Thursday, March 01, 2007

Which Achashverosh? That Achashverosh!

My teacher, Dr. Richard Steiner, sent me an electronic off-print of one of his new articles. In it, he discusses the Aramaic of the Elaphantine papyri and Ezra (5:15-17). There, an official named Sheshbazzar is mentioned. First, when introduced, it is said, "ששבצר שמה", 'whose name was Sheshbazzar', and afterwards, it continues, "ששבצר דך", 'the aforementioned Sheshbazzar'. Dr. Steiner develops this peculiar syntax.

First, a previously unknown (to the reader) subject is mentioned and named in a 'de-definitizing' way. It is analogous to the english sentence, 'A man named John said this.' In this case, the subject 'John' is not a true definite article, and is like saying 'A John said this.' Only after the de-definitizing of the name, is the name re-definitized, by the second clause. "The aforementioned Sheshbazzar" is analogous to "That John is the one who picked up the ball." It takes an indefinite article that is named, and makes it definite by describing which John picked up the ball. Not 'a John,' but 'this John.'

Dr. Steiner (quoting Meyer) points out that this syntactical format is found in Old Persian writings.

Immediately, the first verse of Esther came to my mind: "ויהי בימי אחשורש הוא אחשורש המולך..." The same syntactical style is clear! 'In the days of a king called Achashverosh, that same Achashverosh who ruled over...'

There are certainly people out there who know better than me, but I am betting that the book of Esther was first written in Persian, and certainly employed the diction and style of that language. Could the style of the first verse of the Hebrew Megillat Esther be a subtle hint and acknowledgement of this?




Even if the megillah wasn't originally written in Persian, it was written in a Persian environment, and its Hebrew may be affected by Persian. As with the American olim who say "I don't have what to do" and similar formulations.



What you say is true. Additionally, examples of broken grammatical rules (סָריסי המלך instead of סְריסי המלך is just one obvious example) indicate that Hebrew was not the native language of the authors of Esther.