Book of Esther
Overview
 
The Book of Esther is a book in the Ketuvim
Ketuvim
Ketuvim or Kəṯûḇîm in actual Biblical Hebrew is the third and final section of the Tanak , after Torah and Nevi'im . In English translations of the Hebrew Bible, this section is usually entitled "Writings" or "Hagiographa"...

 ("writings"), the third section of the Jewish Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 (also called the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

) and is part of the Christian Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

. The Book of Esther or the Megillah
Megillah
Megillah may refer to:Bible:*The Scroll of Esther , read on the Jewish holiday of Purim.*Megillat AntiochusRabbinic literature:*Tractate Megillah in the Talmud....

is the basis for the Jewish celebration of Purim
Purim
Purim 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 .Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th...

. Its full text is read aloud twice during the celebration, in the evening and again the following morning.
The biblical Book of Esther is set in the third year of Ahasuerus
Ahasuerus
Ahasuerus is a name used several times in the Hebrew Bible, as well as related legends and Apocrypha. This name is applied in the Hebrew Scriptures to three rulers...

, a king of Persia.
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
The Book of Esther is a book in the Ketuvim
Ketuvim
Ketuvim or Kəṯûḇîm in actual Biblical Hebrew is the third and final section of the Tanak , after Torah and Nevi'im . In English translations of the Hebrew Bible, this section is usually entitled "Writings" or "Hagiographa"...

 ("writings"), the third section of the Jewish Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 (also called the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

) and is part of the Christian Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

. The Book of Esther or the Megillah
Megillah
Megillah may refer to:Bible:*The Scroll of Esther , read on the Jewish holiday of Purim.*Megillat AntiochusRabbinic literature:*Tractate Megillah in the Talmud....

is the basis for the Jewish celebration of Purim
Purim
Purim 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 .Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th...

. Its full text is read aloud twice during the celebration, in the evening and again the following morning.

Setting

The biblical Book of Esther is set in the third year of Ahasuerus
Ahasuerus
Ahasuerus is a name used several times in the Hebrew Bible, as well as related legends and Apocrypha. This name is applied in the Hebrew Scriptures to three rulers...

, a king of Persia. The name Ahasuerus is equivalent to Xerxes, both deriving from the Persian Khashayarsha, thus Ahasuerus is usually identified as Xerxes I (486-465 BCE), though Ahasuerus is identified as Artaxerxes
Artaxerxes
Artaxerxes may refer to:The throne name of several Achaemenid rulers of the 1st Persian Empire:* Artaxerxes I of Persia, Artaxerxes I Longimanus, r. 465–424 BC, son and successor of Xerxes I...

 in the later Greek version of Esther (as well as by Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

, the Jewish commentary Esther Rabbah
Esther Rabbah
Esther Rabbah is the midrash to the Book of Esther in the current Midrash editions. From its plan and scope it is apparently an incomplete collection from the rich haggadic material furnished by the comments on the scroll of Esther, which has been read since early times at the public service on...

, the Ethiopic translation and the Christian theologian Bar-Hebraeus
Bar-Hebraeus
Gregory Bar Hebraeus was a catholicos of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century...

 who identified him more precisely as Artaxerxes II ). The Book of Esther tells a story of palace intrigue and genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 thwarted by a Jewish queen of Persia.

Plot summary

Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan
Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti
Vashti
Queen Vashti is the first wife of King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther, a book included in the Hebrew Bible and read on the Jewish holiday of Purim. She is banished for her refusal to appear at the king's banquet, and Esther is chosen to succeed her as queen. In the Midrash, Vashti is described...

 to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti. One of these is Esther
Esther
Esther , born Hadassah, is the eponymous heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther.According to the Bible, she was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus...

, who had no parents and is being fostered by her cousin Mordechai. She finds favor in the king's eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordechai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordechai's service to the king is recorded.

Ahasuerus appoints Haman
Haman (Bible)
Haman is the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who, according to Old Testament tradition, was a 5th Century BC noble and vizier of the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Artaxerxes II...

 as his prime minister. Mordechai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman's disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordechai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordechai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus' permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver, and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar
Adar
Adar is the sixth month of the civil year and the twelfth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar. It is a winter month of 29 days...

. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property. When Mordechai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordechai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordechai tells her that she must. She orders Mordechai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. 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 Mordechai and consults with his friends. At his wife's suggestion, he builds a gallows
Gallows
A gallows is a frame, typically wooden, used for execution by hanging, or by means to torture before execution, as was used when being hanged, drawn and quartered...

 for Mordechai.

That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordechai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordechai has not received any recognition for saving the king's life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordechai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king's royal robes and led around on the king's royal horse, while a herald
Herald
A herald, or, more correctly, a herald of arms, is an officer of arms, ranking between pursuivant and king of arms. The title is often applied erroneously to all officers of arms....

 calls: "See how the king honours a man he wishes to reward!" To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordechai. After leading Mordechai's parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.

Immediately after, 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, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordechai. The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king 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, followed by a Jewish slaughter of seventy-five thousand Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people's redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordechai assuming a prominent position in his court.

Authorship and date

Esther is usually dated to the third or fourth century BCE. Jewish tradition regards it as a redaction
Redaction
Redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined and subjected to minor alteration to make them into a single work. Often this is a method of collecting a series of writings on a similar theme and creating a definitive and coherent work...

 by the Great Assembly
Great Assembly
The Great Assembly or Anshei Knesset HaGedolah , also known as the Great Synagogue, was, according to Jewish tradition, an assembly of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets, in the period from the end of the Biblical prophets to the time of the development of Rabbinic Judaism, marking a transition from...

 of an original text written by Mordecai
Mordecai
Mordecai or Mordechai is one of the main personalities in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. He was the son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin.-Biblical account:...

.

The Greek additions to Esther (which do not appear in the Jewish/Hebrew; see "Additions to Esther" below) are dated to around the late 2nd century or early 1st BCE.
  • The primary source relating to the origin of Purim is the Megillat Esther (Book of Esther), which became the last of the 24 books of the Tanakh
    Tanakh
    The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

     to be canonized by the Sages of the Great Assembly
    Great Assembly
    The Great Assembly or Anshei Knesset HaGedolah , also known as the Great Synagogue, was, according to Jewish tradition, an assembly of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets, in the period from the end of the Biblical prophets to the time of the development of Rabbinic Judaism, marking a transition from...

    . It is dated to the 4th century BCE and according to the Talmud was a redaction by the Great Assembly of an original text by Mordecai.

  • The Greek Book of Esther, included in the Septuagint, is a retelling of the events of the Hebrew Book of Esther rather than a translation and records additional traditions, in particular the identification of Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes
    Artaxerxes
    Artaxerxes may refer to:The throne name of several Achaemenid rulers of the 1st Persian Empire:* Artaxerxes I of Persia, Artaxerxes I Longimanus, r. 465–424 BC, son and successor of Xerxes I...

     and details of various letters. It is dated to the second to first century BCE. The Coptic and Ethiopic versions of Esther are translations of it instead of the Hebrew Esther.

  • A Latin version of Esther was produced by Jerome
    Jerome
    Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

     for the Vulgate
    Vulgate
    The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

    . It translates the Hebrew Esther but interpolates translations of the Greek Esther where the latter provides additional material.

  • Several Aramaic targum
    Targum
    Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

    s of Esther were produced in the Middle Ages of which two survive - the Targum Rishon ("First Targum") and Targum Sheni
    Targum sheni
    The Targum Sheni is an Aramaic translation and elaboration of the Book of Esther, that embellishes the Biblical account with considerable new apocryphal material, not on the face of it directly germane to the Esther story...

    ("Second Targum") dated c. 500 - 1000 CE. These were not targums ("translations") in the true sense but like the Greek Esther are retellings of events and include additional legends relating to Purim. There is also a 16th century rescension of the Targum Rishon sometimes counted as Targum Shelishi ("Third Targum").

Historicity

The book of Esther falls under the category of Writings, one of three parts of the Jewish canon. Some modern scholars suggest the book of Esther to be a historical novella. That is, while the events may not be historically accurate the book itself was written to tell a story of a time in history, in this case the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim.

There are a number of reasons some scholars question the historicity of the book of Esther. As noted by biblical scholar Michael D. Coogan, the book of Esther contains specific details regarding certain subject matter (for example, Persian rule) which are historically inaccurate. For example, Coogan discusses an apparent inaccuracy regarding the age of Esther's cousin (or, according to others, uncle) Mordecai
Mordecai
Mordecai or Mordechai is one of the main personalities in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. He was the son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin.-Biblical account:...

