Persian King Ahasuerus' Jewish Queen
Esther the Jewish Queen of Persia אֶסְתֵּר, Ester Tiberian ʼEstēr, born Hadassah, is the heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the Bible, she was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus.
While Ahasuerus was traditionally identified with Xerxes I during the time of the Achaemenid empire, many historians now believe that Esther was the queen of Persia under a later king of Persia, during the time of the Sassanid empire. Her story is the basis for the celebration of Purim in Jewish tradition.
Esther, as depicted in the Bible, was a pious woman who demonstrated great faith, resolve, mercy, and courage combined with reasonable caution.
Esther reigned as the queen of Persia for a period of about 13 years. With King Ahasuerus, she had one son, named Darius II, who would later rebuild the holy Temple in Jersusalem.
It is believed that her life extended into the reign of her stepson, Artaxerxes. Although the date of her death is not known, Jewish tradition indicates that Queen Esther's tomb is in Hamadan, also known as Ecbatana, located in what is now western Iran.
- Xerxes Family Tree
- Identifying Esther in Secular Sources
- The Hidden Story of Queen Esther
- Purim & Serendipity
- The Book of Esther
- "Ish Yehudi" - Usage of the word Jew first appears in (Esther 2:5-6, Esther 8:17) Source
The primary source relating to the origin of Purim is the Book of Esther, which became the last of the 24 books of the Tanach to be canonized by the Sages of the Great Assembly (The Sanhedrin). It is dated to the fourth century BCE and according to the Talmud was a redaction by the Great Assembly of an original text by Mordechai.
The first century CE historian Josephus recounts the origins of Purim in Book 11 of his Antiquities of the Jews. He follows the Hebrew Book of Esther but shows awareness of some of the additional material found in the Greek version in that he too identifies Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes and provides the text of the king's letter. He also provides additional information on the dating of events relative to Ezra and Nehemiah.
Josephus also records the Persian persecution of Jews and mentions Jews being forced to worship at Persian erected shrines.
Berossus (early third century BCE) provides context for the account in that he records the introduction of idols of Anahita under Artaxerxes II Mnemon throughout the Persian Empire.
An account of the origins of Purim is also included in chapter 4 of the tenth century CE compilation of Jewish history, the Josippon. It too follows the original biblical account and includes additional traditions matching those found in the Greek version and Josephus (whom the author claims as a source) with the exception of the details of the letters found in the latter works. It also provides other contextual information relating Jewish and Persian history such as the identification of Darius the Mede as the uncle and father-in-law of Cyrus.
A brief Persian account of events is provided by Islamic historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari in his History of the Prophets and Kings (completed 915 CE). Basing his account on Jewish and Christian sources, al-Tabari provides additional details such as the original Persian form "Asturya" for "Esther". He places events during the rule of Ardashir Bahman (Artaxerxes II), but confuses him with Ardashir al-Tawil al-Ba (Artaxerxes I), while assuming Ahasuerus to be the name of a co-ruler.
Another brief Persian account is recorded by Masudi in The Meadows of Gold (completed 947 CE). He refers to a Jewish woman who had married the Persian King Bahman (Artaxerxes II), and delivered her people, thus corroborating this identification of Ahasuerus.
He also mentions the woman's daughter, Khumay, who is not known in Jewish tradition but is well remembered in Persian folklore. Al-Tabari calls her Khumani and tells how her father (Ardashir Bahman) married her. Ferdowsi in his Shahnameh (c. 1000 CE) also tells of King Bahman marrying Khumay.
King Ahasuerus holds banquets for the members of his court and subsequently for his people, too; 180 days with his peers, and another seven days with the members of his court. The text describes it at considerable length [Ch 1, 1-8]. His Queen, Vashti the daughter of Belshaazar, also holds a feast (women only!), and from the outset she reveals a surprising degree of independence: Ch 1, 9: "And Vashti the Queen also made a feast for the women in the royal house..." On the 187th day of the banquet, the King, having imbibed well, [Ch 1,10] requests Vashti be brought before him, in order to present her in all her beauty to his guests: Ch 1,11: "to bring Vashti, the queen, before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty; for she was fair to look on." Vashti's personality comes to light; she refuses to appear before the drunken King: Ch 1, 12:
"But the Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment". Not for nothing is Vashti known as the "first feminist": despite the dangers inherent in her decision, Vashti declines to come before the King and demonstrate her beauty.
