Notre Dame de Paras:  Victor Hugo’s Midrash 

on the Book of Esther [1] 

by Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser Copyright 2016

 “Nous sommes tous masqués”[2]– Victor Hugo, Le Roi S’amuse


I.  Victor Hugo’s Evolving Religious Life

Victor Marie Hugo was born in 1802 to parents of dramatically contrasting religious perspectives.  His childhood “provided Victor Hugo with the convincing antithesis of a republican, atheist father and a royalist, Catholic mother.”[1]  He was thus “blasted into existence by the collision of modern history’s most powerful opposites.”[2]  In his youth an ultra-conservative monarchist and orthodox Roman Catholic, “the child,” by his own estimation in mature retrospect, “but echoed the maternal faith.”[3]

Later in life, Hugo would enthusiastically embrace his father’s republicanism, eventually serving as a senator in the Third Republic.   He would, however, never adopt the atheism which was his patrimony.  He declared: “If I did not believe in the soul I would not live another hour.”[4]  Despite his personal spiritual principles and religious experimentation, Hugo became “a fierce and scornful antagonist of the established Church.  The orthodox Church, in his conviction, no longer observed the spirit of mercy with any sincerity, whereas Hugo preached ‘universal pardon,’ human fraternity, and the perpetual revolution of progress, which he held was the will of God.”[5]  The vocal apostasy of such a renowned public figure came to the attention of the highest echelons of the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1857, when the religious rebel was 55 years old, Pope Pius IX is reported to have lamented (one assumes, with hyperbole born of pastoral despair, rather than as an expression of dogmatic precision), “Alas! He is too old to return to the Church!”[6]

A number of Hugo’s works, particularly among his poetic oeuvre, are of explicitly theological subject matter and biblical themes:  Booz Endormi (“Boaz Asleep,” 1859), Le Pape (“The Pope,” 1878), Religions et Religion (“Religions and Religion,” 1880), Le Fin de Satan (“The End of Satan,” 1886), Dieu (“God,” 1891), etc.  Hugo’s most elaborate and sustained homage to a biblical theme, however, may well be found in his celebrated 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris, widely (and somewhat misleadingly) known, ever since its translation into English, as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Substantial evidence suggests that, as a disaffected Hugo set out to lampoon both the monarchy and the Church, he wryly drew upon the Book of Esther as the literary basis of his effort.  Esther is the most reviled and marginalized book of the Hebrew Bible retained (mutatis mutandis) in the Christian Canon – not only because of its king’s corruption, cruelty, and carnality, but because of the political ascendancy of the Jewish People which is depicted in its narrative, its lack of reference to God, and the perception of its content and philosophy as secular.[7]  All these themes and characteristics of the Book of Esther served Hugo’s subversive, satirical purposes effectively.


II.  Corrupt Royalty and the Trappings of Power

Hugo’s novel opens with a detailed description of the trappings and perquisites of royal power—the conspicuous excesses in palace furnishings and décor which stand in such stark contrast to the depressed lot of the majority of those being ruled

Judging from this testimony, France’s Louis XI and his guests would surely have perceived a precursor of their own palatial surroundings in the court of Achashverosh,[9] described in Chapter I of Esther, and to which the common masses were also invited:

The king gave a banquet for seven days in the court of the king’s palace garden for all the people who lived in the fortress Shushan… there were hangings of white cotton and blue wool, caught up by cords of fine linen and purple wool to silver rods and alabaster columns; and there were couches of gold and silver on a pavement of marble, alabaster, mother-of-pearl, and mosaics.  Royal wine was served in abundance, as befits a king, in golden beakers, beakers of varied design.[10]


III. Sacred Intoxicants

A striking parallel is to be found between the drinking parties of Achashverosh,[11] together with their robust re-enactment on the carnivalesque Purim, for which the Book of Esther provides the scriptural and liturgical basis, and te “Festival of Fools” marking the Epiphany in Hugo’s work.  This holy day, also known as the Twelfth Day of Christmas and as Three Kings Day, commemorates, inter alia, the Christian Savior’s first miracle: turning water into wine at the wedding celebration in Cana.[12]  Achashverosh’s affinity for intoxicants is echoed in Hugo’s description of the French king’s representative, “Monsieur the Cardinal,” who “loved to make merry with the growth of the royal vineyard… lustily singing, to the clatter of glasses, the bacchanalian song of Benedict XII… ‘Bibamus papaliter.’”[13]