. In Esther 2:5–6, either Mordecai or his great-grandfather Kish is identified as having been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BCE: "Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jeconiah king of Judah." If this refers to Mordecai, he would have had to live over a century to have witnessed the events described in the Book of Esther. However, the verse may be read as referring not to Mordecai's exile to Babylon, but to his great-grandfather Kish's exile.

In her article “The Book of Esther and Ancient Storytelling,” biblical scholar Adele Berlin discusses the reasoning behind scholarly concern of the historicity of Esther. Much of this debate relates to the importance of distinguishing history and fiction within biblical texts, as Berlin argues, in order to gain a more accurate understanding of the history of the Israelite people. Berlin quotes a series of scholars who suggest that the author of Esther did not mean for the book to be considered as a historical writing, but intentionally wrote it to be a historical novella. The genre of novellas under which Esther falls was common during both the Persian and Hellenistic periods to which scholars have dated the book of Esther.

There are certain elements of the book of Esther that are historically accurate. The story told in the book of Esther takes place during the rule of Ahasuerus, who has been identified as the fifth-century Persian king Xerxes (486-465). The author also displays an accurate knowledge of Persian customs and palaces. However, according to Coogan, considerable historical inaccuracies remain throughout the text, supporting the view that the book of Esther is to be read as a historical novella which tells a story describing historical events but is not necessarily historical fact.

Historical reading

Those arguing in favour of an historical reading of Esther, most commonly identify Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes II (ruled 405–359 BCE
359 BC
Year 359 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Laenas and Imperiosus...

) although in the past it was often assumed that he was Xerxes I (ruled 486–465 BCE
465 BC
Year 465 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Vibulanus and Barbatus...

). The Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 Ahasuerus is most likely derived from Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 Khshayarsha, the origin of the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 Xerxes. The Greek historian Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 wrote that Xerxes sought his harem after being defeated in the Greco-Persian Wars
Greco-Persian Wars
The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and city-states of the Hellenic world that started in 499 BC and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus...

. He makes no reference to individual members of the harem except for a domineering Queen consort
Queen consort
A queen consort is the wife of a reigning king. A queen consort usually shares her husband's rank and holds the feminine equivalent of the king's monarchical titles. Historically, queens consort do not share the king regnant's political and military powers. Most queens in history were queens consort...

 named Amestris
Amestris
Amestris or Amastris was the wife of Xerxes I of Persia, mother of king Artaxerxes I of Persia. She was known to have been poorly regarded by ancient Greek historians....

, whose father, Otanes, was one of Xerxes's generals. (In contrast, the Greek historian Ctesias
Ctesias
Ctesias of Cnidus was a Greek physician and historian from Cnidus in Caria. Ctesias, who lived in the 5th century BC, was physician to Artaxerxes Mnemon, whom he accompanied in 401 BC on his expedition against his brother Cyrus the Younger....

 refers to a similar father-in-law/general figure named Onaphas.) Amestris has often been identified with Vashti
Vashti
Queen Vashti is the first wife of King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther, a book included in the Hebrew Bible and read on the Jewish holiday of Purim. She is banished for her refusal to appear at the king's banquet, and Esther is chosen to succeed her as queen. In the Midrash, Vashti is described...

, but this identification is problematic, as Amestris remained a powerful figure well into the reign of her son, Artaxerxes I, whereas Vashti is portrayed as dismissed in the early part of Xerxes's reign. Alternative attempts have been made to identify her with Esther
Esther
Esther , born Hadassah, is the eponymous heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther.According to the Bible, she was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus...

, although Esther is an orphan whose father was a Jew named Abihail.

As for the identity of Mordecai, the similar names Marduka and Marduku have been found as the name of officials in the Persian court in thirty texts from the period of Xerxes I and his father Darius, and may refer to up to four individuals, one of which might after all be Mordecai.

The Septuagint version of Esther translates the name Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes, a Greek name derived from the Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 Artakhshatra. Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 too relates that this was the name by which he was known to the Greeks, and the Midrash
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

ic text, Esther Rabba also makes the identification. Bar-Hebraeus
Bar-Hebraeus
Gregory Bar Hebraeus was a catholicos of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century...

 identified Ahasuerus explicitly as Artaxerxes II
Artaxerxes II of Persia
Artaxerxes II Mnemon was king of Persia from 404 BC until his death. He was a son of Darius II of Persia and Parysatis.-Reign:...

