John 18–19: Esther Redux? Scripture Coding in the Trial and Execution of Yeshua


Scene: A cat is playing a violin. A cow is flying in the sky, near the moon. A dog, looking on, is laughing. A plate with legs is running. What do these disparate unexpected occurrences have in common? Why would they form a “group”? If you cannot answer these questions, perhaps you need to ask a child.

Probably any English-speaking child in either Great Britain or the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would answer: “Why, it’s ‘Hey Diddle, Diddle,’ of course!” Many of the same children could then recite the entire rhyme by heart, and several of them would notice a missing element in the scene: a spoon, who is running away with the dish.

Granted, this common nursery rhyme is couched in slightly different vocabulary in the scene above (in the original rhyme, the cat plays a fiddle, the cow is jumping over the moon, and the dish is running away with the missing spoon) but the scene itself is still recognizable. It may not use the exact vocabulary of the original, but the scene set by the words is still the same.

Also notice that if the referent is familiar enough, any missing pieces can still be filled in by the reader. Sometimes the missing pieces are conspicuous by their absence.

This childish example can shed light on an ancient puzzle.

A Methodology Examined

Sixty years ago, Aileen Guilding published The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship,1 which sought to link the Gospel of John to the weekly lectionary readings within synagogue worship during the time when the Gospels were being composed (circa 40–90 ce).

As a subsidiary point to her main argument, Guilding names several similarities between the biblical story of Esther and the story of Yeshua’s capture, trials, and execution by the Romans, as demanded by the High Priestly family at that time. The main case she builds with her study traces the Jewish calendar as it appears throughout the Gospel of John. She highlights the Jewish holidays, presented in his Gospel by John in their chronological order, to prove her case that the holidays form a key theme that unlocks the essentially Jewish background for the biographic stories of Yeshua that John selects.

Guilding finds the book of Esther being referred to in John 18:28 through 19:27 (and also in 11:47–53—outside of the scope of this paper) and lists seven “echoes” paralleling John’s scenes with the events of the book of Esther.2 With these seven vocabulary-linked ideas we can begin to uncover a pattern arising in the composition of this section of John’s Gospel.

Twenty years later, taking a slightly different tack, Wolfgang Roth calls this approach to text analysis of the Bible “scriptural coding.” Acknowledging that this method “differs from that of contemporary biblical scholarship” (meaning form-, tradition-, redaction-, or grammatical/historical-criticism), his method instead concentrates on the literary work “as it presents itself in its literary and conceptual integrity.”3

In his subsequent book Hebrew Gospel: Cracking the Code of Mark, Roth uses this method to present the case that the Gospel of Mark is a recapitulation of the Elijah/Elisha stories in 1 Kings 17–2 Kings 13. In “Scriptural Coding in the Fourth Gospel,” Roth had previously used this method in briefly outlining the composition of John as a “selective and inverted narrative rewriting of ‘the Law’ and ‘the Prophets’ of the Hebrew Bible.”4

This same methodology can be used to show the book of Esther as a paradigm for the events in the trial and execution of Yeshua as viewed by John. In amassing the various types of similarities—of theme, vocabulary, and setting—the following questions posited by Roth can be examined, comparing the events in the book of Esther with the events during Yeshua’s final hours:

Employing what might be called a synchronic approach I explore the work as it stands, probing its structure and narrative plot. What are the scenes through which it moves from beginning to end? What figures constitute the cast and how do the actors carry the plot? How do narrated time and space function in the work? . . . Can a literary model be discussed which determines its profile and provides a conceptual medium?5

There is substantial evidence to demonstrate that the backdrop, action, and emotional state of the book of Esther is reflected in the Gospel of John as emphasized by the unique vocabulary shared by the Esther story and John 18–19. (There are also some allusions in John 20, but the number seems to taper off sharply.)

This paper will compare the Greek vocabulary of John with the Greek of Esther in the Septuagint (LXX).6 As will be shown in the course of the paper, the links between the two works seem to come from these two Greek sources, and should be differentiated from any posited Hebrew source of John. Note also that there seem to be direct links between some distinctly apocryphal material in the Greek of Esther and the text of John.

