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Mordecai's Prayer

February 21, 2010, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Pastor Wilson Tan (Esther 4:16-5:1) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Esther
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Bible, Esther, 以斯帖记, 圣经

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Sermon on Esther Addition C (13:8-18) and on the Jewish Canonicity

Tanakh and Talmud
• What is the Jewish Canon?
The Tanakh is the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible (known to us Christians as the "Old Testament"). Sometimes it is also referred to as the Masoretic Text or the Mikra (meaning “reading” or “that which is to be read”). This is because the Tanakh is often read publicly in the synagogues during worship. The Tanakh is considered Scripture for the Jews.

The word “canon” is derived from a Semitic word which means “reed”, a rule or a standard (of excellence), a straight rod, a tool used for measuring. The modern equivalent is a ruler or a measuring tape. It is sometimes also known as the “rule of faith”. A canon also refers to a list of biblical books accepted to be authoritative as Scripture. It is this particular meaning which we are interested in today. Which books are accepted as authoritative depends on its status in the canon. Who decides what goes into the canon? Why are some books chosen and some not? These are some questions which we will be discussing today.

Different religious communities follow a different canon. The Jewish canon is composed of 24 books. The Protestant canon uses the Jewish canon but adds the New Testament, making it 66 books (39 OT, 27 NT). The Protestant canon looks like it has more books because they have individualized the Twelve Minor Prophets and also splits several OT books into 1 and 2 (like Samuel and Kings and Chronicles). Also Ezra and Nehemiah are considered as one book in the Jewish canon. The Roman Catholics accepts the Protestant canon but includes the Apocrypha or what they call as Deuterocanonical books. I believe Pastor Siow Hwee has already discussed the Apocrypha in his previous sermons. I will only highlight the significance of it today.

• Canonicity: What is canonical?
Firstly, let’s understand what it means to be canonical. A canonical book is one that the church acknowledges as belonging to a list of sacred books, that they are inspired by God, and therefore, they are authoritative for teaching. Non-canonical books are not considered as authoritative, and so they are not used to formulate doctrines. They are useful for understanding the Scriptures better, like a supplement or a companion guide.

The Reformers, influenced by the Jewish canon, did not consider these books on a par with the rest of the OT Scriptures; thus they often place the Apocrypha in a separate section in the Protestant Bible, or sometimes even omitting them entirely.[1]

• How is the Tanakh categorized?
Next, let’s look at how the Tanakh is categorized? The Tanakh is sub-divided into 3 main sections: Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim.
◦ Torah (“Law” or “Teaching“)
◦ The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
◦ Nevi'im ("Prophets“)
◦ Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
◦ Latter Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets
◦ Ketuvim ("Writings“)
◦ Poetic: Psalms, Proverbs, Job
◦ The Five Scrolls (Megillot): Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther
◦ Historical: Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles

The order of the first five books in the first division is fixed, because they are set in a historical framework in a chronological fashion. This applies to the Former Prophets too. But the order of the books in the Latter Prophets and in the Writings was not fixed because these scrolls were kept in together rolled up in a container. Remember that they were not in a codex, our modern book form. Interestingly, even though the events in the Chronicles were before Ezra-Nehemiah, they are placed as the last scroll in the Tanakh, because the Chronicles was “canonized” (included in the canon) after Ezra-Nehemiah. Even Jesus recognized that the Chronicles was the last book in the Hebrew Bible.[2]

• Criteria of Canonicity
The earliest Christians were not concerned with the criteria of canonicity. They accepted the OT texts as they have received them: the authority of those scriptures was further established by the teaching and example of the Lord and his apostles (either by word of mouth or in writing). Similarly, the Tanakh was also formed by Tradition.[3] So far as the scriptures are concerned, the rabbis at Jamnia introduced no innovations; they reviewed that tradition they had received and left the Jewish canon more or less as it was. They merely consolidated and compiled the order of the books as from Tradition.

• When was the Tanakh formed?
The Jewish canon was formed over three-stages known as the process of canonization. It began with the Torah ("Teaching") at about 400BC, followed by the Nevi'im ("Prophets") at about 200BC, and lastly, the Ketuvim ("Writings") at about 100AD. To close a canon would mean “to which nothing can be added…and from which nothing can be taken away.” Many believed that the Jewish canon was closed at the Council of Jamnia, at the end of the first century. However, this view is increasingly criticized by scholars for it is only hypothetical as there is no evidence for it, either in the OT or elsewhere. Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was closed.