IV.  Beauty Contests and Coronations

The popular highlight of the Epiphany celebration depicted by Hugo, the election of the hunchback, Quasimodo, as the “Pope of Fools” on the merit of his deformity and ugliness, provides a counterpoint to the beautiful Esther’s selection as queen.  As if to emphasize this literary resonance, Quasimodo is described as a “brute, something between a Jew and a beast.”[14]  In a biting subversion of the protracted process of nightly sexual encounters by which Achashverosh searched for Vashti’s replacement,[15] and in which Esther, “shapely and beautiful,”[16] emerged victorious,[17] Hugo describes the process by which the “Pope of Fools” was selected:

They promised me that I should see the Festival of Fools and the election of Pope… The way we do it is this – we collect a crowd… then everyone who likes puts his head in turn through a hole, and grins at the others, and he who makes the ugliest face is chosen Pope by acclamation… The grimaces began… The crowd was seized with a sort of frantic intoxication, a supernatural kind of fascination… The Pope of Fools was elected. Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! cried the people on all sides.  It was, in truth, a countenance of miraculous ugliness… The acclamation was unanimous: the crowd rushed to the chapel.  The lucky Pope of Fools was brought out in triumph, and it was not till then that surprise and admiration were at their height: what had been mistaken for a grimace was his natural visage; indeed, it might be said that this whole person was but one grimace.  His prodigious head was covered with red bristles; between his shoulders rose an enormous hump, which was counterbalanced by a protruberance  in front; his thighs and legs were so strangely put together that they touched at no point but the knees, and seen in front, resembled two sickles joined at the handles; his feet were immense, his hands monstrous… The populace instantly recognized him by his coat, half red and half purple, and cried out with one voice: It is Quasimodo the bell-ringer! It is Quasimodo the hunchback of Notre Dame![18]

The election of a “pope” on Epiphany has its noteworthy historical parallel in the customary appointment of a “Purim Rav,” who would enjoy public adulation and deliver disjointed, “scholarly” disquisitions.[19]

A more direct, and flattering, reflection of Esther’s rise to power, however, is found in the “morality play” presented by Pierre Gringoire during the Festival of Fools:  “Two happy couples were the joint possessors of a magnificent golden dolphin, which they intended to adjudge to the most beautiful of women.  Accordingly, they were traveling through the world in quest of this beauty.” [20] The search process which culminated in Esther’s coronation employed similar criteria, and was no less exhaustive:  “The king’s servants who attended him said, ‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for Your Majesty.  Let Your Majesty appoint officers in every province of your realm to assemble all the beautiful young virgins… and let the maiden who pleases Your Majesty be Queen.”[21]  Hugo’s golden dolphin also hints at the regal significance of the beauty contest he depicts.  The heir apparent to the French throne was referred to as the “Dauphin” (formally, the “Dauphin de Viennois”), in reference to the dolphins (dauphins) that appeared on his coat of arms.[22]


V.  Liminality: Between the Palace and the Periphery

The royal intrigues in Esther transpire in the isolated security of the palace fortress: “Shushan Ha-Birah.”  This seat of power stands in contrast to the city at large: “Ha-Ir Shushan” and the provinces beyond.[23]  Removed still further from the glory of royalty is Persia’s Jewish minority: “a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws.”[24]

Hugo’s Paris is similarly stratified.  The city at large is dominated, both politically and architecturally, by the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a fortress in the battle to retain the status quo of royal and ecclesiastical power.  At the distant periphery of this society, as in Esther, is an oppressed community of wandering exiles.  Hugo’s Gypsies inhabit “that dreaded Court of Miracles”[25] – aptly described as “the center of the Vagabonds’ domain of illegality, where the king’s writ does not run.”[26]  The Court of Miracles, was “a magic circle… the haunt of thieves; a hideous wen on the face of Paris; a sewer disgorging every morning and receiving every night that fetid torrent of vice, mendacity, and roguery which always overflows the streets of great capitals; a monstrous hive, to which all the drones of the social order retired at night with their booty.”[27]

