BR Keeps Him in Touch with Unregenerate Man
I look forward each issue to reading Bible Review, if only to find to what new depths unregenerate man will sink in order to discredit God, His Word and His people. Which brings to mind 2 Timothy 3:7: “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Was Esther Amestris?
Michael Heltzer states (“The Book of Esther,” BR 08:01) that “Greek historians…report the name of Xerxes’ great queen Amestris, not Vashti or Esther.” A quick glance at the name Amestris reveals very close similarities in its consonants to the name Esther. Except for the prefix of “Am” and the Greek suffix, the name is identical to Esther: (Am)ESTR(is) = EST(he)R.
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Michael Heltzer replies:
The names are indeed similar, but only indicate that the author of Esther chose a likely sounding name for his story. A Jewess simply could not be the great queen; that position was reserved for a princess of the royal dynasty or for a daughter of one of the seven aristocratic families that had helped king Darius come to power.
Esther—Queen or Concubine?
I’ve just finished your interesting article about the historicity of the Book of Esther (“The Book of Esther,” BR 08:01). Author Michael Heltzer’s main arguments for considering the story fictitious are our lack of knowledge of any Persian queen name Esther and the fact that no persecution of Jews is known to have occurred in Xerxes’ reign.
The Book of Esther, however, is explicit: History does not record a period of anti-Jewish persecution because the attempt was nipped in the bud at the outset, with royal support, and with the Persian Jews overwhelming their oppressors.
As for our lack of knowledge of any queen named Esther, I wonder whether it would make sense to search for her in the position of chief concubine. It would seem logical that the “favorite” of an oriental potentate would occupy this position, which a sensitive Hebrew writer euphemistically called “queen.” Do you know if any scholar has ever considered this option?
Michael Heltzer replies:
Historians have not considered the possibility that Esther was a concubine because that is not what the text says. The fact that the text records Esther’s position as queen (an impossibility, as I say in my previous reply) and claims that Mordechai was elevated to the position of vizier following the downfall of Haman (also impossible because that position was reserved exclusively for Persians and, occasionally, Medes) indicates, to me, that the Book of Esther should not be taken as a work of history.
Esther’s Cousin, Not Uncle
I admire the ingenuity of your writers, Michael Heltzer (“The Book of Esther,” BR 08:01) and Rachel B.K. Sabua (“The Hidden Hand of God,” BR 08:01), who see in the Book of Esther what many have not detected. Just a minor question: How come they have not detected that Mordecai is Esther’s cousin, not her uncle?
Temple Sinai of Palm Beach County
Delray Beach, Florida
Ancient Knowledge of Family-planning Methods?
As a natural family-planning instructor, I found the article
Scientific confirmation of the link between the mucus and a woman’s fertility has been achieved only in this century. However, studies of native cultures reveal that some groups were aware of this biological fact long before modern natural family-planning methods were developed. While I have never heard of this mucus referred to as a seminal emission, it is likely that ancient peoples were aware of its importance to fertility.
Galen’s description of female “sperm” as “thinner and colder” is an accurate description of fertile mucus observed close to the time of ovulation. The passage from the Babylonian Talmud, “If the woman emits her semen…first, she bears a male child; if the man emits his semen first, she bears a female child …,” also mirrors the prevailing theory (unproven in clinical trials) that intercourse occurring in the first days of a woman’s mucus discharge is more likely to result in a girl, and intercourse on the first day after the discharge ends will result in a boy.
Thank you for a thought-provoking study.
Billings Ovulation Method
Mt. Clemens, Michigan
Female Seminal Emission as Seen by a Woman Bible Translator
It is interesting to note that the only translation of the entire Bible done by a woman supplies the type of wording in two verses that Pieter Willem van der Horst contends male translators avoid (“Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?” BR 08:01). Julia Smith’s (1792–1886) translation of the Bible (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1876) renders Leviticus 12:2 as “When a woman shall bear seed and bring forth a male”; and Hebrews 11:11 as “By faith Sara also herself received power for the laying down of seed, and brought forth during the time of age, for she deemed him faithful having promised.”
Smith states in her preface that she doubts whether any other translator has taken such care to define the Bible “word for word,” providing “the literal meaning of the Bible text in [the original] languages.” Julia Smith published 1,000 copies of her translation of the Bible at her own expense decades after she had completed the work. Although Smith’s Bible was later endorsed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her The Woman’s Bible (1895 and 1898; reprinted in 1972 by Arno Press), the awkwardness of the literal translation kept it from being a popular edition. Further, because Smith’s translation of the Pauline verses that trouble feminists today is similar to the King James Version, her edition does not lend itself to the feminist cause.
More on Jesus’ Siblings
Concerning the response of Professor Emeritus Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., regarding the siblings of Jesus (Readers Reply, BR 07:05), he did not mention two Gospel verses that also do not imply or prove that Jesus had siblings.
Luke 2:7 refers to Jesus as the “firstborn son” of Mary. This was a Hebrew legal term only. It did not mean that other children need follow. If Mary gave birth to Jesus only, he would still be her “firstborn.”
Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph had no marital relations with Mary “until she bore a son.” Here you are dealing with the Greek verb for “until,” which is telling us what happened before and until the birth of Jesus. Mary and Joseph had no sexual relations up to that time. This verse is not saying or implying that they had sexual relations after the birth of Jesus.
Rochester, New York
In Mordechai Cogan’s brief review of my commentary on Numbers (in his review of The JPS Torah Commentary series, Bible Books, BR 08:01), he gives the erroneous impression that I rendered
The Bible Is Our Gateway to God
I look forward to receiving my copies of Bible Review because I never fail to learn something. Sometimes what I learn shakes me up, but it always makes me think!
