ix 1-x 3 as a series of four later supplements. 11 This conclusion echoes that of S. Talmon, Wisdom in the Book of Esther, VT 13 (1963); This con ux constitutes a strong argument in favour of dating the composition of the Esther-story in the beginning of the Persian era. The traditional setting of the book in the days of Xerxes I (485-465 B.C.) cannot be wide oV the mark (p. 449). E. M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids, 1990), pp. 226-228 agrees with Talmon. 12 P. Briant has provided a monumental account of Persian history in his Histoire de lempire perse: de Cyrus Alexandre (Paris, 1996).

Abstract
The postexilic books show evidence of an inner-biblical development in dating formulas, a transition from the traditional numerical designation of months to the Babylonian nomenclature. Assuming a natural transition, from the incipient stage in Zechariah through to the complete adoption of the Babylonian system in Ezra-Nehemia, we must place Esther and its mixed formulas in the middle of this spectrum. On this basis, the dating of the composition of the book of Esther should be moved back a couple of centuries, from the early third century to the early Persian period in the late fth century.