ESTHER CHAPTER 1
**Please see Introduction to Esther for an explanation of the Additions to Esther. These additions are not included in the Protestant canon. However, they are historically valuable, so I am including them in their appropriate positions. The additions will be clearly marked by their corresponding letter and the text will be italicized. This translation of the additions is adapted from the NRSV.***
Verses 1-11: Mordecai’s Dream
– In the second year of the reign of Artaxerxes the Great, on the first day of Nisan, Mordecai had a dream. Mordecai’s father was Jair, Jair’s father was Shimei, Shimei’s father was Kish, and Kish was from the tribe of Benjamin. Mordecai was a Jew living in the city of Susa. He was a great man and he was serving in the king’s court. He was one of the captives whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had brought from Jerusalem with Judea’s King Jeconiah.
– This was his dream: Noises and confusion, thunders and earthquake, tumult on the earth! Then two great dragons came forward, roared terribly, ready to fight. At their roaring every nation prepared for war, to fight against the righteous nation. It was a day of darkness and gloom, tribulation and distress, affliction and tumult on the earth! The whole righteous nation was troubled. They were afraid of the evils that threatened them and they were ready to perish. Then they cried out to God. At their outcry, as though from a tiny spring, a great river with abundant water came. Light came, the sun rose, and the lowly were exalted, devouring the ones who were held in honor.
– In his dream, Mordecai saw what God had determined to do. After he awoke, he had it on his mind, seeking all day to understand every detail of it.
Verses 12-17: A Plot Against the King
– Now Mordecai took his rest in the courtyard with Gabatha and Tharra. They were two of the king’s eunuchs who kept watch in the courtyard. He overheard their conversation and asked about their purposes. He learned that they were preparing to lay hands on King Artaxerxes, and Mordecai informed the king of their plan. The king questioned the two eunuchs, they confessed, and were taken away to be executed. The king made a permanent record of this, and Mordecai wrote an account of them also. The king ordered Mordecai to serve in the court and rewarded him because of these things. But Hammedatha’s son Haman, a Bougean whom the king held in high honor, determined to harm Mordecai and his people because of the king’s two eunuchs.
– Biblewise’s Additions to Esther article includes some discussion about various aspects of Addition A as it relates to the canonical book of Esther:
– “The setting is a year earlier than that described in the Hebrew story and five years before Esther would be chosen as queen.”
– “Later on (Addition F), readers will find out that the two dragons represent Haman and Mordecai and the spring/river is Esther.”
– Regarding a chronological discrepancy: “(A) introduces Mordecai as serving in the court under Artaxerxes. It also reports that he was among those taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. If Mordecai came in that first deportation under Jehoiachin, as the text states, it would have happened in 597 BCE. Artaxerxes reigned from 465-424 BCE. That would make Mordecai well over one hundred years old.”
– It should be noted that some people argue that the canonical Esther has this same issue in 2:5-6. However, most respond that those verses can be understood to mean that Mordecai’s great- grandfather Kish was taken into exile at that time, not Mordecai. Interestingly, even though the HCSB agrees that this explanation is preferred, they also note that the possibility that the passage refers to Mordecai (who would’ve been about 119 under this scenario) shouldn’t be completely ruled out.
– What is a “Bougean”? Apparently, it’s a very obscure term and no one knows for sure. It is perhaps complicated by the fact that Haman is referred to in 3:1 as an “Agagite,” and in the Alpha text he’s called a “Macedonian.
– The Torah includes relevant information in two of their articles:
– Why Did Mordecai Not Bow Down to Haman? indicates that “Bougean” was, “presumably a pejorative association for Greek speaking Jews at the time.”
– “Another interpretation is that Mordechai, a Benjaminite Jew from the family of Saul, objects to Haman’s family. As a descendent of Agag, the Amalekite king in the time of Saul, Haman is a blood enemy of Mordechai’s family. Moreover, he is part of the nation of Amalek whose memory Israel is commanded to wipe out (Deut 25:17–19).
– ” Indeed, the rabbinic choices for the special readings for Purim suggest that the rabbis saw a deep connection between Purim and the problem of Amalek: The rabbis established Exodus 17:8-16, the battle with Amalek, as the Torah reading for Purim, and Deuteronomy 25:17–19, the command to remember Amalek, as the reading for the Shabbat before Purim, followed by 1 Samuel 15, Saul’s war with Amalek and King Agag, as the haftara (prophetic reading).
