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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 4

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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When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; he went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one might enter the king's gate clothed with sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

When Esther's maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king's gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king's treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.

And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called,[1] there is but one law; all alike are to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter that he may live. And I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days."

And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to return answer to Esther, "Think not that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish."

Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. 

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Note 1:
The inner court, or second court, was adjacent to the Throne Room.
Online 2006
Latest revision: 29 October 2006


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