Scala/Art Resource, NY

Displaying a Mona Lisa-like gaze, Queen Esther surveys her realm in this 15th-century painting by Andrea del Castagno. Esther, together with her guardian Mordechai, is a hero of the eponymous biblical book in which the Jews of the Persian Empire are saved from destruction.

Matching the enigmatic quality of Esther’s expression here is a problem that has long vexed Bible scholars: Why were sections of every book in the Hebrew Bible found among the Dead Sea Scrolls except the Book of Esther? Some have suggested that Esther’s absence is an indication of the theology of the group that compiled the scrolls. Others claim that the absence is mere happenstance. The question has recently taken a dramatic step towards resolution, thanks to the publication of four fragments that one leading scrolls scholar has dubbed “proto-Esther.” Is the last piece of the puzzle in place? Author Sidnie White Crawford takes us line by line through these newly published fragments, noting the important similarities between them and the biblical text of Esther—and highlighting the equally important differences.