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Old Testament Essays

On-line version ISSN 2312-3621
Print version ISSN 1010-9919

Old testam. essays vol.29 n.1 Pretoria  2016

http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2312-3621/2016/v29n1a8 

ARTICLES

 

Daniel at the beauty pageant and Esther in the lion's den: Literary Intertextuality and Shared Motifs between the Books of Daniel and Esther

 

 

Matthew MichaelI, II

IStellenbosch University
IINasarawa State University, Nigeria

 

 


ABSTRACT

The present paper reads the books of Esther and Daniel as polemic writings of the Persian period which subtly seek to undermine the rhetoric of each other. Since the postexilic environment posed an enormous challenge to the Jewish identity, the great need to preserve this identity became a reoccurring motif in most postexilic compositions. Crystallizing this postexilic discourse, however, the books of Esther and Daniel propose two opposing attitudes to the problem of Jewish identity. While the book of Esther generally advocates the extreme adoption and even marriage to these foreign cultures, the book of Daniel particularly its narrative section (1-6) rejects this particular perspective, and largely promotes a defiant disposition towards the dominant culture. Through intertextual connections, the paper engages the various motifs in Esther, and notes also the subtle engagement and even subversion of these motifs in Daniel.

Keywords: Esther; Daniel; Characterization; Intertextuality; Polemics; Shared Motifs; Postexilic


 

 

A INTRODUCTION

Intertextuality has become a defining field of hb in modern scholarship with increasing publications committed to the intertextual readings of the hb.1While this particular approach has a tendency to degenerate into some kind of subjective modern Midrash or the uncritical resuscitation of the dead rabbinic exegesis of ancient times, these synchronic readings in most cases have generally opened up new horizons in the crafting of biblical narrative because the intertextual links between biblical stories have often had the original signatures of the authors/redactors of the hb.2In a general sense, intertextuality exists in every literary composition whether clearly expressed or unexpressed because the process of literary composition itself invariably provides justification for this exercise.3 Amy Scheinerman rightly observed,

Texts are not written in a vacuum any more than their authors live hermetically sealed lives apart from society and all other literature. Every text bears the marks of external influence. Certainly texts are shaped by their author's worldview and personality, but also by other texts. They may bear evidence of influence of another text, allude to another text, or be in conversation with another text, responding to issues it raises.4

To be more precise, biblical authors appear to borrow motifs from each other, and it is increasingly recognized that biblical authors use common motifs and literary conventions in their representations of the story world.5 For the biblical narrators, the literary environment in terms of similarity of language use, cultural space and the polemic agenda of most biblical narratives increase the possibility of intertextual links with motifs, characterization and polemics of preceding stories repeated and projected in other books within the hb.6 On this literary practice, Robert Alter has shown, for example, the common literary convention whereby biblical narrators framed their stories in the same literary scene or projected on their characters repeated characterizations which he has aptly described as the type-scene.7 The type-scene, according to Alter, may be adjusted and recontextualized, but the type-scene exercises a formidable impact in the characterization and storytelling traditions of biblical narrators. Alter has shown the presence, role and the intertextual connection between type-scenes across various biblical stories in the HB.8 Placed within these contemporary studies, however, there are no studies which have independently explored the intertextual connections between the representations and story plot of the book of Esther and Daniel. Even though these two books are both late compositions in the biblical canon, shared the same postexilic environment, espouse the same rhetoric in terms of protection for the Jewish identity against dominant foreign culture, preservation in the midst of persecution/annihilation, modern scholarship has largely ignored the intertextual connections between the two books. Beyond the commonality of their postexilic environment, the present paper shows important intertextual connections between the two books which clearly suggest that common motifs, representation and intertextual relationships exist between the two books.

