Bible Query from Esther
August 2014 version. Copyright (c) Christian Debater(tm) 1997-2014. All rights reserved except as given in the copyright notice.
Q: In Esth, what might be some of the reasons this book written?
A: The book of Esther does not explicitly say, but we can see a number of good reasons.
Historically, the book gives an explanation of the origin of the Jewish feast of Purim, and why they especially should praise God for His deliverance at that time.
The immediate effect of the book would be to encourage the Jews who returned to Palestine. There was strong opposition to rebuilding the Temple, and this book would show Godís protection of the Jews.
Chance also is under Godís sovereignty is an important lesson. God has a purpose for everything as Esther 2:1-18 shows. Vashti/Esther, the plot and Mordecaiís delayed recognition, Hamanís plot and delayed punishment, Estherís bravery and Hamanís blunder, and the Jews deliverance all show slightly difference aspects of how God uses what only appears to be random chance.
Aspects of Godís character are shown here. God can cause historical events to happen through pious people, but that is not the point of Esther. God used two people who were not particularly pious, and seemingly chance coincidences, to restrain and control history, and prevent a catastrophe from occurring. As Proverbs 16:33 says, the lot is cast into the lap, but its decision is from the Lord.
We can learn not only to be grateful to God for what we see Him do, but also to be grateful for what He prevents from happening.
Providence is a term that has both the positive aspect of God moving to cause things to occur, and the negative aspect of God preventing things from occurring. The Believerís Bible Commentary p.495 has a wonderful paragraph on our attitude towards Godís control. "A Soviet Jew was recently asked by a Westerner what he thought would be the outcome if the USSR stepped up its anti-Semitic policies. "Oh, probably a feast!" Asked for an explanation, the Jewish man said, ĎPharaoh tried to wipe out the Hebrews and the result was Passover; Haman tried to exterminate our people and the result was Purim; Antiochus Epiphanes tried to do us in, and the result was Hanukkah!í" Of course, when Christ comes again and destroys His enemies, and there will be a great marriage feast of the lamb in Revelation 19:7.
Some consider Esther a "type" of the church according to 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.316.
Q: In Esth, what is an outline of this book?
A: There are at least four ways to outline Esther:
Four banquets: The first outline centers around four banquets: 1) Vashtiís exit, 2) in honor of Esther, 3) Esther prepares, 4) Purim. On a lighter note, at the beginning, Vashti did not want to be an appetizer, Haman got steaming mad, the Jews were in hot water, and finally Haman got his just deserts.
Chiastic: (Banquet, Vashti, Esther, Banquet), (plot, Mordecai, Haman, Esther, Esther, Haman, Mordecai, Jews) the Old Testament is filled with chiasms.
Chapter-based: 1-2, 3-45-7, 8-10
1:1-2:20 Two queens and two banquets
2:21-4:3 Two men and two plots
4:4-9:19 The two strategies of Haman and God
9:20-32; 10 Two battles
Q: In Esth, how do we know the book of Esther should be in the Bible?
A: In the time of Jesus, groups Jews all over the world believed the book of Esther to be a part of Godís word, and Jesus validated the Bible of the Jews. While Ethiopian Jews, probably originating in Solomonís time, did not celebrate the festival of Purim, they knew of the Book of Esther and celebrate the "Feast of Esther" instead.
There were a number of exceptions though. One exception were the Sadducees, who only accepted the first five books as Scripture, and the rest of the Old Testament as of lesser importance. Jesus rebuked them for knowing neither Scripture nor the power of God in Matthew 22:29.
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain not only many copies of the Old Testament scriptures, but some apocryphal books and many other writings as well. However, there are no copies of the book of Esther.
The liberal Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.635 says there is no evidence that Esther was validated at the Jewish Council of Jamnia (c.90 A.D.), though it was debated there (When Critics Ask p.219-220).
In the early church, 1 Clement (written in 97/98 A.D.) chapter 55 mentions Esther. However, right before that, 1 Clement referred to Holofernes in the apocryphal book of Judith too. The Stromata (193-202 A.D.) of Clement of Alexandria (4:19) and The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (c.380 A.D.) also mention Esther. According to the liberal Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.635, Origen (185?-254 A.D.), Epiphanius (315-403 A.D.), Cyril of Jerusalem (d.386 A.D.), Hilary (355-367/368 A.D.), Rufinus (345-410 A.D.), Augustine (354-430 A.D.), the Council of Hippo (393 A.D.), and the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) accepted Esther as part of the Bible. The Council of Carthage also accepted many apocryphal books. The Anchor Bible Dictionary also points out that the following denied that Esther was Scripture: Melitio of Sardis (c.167 A.D.), Athanasius of Nicene Creed fame (295-373 A.D.), Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 A.D.), and Theodore of Mopsuestia (350?-428 A.D.).
Luther accepted Esther as Scripture. According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.635, Luther said he did not like it. (WA 3:302).
Q: In Esth, why do some try to claim the book is spiritually "deficient"?
