Esther (/ˈɛstər/; Hebrew: אֶסְתֵּר, Modern ’Estēr, Tiberian ʼEsetēr), born Hadassah (Hebrew: הֲדַסָּה, Modern Hadasa, Tiberian Haḏasā), is the eponymous heroine of the Book of Esther.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Esther was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus is traditionally identified with Xerxes I during the time of the Achaemenid Empire, although Josephus wrote that Esther's king husband was Xerxes' son Artaxerxes.[2] In his Historia Scholastica Petrus Comestor identified Ahasuerus (Esther 1:1) as Artaxerxes III, who reconquered Egypt.[3]

Her story is the basis for the celebration of Purim in Jewish tradition.

In the Bible

King Ahasuerus displayed his wealth for 180 days then held a 7-day feast in Susa (Shoushan). While in "high spirits" from the wine, he ordered his queen, Vashti, to appear before him and his guests to display her beauty. But when the attendants delivered the king's command to Queen Vashti, she refused to come. Furious at her refusal to obey, the king asked his wise men what should be done. One of them said that all the women in the empire would hear that "The King Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not." Then these women would despise their husbands, which would cause many problems in the kingdom. Therefore, it would be prudent to depose Vashti.[4]

The Feast of Esther by Johannes Spilberg the Younger

Many beautiful maidens were then brought before the king in order that he might choose a successor to the unruly Vashti. The King chose Esther, an orphan daughter of a Benjamite named Abihail. Esther was originally named Hadassah, meaning myrtle. She had spent her life among the Jewish exiles in Persia, where she lived under the protection of her cousin Mordecai.[4]

Esther talking to Mordecai

Mordecai was the son of Jair, a Benjamite, who had been carried into captivity together with Jeconiah by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Mordecai became chief minister of Ahasuerus and lived in the Persian capital of Susa.[5] One day, while sitting at the gate of the king's palace, Mordecai overheard a plot of two eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, to kill the king. Having informed the king through Esther of the conspiracy, Mordecai brought about the execution of the two conspirators, and the event was recorded in the royal chronicles.[5]

The grand vizier, Haman the Agagite,[6] commanded Mordecai to do obeisance to him. Upon Mordecai's refusal to prostrate himself, Haman informed the king that the Jews were a useless and turbulent people and inclined to disloyalty, and he promised to pay 10,000 silver talents into the royal treasury for the permission to pillage and exterminate this alien race. The king then issued a proclamation ordering the confiscation of Jewish property and a general extermination of all the Jews within the empire.[4]

Mordecai tore his robes and put ash on his head (signs of mourning or grieving) on hearing this news. Sheltered in the harem, Esther was unaware of the decree until Mordecai advised her of it through Hathach, one of the king's chamberlains.[7] He informed her that she should not think that she would escape simply because she was in the palace. At the request of Esther, Mordecai instituted at Susa a general fast for three days.[5]

Esther could not approach the king without being summoned, on pain of death, and the king had not summoned her for thirty days, implying that she may have fallen out of favor.[8] Nevertheless, at the end of the three days, Esther dressed in her royal apparel and went before the king, who was pleased to see her. When the king asked her what her request was, she invited the king and Haman to come to a banquet she had prepared. At the banquet they accepted her invitation to dine with her again on the following day. Haman, carried away by the joy that this honour gave him, issued orders for the erection of a gallows on which he intended to hang the hated Mordecai.[9]

But that night the king, being sleepless, ordered the chronicles of the nation to be read to him. Recalling that Mordecai had never been rewarded for his service in revealing the plot of the eunuchs, he asked Haman, the next day, to suggest a suitable reward for one "whom the king desired to honour". Thinking it was himself that the king had in mind, Haman suggested the use of the king's apparel and insignia. These the king ordered to be bestowed on Mordecai.[9]

Esther denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand.

