L’Un et l’autre Livre d’Esther, RBSem 39

R. Meynet, L’Un et l’autre Livre d’Esther, RBSem 39, Peeters, Leuven 2022 (601 p.)

The last of the “Five Scrolls” – Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Qohelet, Esther – is read in synagogue during Purim, the Jewish carnival. A burlesque book, an improbably oriental tale that tells the legend of a planned but avoided genocide. Read after the Shoah, the legend acquires a weight of reality that turns from laughter to astonishment and tears. A book with two sides.

In the synagogue, it is read in Hebrew, in its original text. Provocation: in the synagogue, a book is read in which the name of God is not pronounced once, a profane book, in short! This is why Jews, shortly after the book was written in Hebrew, translated it into Greek for their Hellenised brothers in Egypt, but with long additions that reveal the presence of the God of Israel, who hears prayer and acts to save his people.

These Greek additions dress up the Hebrew text like a garment fitted to a body whose form and beauty it thus enhances, like a costume that reveals its hidden nature. The miracle is that these additions are grafted on to the strategic points of the Hebrew trunk and, far from deteriorating it, confirm its texture and underline its harmony. This new book, which merely translates, in the noblest sense of the word, the first, is the one that has been adopted into the canon of Christians, Orthodox and Catholic.

The present commentary on what is nevertheless a small book is voluminous; this is because it analyses, interprets and compares the two forms of the same book, first the original Hebrew text, then the Greek version of the Septuagint.