A: The skeptical Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.463, the Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.636-637 and other critics mention some of the following about Esther:
1. No mention of God, though the Persian king is mentioned 190 times. However, the name of God (in the form of "Yah") is found in the Song of Solomon only 1 time (8:6). There is no law that a book of Scripture has to mention God, so while this is peculiar, this is not an objection. See the next question for how the name of God is in the book of Esther.
2. No mention of prayer. However there is mention of fasting, which usually includes prayer. Moreover, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Obadiah, Nahum, and Ruth do not explicitly mention prayer either, so this objection is not valid.
3. No mention of religious elements, such as sacrifices, diet, or the law.
4. Excessive Jewish nationalism. However, anyone who objected to Esther on these grounds would object even more to Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges.
5. Vengeance on the part of Esther and the Jews. However, vengeance was practiced in the Old Testament, and this is consistent with Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges.
6. Not quoted in the New Testament. However, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon are not quoted either, and Job is only quoted in one place. There is no requirement that an Old Testament book be quoted in the New Testament.
The Apocryphal additions to Esther in the Greek Septuagint "fixed" these supposed problems, but these additions are certainly not genuine. There are at least six contradictions between the additions and the original book of Esther.
Both the conservative The New International Dictionary of the Bible p.326 and the liberal Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.636 agree that the lack of mention of God and prayer is so striking, it was no accident. There are a number of views as to why this is so.
A General Introduction to the Bible p.260 mentions that since the Jews in Persia at this time were not in Godís will, the name of the Covenant God was not associated with them, or else not having Godís name would protect the book from pagan plagiarizing and substituting the name of a heathen god.
Q: In Esth, is the name of God in the book?
A: Yes it is, but in a hidden form. At four crucial points in the narrative, (1:20, 5:4; 5:13; 7:7) YHWH is there in acrostic form, twice forward and twice backward.
For another example for a word acrostic, the famous acrostic "Icthyus" is found in an early Christian writing, the Sibylline Oracles 8:217-50. See the Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 1 p.59 for more info.
Here is another example. The Instructions of Commodianus ch.80 p.218 says, "I cannot comprehend all things in a little treatise; the curiosity of the learned men shall find my name in this." The footnote says that if we read the initials of the verses backward, the name Commodianus Mendicus Christi is found.
See When Critics Ask p.219-220 for more info. The Believerís Bible Commentary p.495 also mentions this and gives two examples similar to Esther using "Lord" in English. In any language, this is difficult to do without it appearing stilted. "Due Respect Our Ladies, all Shall give their husbands, great and small. (1:20), and IlL tO feaR decreeD I find, Toward me in the monarchís mind" (7:7) (taken originally from Arthur T. Pierson). Here are to other examples: "Let Our Reigning Dear King and Haman comes to the banquet I have prepared. (5:4) "Yet remains my mooD faR toO fouL, as long as Mordecai the Jew sits at the Kingís gate." (5:13).
As Hard Sayings of the Bible p.253-254 observes, Esther 4:14 this is a veiled reference to God. In other words, it would be most natural to put the word "God" here, yet the author apparently refrained from doing so.
Q: In Esth, what extra-Biblical evidence is there of the events and people in this book?
A: Many things corroborate, though extra-Biblical recorded history is silent on others.
Xerxes is the Greek (and modern) name given to kings the Persians knew as "Khshayarsha". In Hebrew this was Ahashwerosh, which in our Bibles is "Ahasuerus". As Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.445 says, "Place an ĎAí in front [of Khshayarsha] and the change to Ahasuerus is not a difficult one to see."
Queen Vashti can be linked to probably the same queen that Herodotus knew as Amestris, if some phonetic modifications are assumed, as Persia and the Bible p.231 mentions.
Mordecai was a name that appeared in Aramaic letters, though this is not the same Mordecai. There were probably at least four officials named Mordecai during this period. A "Marduka" is mentioned in a tablet from Borsippa, in modern Iraq. He was an accountant who made an inspection tour of Susa during the last years of Darius or the early years of Xerxes, as the liberal Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.638 and Persia and the Bible p.235 both say. There are more than 30 discovered tablets, dating between 505 and 499 B.C., with the name "Marduka" or "Marduku", which may refer to up to four individuals. (Some of these are PF 81, 412, 489, 790, 863, 941, 942, 991, 1183, 1236,1581, 1858, PT1, 84). In 2 Maccabees 15:36 Purim is called "The Day of Mordecai".
Other names are found on various inscriptions. The Anchor Bible Dictionary p.638-639 mentions Hamanís son Pharshandatha (Psrndt). Persia and the Bible p.238 mention the following names having parallels in Elamite Persepolis texts: the eunuchs Mehuman, Bigtha, Carcas, Hathach, the advisors Meres, Marsena, and Memukan, Hamanís father Hammedatha, and Aridai, and Aridatah/Aridatath the sons of Haman.
The ai in Vaizatha, Hamanís son in Esther 9:9, would be pronounced as "ai" prior to Xerxes reign, and "e" in the reign of Artaxerxes his son, and this dates Esther rather precisely. See Persia and the Bible p.238 for more info.
The citadel at Susa was burned down during the time of Xerxes son, according to an inscription. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.702 mentions that a later writer probably would not have known about this citadel.
