home   :    index    :    ancient Judaea    :    ancient Persia
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 9

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.
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same,[1] when the king's command and edict were about to be executed, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to get the mastery over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews should get the mastery over their foes, the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasverus to lay hands on such as sought their hurt. And no one could make a stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples.

All the princes of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal officials also helped the Jews, for the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. For Mordecai was great in the king's house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful.

So the Jews smote all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In Susa the capital itself the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men, and also slew Parshandatha and Dalphon and Aspatha and Poratha and Adalia and Aridatha and Parmashta and Arisai and Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews; but they laid no hand on the plunder. That very day the number of those slain in Susa the capital was reported to the king.

And the king said to Queen Esther, "In Susa the capital the Jews have slain five hundred men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king's provinces! Now what is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled."

And Esther said, "If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day's edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows."

So the king commanded this to be done; a decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they slew three hundred men in Susa; but they laid no hands on the plunder.

Now the other Jews who were in the king's provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies, and slew seventy-five thousand of those who hated them; but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the open towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting and holiday-making, and a day on which they send choice portions to one another.

And Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasverus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending choice portions to one another and gifts to the poor. So the Jews undertook to do as they had begun, and as Mordecai had written to them.

For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to crush and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his wicked plot which he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. And therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had befallen them, the Jews ordained and took it upon themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew gave full written authority, confirming this second letter about Purim. Letters were sent to all the Jews, to the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasverus, in words of peace and truth, that these days of Purim should be observed at their appointed seasons, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther enjoined upon the Jews, and as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants, with regard to their fasts and their lamenting. The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing. 

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

>> to chapter 10  >>



Note 1:
If the Babylonian calendar was followed, the date is 8 March 473.
Online 2006
Latest revision: 1 Febr. 2009
 home   :    index    :    ancient Judaea    :    ancient Persia