Yesterday marked the Jewish holiday of Purim, when Jews will gather together for festive meals and merriment, exchange gifts, and most centrally, assemble in synagogue for mirthful public readings of the Book of Esther—all in celebration of the salvation recounted therein. A quick synopsis of the somewhat elliptical storyline: Ahaseurus, the king of Persia, is convinced by his advisor Haman to issue an edict licensing the mass slaughter of all the kingdom’s Jews. Meanwhile and unrelatedly, Esther the Jewess has been chosen as Ahaseurus’s queen, and her guardian Mordechai has won the king’s favor by foiling an assassination plot. Together, the two manage to leverage their positions in engineering a reversal of the king’s edict; the Jews are saved from slaughter, wicked Haman is hanged, and the people rejoiced.

Esther is a remarkable book in the context of Scripture, precisely because it hardly seems scriptural—there are no overtly religious themes, no miracles, sermons, or prayers. God’s name is not mentioned even once in all of Esther, the only book in the Bible of which this is true. And indeed, Esther’s status as part of the biblical canon was still being debated by the Talmudic rabbis as late as the 4th century a.d.—the better part of a millennium after its composition.

And yet, the Book of Esther is in the end a member in good standing of the biblical canon, a fact which demands interpretation. Moreover, consider the following rabbinic tradition recorded by Maimonides:

All prophetic books and sacred writings will be nullified during the days of the Messiah except the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist just like the five books of the Torah and the laws of the Oral Torah that will never cease. Although ancient troubles will be remembered no longer…the days of Purim will not be abolished, as it is written: “These days of Purim shall never be repealed among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never cease from their descendants” (Esther 9:28).

Apparently, Esther is not only a legitimate part of Scripture, but is an essential, core element thereof, such that when all other books are abolished it alone will maintain its sacred status. Why is this book different from all other books?

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