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Esther

Esther

Persian Queen Esther (492 B.C.–c. 460 B.C.), born as a Jewish exile named Hadasseh, eventually became the queen of Persia, which during her lifetime was the greatest empire in the known world. Married to King Ahasuerus after he divorced the former queen for disobedience, Esther would intercede on behalf of the Jewish people of the kingdom and prevent their annihilation. Her story is recounted in the Bible in the Book of Esther.

Esther was born around 492 B.C. as Hadasseh (a Jewish name meaning myrtle). The myrtle tree was native to Babylonia, but Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem took the tree with them, and it became a symbol of the nation of Israel. The name Esther itself means star and happiness. Esther was the daughter of Abihail, of the tribe of Benjamin. It is believed she adopted the Persian name Esther when she entered the Persian court harem when she was a young girl. Actually, as with many figures from the Bible, there is now some scholarly controversy about whether Queen Esther really did indeed exist. Some scholars now believe that her story, recounted in the Book of Esther in the Bible, is actually a "historic fiction" with no basis in fact, and that it was intended as an allegory designed to teach essential truths.

Much has been made of the similarities between the Jewish festival of Purim, which commemorates the rescue of the Jews by Esther and her adopted father Mordechai, and a Persian festival that celebrates the god Marduk and the female Ishtar and their victory over their rivals. It has been suggested that "Esther" and "Mordechai" are Hebrew forms of the names "Ishtar" and "Marduk." Still, there are many scholars who believe that Queen Esther really did exist, as events of her life show up in other historical records besides the Bible. The story of Esther involves someone from the humblest of origins, a Jewish exile, who rises to become a queen. More importantly, in her royal position, she is able to save her people from a genocide designed by a scheming court figure.

Adopted by Her Uncle

According to accounts, when Esther's parents died, she was adopted by her father's brother, Mordecai, who later became a courtier of the Persian King Ahasuerus. Mordecai raised her as his daughter, and they became residents of Susa (Shushan), which was formerly the capital of Elam. But in their time, it was one of several Persian capitals and was located about 200 miles east of Babylon, 75 miles east of the Tigris River, and 130 miles north of the Persian Gulf.

Both Esther and Mordecai's descendants were among the Jewish tribes of Judah and Benjamin who had been conquered by the Babylonians ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar. After the Babylonian empire was itself conquered by the Persians under Cyrus the Great, the exiled tribes were allowed to return to Jerusalem. But Esther's descendants were among those who decided to remain in their land of exile.

Became Queen of Persia

In 478 B.C., Esther became the queen of Persia. Previously, she was a member of the harem of the Persian king Ahasuerus, who was also known as King Xerxes. But when the former queen, Vashti, fell into disfavor with her husband, Ahasuerus, the king chose Esther to be his wife and queen.

The discord between the former queen and the king arose from Vashti's refusal to appear before his people at a great banquet, a one hundred and eighty–day feast held in Susa. There is speculation as to the exact nature of this refusal. According to one translation of events, she refused to appear at the banquet "wearing her royal crown." It is believed that the correct translation was "to appear wearing only her royal crown." That is, King Ahasuerus had ordered Queen Vashti to expose herself in front of his male guests. The event was attended by people from one hundred twenty-seven provinces of Persia, a kingdom that stretched from India to Ethiopia. According to historians, the lengthy banquet had eventually turned into a prolonged drunken revelry, and the king himself was intoxicated with wine at the time he made his request. King Ahasuerus has been described as a sensualist who enjoyed drinking and other forms of debauchery. In addition, it was said that he ruled with no great wisdom, even though he reigned over what was the greatest empire of its time. Apparently, Queen Vashti refused to comply with her husband's degrading wishes. She risked death with her refusal, but the king only banished her, using this as an example to all wives living in his empire. Further, he sent an edict throughout his kingdom that gave male subjects the right to rule over their wives in all matters.

Ahasuerus now sought a replacement queen and wife among the beautiful young virgins of his kingdom. He ordered the most attractive maidens to be brought before him. One of these included Esther. At the time, Esther was only fourteen years old, but she possessed remarkable beauty as well as charm and precocious tact. When her opportunity finally came to appear before the king, Ahasuerus was immediately taken with Esther's attractiveness, and he made her his new queen. Esther's adopted uncle Mordecai remained constantly near the palace, so that he would be able advise her in all matters. As his first bit of counsel, he told her to conceal the fact that she was Jewish. It has been suggested that Mordecai served as a gatekeeper, and this position enabled him to stay in continual communication with Esther.

Once, while at the palace gate, Mordecai overheard a plot being hatched by two of the king's eunuchs to kill Ahasuerus. Mordecai revealed this information to Esther, who then told the king about the plot. After an investigation, the eunuchs were executed, and Mordecai's loyalty and aid to the king was recorded in the chronicles of the kingdom.

Saved the Jews from Slaughter

In 473 B.C., Esther managed to save the Jewish people of the kingdom from a massacre, a life–risking accomplishment that made her famous. Shortly after Esther became the queen, Haman the Agagite, the prime minister of Persia and a favorite of the king, obtained a royal decree that authorized the slaughter of all of the Jewish people living within the borders of the Persian Empire. In addition, the decree called for the confiscation of all of their property.

This decree was obtained through a cunning deception that, at its core, was essentially an act of revenge on the part of Haman against Mordecai. Haman regarded Mordecai as an upstart who did not show him the proper respect. When Haman was named prime minister, the king had issued a general order that all were to bow to him. However, Mordecai constantly refused to prostrate himself before Haman at the palace gate. After Haman found out that Mordecai was Jewish, he designed a plot to have all Jews in the Persian kingdom killed. Haman cunningly obtained the king's unwitting consent for a general massacre, to take place in one day, of all the Jews.

