ESTHER, AHASUERUS, and MORDECAI
Is the Story True?
177, 2018 January)
Jewish orphan girl, Esther, who was raised by her cousin, Mordecai, is
selected with beauty-contest winners from every province of the Persian
Empire for the harem of King Ahasuerus.
girl spends a night with Ahasuerus, Esther in the seventh year of his
reign, and then joins the concubines in the harem. Esther pleases the
King most, and is made Queen. She keeps secret, however, her Jewish
afterwards Esther's cousin, Mordecai, exposes a plot to assassinate
King Ahasuerus but is not rewarded.
King's twelfth year Haman, a Jew-hater, is prime minister, and
persuades King Ahasuerus to endorse a decree that all Jews in every
province be exterminated.
later reads the "book of records, the annals" and sees the entry about
Mordecai exposing the assassination plot. Mordecai is made "the man
whom the king delights to honor."
private banquet prepared by Esther for Ahasuerus and Haman she reveals
she's a Jew and begs the king to save her life and all Jews.
is hanged but the decree to exterminate all Jews stands firm because,
"an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's
ring cannot be revoked." (8:8)
edict is sent by mounted couriers to 127 provinces from India to Sudan
allowing the Jews to gather in groups and defend themselves.
Jews slay over 75,000 enemies. To commemorate the Jews' salvation the
Festival of Purim is inaugurated — "a day for gladness and feasting and
IS THE STORY TRUE?
consider the book of Esther
legendary, unhistorical, and composed three centuries after the alleged
The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2009)
purports to explain how the feast of Purim came to be celebrated by the
Jews. Esther, the beautiful Jewish wife of the Persian king Ahasuerus
(Xerxes I), and her cousin Mordecai persuade the king to retract an
order for the general annihilation of Jews throughout the empire. The
massacre had been plotted by the king's chief minister, Haman… Instead,
Haman was hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai; and on the day
planned for their annihilation, the Jews destroyed their enemies.
According to the Book of Esther, the feast of Purim was established to
celebrate that day, but this
explanation is surely legendary… The book may have been composed as late as the first half of the
2nd century BC, though the origin of the Purim festival could
date to the Babylonian exile (6th century BC).
still debate which Persian king "Ahasuerus" refers to. Most opt for
either Xerxes or Artaxerxes in whose reigns Esther would have been
(critics claim) a wrinkled "granny", not a beauty-contest winner.
first five kings of the Persian Empire were:
Cyrus the Great 559-529
made Persia a joint empire with Media in 550 BC. He conquered Babylon
in 539 BC and authorized the Jews exiled in Babylon to go home and
rebuild their Temple and Jerusalem. (Ezra 1)
Egypt in 525 and invaded northern Sudan. He made Susa (250km east of
the Tigris) one of four capital cities.
Darius the Great 522-486
Darius decreed that the Jews' Temple rebuilding, which had stopped for
18 years, be completed; it was dedicated in 516. (Ezra 6:15)
was noted for great building projects. He reorganized the
administration and finances of the Persian Empire, invaded Scythia in
513 and in 490 tried to conquer Greece.
Xerxes I 486-465
Xerxes re-conquered Egypt which had rebelled and in 480 invaded Greece
with 360,000 troops and 700 ships.
Artaxerxes I 465-425
revolts in Bactria and Egypt and is noted for tolerance toward the
Jews. He died at Susa.
Bible the name "Ahasuerus" appears in Daniel 9:1; Ezra 4:6; and 28
times in Esther.
commentators interpret "Ahasuerus" in Esther to be Xerxes. The New Bible Dictionary (1982)
says "Almost certainly Xerxes..." The Good
News Bible and the New
International Version uniformly translate Ahasuerus as "Xerxes".
gains support from Ezra
4:4-7 which summarizes efforts to stop the Jews from rebuilding
the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and made them
afraid to build,
Ahasuerus is here placed between Darius and Artaxerxes, he is probably
they bribed officials to frustrate their plan throughout the reign of
King Cyrus of Persia and until
the reign of Darius king of
the reign of Ahasuerus, in his
accession year, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of
Judah and Jerusalem.
in the days of Artaxerxes …
king of Persia… (NRSV)
9:1 says: "In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a
Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans." (Daniel 9:1;
5:31; 6:1-28; 11:1)
setting of Daniel 9 is after Persia conquered Babylon (i.e. the
Chaldeans) but before the Jews returned to Jerusalem.
The timing is 538
BC or 16 years before Darius the Great became King of Persia.
