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Vashti

VASHTI

VASHTI (Heb. וַשְׁתִּי; perhaps "beauty" in Persian), queen of Persia and Media, wife of *Ahasuerus (Xerxes; 485–465 b.c.e.). When King Ahasuerus, in the third year of his reign, held a banquet "for all the people that were found in *Shushan" in the king's gardens, Queen Vashti also held a banquet in the palace. On the seventh day, when the king was drunk from all the wine, he ordered Vashti brought before him "to show the peoples and the princes" her beauty. Vashti refused to appear. At the advice of his counselors the king ordered her deposed from her position and proclaimed that "every man should be lord in his house" (Esth. 1:9–22). Later she was replaced by Esther (Esth. 2). Attempts to identify Vashti with known historical figures have not been persuasive. As a proper name, Vashti has survived in inscriptions.

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]

In the Aggadah

Vashti was the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar (Meg. 10a). She witnessed the Persian conquest of Babylon from her father, Belshazzar. On the night that the city fell, Vashti was so alarmed by the confusion that, unaware that Belshazzar had already been killed, she ran to his private quarters. There she was confronted by Darius who, out of compassion for her, betrothed her to his son, Ahasuerus (Yalk. Est. 1049). Her action in having her banquet for women "in the royal house which belonged to Ahasuerus" (Esth. 1:9) was that her guests would be hostages if their husbands should rise and rebel against the king (Est. R. 3:10). According to R. Abun, however, the location of the banquet was dictated by the consideration that "women would sooner have well-decorated rooms and beautiful clothes, than eat fatted calves" (ibid.). Vashti had low moral standards: it was not for reasons of modesty that she refused to comply with Ahasuerus' command to appear before his guests (Esth. 1:11) in the nude. She was as immoral as her husband (Meg. 12a). Her refusal was occasioned either by the fact that she was suffering from leprosy (ibid.), or by fear for Ahasuerus' life. She remonstrated with him: "If they consider me beautiful, they will want to enjoy me themselves, and will kill you; if they consider me plain, I shall be a disgrace to you" (Est. R. 3:14). When Ahasuerus nevertheless repeated his request, Vashti insulted him by reminding him of his lowly descent as servant to her father (cf. Song R. 3:5), Belshazzar, before he was murdered. According to one version, she exclaimed: "You used to be the stable boy of my father's house, and you were used to bringing naked harlots before you. Now that you have ascended the throne you have still not changed your habits" (ibid.). She was put to death on the Sabbath because, when she was queen, she would force the daughters of Israel to strip and work in the nude, on the Sabbath (Meg. ibid.).

bibliography:

Cooke, North Semitic Inscriptions (1903), no. 85; L.B. Paton, Esther (icc, 1908), 66–67, 88–89, 142ff. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 142.

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