Playback speed
Share post
Share post at current time

The Scrolls of Secrets: Esther meets Zechariah

Weekly Vid Recap of Below the Bible Belt

What helps us cope and find some sanity and hope when all around is escalation of violence and rage inside the rubble of society? 

When war and terror fill our lives with dread and with the fear of what’s yet to come? 

There are a lot of ways to not give in to despair  -and often what we need is voices that drown out the dread, carry context, and provide perspective that is bigger than today’s news cycle and the media craze for clickbait and conflict. 

There’s room for tough truth and rebuke - and there’s need for consolation and visions of repair.

That’s where the prophets come in. Like the one we met this week - Zechariah, living in the 6th century BCE in Jerusalem, second generation to the greatest tragedy that ripped the people apart - and now part of the rebuilding of the national narrative.  

It’s his response to personal and public trauma that I find so fascinating and important. It is one of several approaches to suffering, and today, his visions encounter another response, from around the same period - the Persian Empire. 

Today, The Prophet Zechariah meets Queen Esther and the flying scroll of secrets.   Their encounter is about response to trauma but also about how we find resilience inside ourselves and in the world.  

Both Esther and Zechariah are the second-third generation since the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BCE by Babylon. Seventy years later, the Persian empire took over Babylon and allowed the Judeans to return and rebuild Jerusalem. Some, like Zechariah, make it to the holy land. Most, like Esther, stay behind in the diaspora. 

How they will respond to cultural and political challenges will define the ways Jewish people will read history and define policy for generations to come - all the way to now. 

Why am I conflating them? On the Jewish calendar this weekend  marks Purim, the holiday that puts the biblical story of Esther in the center, as we chant the Megilla - the scroll that tells the tale of her heroic saving of the Jewish people from destruction by the bad guys. BOO.  

For those of us who are on @belowthebiblebelt929 journey, reading the Hebrew Bible one chapter at a time, we’ve just arrived at the almost last of the prophet - Zechariah. Just like Esther, he too is dealing with what it means to be a member of the Jewish people under Persian rule, with obstacles, dangers and a precious opportunity to rebuild the nation with integrity and justice. 

We’ve just read the first five of Zechariah’s visions - wild stuff with chariots of fire, golden lamps, even Satan showing and being rebuked by YHWH for trying to stop the building of the new temple in Jerusalem. 

Zechariah wants to give the pioneers rebuilding Jerusalem enough rope to carry on hope through the duration of their long long complicated process of rebuilding their national lives. But he’s also giving them tough love and that’s where the scroll comes in - not the scroll of Esther - but the scroll that flies in the air with condemnation and a warning. 

At the top of chapter 5 he imagines a flying scroll - of huge proportions, and on it are the warnings not to steal or cheat another of their property or land. Despite the fact that these warnings are not heeded - Zechariah’s vision promises that every thief will be eventually punished and no bad deed will go unpunished. It’s just the preamble to the next vision in which he sees a woman led by two female angels with the wings of storks far away to Babylon so that the Goddess can be revered and worshiped as she’s always been - but not in Jerusalem. 

The flying scroll and the hidden, silenced goddess found in Zechariah wink at Esther, the unlikely queen whose name evokes the ancient goddess Ishtar , and whose scroll is the most valued of Jewish texts to be read out loud in synagogues and studied for its content - some of it quite politically problematic and morally corrupt.

 She IS the ancient goddess  - not silenced, as Zechariah and other patriarchal voices wanted - but surviving, undercover, with a form of disguise.  

The prophet’s vision of a scroll that’s warning not to steal land or property, and the queen’s scroll that is about the courage to stand up for her people are two sides of the same coin - pride and protest, what we love about ourselves and where we fall short, who we were and who we want to be. In some ways, Zechariah and Esther, two generations post the worst trauma that their people - our people - had experienced up till then - represent some of the approaches people have to trauma - fight or flight, cunning or conflict, rebuild or build elsewhere, inside or out.  

Today both the flying scroll of secrets and the queen’s scroll are reminders that we do have agency, and ancient voices, that can guide us in knowing that we come from trauma - but we have ways to tell a different tale, and not be stuck in pain and hostile fear that may result in our hurting of one another. 

Perhaps I’m being cryptic. That’s ok. Purim invites us to peek behind the masks of what makes sense to ask ourselves big questions of identity and choice. Perhaps we’ll do so this year, and perhaps we won’t. 

But either way, I hope this holiday brings consolation and some joy, no violence or animosity, and that we will keep listening to the prophetic voice next week as we will travel on with Zechariah - he’s got some deep truth to share with us, visions and riddles, tough truths - and words to help us hope.

Thank you prophets and queens, scribes and sages, for giving us what to work with as we struggle through this difficult time of conflict -- words to give us perspective, scrolling through our history so we can write a kinder chapter in our evolving books of life.

Wishing us all a meaningful Purim with as much joy as possible - healing and hope to all -- kinder days.

Shabbat Shalom.