• What is the Talmud?
If the Tanakh is the sacred text for the Jews, the Talmud would be the commentary version of it. The Talmud is the Jewish Interpretation of the Tanakh. The text, by itself, without interpretation, would be meaningless. Originally, the Talmud was from an oral tradition. Rabbis taught and discussed the Tanakh without a written text. Much like Jesus was teaching his disciples but he never wrote anything down by himself.

Soon, these oral traditions were collected and put in written form as the Talmud. It is an important text in Judaism as it forms a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history. They explain how the text is to be interpreted and gives additional background and information which is not found in the Tanakh.

The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (c. 200 CE), the first written compendium of Judaism's Oral Law; and the Gemara (c. 500 CE), a discussion of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Tanakh.

• Talmud’s Authority
Those who professed Judaism felt no doubt that the Talmud was equal to the Bible as a source of instruction and decision in problems of religion, and every effort to set forth religious teachings and duties was based on it.[4] The Talmud represents the written embodiment of the ancient tradition. It is highly respected by the Jews as the official interpretation of the Tanakh and shares an equal status with it.

• Theological Reflection
Sharing about the Tanakh and the Talmud is important for us because the Lord we worship is a Jew. Jesus was born a Jew, brought up in a Jewish culture, speaking the Jewish language, and reading the Tanakh as received from Tradition. When we read about the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, we now can appreciate they refer to the three sub-divisions of the Tanakh. Also, the Talmud further explains what the Tanakh means. The sacred text, by itself, is meaningless. Every text needs to be interpreted. Sometimes, we need to take off our interpretative lens and put on another pair (like reading the Talmud) to see a bigger and sometimes, a clearer picture. As Christians, we have this opportunity which the Jews and the Catholics do not have. Even though we do not have an official interpretation in the Protestant tradition, our uniqueness is that we can always return to the original text and discover new insights to the same old text.

Simply put, understanding the Tanakh and the Talmud would help us understand our faith in a deeper way.

Chapter C
Mordecai went away and did exactly as Esther had commanded.

1 Recalling all that the Lord had done, he prayed to him
2 and said: "O Lord God, almighty King, all things are in your power, and there is no one to oppose you in your will to save Israel.
3 You made heaven and earth and every wonderful thing under the heavens.
4 You are Lord of all, and there is no one who can resist you, Lord.
5 You know all things. You know, O Lord, that it was not out of insolence or pride or desire for fame that I acted thus in not bowing down to the proud Haman.
6 Gladly would I have kissed the soles of his feet for the salvation of Israel.
7 But I acted as I did so as not to place the honor of man above that of God. I will not bow down to anyone but you, my Lord. It is not out of pride that I am acting thus.
8 And now, Lord God, King, God of Abraham, spare your people, for our enemies plan our ruin and are bent upon destroying the inheritance that was yours from the beginning.
9 Do not spurn your portion, which you redeemed for yourself out of Egypt.
10 Hear my prayer; have pity on your inheritance and turn our sorrow into joy: thus we shall live to sing praise to your name, O Lord. Do not silence those who praise you."
11 All Israel, too, cried out with all their strength, for death was staring them in the face.

Introduction
Today’s passage is known as Mordecai’s prayer, taken from the New American Bible (NAB). In the LXX, it is referred to as Addition C: 1-11, while in the Latin Vulgate, it is Esther 13:8-18. Unless you have a Roman Catholic Bible, you would not be able to find this addition in your NIV bibles or likewise. Mordecai’s Prayer is a mirror reflection of Esther’s Prayer which Pastor Siow Hwee will speak about next week.

There are six additions[5] to the book of Esther in the Septuagint (Greek translation, LXX) and the Latin Vulgate which do not appear in the Protestant Bible. They do not appear in the original Hebrew text as well. These six additions give further meaning to the main text of Esther. They include several prayers to God. At the Council of Trent, during the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation, they declare that both the Hebrew text and the Greek additions are canonical.

