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Orthodox Jewish Conversion: Esther 8:17 and 9:27

Many times I’m asked where the concept of Jewish conversion is found in the scriptures. This article will examine one of the most obvious places in the Tanakh where the concept of Jewish conversion is applied: Esther 8:17.

When the LXX translators translated Esther 8:17, they said הנלוים were περιετεμοντο και ιουδαιζον – circumcised and living like Jews. Thus it is entirely acceptable, and not theological gymnastics (as some claim) to see then how they would have understood נלוים of Esther 9:27 as the נמלים (περιετεμοντο) of Esther 8:17.

Let’s examine:

LXX Esther 8:17
κατα πολιν και χωραν ου αν εξετεθη το προσταγμα ου αν εξετεθη το εκθεμα χαρα και ευφροσυνη τοις ιουδαιοις κωθων και ευφροσυνη και πολλοι των εθνων περιετεμοντο και ιουδαιζον δια τον φοβον των ιουδαιων

Word: peritemnw
Pronounc: per-ee-tem’-no
Strong: G4059
Transliter: peritemno
from 4012 and the base of 5114; to cut around, i.e. (specially) to circumcise:–circumcise. G4012 G5114

Word: Ioudaizw
Pronounc: ee-oo-dah-id’-zo
Strong: G2450
Transliter: Ioudaizo
from 2453; to become a Judaean, i.e. “Judaize”:–live as the Jews. G2453

We find the use of these two terms by Paul himself in Galatians chapter 2. περιετεμοντο which is the same idea found in Galatians 2:3 where Titus did not feel “compelled to get circumcised”:

αλλ ουδε τιτος ο συν εμοι ελλην ων ηναγκασθη περιτμηθηναι

Also regarding ιουδαιζον Paul also uses the same word in Galatians 2:14 to further describe what happens when one gets circumcised like Titus would have been:

αλλ οτε ειδον οτι ουκ ορθοποδουσιν προς την αληθειαν του ευαγγελιου ειπον τω πετρω εμπροσθεν παντων ει συ ιουδαιος υπαρχων εθνικως ζης και ουκ ιουδαικως τι τα εθνη αναγκαζεις ιουδαιζειν

So we see from Paul’s use of the terms for “circumcision” in Gal 2:3, and “live like Jews” in Gal 2:14, are the same concepts used generations before him by the LXX translators of Esther 8:17.

LXX Esther 9:27
και εστησεν και προσεδεχοντο οι ιουδαιοι εφ εαυτοις και επι τω σπερματι αυτων και επι τοις προστεθειμενοις επ αυτων ουδε μην αλλως χρησονται αι δε ημεραι αυται μνημοσυνον επιτελουμενον κατα γενεαν και γενεαν και πολιν και πατριαν και χωραν

קימו וקבל היהודים עליהם ועל-זרעם ועל כל-הנלוים עליהם ולא יעבור להיות עשים
את שני הימים האלה ככתבם וכזמנם בכל-שנה ושנה

(English Translation from LXX:) And favorably received it the Jews for themselves and for their seed, and for the ones purposed unto them to observe it nor in fact otherwise shall they treat it. And these days were a memorial being completed according to generation and generation, city, and family, and place.

These “ones purposed” τοις προστεθειμενοις called הנלוים are the very same as those that previously were called περιετεμοντο by the LXX translators, which means the translators could have read הנלוים as הנמלים and still would have produced τοις προστεθειμενοις.


Word: protiqemai
Pronounc: prot-ith’-em-ahee
Strong: G4388
Transliter: protithemai
middle voice from 4253 and 5087; to place before, i.e. (for oneself) to exhibit; (to oneself) to propose (determine):–purpose, set forth. G4253 G5087

This understanding is based on the use of the word נמלים in Genesis 34:22 describing Jacob and his sons.

Genesis 34:22
אך-בזאת יאתו לנו האנשים לשבת אתנו להיות לעם אחד בהמול לנו כל-זכר כאשר הם נמלים

So then it is entirely possible that when the LXX translators translated Esther 8:17, they understood those “circumcised” as נמלים.This isn’t eisegesis. It’s clearly seen for all that the LXX translators would have seen the הנלוים of 9:27 as the περιετεμοντο και ιουδαιζον – circumcised and living like Jews of Esther 8:17.

Whether one calls this “conversion” according to modern day terminology, or “circumcision” as Paul warned certain Gentile disciples about, it doesn’t matter. The concept was well known in Paul’s day. If Paul warned the Galatian disciples to not go through “circumcision and live like Jews,” it could only have been so for a reason other than what Esther indicates was acceptable (fear of the Jews). Thus something worse than “fear of the Jews” was a reason those in Galatia, according to Paul, were pursuing conversion. Paul indicates that that “reason” was something equated to a “false gospel” and on the level of “justification.” When looking at the historical understanding of Jewish conversion, it is clear that conversion (for a time until the promotion of Noachide theology) was believed by many as the only means to enter into the World to Come – justified by Jewish identity, not by faith in the Messiah.

In short, one can’t dismiss the fact that what the LXX translators understood happened in Esther 8:17, was the very same concept Paul was warning his Galatian disciples against in Galatians 2. If one believes Paul was warning his Galatian disciples against Jewish conversion, then one must also believe the LXX translators were describing that Jewish conversion was happening in Esther 8:17. If one calls it Jewish conversion in Galatians 2, then one must agree that the LXX translators would have called it conversion in Esther 8:17.

Thus Esther 8:17 stands out as a legitimate example of Jewish conversion that was accepted in those days, and certainly by the author of the book of Esther.

Since that author could neither add to nor subtract from the Torah, then in order for us to validate the Book of Esther as inspired canon, we must take it to the Torah to prove or disprove Esther’s accepted use and concept of מתיהדים “becoming Jewish.” Do you want to go to that next step and help me either validate or invalidate the inspiration of the Book of Esther? If so, please feel free to respond below.

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