Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Unusual Bible Interpretations: Ruth, Esther, JudithAug 9, 2016 by Israel Drazin Hardcover (Gefen)

Each of these books is named for a woman who is a major protagonist. Thus, many modern readers will want to think about the way the books and the Bible generally portray women. Drazin's commentary on each book will help the reader with this issue and with many other historical, literary, and theological issues in these fascinating books. There is something of earthiness and sexuality in each of the three books, shared with some of the other books of the Bible. Thus in a pivotal scene, Ruth approaches one evening her husband to be, Boaz, alone on the threshing floor in her most appealingly sexual attire and spends the night. Drazin shows the reader differences in commentarial views of what transpires. Most modern readers will have little doubt. The book of Esther involves a queen who loses her throne for her failure to appear naked, according to many sources, before a group of revelers assembled by the king. Esther is beautified with cosmetics, ointments, and finery for a year and then appears before the king to win his heart and libido and become the new queen. Judith, a widow without children, knows the ways of men and famously seduces Holofernes, a general intent on doing the Israelites ill, and cuts off his head.

“Unusual Bible Interpretations: Ruth, Esther, and Judith” is part of a larger series that explores questions that have puzzled readers of the Bible for centuries. Rabbi Israel looks at why Ruth and Esther were included in the Jewish Bible while the Book of Judith, which has a more openly religious character than either Ruth or Esther, was not and only appears in the Jewish apocrypha.

Drazin’s has divided is book into three units, one on each of the three books and then each unit is further divided into chapters that give an overview of each book and explore key themes in greater detail. Looking at the book of Ruth, for example, we read the textual evidence that suggests that Ruth did not convert to Judaism, despite Rabbinic interpretation which identifies her as an early convert. “The book of Ruth not only does not indicate that Ruth converted, it states seven times that she remained a Moabite—including twice in the final chapter. In fact. Boaz calls her a Moabite when he speaks about marrying her.”

In his analysis of the Book of Esther Drazin identifies several inconsistencies in the story and shows its pagan origins. For example, the primary practices of Purim (feasting, drinking, and sending gifts) mimic the practices of King Ahasuerus. Furthermore, the author notes that Esther is a reticent heroine and that Mordechai’s valor that is praised at the story’s conclusion and Esther’s. Nowhere does it say that there is a requirement to read the Book of Esther.

Judith is included in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bible, while it is only included in the Protestant and Jewish apocrypha even though each of Judith’s sixteen chapters has references to God and prayer observances while Ruth and Esther, contain little or nothing about God or religion. Drazin gives us a review of the book’s plot and concludes by focusing on Judith’s heroism of Judith in defeating Holofernes and liberating the Judeans from foreign rule.

The rest of the book looks at why Judith was not included in the Jewish bible Drazin gives us several reasons that have been suggested in the past, many deal with Rabbinic Judaism’s discomfort with a strong female protagonist. However, he does not accept this and suggests that the real reason comes from Rabbinic Judaism’s dislike of a “proactive theology that denied a reliance on God”.

As a whole, we get new insights and a comparative analysis of three books with a female protagonist but I must say that I found what makes this book so interesting is that it introduces us to the Book of Judith.

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