– “While this interpretation—that Mordechai and Haman were natural enemies (Saul vs. Agag, Amalek vs. Jew)— does pick up on a motif in the Megillah, it is unclear that the Megillah is trying to make a genealogical claim about Haman actually being a descendant of Agag. Dubbing Haman as ‘the Agagite’ may simply be a derogatory slur, as in ‘Haman the wicked’ or ‘Haman the enemy.’ In this sense, the description of Haman as an Agagite can be understood as a general warning to be careful about the antisemitism that lurks behind outsiders.”
– The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha (p. 109) includes this information:
– “The term Bougean is unclear; it has been interpreted as an ethnic designation or a disparaging epithet (‘braggart’). Haman’s status as a courtier may also be implied here; Bagoas is a common Persian name for courtiers and generals…The Alpha text calls Haman a Macedonian; in MT Esth, he is an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekites…Specific ethnic conflict is replaced here with concerns about Gentile anti-Judaism. Haman’s motivations may relate to palace intrigue (because of the two eunuchs of the king)…”
Xerxes Replaces His Queen (1:1 – 2:18)
– ESV Study Bible writes, “In this opening section the author sets the scene by describing Queen Vashti’s downfall (1:1-22), her replacement by Esther (2:1-18), and how Mordecai foils a plot against the king (2:19- 23). This situates Esther and Mordecai for the roles they will play in the main action that follows.”
Xerxes’ Rule over His Own House is Challenged (1:1- 22)
– ESV Study Bible notes, “This is a mini-story in its own right. The scene is set by a description of two banquets, hosted by the king and queen respectively (vv. 1-8, 9). Vashti’s defiance of the king and its consequences follow.”
The King’s Banquet
– The following events happened in the time of Ahasuerus. I’m referring to the Ahasuerus who ruled over 127 provinces from India all the way to Ethiopia. At that time King Ahasuerus reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa. During the 3rd year of his reign, he held a feast for all his officials and his servants. The army of Persia and Media was there, as well as the nobles and officials of all the provinces.
– “Ahasuerus” is Hebrew for Xerxes. NLT Illustrated Study Bible explains, “The name Xerxes comes from the Greek transliteration of the Persian Xshayarshan, which the Hebrew text renders ‘akhashwerosh (Ahasuerus). His father, Darius I (521-486 BC), was king when Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people of Judah to finish building the Temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4:24-6:22; Hag 1:1; Zech 1:1).”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “The description of the region encompassed is consistent with descriptions of Xerxes’ realm found on the foundation inscription of his palace in Persopolis.” On India, the same source continues, “The northwest region of the Indus River Valley, which had been conquered by Darius. It corresponds to modern western Pakistan.” And on Cush, “The region south of Egypt. Originally, Cush was an Egyptian name for the area between the second and third cataracts of the Nile River. By Xerxes’ time, the term had come to mean southern Egypt, Sudan, and northern Ethiopia.”
– The same source adds, “Eastern kings often threw lavish banquets for members of the nobility. The Greek author Ctesias reported that 15,000 nobles regularly dined at the tables of Persian kings. The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal I bragged to have entertained 69,574 guests at a ten-day feast on the dedication of his palace at Calah.”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Persia had as many as 31 satrapies, so this larger number must represent smaller units within a satrap, such as Judea within the Eber-nari (‘Beyond the River’) satrapy… Susa, the citadel, was a city in the province of Elam that served as one of Persia’s four capital cities (the others being Babylon in the west, Ecbatana in the north, and Persepolis in the east. Now called Shush, it is located on the edge of the Mesopotamian plain at the foothills of the Zagros Mountains. Amid the extensive ruins of the acropolis are the remains of the Persian palace build by Darius I on the site of the former Elamite castle (the ‘upper city’), which looks out over the larger ‘lower city.’ Susa was used as a winter residence by the Persian monarchs. In the summer, they usually moved to Ecbatana to avoid the heat.” The third year of his reign was, “483 BC. The presence of the army suggests that Xerxes I may have been building support for his invasion of Greece, where he was defeated at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. The events of Esther 1 would have taken place before Xerxes’s departure for Greece. Media [was] once a separate nation in north-western Persia. [It] was conquered c. 550 BC by Cyrus the Great, who founded the Persian Empire.”