Q: In Esth, where were Jews living at this time?
A: About 50,000 Jews returned in Judah in 538 B.C. under Cyrus I. Many others stayed within the Persian Empire such as Esther and Mordecai. Other Jews had fled to Egypt before the exile. The Persians sent other Jews, mercenaries loyal to Persia, to Elephantine Island at the southern border of Egypt to guard against an invasion by Ethiopians. Other Jews went farther west. There were Jews in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and southern France. There is a tribe in India, with about 15,000 people today, called the Bene Israel. They claim to be descended from Jacob. Others say they were not, but were early converts to Judaism. See 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.147 for more info on the Bene Israel. There have been black people of the Jewish faith in Ethiopia for over 2,000 years, but they are converts to Judaism.
Q: In Esth, what do we know about the city of Susa and the country of Elam apart from the Bible?
A: Susa is a well-excavated city, with modern work starting in 1851.
Geographically, Susa is in a fertile plain watered by two rivers. It is 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf. The climate is pleasant most of the year, but during the July and August the temperature can reach up to 140 degrees F. Lizards and snakes crossing the desert in the middle of the day are burned to death. Elam is fairly large, at 42,000 square miles, about the size of Denmark. A number of tribes lived there, includes Elamites, Semites, Messabatae, Cissi (Kassi), Mardians, and later the Persians.
Archaeologists tell us that Susa was inhabited from about 3500 B.C., making it as old as the Sumerian civilization.
Militarily, Susa was the capital of Elam.
2700 B.C. Enmebargesi of Kish defeats Elam.
2400 B.C. Eannatum of Lagash attacks Elam.
2350 B.C. Sargon of Agade conquers Elam.
2280 B.C. Elam invades Babylonia, and there is a treaty between Elam and Naram-Sin of Agade. (oldest known state treaty)
2067 B.C. The city-state of Ur defeats Elam.
2004 B.C. The Elamites destroy Ur, within 50 years after Abram left it.
1764 B.C. Hammurabi of Babylon defeats Elam.
c1330 B.C. The Kassites conquer Elam.
1160 B.C. The Elamites defeat the Kassites in Babylon, taking Hammurabiís Law code.
1120 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar I raids Susa.
720 B.C. At Yamutbal, Elamites and Babylonians combine to fight the Assyrians. Both sides claim victory.
704 B.C. At Kis, the Assyrians defeat the Babylonians and Elamites.
695/694 B.C. An Assyrian fleet attacks Elam.
695/694-689 B.C. The Elamites and Babylonians combine to fight the Assyrians. 34 Elamite cities were destroyed.
645/640 B.C. The Assyrians for the first time control Elam, as Ashurbanipal of Assyria sacks Susa. Susa is nearly deserted.
The Persians gradually moved into this area and mixed with the original Elamites. Susa became one of the capitals of the Persian Empire. There was more than one capital, as the Emperors would not want to remain in Susa during the summer.
331 B.C. Alexander captured Susa and took its treasure. He found 9,000 talents (270 tons) of gold and 40,000 talents (1,200 tons) of silver just piled away.
Ethnically, Elamites originally were not Semites. However, from the time of Sargon onward, Semites settled in Elam, and it became "Semitized". Many Elamites left their homeland, being exiled to Samaria in Palestine. After the Persians ruled Susa, the Susianians revolted, but they later were assimilated by the Persians.
For more info, see Persia and the Bible p.279-303, The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.1586, The New International Dictionary of the Bible p.299-300, 969-970, the Encyclopedia Britannica (1956) volume 8 p.118-119 and volume 21 p.618-619, and The Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.423-428 and volume 6 p.242-245.
Q: In Esth, which two rivers were near Susa?
A: Reference sources disagree. Susa was built on the east bank of one river, and a little bit west of another. A canal connected them. Persia and the Bible p.280 shows the situation is complicated by the fact that the name of the canal came to mean the eastern river as well. Here are the names of the rivers, according to various sources
Encyclopedia Britannica volume 21 p.618: near the Karkha (Choaspes) river, and close to the Karun River.
Persia and the Bible p.280. West of Susa is the Kerkheh (Assyrian Uqnu, Greek Choaspes) East of Susa is the Ab-e-Diz (Elamites and Assyrian Idide, Greek Koprates), which at times has been liked to the Kerkheh by a channel. This flows into the Karun River (Greek Pasitigris) Susa is on the east bank of the Shaur (This channel is called the Ulai, or Eulaios in Greek. At some point Eulaios was eventually extended to include the Karun River.
The New International Dictionary of the Bible p.969-970: on the left bank of the Choaspes River, also called the Ulai canal.
The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.1586 near the rivers Ulai (Eulaeus, modern Karun) and Shapur rivers.
The Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 6 p.242-244: Susa on the bank of Chaour (Akkadian Ulai, Greek Eulaeus) close to Kerkha (Akkadian Uknu Greek Choaspes).
Q: In Esth 1, what do we know of Vashti apart from the Bible, and why would Ahasuerus want to get rid of her?