One should note that in contrast to the previous verse, where she is referred to as " Vashti, the Queen", here she is called "Queen Vashti", to show us that she has a mind of her own.
The King is exceedingly angry and as a ruler who, throughout his life, has been dependent on his counselors' advice - as described in the Megillah - he calls together those closest to him in order to clarify matters [Ch 1, 15]. Vashti's action requires an appropriate response. The counselor-ministers speak of the grave consequences of the queen's action and the negative impact of her refusal, on the whole fabric of relationships between spouses in the great empire of Persia and Mede: Ch 1, 16-18:
"... Vashti the queen has not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the peoples who are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queeen will be made known to all the women so as to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes, when it shall be reported that the king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. And the princesses .... shall be telling of it today to all the king's princes. Thus shall there be contempt and wrath in plenty."
Vashti's action endangers the status of men in the empire - or, as we would say today: women would find in Vashti a role model for female liberation. Men are indisputably highly defensive of their status and superiority; they therefore decide to react with the utmost severity, to warn other women in the empire not to emulate her example. Ch 1I, 19: "If it please the king, let a royal commandment be issued by him, and let it be inscribed in the laws of Persia and Mede, so that it may not be altered, that Vashti come no more before King Ahasuerus, and that the king shall give her royal estate to another who is better than she."
It appears that only dismissal of Vashti from her position can prevent the evil outcome of destroying male superiority in the Persian Empire. One must weigh the imperative of the empire against the imperative of the King [ChI,12] which was disobeyed by the imperative of the Queen [Ch 1,17] - and the consideration of the empire carries the day. Significantly, Vashti has already been deprived of her title and is referred to by name only. The purpose of the punishment is clear: to reinforce men's diminished status. In an irrevocable act of legislation [Ch 1, 19], it is determined to whom respect should be accorded in the Empire of Persia and Mede. Ch 1I,20: "And when the decree of and by the king shall be heard throughout his kingdom, which is great, all the wives will give honor to their husbands from the elevated to the lowly."
The motive behind the legislation appears to have been already forgotten. Vashti's actions are no longer mentioned in the verse - only the purpose of the new law: the domination of man in his home, which implicitly includes culture, religious and social education as well as control over the family structure. The fervor with which anti-feminist legislation was passed and its motives demonstrate clearly that how threatened men's status seemed in their eyes
The Book of Esther begins with a six month (180 day) drinking feast given by King Ahasuerus, for the army of Persia and Media, for the civil servants and princes in the 127 provinces of his kingdom, at the conclusion of which a seven day drinking feast for the inhabitants of Shushan, rich and poor with a separate drinking feast for the women organised by the Queen Vashti in the pavilion of the Royal courtyard.
At this feast Ahasuerus gets thoroughly drunk and orders his wife Vashti to display her beauty before the people and nobles wearing her royal crown. She refuses, and Ahasuerus decides to remove her from her post. He then orders all young women to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is Esther, who was orphaned at a young age and was being fostered by her uncle Mordecai. She finds favor in the king's eyes, and is made his new wife. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish.
Shortly afterwards, [Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to kill Ahasuerus. They are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai's service to the king is recorded.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman's disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but the entire Jewish minority in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus' permission to execute this plan, and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this – the thirteenth of the month of Adar.
When Mordecai finds out about the plans he orders widespread penitence and fasting. Esther discovers what has transpired; she requests that all Jews of Shushan fast and pray for three days together with her, and on the third day she seeks an audience with Ahasuerus, during which she invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and builds a gallows for him, with the intention to hang him there the very next day.
That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court's records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai had not received any recognition for saving the king's life.
Just then, Haman appears, and King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the King wishes to honor. Thinking that the King is referring to Haman himself, Haman says that the honoree should be dressed in the king's royal robes and led around on the king's royal horse. To Haman's horror, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai.
Later that evening, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther's second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, which includes her. Ahasuerus instead orders Haman hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
The previous decree against the Jews could not be annulled, so the King allows Mordecai and Esther to write another decree as they wish. They write one that allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, five hundred attackers and Haman's ten sons are killed in Shushan. Throughout the empire 75,000 of the Jews' enemies are killed (Esther 9:16). On the 14th, another 300 are killed in Shushan. No spoils are taken.
Mordecai assumes the position of second in rank to Ahasuerus, and institutes an annual commemoration of the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation.
