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Vashti, Esther, and Zeresh: Women’s Leadership in the Book of Esther and Its Complicated Legacy

Yoo,YeonHee(Yani) 1

1감리교신학대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This essay attempts to evaluate women's leadership presented by the narrator of the Book of Esther. The narrator presents distorted images of women's leadership through the description of Vashti, Esther and Zeresh. Vashti is a woman leader who is independent and has high self-esteem. But she is an example of a lousy woman who does not support her husband and makes him look bad in public. This kind of woman deserves punishment and women readers are not to emulate her. Esther is helpful to men and gives everything good to men, although she has to risk her safety. She is an ideal woman leader to the narrator. Zeresh is also helpful to men. She offers counsel to her husband when asked. But she speaks against her own interests. The readers have been divided in regard to interpreting the biblical women. Some feminist readers praise Vashti for her independence and criticize Esther for working for men in their terms. Others give credit to Esther for using what is available to her with wisdom and courage to meet her ends despite the limits of the times. Most scholars do not even deal with Zeresh. We see Zeresh as the brain behind her husband's political activities. All these women are separated from one another and never talk to one another. Each is like an island drifting alone in men's sea. The narrator makes the reader compare and contrast the women characters and take a side. Focusing on a woman character or comparison or contrast among them only results in separating them even more. Women readers will also be divided into two. Seeing Vashti as a better leader than Esther risks the same danger. The women's leadership described by the narrator misleads the readers. It leaves complicated heritage to Korean church women. Most Korean preachers not only follow the narrator, but intensify and magnify it in the patriarchal context of the Korean church. Their understanding of biblical women's leadership is in direct proportion to modern women's leadership status in the church. In fact, among women in the church there is separation and conflict among Vashitis and Esthers. Thus, sensitive readers can see the need for the women character in the Book Esther and church women need to be incorporated into one respectively. We see Vashti in Esther when the latter breaks a royal rule. We see Zeresh in Esther when the latter acts like a sage. Church women also have all these women in them, being Vashti rebellious against the opaque church management, being Esther obedient to the end, and being Zeresh speaking against her interests. A healthy incorporation of the three will strengthen the church.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.