Only at the second dinner party, when the king was sufficiently beguiled by her charms, did Esther reveal for the first time her identity as a Jew, and accused Haman of the plot to destroy her and her people. The king ordered that Haman should be hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai, and, confiscating his property, bestowed it upon the intended victim.[9] The king then appointed Mordecai as his prime minister, and issued a decree authorizing the Jews to defend themselves.[8]


The Jews established an annual feast, the feast of Purim, in memory of their deliverance. Haman set the date of Adar 13 to commence his campaign against the Jews. This determined the date of the festival of Purim.[8]

Origin and meaning of the name Esther

It has been conjectured that the name Esther is derived from a reconstructed Median word astra meaning myrtle.[10]

An alternative view is that Esther is derived from the theonym Ishtar. The Book of Daniel provides accounts of Jews in exile being assigned names relating to Babylonian gods and "Mordecai" is understood to mean servant of Marduk, a Babylonian god. "Esther" may have been a different Hebrew interpretation from the Proto-Semitic root "star/'morning/evening star'",[11] which descended with the /th/ into the Ugaritic Athtiratu[12] and Arabian Athtar.[13] The derivation must then have been secondary for the initial ayin to be confused with an aleph (both represented by vowels in Akkadian), and the second consonant descended as a /s/ (like in the Aramaic asthr "bright star"), rather than a /sh/ as in Hebrew and most commonly in Akkadian.

Wilson, who identified Ahasuerus with Xerxes I and Vashti with Amestris, suggested that both "Amestris" and "Esther" derived from Akkadian Ammi-Ishtar or Ummi-Ishtar.[14] Hoschander alternatively suggested Ishtar-udda-sha ("Ishtar is her light") as the origin with the possibility of -udda-sha being connected with the similarly sounding Hebrew name Hadassah. These names however remain unattested in sources, and come from the original Babylonian Empire from 2000 BCE,[citation needed] not the Chaldean Empire or Persian Empire of the Book of Esther.[citation needed]

The Targum[15] connects the name with the Persian word for "star", ستاره setareh, explaining that Esther was so named for being as beautiful as the Morning Star. In the Talmud (Tractate Yoma 29a), Esther is compared to the "morning star", and is considered the subject of Psalm 22, because its introduction is a "song for the morning star".


Dianne Tidball argues that while Vashti is a "feminist icon", Esther is a post-feminist icon.[16]

Abraham Kuyper notes some "disagreeable aspects" to her character: that she should not have agreed to take Vashti's place, that she refrained from saving her nation until her own life was threatened, and that she carries out bloodthirsty vengeance.[17]

The tale opens with Esther as beautiful and obedient, but also a relatively passive figure. During the course of the story, she evolves into someone who takes a decisive role in her own future and that of her people.[18] According to Sidnie White Crawford, "Esther's position in a male court mirrors that of the Jews in a Gentile world, with the threat of danger ever present below the seemingly calm surface." [7] Esther is related to Daniel in that both represent a "type" for Jews living in Diaspora, and hoping to live a successful life in an alien environment.

Esther as rhetorical model

Since she used only rhetoric to convince the king to save her people, Esther has been interpreted as a model for a successful rhetoric of marginalized groups persuading those who have power over them. According to Susan Zaeske, the story of Esther is a "rhetoric of exile and empowerment that, for millennia, has notably shaped the discourse of marginalized peoples such as Jews, women, and African Americans."[19]

Persian culture

The Shrine venerated as the tomb of Esther and Mordecai in Hamedan, Iran
Interior of the structure venerated as the tomb of Esther and Mordecai

Given the great historical link between Persian and Jewish history, modern day Persian Jews are called "Esther's Children". A building venerated as being the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai is located in Hamadan, Iran,[20] although the village of Kfar Bar'am in northern Israel also claims to be the burial place of Queen Esther.[21]

Depictions of Esther

There are several paintings depicting Esther, including one by Millais.

Canonicity in Christianity

The status of Esther as a canonical book of the Bible has historically been under dispute. For example, in the first several centuries of Christianity, Esther does not appear in the lists of books produced by Melito, Athanasius, Cyril, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others. Additionally, no copies of Esther were found at Qumran in the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nevertheless, by the fourth century CE, the majority of Western churches accepted Esther as a part of their Bibles.[22]

Esther is also commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod on May 24. She is also recognized as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Churches. "The Septuagint edition of Esther contains six parts (totaling 107 verses) not found in the Hebrew Bible. Although these interpretations originally may have been composed in Hebrew, they survive only in Greek texts. Because the Hebrew Bible’s version of Esther’s story contains neither prayers nor even a single reference to God, Greek redactors apparently felt compelled to give this secular tale a more explicitly religious orientation, alluding to “God” or the ‘Lord” fifty times."[23] The approximate dates for the Additions to Esther in the Apocrypha are: Second or first century BCE. [24]Link to online version of Esther in English translation of Septuagint: http://www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/Esther/index.htm.