When poet Pierre Gringoire traverses this perilous frontier to find himself in the Court of Miracles, he identifies himself, somewhat improbably, in Latin:  “I am a philosopher; et omnia in philosophia, omnes in philosopho continentur.”[28] Gringoire’s host and judge, the “King of Thunes,” responds to the poet’s Latin with a bemused if bitter comparison between Gypsies and Jews, who occupy the parallel role of oppressed and marginalized minority in the Book of Esther:  “What do you take me for, my friend?  What Hungary Jew gibberish are you talking now?  I know nothing of Hebrew.  One may be a ruffian without being a Jew.”[29]

The distance between the pinnacle of power and the marginalized realm of alleged lawlessness would seem unbridgeable.  Both Hugo and the Biblical Author signify the mutual isolation of these extreme social strata by repeatedly invoking imagery of boundaries and liminality.[30]  Thus, Hugo offers: “If the reader pleases, we will endeavor to retrace in imagination the impressions which he would have felt with us on crossing the threshold of the great hall.”[31]  Quasimodo’s “triumphant” emergence as Pope of Fools is similarly at “the threshold of the chapel.”[32]  He is acclaimed at the door of the chapel.”[33]

Esther records that Mordechai “was sitting in the palace gate”[34] when he uncovered the assassination plot of Bigthan and Teresh, “who guarded the threshold.”[35]  The various royal officials who paid homage to Haman are identified as “the king’s courtiers in the palace gate.”[36]  Haman’s ire was provoked when he saw Mordechai “in the palace gate.”[37]  It is from the gateway that Mordechai, temporarily emerging from the political periphery, is taken for his triumphal ride through Shushan, and it is to the gate that he immediately returns upon its conclusion.[38]


VI.  The Gallows

     In both the Book of Esther and Notre Dame de Paris, the gallows (or “gibbet”) provides an ominous symbol of flawed justice, tyrannical temporal power, and human mortality.  In Esther, Haman contrives to erect a gallows, of remarkable proportions, on which to hang Mordechai.  In a dramatic reversal it is, of course, Haman himself (together with ten sons) who is hanged thereon.  This reversal, as, too, the literary significance of the gallows, is called to the attention of the reader quite explicitly at Esther’s denouement:  “‘Behold! The gallows which Haman has prepared for Mordechai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.’ And the king said, ‘Hang him on it.’ So they hanged Haman on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordechai.”[39]

The overshadowing presence of the gallows is similarly called to the reader’s attention early in Hugo’s dark novel, simultaneously echoing Esther’s theme of reversal.  The performance of Pierre Gringoire’s morality play is delayed in anticipation of the Cardinal’s arrival.  Gringoire fears the Cardinal’s wrath should the play commence in his absence.  The gathered audience, however, has grown restless and hostile awaiting the opening curtain.  Gringoire finds himself in a precarious and conflicted position:

“The moment his Eminence the Cardinal arrives we shall begin….”

“The mystery! The mystery! Begin immediately!” shouted the people….

He knew not what to say.  In good sooth he was afraid of being hanged – hanged by the populace for waiting, hanged by the Cardinal for not waiting; on either side he had the same prospect; that is to say, the gallows.  Luckily for him another person came forward to extricate him from this dilemma, and to assume the responsibility.[40]

“Extricated” from his feared demise at this juncture, Gringoire is once again threatened with hanging in the Gypsy Court of Miracles.  It is, however, Archdeacon Claude Frollo who suffers a violent death analogous to Haman’s precipitous fall from the heights of royal power.  The archdeacon is pushed to his death by Quasimodo, from atop the spires of Notre Dame.  The Cathedral, venue and vehicle of Dom Claude’s corrupt ecclesiastical power, becomes the instrument of his execution.  Before falling to his death on the pavement some 200 feet below, he is temporarily suspended – quite literally hanging – from the gutter abutting the cathedral tower.  As with Haman’s fate, the archdeacon’s “hanging” directly reflects the nature of his crimes: he had ascended the tower of Notre Dame in order to view the hanging of the Gypsy Esmerelda in the distance.  The graphic and protracted description of his long and fatal fall[41] dramatizes the reversal, the subversion of power his death represented.  The same function is fulfilled by the exaggerated height of Haman’s gallows.