. However, the names are not necessarily equivalent: Hebrew has a form of the name Artaxerxes distinct from Ahasuerus, and a direct Greek rendering of Ahasuerus is used by both Josephus and the Septuagint for occurrences of the name outside the Book of Esther. Instead, the Hebrew name Ahasuerus accords with an inscription of the time that notes that Artaxerxes II was named also Arshu, understood as a shortening of Achshiyarshu the Babylonian rendering of the Persian Khshayarsha (Xerxes), through which the Hebrew Achashverosh (Ahasuerus) is derived. Ctesias
Ctesias
Ctesias of Cnidus was a Greek physician and historian from Cnidus in Caria. Ctesias, who lived in the 5th century BC, was physician to Artaxerxes Mnemon, whom he accompanied in 401 BC on his expedition against his brother Cyrus the Younger....

 related that Artaxerxes II was also called Arsicas which is understood as a similar shortening with the Persian suffix -ke that is applied to shortened names. Deinon related that Artaxerxes II was also called Oarses which is also understood to be derived from Khshayarsha.

Another view attempts to identify him instead with Artaxerxes I
Artaxerxes I of Persia
Artaxerxes I was the sixth king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire from 465 BCE to 424 BCE. He was the son of Xerxes I of Persia and Amestris, daughter of Otanes.*Artaxerxes I was the sixth king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire from 465 BCE to 424 BCE. He was the son of Xerxes I of Persia and...

 (ruled 465–424 BCE
424 BC
Year 424 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Tribunate of Crassus, Fidenas, Rutilus and Iullus...

), whose Babylonian concubine, Kosmartydene, was the mother of his son Darius II
Darius II of Persia
Darius II , was king of the Persian Empire from 423 BC to 405 BC.Artaxerxes I, who died on December 25, 424 BC, was followed by his son Xerxes II. After a month and a half Xerxes II was murdered by his brother Secydianus or Sogdianus...

 (ruled 424–405 BCE
405 BC
Year 405 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Tribunate of Barbatus, Capitolinus, Cincinnatus, Medullinus, Iullus and Mamercinus...

). Jewish tradition relates that Esther was the mother of a King Darius and so some try to identify Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes I and Esther with Kosmartydene.

Based on the view that the Ahasuerus of the Book of Tobit
Book of Tobit
The Book of Tobit is a book of scripture that is part of the Catholic and Orthodox biblical canon, pronounced canonical by the Council of Carthage of 397 and confirmed for Roman Catholics by the Council of Trent...

is identical with that of the Book of Esther, some have also identified him as Nebuchadnezzar's ally Cyaxares
Cyaxares
Cyaxares, Cyaxares the Great or Hvakhshathra , the son of King Phraortes, was the first king of Media. According to Herodotus, Cyaxares, grandson of Deioces, had a far greater military reputation than his father or grandfather, therefore he is often being described as the first official Median...

 (ruled 625–585 BCE). In certain manuscripts of Tobit, the former is called Achiachar, which, like the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 Cyaxares, is thought to be derived from Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 Akhuwakhshatra. Depending on the interpretation of Esther 2:5–6, Mordecai or his great-grandfather Kish was carried away from Jerusalem with Jeconiah
Jeconiah
Jeconiah "; ; ), also known as Coniah and as Jehoiachin , was a king of Judah who was dethroned by the King of Babylon in the 6th Century BCE and was taken into captivity. Most of what is known about Jeconiah is found in the Hebrew Bible. After many excavations in Iraq, records of Jeconiah's...

 by Nebuchadnezzar, in 597 BCE. The view that it was Mordecai would be consistent with the identification of Ahasuerus with Cyaxares. Identifications with other Persian monarchs have also been suggested.

Jacob Hoschander has argued that evidence of the historicity of Haman and his father Hamedatha is seen in Omanus and Anadatus mentioned by Strabo
Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

 as being honoured with Anahita in the city of Zela
Zile
', also known as Zela, is a city and a district of Tokat Province, Turkey. Zile lies to the south of Amasya and the west of Tokat in north-central Turkey...