  1. ^ Robert J. Littman (January 1975). "The Religious Policy of Xerxes and the "Book of Esther"". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 
  2. ^ Josephus, Antiquities. Book 11 Chapter 6 (184)
  3. ^ https://la.wikisource.org/php/SummaryGet.php?FindGo=Historia_Scholastica/Esther#De_Ocho_seu_Artaxerxe.
  4. ^ a b c "Esther", Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. ^ a b c "Mordecai", Jewish Encyclopedia
  6. ^ A descendant of the Amalekite people, of King Agag, whom King Saul of Israel was commanded by the prophet Samuel to utterly destroy because of their wickedness; but Saul chose to spare their king instead.(1Samuel 15:1-33) Haman's hatred of the Jews may have had its root in this event.
  7. ^ a b Crawford, Sidnie White. "Esther", Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, (James D. G. Dunn, John William Rogerson, eds.), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003 ISBN 9780802837110
  8. ^ a b c Crawford, Sidnie White. "Esther: Bible", Jewish Women's Archive
  9. ^ a b c McMahon, Arthur. "Esther." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 11 Apr. 2015
  10. ^ Barton, John; John Muddiman (2001-09-06). "Esther". The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198755005. 
  11. ^ Huehnergard, John (2008-04-10). "Appendix 1: Afro-Asiatic". In Woodard, Roger D. The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 225–246. ISBN 9781139469340. 
  12. ^ Rahmouni, Aïcha; Ford, J. N. (2008). "Section 1, The Near and Middle East". Divine Epithets in the Ugaritic Alphabetic Texts. Brill. p. 86. ISBN 9004157697. 
  13. ^ Offord, Joseph (April 1915). "The Deity of the Crescent Venus in Ancient Western Asia". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 198. JSTOR 25189307. 
  14. ^ NeXtBible Study Dictionary, entry "Ahasbai" Archived 2008-12-22 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Targum to Esther 2:7
  16. ^ Tidball, Dianne (2001). Esther, a True First Lady: A Post-Feminist Icon in a Secular World. Christian Focus Publications. ISBN 9781857926712. 
  17. ^ Kuyper, Abraham (2010-10-05). Women of the Old Testament. Zondervan. pp. 175–176. ISBN 9780310864875. 
  18. ^ Coogan, Michael David; Brettler, Marc Zvi; Newsom, Carol Ann and Perkins, Pheme. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford University Press, 2007 ISBN 9780195288803
  19. ^ Zaeske, Susan (2003). "Unveiling Esther as a Pragmatic Radical Rhetoric". Philosophy and Rhetoric. 33 (3): 194. 
  20. ^ Vahidmanesh, Parvaneh (5 May 2010). "Sad Fate of Iran's Jews". 
  21. ^ Schaalje, Jacqueline (June 2001). "Ancient synagogues in Bar'am and Capernaum". Jewish Magazine. 
  22. ^ McDonald, Lee Martin (2006-11-01). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Baker Academic. pp. 56, 109, 128, 131. ISBN 9780801047107. 
  23. ^ The Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (p. 375) by Stephen Harris and Robert Platzner
  24. ^ The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 182 by James Vanderkam and Peter Flint


  • Zaeske, Susan. "Unveiling Esther as a Pragmatic Radical Rhetoric", Philosophy and Rhetoric, vol.33, issue 3

Further reading

  • Beal, Timothy K. (1997-12-11). The Book of Hiding: Gender, Ethnicity, Annihilation, and Esther (1st ed.). London ; New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415167802. . Postmodern theoretical apparatus, e.g., Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas
  • Fox, Michael V. (2010-04-01). Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther: Second Edition with a New Postscript on A Decade of Esther Scholarship (2nd ed.). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. ISBN 9781608994953. 
  • Sasson, Jack M. (1990). "Esther". In Alter, Robert; Kermode, Frank. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Harvard University Press. pp. 335–341. ISBN 9780674875319. 
  • Kahr, Madlyn Millner (1968). The Book of Esther in Seventeenth-century Dutch Art. New York University. 
  • Webberley, Helen (Feb 2008). "Rembrandt and The Purim Story". The Jewish Magazine. 
  • White, Sidnie Ann (1989-01-01). "Esther: A Feminine Model for Jewish Diaspora". In Day, Peggy Lynne. Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel. Fortress Press. ISBN 9781451415766. 
  • Grossman, Jonathan (2011). Esther: The Outer Narrative and the Hidden Reading. Eisenbrauns. ISBN 9781575062211. 

External links