VII. Esther and Esmerelda

The most striking and sustained pattern of parallels between the Book of Esther and Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris relates to the two works’ respective heroines.  Esther and Esmerelda share far more than the assonance and similarity of their names.  In fact, both heroines have two names, reflecting the dual identities and societal tensions defining their lives.  While known to her royal husband and Persian society as Esther, the biblical heroine is also identified by her Hebrew name, Hadassah.[42]  Esmerelda, Hugo’s beautiful young Gypsy, discovers that her mother had named her Agnes.[43]  Just as “Esther” is reminiscent of the name of a Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, “Agnes” is a name of theological significance to the Church abandoned by Hugo.  “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God) is an appellation for the Christian Savior invoked by John the Baptist, expressing the salvific role of his death, akin to the role of the Paschal offering.[44] The symbolic and theological significance of Agnes’ “true” name is suggested by the young goat that accompanies her,[45] but is, fittingly, made most explicit in the final moments of her life.  Unable to forestall her daughter’s execution, her mother laments: “Give me my little Agnes… Forgive me, my Agnes, forgive me!”[46] The theological ambiguity of this pained cry is all the more evident as Esmerelda’s mother, Sister Gudule, has spent her life as an Anchoress, a contemplative ascetic, mourning the loss of her daughter.

Agnes/Esmerelda saves Pierre Gringoire from imminent execution on the gallows – ordered by the King of Thunes – by entering into a fictitious, temporary marriage with the condemned.[47]  (The “wedding” ceremony concludes, familiarly, with the breaking of a jug!)  Esther’s marriage to Achashverosh similarly saves Mordechai from the gallows… and all the Jews of the empire from destruction. Not unlike Esther’s “intermarriage”[48] to Achashverosh, Esmerelda’s brief and passionless union with Gringoire is explicitly identified as (from the Gypsy perspective) “forismaritagium” – illicit marriage to an outsider.[49]

Both “Hadassah” and “Agnes” were orphaned and adopted.  Mordechai took in his cousin Esther after the death of her parents.  Esmerelda believes herself to have been orphaned, but was actually stolen from her mother and taken in by Gypsies, a society into which she readily assimilates… just as, until her carefully timed self-disclosure, Esther is readily able to hide her Jewish identity from her royal husband and to “pass” among her fellow Persians. Toward the conclusion of Hugo’s novel, Esmerelda finds her birth mother, but their reunion is short-lived.  The distraught mother dies defending her long-lost daughter.  Esmerelda/Agnes thus herself dies a bona fide orphan.[50]

Esther’s life is (if unwittingly) threatened by Haman’s genocidal machinations against the Jews.  Before his ultimate undoing, Haman is discovered in a compromising position, prostrating himself on Esther’s couch.  “The king said: ‘Will he also ravish the Queen in my presence, in my own house?”[51]  Esmerelda, similarly, is repeatedly pursued by Dom Claude, a powerful and rapacious malefactor, not unlike Haman.[52]  The libidinous archdeacon’s illicit sexual designs on Esmerelda are first abetted and subsequently thwarted by Quasimodo.  Unlike Esther, alas, Esmerelda does not escape the mortal danger that is threatened.  She dies on the gallows, outliving her clerical predator by mere moments.

