by Gretchen S.
The books of Daniel and Esther have much in common. These commonalities include the overall genre of the successful courtier, the slander of a Jew (or all Jews), the triumph of the main character, and other parallels between the texts. This is not to say that the stories are wholly the same, only that they share much in common. The common themes in Daniel and Esther can tell a great deal about the Jewish people of the time. The timelessness of the two books indicates that the themes continue to have relevance for the Jewish people.The stories start similarly for the two main characters. Daniel was taken into the court of the Babylonian king, with a number of other Judean youths. “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief officer, to bring some Israelites of royal descent and of the nobility–youths without blemish, handsome, proficient in all wisdom, knowledgeable and intelligent, and capable of serving in the royal palace” (Daniel 1:3-4).1 They were to be groomed to be advisors to the king. A similar thing happened to the Jewess, Hadassah, who was taken into the palace of King Ahasuerus along with other virgins of his kingdom as a candidate to be his new wife (Esther 2). Both were renamed with non-Jewish names. Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar, and his 3 friends were also given Babylonian names. Hadassah was given the name Esther, a name by which most people remember her, and by which her book is known.Having both been taken into the palace of the king, they were supplied with what they will need to fulfill their role in the palace. For Daniel and his three friends, this meant food, training in Aramaic, and writing. “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food or the wine he drank, so he sought permission of the chief officer not to defile himself, and God disposed the chief officer to be kind and compassionate toward Daniel.” (Daniel 1:8-9). Esther, though she did not ask for anything, was given the perfume, make-up, and beauty treatments needed for her role by the eunuch in charge (Esther 2:8-9 and 2:15). Daniel’s resistance was an active one, while Esther’s was one of passivity. She did not ask for anything with which to beautify herself; it had to be given to her by the chief eunuch. Even though they resisted in their own ways, they both found favor in the eyes of those who are charged to making them ready (Daniel 1:9 and Esther 2:8).Having been well prepared, both Daniel and his three companions, and Esther, were taken into the presence of their respective kings. “Whenever the king put a question to them requiring wisdom and understanding, he found them to be ten times better than all the magicians and exorcists throughout his realm.” (Daniel 1:20). “The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she won his grace and favor more than all the virgins. So he set a royal diadem on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” (Esther 2:17). All of them found favor in the eyes of the kings involved. They, like Joseph before them, became successful courtiers.Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, became involved in the politics of the court just as Daniel did, when he saved the king from a plot against his life by Bigthan and Teresh (Esther 2:21-23). Daniel was called in to interpret a dream, and in doing so not only helped the king, he also saved the lives of his three companions and himself as chapter 2 of Daniel discusses. Daniel was well rewarded for his dream interpretation: “The king then elevated Daniel and gave him very many gifts, and made him governor of the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect of all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:48). While Mordecai was not rewarded immediately, the king did eventually reward him. Haman (boo), in Esther 6:7-9, advised the king: “For the man whom the king desires to honor, let royal garb which the king has worn be brought, and a horse on which the king has ridden and on whose head a royal diadem has been set; and let the attire and the horse be put in the charge of one of the king’s noble courtiers. And let the man whom the king desires to honor be attired and paraded on the horse through the city square, while they proclaim before him: This is what is done for the man whom the king desires to honor!” Haman himself, who had planned on having Mordecai impaled, instead had to lead Mordecai around on the king’s horse dressed in royal clothing. Similarly, Daniel was arrayed in clothing of the royal purple in Daniel 5:22. “Then, at Belshazzar’s command, they clothed Daniel in purple, placed a golden chain on his neck, and proclaimed that he should rule as one of three in the kingdom.”The Book of Daniel describes an episode of slander against the Jews in general, and later, Daniel in particular. Chapter three of Daniel tells about the statue of Nebuchadnezzar and the law that was made requiring all the people of Babylon to bow down and worship the statue. Those who did not do so, were to be thrown in a fiery furnace. “Seizing the occasion, certain Chaldeans came forward to slander the Jews” (Daniel 3:8). Though their goal was to take power away from Daniel’s three companions, as verse 3:12 makes clear, they had slandered all of the Jews. Later, in Daniel 6:6-18, other men sought to slander and entrap Daniel himself. A law–made this time by Darius at the instigation of the men–made it illegal to bow down to anyone but Darius for thirty days. The men asked for this law to be made to entrap Daniel, who they knew prayed to G-d three times a day, bowing down to Him. They also knew that a law, once written by Darius, could not be revoked. Similarly, “When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel or bow low to him, Haman was filled with rage. