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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog

Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

What better way to come in and out of Super Bowl Sunday than by reading the Bible? And even better, by reading a book that features much duplicity, bad behavior by men (including binge drinking and temper tantrums), and a woman who saves her people?

OK, first give Ezra and Nehemiah a skim, noting how they combine to form an interesting picture of a people trying to rebuild themselves on their return from exile: establishing a new Temple, setting up the priesthood all over again, hearing the reading of the Law to remember who they are – it's a poignant picture of the revitalization of a community that was nearly destroyed, and these two books (organized as a single book in Jewish Bibles) cap the sweeping historical narrative we've been working through this past month. As always, focus on the essential stories on the reading schedule - but here I would also suggest a quick look at the last two chapters of Ezra (9-10) and the problematic issue of intermarriage that scapegoats "foreign women." (And don't get lost in the genealogies!)

But then turn to Esther, the strange and wonderful book to which I was referring in the opening paragraph. Set in the Persian capital, it never mentions God by name, and scholars enjoy debating whether its heroine is a portrait of a proto-feminist learning to wield power or a compliant woman using her subordinate position and "feminine wiles" to get what she wants. You choose! Seriously: Esther invokes an early attempt at a genocide of the Jewish people, yet mixes humor, faith, and quick thinking to provide us with the story that lies behind the Jewish festival of Purim.