. Hoschander argues that these were not deities as Strabo supposed but garbled forms of "Haman" and "Hamedatha" who were being worshipped as martyrs. The names are indeed unattested in Persian texts as gods, however the Talmud (Sanhedrin 61b) and Rashi
Rashi
Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

 both record a practice of deifying Haman and Josephus speaks of him being worshipped. Attempts have been made to connect both "Omanus" and "Haman" with the Zoroastrian term Vohu Mana; however this denotes the principle of "Good Thoughts" and is not the name of a deity.)

Whenever the book was written and whatever the historicity of the events recounted in it, clearly by the time it was written the term "Yehudim" (יהודים - Jews) already gained a meaning quite close to what it means up to the present—i.e. an ethnic-religious group, scattered in many countries, organised in autonomous communities and the target of intense hatred by fanatic groups.

Allegorical reading

There are many classical Jewish readings of allegories into the book of Esther, mostly from Hasidic sources. They say that the literal meaning is true but that hidden behind this historical account are many allegories.

Though God is never explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, some Christians believe that his influence during the story is implied.

Some Christian readers consider this story to contain an allegory, representing the interaction between the church as 'bride' and God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

. This reading is related to the allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon
Song of Solomon
The Song of Songs of Solomon, commonly referred to as Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, is a book of the Hebrew Bible—one of the megillot —found in the last section of the Tanakh, known as the Ketuvim...

 and to the theme of the Bride of God, which in Jewish tradition manifests as the Shekinah.

Relation to the rest of the Bible

Esther is the only book of the Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 that is not represented among the Dead Sea scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name...

. It has often been compared to the first half of the Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

 and to the deuterocanonical
Biblical apocrypha
The word "apocrypha" is today often used to refer to the collection of ancient books printed in some editions of the Bible in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments...

 Books of Tobit
Book of Tobit
The Book of Tobit is a book of scripture that is part of the Catholic and Orthodox biblical canon, pronounced canonical by the Council of Carthage of 397 and confirmed for Roman Catholics by the Council of Trent...

 and Judith for its subject matter.

The story is also the first time that the word Jew (יְהוּדִי) was used, thus denoting a distinction between the Hebrews, the Israelites, and their Jewish descendants in the diaspora. Moreover, whatever the historical validity of the specific events depicted, the book clearly reflects a situation in which Jews were an ethnic-religious minority - scattered in many countries, organised in self-contained, self-governing communities and subjected to intensive and sometimes violent hatred by some members of the surrounding society. Clearly, whenever the book was actually composed, a phenomenon which can already be identified as a kind of antisemitism was in existence - whether or not Haman is an actual historical character.

Additions to Esther

Additional six chapters appear interspersed in Esther in the Septuagint, the Greek translation, which then was noted by Jerome
Jerome
Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

 in compiling the Latin Vulgate
Vulgate
The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin translation of the Bible. It was largely the work of St. Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations...

; additionally, the Greek text contains many small changes in the meaning of the main text. Jerome recognized them as additions not present in the Hebrew Text
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 and placed them at the end of his Latin translation as chapters 10:4-16:24. However, some modern Catholic English Bibles restore the Septuagint order, such as Esther in the NAB
New American Bible
The New American Bible is a Catholic Bible translation first published in 1970. It had its beginnings in the Confraternity Bible, which began to be translated from the original languages in 1948....

.

These additions include:
  • an opening prologue that describes a dream had by Mordecai
  • the contents of the decree against the Jews
  • prayers for God's intervention offered by Mordecai and by Esther
  • an expansion of the scene in which Esther appears before the king, with a mention of God's intervention
  • a copy of the decree in favor of the Jews
  • a passage in which Mordecai interprets his dream (from the prologue) in terms of the events that followed


By the time Esther was written, the foreign power visible on the horizon as a future threat to Judah was the Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

ians of Alexander the Great, who defeated the Persian empire about 150 years after the time of the story of Esther; the Septuagint version noticeably calls Haman a "bully" (βουγαῖον) where the Hebrew text describes him as an Agagite
Agagite
The term Agagite is used in the Book of Esther as a description of Haman. The term is understood to be an ethnonym although nothing is known with certainty about the people designated by the name...

.

The canonicity of these Greek additions has been a subject of scholarly disagreement practically since their first appearance in the Septuagint –- Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

, being perhaps the most vocal Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

-era critic of the work, considered even the original Hebrew version to be of very doubtful value. Luther's complaints against the book carried past the point of scholarly critique and may reflect Luther's antisemitism, which is disputed, such as in the biography of Luther by Derek Wilson, which points out that Luther's anger at the Jews was not at their race but at their theology.