Remains at Susa
– He displayed the glorious wealth of his kingdom and the magnificent splendor of his greatness for a full 180 days. At the end of this time, the king held a 7-day banquet for all the people who were present in Susa- for those of the highest standing to the most lowly. It was held in the garden courtyard of the king’s palace. White and blue linen hangings were fastened with fine white and purple linen cords to silver rods on marble columns. Gold and silver couches were arranged on a mosaic pavement made of valuable stones- porphyry, marble, and mother-of-pearl. Drinks were served in golden goblets, each with a different design. Royal wine was available in abundance at the king’s expense. By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, because the king had instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man as much as he wanted. Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women of King Ahasuerus’ palace.
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes several illuminating notes:
– On the 180 day feast: “Many scholars understand the text to describe a six-month banquet attended by princes and nobles, during which the king’s majesty was on display. Such a long banquet certainly seems excessive, but it is not unprecedented in Jewish literature. The Apocryphal book of Judith tells of an Assyrian king who threw a four month feast (Judith 1:1). Alternatively, the Hebrew text does not necessarily mean that the feast lasted six months. Rather, it may imply consecutive acts: first, the feast for the nobles; then, a six-month demonstration of Persian wealth; and finally, a seven-day feast for the people of Susa. The six-month display might have been more like a tour of his kingdom. King Hezekiah of Judah apparently gave envoys from Babylon such a tour of his kingdom, demonstrating its wealth and glory (2 Ki 20:12-19)- probably to draw them into an alliance. Some scholars have suggested that Xerxes’ demonstration was designed to reassure his nobles and garner support for the coming invasion of Greece.”
– On the garden: “In the hot, dry climates of the Near East, gardens often provided some welcome relief. Ancient cuneiform texts describe lavish public gardens constructed in Mesopotamia. Such gardens were also furnished with exotic plants and animals, for the amusement of their visitors…The Persians, however, developed monumental gardens to an art form. They served as vacations spots and hunting preserves, as well as displays of royal wealth. Classical writers report that the Persian gardens contained examples of every species of plant or animal in the world. The garden of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae was one of the most elaborate ever excavated, with stone channels, basins and colonnaded pavilions…The garden of Susa, which has not survived, was probably similar. Such gardens were called by the Persians paridaida, ‘beyond the wall’ (i.e., an enclosed area). It is from this word that the Greeks derived their word paradeisos, which gives us the English word paradise.”
– On the couches: “These were apparently not gold plated but solid gold. Herodotus reports that the men of Greece plundered such couches from the Persian camp after the Persians were forced to withdraw from Athens. These couches were cushioned with ‘rich covertures’ to make them more comfortable. To the Greeks, such extravagance seemed to epitomize Persian excesses.”
– On the drinking: “According to Josephus, it was the custom of the Persians to force the guests to drink nonstop, with the servants bringing wine continually to the table. Alternatively, it has been alleged that protocol required guests to drink whenever the king drank. Xerxes suspended this custom at this banquet, allowing guests to do as they pleased…”
– And finally, on Vashti: “The name is unattested in any ancient sources, but appears to be Persian. It has been suggested that the name may derive from words meaning ‘the best’ or ‘the beloved.’ It might possibly then have been a title for the queen rather than a proper name. According to Herodotus (7.61), Xerxes’ queen (at least in the earlier years of his reign) was a woman named Amestris, daughter of one Otanes, a commander in Xerxes’ army. Amestris was reputed to be a powerful, merciless shrew. She was reported to be the mother of Artaxerxes I, Xerxes’ successor. The Persians had no custom of requiring men and women to dine separately. Indeed, wives usually accompanied their husbands to dinner banquets. All the same, there is no reason to doubt that segregated dinner affairs could occur. The Persepolis Fortification Tablets, ancient documents excavated from Persepolis, demonstrate that royal wives often acted independently of their husbands…”
– NET Bible’s commentators have a different view on Vashti’s identity, “Vashti is the name of Xerxes’ queen according to the Book of Esther. But in the Greek histories of this period the queen’s name is given as Amestris (e.g., Herodotus, Histories 9.108-13). The name Vashti does not seem to occur in the nonbiblical records from this period. Apparently the two women are not to be confused, but not enough is known about this period to reconcile completely the biblical and extrabiblical accounts.”