A: Vashti is probably the same person as Amestris, whom the Greek historian Herodotus mentions. According to Persia and the Bible p.230-232 Vashti was influential and vengeful. When Xerxes gave a robe that Amestris made to the daughter of his brotherís wife, Amestris was angry. At a banquet, when Xerxes agreed to grant any request of hers, Amestris had that woman killed and later her mother mutilated.
Q: In Esth 1:2 (KJV), where was Shushan?
A: This was another name of the region around the city of Susa, the Persianís capital, and the ancient Elamite capital. However, another source says that Shushan was actually the citadel in Susa, and 120 feet above the rest of the city.
Q: In Esth 1:3-8, is there any extra-Biblical evidence for this feast?
A: Yes. Xerxes in general was a partying, drinking type of ruler. Esther 1:3 specifically says this was in the third year of his reign. This was the same time Xerxes assembled his leaders to plan the invasion of Greece. Xerxes left Susa in April, 481 B.C. Esther 3:1 indicates considerable time had passed, and Esther 3:7 is in the twelfth year of Ahasuerus. Xerxes was in the field until his seventh year, after his defeat at Salamis and Plataea.
See the New International Bible Dictionary p.1077, the Believerís Bible Commentary p.499, and The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.702 for more info.
Q: In Esth 1:8, what does the phrase, "according to the law" mean here?
A: This means the law of the Medes and Persians. The Persian king would not be expected to know and obey the Jewish law, which did not mention this.
Q: In Esth 1:11-12, why did the king want to have Vashti come out?
A: Apparently he wanted to show others his "prize". Whether this was merely a "beauty pageant", or something worse, is not clear. However, Persian customs said that women should be veiled in public, and Vashti did not want to obey the drunken king. A second possible reason The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.702 speculates is that since Artaxerxes was born in 483, perhaps Vashti was pregnant with Artaxerxes at this time.
Q: In Esth 1:11-22, what is the difference between the kingís view of a husbandís leadership over a wife, and the Bibleís teaching?
A: First the kingís view, and then the Bibleís teaching.
The king believed his wife should be subject to him and obey him in all things.
The Bible in Ephesians 5:24 also shows that wives should be subject to their husbands. Wives should obey their husbands "in the Lord". In other words, Godís word is higher than their husbandsí word. Thus if a husband asks or commands his wife to do something contrary to what God commands, the godly wife must disobey her husband on this. If you are a wife in this situation, it is good to explain to your husband exactly why, and to mention that you will not disobey him on everything, only this and other things that are against God. If the husband is still unreasonable, the wife should contact others in the church for support.
Q: In Esth 1:11-22, what should a Christian wife do when her husband orders her to do something that is not proper, such as model her body to others?
A: See the answer to the previous question.
Q: In Esth 2, was Esther right to participate in this?
A: As Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties p.234 and When Critics Ask p.220 point out, Scripture does not say if she had any choice, and it does not say she had to do anything immoral. Furthermore, as 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.143-144 observers, Scripture does not portray Esther and Mordecai as special examples of piety. For example, Esther apparently did not have any qualms about the Persian food, unlike Daniel. See The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.704 for more info.
Q: In Esth 2, what should a Christianís attitude be toward beauty pageants?
A: Physical beauty itself is not evil, as Job 42:15 and Genesis 12:11 prove. However, Job 31:1 and Matthew 5:28 shows that lusting with the eyes is sin. A woman parading in front of men in such a way that they lust is a sin of causing others to stumble.
However, Esther was not a part of a public beauty pageant. Rather, the king was using a selection process for adding to his harem and choosing a new queen.
Q: In Esth 2:3; 2:14; 2:21; 7:9 what was a chamberlain?
A: A chamberlain was an official who was in charge of the rooms. The NIV, NET Bible, and NASB translate this word as "eunuchs", which is what the Hebrew actually says. Eunuchs were the only males entrusted with the care of the womenís quarters. (The Septuagint has "chamberlain".)
Q: In Esth 2:6, was Mordecai the one who was carried away in captivity from Jerusalem, 70 years prior to this, as the skeptical Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.467 asserts?
A: No. While the language is ambiguous, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.703 points out that it is better understood that Kish, Mordecaiís great grandfather, was the one who was exiled to Babylon 70 years ago.
Persia and the Bible p.236 is more precise on this. It says the relative pronoun Ďaser should not be associated with Mordecai (the first name in the list), but the Kish, the last name in the list).
Q: In Esth 2:7, what do the names in the book mean?
A: There are a number of interesting things here.
Esther: The Anchor Bible Dictionary p.633 says there are three views for the origin of this name.
1. Esther is the Akkadian word istar or Ishtar, the fierce Babylonian goddess of love. The skeptical Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.467 also agrees this is clearly the case.
2. Esther comes from the Persian word stara meaning "star". The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.703 presents this view.
3. Esther comes from the Median word astra, meaning "myrtle".
Hadassah is the Hebrew name that probably means "myrtle" according to the New International Dictionary of the Bible p.326, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.703, and 1001 Bible Questions Answered p.316. So, it might seem the Median origin of Esther is most likely. However, Persia and the Bible p.233 also says that Hadassah is usually derived from the word for "myrtle", but that other origins have been suggested.