The Council of Trent
Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was the 16th-century Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It is considered to be one of the Church's most important councils. It convened in Trent between December 13, 1545, and December 4, 1563 in twenty-five sessions for three periods...

, the summation of the Roman Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 Counter-Reformation
Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

, declared the entire book, both Hebrew text and Greek additions, to be canonical. While modern Roman Catholic scholars openly recognize the Greek additions as clearly being additions to the text, the Book of Esther is used twice in commonly used sections of the Catholic Lectionary
Lectionary
A Lectionary is a book or listing that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed for Christian or Judaic worship on a given day or occasion.-History:...

. In both cases, the text used is not only taken from a Greek addition, the readings also are the prayer of Mordecai
Mordecai
Mordecai or Mordechai is one of the main personalities in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. He was the son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin.-Biblical account:...

, and nothing of Esther
Esther
Esther , born Hadassah, is the eponymous heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther.According to the Bible, she was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus...

's own words is ever used. The Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 uses the Septuagint version of Esther, as it does for all of the Old Testament. The additions are specifically listed in the Thirty-Nine Articles
Thirty-Nine Articles
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are the historically defining statements of doctrines of the Anglican church with respect to the controversies of the English Reformation. First established in 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the nascent Church of England as it related to...

, Article VI, of the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

: "The rest of the Book of Esther".

Esther Rabbah includes all of Additions to Esther save the "letter texts". It is these "letter texts" that contain the ahistorical assertions that Haman was a Greek.

Reinterpretations of the story

The 2006 film One Night with the King
One Night with the King
One Night with the King is a historical epic film that was released in 2006 in the United States. Based on the novel Hadassah: One Night with the King by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen, One Night with the King is a dramatization of the Old Testament Bible story of Esther, who risked her life by...

is a reenactment of the biblical story of Esther.

The classic 1960 Hollywood film version of the story, Esther and the King
Esther and the King
Esther and the King is a 1960 U.S.A. / Italian film direction, written, and produced by Raoul Walsh. It is a religious epic. It was produced at 20th Century Fox/ Raoul Walsh Productions, and was released by 20th Century Fox. Joan Collins stars as Esther in this melodramatic, routine Biblical story...

was directed by Raoul Walsh
Raoul Walsh
Raoul Walsh was an American film director, actor, founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the brother of silent screen actor George Walsh...

 starring Joan Collins
Joan Collins
Joan Henrietta Collins, OBE , is an English actress, author, and columnist. Born in Paddington and raised in Maida Vale, Collins grew up during the Second World War. At the age of nine, she made her stage debut in A Doll's House and after attending school, she was classically trained as an actress...

 and Richard Egan
Richard Egan (actor)
Richard Egan was an American actor. In some films he is credited as Richard Eagan.-Career:Born in San Francisco, California, Egan served in the United States Army as a judo instructor during World War II...

.

The novel Hadassah by J Francis Hudson (Lion Publishing 1996) retells Esther's story from her own viewpoint, focussing on the dilemma she faces when compelled to choose between her own survival and that of her people..

In 1992 a 30-minute, fully animated video, twelfth in Hanna-Barbera
Hanna-Barbera
Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. was an American animation studio that dominated North American television animation during the second half of the 20th century...

's bestselling The Greatest Adventure
The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible
The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible is a direct-to-video series produced by Hanna-Barbera that tells of three young adventurers—Derek, Margo, and 'their nomad friend' Moki—who travel back in time to watch biblical events take place first-hand.-Overview:Foreign exchange...

series, titled Queen Esther features the voices of Helen Slater
Helen Slater
Helen Rachel Slater is an American actress and singer-songwriter.She appeared in the title role in the 1984 film Supergirl. In the following years she starred in several very successful comedy-drama films such as Ruthless People, The Secret of My Success, and City Slickers...

 as Queen Esther, Dean Jones
Dean Jones (actor)
Dean Carroll Jones is an American actor. Jones is best known for his light-hearted leading roles in several Walt Disney movies between 1965 and 1977, most notably The Love Bug.-Early years:...

 as King Ahasuerus, Werner Klemperer
Werner Klemperer
Werner Klemperer was a comedic and dramatic actor, best known for his role as Colonel Klink on the CBS television sitcom, Hogan's Heroes.-Early life:...

 as Haman, and Ron Rifkin
Ron Rifkin
Ron Rifkin is an American actor. He is best-known for his roles as Arvin Sloane on the spy drama Alias and as Saul Holden on the American family drama Brothers & Sisters.-Personal life:...

 as Mordecai.