Darius in Daniel 9:1 is not any king of Persia. Valvoord (2012) states:
"The assertion of Daniel 9:1 that 'Darius was made king' indicates that
he was invested with the kingship by some higher authority ...
installed as viceroy in Babylonia by Cyrus the Great."
refer to Daniel 9:1 to show that the designation "Ahasuerus" is not
limited to any one king such as Xerxes. Although "Ahasuerus" may refer
to Xerxes in Ezra 4, it does not in Daniel 9, and therefore also not
necessarily in Esther.
The Greek Septuagint Old Testament
replaces Ahasuerus throughout Esther
Jewish historian Josephus likewise replaces Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes.
clear from Ezra and Nehemiah that Artaxerxes
supported the rebuilding of Jerusalem:-
Ezra chapter 7
tells how a large group of Jews in the 450s BC returned to Jerusalem by
authority of Artaxerxes.
The book of Nehemiah
has its setting after Ezra.
It records that Artaxerxes, at Susa, with "the queen sitting beside
him", authorized his "cupbearer" Nehemiah to undertake further
restoration of Jerusalem. (2:1; 1:2; 2:6)
interpreters argue that Artaxerxes' unnamed queen was Esther. If
correct, this would mean that Ahasuerus in Esther refers to Artaxerxes
and the events in Esther
occurred in the 460s-450s BC.
DARIUS, XERXES or ARTAXERXES?
happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the same Ahasuerus who ruled over
one hundred and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia.
in Esther is not
Cyrus because Cyrus' Empire did not extend to Sudan.
Cambyses added Egypt to the Empire in 525 and invaded northern Sudan.
Cambyses, however, is not Ahasuerus because Cambyses reigned only 7
years whereas Esther 3:7 mentions the twelfth
year of Ahasuerus, the year Haman plotted to exterminate all Jews.
choice is between Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes.
setting of Esther is
"the citadel of Susa" — other Bibles say "Susa the capital" (1:2; 8:14;
9:6) — and the palace of King Ahasuerus. (1:9)
all three kings, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes had a royal residence at
The Britannica says of Darius:
those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in the citadel
of Susa... (Esther 1:1-2)
some Bible translations have Sudan instead of Ethiopia. The Hebrew is
"Cush" which refers to Sudan.]
In 521 BC
he made Susa his administrative capital, where he restored the
fortifications and built an audience hall and residential palace. At
Persepolis, in his native country of Fars (Persis) he founded a new
royal residence to replace the earlier capital at Pasargadae.
retired to Susa and Persepolis after his invasion of Greece (480-479)
failed: "He then furthered the depletion of the once-enormous resources
he had gathered, through multiple taxation, by launching a vast
construction program." (Britannica 2009) This conceivably corresponds
to Esther 10:1 where
Ahasuerus "imposed tribute throughout the empire…" However, 10:1 could
also describe Darius' actions — see below.
The Britannica says: "After his
reversal in Greece, he withdrew into himself and allowed himself to be
drawn into harem intrigues…"
harem is mentioned in Esther
2:3, 9-11. However, all three kings, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes had
MORDECAI'S EXILE and ESTHER'S AGE
quote the King James Bible:
Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was
Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjamite;
reigned c.605 to c.561 BC. (Britannica 2009)
captive with Jeconiah..." happened in 597. (II Chronicles 36; II Kings
assume Mordecai was a baby in 597 he would have been 75 when Darius
began to reign and 111 when Xerxes began to reign!
claim that Mordecai's cousin Esther would have been very old or dead,
not a "girl … lovely in form
and features…" (Esther 2:7)
people respond that Kish, Mordecai's great grandfather, was "carried
597 BC, not Mordecai. The NRSV
Bible gives an interpretation rather than a translation and reads:
Who had been carried away from
Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah
king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried
away. (Esther 2)
been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with
King Jeconiah of Judah...
this interpretation Esther could have been young and comely even in the
reign of Artaxerxes!
checked twenty English translations of the Bible. Fifteen leave the
matter seemingly ambiguous like the King
James. Two translations plainly opted for Mordecai as having
accompanied King Jeconiah. Three plainly opted for Kish.
the very next verse solves the ambiguity. The fifteen Bible
translations all say:
7 And he brought up ... Esther, his uncle's daughter...
pronouns "he" and "his" refer to the same person denoted by "who", and
postulate that Mordecai's father was 25 years older than Mordecai's
uncle and married young, and Mordecai was born early in the marriage.
Also, that Esther's father married a young wife late in life.
could then plausibly be 60 years older than Esther.