Mordecai was a Babylonian name derived from the Babylonian war-god Marduk. It is similar to the New Testament name "Mark" meaning "of Mars", and Mars was the Roman god of war. Over 30 tablets in Susa, and 1 tablet in Borsippa mention up to four Persian officials named "Marduku" or "Marduka".
The Elamites had a chief god named Humman, whose wife was Kirisha. An Elamite goddess was named "Mashti". (The Encyclopedia Britannica 1956 volume 8 p.118 says the chief god was In-Susinak, though.) Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.467 and others mentioned by The Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.637 see a strong parallel between the Elamite gods, the Babylonian gods Marduk and Ishtar, and the story of Esther.
Q: In Esth 2:7-11, what responsibility do we have toward our family members who are not our own children?
A: 1 Timothy 5:8, in the context of widows, shows that it is very serious sin not to provide for your own family when you can do so. In addition, we should help the poor, even when they are not related to us.
Q: In Esth 2:9-12, why were women [allegedly] purified in the Bible? (A Muslim says he cannot understand why they were considered dirty.)
A: This refers to the customs of a pagan nation, not Godís people, but this Muslim is not being fair to the Persians either. In Esther 2:9-12 the girls received beauty treatments. Neither the Bible nor the Persian king said the women were dirty. I think this is a case of this Muslim wanting to see a problem that is really not there.
Perhaps the Muslim would like to explain why in Islam Muslim women are not permitted to pray during their time of month. Sahih Muslim vol.1 book 3 no.652 p.188-189; vol.2 book 4 no.1932-1934 and footnote 1163 p.418-419; Bukhari vol.1 book 6 no.322 p.194, vol.1 book 6 no.327 p.196; vol.3 book 31 ch.41 p.98; vol.3 book 31 no.172 p.98; Sunan Nasaíi vol.1 no.355-361 p.281-284; vol.1 no.364-368 p.285-286; Abu Dawud vol.3 no.4662 p.1312. According to a Muslim translatorís footnote, a menstruating woman is not even allowed to recite the Qurían. Abu Dawud vol.1 footnote 111 p.56
Q: In Esth 2:10,20, did Esther have to obey Mordecai?
A: Children should obey their parents. On one hand, Mordecai functioned as her adopted father. On the other hand, she was not a child anymore, being the wife of the king. Regardless of whether she had to obey Mordecai, she was wise to do so.
Q: In Esth 2:10, was Mordecai right to command Esther not to reveal her identity?
A: The Bible does not give all the surrounding details, and it neither approves nor disapproves of Mordecaiís command here. In general though, during times of ethnic and religious persecution, sometimes it is best not to reveal too much.
Q: In Esth 2:17, how could Esther be queen, since Persian queens could only come from one of seven noble Persian families, as the Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2 p.638 claims?
A: The Anchor Bible Dictionary apparently got this from Herodotus. Persia and the Bible p.233 mentions that Herodotus is proved wrong here. Queen Amestris (probably Vashti) was the daughter of the Persian general Otanes, who was not from one of these families. King Darius also married outside of these families.
Q: In Esth 2:17, how did the king love Esther above all women, since he later did not see her for 30 days in Esth 4:11?
A: Feelings of love can be capricious, and the events in Esther 4:11 were four or five years after the king chose her. This scripture is merely observing that at that instant, the king demonstrated that he loved Esther more than all other women by making her his queen.
Q: In Esth 2:21-23, when should Christians reveal plots and crimes to secular authorities?
A: In general Christians should always reveal evil criminal activity to the authorities. The only exceptions are where the law is wrong. We should not assist the authorities in religious persecution (of anyone), or unjust laws that contradict what God says in the Scriptures.
Q: In Esth 2:23, what was a gallows here?
A: It probably was not like a European hangmanís gallows, but an impaling stake, which the Assyrians and Persians used, as Persia and the Bible p.233, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.704-705, and The New Geneva Study Bible p.690 say.
Q: In Esth 3:1, what was an "Agagite"?
A: Some supposed that somehow Haman was a descendent of King Agag, who opposed King Saul, a Benjamite like Mordecai, 600 years earlier. Some even hypothesize that Haman was "spiritually like Agag" in hating the Jews. However, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.705 says that an inscription has been found which shows that Agag was the name of a province of Persia. The Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 3 p.33 says that "Agazi" was a Mesopotamian tribe in Sargonís records (though a consonant shift of the second "g" to "z" would be unusual).
Q: In Esth 3:2-3, 4:2, and 5:9, what does it mean that Mordecai and others were at the Kingís Gate?
A: Esther 3:2-3 says this is where other nobles were too. Mordecai was not some type of "beggar" outside of a gate. Rather, this is where the high officials were.
Q: In Esth 3:2, was Mordecai right to refuse to bow?
A: Abraham bowed before kings, and so Mordecai could have bowed. Unlike other kings, Persian kings were never worshipped as gods, so this would not have been interpreted as an act of worship. Mordecai got the Jews in deep trouble by not bowing. We do not know his reasons, but they could have been no respect for Haman, national pride, or other factors.
