The only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God

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In the book of Esther, God is nowhere to be found. How did this book get into the Bible?

Reading the Bible (and properly understanding it, as much as it is actually possible) often proves to be a difficult task. It requires both patience and training. It demands attentiveness to detail, some general knowledge of the contexts in which these texts were written, and the intellectual humility to admit one is more often than not in the wrong. But perhaps, first and foremost, the Bible needs to be read with an adventurous spirit willing to deal with its many “eccentricities.”

Saying the Bible is full of oddities is an understatement. Saying it is a challenging book is right and wrong at the same time. To begin with, the Bible is not a book, but an assemblage of several separate books, most (if not all) of them made from the interweaving of different, sometimes openly contradictory sources. It is also the byproduct of the minute and painstaking work of generations and generations of writers, compilers, and editors. It is a collection of texts written, edited, and codified over millennia.

It is not surprising then that there is not only one Bible. And this is not to say the obvious —namely, that there are a myriad of different translations, some better than others. There are literally different Bibles. Jews have one, Protestant Christians have another, and Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics have yet another one —the biggest of them all, comprising 73 books in total. The Lutheran canon, in contrast, includes 66 books. Sure, all of these Bibles are intimately related to one another, and often overlap. But they are not the same.

The process of deciding which texts get into the Bible and which do not is called canonization —a term seemingly derived from the canes with which measuring rods were made in antiquity, that passed into Christian usage to mean “norm” or “rule.” The Jewish canon, assembled over the course of centuries, is often referred to as “Tanakh.” The word is an acronym made of the first letters of each of the three main collections included in it: “T” for the Torah (the first five books), “N” for Nevi’im (meaning “prophets,” and including not only the books with prophets’ names as their titles, but also the historical books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), and “K” for Kethuvim (meaning “writings,” which includes more or less everything else).

But Christian Bibles put the books in a different order. Whereas the Tanakh begins with Genesis and finishes with the Book of Esther, Christians reorganized the canon, prioritizing their understanding of those books as seen through the light of Jesus: instead of finishing with Kethuvim, the part of the Christian Bible commonly referred to as the “Old Testament” finishes with the Nevi’im, the prophetic books. This, to highlight the fact that Jesus, who taught “the law and the prophets” was the fulfillment of both —an editorial decision that makes perfect sense for Christians. But why would Hebrew editors of the Bible decide to finish their canon with a (particularly violent) book that does not mention God at all? Why does the Hebrew Bible begin with a book in which God is omnipresent (the book of Genesis) and ends up in one where he is nowhere to be found (Esther)? Actually, how did this book get into the Bible? Some ancient sources suggest the book kind of sneaked into the canon. In fact, its inclusion in it was a matter of debate well into the first centuries of Christianity.

But some authors say God is not necessarily absent. He is just “hiding” in the text.

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