It should be noted that, like Esther, Esmerelda is properly to be considered the title character[53] of the literary masterpiece in which she appears.  “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was an unfortunate change of title accompanying an early English translation of Hugo’s French novel several years after the original was first published, thereby bestowing upon the misshapen Quasimodo the putative role of title character.  The French title is generally assumed simply to refer to the famous Parisian cathedral where much of the novel’s narrative action transpires:  “Notre Dame de Paris” – “Our Lady of Paris.”  Hugo’s use of this theologically laden phrase, however, was every bit as irreverent and subversive as his newly embraced politics of egalitarian social democracy.  The subtle, nuanced, and ambiguous title can be understood to refer to Esmerelda as “Our Lady of Paris,” as well.  Hugo has thus bestowed on his very mortal heroine a royal title shared, in Church parlance, by Mary, the “Queen of Heaven.”  Like the Jewish Esther, the Gypsy Esmerelda – Our Lady of Paris – has risen from among a despised and oppressed minority at the religious and social periphery of the realm… and has attained royal status.


VIII. The Hidden King

Esther’s elevation as Queen, just as Persian Jewry is threatened with annihilation, is understood by the faithful and attentive reader to be an act of Providence.  Although Mordechai accordingly ponders, “Who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis,”[54] explicit reference to God is conspicuously and famously absent from the Book of Esther.  God is eclipsed… hidden (not unlike Esther’s Jewish identity).  The hiddenness of God[55] is, according to Rabbinic tradition, reflected in the etymology of the name Esther:  “What is the source in the Torah for ‘Esther’?  ‘I shall utterly conceal (asteir astir) My Presence on that day…’”[56]

A number of customs associated with the liturgical reading of Esther on Purim are intended to hint at God’s hidden identity.  The most prevalent of these is the wearing of masks and disguises to re-enact God’s hiddenness.  Just as we readily recognize our children behind their masks (indulgent parental protestations to the contrary notwithstanding), so we readily perceive the hand of God directing ostensibly human affairs.  In addition to this suggestive sartorial practice, God’s veiled Presence is given expression in a traditional musical detour from the customary cantillation of Megillat Esther.  The word hamelech – “the king” in Esther 6:1 – is sung with the nusach, the liturgical mode,  for the Rosh Hashanah shacharit service,[57] which begins with that word, where it is clearly in reference to God: “The King is enthroned on the Seat of Mercy.”  Finally, a widespread, but neither universal nor obligatory, scribal tradition has the scribe carefully configure his calligraphy, placing the word hamelech – “the king” – at the beginning of every column in the megillah scroll, so as subtly to establish the presence of the Divine King.

Much like the Divine King in Esther, the very human king – Louis XI – is quite literally a hidden presence in Hugo’s novel.  Together with his court physician, the king, disguised and identifying himself as “Compère Tourangeau,” pays a surprise visit on Archdeacon Claude Frollo at Notre Dame.  Their wide-ranging conversation touches on science, philosophy, astrology, alchemy, theology, and Kabbalah!  Dom Claude realizes his incognito interlocutor’s royal identity only after he has departed.

Ironically, the chapter depicting Hugo’s hidden king is nowhere to be found in some early editions of Notre Dame de Paris and, consequently, in some contemporary translations.[58]

As with the Biblical Author’s treatment of the Divine Ruler of Events, Hugo uses the hiddenness of the king to heighten awareness of his powerful presence… and to enhance his relationship with faithful followers.  “They say that from then on, the archdeacon frequently met with Louis XI when His Majesty came to Paris.”[59]

In Hugo, only the mortal king is obscured.  God, the Church, and temporal power being wielded by religious leaders and coercive, corrupt clerics are everywhere.  Yet in this literary work apparently dominated by God, society is evil, godlessness is rampant, and fate is cruel.  By contrast, in Esther, where God is ostensibly absent and human beings are entrusted to take personal responsibility for the well-being of society and, specifically, of God’s Chosen People… Providence is everywhere in evidence, and the oppressed and outcast are destined to enjoy “light, joy, gladness, and honor.”[60]  Hugo’s creative subversion of the biblical Book of Esther is thus complete.