Q: In Esth 3:2,6, if Mordecai just went somewhere else, would not that have avoided the whole problem?
A: After Mordecai initially refused to bow, leaving might not have helped. Haman developed not just a hatred of Mordecai, but a hatred of all Jews.
Q: In Esth 3:6-9, why is it that some have such hatred toward an entire people?
A: We do not know why a person could hate an entire people. Here are four characteristics of the attitude we should have towards people:
Cherish people because they are creations of God, made in His image, and are of great worth (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:14; Isaiah 43:7).
Understand that every race and ethnic group are made equally in the image of God (Galatians 3:28).
Valuing human life follows what the Bible teaches (Genesis 9:6; Deuteronomy 5:17; Romans 13:4; etc.).
Know that we are not intrinsically any better than others (Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:3).
Q: In Esth 3:6-9, why do some, who do not hate an entire people, tolerate such hatred and acquiesce toward the killing?
A: Many times if an evil is being done, others do not speak up against it for several reasons:
1. They might profit financially by the evil, as in Esther 3:9.
2. Speaking up might be financially risky or possibly dangerous.
3. They think that speaking up would not work, so there is no point in trying.
4. They do not care about the oppressed.
5. They do not know about the situation. Sometimes ignorance is "innocent", and sometimes people do not know because they do not believe what they think are "rumors", and they do not take the time to find out.
As Christians, we should defend the oppressed, regardless of whether the oppressed are Christians or not.
Q: In Esth 3:9, how could Haman promise to give the king so much money?
A: Two things to note about this.
1. This is a lot of wealth. The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.706 estimates that this was 750,000 pounds of silver. The New Geneva Study Bible p.691 says this was about two-thirds of the annual revenue of the Persian Empire under Darius later. This might make the king suspicious as to how this high official got all this wealth.
2. The Believerís Bible Commentary p.500 and 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.144 suggest that perhaps Haman would get that money from looting the Jews.
Q: In Esth 4:8, why did Mordecai give Esther an actual copy of the decree?
A: Perhaps by Esther seeing it for herself, Esther would be more prone to believe that Mordecai was not mistaken or exaggerating. Also, she might have needed someone to translate it for her.
Q: In Esth 4:14, what is the proper translation of the last part?
A: According to Hard Sayings of the Bible p.253-254, this saying is a figure of speech called an "aposiopesis" or "sudden silence". It is a sudden breaking off of what was said in order to emphasize what is left unsaid. It could be translated as "Ö whether you have not for this attained royalty?".
Q: In Esth 4:14, what is the point of this verse?
A: Esther had a duty to risk her life and act. God would still protect the Jews regardless of her obedience, though. However, the safety of her and her family would be in greater jeopardy if she "played cautiously", than if she boldly acted.
Q: In Esth 4:16, was Estherís attitude good here?
A: Yes. Esther was going to do the best she could, but she was content to leave the results to God. Her contentment is not due to a lack of caring, but a realization that the results could not be trusted to anybody else.
Q: In Esth 4:16, was Esther disobeying government laws when she went to see the king?
A: Four points to consider in the answer.
1. The Bible never says that Esther even thought about the morality of this. However, there was nothing wrong, as the next points show.
2. The New Testament commands to obey all governing authorities and honor the king (Romans 13:1-4, 1 Peter 2:13-15, Titus 3:1) were not written yet, and Esther did not disobey any command that had been written.
3. While Esther 4:16 says she was doing this "not according to law" or "breaking the law", but it was permitted if (and only if) the king extended his royal scepter to her.
4. Even if the New Testament had been written before then, and even if this were breaking the law, obeying God is a higher law than human laws. Certainly pleading for the life of all the Jews is higher than observing a human law.
See When Critics Ask p.220-221 for more info.
Q: In Esth 5:3,6, why was the Persian king willing to grant even half of his kingdom?
A: This was a feigned expression of the kingís great generosity. Of course, you would not want to actually ask for half the kingdom, because the king also had power to kill anyone at any time for any reason. King Herod Antipas said a similar thing in Mark 6:22-28.
Q: In Esth 5:9 and 6:7-9, why was Haman naïve here?
A: Three points to consider in the answer.
1. Haman was unaware of the king hearing again about Mordecai in Esther 6:3, so he had no reason to suspect Mordecai was the one to be honored.
2. Hamanís hope and pride combined to consider that he would be the only candidate for this honor.
3. Many times, people are quick to confuse what is probably true with what they hope to be true.
Q: In Esth 6:1-3, what good principle can we learn from this?
A: This king felt an obligation to repay, with good things, those who did good to him. Though Ahasuerus was not a believer, we can still learn from his example on this point.
Q: In Esth 6:7-9, is there any extra-Biblical evidence of this reward of riding in the chariot like a king?
A: Yes. Persia and the Bible p.233 says that Plutarch in Themistocles 29 records the request of the exiled Spartan king Damaratus, who chose to be allowed to ride in state through Sardis, wearing his tiara upright just like the Persian kings. 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.144 also mentions this as a reward.
