Jon Wiener: Sarah Palin and the Jews
[Mr. Wiener, a historian, is a contributing editor to the Nation.]
Sarah Palin took the biblical Queen Esther as her role model when she became governor, according to her former pastor--a report that suggests her ties to Jewish history are stronger than you might have expected.
When Palin took office as governor in 2006, according to the New York Times, she asked her former pastor in the Assembly of God church in Wasilla for"a biblical example of people who were great leaders and what was the secret of their leadership"--that's what Paul E. Riley, the pastor, told Kirk Johnson and Kim Severson of the Times. He recommended the Old Testament story of Esther, the beautiful Jewish queen who persuaded the Persian king to save the Jews from annihilation and instead let them kill their enemies. The story is celebrated by Jews annually in the Feast of Purim.
The parallels are clear. Esther was selected queen in a beauty contest; Palin was runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant.
So Queen Esther apparently provided the role model for the former beauty queen who went to our own king and asked for earmarks for her people.
The Palin/Queen Esther report has sparked a flood of commentary from fundamentalist Christian web sites. One reports that"Sarah Palin, like Esther, was an unlikely choice. Sarah Palin, like Esther, is bold and courageous in the face of fear. Sarah Palin, like Esther, proves you can be loyal and devoted to your family while having a high position. But perhaps, more than anything, . . . we are seeing someone right before our eyes who is capturing the hearts of the American people in a way that defies description" - just like the Bible says,"And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her."
Another says"Every once in a while a woman comes along who is made for the times. Sarah Palin is such a woman. . . . Another woman, Esther, was brought on the scene by God at just the right time. God's timing was perfect for he used Esther to save the Jews"--and now he is using Palin to save the Republicans.
One problem with this view -that God sent Palin the way He sent Esther -- is that the Book of Esther never mentions God. It never says God sent Esther to save His people, or even that Esther's belief in God gave her the power to defeat her enemies. Somebody should point this out to the fundamentalists.
If you follow the logic in the story - as another fundamentalist Christian website did - you find a"major, and creepily precise" parallel between the threats to Jews then and now. In Esther's day the threat came from Persia - and what country is the modern successor to Persia? Iran, of course --"the same Iran that has vowed to wipe Israel off the map and is well on their way to acquiring the nuclear weaponry to do so . . . . And along comes tough, clear-eyed, plain-speaking Sarah Palin."
The implications for Palin's Iran policy are clear. In the Bible, after the Jews are saved from annihilation, and after the first day of Jewish revenge against their enemies, the King tells Esther the Jews have killed 500 people, and asks what she wants to do next. Esther says she wants permission for a second day of killing - so the king grants the Jews the right"to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish the entire host of every people and province that oppress them, small children and women, and to take their spoils for plunder."
The Bible says the Jews then killed 75,000 more of their enemies. It doesn't say anything about Jewish casualties, which makes it seem like a one-sided slaughter. (This part usually doesn't get mentioned at the Purim carnival.)
The cover of Newsweek this week is a photo of Palin with a shotgun. The Iranians should be worried - and so should the Americans.
Reprinted with permission from the Nation. For subscription information call 1-800-333-8536. Portions of each week's Nation magazine can be accessed at http://www.thenation.com.
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David Andrew Burton - 9/16/2008
Jon Wiener has given an ambiguous passage of scripture the least probable and most shocking interpretation possible, in a way which distorts the advice given to Sarah Palin by her former pastor.
The most popular Bible translation used in evangelical Christian churches like the Wasilla Bible Church is the NIV, and the NIV translation of Esther 8:11 is very different from the version that Wiener chose. This is how Esther 8:11 reads in the NIV Bible:
"The king's edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies."
In other words, the Hebrew men in Persia were authorized by Ahasuerus (Xerxes) to destroy the armies that threatened the Hebrew men and their families. So the women and chindren referenced in that passage were Hebrew women and children, who were being protected. Winer's dubious interpretation has the Persian king authorizing the Hebrew men to slaughter Persian women and children, which is not an interpretation required by the text (and which seems like a highly unlikely thing for a Persian king to do).
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