Let’s begin now with the comparison of the two works in consideration of the following specific delineations: similarities in theme, similarities in underlying emotional tone, similarities in ironic action, similarities in straightforward action, and similarities in vocabulary.

Similarities in theme

The backdrop or “scenery” during the arrest and trial(s) of Yeshua is virtually the same as that in the bulk of the book of Esther. As John 18 opens, the scene is night, in a “garden” (v. 1). The term “garden” is repeated in v. 26, in the third scene of the drama at Caiaphas’ residence. It also appears at the end of this part of the drama, where Yeshua is laid in a tomb in a garden: κῆπος / κήπῳ (19:41).7 The same Greek word for garden is mentioned twice during the climactic confrontation scene where Esther identifies Haman’s treachery.

Also significant is the setting of the first scene of Esther (after the introduction in the apocryphal version) where Ahasuerus is giving a banquet in the court (αὐλή) of the king’s home. Note that the Hebrew calls it the “court of the garden” in 1:5. The Greek word for court or palace, αὐλὴν, is used fifteen times in Esther and forms the main setting of that book. All four Gospels use this Greek term as the name of the High Priest’s residence. In John it occurs in 18:15 (scene two).

Other interesting parallels in the settings of the two works include the term λιθόστρωτου—pavement of stone. This term appears only three times in the LXX or its Apocrypha and only once in the New Testament (NT)—at John 19:13, where it is part of Pilate’s palace (outside the “Praetorium”). John is careful to give the exact place name where Pilate is seated. More concerning its “Hebrew” name later.

Another parallel in the setting of John is the term for charcoal—ἀνθρακιὰν. This term is used only three times in the NT; one of them is in John 18:18. Simon Peter is described as warming his hands over a charcoal fire in the court, αὐλὴν, of the High Priest. This same term is used in the description of Ahasuerus’ court about a cup used by the king’s party—the only time it is used in the LXX (Est. 1:7).8

Descriptions of both the courts in John and the court in Esther contain many words for servants and soldiers. Individual servants and soldiers and also groups of them are mentioned continually throughout both stories. Some of these terms include: δοῦλον—slave (in both John and Esther); στρατιῶται—soldiers (John); ὑπηρέται—attendants/officers (both books); θυρωρὸς —female porter (John). Maids and attendants accompany Esther throughout the book. Soldiers and attendants seem to swarm around the High Priests and Pilate. One specific detail in both books are the many mentions of palace doors and gates. People are continually mentioned as going in and out of doors, θύρᾳ. For example, Peter has a short conversation with a porter (f.) at Annas’ door, while Esther is afraid to pass through the king’s doors, since it may mean her death. She pauses at the door before meeting the king (Est 5:1A).9

Thematically, there are many parallels highlighted by the unique vocabulary shared in these stories. In both cases the action is taking place in the court of a “foreign” (non-Jewish) king. (Specific discussion of this concept of the Second Temple being a “foreign court” to John will occur later in the paper.) There are court officials trying to uphold “the law.” There are a lot of servants, officials, and soldiers, and most of the action takes place at night. There is also intrigue in both courts—each of the foreign kings will be asked to rubber-stamp an evil plot to destroy God’s purposes by carrying out an unjust execution order.

At this point it might be beneficial to establish the parallel personal identities within the Gospel and Esther narratives. If Yeshua is seen as the protagonist of the Gospel story, who is the protagonist of the Esther story? Esther or Mordechai? The best answer is that Yeshua can represent both Esther’s and Mordechai’s roles. Mordechai is the faithful servant of the king (both earthly and heavenly), falsely accused on jerry-rigged charges by evil men (Haman leads a group action). Esther is the savior who will go alone to see the king—“If I perish, I perish” (Est 3:16). She will go, although she might die, in order to save her people. She also keeps a secret identity—she is Jewish. Yeshua also has a secret identity—he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” as he reveals in private to his disciples (John 14:6). If there are two protagonists with individual parts to play in the Esther narrative, then Yeshua acts as both in the Gospel narrative.

