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Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 246 Reviews Ruth. When Ruth's journey is understood not merely as a combination of "female" and "male" journey stories but as a critique of stifling concepts of female or male, then the story of Ruth may elucidate our own journeys. Susanne Scholz The College o/Wooster Wooster,OH 44691 ESTHER: A COMMENTARY. By Jon D. Levenson. Old Testament Library. pp. 136. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997. Cloth, $22.00. Levenson has provided us with a careful and perceptive analysis of the book of Esther read through the lenses of narrative theology. The different scenes are discussed and incorporated into the flow of the main plot and sub-plots, clarifying for us the diversity of themes and the beauty of this excellent literary composition. Levenson writes with clarity and precision and retains the interest of the reader by keeping the story in mind while dealing with technical elements such as word discussions, redactional matters and different opinions on the meaning of the text. According to Levenson, the book was probably written during the Second Temple period, sometime during the fourth or third century BeE. In agreement with other scholars, he argues that Esther belongs to the literary genre called historical novella. This means that although Esther is not historically reliable, truth is communicated to the audience through the literary composition. He bases his conclusion on the chronological problems found in the book and on the lack of historical evidence that would corroborate any of the events narrated in it. Even Esther herself is considered by Levenson to be "a historical improbability" (p. 24). He recognizes that the book shows familiarity with Persian customs, but that does not make it an historical narrative. This rather blunt rejection of historical value in the book of Esther contrasts markedly with other scholars who fmd in it at least a historical core and who, although recognizing the presence of contradictions and some most improbable statements, still recognize that they "are not sufficiently serious to undermine the essential historicity of Esther" (e.g., Carey C. Moore, Esther. AB [New York: Doubleday, 1971], p. xlvi). The literary symmetry of the book is recognized by most scholars, and Levenson joins them by accepting the key role played by the ten banquets in the structure of the book. The two sets of five banquets serve to point to Hebrew Studies 39 (1998) 247 Reviews the practical objective of the book in its present Hebrew fonn: the authorization and legislation of the Feast of Purim. But Levenson believes that there is a more significant literary arrangement in the book. He finds in the book a bilateral chiastic structure with chapter 6 at the pivotal center. Levenson recognizes that the symmetry is not perfect, particularly in that the same passage is sometimes used to designate more than one of the chiastic balances. It would appear that what is needed is not a structure based on general ideas but on linguistic similarities and contrasts. This would introduce some control in the unveiling of the literary structure of the book. Based on his literary analysis and on the study of some key terms, Levenson concludes that the theme of the book is recorded in 9:1the theme of reversal. In agreement with many other scholars, he finds in the story a movement from grief to joy, from the threat of extennination to victory. Identifying the message of the book of Esther is complex, and Levenson rightly suggests that in this document we confront a multiplicity of messages . Among the most important ones is a humorous criticism of the Persian government, conveyed by the way the narrator portrays the king and his court in the book. In the characterization of the king, Levenson follows the common scholarly view that describes the king as a weakling, unable to make a decision, constantly relying on those close to him, who are able to manipulate him. But it seems to me that this characterization of the king has been greatly exaggerated and needs to be balanced. In chapter 1, after the incident with Vashti, the king is really looking for a legal basis for his decision instead of allowing...


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