 

B INTERTEXTUAL STUDIES IN ESTHER AND DANIEL

To describe the various works in modern scholarship on Esther and Daniel will be difficult to rehearse here because of the limited scope of the present study.9However, we situate the present work in the confinement of dominant intertextual studies done in recent times on the two books. Beginning with the book of Esther, David G. Firth has described the intertextual connection between the book of Esther and Samuel. For example, the representation of King Ahasuerus and Haman in Esther (1:10; 5:9) as "merry with wine." The same expression is used to describe Nabal and Ammon signalling their downfall (1 Sam 25:36 and 2 Sam 13:28).10 According to Firth, Ahasuerus and Haman are described with the same phraseology and condition of Nabal and Ammon "because those who are in this condition act with folly" and this characterization generally attends the representation of Ahasuerus and Haman in the book of Esther.11 He also observed the description of Haman with the epithet "Agagite" (3:1, 10, 8:3, 5, 9:24), and its intertextual connection to the story of Agag in 1 Sam 15. It seems the narrator of Esther wanted to restage and continue the Saul and Agag tension in the book of 1 Samuel with Haman in the character zone of Agag and Esther/Mordecai connected to the ancestry of Saul.12

In the same way, Yitzhak Berger has drawn attention to this same motif in his description of the intertextual connection between the book of Esther and 1 Samuel. He suggests the representation of the heroine Esther was done to overturn "the pivotal failure of Saul" in the book of Samuel.13 He notes the subtle connection between the story of Esther's rise to power and the report of Saul's rise to kingship in 1 Samuel.14 He also describes the larger connection between the stories of Saul, David and the echo of this representation in Esther particularly with the hanging of Haman's ten sons and the intertextual relationship to the killing of ten Saulides by David (2 Sam 21:8-9).15 He further went to show the literary connection between Saul and the surrounding stories of Nabal and the book of Esther. Berger also extends this same literary connection to the representation of Solomon in the book of 1 Kgs 2 particularly the revengeful killings of Joab and Adonijah by Solomon and the revenge of Esther/Mordecai in the book of Esther.16 Based on these allusions, Berger observed, "I conclude, then, that the allusions employed by the author of Esther pervade the story, and, in a consistent way, generate meaning that is fundamental to the book's objective."17 This objective, according to Berger, is to settle the scores between the dynasties of David and Saul.

Similarly, Aaron Koller has shown the intertextual link between the representation of Esther to Joseph in Genesis, and Saul in 1 Samuel.18 Also, Amelia D. Friedman has engaged the intertextuality in Esther particularly from the representation of God as an absent character.19 On the other hand, G. J. Swart has described the intertextual connections between the representations of Esther to Rahab in Josephus.20 He observed,

.. .it is evident that Josephus, when writing his version of the Rahab story in Joshua 2, imagined the dynamics of Rahab's situation in a way very similar to that of Esther as he would later portray her story. Despite the absence of any explicit allusions, the similarities between these Josephan narratives - the common motifs, clusters of motifs, and the distinctive vocabulary - allow these texts to be read using an intertextual approach by which their respective interpretations are mutually enhanced.21

In addition, Scheinerman has described the common literary motifs between the book of Esther and the book of Exodus particularly the common motifs shared by Esther and Moses.22 She notes the similarities between Esther and Moses in terms of the concealing of their identities, and the quest to save their people from annihilation. She said, "Esther lives in the palace with the very man who set his seal on a decree to annihilate her and her people, the Jews. Esther is the queen of Persia though she is a Jew and not a Persian." In this regard, "[b]oth Moses, prince of Egypt, and Esther, queen of Persia, become members of the royal family, their Jewish identity a secret. 23" In the same way, both Esther and Moses showed initial hesitation in saving their people from the annihilating threat. In both stories of Esther and Moses, enemies of the Israelites/Jews died in great numbers with no casualties among Esther/Moses' people. 24 For Scheinerman, the narrative world of Exodus presents a God-centred act of redemption while in the book of Esther there is a dominant "human-centred" type of redemption. Thus, the book of Esther complements or even engages the dominant polemics and representation of a deity-centred redemption. Furthermore, Scheinerman shows also the influence of this description of redemption in Esther and its contending presence in the rabbinic writings.25 Similarly, this intertextual reading of Esther in relationship to Exodus in Scheinermann has found earlier expression in James A. Loader.26 He notes the intertextual relationship between Esther and Exodus story. For Loader, "[t]he Esther story culminates in the Purim Festival as the Exodus Story culminates in Passover."27

