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Portrait from a Persian lady (from Persepolis). National archaeological museum, Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins.
Portrait of a Persian lady, from Persepolis (Archaeological museum, Tehran)

Esther 2

The Biblical book of Esther, written in the fourth or third century BCE, describes how a Jewish woman marries to the Persian king Ahasverus (Xerxes) and protects, as queen, her people when a courtier named Haman attempts to destroy the Jews. The Jews still commemorate their rescue during the Purim festival.

The historicity of the story has been questioned with sound arguments. No queen with this name is known from other sources, for example, and the names of two of the protagonists, Esther and Mordecai, look suspiciously like the names of the Babylonian gods Ištar and Marduk. On the other hand, the story is dated to the third year of Xerxes (483/482 BCE), immediately after a serious crisis in Babylonia (the revolt of BÍl-šim‚nni and Šamaš-eriba), and many details betray knowledge of the Achaemenid royal palace in Susa.

The translation of the short version is offered here in the Revised Standard Version.
 
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After these things, when the anger of King Ahasverus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.  Then the king's servants who attended him said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the capital, under custody of Hegai the king's eunuch who is in charge of the women; let their ointments be given them. And let the maiden who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti."

This pleased the king, and he did so. Now there was a Jew in Susa the capital whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away.  He had brought up Hadassah,[1] that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother; the maiden was beautiful and lovely, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter.

So when the king's order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many maidens were gathered in Susa the capital in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king's palace and put in custody of Hegai who had charge of the women. And the maiden pleased him and won his favor; and he quickly provided her with her ointments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king's palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem.Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to make it known. And every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was and how she fared.

Now when the turn came for each maiden to go in to King Ahasverus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women - when the maiden went in to the king in this way she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she went, and in the morning she came back to the second harem in custody of Sha-ashgaz the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines; she did not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had adopted her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king's eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.

And when Esther was taken to King Ahasverus into his royal palace in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign,[2the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet to all his princes and servants; it was Esther's banquet. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces, and gave gifts with royal liberality.

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The great gate of Susa. Photo Marco Prins.
The great gate of Susa.

When the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate.[3Now Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him.

And in those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasverus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the Book of the Chronicles in the presence of the king.






>> to chapter 3  >>



Note 1:
The name means 'myrth'.

Note 2:
If the identification Ahasverus = Xerxes is correct, the date is 22 December 479 - 21 January 478. Herodotus of Halicarnassus mentions a palace intrigue in about this period.

Note 3:
The usual place to wait for the king.

Online 2006
Latest revision: 29 October 2006


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