Obviously, the Jews were greatly distressed by the decree, and Mordecai turned to Esther for help. Esther then planned to appeal to the king on behalf of the Jews, but this would require that she reveal to her husband the king that she, too, was Jewish. In doing so, she placed her own life at great risk. Esther's appeal to the king involved her requesting that he attend a banquet in her quarters, and that he be accompanied by Haman. But before she made her request, she waited for three days and spent the time in fasting and prayer.

The king eventually accepted her invitation and all went well, so Esther asked her guests to join her again the following night. On the night of the second banquet, the king told Esther that he would grant whatever she would ask. Esther then revealed all to the king: her petition for the Jewish people, her own Jewish heritage, and Haman's deceit in obtaining the decree. The king was enraged and he stormed away from her. When he returned, he found Haman at Esther's feet. Haman was pleading to the queen for her mercy, but the king misinterpreted the actions as an attempt at seduction. Earlier, Haman had built a gallows that he intended to use to hang Mordecai. Now, the king ordered that Haman be executed, along with his ten sons, on the very same gallows. After Haman was executed, the king chose Mordecai to fill the empty position.

However, reversing the decree regarding the slaughter of the Jews would be complicated. Esther reminded the king that the decree for the massacre was still in effect. But Ahasuerus informed her that a royal edict could not be revoked, according to Persian royal custom. To get around this, Esther convinced the king to give the Jews all of the weapons and military authority they would need in order to defend themselves against the slaughter. Mordecai was then authorized to write a counter–edict that would allow the Jews to arm and defend themselves. This counter–edict was addressed to all of the governors in the Persian kingdom, and it informed them that the Jews had been authorized to defend themselves against their persecutors and to kill all those who would attack them. The king signed Mordecai's new decree.

On the day of slaughter appointed by the original decree, the Jews were allowed to fight for their lives, and they proved to be worthy warriors. Many of the Jewish males had already served in the Persian army and they benefited from their military training. The fighting lasted two days and took place in Susa, where the Jews exacted a bloody revenge on their enemies. At the end of the two days, the Jewish warriors successfully defended themselves, and a catastrophe had been averted, thanks to Esther's intercession.

To commemorate their deliverance, the Jews established the two–day festival of Purim, which is still observed to this day. The festival begins on the very day that Haman had marked for the slaughter of the Jewish people. After Haman's execution, Esther and Mordecai were awarded all of Haman's estate.

Woman of Deep Faith

Esther, as depicted in the Bible, was a pious woman who demonstrated great faith, resolve, mercy, and courage combined with reasonable caution. To her adopted father, Mordecai, she was a dutiful daughter who was obedient to his wishes and heedful to his counsels. 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.

Online

"Esther," Catholic Encyclopedia,http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05549a.htm (January 6, 2005).

"Esther," Christian Resource Center,http://www.nisbett.com/people/bp-esther.htm (January 6, 2005).

"Esther," Daily Bible Study,http://www.keyway.ca/htm2002/estherb.htm (January 5, 2005).

"Esther," Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness, www.uuja.org/holidays/sermons/sermon–esther.html (January 6, 2005).

"Queen Esther," hyperhistory.net, http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/bios/b1esther–p1mw.htm (January 6, 2005).

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Esther

Esther (ĕs´tər), book of the Bible. It is the tale of the beautiful Jewish woman Esther [Heb.,= Hadassah], who is chosen as queen by the Persian King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I or II) after he has repudiated his previous wife, Vashti. It tells how the wicked courtier Haman attempted to bring about the massacre of the Jews and how Esther and her cousin Mordecai thwarted him. Haman was hanged, and Mordecai became the king's chief minister. The feast of Purim commemorates this deliverance of the Jews, and is perhaps the reason for its inclusion in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. Extant Hebrew versions are different from those surviving in Greek. These latter are longer by several chapters, and are included in the Apocrypha as the "Additions to Esther." These additions were collected at the end of the book by Jerome for his edition of the Latin Bible (the Vulgate). The Hebrew version of the book, unlike the Greek, contains no mention of God. The Greek version is somewhat more anti-Gentile in sentiment than the Hebrew. Some critics date the book as late as 150 BC It is the only book of the Hebrew canon not represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

See C. A. Moore, Esther (1971); D. J. A. Clines, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (1984). See also bibliography under Old Testament.

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Esther

Esther in the Bible, a Jewish woman chosen on account of her beauty by the Persian king Ahasuerus (generally supposed to be Xerxes I) to be his queen. She used her influence with him to save her kinsman Mordecai and the Israelites in captivity from persecution, particularly at the hands of the king's chief minister, Haman.

Esther is also the book of the Bible containing an account of these events; a part survives only in Greek and is included in the Apocrypha.

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Esther

Esther Old Testament book narrating how the legendary Queen Esther averted the killing of her people, the Jews, by the Persians in Babylon. She persuaded the Xerxes I of Persia to ignore his grand vizier Haman, who advocated their extermination. The Jewish feast of Purim celebrates Haman's overthrow.

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Esther

Esther. Heroine of the Jewish Book of Esther.

The Book of Esther is the only book in the Bible which does not mention the name of God. The name ‘Esther’ is therefore read as the Hebrew verb, ‘I will hide’: God is constantly active even when he does not directly reveal his action.

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Esther

Esther. Oratorio by Handel to text by S. Humphreys after Racine. F.p. as masque Haman and Mordecai, 1720, at Cannons but expanded into concert oratorio 1732. First Eng. oratorio.

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Esther

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