Le livre d’Esther: Une exégèse en images

Via the author, who graciously provided a review copy of his new book-

Ouvrage d’histoire de la Perse achéménide, d’exégèse biblique et d’histoire de l’art religieux permettant de mieux comprendre les sens profane, politique et religieux du Livre d’Esther.

Reception history is the cutting edge of biblical scholarship.  And this volume sits on the very edge of that cutting edge.

English readers shouldn’t be fearful of the French title of the volume.  There is a helpful English summary for such persons.  And since the bulk of the book’s 700 pages is images depicting scenes from the book of Esther, any absence of skill in reading French is negligible.

In other words, English readers can benefit from the book almost as much as readers of French.  The author writes

This book is a journey in Jewish, Christian and Islamic works of art illustrating the Bible story. The two versions, the Masoretic, the Hebrew version retained by the Judaic and Reformed canon, as well as the Greek one admitted by the Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern Christian churches are quoted . Christian exegesis and the flourishing two millenia old rabbinic comments and Jewish legends illuminate the meanings of so many representations of the Book of Esther.

The author’s English is a bit shaky in places (but it’s better than any sentence I might hazard writing in French, so I am not criticizing his efforts in any respect).  For instance

Exegesis chapter discuss the origins of the text, its various versions, its reception by the monotheist religions. Old Mesopotamia and Persia history research demonstrate that, if the biblical scripture is a fiction by a Jew of the diaspora living in Persia some time later after the Hebrew people were liberated by Cyrus. The story is not the history but is full of historic references to historic events and persons. In this book we reveal who was the historic personage who inspired Haman. We explain why Mordekaï is named from Mardouk and Esther from Ishtar.

Etc.  It becomes immediately apparent that the author could have benefited from having a native English speaker go through the English summary.  Indeed

More than 700 art works are eBook hypertext (url) linkedto let reader wathch them full page as well as all consult references.

has much in it that needs to be cleaned up.  Nevertheless, English readers will get the gist.  And the purpose of the volume is illustration rather than discourse though, naturally, an ability to read French will make the work more useful than simply following the links to the images.

What follows is a description of the methodology utilized in the work and this is followed by a discussion of the book of Esther by means of exegetical snippets and hyperlinks to works of art illustrating the passage under consideration.

Perhaps the best way to describe this book is as an art exhibition catalog.  As readers ‘walk through’ the book of Esther a guide explains to them the artistic representations of Esther’s various scenes.

As such, it really is quite an interesting work.  It has weaknesses; i.e., the exposition isn’t always ‘critical’ (in the historical-critical sense) but the fact that the author has gone through the laborious process of assembling art connected to text is praiseworthy.

This is a volume worth using.