The girl who would be queen

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Hmm. Madonna's Esther's new fascination with Kabbalah has some striking similarities with certain segments of evangelicalism.

1. the form without the content (well, the mysticism is kept and exaggerated, but nothing else is)
2. "a superstitious attempt to manipulate the cosmos by a sort of divination with the sacred text"
3. violations of God's law despite some general approval of the things of God
4. money-making as a means to spread spirituality (or it is the other way around?)
5. merging a sense of piety with blasphemy

Incidentally, isn't it interesting that Madonna chose Esther out of all the biblical names she could have picked? One was a girl who was chosen out of obscurity to be queen, whose trust in God allowed her to have an impact on the Persian emperor for the good of God's people. The other is a self-glorifying celebrity who manifests a casual or hostile attitude toward anything really representing God but wanting all the spiritual benefits anyway, thus leading astray many in her influence.

9 Comments

Just curious as to why you call mysticism content.

As to the whole Madonna thing, you draw some interesting parallels and contrasts.

I too wonder how Madonna reconciles her rather immoral behaviors with this adoption of Kabbalah. It seems like she is trying to adopt Kabbalah without adopting the orthodox Judaism which grounds it. Very difficult to do. I note that in her recent interview she felt no regret for her behaviors during the 90's which contained stuff that I think few Kabbalists could stomach and that would have gotten her stoned by orthodox rabbis from the period it was written.

Regarding your #2 though, I do note that Kabbalists take seriously that our acts affect God just as God acts affect us. I don't quite see this as superstitious - at least no more than thinking that there is a point to praying. I recognize not everyone agrees with this. But Kabbalism is hardly alone in this.

Rebecca, there's content to the Kabbalah's mysticism, even what's kept. It's generally the parts of the Kabbalah that don't come out of the Torah, which is why Madonna has no problem with that content.

#2 was a quote from the post I linked. I was taking it at face value. I wouldn't belittle those who think God and human beings causally interact, because I myself believe that.

I'm talking about particular methods of trying to discern some will of God that God must want to make it difficult to discern, since people hunt around for it as if God doesn't really want them to know. It's a pursuit of some will of God picked out and hidden from us to be discerned by whatever modern divination practices will find that mystery plan (e.g. how one happens to feel at the moment, deciding that if something unlikely happens it's a message from God to do the thing you want less to do, seeing two paths converge and concluding that they should continue to remain the same path, seeing difficulty and concluding that it's a closed door). The more extreme examples include the Bible Code (finding hidden messages in statistically expected anomalies in the Hebrew text), concocting a scheme by which to interpret apocalyptic texts as having to refer to current events (witness the books about Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War), or finding symbolic significance in all the numbers of the genealogies and lists in Ezra or Chronicles (as someone in a Bible study I was at a couple months ago wanted to do).

Why do you call Esther a woman of faith ??? But I guess thats and aside.

Ciao, Raj

Sorry, I meant to say that Esther's remarks in the Bible do not neccesarily reflect trust.
A Atlanta - Raj

Esther doesn't say a whole lot one way or the other. Some people have actually tried to argue that Esther was not a good Jew but was used by God to further his purposes anyway. She hides her Jewish identity, which means avoiding the distinctives of diet, though she does do it at the command of someone who was in effect serving as her parent. The penalty for disobedience of parents in the Torah was stoning. She also goes along with everything in the sexually charged atmosphere of the harem. None of this says anything about her own attitudes. She may have enjoyed the pagan court, but she may have loathed it.

What's clear in the book is that she ends up doing what she didn't want to do. At Mordecai's insistence, she is willing to appear before the king uninvited, the penalty for which is death. He grants her permission despite that presumption, and she becomes a hero of courage and political savvy. Part of this transformation involved her identiying with her Jewish identity (i.e. with the people of God) over the status she had from being queen, though she was able to use that status in the process. She did all this not knowing how things would develop, which seems to me to be a good sign of trust that God would work things out. I think the narrator wants us to suspect that she took to heart Mordecai's words to her that perhaps her becoming queen was for a higher purpose.

I don't want to suggest that the point of the book is to hold out Esther as a role model for us to imitate. It's not. It seems to me primarily to say that huge events in history are under God's control even when things seem as normal and ordinary as possible.

That doesn't mean she wasn't virtuous and full of faith. In fact, it explains to some extent why the author doesn't focus on such issues and is willing to leave things sounding consistent in some places with her being morally ambiguous. That's not the author's main concern. I do think the most natural reading of the overall story of the book is that she overcame doubt about what kind of role she might play in history through considering that God might be up to something through her, and this enabled her to do some incredibly courageous things.

Regarding hidden knowledge, I'm probably more open to it than you, given our theological differences. I simply don't believe that everything in the Bible was written to be understood by everyone. Heavens, I fully admit that I think there is a lot of veiled communication in the Apocalypse but tend to doubt most accounts of what it means. (i.e. the 666 - which may mean Caesar but may mean something else) I think that such encryption was coming of age at the time. Of course I'd agree that such hidden matters are hardly essential to us. Those who unduly focus on them are typically caught up in the pride of knowing more than others and are easily swept aside from the main thrust of the gospel. But I think Idel makes a fairly compelling case that even in fairly early Judaism there was a lot of hidden teachings. Likewise such things weren't uncommon in other religions at the time of Christ.

I don't tend to buy most of Kabbalism. But the hermeneutics are interesting purely from a philosophical perspective. Umberto Eco, for instance, has compared the semiotics of Kabbalism with various modern philosophers.

666 has some very plain symbolism when read in light of prior apocalyptic and prophetic symbolism. 7 symbolizes completeness, and 666 as the number of humanity symbolizes the cutting short of the completeness of humanity left to our own devices. It's therefore saying the same thing as the constant repetion of time, times, and half a time in both Daniel and Revelation. Sometimes it's put that way, which shows the cutting short of a series. What should in the natural course of things be 1+2+4=7 is now 1+2+.5=3.5 or half of 7. It's also put in terms of 42 months (3.5 years) and 1260 days (which on the lunar calendar is 3.5 years). This doesn't take secretly finding meanings in every Hebrew letter in a word. All it takes is knowing a little bit about the culture the text came from.

I think though Jeremy, that the issue is less the connotation of the statements than the denotation. I certainly agree with the symbolism you mention. There's a lot one can learn from the early apocalyptic and merkabah literature. (And many assume Kabbalah arose out of the Merkabah traditions) But that tends to beg the question of how these symbols are applied in context. i.e. the pragmatics of the text.

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