Similarities in underlying emotional tone

Along with the scenery, or backdrop, the two stories share a similar underlying emotional tone. The audience of both stories is being led along a path of quiet desperation. The audience is hoping that in both cases a law will not be carried out. The decision seems to be in the king’s hands (either Ahasuerus’ or Pilate’s) but the king seems almost to be a puppet, dependent upon the machinations around him. Both kings receive advice on the proper legal steps to take. But the decision to carry out that dreaded law does rest solely with each king.

These scenarios create suspense for the audience. While Ahasuerus makes Esther queen, Pilate states that Jesus is “King of the Jews” (John 18:39; 19:19). Both kings write an announcement in multiple languages. Is John alluding to “the law of the Medes and Persians,” which cannot be changed, when he has Pilate say, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:22)? Esther says in Hebrew, וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי, אָבָדְתִּי—“If I perish, I perish.”

Esther’s story creates great suspense about whether she should go to see the king to rescind the order to kill the Jewish community. “All the nations of the empire know that whoever, man or woman, shall go into the king into the inner court uncalled, that person cannot live” (Est 4:11).

The readers of John’s Gospel fear that this may be true in Yeshua’s case, also.

Both characters go into the inner court accompanied by two companions. Esther had two maids whom she used to take her to the king (Esther 5:1A), Jesus had two friends—Peter and “the other disciple, who was known to the High Priest (John?)” (John 18:15). As mentioned before, there is a great deal of coming and going through palace doors, as reflected in the vocabulary. (A short aside—in the apocryphal version of Esther, both Mordechai and Esther offer long prayers concerning the safety of God’s people before Esther goes to see the king. Yeshua offers a long prayer with many of the same themes before he goes to see the “king.” This observation must wait for another time for further development.)

Esther is so overcome with fear that as she enters the king’s chambers and sees him, she faints, επεσεν. There is a lot of falling and fainting in the book of Esther, most of it from being overcome with emotion. Haman falls upon Esther’s couch to plead for his life (Est 7:8); Haman’s wife warns him that if Mordechai is Jewish “you will most assuredly fall,” πεσὼν πεσῇ (Est 6:13). In a unique Johannine instance, John 18:6 states that as the group of soldiers (Temple officials?) in the garden comes to arrest Yeshua, they fall to the ground, ἔπεσαν χαμαί. If seen in the light of Mordechai’s experience this is true irony: Mordechai gets in trouble with Haman originally because he will not bow down (or “fall”) before Haman. Part of the poetic justice in the Esther story is that in the end, Haman must honor Mordechai publicly, in the streets.

Along with falling and fainting, there is a great deal of fear in Esther and also in this section of John. A common word for fear, δειλός, is not used in either Esther or John, but only its synonym, φόβος. This word and its related compounds (εκφοβος, εφοβηθη, for example) are used in Esther nine times, starting with Ahasuerus’ decree that wives should “fear” their husbands (Est 1:22). Most notably in the book of Esther is the phrase, unique to the LXX, “for the fear of the Jews” found in 8:17 and in 9:22. This phrase, uniquely in the NT, is found twice also in John—19:38 and 20:19. In Esther this fear forms the supreme irony: the group that was to be killed becomes that which is feared. Indeed, there have been precious few times in history when the Jews as a nation scared anyone. But the book of Esther has been an embarrassment to Jews at times because of its assertion that the Persian Jews went on what seems like a murderous rampage throughout the Persian kingdom, especially in the city of Susa, killing 500 men (Est 9:1–17). When John repeats this phrase, it seems a clear allusion to a unique time in Israel’s history, when the enemies of the Jewish people were actually afraid of them. Pilate is mentioned in John 19:8 as being “afraid”—he, too, seems to have “fear of the Jews.”

This reference to the possible retaliatory action by the Jews in the Gospel of John was a connecting link with the holiday about to be celebrated by the Jewish community at that time—Passover. In Egypt, there was a final retaliatory action before the Jews were allowed to be free—the killing of the firstborn.

The finale of Esther contains emotions that reflect the emotions at the conclusion of John’s Gospel, particularly in Chapter 20. Mordechai writes the events of Esther’s reign in a book, and sends it to Jews everywhere for them to remember the days when they had rest from their enemies, and when “mourning was changed to joy, and from sorrow to gladness (lit. ‘a good day’)” (Est 9:22). These seem to be precisely the emotions found in John 20—even down to the details of writing a book about these events (John 20:30).