Ahasuerus made Esther queen in the 7th year of his reign. If Ahasuerus
is Darius this would be near 515 BC when Mordecai would be aged 82 and
calculation works, just barely, if Ahasuerus refers to Darius, but not
at all if Ahasuerus is Xerxes or Artaxerxes.
AN APOSTLE'S THEOLOGY MISUSED
argue that Mordecai could have been "Taken captive with Jeconiah…" to
Babylon before Mordecai was born
by being "in the loins of an ancestor" who was taken captive!
Hebrews 7 the Apostle Paul argues that Melchizedek was greater than
Levi [i.e. Israel's priesthood] because the lesser person pays tithes
to the greater and Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek. "Levi" lived four
centuries after Melchizedek — so how did Levi pay tithes to
Melchizedek? Paul writes: "One might even say that Levi … paid tithes
through Abraham, for he [Levi] was still in the loins of his ancestor
[Abraham] when Melchizedek met him." (Hebrews 7:10)
if one argues that Mordecai was taken to Babylon "in the loins of an
ancestor", why not also argue that King Jeconiah was taken to Babylon
in such a way? Why stop with Jeconiah — why not argue that every act
recorded in the Bible was not done by the person named but by an
Paul's argument has theological purpose and is not intended as an
argument for changing names and dates.
Mordecai was taken captive with King Jeconiah, which occurred 597 BC,
then Ahasuerus in Esther
can only be King Darius.
Chapter 1 is set in the third year
of the reign of Ahasuerus, including a 180-day display of his wealth.
Chapter 2 describes the selection of Esther as Queen which was
completed in the seventh year of Ahasuerus' reign. (2:16)
does not fit with Xerxes who in his third year, 484 BC, subdued a
revolt in Egypt and in his seventh year led 360,000 troops in an
invasion of Greece.
reign started in 522. For several years his generals subdued rebellions
in various provinces. Also:
In 521 BC
he made Susa is administrative capital, where he restored the
fortifications and built an audience hall (apadana) and a residential
palace. (Britannica 2009)
third year, 520-519 BC, is when his authority was secure and therefore
could be when he celebrated with the 180-day display of wealth recorded
in Esther Chapter 1.
It also reads like a victory celebration, since present were: “The army
of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces...”
Darius visited Egypt, and in 513 he led a major campaign against
Ahasuerus' seventh year when Esther became Queen and his twelfth when
Haman plotted the extermination of Jews Darius appears free from major
websites have argumentation based on alleged similarities in names and
for example, had a grandfather named Vishtaspa which is said to sound
similar to Vashti (the queen prior to Esther), and a wife named
"Am-estris" where "estris" could be Esther. And "Aha" in Ahasuerus
might be a corruption of "Arta" in Artaxerxes. And so it goes on.
method minimizes speculation and attempts to identify Ahasuerus by
comparing the Bible with respectable references such as The Britannica.
probable author of Esther
is Mordecai since he monitored Esther's life, became "powerful in the
king's house" (9:4), and could access "the annals of the kings of Media
and Persia". (10:2)
who agree with The Britannica
on a 2nd-century BC date and that the story is myth, argue that Esther was an attempt to
seek sympathy and support of Persia against the Greeks. They point out
that the Greek rulers of Syria captured Jerusalem and converted its
Temple for pagan worship in 168-165 BC.
argument from sympathy, however, is weak since the Jews could have used
more sympathy not only in the 2nd century BC but in every century!
(1968) states: "No one has yet identified the Ahasuerus of the story of
Esther... Nevertheless the story does not sound impossible. The names
are Persian, as is the entire atmosphere of the well-told story."
royal colors of purple, blue and white (8:15) are correct. The royal
postal system using "mounted couriers" (8:10) existed, instituted by
Cyrus and extended empire-wide by Darius.
The Britannica says:
completed the organization of the empire into satrapies, initiated by
Cyrus the Great, and fixed the annual tribute due from each province.
Greek historian Herodotus (485-425 BC) writes:
proceeded to establish twenty governments of the kind which the
Persians call satrapies, assigning to each its governor, and fixing the
tribute which was to be paid him by the several nations... During all
the reign of Cyrus, and afterwards when Cambyses ruled, there were no
fixed tributes, but the nations severally brought gifts to the king...
"annual tribute" fixed by Darius could correspond to Esther 10:1 —
"King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea."