While preceding works have engaged the significant role of intertextual connection of the book of Esther to several stories in the Bible, the place of intertextuality in Daniel has also drawn scholarly interests.28 For example, Michael Segal, following after John J. Collins and L. F. Hartman and A. A. Di Leila, had generally noted the intertextual links between Daniel's interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dreams in ch. 2, and Joseph's interpretation of Phar- aoh's dreams in Gen 41.29 For Segal, Daniel is a "second Joseph."30 The two stories, according to Segal, describe a foreign king who has a dream, and was troubled by this dream because he did not know the meaning (Dan 2:1; Gen 41:8).31 The foreign kings in both stories called upon the wise men and magicians to help with the interpretation of the dream (Dan 2:2-13; Gen 41:8).32 However, the wise men and magicians were unable to provide the kings with the interpretation of the dreams. In the two stories, one of the king's officers brought to the kings a Hebrew/Judean young man who claimed to have the ability to interpret the kings' dreams (Dan 2:14, 24b-25; Gen 41:9-13).33 The youth recognizes God as the source of the interpretation for the king, and then proceeds to tell the kings the meaning of the dreams (Dan 2:25; Gen 41:14). In the two stories, according to Segal, the interpretations of the dreams are not for the personal benefits of the kings but the importance of the dreams transcend the lives of the kings to include their kingdoms. The kings rewarded the Hebrew young men with gifts and promotion (Dan 2:48; Gen 41:40-45).34 Considering these similarities, Segal said,

In light of all of these parallels, it has been correctly suggested that the loseph story serves as a literary model for the Daniel tale, and was probably chosen since the former describes an Israelite or lew in the Diaspora, who was able to succeed in the court of the foreign king.35

Similarly, Matthew S. Rindge had considered further subtle intertextual connections between the two stories of Joseph and Daniel. He described four groups of characters involved in the two stories namely

the ruler (Pharaoh/Nebuchadnezzar); the magicians and those who fail to interpret the dream; the interpreter of the dream (Joseph/Daniel); and the person who functions as an intermediary between the ruler and the interpreter (cupbearer/Arioch).36

He significantly notes the "specific similarities" in lexical and thematic connections which represent Daniel as "a new and improved Joseph."37 For Rindge, the representation of Daniel 2 was to present Daniel as "an interpreter par excellence" because the plot of this story is "intensified" through Nebuchadnezzar's demand to be told the dream and the interpretations rather thanjust the interpretation as requested by Pharaoh in Joseph's story.38 Rindge also describes the connection between the stories and the superiority of Daniel over the Joseph's story particularly in the arena of the piety. Rindge said,

[a] noteworthy element in the Daniel narrative that is absent from Genesis 41 is the prayer of Daniel (2:17-23). His prayer is all the more striking given the fact that not once, throughout Genesis 37-50, is Joseph ever portrayed as one who prays.39

Similarly, in terms of its relationship to imperial order, Rindge found the story of Daniel superior to the story of Joseph where "extreme assimilation" to the imperial order was emphasized. According to Rindge, Daniel presents a story of "moderate resistance" to the imperial order.40 On the other hand, Janwim Wesselius has drawn attention to the "intertextual links" between the books of Daniel and Ezra.41 Describing the book of Daniel as a "dossier" rather than a continuous story, he engaged the apparent discontinuities within the various literary units of the book.42 Concerning the intertextual character of Daniel, Wesselius said, "...in a number of cases, including the book of Daniel, biblical authors copied vital structural traits of other texts-which they subjected to a thorough literary analysis-for setting up the structural framework of the text being written."43 In particular, Wesselius described the close structuring of Daniel to fit the structuring of the book of Ezra, and the corresponding use of Aramaic and Hebrew in both of these two books. He observed,

It is noteworthy that [the book of Ezra] closely fits the profile which is sketched here of Daniel. Similar features include: a break in the middle between six episodes and four; a comparable distribution of Hebrew and Aramaic parts, and the use of Aramaic to link effectively the two halves, with five Aramaic documents before and one after the separation between the two parts.44

Similarly, Wesselius also recognizes some other "intertextual features" between the two books. For instance, "Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue in Daniel 3-six by sixty cubits which have amazed ancient and modern exegetes alike," according to Wesselius, looks "suspiciously like the dimensions of the Second Temple (sixty by sixty cubits according to Ezra 6:3), the foundations of which are laid in the parallel Ezra 3."45 Connecting these two objects, Wesselius notes that

Nebuchadnezzar's object of veneration is intertextually linked and contrasted with the place where faithful Jews like Daniel and his companions would pray after the Captivity, which would not have been possible had the statue featured more realistic dimensions such as 12 χ 60 cubits or 6 χ 30 cubits.46