Esther & Trump, by Robert Case ★★★★★
This book is the result of a series of Sunday School lessons of which I most fortunate to be a participant. I know Robert well, and would consider him a dear friend. (He might not consider me the same after reading my review!) Perhaps the reader may consider my review as heavily biased, but I have attempted to remain as objective as possible, and thus will also include criticisms of the book. Robert is a compelling speaker and writer, leaving one spell-bound when hearing or reading him. This book was a delight to read, and offered fresh perspectives on Esther. True, it is now trendy to offer fresh perspectives on biblical themes, such as the new perspectives on Paul, Genesis, Jesus, or Isaiah, just to name a few. Where I find most of these new perspectives to be dull and unoriginal if not patently heretical, the same is not true of Robert’s “new perspective” on Esther. He offers a perspective of the book of Esther which is not offensive to a mindset that holds Scripture to be the directly inspired word of God.
The first several chapters of the book outline the historical context of Esther, mostly by detailing the lineage of Kings of Persia from the fall of Babylon through to Alexander the Great. The character and historical details of Xerxes is elaborated, which is most important in understanding the book of Esther.
Subsequent chapters offer a textual commentary of the book of Esther. In this section, Robert manages to illuminate aspects of the text which are very clear but completely missed, as we traditionally read the book of Esther with our eyes wide shut. The character of Esther is shown for what it really is—a person without sexual moral principles, and willing to break the laws of the Torah to achieve her own end. She is NOT a role model of virtue. But then, neither is the Jewish community living in Persia, where their sins are also laid bare. With the absence of narrative evaluative judgements as seen in all other Scripture, we miss those details that Robert Case is able to illuminate. Particularly evil was Mordecai in administrating the slaughter of all of the known enemies of the Jews, which is a story that would best be found in the book of Judges, everybody doing what was right in their own eyes. There is good reason why Esther is not portrayed as a model of faith in Hebrews, even though other quite sinful people like Samson and Gideon are mentioned.
Toward the end of the book of Esther & Trump, Robert attempts to make a plea for the political nature of this book. He is correct that it is a book laden with politics, in that the story centers around the King (Xerxes) and his appointed officials (Mordecai and Haman, as well as other unnamed personnel). Referring to the Jews in Persia as “the church”, it is made to seem that Mordecai and Esther serve as representative agents of the church. This unfortunately is an extrapolation of the text rather than an overt claim, as we don’t really have a clue how involved Esther and Mordecai were with the Jewish community. If they were highly involved, then they show the Jewish “church” to be quite wayward. There is too much not mentioned in the book to allow strong conclusions to be made.
Perhaps Esther really is included as a part of the canon of Scripture as a lesson in politics, as Robert claims. Yet, it is troubling that the absence of evaluative judgements leave the reader puzzled as to what amounts to proper interactions of the church and state, rather than to simply have the church infiltrating the state government. Perhaps brought to mind by me is another book I have read in the distant past, the Politics of Jesus, by John Howard Yoder. In the Politics of Jesus, Yoder effectually demonstrates the strong political nature of Jesus and his teachings. With the aspect of pacifism aside (which Yoder does a very poor job defending), there is a strong reason why even the teachings of Jesus offer the Christian or Jew a reason to interact if not participate in a political fashion with the state. Certainly, Case makes a good case from Esther for Christian involvement with state functions.
The book has problems. There are many typographical errors, way too many sidebar distractions, and arguments on the political nature of the book of Esther which I think could have been better developed. Most distracting though was the title of the book. The book title is misfit, in that Trump is barely spoken of, except in passing toward the very end of the book. Are we to think of Trump as a form of Xerxes? If so, why was Obama not chosen as a far better choice, or Bush, or Clinton, all of which in many ways share more of Xerxes’ characteristics than Trump? If God was obscure in the Esther text, well, so is Trump, and I fail to see a connection between Trump and the politics of Persia. For such a seminal and needed text on Esther, this commentary truly deserves a more fitting title.
In spite of problems, Esther & Trump still deserves a five star rating. There is great scholarship, brilliance in thinking, and illumination of the text in a way that is perfectly clear once one opens their eyes to what is plainly in the text. Case provides some hints as to why Esther was included in the canon of Scripture. To that end, I highly recommend Biblical scholars to give this book a fair reading.