Q: In Esth 6:13, how did the view of Hamanís wife differ from the Biblical doctrine of Godís Sovereignty?
A: There are different forms of fatalism (impersonal and personal). Regardless, Hamanís wife believed that Hamanís fate was inevitable, and there was no point in putting in any effort to change. A better view might be for Haman to repent to God and make peace with Mordecai. Zeresh was not consistent though, because in Esther 5:14 Zeresh and Hamanís friends urged Haman to build a gallows.
A Biblical view of Godís sovereignty says that:
Everything God decrees will happen (Isaiah 43:13).
Nothing God forbids will happen (Job 1:10,12; 2:6; John 19:11).
God permits people, within limits, to do things they are responsible for, even things that break Godís heart (Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35; Ezekiel 13:19; Luke 23:28-31).
God knows all the future, including what everyone will choose to do (Psalm 139:16; Isaiah 42:9; 44:7).
All things are worked together into Godís plan (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Proverbs 16:4).
Q: In Esth 7:4, what does it mean that the king would suffer loss if the Jews were destroyed?
A: Perhaps it means that if the Jews were destroyed, the king would suffer the lost yearly tax revenue, as well as subjects that could be officials and soldiers.
As a side note, Persia and the Bible p.244-245 mentions that there was a Jewish military garrison, serving under the Persians on Elephantine Island in Southern Egypt.
Q: In Esth 7:8, what happened with Haman and Esther in this verse?
A: Haman, who wanted to kill all the Jews, was begging a Jew for his life. The king came in and falsely assumed that Haman was assaulting Esther. There may have been guards and others in the room. The king could have asked them about this if he wished, but Ahasuerus did not want to know more. As far as he was concerned, Hamanís fate was already sealed before this.
Q: In Esth 7:9, why would Harbonah bring up Hamanís gallows?
A: It might have been to be helpful to the king, or for sympathy to Esther. However, it is far more likely due to hatred of Haman. Remember, with arrogance comes enemies.
Q: In Esth 8:10, what are dromedaries?
A: These are one-humped camels. Dromedary camels are used in Africa and most of the Mideast. Two-humped Bactrian camels are in most of Iran and the rest of Asia. As a side note, an ancient writer would probably never make this distinction unless he lived in a land, such as Persia, where one was familiar with both kinds of camels.
As the skeptical Asimovís Guide to the Bible p.465 observes, Esther 1:1 is the only place in the Bible where India is mentioned.
Q: In Esth 8:11, why were the Jews permitted to kill women and children?
A: That is what the Persian king decreed, and ancient kings demonstrated they were not particularly kind. However, note that the Jews were not obligated to do everything the king decreed, and it never says the Jews killed the women and children. In fact, Esther 9:6,12,15 only says that the Jews killed the men.
See Hard Sayings of the Bible p.254-255 for more info.
Q: In Esth 9:1-10, why did the Jews and government officials kill their enemies?
A: This was done for self-defense. In addition, as 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered p.144 also points out that the Old Testament law said that one who falsely accused another was to be put to death. The Jews not taking the loot showed that the killings were not mere revenge, but "judicial in nature."
The Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.551 points out that since the Persian Empire had a total population of about 10-15 million, 2-3 million Israelites/Jews killing 75,000 was not an excessive number, especially since Esther 9:3 also records that government officials helped.
Q: In Esth 9:18-32, was it OK for the Jews to celebrate the festival of Purim and the festival of Hanukkah, since these were not feasts mentioned in the Torah?
A: Sure. In John 10:22 Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the Feast of Dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabeaus in December 165 B.C.
Q: In Esth, what are some of the earliest manuscripts that still exist today?
A: Christian Bible manuscripts, from about 350 A.D., contain the Old Testament, including Esther. The Chester Beatty Papyrii (IX, X) (2nd-4th century A.D.) contain Esther, according to The complete Text of The Earliest New Testament Manuscripts p.367 and The Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge p.746.
Scheide Papyrii 1 contains Ezekiel, Daniel, and Esther. It is dated the early third century A.D. It originally had 118 leaves, of which 109 survive today. For more info and a photograph of it see Manuscripts of the Greek Bible p.70-71.
Vaticanus (325-350 A.D.) has preserved all of Esther.
Sinaiticus (340-350 A.D.) has preserved all of Esther.
Alexandrinus (c.450 A.D.) has preserved all of Esther.
There are no copies among the Dead Sea Scrolls. See the Dead Sea Scrolls Today p.30 for more info.
Q: Which early writers referred to Esther?
A: Pre-Nicene writers who referenced or alluded to verses in Esther are:
Clement of Rome (97/98 A.D.) "Esther also, being perfect in faith, exposed herself to no less danger, in order to deliver the twelve tribes of Israel from impending destruction. For with fasting and humiliation she entreated the everlasting God, who seeth all things; and He, perceiving the humility of her spirit, delivered the people for whose sake she had encountered peril." 1 Clement ch.55 p.20
X Melito/Meleto of Sardis (170-177/180 A.D.) did not believe Nehemiah and Esther were canonical. He lists all the books of the Old Testament, and does not have Nehemiah or Esther. Fragment 4 From the Book of Extracts p.759.
