March 2005

A Note on Esther 8:17 – What did the Gentiles Do?

by David Steinberg



The poverty-stricken vocabulary and patchy Biblical Hebrew of Esther are well known.  The author, of limited talents, was attempting to write in a literary language of centuries earlier.


The phrase that interests me is –



This would seem to be a combination of Biblical and post-biblical Hebrew.  In regular Biblical Hebrew, I would think that you would get something like –


way-yityahadu rabbim etc.


Leaving the clash of dialects aside, the question arises – what does it mean?


In real Biblical Hebrew it could have either of two meanings –


a. many of the peoples of the country became Jews (See GK 54 i)


b. many of the peoples of the country posed as Jews i.e. pretended to be Jews (See GK top of p. 150.)


If the nitpael of yhd occurred in Mishnaic Hebrew, which I do not think it does, it could have only the first meaning in context (see Segal Mishnaic Hebrew Grammar section 138 “Incohative, to describe the entry into a new state or condition, especially of the body or mind.”)


So which meaning do we choose?  Normally, we would examine other examples of the verb in the Bible.  Unfortunately, there are none. On the basis of the author’s shaky Biblical Hebrew a betting man would go for the first meaning. 


It is interesting to see how some reputable modern translations deal with the issue.  Generally, the best two translations are the New Jewish Version (NJV) and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).  Modern translations tend to




1. Obfuscate



In every province and in every city, wherever the king's command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.



professed to be Jews


Art Scroll

professed themselves Jews




declared themselves Jews (i.e. the second meaning)



professed themselves Jews




2. Choose the first meaning


Jerusalem Bible

Embraced Judaism