CHRISTIAN LITERATURE & LIVING
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3 : 4 April 2004

POETIC LICENSE AND BIBLE STORIES
HADASSAH, One Night with the King
A Novel

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THE BOOK OF ESTHER

The Book of Esther in the Old Testament is one of the shortest books, with only ten chapters running into a total of just 167 verses! This short book has been a subject matter of curiosity, controversy, admiration, and adoration for the Jews and Christians. Many poets and fiction writers have found the book very interesting, lending too many creative writing and interpretations of their own.

Although none of the early church fathers chose to write any commentary on it, several fathers such as Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and Jerome did talk about the story. The fascination for the book continues for generations, and, in the last few years, several writers, such as Francine Rivers, have brought the elegance and delicacy of such Bible stories as literary themes, and as romantic and spiritual books to our attention.

It appears that the Book of Esther was not found in some of the early catalogues of the Scriptures, and that certain additions were made to the end of the book. However, scholars agree that the Book was, indeed, part of the original Christian canon.

THE ATTITUDES TOWARD THE STORY OF ESTHER

The story narrated in the book has been viewed by some mostly as a historical document, with a romantic theme or background, thus having no religious significance. Its emphasis on the restoration of the Jews in Persia, their escape from the plotted massacre against them, and how they finally avenged themselves has not, unfortunately, endured itself to some. Luther, for example, once wished that this book did not exist at all! Naturally, since Luther went to this extreme, the Counter Reformation council, the Council of Trent, emphatically declared that this is a canonical book and wholly inspired. In addition, Catholic theologians looked upon Esther as a type of Mary, the Mother of God!

HADASSAH, ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING, A NOVEL

In Hadassah, One Night with the King, Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen present the story of Esther in her own words. The story begins with a modern Jewish girl, named Hadassah (Esther), about to be married, visiting the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, where, by the family tradition, she is required to see the supposedly original letter of ancient Esther addressed to another Jewish girl about to be brought to the King just as Esther herself once was brought before the King.

The story of Esther told in this book is interesting, almost gripping at times. Plenty of details of culture blended with the descriptions of what went in the mind of Esther even as she was brought to the palace to be one of the women-in-waiting to receive the grace of the king add color to the story.

The authors Tenney and Olsen narrate the story with powerful dialogues and episodes. They bring out the natural reluctance of Esther, even as they show how she was finally determined in following what God had set for her.

THE MIND OF ESTHER

The mind of the young woman portrayed in this novel, it is hard not to feel, is the mind of the modern young women because of the details of inner life and exterior behavior presented in this novel. Such details and episodes take us beyond the biblical text, and sometimes look far-fetched. Yet, imagine how a young woman would have felt, when she was expected to sacrifice her own life and risk everything for the preservation of her people! That Esther began to like and love the King of Persia is something that many may find difficult to accept, when the deliberations of the inner of Esther portrayed in this novel seem closer to the modern attitudes.

SOME EXCERPTS

"And Hegai, for his part, stayed true to his pledge-he began to periodically, tidbit by tidbit, educate me regarding the King's preferences. Sometimes it would be a hurriedly whispered phrase as he rushed past me at poolside: "He likes women lean; stay true to your die!" or "When it comes to clothing, simplicity is better; that is certain." Then, twice in the first six weeks, he appeared at my door and spent several hours discussing the King's personality. It seemed like almost a welcome outlet for him-a place to express his opinions on countless royal subjects with little fear of reprisal. As for matters of the bedroom, Hegai knew far less, yet more than anyone else. Xerxes was an adventurous lover, I was told-assuming he truly fancied the girl. He had spent his youth with captured beauties from Alexandria, Damascus and Cush and had found that a woman in fear for her life made for a vivacious and compliant partner. This knowledge tended to make him act gruff and intimidating. "The governing paradox of sexual love," Hegai told me, "is that the quickest way to ruin your own pleasure is making it your first priority. Center your attention on your partner's bliss, and your own will find expression along with it." " (p. 162).

"What I was really doing there, besides doing a bit of perfunctory brush-up work on my reading skills, was watching for an opportunity to make contact with Jesse.

"I had first enquired about him on my third day there and learned that all eunuchs would convalesce for a week before beginning their training and would not join us for another few months.

"That was far too long. I cared about Jesse, although the chaos of my capture and subsequent adapting to my new environment had largely crowded him from my mind. Our kiss on the gryphon statue had taken place a relatively brief time before, yet it now seemed like it had happened in another lifetime, to another person. Now that I had given myself time to reflect, I remembered how things had changed so dramatically between us in those days just before his capture. For years he had merely been the annoying young boy who tagged along with his grandmother. While entertaining to a lonely, isolated girl, he had been little more than a pest with dubious hygiene. Then he had become a friend. And puberty had added yet a new dimension' (p. 164).

" "Why in the name of gods are you smiling like that? Every other girl who has preceded you appeared on the verge of bursting into tears, regurgitating or both. What is it that causes you such cheer?"

" "It is you, your Majesty. I am so delighted to be in your presence. For a year I have bathed in your oils and perfumes until every pore of skin emits a scent that you favor. I discovered your preferred fragrance and anointed myself with it just before coming here. I have prepared so long to come here and bring you joy-and now I find I am the one feeling joy at being so close to you. May I tell you: you are most appealing, even beyond your royal stature? I want to know you. And ..." My voice trailed off, over powered by my emotions"" (pp. 211-21)

"I hope that this lengthy account of my story proved to you that these maxims are no mere platitudes. Learning and understanding the protocols of the King's presence could save your life-even the lives of our whole race. At the very least, they could earn you a lifetime's worth of favor with the King.

"As for me, I can truthfully say that the years have been kind and mercifully, I can add, free of the excitement that seemed to lurk around every corner during those earlier days. The people remember me warmly, and indeed their adulation has helped me safe and protected these many years.

"After Xerxes' tragic death, I took up residence in the candidates' harem, in the same favored suite that holds so many fond memories for me. ...

"And Jesse, our Hathach the Good Man? He rose to the rank of King's chief eunuch, with the primary responsibility of managing harems. That's right, my dear. To this day, he and I meet in the Palace orchards as we did long ago. We reminisce with laughter and not a few tears about the extraordinary events of our youth. We share each other's burdens, hopes, fears and deepest yearning. I suppose if it were not for the terrible loss inflicted upon Jesse, as well as my very public legacy, we might have married. ..." " (p. 340).

AN INTERESTING IMAGINATIVE PIECE OF WORK

An interesting imaginative piece from Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen! Nobody will ever believe that some of the "episodes and characters" narrated in this novel could have really happened or existed. While this is good for the soul, such a feeling of lack of authenticity is often seen as a weakness in any creative work that tries to extend the scope of the original, in this case, the Book of Esther.

In an earlier review of a fine novel by Francine Rivers, (Love That Is Unshaken - Francine Rivers' Ruth, I raised the question, "One of the most beautiful stories in all literature is the story of Ruth. How could anyone make it more beautiful than it is already? Would anyone dare to even narrate it again hoping to succeed in her attempt to bring out at least the original effect? Would anyone be willing to risk one's reputation by trying to re-tell a great story that has been re-told a thousand times? ... Francine Rivers goes beyond all these considerations and takes a great risk to narrate this story about Ruth. And one would not do so unless there is conviction in her heart that the story has something hidden that needs to be revealed and relished." I believe that Tomy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen try to demonstrate their conviction for this need with some success. This is a hard journey in their career, especially because they seem to want to make the characters and events look more appealing to their "modern" audience.

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