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone; having been told who Mordecai’s people were, Haman plotted to do away with all the Jews, Mordecai’s people, throughout the kingdom of Ahasuerus.” (Esther 3:5-6). This is similar to the two cases in Daniel, where both Daniel and his three companions refused to bow down to kings or statues of kings and worship them. Granted, Haman (hiss) was not asking to be worshiped, but he was asking Mordecai to bow down to him. Haman approached the king, saying (Esther 3:8) “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.” Haman thus convinced Ahasuerus to write a law that will allow for the massacre of all Jews in the kingdom on a day selected by lots; again, this law cannot be revoked by the king.Those people who are threatened were saved miraculously in all three cases. An angel rescued Hannaniah, Mishial, and Azuria from the fiery furnace. Another angel closed up the lions’ mouths, saving Daniel. Both of these stories in Daniel end with the instigators, those trying to kill the heroes, themselves being killed or executed. The heros are elevated. Esther’s story has the instigator, Haman (boo) executed, on the very same stakes on which he had planned to impale Mordecai.. The survival of the Jews of Persia in the story of Esther was a bit more complex, but nonetheless, it had a miraculous element about it. Esther put her own life in jeopardy to save the lives of her people. She found favor in the eyes of her king who, though unable to rescind the law, wrote another law allowing the Jews to defend themselves. Miraculously, no Jewish lives were lost, while those who wanted to annihilate them were all killed.After the incident with Daniel’s three friends, Nebuchadnezzer made a proclamation: “King Nebuchadnezzar to all people and nations of every language that inhabit the whole earth: May your well-being abound! The signs and wonders that the Most High G-d has worked for me I am pleased to relate. How great are His signs; how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endures throughout the generations.” (Daniel 3:31-33) Similarly, a proclamation was made in the book of Esther. This proclamation, like the whole book of Esther, made no mention of G-d. Esther 8:9 says, “So the king’s scribes were summoned at that time, on the twenty-third day of the third month, that is, the month of Sivan; and letters were written, at Mordecai’s dictation, to the Jews and to the satraps, the governors and the officials of the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia: to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language…” This proclamation gave all of the Jews permission to defend themselves. Both the proclamation in Daniel and the one in Esther went out to all nations and all tongues under the rule of the respective kings.Chapter five of Daniel talks about a party that Belshazzar hosted. During this party, under the influence of wine, “Belshazzar ordered the gold and silver vessels that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple at Jerusalem to be brought so that the king and his nobles, his consorts, and his concubines could drink from them.” (Daniel 5:2). This is similar to very first chapter of Esther, where it says in verse 7: “Royal wine was served in abundance, as befits a king, in golden beakers, beakers of varied design.” Though the verse does not say that the beakers are the same ones Belshazzar uses, it certainly seems likely.The fortress of Shushan, the main setting for the book of Esther, is also mentioned in the book of Daniel in chapter eight, verse two. “I saw in the vision–at the time I saw it I was in the fortress of Shushan, in the province of Elam–I saw in the vision that I was beside the Ulai River.” The king in Megillat Esther is King Ahasuerus. After Belshazzar’s death, Darius the Mede, became king.
1 All quotes from the Tanakh are taken from Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia, Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.2 This is based on the table of kings in: Louis F. Harman, C.SS.R., The Anchor Bible: The Book of Daniel, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1998, p 30.
Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia, Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.Louis F. Harman, C.SS.R., The Anchor Bible: The Book of Daniel, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1998, p 30.