Why No Esther in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Probably every tour guide who visits the site of Qumran makes note of the fact that a portion of every Old Testament book was discovered in the nearby caves with the exception of Esther (given that Ezra-Nehemiah were a single book). You may have heard a suggestion or two offered for this lack, but I found helpful a summary of possibilities given by Sidnie White Crawford in her article on the Book of Esther in the Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1: 269).

1. The fact that no fragments have been preserved is simply owing to accident or chance. The book is relatively short and may have been in existence in the community but simply not preserved or discovered.

2. The male community at Qumran was not interested in a book in which the hero was a female.

3. The Qumran community was opposed to the book which describes a Jewish woman marrying a Gentile king and not following the Jewish laws.

4. The book of Esther was not known in the land of Israel in the first century.

5. The book was written too late to be included in the body of sacred scrolls.

I would be inclined to believe that because of #2 and #3, #1 is true. It may also be observed that the book of Esther is never quoted in the New Testament, nor is Purim mentioned.

Qumran cliffs with caves aerial, tb010703350

Cliffs near Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found

15 thoughts on “Why No Esther in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

  1. Perhaps Esther was not accepted by the Qumran community because it does not contain the name of God. It is the only book in the HB canon that doesn't have the name.

  2. #s 2 & 3 are rather good insights.

    Given the nature of Qumran and the gender roles within that community and also the larger socio-religious context it shouldn't be unexpected that they would have a problem. Yet, why is Ruth there?

    Maybe the Gentile point is more germane, but also taking a late dating for Esther is also reasonable.

  3. I would like to comment on 4,5.

    4. II Mac. mentions the "Day of Mordecai" so I would assume that the tradition is around (I seem to recall an Egyptian reference from the second century BC too but I can't find it). That is not to mention the LXX.

    5. I Enoch and other "late" sacred writings were copied/referenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so this reason does not seem valid for excluding Esther simply due to the date (if the later dates for composition are affirmed).

    I think the message was not as germane and so it was not much discussed (thus 1. and 2.). Esther has never been a linchpin for the apocalypse 😉 and hence, the apocalyptic community at Qumran.

  4. Also against 4 and 5 (following on Thomas' heels) are the fragments of 4Q550, which appear to indicate some familiarity with Esther.


  5. I believe the reason is simple. Esther does not contain the Hebrew name of God and is it not necessary to "save" the text (by burial) according to Jewish Law. All other Biblical texts cannot be destroyed according to Jewish law and must be buried-to avoid desecration of the "holy name." I think the simplest reason is the best one.

  6. Jamie is correct. The complete answer explains the purpose of at least some of the Qumran caves. These served as a genizah – a storage place for old and worn out scrolls that contained the Name of God יהוה – because the written Name of God was, in the eyes of Jewish tradition, holy. Any documents containing God's name could not be destroyed in their eyes, but kept, if it were possible, forever. Hence the genizah in Qumran. It was, and probably still is, common for a genizah storage place to be in every Synagogue. It is considered by some researchers that, perhaps, Qumran was the storage place for all temple documents from Jerusalem. As Jamie proposed, the absence of the Name of God in the book of Esther did not require that this scroll should be included in the genizah. Interestingly, the Name of God is in the scroll of Esther, but only as an acrostic coded entry – three times. Only the faithful Hebrew worshipers would recognize this and it confirms the justification of including Esther in the bible canon. More detail if wanted.

  7. Frank, I would loved to have more information on the Name of G-d being in the Book of Esther three times as an acrostic coded entry. I am have quite a discussion with some people that do not think the book belongs in the Bible at all.

  8. The name of God appears in this forgery in acrostics because, in part, it answers the king's question in Esther 7:5.

    "Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so (to those who call themselves Jews, but do lie?)" Revelation 2:9; 3:9.

    Answer: I AM. hu'E zeH v e`eY zeH – spelled backwards in the acrostic, reversing the will of this drunken king who threw away virtuous Vashti. Esther chapter one.

    Do not try to pluck up the tares, or you might pluck up the wheat also. They will be reaped by the angels. Matthew 13:29

    Do not persecute the false Jews. It is disobedience to Christ.

  9. At the end of Esther there is a verse which states that Mordechai was well respected by the”majority “ of his Co-religionists . Orthodox tradition identifies Mordechai as a member of the “Men of the Great Assembly” . This was a Pharisee based institution Therefire it’s reasonable to speculate that the Qumran sects rejected Mordechai and the “Great Assembly “ therefore they rejected the Book of Esther as well

  10. This is why the divorce of Christianity from Judaism was not a good thing, but a horribly bad thing. The explanation is quite simple. All books that have the name of God written in them can’t be destroyed once they are worn out, but must be buried. This is Jewish tradition that dates back beyond the Babylon period. The book of Esther never once mentions the name of God in them, which means the book did not have to be buried. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a burial site for books of the Old Testament that had worn out, and the book of Esther in is not in there because the name of God is absent, hence not requiring the book to be buried.

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