Queen Vashti Deposed
– On the 7th day, as King Ahasuerus was feeling merry with wine, he ordered the seven eunuchs who served him- Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Karkas- to bring Queen Vashti into the king’s presence wearing her royal crown. He wanted to show off her beauty to the people and the officials because she was very beautiful. But when the eunuchs delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Jewish tradition holds that Vashti had been ordered to appear naked before the king, but the tradition has no historical support. Some Greek sources imply that the Persian queen was normally sequestered away and eschewed any public appearance; but scholars have demonstrated that this notion is mainly mythical. Royal women in Persia enjoyed high social status and were schooled in a variety of skills, including horsemanship and archery. They were known to appear in public, travel with their husbands and host feasts. There was nothing shameful in simply appearing at the banquet. Rather, it seems that Vashti was being commanded to act in a fashion that she believed beneath her station. Public displays of beauty were usually expected of concubines, not queens. The fact that she was told to wear the royal crown (which, according to ancient depictions, was actually more like a turban) may only have added insult to injury; the royal crown was a sign of her high status, while the king’s summons seemed to have denied her that very status.”
– Then the king inquired of the wise men who were discerners of the times, because it was customary to confer with those who were experts in matters of law and justice. Those closest to him were: Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memukan. These men were the seven officials of Persia and Media who saw the king on a regular basis and had the most prominent offices in the kingdom. The king asked, “According to law, what should be done to Queen Vashti since she refused to obey the command of King Ahasuerus conveyed through the eunuchs?”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible remarks, “The wise men were official advisers to the king and common to every royal court. The king wanted advice based on law and experience to know the most favorable times for particular actions…The first, Carshena (spelled Karshena above), is found at Persepolis in the Fortification Tablets. The number seven again appears for the king’s inner circle of advisers (cf Ezra 7:14), a council established by Darius I and evidently continued, being referred to by Xenophon.”
– Memukan then replied to the king and the rest of the officials, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king, but all the officials and the peoples of all King Xerxes’ provinces. This is because the queen’s actions will become public knowledge to all women, leading them to treat their husbands with contempt saying, ‘King Ahasuerus gave orders for Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she wouldn’t come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s officials in the same way. There will be no end of contempt and fury. Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal edict, and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also, let the king give her royal position to someone else who is more deserving than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout his vast kingdom, all the women will honor their husbands, from the most prominent to the lowly.”
– ESV Archaeology Study Bible says, “All the males agree that Vashti’s refusal of the king’s request would become a precedent for all the wives in the kingdom to assert their own independence from their husbands.”
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible points out, “Ancient Persia was a patriarchal society, and women in general were expected not only to honor their husbands, but to obey them as well. Nevertheless, we should not conclude that women were held in general subservience to men. The Persepolis Fortification Tablets reveal that women often worked as managers or directors of various businesses and sometimes supervised men. So while men might be urged to rule their homes, women were not generally oppressed.”
– The same source adds, “The idea that the laws of the Medes and the Persians could not be repealed is also found in Da 6:8, 12, but the notion is not clearly attested in any classical literature outside the OT. Indeed, the kings of Persian are frequently depicted as changing their decrees (e.g., when King Darius ameliorated his decree to execute the entire family of a certain Intaphernes, instead of sparing his brother-in- law and eldest son.) Perhaps the best way to understand the statements about the immutability of the king’s decrees is that it would have been considered disgraceful for the king to admit to having made an error, and so once the laws were written down, they would be reasonably immutable.”
– The advice seemed appropriate to the king and his officials, so the king did as Mermukan proposed. He sent letters throughout all the royal provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be the ruler of his own household, using his native tongue.
– NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “The official language of the western Persian Empire was Aramaic, even though it was not the native tongue of the Persians. The Achaemenid rulers saw the advantage of continuing to use the lingua franca of the Babylonian Empire they had overtaken. Laws and decrees were usually published in Aramaic. Translating this particular decree into all the languages of the empire would have been a monumental undertaking.”
– NET Bible says, “The edict was apparently intended to reassert male prerogative with regard to two things (and not just one): sovereign and unquestioned leadership within the family unit, and the right of deciding which language was to be used in the home when a bilingual situation existed.”