Thematically, the book of Esther is an upside-down world. Those who are humble (Mordechai and Esther) are raised to royal positions. Those who were honored greatly (Vashti and Haman) are brought to ignominy. Mordechai and Esther, instead of being executed as members of the Jewish community, themselves execute their chief enemy and his family, on the very gallows set up to execute Mordechai. The Jews, who were to be trampled, end up being feared. This classic dramatic irony is celebrated every year by today’s Jews all around the world. But Esther’s ironic themes can also be found in the last hours of Yeshua’s life. These themes emerge more clearly as the specific actions in the two stories are compared.

Similarities in ironic action

In attempting to fit this section of John’s story into the paradigm of Esther’s topsy-turvy world, it is important to clarify the concept of “dramatic irony” as it applies to the actions in the two stories.

One way to understand irony is,

The incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play—called also “dramatic irony.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the English Language, 1986)

Audiences familiar with the story and vocabulary unique to Esther can recognize it as the underlying leitmotif inside John’s accounts of the trials and execution of Yeshua. And a substantial part of these accounts involves this dramatic irony.

To use a specific example, consider two almost-identical actions in the two stories: Mordechai is “robed in purple” and “crowned,” then put on display in Susa by Haman (Est 6:7–11); Yeshua is “robed in purple,” “crowned,” and put on display in Jerusalem by Pilate (John 9:2–4). Mordechai’s crowning results in the cheers of the crowds (presumably). Yeshua’s crowning results in the jeers of the crowd. The same set of actions, even discussed using the same Greek vocabulary, describe two different purposes—one set is to honor and exalt, the other set is to denigrate and humiliate.

This inversion of purpose is found also in the charge leveled by the Jewish prosecutors against Yeshua, that he “made himself the son of God,” υἱὸν θεοῦ, and therefore should die according to their law. Ahasuerus, in his decree exonerating the Jews, states that the reason the Jews should live is because they are “sons of the living God,” υἱοὺς τοῦ ὑφίστου μεγίστου ζῶντος θεοῦ, and praises their just laws (Est 8:13A).

Because the audience is familiar with the key actions and vocabulary within Esther, it would understand the irony inherent in these details.10

Esther, before she meets the king, is anointed with myrrh and spices, σμυρνίνῳ and ἀρώμασιν (Est 2:12). These two words appear only a handful of times in the LXX. After his crucifixion, Jesus is anointed with myrrh and spices, σμύρνης and ἀρωμάτων, before burial.

After Ahasuerus married Esther he had a “holiday” and “made a release”—
ἄφεσιν ἐποίησεν. Pilate also is mentioned as citing the custom of “releasing” a prisoner at the holiday—this time it would be the wrong man, Barabbas.

A great irony is found in the phrase “friends of the king.” Friends, φίλος, –οις, are mentioned ten times in Esther. The friends are either Ahasuerus’ friends (six times) or Haman’s friends (three times), and oftentimes are treated to a banquet. Notice that in John 19:12 Pilate wants to release Yeshua (ἀπολύσω—this verb used 15 times in Esther), but the Judeans remind Pilate that if he does this, he will be “no friend of Caesar.” In this same scene with Pilate, Yeshua has a discussion with him about “authority,” ἐξουσίαν, which is a recurring theme in Esther, and the word is mentioned there three times specifically. In the Persian kingdom, the king and the law shared authority. In the gospel accounts, the high priestly group wants a share in the authority, which belongs to the Romans, to execute Yeshua.

There are smaller ironies overlapping the two stories. At the beginning of Esther, the king enjoys “abundant sweet wine,” οἶνος πολὺς καὶ ἡδύς, while Yeshua on the cross has to settle for a spongeful of vinegar—sour wine (John 19:29). Yeshua then says Τετέλεσται, “It has been finished,” from the word τέλος, end. Ahasuerus in his decree initiated by Haman to kill all the Jews, sees this act of genocide as “securing peace through an end of works,” διὰ τέλους τὰ πράγματα (Est 3:13A).