Purim פּוּרִים Pûrîm "lots", from the word pur, related to Akkadian pūru is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman, a story recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (Megillat Esther).
Is there any connection between Purim and Passover? - See submitted answers at end of project.
Is there any connection between Purim and Passover?
Answers we have received so far
please feel free to join in!
What if the Passover Haggadah is an operating manual geared for personal elevation and self actualization in this world, just as the Torah is a guide how to achieve spiritual and universal elevation---both are guides to help orient us through the intellectual process of finding ourselves and learning how to work well together in the world, and thus achieve elevated spiritual insight.
Furthermore, what if the purpose is to link what we learn from the searching and questioning of everything we see, use, and do on Passover, to a midway point on Yom Kippur, which is also a time of intensive soul searching and questioning and continuing on to the ultimate goal of arriving at a level of self actualization, faith, trust and maturity such as existed in the Purim story!
Purim has no mention of God whatsoever, yet the hidden hand of God is everywhere. The story of Purim is replete with startling coincidences that thwart court intrigues, diabolical plots and a heinous nihilistic scheme. The reverse is true in the Passover Haggadah, which goes out of its way to point out the overt hand of God in the story of the Exodus.
Passover, a Torah mandated holiday to be observed without fail by every generation, is ironically abrogated by a fast initiated by Esther a little known Jewish orphan, chosen in a beauty contest as the Persian King’s new wife.
In the story of Purim, inconceivably the entire Jewish population unites to observe this "questionable" three day fast over Passover on Esther's behalf, and no matzah, maror or any symbolic Passover foods were to be consumed thus abrogating the mitzvah of Pesah.
So why the reason for this puzzling fast . Taanit Esther, which thus strangely connects Purim to Passover by the way it abrogates it?
One of the main lessons of Purim is that there are nocoincidence in life. Though indiscernible, the hidden hand of God is obviously at work throughout Megillat (Story) of Esther' .
In contrast, the Passover Haggadah (Story) elaborates painstakingly on the overt hand of God in the miracle of Passover. In fact, the very essence of the story of Passover is of God’s clear intervention in freeing the Israelites from slavery!
So, could it be that one connection is in the timing of the Holidays? Timing is in fact the very essence of what constitutes the underpinning of most miracles.
Passover falls in Nissan—the “First” month of the Jewish Calendar. So perhaps the Haggadah is essentially a beginner’s guide to a year long soul searching and questioning process.
Yom Kippur’s emphasis on introspective soul searching is thus indeed the midway point.
Purim, which falls exactly a month before Passover, and therefore the final month in the Jewish Calendar is a graduation celebration in that we have attained the insight, trust, and faith to no longer need saving by overt miracles.'
Note: The Fast of Esther is observed these days for only one day, the day before the joyous Festival of Purim.
Talmud Bavli Megilla 6b discusses in which month of Adar should the Megilla be read and Purim be celebrated in the case of a leap year when there are two months of Adar.
We would expect the answer to be the first month of Adar because we don't "pass over" the opportunity to celebrate and fulfil a commandment at the first opportunity.
The reason given for the second month of Adar - which is what we practice - is to keep the two redemptions - Purim and Pesach - together.
Ironically, the weekly Torah reading around the time of Passover deals with purification process for Yom Kippur. So, this fact seems to also agree with the 1. Passover - 2. Yom Kippur - 3. Purim analogy mentioned previously.
There seem to be interesting similarities between the Esther, the heroine of Purim, and the Hero of Passover, Moses.
1. Esther in Megillath Purim is orphaned--she is brought up by a cousin. 2. Esther lives most her life in a foreign palace away from her Jewish brethren.
1. Moses, in the Exodus story that is central to Passover, is brought up by proxy caregivers as if he were orphaned. 2. Moses also lives in a foreign palace with strangers for most of his life away from his Jewish brethren. ie. He is thought to have been around 80 years old at the time of the Exodus
Yom Kippurim Meditation:
By the way, both Moses and Esther would fit well into the characteristic parameters of Geni's project. Inspirational Luminary Guides, wild cards of genealogy.
So, Yom Kippur is a perfect time to stop seeking perfection in family and friends. Because, as you will see it is very often that genius and greatness emerges forged from the crucible of physical challenge, discrimination, despair and abandonment.
* Project Image: The Triumph of Mordechai by Pieter Pietersz Lastman