However, Martin Luther, the Reformer, did not feel that Esther should be included in the canon, not to mention even the additions. It is believed that Luther’s anti-Semitic sentiments were not against the Jewish race but rather, at their theology – their theology: being unable to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

• How should we regard these Additions?
There are three main reasons for denying the canonical status of Esther: 1) absence of any religious element; 2) historical events narrated in the Hebrew version seems quite questionable; 3) Purim may have originally been a non-Jewish festival. The Greek Additions seems to correct the first two “weaknesses”, while the origin of Purim may not be that important. [6]

The canonicity of the Additions is a relatively “recent” matter, but the debate on the Hebrew text on Esther is not. The Jewish community at Qumran, dating from 2nd century B.C. to 68 A.D., evidently did not include Esther among their sacred writings. There was also no mention of the festival of Purim in any of the Qumran community liturgical calendars. Some Eastern Church Fathers also denied the book canonical status. It is the only book in the Hebrew Bible not represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Even after being included in the Jewish canon and later the Christian canon, feelings towards the text were mixed. The Jews loved it because it reminds them about God’s faithfulness in delivering Israel. Christians often ignore or dislike it, mainly due to its lack of religious symbolism. The NT does not mention about it. Church Fathers in history rarely talks about it either, let alone quote from it. A complete commentary was not written on it until the 9th century by a Benedictine monk in Germany, named Rhabanus Maurus.

In the Hebrew text, whereas the Persian king is mentioned 190 times in 167 verses of Esther, the Lord God of Israel is not mentioned once. Key Jewish concepts like prayer, election, salvation, Jerusalem, temple, and the like are missing from the Hebrew text. In fact, fasting is the only religious practice mentioned (Esther 4:16 and 9:31).

The authors of the Greek Additions sought to rectify this situation.

• Purpose: Why the Additions?
Some scholars suggest that Additions to Esther is the work of an Egyptian Jew, writing around 170 BCE, who sought to give the book a more religious tone, and to suggest that the Jews were saved from destruction because of their piety. But there are no strong evidences to support such a claim. No one knows who wrote the Additions; in fact, no one can confirm Esther’s author too. We only know that a Greek translator or author changed the focus of the book and teaching with the Additions.

In this short prayer, one word stands out above the rest, namely, kurios, “Lord” occurring eight times in the prayer itself. When speaking about God, Mordecai may use theos, “God” but when he is speaking directly to God, he distinctly prefers the more intimate kurios, the Greek translation of Yahweh, God’s personal name. The religious overtone in the Greek additions may seem like overkill when we compare the lack of it in the Hebrew text. But when seen in the larger context of the Jewish community, everything seems clearer. Mordecai’s prayer is well balanced with praise, confession, intercession and petition.

From the start of his prayer, Mordecai praised God for all things in his power and recalls how God has used his power in the past to deliver Israel, “You are Lord of all, and there is no one who can resist you, Lord” (v. 4). And then, he went on to confess his motivation for not bowing down to Haman. It was not his insolence or arrogance or vanity that he did this. But he did this “so as not to place the honor of man above that of God” (v. 7).[7]

In summary, this addition gives us a theological meaning to why Mordecai did not want to bow down to Haman. The author of the Hebrew text was primarily interested in providing a “historical” background for celebrating Purim, while the authors of the Additions concentrated on God’s concern for his people and his deliverance of them. Quoting Carey A. Moore, “Just because modern scholars have difficulty in accepting it as essentially historical is no reason to think that the ancients felt the same way.”[8] This simply means that the historicity of Esther or the Additions may not be that important. To quote from another scholar, “without [the Additions] the book [of Esther] would be theologically void and its presence within the canon incongruous, to say the least” (J. Alberto Soggin). In short, the story of Esther only makes theological senses when we read it together with its Additions.

• Contemporary Significance: Suffix -God?
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. A suffix can alter the form of the words to which they are fixed. Examples: adding an -s behind “girl”, would make it plural, adding an -s behind a verb like “make” would turn it into singular present tense. Similarly, the Additions are the suffix to Esther. The author has affixed a theological meaning to the non-religious Hebrew text and it has changed the message of Esther from human interference to divine intervention. With the Hebrew text alone, one can only conclude that Mordecai and Esther are the heroes, as they are responsible for saving their nation. But with the Greek additions, the emphasis is now on God’s intervention. God is now the hero behind the story of Esther.

