In Part I of our study on Esther and Joseph, we saw that Esther rises to prominence like Joseph, but also that Haman gains authority in Persia in the same way that Joseph did in Egypt; while Esther adopts the themes and language of the Joseph story, it does so to highlight the severity of the situation for Jews under Haman. The author of Esther then draws on Joseph’s story to show the reader that, unfortunately, things get worse before they get better.
The fate that Joseph suffers at the hands of his brothers foreshadows the threat that Haman makes against all the Jews of Persia. After Joseph’s brothers throw him into a pit, “Midianite traders… sold (מכר; machar) him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver (עשׂרים כסף; ‘esrim kaseph)” (Gen 37:28). While only one Hebrew gets sold into Egypt – and for only twenty silver pieces – in Esther all of God’s people are “sold” for far more than Joseph’s price. Haman states, “Let it be decreed that [the Jews] be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver (עשׂרת אלפים ככר כסף; ‘eseret ‘alaphim kikar keseph)” (Est 3:9)! In light of this Jewish persecution under Haman, Esther tells the king that, just like Joseph, “‘We have been sold (מכר; machar), I and my people, to be destroyed” (Est 7:4). The threat against Esther and her people is an even more severe version of what happened to Joseph.
In response to Haman’s threat, Esther engineers her people’s salvation, just as Joseph saves people from famine. Joseph tells Pharaoh to “appoint overseers (יפקד פקדים; yafked pekidim)… and let them gather (קבץ; kavats) all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain” (Gen 41:34-35). The same Hebrew language describes Esther’s entry into the king’s harem, from which she emerges as queen and saves her entire Jewish people. The Persian king’s attendants tell him to “appoint overseers (יפקד פקדים; yafked pekidim)… to gather (קבץ; kavats) all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa” (Est 2:3). On the one hand, “overseers” in Persia “gather” women like the “overseers” in Egypt “gather” grain (!), which highlights the Persians’ objectifying view of their female subjects in the story, as well as the level of adversity that Esther will need to overcome as a woman in the Empire. But also, just as the grain that Joseph decreed to be gathered in Egypt would save people from famine, the women gathered in Persia would include Esther — the one who would save her people from destruction. Thus, the author of Esther echoes the latter part of Genesis to alert the reader that, like Joseph, Esther will rise from lowly status to become the savior of her people.
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