There are several paintings depicting Esther, including one by Millais
John Everett Millais
Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, PRA was an English painter and illustrator and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.-Early life:...

.

VeggieTales
VeggieTales
VeggieTales is an American series of children's computer animated films featuring anthropomorphic vegetables in stories conveying moral themes based on Christianity...

also made an animated version entitled Esther… The Girl Who Became Queen.

There was a British production entitled "Luv Esther", putting it in the form of a pop opera.

Text and translations

  • Jewish
    Judaism
    Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

     translations:
    • Esther (Judaica Press) translation [with Rashi
      Rashi
      Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

      's commentary] at Chabad.org
    • Purim insights to Megillat Esther
    • Mechon Mamre Full text, Aleppo Codex
      Aleppo Codex
      The Aleppo Codex is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the 10th century A.D.The codex has long been considered to be the most authoritative document in the masorah , the tradition by which the Hebrew Scriptures have been preserved from generation to generation...

      : text of Esther in Hebrew
  • Christian
    Christian
    A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

     translations:
    • Online Bible at GospelHall.org
    • The Book of Esther Full text, KJV, (also available at Arabic)
    • Esther in the NAB
      New American Bible
      The New American Bible is a Catholic Bible translation first published in 1970. It had its beginnings in the Confraternity Bible, which began to be translated from the original languages in 1948....

    • Esther NRSV translation
      New Revised Standard Version
      The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is an English translation of the Bible released in 1989 in the USA. It is a thorough revision of the Revised Standard Version .There are three editions of the NRSV:...

       with photos of Susa

Modern scholarship

  • Beal, Timothy K (Timothy Beal
    Timothy Beal
    Timothy K. Beal is a writer and scholar in the field of religious studies whose work explores matters of religion and American culture, past and present. He is currently Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.- Biography :Beal was born in...

    ). The Book of Hiding: Gender, Ethnicity, Annihilation, and Esther. NY: Routledge, 1997. Postmodern theoretical apparatus, e.g. Jacques Derrida
    Jacques Derrida
    Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

    , Emmanuel Levinas
    Emmanuel Lévinas
    Emmanuel Levinas was a Lithuanian-born French Jewish philosopher and Talmudic commentator.-Life:Emanuelis Levinas received a traditional Jewish education in Lithuania...

  • Extract from The JPS Bible Commentary: Esther by Adele Berlin: Liberal Jewish view.
  • Fox, Michael V. Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, 2nd ed. Wipf & Stock, 2010 — highly regarded literary analysis
  • Sasson, Jack M. “Esther” in Alter and Kermode, pp. 335–341, literary view
  • The Historicity of Megillat Esther: Gil Student's survey of scholarship supporting an historical reading of Esther
  • Esther, Book of: A Christian perspective of the book.
  • Thespis: Ritual, Myth, and Drama in the Ancient Near East by Theodor Gaster
    Theodor Gaster
    Theodor Herzl Gaster was a British-born American Biblical scholar known for work on comparative religion, mythology and the history of religions...

    . 1950.
  • White, Sidnie Ann. “Esther: A Feminine Model for Jewish Diaspora” in Newsom

Commentaries and other books

  • Esther (Judaica Press) translation [with Rashi
    Rashi
    Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

    's commentary] at Chabad.org
  • Clines, David J.A. The Esther Scroll. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 30. Sheffield, England: Sheffield, 1984.
  • Cumming, Rev. J. Elder DD The Book of Esther : Its spiritual teaching London: The Religious Tract Society, 1913
  • Fischer, James A. Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther. Collegeville Bible Commentary. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986.
  • Fox, Michael V. Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.
  • Hudson, J. Francis Esther: For Such a Time as This. From Character and Charisma series. Kingsway, 2000.
  • Levenson, Jon D. Esther. Old Testament Library Series. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997.
  • McConville, John C.L. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.
  • Moore, Carey A. Esther. Anchor Bible, vol. 7B. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971.
  • Paton, Lewis B. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1908.
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