Esther and the Politics of Negotiation: An Investigation of Public and Private Spaces in Relationship to Possibilities for Female Royal Counselors
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CitationHancock, Rebecca. 2012. Esther and the Politics of Negotiation: An Investigation of Public and Private Spaces in Relationship to Possibilities for Female Royal Counselors. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractThe primary question that this dissertation seeks to answer is, “How might we characterize the narrative depiction of Esther’s political involvement in the affairs of the Persian state?” Many scholars have tried to answer this question with regard to how typical or exceptional Esther is vis-à-vis portrayals of other biblical women: Does Esther represent an aberration from gender norms or an embodiment of male patriarchal values? The project undertaken here is to challenge the way in which the entire question has been framed because underlying it is a set of problematic assumptions. The results of the question framed thus can only lead to more interpretive difficulties, either denying the commonalities between Esther and other biblical women, or ignoring the dynamics at play when the very same descriptions are used of men. In addition, the reliance on these two categories has provided a kind of self-perpetuating logic so that scholarship about men and women and their respective roles tends to replicate two separate and divided spheres within academic discourse. This dissertation begins with a review of scholarship on Esther. Many scholarly assessments of her, whether they see her as typical or exceptional, rely on problematic assumptions; yet within the body of scholarship on Esther there were also a number of insights that suggest a more nuanced approach to evaluating her character. One problem of dichotomous assessments of Esther is that they rely on an assumption of gendered and separate public and private spheres for men and women respectively, a construct that suffers from a number of theoretical issues. In addition to the general problems with this language, the portrayal of Esther as a politically powerful and persuasive woman connects her to a wide variety of biblical literature, suggesting that she is not the exceptional figure that some have claimed but deeply embedded within a tradition. Moreover, the role that familial and kinship relationships and metaphors play in structuring political life opens up the historic possibility that women may have participated in the political arena, depending on their own family dynamics. None of the evidence regarding Persian women—Esther’s narrative portrayal, Greek historiography on Persian royal women, or indigenous Persian sources—provide any reason to assume that women were categorically confined to a private sphere. Thus, this dissertation proposes a movement away from the discourse on public and private, thereby opening up the historic possibility for women’s participation in the political role of royal counselor.
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