127 "provinces" mentioned in Esther
1:1 and 9:30 are not the 20 "satrapies" but smaller administration
units — notice from Herodotus that each satrapy included "several
nations". Israel had "provinces" (plural) in the time of Ahab (I Kings
20:14-19), but Judah was one province in Artaxerxes' time. (Nehemiah
1:3; 7:6; 11:3) Eight verses in Esther have the phrase (in
"province and province", which is evident in Young's Literal Translation:
sendeth letters unto all provinces of the king, unto province and province... (1:22)
suggest that "province and province" may indicate there were several
categories of provinces of which "satrapy" was only one category.
splendor of Ahasuerus' palace in Susa (Esther 1:5-8) matches
discoveries by archaeologists. The
Britannica says: "The foundation
inscriptions of his [Darius] palace describe how he brought materials
and craftsmen for the work from all quarters of the empire."
claim that Ahasuerus could from his throne inside the palace see Esther
standing in the courtyard (5:1-2) appears valid.
and twenty and a hundred provinces—province
and province according to its writing, and people and people
according to its tongue... (8:9. Also: 3:12, 14; 4:3; 8:13, 17; 9:28)
See a map
of the palace at:
fortified palace complex, including residential palace and audience
hall ("apadana") was built mainly during Darius' reign but continued by
Xerxes. It was re-discovered in 1851 and systematically excavated by
Jean Perot in 1969-1979.
possibly has archaeological support:
"Mordecai" ... is considered identical to the name Marduka or Marduku attested as the name of
officials in the Persian court in thirty texts (the Persepolis
Administrative Archives) from the period of Xerxes I and his father
Darius, and may refer to up to four individuals, one of which might
have served as the prototype for the biblical Mordecai. (Wikipedia)
Esther includes many other
names and details that future archaeologists may potentially confirm
including Esther herself, Vashti, Haman, the king's seven counselors
(1:14), his would-be assassins, the king's seal ring (3:12; 8:10), the
"open square of the city in front of the king's gate" (4:6), and the
"annals of the kings of Media and Persia" (10:2).
the cuneiform sources dating to the period of the Neo-Babylonian
empire, of which 16,000 have been published, there are only two
individuals bearing the name Marduka: an entrepreneur who did business
under Nabonidus until the year 5 of Cyrus (534 BCE), and a
administrative superintendent who worked under Darius I from his years
17 to 32 (505-490 BCE)... (Gertoux 2016)
cooperation with Mordecai, risking her life (Chapter 4), is an example
of faith and courage, besides demonstrating that woman's role as
"helper" (Genesis 2:18) need not be menial but potentially
was an "Agagite" (3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:24), a branch of the Amalekites, a
nation cursed to extinction because it attacked Israel during the
Exodus. (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19) The "enemies of the
Jews" in Esther were
probably mainly Amalekites, and the book thus documents the showdown
between the two peoples. (MacArthur 1997)
Old Testament has a theme of a future "messiah" who would be born a Jew
and save the human race; Haman's failure to exterminate the Jews was
assurance that the "savior" would indeed come.
book also explains the origin of the Festival of Purim which The Britannica says: "could date to
the ... 6th century BC." Esther
9:28 says Purim "should be remembered
in every generation" — which is a true prediction since Jews still
L.L. (Translator) The Septuagint
Version of the Old Testament, Samuel Bagster
J.D. et al (editors) 1982 New Bible
Deluxe Edition, Chicago
G. 2016 Queen Esther wife of Xerxes:
Chronological, Historical and Archaeological Evidence, Lulu
S. 1968 A History Of The Jews,
Bible — King James (1611), NRSV (1993), MacArthur Study Bible (1997) pp
681-682, Young's Literal Translation
W. (translator) 1960 Josephus
Complete Works — Antiquities Book 11, Chapter 6, Kregel
178, 2018 January)
My article about
Esther, Ahasuerus and Mordecai (Investigator 177) mentions "Levi"
(Hebrews 7:4-10) and Israel's priesthood.
The following is
my understanding of the difference between the Levites and the
Levi was one of
the 12 sons of Jacob whose descendants became the 12 tribes of Israel.
Levi had three
sons Gershon, Kohath and Merari (Genesis 46:11; I Chronicles 6:1, 16)
whose descendants would together make up the "Levites".
Amram (Exodus 6:18) and Amram in turn fathered Aaron and Moses. (Exodus
Aaron and his
sons and their descendants became Israel's priesthood.
therefore, was a sub-category of the Levites. Non-priestly Levites
were, during their working life, assistants to the priesthood.
In Hebrews 7:5
“Levi” means the man, the individual, who was a son of Jacob; but in
Hebrews 7:9 “Levi” seems to refer to the priesthood that descended from
See also: Esther's and Mordecai's Age
The Bible investigated — on this website: