Monday, June 13, 2011

Esther's Double Identity

What is Esther’s other name? Hadassah (Esther 2:7)

Esther, the Jewess who used her influence as Queen of Persia to save her people, is introduced into the Biblical text with two names:
He [Mordecai] was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. (Esther 2:7, NASB)
While the name Esther appears 55 times in the Bible, the name Hadassah never again appears. The book of the Bible that bears the heroine’s name reads Esther, not Hadassah.

Hadassah is Esther’s Hebrew name, likely the name given her by her parents. Hadassah means “myrtle”. While the myrtle is a plain plant, its crushed leaves produce a pleasant fragrance. It is one of the four species bundled together in the celebration of Sukkot (based on Leviticus 23:40).

Esther, however, is a Persian name. It is either derived from the Persian word for “star” or a theonym which incorporates the name of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. While its exact meaning is contested, its Persian etymology is not.

In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word ester is related to the Hebrew word meaning “to hide”. Esther hid her Jewish identity (Esther 2:10, 20) and her Persian named helped her do it. The famous Rabbinic commentator Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1164) justifies Esther’s subterfuge by noting that if she had not disguised her religion, she would bot have been able to observe it.

Was Esther wrong to conceal her religion? Is the fact that her Hebrew name is largely forgotten an indictment against her? How public should one be with their religious beliefs?

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