I am a card-carrying Episcopalian, with a deep aversion to the thundering, close-minded fundamentalism that pervades a lot of our religious thinking. Reading some of the letters from readers you publish, I find my stomach churning anxiously as my writer’s imagination projects what this country would be like if they indeed found themselves in any positions of power!
I like to keep in mind a statement made by a prominent Swedish theologian who happened to be participating in a very informal discussion group one lovely summer evening at a church in Nantucket some years ago. There was a hot and heavy verbal brawl going on between a fundamentalist man, no particular denomination, but by self-definition a Bible scholar, and a woman who called herself a “Christian feminist.” Quotations were shooting back and forth, with good old Paul in the vanguard. During a lull in the hostilities, the Scandinavian guest, who was listening intently, puffing on his pipe, realized we were all waiting for him to comment, and he did. He said, with a lovely smile, that “all this proves one thing absolutely. The Bible is a very dangerous book!”
Of course, that temporarily ended the debate, because his point was unarguable. You can quote the Bible to prove anything you choose to prove!
People appear to be truly afraid of finding out that their beliefs may be just that. Beliefs.
The Bible, no matter how an individual views what it says, whether as “gospel” (small g), whether as myth or as history, and it is all those things and much more, is our gateway to God. It’s a two-way gate, and it is never locked shut by absolutes.
The Bible Is a Road Map
As a subscriber to Bible Review, I am besieged with “distinguished” scholars in its pages. Now all these “distinguished” writers may be good people, but what am I, a poor (almost), unlearned, born again Christian, supposed to do in the midst of such intelligence?
If someone gives me a twenty dollar bill, I am not interested much in how it looks. All I want to know is, who printed it? If the government has printed the money, that’s all I need to know.
With the Bible, if God has said it, that’s all I need to know. If God says it, that settles it.
The Bible is the road map! If it is wrong, then we are all in big trouble.
Daly City, California
After reading the often amusing letters column, the monks of our community enjoy your magazine as much for the beautiful art reproductions as for the articles. As an inconographer, however, I must chide your art director for misidentifying the illustration in the February issue [reproduced above]. In Western religious art, it is usually only possible to know who is represented by what is taking place, but in Byzantine icons, whether there is action or not, the figures are plainly labeled, and the man and woman in the illustration are plainly not Abraham and Sarah, as your caption says they are and as the article would require (“Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?” BR 08:01).
The woman’s monogram is “MP
We aren’t going to cancel our subscription over this (!), but one of the brothers remarked, “I wouldn’t trust their Greek lessons.”
St. Gregory’s Abbey
Three Rivers, Michigan
I wonder if these two icons of Mary and John the Baptist were not once part of a triptych; these being the wings? Possibly they have been reset into another panel.
How wonderful at least to see an icon used for an illustration and I hope you will continue the practice in the future.
I thought you might like to know that the icon reproduced in your February 1992 issue is certainly not of Sarah and Abraham but rather of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist (see “Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?” BR 08:01). Doesn’t anyone there know anything about Orthodox Christian iconography or read Greek?
St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
Crestwood, New York
I wonder how many readers noted that the illustration for “Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?” BR 08:01, erred grossly in identifying those portrayed in the icon?
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
In answer to Mr. DesChamps: Lots! The mistake was that of our art supplier and our own negligence in not checking his identification. Unfortunately, neither the author of “Did Sarah Have a Seminal Emission?” BR 08:01, Pieter W. van der Horst, nor David Alan Black, who regularly contributes Greek for Bible Readers to BR, saw this illustration; they would surely have alerted us to the mistake. We asked A. Dean McKenzie, professor emeritus in the art history department at the University of Oregon, to comment on the misidentified illustration:
The detail of this Russian icon is clearly an example of reuse of the two outer wings from a bas relief triptych icon. The niche in which these two outer panels are now placed shows the abrasion from the metal hinges that once attached the two wings to a central panel that must have depicted Christ enthroned. (I suspect the upper hinges were lost after these panels were repositioned.) The grouping of the three figures in the original icon (Virgin Mary [left], Christ [center] and St. John the Baptist [right]) is known as the Deësis (Supplication), an arrangement that is not only the focus of Russian Orthodox icon screens but also the central motif in Last Judgment scenes. The Virgin Mary’s title, the “Mother of God,” is here typically abbreviated above her head in Greek. St. John the Baptist, with his abbreviated name in Church Slavonic also appearing above his head, is dressed in his traditional camel-hair garment. Their positions have here been reversed when they were reused in this icon; originally Mary was on the left and John the Baptist on the right.
The two figures were interpreted (incorrectly) as Abraham and Sarah because the surrounding 12 scenes on this icon do depict events in the lives of those popular Old Testament figures. Originally a different theme, perhaps the visit to Abraham of the three strangers, an especially venerated subject in Eastern Orthodox iconography (which interprets the event as the first appearance of the Trinity to man), was meant for the central space in which the two figures from an older Deësis have now been placed.
There is no simple explanation why two figures from a New Testament Deësis would be incorporated into an icon displaying major events in the life of the Old Testament patriarch Abraham. Indeed I have never seen such a combination before. Using an inset of the Crucifixion was common in 19th-century Russian icons, but the inset was usually a brass crucifix. Insets, like this one, of wood are rare. The wood carving in this icon is of high quality and, based on style, could date to as early as the 16th century, while the miniature scenes from the lives of Abraham and Sarah probably date two centuries later. Perhaps the wooden remnants were particularly venerated by the commissioner of this icon.
BR Keeps Him in Touch with Unregenerate Man