IX.  Conclusion

A free-thinking religious rebel and outspoken political revolutionary, Victor Hugo co-opted the message – and all the major themes – of the Book of Esther, in which God’s covenant people, few and seemingly powerless, prevail over the mighty… in order to satirize both the monarchy and the Church he had come to disdain.  In the decades that followed publication of Notre Dame de Paris, as his most celebrated novel seems to prophesy, Hugo would see his common countrymen, like the Jews in Esther, undermine monarchs and unseat potentates.  Those who were oppressed would successfully fight for justice and enjoy unprecedented freedom.  Hugo himself gives voice to his purpose in composing his “Midrash on Esther.”  Claude Frollo, the Haman-like, wayward archdeacon, discusses a biblical commentary with his as yet incognito king:

Claude… seemed engrossed in some profound meditation and stood there pressing his bent index finger on the folio that had issued from the famous presses of Nuremberg.  Then he added these mysterious words: “Alas! Small things overcome great ones; a tooth triumphs over a body.  The Nile rat kills the crocodile, the swordfish kills the whale, the book will kill the building!”[61]

It was precisely “the book” – the message, the precedent, and the imagery of the Book of Esther – with which Victor Hugo girded himself in his battle against the monarchy and Church he had esteemed early in life… all that was represented by “the building” – the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Hugo was led to Esther by both his theology and his politics, reveling in a Book the Church reviled, a Book wherein God works effectively and compassionately through imperfect human beings who are free to act and to do what is right, even when the right path is treacherous.

Rien ne dompte la conscience de l’homme, car la conscience de l’homme c’est la pensée de Dieu – Nothing can tame the conscience of man, for the conscience of man is God thinking.”[62]




This article is dedicated with gratitude to the memory of Messrs. Jacques Laus and Vincent Falardeau, my earliest teachers of French language and literature, gifted educators and exemplars of personal character.  “On peut continuer à tout temps l’étude, mais non pas l’écolage.”


joseph-h-prouserJoseph H. Prouser is rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey, in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. Prouser was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1988 and graduated from the Seminary’s undergraduate Joint Program with Columbia University with Bachelor’s degrees in Liturgy (JTS) and Religious Studies (Columbia). He has served as the Daniel Jeremy Silver Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Jewish Studies and is a certified Mesader Gittin (Scribe and Adjudicator of Religious Divorce). Prouser was a member of the Bet Din that supervised the conversion of the Abayudaya community of Uganda, and is a member of the Joint Bet Din of the Conservative Movement. He has served on the Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which adopted his responsa on “The Obligation to Preserve Life and the Question of Post-Mortem Organ Donation;” “Compulsory Immunization in Jewish Day Schools,” addressed to the USCJ Department of Education; and “Ana Ger Ana,” establishing the eligibility of converts to Judaism to serve on Rabbinic Courts. A member of the faculty of the Academy for Jewish Religion, Rabbi Prouser is the author of several works, including Initial Instructions: A Translation Celebrating the Book of Genesis in Lipogram (Ben Yehuda Press), Noble Soul: The Life and Legend of the Vilna Ger Tzedek, Count Walenty Potocki (Gorgias Press), and articles that have appeared in Conservative JudaismKolotUnited Synagogue Review, and Women’s League Outlook.

[1] Graham Robb, Victor Hugo: A Biography (Norton/New York, 1997), p. 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Matthew Josephson, Victor Hugo: A Realistic Biography of the Great Romantic (Doubleday/New York, 1946), p. 41.

[4] The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, translated by John W. Harding (G.W. Dillingham/New York, 1899), p. 400.

[5] Josephson, pp. 414-415.

[6] Memoirs, p. 380.

[7] On the tenuous position of Esther within the Christian Canon, see Carey A. Moore, Anchor Bible Commentary: Esther (Doubleday/New York, 1971), pp. xxv-xxvi.  See also Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Baker Books, 1996), “Esther.”

[8] Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Barnes and Noble Books/New York, 1996), p. 5.

[9] See Adele Berlin, JPS Bible Commentary: Esther (JPS/Philadelphia, 2001), p. 4.

[10] Esther 1:5-7.

[11] On the significance of wine and drunkenness in the Book of Esther and the historic royal court of Persia, see Berlin, ibid., pp 3-4.  See also Sandra Beth Berg, The Book of Esther: Motifs, Themes, and Structure (Cambridge University, 1977), p. 5.

[12] See John 2:1-11.

[13] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 26.  Bibamus papaliter: “Let us drink like a pope.”

[14] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 120.

[15] Esther 2:2-4, 12-14.

