Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Devil in the King's Court

The Septuagint version of Esther 7:4 has Esther say something significantly different than the Hebrew version does:
The devil is not worthy of the king's court.
The term for devil here is simply διάβολος, the standard word for devil (originally meaning the accuser) but a fairly rare word in the Septuagint. The term is applied to Haman, as is clear in Esther 8:1, where he is called "Haman, the devil."

As one of the comparatively rare usages of the term in the Septuagint, the usage has some unmistakable coloring on New Testament usage of the term. The fact that the Septuagint version of Esther influences the New Testament, makes it worth looking at Haman and why he is called a devil.

Esther uses the term when she exposes Haman's plot to the king. In the first part of Esther 7:4, she outlines the consequences of Haman's plot:
I and my people are forced into destruction, and plunder, and slavery, we and our children to servants and maidservants and I overheard, for the devil is not worthy of the king's court. (Esther 7:4 LXX).
Incidentally, the term translated plunder is a form of the Greek word used in Philippians 2:6 that the King James translators gave as robbery and for which I prefer the word usurpation when it says that Jesus did not think it was robbery to be equal with God.

So what did Haman do that makes him a devil?
  • He was a high-level administrator in the king's palace. 
  • He plotted to get rid of God's people because he did not like their behavior.
  • He persuaded the king to sign the decree to kill the Jews.
  • He personally had a vendetta against Mordecai and tried to get rid of him and make a public example of him.
  • He used flattery to obtain his position.
  • He sought veneration from the people.
  • He sought to usurp the royal prerogatives.
  • He misused his power.
  • He tried to hide what he was really doing.
  • He denied his part in the plot when confronted.
  • He tried to force the queen.
It is also worth noting that he flew into hysterics when Mordecai was honored by the king rather than him.

Haman's motivation in his plot seems to have been jealousy. He wanted Mordecai to bow down to him (which was idolatry and Mordecai knew it) and he wanted the honor and glory which were given to Mordecai. Haman's motivations are similar to those of Iago, the villain of Shakespere's Othello, who gives the reason for his treachery as:
have told thee often, and I retell thee again and
again, I hate the Moor. (Shakespeare, Othello I.iii.364-366.)
This is repeated only a few lines later: "I hate the Moor." (Shakespeare, Othello I.iii.386.) And so Iago takes advantage since
The Moor is of a free and open nature,
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are. (Shakespeare, Othello I.iii.399-402.)
For the Septuagint version of Esther, as in Othello, the plotting middle management plays the part of the devil. Such devils are not worthy of the court.