Yeshua’s claim to Annas that he has spoken nothing “in secret” contrasts with two major secrets in Esther—the conspiracy of the two chamberlains who were plotting to overthrow Ahasuerus (2:21–23), and Esther’s secret Jewish ancestry (2:20).

Similarities in straightforward action

There are three major, unique similarities between John 18–19 and the book of Esther (along with dozens of smaller similarities), all clearly presented to the audience by unique actions and vocabulary.

First is the Greek word σταύρουν, “to crucify,” found ten times in John 19. In the entire LXX, however, it is found only two times—both times in the book of Esther. The king says of the gallows Haman has erected (to execute Mordechai), “Let him be hanged thereon” (Est 7:9), σταυρωθήτω ἐπ᾽ αὐτοῦ. Just this verb alone will alert careful readers of John to the similarities found in Esther.

Second is the date recorded in Esther as the signing of the law for the Jews’ destruction—first month, thirteenth day—which is the thirteenth of Nisan, the day before the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, as any Jewish audience would know (just as Christian audiences would know December 24 as Christmas Eve). According to John, this is the very day on which Yeshua was crucified (compare Esther 3:12 with John 19:14). Not only is this a reference to the destruction of the firstborn before the Exodus from Egypt; it also is the day the intended destruction of the Jews in the Persian Empire is decreed. And it is also the day the Jewish Messiah is killed, according to the record in John.

Third, and possibly most amazing of these three pieces of evidence for the link between these two scenes, is the title the Jews have for the celebration of Esther—Purim. The title means “Lots,” and refers to the lots, κλῆρον, which are thrown to determine the day of destruction for the Jews (Est 3:7)—and this holiday in the Jewish month of Adar is mentioned in Esther as being named after these lots (Est 9:24, 26). Note that “lots” are thrown for Yeshua’s garment as he is being crucified.

At this crucifixion scene, the Roman soldiers do not want to spoil the woven seamless tunic Yeshua owns, so they throw lots, with the winner getting the spoils. Guilding reminds us that this word for woven, ὑφαντὸς, appears only here in the New Testament and,

in the LXX only in the Exodus account of the priestly vestments and the woven work for the Tabernacle. Now this passage [Psa 22, which also mentions casting lots] would also fall to be read at Purim.11

She mentions that this is an allusion to Yeshua’s role as high priest, seen especially in the NT book of Hebrews. It is certainly ironic that the high priest theme is involved prominently in this account of Yeshua’s death.

The soldiers might have liked Yeshua’s tunic the way it was, but they did not have the same compunction concerning his other garments, ἱμάτια (19:23). These they divide into four parts, μέρη, one for each soldier. This word for “parts” or “portions” figures into the Esther story. Even today the celebration of Purim involves sending baskets of “goodies” to friends and neighbors. In Esther, the beginning of this custom is recorded as “sending portions to their friends, and to the poor” (Est 9:22). Unfortunately, it was neither Yeshua’s friends nor the poor who received his “portions,” but his executioners. An additional interpretation of this action by the soldiers would be that it forms a sort of plundering of goods that was supposed to accompany the destruction of the Jews but ended up being accomplished by the Jews in Susa. Yeshua, however, didn’t have much to plunder. The tearing of his garments, ἱμάτια, might also remind the reader of Mordechai’s tearing of his clothes after hearing of Haman’s evil decree (Est 4:1). It also could be related to the tearing of the tapestry which delineated the Holy Place in the temple at the moment of Yeshua’s death (see Matt 27:51).

Similarities in vocabulary

There are numerous similarities in vocabulary between Esther and John 18–19 (some also in 20). Already mentioned have been: slaves, servants, soldiers, officers, court or palace, garden, doors, purple robe, crown, charcoal, authority, myrrh, spices, fall, release, crucify, son of God, fear of the Jews, friend of the king/Caesar, throwing lots, parts/portions, and garment. Some other distinctive vocabulary remains to be mentioned.

The word “cup,” ποτερ, is mentioned in Esther 1, and Yeshua mentions “the cup,” ποτήριον, “which was given to me by the Father” (John 18:11). The same verse in John mentions a specific kind of short sword or dagger called μάχαιραν, which Peter uses to cut off someone’s ear. Ahasuerus mentions this dagger, μάχαιραν, specifically, to be used to kill the Jews in his proclamation (Est 3:13A).

John restates his assertion in 19:14 (also found in chapter 11) that it was Caiaphas who advised the Jewish leaders that it was “expedient,” συμφέρει, for one man to die on “behalf of the people” (already seen as a thematic link to the book of Esther). Is it merely coincidence that Haman uses the same term in Esther 3:8? Speaking of the Jews, Haman says to Ahasuerus, “It is not expedient, συμφέρει, for the king to let them alone.”

At the moment of death, Yeshua is said to have inclined his head, κεφαλὴν. When Esther enters the throne room of the king, she “bows her head” upon her maidservant (compare John 19:30 with 6:1A; same phrase in the Greek).

When Pilate declares that he can find “no crime”, αἰτίαν, in Yeshua (John 19:6), he is echoing the cry of Mordechai, “A nation that has done no wrong is going to be destroyed” (Est 4:1). Also, in his proclamation rescinding the decree, Ahasuerus describes Esther as “blameless” (8:13A).

One vocabulary clue that seems almost too exact to be true occurs next to another striking clue we have already seen— λιθόστρωτον, “the Pavement” in John 19:13. Lithostrotos is the title for the rather small stone-tiled area on the street outside the official residence of Pilate when he is in Jerusalem. From there, Pilate would make official pronouncements as spokesman for the Roman Empire.12 John adds, by way of explanation, it appears, that in Hebrew this place is known as Γαββαθα, Gabbatha, (although this may not be a Hebrew word, but Aramaic). At the very beginning of Esther, the apocryphal version reveals the names of the two servants (chamberlains) who plotted to “lay hands on” Ahasuerus (note another thematic similarity here). One of these servants’ names is Γαβαθα. This identical term seems too striking to be mere coincidence. The uniqueness of this name in itself is enough to link these two stories.

Summing Up

This paper is an initial attempt to gather some long-buried data. Although to today’s reader the events related in the trials and execution of Yeshua would seem to hold very little in common with the story of Esther, there is just too much similarity in theme, action, and vocabulary between the two accounts to dismiss these links out-of-hand.

How could such a wealth of similarities be overlooked? One reason for this oversight through the centuries is that those scholars interested in studying John’s Gospel are usually not steeped in the fine points of the Jewish holidays. Those who do know the stories of these holidays usually aren’t interested in studying John’s Gospel. Indeed, 12- or 13-year-old Jewish children who have celebrated the holiday of Esther at their synagogue every year through putting on a Purim play recounting the events of the whole book of Esther, might have less trouble seeing the similarities in John 18–19 than Johannine scholars would have.

This difference in awareness comes from the difference in the semantic map or world view of the two groups—as reflected in the prologue of this paper. Both Guilding and Roth develop detailed cases for the biblical astuteness and knowledge in the audience of John’s Gospel. As shown in the scene described in the prologue above, a totally unrelated group of anthropomorphic animals in a state of confusion becomes a clear referent to a familiar work in the British/American nursery rhyme collection. In the same way, it could be argued the seemingly unrelated events of Yeshua’s trials and execution can be identified by a group more familiar with the details of the Esther story. This style of reworking familiar Bible stories for different occasions and audiences is identified by Roth as “haggadic midrash.”13 Roth quotes Daniel Patte and other scholars to support his contention that

the antecedents of haggadic activity are found in the writings of the NT. . . . Haggadic activity is foremost not a literary product but an “attitude to scripture” which in the first place does not interpret a clearly defined and literarily fixed text by another one but which sustains a still fluid, not yet congealed one by circling it playfully.14

Although Esther probably is a “congealed text” at the time the Gospels were being written, this concept of the haggadic midrash could very well apply to the type of material John is writing. In fact, this description of what John is doing can revolutionize much of Johannine studies by placing the Gospel in the center of Jewish literary creativity rather than Greek or even Gnostic literary activity.

A Chiastic Structure?

A further investigation of the structure of Esther and John 18–20 may confirm that the structures of the two are chiastic, that is, the end of the one is the beginning of the other. John may be tracing Esther’s story backwards. That indeed is the conclusion found by Roth in his analysis of the Gospel of John as a whole. He sees the structure of the whole Gospel as the Five Books of Moses “recapitulated”, but starting with Deuteronomy, then proceeding “backwards” and ending with Genesis.15

Several clues in the action seem to be hinting at this chiasm. Esther 1 starts with a banquet and the description of the beautiful palace of the king. John 20 describes the resurrection scene—after Yeshua presumably has gone to be with the heavenly king in his palace. Along these same lines, Esther is purified and anointed at the beginning of her reign. Yeshua is wrapped in linen and anointed after his death, in preparation for burial (John 19:39–40). In Esther 1 the king drinks his sweet wine. At the end of the crucifixion Yeshua drinks his sour wine (John 19:29–30). These events are all in these two accounts, along with many others. It may be that there is no linear backwards/forwards motion in the two stories but rather as Roth describes them, the events are merely “swirling around each other.” But it does seem clear that both the Esther story and John 18–20 are drawing from the same set of actions.

The Theology of Esther Informs the Theology of John

Whatever additional work is done on this comparison, it is clear that the theology of Esther does inform the text of John. What does this mean when we turn to the exegesis and proper interpretation of John?

First, there has been very little work done on women in the Tanakh as messianic types. Esther’s actions as a foreshadowing of Yeshua’s future role should inspire more thought on this topic. Many women (and perhaps men) would welcome any reasons to highlight the activities of the great women of God in Jewish history, especially as it contributes women’s actions to the work of the Messiah.

Another clarification produced by this investigation has to do with a phrase that has seemed troublesome in the past to Jewish audiences—“fear of the Jews” (John 19:38, 20:19; cf. 7:13). John has often been pointed to as a prime example of anti-Jewish prejudice in the NT and the early church, and this phrase is seen as a primary exhibit. In fact, this notorious phrase is not antisemitic. On the contrary, it comes right from the pages of Jewish scripture—Esther 9:2–3. It is clearly ironic, quoted from the highly ironic book of Esther. Seen in this context, it is unlikely that by quoting this statement John shows that he “hates” all Jews. Perhaps he does harbor ill will towards those Jews, namely the temple leadership, who performed Haman’s role against Yeshua.

An interesting point is made by Rabbi Leibel Reznick. We can safely assume, since he is an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, that he is not an expert in the Gospel texts. Though seemingly unaware of details in NT texts, however, the rabbi describes the situation reflected in Talmudic texts concerning the high priestly authorities at this time:

During the Second Temple period, the High Priesthood was a political appointment based on reasons other than merit. Often the High Priest was unable to read Hebrew. The aristocrats who were selected to serve as High Priests led such isolated lives that they did not know the difference between an ox and a goat.16

If John is reflecting this historical situation in which the High Priests could not even speak the primary language of their people, then it could be understood that even in the court of the High Priest, John would feel he was in the presence of a “foreign power” who was trying to influence the king, just as Haman was trying to influence his king against the Persian Jewish population. And one could hardly accuse Rabbi Reznick of being antisemitic in stating these facts.

In conclusion, there are several blocks of material in Esther that could have been applied directly to the situation Yeshua and his disciples found themselves in during the early weeks after Yeshua’s death and resurrection. After experiencing the roller-coaster ride of emotion from utter tragedy to supreme joy, they could better understand and celebrate the same emotions recorded in the book of Esther. They might read the apocryphal letter that Ahasuerus sends rescinding Haman’s order, and feel that Ahasuerus is describing the Jewish leaders who wanted Yeshua put to death:

Many who have been frequently honored by the most abundant kindness of their rulers have conceived ambitious designs, and not only endeavor to hurt our [Ahasuerus’] subjects, but moreover, not being able to bear prosperity, they also endeavor to plot against their own benefactors . . . Elated by the boastings of men who are strangers to all that are good, they suppose they shall escape the sin-hating vengeance of the ever-seeing God. And oftentimes exhortation has made them partakers of the guilt of shedding innocent blood . . .” (Esther 8:13A)

But if it is true that the disciples could understand that the high priestly family could replicate Haman’s role in this scenario, they also could grasp the final lesson of the book of Esther—that the tragic situation they had become enmeshed in, subsequently had been totally, miraculously changed in their lives only a few days later: “a change was made for them, from mourning to joy, from sorrow to a good day” (Est 9:22).

Isn’t this, indeed, the discovery of the women when they went to visit Yeshua’s tomb “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark” (John 20:1)? May this be just the beginning of many discoveries linking the finally-triumphant book of Esther with the finally-triumphant Gospel of John.

Patrice Fischer and her husband, John, have been pioneers in the modern Messianic movement, as founding members of both B’nai Maccabim, Chicago, and Congregation Ohr Chadash in Clearwater, FL, where they remain part of the leadership team. Patrice received her B.S. from Northwestern University, an M.A. from Trinity Divinity School, an M.A. in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of South Florida, and a Ph.D. [ABD] in Second Language Education and Linguistics. Publications include: The Distortion (co-authored with John Fischer) and chapters in Voices of Messianic Judaism and The Enduring Paradox. Her current writing projects include Inadvertent Anti-Semitism and an annotated biography of John’s parents, Marianne and George Fischer, who survived the Holocaust in Budapest as Messianic Jews. John and Patrice have two adult children and three grandchildren.

1 Aileen Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960).

2 The seven echoes Guilding discovered are: 1) one person will die for the people; 2) setting in the court of a garden within a palace;
3) lithostratus, pavement; 4) royal apparel; 5) crucifixion; 6) decree written in different languages; 7) Psalm 22, the lectionary reading for that week, including the “seamless garment.” Guilding, 69.

3 Wolfgang Roth, “Scriptural Coding in the Fourth Gospel.” In Biblical Research XXXII, 1987, 6.

4 Roth, “Scriptural Coding,” 7.

5 Roth, “Scriptural Coding,” 6–7.

6 Citations of the Septuagint are from The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament and Apocrypha (London: Samuel Bagster & Sons, n.d.). New Testament references are from Alfred Marshall, ed., Revised Standard Version Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970). Citations of the Tanakh are from The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Texts (Tel Aviv: Sinai, 1969).

7 Guilding identifies seven individual scenes in John 18–19: 1) Arrest in Garden of Gethsemane; 2) Courtyard of High Priest Annas; 3) High Priest Caiaphas’ garden; 4) Praetorium with Pilate; 5) Gabbatha pavement (Pilate’s public throne area); 6) Golgotha; 7) Tomb in a garden. See Guilding, 169.

8 The context of the Greek term determines its meaning. In Esther, it refers to a glowing, red gemstone that decorates a cup used at the king’s banquet. In John, it is used of a glowing charcoal ember that is part of the outdoor heaters used in the Temple courtyard on a chilly spring night.

9 5:1A is a verse designation in which the A signifies a verse found only in the Apocrypha version of the Esther story.

10 For further substantiation of the deep scripture knowledge among the Jewish people during Second Temple times, see Wolfgang Roth, Hebrew Gospel: Cracking the Code of Mark (Oak Park, IL: Meyer-Stone, 1988), 100–122.

11 Guilding, 169.

12 This area can be seen today when visiting the Convent of the Sisters of Zion in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem.

13 Roth, Hebrew Gospel, 100ff.

14 Roth, Hebrew Gospel, 104–5.

15 Roth, “Scriptural Coding,” 9–10.

16 Rabbi Leibel Reznick, The Holy Temple Revisited (Garden City, NY: Aronson, 1990) 92.

10 For further substantiation of the deep scripture knowledge among the Jewish people during Second Temple times, see Wolfgang Roth, Hebrew Gospel: Cracking the Code of Mark (Oak Park, IL: Meyer-Stone, 1988), 100–122.

11 Guilding, 169.

12 This area can be seen today when visiting the Convent of the Sisters of Zion in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem.

13 Roth, Hebrew Gospel, 100ff.

14 Roth, Hebrew Gospel, 104–5.

15 Roth, “Scriptural Coding,” 9–10.

16 Rabbi Leibel Reznick, The Holy Temple Revisited (Garden City, NY: Aronson, 1990) 92.

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