[16] Esther 2:7.

[17] For an analysis of Esther’s rise to power and her subsequent exercise of influence, see Lillian R. Klein, From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible (Fortress Press, 2003).

[18] Hugo, Hunchback, pp. 37-41.

[19] See Isaac Sender, The Commentators’ Al Hanissim: Purim (Feldheim/New York, 2000) p. 246.

[20] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 20.

[21] Esther 2:2-4.

[22] Thus, Anatole France in The Life of Joan of Arc: “She called him gentle dauphin, and by that term she implied nobility and royal magnificence.”

[23] On this distinction, see, Carey A. Moore, Anchor Bible Commentary: Esther (Doubleday/New York, 1971), p. 5.

[24] Esther 3:8.

[25] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 67.

[26] Paul Montazzoli, Introduction to Hugo, Hunchback, p. viii.

[27] Hugo, Hunchback, pp. 67-68.

[28] “All things are included in philosophy, all men in the philosopher.”  Hugo, Hunchback, p. 75.

[29] Ibid.

[30] See Jeffrey Rubenstein, “Purim, Liminality, and Communitas” (AJS Review, XVII:2/Fall 1992), pp. 247-277.

[31] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 5. Emphasis added.

[32] Ibid., p. 41.

[33] Ibid., p. 42.

[34] Esther 2:21.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Esther 3:2.

[37] Esther 5:9.

[38] Esther 6:10,12.

[39] Esther 7:9-10.

[40] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 15.

[41] Hugo, Hunchback, pp. 411-413.

[42] Esther 2:7.

[43] See Hugo, Hunchback, pp. 389-392.

[44] See Matthias Reinhard Hoffman, The Destroyer and the Lamb: The Relationship Between Angelomorphic and Lamb Christology in the Book of Revelation (Mohr Siebeck/Tubingen, 2005).

[45] See, e.g. Hugo, Hunchback, pp 58-61.

[46] Hugo, Hunchback, pp. 390-392.

[47] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 80.

[48] On the significance of Esther’s marriage to a non-Jew, see Esther Fuchs, “Intermarriage, Gender, and Nation in the Hebrew Bible,” in Danya Ruttenberg, ed., The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism (NYU Press/New York, 2009).

[49] Hugo, Hunchback, p. 315.

[50] The centrality of the theme of the orphaned in Hugo’s narrative is evident in the fact that Quasimodo and Claude Frollo are also both orphans.

[51] Esther 7:8.

[52] See in particular Hugo, Hunchback, pp. 306-309.

[53] As to whether Esther, in addition to being title character, is also the protagonist/heroine of the Book that bears her name, see Celina Spiegel, “The World Remade: The Book of Esther,” in Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible, ed., Christine Buchman and Celine Spiegel (Fawcett Columbine/New York, 1994), pp. 191-203.

[54] Esther 4:14.

[55] For more on the significance of God’s “absence” in the Book of Esther, see Patrick Henry Reardon, “Esther and the Hidden God,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity (Acton University, 2014).  See also Sabine M. L. Van Den Eynde, “If Esther Had Not Been That Beautiful: Dealing with a Hidden God in the (Hebrew) Book of Esther, Biblical Theology Bulletin (31:4/November 2001), pp. 145-150.

[56] BT Hullin 139B, citing Deut. 31:18.  See also BT Megillah 13B.

[57] A. Weil, A Practical Manual on the Scroll of Esther (London, 1961), pp. 30, 37.

[58] See the explanatory note accompanying the 1832 (French) edition, reproduced in the Folio Classique/Gallinard version (Sarthe, France, 1996), p. 31ff.

[59] Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris (Folio Classique-Gallinard/Sarthe, 1996), p. 236.  My translation from the French.  Chapter omitted from the Barnes and Noble English edition: see at note 60, above.

[60] Esther 8:16.

[61] Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris (Folio Classique-Gallinard/Sarthe, 1996), pp. 235-236.  My translation from the French.  Chapter omitted from the Barnes and Noble English edition: see at note 59, above.

[62] Victor Hugo, 1853 Preface to Les Châtiments.