“Laughter in the face of evil is a legitimate theological expression of protest and resistance. ”
This dissertation looks closely at the tandem dynamics of violence and comedy in different versions of the biblical story of Esther. While biblical scholars have long recognized the critical importance of diaspora studies to the formation of the Hebrew Bible, the different textual traditions of Esther provide unique insight into the precarious lived realities of a multi-generational geographically-dispersed diaspora. The different iterations of Esther help illuminate the pluri-vocal and layered heterogeneity of Jewish post-exilic life and identity, inextricably bound up in collective memories of trauma. The surviving narratives of Esther reveal a collective colonized discourse: a “hidden transcript” that employed humor as a means of resistance and survival. Laughter in the narratives of Esther is a technology that supports critical thinking among its audiences about Jewish identity, security, and survival. Engaging the violent and humorous aspects of Esther together is necessary to understand the book’s aesthetic appeal as well as its political, moral, and ethical impact. This dissertation seeks to intervene where the generic label of “comedy” in Esther scholarship has functioned to preclude (or obscure) an analysis of its violence. Using a postcolonial and feminist interpretative lens, this project examines Esther’s violence and humor together as deliberate narrative and rhetorical strategies for empowerment, the assertion of agency, and establishing communal identity in diaspora without recourse to homeland, Torah, or Temple.