The English Teacher

Esther as Literature

A teacher desirous of teaching the Bible as literature may face many obstacles. The first one is the students' conditioned objection to any allusion to a Biblical background in literature as 'teaching religion.' Generally, it is permissible to teach the Biblical basis for such things as the Biblical parable of the Pearl of Great Price when teaching the Pearl by John Steinbeck, or verses from Revelation when teaching The Grapes of Wrath. This can be done in the same manner that one can teach Ode to a Mouse when teaching Of Mice and Men.

However objections can occur when actual literature is taught from the Bible. This situation is regrettable because so much great literature draws its background from the Bible. For instance, a study of King Lear and of the Bible shows that Shakespeare drew much on the Bible.

A book from the Bible that can be taught as an individual story or work is the Book of Esther. I use the King James Version of the Bible because the language has some similarity to Beowulf and The Odyssey. I make copies of the Book of Esther and hand them out to students. A few students recognize that it is somewhere in the Bible. Most don't recognize the source. I have them use T-sheets [see below] and keep a log of their reading and their reactions. I don't have discussions in the beginning to prevent bias simply on the basis that it is from the Bible.

Once they have started reading, we do discuss the first level content of the book, what is happening and why. I ask them: what is the time period when it was written and what is the time period it was written about? [To compare with The Odyssey and Beowulf].

Some cultural notes: The events in Esther are celebrated by the Jewish people as the holiday, Purim. Purim occurs in March. There is a children's parade. The story of Esther is read and they shake 'rattles' very loudly to drown out Haman's name each time it comes up in the story. It is a festive occasion unlike other more solemn holidays.
[Adar- sixth month, late March, early April, lunar calendar]

Teaching- ESTHER:

Begin Book of Esther Use a T-sheet:
Below is a rough approximation of a T-sheet, simply a large T with writing on each side and on the top

 What I Read    \  What I Thought About What I Read         
 [What Happened]  \     [How I Reacted]   
                  \ **Generally one page per 
                  \                  chapter.
                  \ Can write on the back of this 
                  \    sheet since these are
                  \  notes- but may be collected.
Read chapter 1, take notes on T-sheet. Can use notes on the test.

Read chapter 2, T-sheet notes.

Read chapter 3, Look over students' notes.

Read chapters 4 and 5. [ Begin, when appropriate, to discuss the basic 'story line.' I want the students to do some work and thought before they are 'given the answers.']

Read chapters 6 and 7.

Read chapters 8 and 9.

Finish Esther.

Test on Esther.
Write on one side of the paper, in ink.
Support your answers with details from your notes.
Skip lines.

1. How was Esther a product of her times and her society? (What made her the type of person she was and what caused her to act the way she did?)

2. How would Esther (or Vashti) react to a visit to your house? How would you explain to her the ways your society is different from hers?

3. What issues are raised in the Book of Esther that might be relevant to our times?

4. How do you feel toward Haman? Why?

Other comments-
I haven't had time to go further with the Bible as literature. There are many demands on a curriculum from many different sources and there were simply other priorities. However, I did include Esther and Haman in the semester final exam among Heroes and 'villains' to choose from to compare.

Other types of discussion that could come up from Esther are comparisons with the holocaust and issues of women's rights and women's liberation.

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