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Septuagint Esther Addition A:
Mordecai's Serpent Dream
The dramatic events described in the biblical Book of Esther are best understood in the context of a battle between two serpents, according to the text. But the serpents are missing from the standard Hebrew version of the book.

Set in the ancient Persian city of Susa — modern-day Shush — the Book of Esther describes how the Jewish Mordecai and Esther defend their people in the face of Persian religious persecution. Also known as the "Megillah" (Hebrew for "scroll"), the text is closely connected to the Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates the salvation of the Jews.

Surprisingly, this mainstream book doesn't mention God, but the Septuagint preserves a tradition that does include God, by way of six additions and other minor differences.

The first addition, which scholars call "Addition A," includes a prologue of sorts, describing a dream Mordecai has that sets the context for the rest of the book. (In Addition F he explains the significance of the imagery.)

The Text Speaks
"Then two great serpents came forth, both ready to do battle."

"Mordecai awoke, having seen this dream and what God planned to do."

In the second year of the reign of Artaxerxes1 the Great, on the first day of Nissan, a dream2 came to Mordecai3 the son of Jairus, the son of Semeias, the son of Cisaeus, the Benjaminite, a Jew living in the city of Susa — a great man, serving in the king's palace. He was among the captives that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had taken captive from Jerusalem along with Jeconiah,4 the king of Judah. This was his dream:

Faceplate depicting serpents in Mordecai's dream, from the 18th-century Bowyer Bible.

There was shouting5 and confusion, thunder and quaking, confusion upon the earth. Then two great serpents6 came forth, both ready to do battle, and from them came a great shout,7 and by their shout every nation readied for battle, to battle the righteous nation. It was a day of darkness and gloom,8 of worrying and distress, of evil-doing and great disturbance upon the earth. And the entire righteous nation was disturbed, fearing their own evil,9 and they were ready to perish. And they called out to God.

From their cry, as though from a tiny spring, came a great river and lots of water. Light and the sun rose, and humble people were exalted and they devoured honorable people.

After Mordecai awoke, having seen this dream and what God planned to do, he kept thinking about it all day, and wanted to understand its every detail.

1. Artaxerxes: The King, who in the Hebrew text is called Ahashverosh. Ahashverosh probably corresponds to Xerxes, who ruled Persia from 485-465 BC. Artaxerxes ruled later, from 404-358 BC.

2. Dream: Or vision. The Greek word here is the same as the one that appears below in the sentence "this was his dream," and it's important to translate the word the same way both times. (Curiously, though, many translations go with "vision" here even though they use "dream" below.)

3. Mordecai: The hero of the story, whose name here is the Greek "Mardochaeus," equivalent to the Hebrew "Mordecai." Both names call to mind the Persian god Marduk.

4. Along with Jeconiah: King Jeconiah, also called "Jehoiachin," was dethroned by Nebuchadnezzar.

5. Shouting: Others, "voices," "noises," etc. The Greek word (foni) appears again in the context of the serpents' "shout." It's particularly important to use the same word here as below, because a pattern of words that cascade from one sentence to the next — not just "voice" but also "nation," "ready," "evil," and more — creates an powerful stream-of-consciousness effect in the Greek that we try to mimic in the English translation.

6. Serpents: Others, dragons, because the Greek is drakon. But though the English "dragon" comes from that Greek word, the Greek drakon was a water-dwelling animal. (The "snake" or "serpent" of the Garden of Eden was an ofis in Greek.)

7. Shout: Probably a roar, but we need the same word that we used above.

8. Gloom: Others, "blackness."

9. Their own evil: Presumably evil directed at them.

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