Jewish Themes: The Story of Esther

The book of Esther was particularly popular amongst conversos on the Iberian Peninsula. Many conversos kept the fast of Esther even when they kept few other Jewish holidays or traditions. New Christian women tended to identify with Queen Esther: like the Queen, many conversas had to submit to a gentile husband, either literally or figuratively (Catholic Spain).

Once conversos left the Iberian Peninsula and were free to practice Judaism openly, Purim remained an important holiday. The Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam contains many fine examples of richly illustrated Megillot, one of which is featured in the video below. The reading is from the Portuguese Esnoga.

Gravestones from the Jewish Atlantic World also feature scenes from the story of Esther. It was not uncommon for stones to feature Biblical scenes, particularly ones related to the name of the deceased. The detail of the stone at the top of the page is from the gravestone of Mordechay Hisquiau Namias de Crasto (1716) Beit Haim Blenheim, Curaçao. For the full stone and the inscription, see below. A similar scene appears in Beth Haim at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel on the stone of Moses de Mordechai Senior (1730) (left).

Classroom Resource:
Gravestone of Mordechay Hisquiau Namias de Crasto (1716) Beit Haim Blenheim, Curaçao. This is one of the finest examples of gravestone art from the Jewish Atlantic World. Ask students what they think the different images mean and why they belong together on one stone. Why do you think the carver (or the family who requested the stone) chose this particular scene from the book of Esther?

Questions for Readers:
Do these stones surprise you, and if so how?

1 Response to “Jewish Themes: The Story of Esther”:

  1. I think I finally got Word to stop inverting my Hebrew letters in the classroom resource above. My apologies that this took so long to fix. Does anyone know why Word does this or how to prevent the problem?

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