Was it right for the author to do so? It is not my task to judge adequately if it was right for the authors of the Greek Additions to fix a theological meaning to the Hebrew text. The Additions are non-canonical for us; it means that it does not carry authoritative weight in the formulation of doctrine. This is clear. But this does not mean that it is not useful for teaching, in fact, it has a much deeper spiritual message than the Hebrew text. Many Christian books written by theologians and scholars are also non-canonical, but that is not to say that they do not have a teaching value. They teach about our faith, our God, and our community. Even though they do not hold the same authority as the Bible, these books are written by faithful men and women who are deeply inspired by God. We must learn to differentiate between canonicity and inspiration.

As I reflect on this further, I am prompted to consider that we are equally “guilty” of affixing God in our daily lives. Usually something significant took place in our lives and we try to find the meaning behind it. Someone met with a serious accident, but somehow, he survives it; we say it is God’s grace which protected him. Someone is healed from cancer; we say it is God’s healing hands upon him. We are able to fix a theological meaning to specific events in our lives because we hold a theological framework that God is sovereign. He is in charge even when there seems to be no explanation at hand.

Before we affix God to specific events in our lives, can we consider if such theological meaning contradicts our understanding of the Bible? If it does, sometimes, we need to change our understanding of our Bible; sometimes, we simply need to change our theological framework.

Mordecai’s prayer is primarily a theological reflection of Esther. Mordecai’s faith is based on the covenant between God and Israel. Mordecai recalls the scriptural tradition of Israel and concludes that God will not abandon the Jews, even though the circumstances look bleak. His prayer is our prayer too. Every day, Jews and Christians alike, turn to Scripture for comfort, hope and reassurance. This message is a message worth listening to even though it is not from a canonical text.

Let us pray.

________________________________________
[1] Apocrypha simply means “hidden”. Originally, the term was applied to sacred books whose contents were too exalted to be made available to the general public. But today, the term apocrypha is used by Christians to refer to books which are non-canonical. These books are known as Deuterocanonical by the Roman Catholics. Even though they are not considered as canonical in the Jewish Bible, they are considered canonical by the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Just to confuse us further, the Roman Catholics also have a list of books which they considered as Apocrypha. They are of early Jewish origins and they are known by the Protestants as pseudepigrapha.

OT Catholic Deuterocanonical = Apocrypha Protestant
Catholic Apocrypha = Pseudepigrapha Protestant

[2] See Luke 11:50f. F.F. Bruce: When he said that the generation he addressed would be answerable for ‘the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world’, he added, ‘from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary’. Abel is the first martyr in the Bible (Gen. 4:8); Zechariah was not chronologically the last faithful prophet to die as a martyr; some two centuries later a prophet named Uriah was put to death in Jerusalem (Jer. 26:20-23). But Zechariah was canonically the last faithful prophet to die as a martyr, because his death is recorded in Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible.
[3] At the Council of Jamnia, Jewish leaders gathered to discuss the reconstruction of Jewish religious life after the collapse of the Jewish commonwealth in AD 70. So far as the scriptures are concerned, the rabbis at Jamnia introduced no innovations; they reviewed that tradition they had received and left the Jewish canon more or less as it was. They merely consolidated and compiled the order of the books as from Tradition. They discussed about which books would “defiled the hands” – a technical expression denoting those books which were products of prophetic inspiration. One had to wash their hands after handling the books. This was to deter people from handling the books casually.
[4] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=32&letter=T#148
[5] It is believed that the Additions A, C, D, and F have Semitic oral origins because of its language syntax, while Additions B and E are unquestionably Greek compositions.
[6] This is similar to why Christians since the 4th century, celebrate the birth of Jesus on the 25th Dec every year, even though it is known that this day was originally the “birthday” of the pagan Roman God, Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. It is quite acceptable for Christians and Jews to replace pagan dates and festivals with Christian and Jewish symbolism. They are not celebrating the pagan significance of an event, but to attach another meaning to it.
[7] There are several manuscripts containing an Aramaic version of Mordecai’s Prayer kept in the Vatican Library. In the Aramaic version, Mordecai identifies Haman as an Amalekite, an enemy of the Jews. It is believed that both the Aramaic and the Greek versions could have descended from the same Hebrew oral tradition. This was how stories were related from one generation to the next, before written texts was in vogue.
[8] Carey A. Moore, The Anchor Bible: Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah - The Additions, p. 159.

Esther 4:16–5:1 (Listen)

16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

5:1 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, in front of the king's quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace.

(ESV)