In the past, the VOW board has been pleased to supplement and even to endorse, as in the 2000/2001 Horizons’ Bible study, Women and the Word: Studies in the Gospel of John, the work of PW in the annual Bible Studies they produce. However, this year the board, with deep disappointment, unanimously voted to recommend that the study entitled Esther’s Feast not be used for study in the church.
Our decision followed careful study and thoughtful discussion at the 2001 annual board meeting. The most prominent reasons for our disappointment and subsequent recommendation are:
1. The consistent tenor and method of the study undercuts the biblical text it purports to illumine and the process of sound Reformed interpretation.
A. The book is constantly referred to either directly or indirectly as a “tall tale.” Ironically, the Fundamentalist assumption that only what is literal is true lies behind the assumption of the author that because Esther is a good story it must therefore not be true, but is in fact a “tall tale.”
B. The questions provided for study do not engage the reader in solid exegesis of the text before leaping into contemporary applications not necessarily related to the point of the text.
C. The practice of “eisegesis,” or “reading into” the text one’s own agenda, permeates both the study and the questions. The Word is interpreted through the experience of women, rather than submitting one’s experience to the Word.
D. The assertion that the book contains no reference to Jewish religious practice does not take seriously the biblically established practice of fasting which includes prayer, the biblical command to refuse to bow before human beings, and the biblical precedent of `remembering’ as a liturgical tool to pass on the faith to the next generation.
E. The last chapter raises the question of the canonical place of the book of Esther and invites readers to pick and choose from various text traditions of the book according to their preferences rather than through the careful and painstaking work of biblical and canonical theology.
2. There is no mention of either the mission or message of Christianity and how this book in the Bible contributes to our faith and life in Jesus Christ. For example, the salvation of the Jews is attributed to Esther’s wits alone, not the providence and call of God upon her life.
3. The issues of racism, gender, and sexuality are portrayed throughout the study as issues of equal consequence and hence trivialize the deep and complex problems of racism. In addition, the characterization of the book of Esther as merely `a warning against anti-Semitism’ is a trivialization of the message of the book and the significance of Purim.
4. The study is insulting to the intelligence of the women for whom it is intended, defining well known terms in the margins and engaging groups in an abundance of `feeling’ questions, i.e. “How do you feel about…” This approach re-enforces the stereotype of women as those who are unthinking and overly emotional creatures.
5. The study encourages division rather than reconciliation between men and women.
A. The study characterizes all the men portrayed in the book of Esther in negative terms.
B. The assumption throughout is that power leads to nothing more than corruption and greed, but only when men are in power. When the women in the story assert power, the assumption is that they are virtuous.
6. At this point and time in the church when the General Assembly, Synods and Presbyteries have been working hard to seek unity in the midst of our diversity this study is divisive in its approach to gender relations and its stance on the sexuality issues confronting our church.
7. The list of works suggested to consult for further insight on the book of Esther consists of works by professors and authors known to embrace radical feminist philosophy, and who are not concerned to uphold the essential tenets of the Reformed faith.
In light of these serious faults, the VOW board has concluded that this study will cause more confusion than it will further the education of the members of our church and encourages those who would normally use this study to seek guidance from their pastor and session in seeking out appropriate material on Esther for study.