ESTHER, AHASUERUS, and MORDECAI

Is the Story True?

Anonymous

(Investigator 177, 2018 January)



THE STORY

A 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.

Each 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 identity.

Soon afterwards Esther's cousin, Mordecai, exposes a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus but is not rewarded.

In the 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.

Ahasuerus 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."

At a 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.

Haman 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)

A new edict is sent by mounted couriers to 127 provinces from India to Sudan allowing the Jews to gather in groups and defend themselves.

The Jews slay over 75,000 enemies. To commemorate the Jews' salvation the Festival of Purim is inaugurated — "a day for gladness and feasting and holiday-making…"


IS THE STORY TRUE?

Critics consider the book of Esther legendary, unhistorical, and composed three centuries after the alleged events.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2009) says:

The book 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).

Theologians 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.



PERSIAN KINGS

The first five kings of the Persian Empire were:

Cyrus the Great 559-529
Cyrus 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)

Cambyses 529-522
Conquered 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
In 519 Darius decreed that the Jews' Temple rebuilding, which had stopped for 18 years, be completed; it was dedicated in 516. (Ezra 6:15)
Darius 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
In 484 Xerxes re-conquered Egypt which had rebelled and in 480 invaded Greece with 360,000 troops and 700 ships.

Artaxerxes I 465-425
Suppressed revolts in Bactria and Egypt and is noted for tolerance toward the Jews. He died at Susa.



AHASUERUS

In the Bible the name "Ahasuerus" appears in Daniel 9:1; Ezra 4:6; and 28 times in Esther.

Most 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".

This gains support from Ezra 4:4-7 which summarizes efforts to stop the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem:

4Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build,

5and they bribed officials to frustrate their plan throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

6In the reign of Ahasuerus, in his accession year, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

7And in the days of Artaxerxes … king of Persia… (NRSV)
 
Since Ahasuerus is here placed between Darius and Artaxerxes, he is probably Xerxes.



ANOTHER AHASUERUS

Daniel 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)

The 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.


Therefore 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."

I 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.



ARTAXERXES

The Greek Septuagint Old Testament replaces Ahasuerus throughout Esther with Artaxerxes.

First-century Jewish historian Josephus likewise replaces Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes. (Antiquities 11:6)

It is 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)

Some 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?

This happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the same Ahasuerus who ruled over one hundreds and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia.
In those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in the citadel of Susa... (Esther 1:1-2)
[Note: some Bible translations have Sudan instead of Ethiopia. The Hebrew is "Cush" which refers to Sudan.]

Ahasuerus in Esther is not Cyrus because Cyrus' Empire did not extend to Sudan.

King 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.

The choice is between Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes.

The 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)

Historically all three kings, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes had a royal residence at Susa.

The Britannica says of Darius:

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.

Xerxes 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…"

Ahasuerus' harem is mentioned in Esther 2:3, 9-11. However, all three kings, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes had harems!



MORDECAI'S EXILE and ESTHER'S AGE

I here quote the King James Bible:

5 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;

6 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)

Nebuchadnezzar reigned c.605 to c.561 BC. (Britannica 2009)

"Taken captive with Jeconiah..." happened in 597. (II Chronicles 36; II Kings 23-24)

If we assume Mordecai was a baby in 597 he would have been 75 when Darius began to reign and 111 when Xerxes began to reign!

Critics claim that Mordecai's cousin Esther would have been very old or dead, not a "girl … lovely in form and features…" (Esther 2:7)

Some people respond that Kish, Mordecai's great grandfather, was "carried away" in 597 BC, not Mordecai. The NRSV Bible gives an interpretation rather than a translation and reads:

Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah...

With this interpretation Esther could have been young and comely even in the reign of Artaxerxes!

I 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.

However, the very next verse solves the ambiguity. The fifteen Bible translations all say:

7 And he brought up ... Esther, his uncle's daughter...

The pronouns "he" and "his" refer to the same person denoted by "who", and is Mordecai.

Let's 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.

Mordecai could then plausibly be 60 years older than Esther.

Remember, 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 Esther 22.

Such a calculation works, just barely, if Ahasuerus refers to Darius, but not at all if Ahasuerus is Xerxes or Artaxerxes.



 AN APOSTLE'S THEOLOGY MISUSED

Some 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!

In 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)

However, 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 ancestor?

Clearly, Paul's argument has theological purpose and is not intended as an argument for changing names and dates.

If Mordecai was taken captive with King Jeconiah, which occurred 597 BC, then Ahasuerus in Esther can only be King Darius.



ADDITIONAL CLUES

Esther 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)

This 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.

Darius' 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)
 
Darius' 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...” (1:3)

In 518 Darius visited Egypt, and in 513 he led a major campaign against European Scythia.

In Ahasuerus' seventh year when Esther became Queen and his twelfth when Haman plotted the extermination of Jews Darius appears free from major military campaigns.


WEBSITES

Various websites have argumentation based on alleged similarities in names and pronunciation.

Xerxes, 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.

My method minimizes speculation and attempts to identify Ahasuerus by comparing the Bible with respectable references such as The Britannica.



WHEN WRITTEN

The 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)

Critics 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.  

An 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!

Grayzel (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."

The 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:

[Darius] completed the organization of the empire into satrapies, initiated by Cyrus the Great, and fixed the annual tribute due from each province.

And Greek historian Herodotus (485-425 BC) writes:

[Darius] 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...

The "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."

The 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 Hebrew) "province and province", which is evident in Young's Literal Translation:

...and sendeth letters unto all provinces of the king, unto province and province... (1:22)

...seven 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)

I suggest that "province and province" may indicate there were several categories of provinces of which "satrapy" was only one category.

The 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."

The claim that Ahasuerus could from his throne inside the palace see Esther standing in the courtyard (5:1-2) appears valid.
See a map of the palace at:
http://www.livius.org/pictures/a/maps/map-of-susa-achaemenid-palace/

The 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.

Mordecai possibly has archaeological support:

The name "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)

Among 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)

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).



WHY WRITTEN

Esther's 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 world-changing.

Haman 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)

The 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.

The 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 celebrate it.


REFERENCES:

Brenton, L.L. (Translator) The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, Samuel Bagster

Douglas, J.D. et al (editors) 1982 New Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity

Encyclopædia Britannica  2009 Deluxe Edition, Chicago

Gertoux, G. 2016 Queen Esther wife of Xerxes: Chronological, Historical and Archaeological Evidence, Lulu

Grayzel, S. 1968 A History Of The Jews, Mentor

The Bible — King James (1611), NRSV (1993), MacArthur Study Bible (1997) pp 681-682, Young's Literal Translation (1898)

Whiston, W. (translator) 1960 Josephus Complete Works — Antiquities Book 11, Chapter 6, Kregel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ahasuerus
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behistun_Inscription
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapar_Khaneh
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_translation_of_the_Behistun_Inscription
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordecai
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satrap
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susa
https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/Halsall/ancient/herodotus-history
http://www.crystalinks.com/Achaemenid_Empire
http://www.heritageinstitute.com/zoroastrianism/susa/







LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD

Anonymous

(Investigator 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 priesthood:

Levi was one of the 12 sons of Jacob whose descendants became the 12 tribes of Israel. (Genesis 35:22-26)

Levi had three sons Gershon, Kohath and Merari (Genesis 46:11; I Chronicles 6:1, 16) whose descendants would together make up the "Levites".

Kohath fathered Amram (Exodus 6:18) and Amram in turn fathered Aaron and Moses. (Exodus 6:20)

Aaron and his sons and their descendants became Israel's priesthood.

The 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 him.





The Bible investigated on this website:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/