Tuesday, March 07, 2006


In Megilat Esther there are a number of words that are mentioned first in Akkadian, and then in Hebrew - pur and goral, and the names of the months, for example. The heroine's name is also given twice - Hadassah and Esther. In this case Esther is not a translation of Hadassah of course, but rather the Persian name she went by.

The name Esther - אסתר - is connected to the Babylonian deity Ishtar (yes, the same name as the notoriously unsuccessful movie.) They both derive from the Indo-European root ster, and the related Semitic root ctr which gave us the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Phoenician goddess Astarte עשתרת. That same root gives us the English words star, astral, stellar and disaster (not in the stars.)

The rabbis in Chullin 139b say that there is a hint to Esther's name in the Torah:
ואנכי הסתר אסתיר - And I will surely hide (Devarim 31:18). The idea that God is hidden in the story of Purim is well known. But were the rabbis unaware of the original etymology of the name?

Rabbi Josh Waxman in Parshablog has a good explanation:

"While Esther and Mordechai are indeed the names Ishtar and Marduk, that does not (nor should not) preclude the name Esther having Hebrew connotations.

It is only if you think that pshat means that a word can have one and only one meaning that you would think it could not have another connotation. Let me give an example. Say I were writing a story about a creative type and called him Art. It is a perfectly normal American name, but that should not stop someone from analyzing my story and (correctly) concluding that I intended a pun."

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