Clement of Alexandria (193-202 A.D.) "And again, Esther perfect by faith, who rescued Israel fro the power of the king and the satrapís crueltyí a woman alone, afflicted with fastings, held back ten thousand armed hands, annulling by her faith the tyrantís decree; him indeed she appeased, Haman she restrained, and Israel she preserved scathless by her perfect prayer to God." The Stromata book 4 ch.19 p.431.
Origen (225-254 A.D.) in discussing why he supported the apocrypha says, "And in many other of the sacred books I found sometimes more in our copies than in the Hebrew, sometimes less. I shall adduce a few examples, since it is impossible to give them all. Of the Book of Esther neither the prayer of Mardochaios nor that of Esther, both fitted to edify the reader, is found in the Hebrew." Origen to Africanus ch.3 p.386-387
Origen (225-254 A.D.) "Mardochaeus, too, in the Esther of the Septuagint, calls the enemies of Israel, Ďthose that are not,í saying, ĎDeliver not Thy sceptre, O Lord, to those that are not.í" (He quotes Esther 4:22 in the Septuagint) Origenís Commentary on John book 2 ch.7 p.330
Eusebius of Caesarea (318-339/340 A.D.)
Aphrahat the Syrian (337-345) Select Demonstrations
Athanasius (367,325-373 A.D.) did not consider it scripture, but good to read
Ambrose of Milan (370-390 A.D.)
Pacian of Barcelona (342-379/392 A.D.) alludes to Esther and Daniel. Letter 2 ch.5.1 p.33
Rufinus (394-406 A.D.)
Jerome (373-420 A.D.)
Sulpitius Severus (363-400 A.D.)
Council of Carthage (218 bishops) (393-419 A.D.)
Epiphanius of Salamis (360-403 A.D.)
John Chrysostom (-407 A.D.)
Augustine of Hippo (388-430 A.D.)
The Semi-Pelagian John Cassian (419-430 A.D.) alludes to Esther.
Q: Why was Esther not included among the Dead Sea Scrolls?
A: It is probably not just because it is a relatively short book, because the Dead Sea Scroll library is very extensive, and there are even shorter books that were found. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls p.119 speculates that the Qumran sect rejected this book for theological reasons. We do not know exactly why, but one of a number of possibilities is that they would be against Esther being married to a Gentile king (though she had no choice in the matter).
Q: In Esth, what are some of the translation differences between the Hebrew and Greek Septuagint?
A: While the Syriac (Aramaic) and Jeromeís translation follow the Hebrew, the Greek Septuagint has 6 additional sections.
1. The start of the book mentions a vision. This adds 301 Greek words.
2. The alleged text of a letter is added toward the end of chapter 3. It adds 244 Greek words.
3. The end of chapter 4 adds 582 Greek words.
4. The start of chapter 5 mentions Esther praying and adds 70 Greek words.
5. The end of chapter 7 adds 539 Greek words, mainly an alleged letter the king sent out.
6. The last section, at the end of Esther, has 235 additional Greek words.
In conclusion, the Septuagint "translator" significantly augmented the book, adding 107 verses to the 167 original verses. Perhaps this augmentation was a two-step process, as the Septuagint expansions may have been derived from the Greek Lucianic Recension.
For the rest of Esther, the Greek translation is less precise than the Torah and some of the other books. The translation took out some of the repetition in the Hebrew.
Here are differences from chapter 2. The first phrase in each pair is a Hebrew translation that is taken from Jay P. Greenís Literal Translation. The second phrase is the Septuagint rendering from Sir Lancelot C.L. Brentonís translation of The Septuagint : Greek and English.
Esth 2:1 "He remembered Vashti" vs. "he no more mentioned Astin"
Esth 2:1 "what she had done, and what he decreed against her" vs. "what she had said and how he had condemned her."
Esth 2:2 "kingís servants said" vs. "kingís servants who served him said"
Esth 2:2 "beautiful young virgins" vs. "chaste, beautiful young virgins"
Esth 2:3 "beautiful young virgins" vs. "fair, chaste, young damsels"
Esth 2:3 "to Shushan the palace" vs. "to the city Susa"
Esth 2:3 "eunuch" vs. "chamberlain"
Esth 2:3 "purifications" vs. "purification and other attendance"
Esth 2:4 "rule" vs. "be queen"
Esth 2:5 "Shushan the palace" vs. "the city Susa"
Esth 2:7 "was rearing" vs. "had a foster child"
Esth 2:7 "she had no father nor mother. And the young woman was fair of appearance and beautiful of form. And at the death of her father and mother, Mordecai took her for his daughter." vs. "when her parents were dead, he brought her up for a wife for himself: and the damsel was beautiful."
Esth 2:8 "Esther was taken into the kingís house, into the hand of Hegai" vs. "Esther was brought to Gai "
Esth 2:9 "treated Ö best" vs. "treated Ö well"
Esth 2:11 "to know Estherís welfare, and what would be done with her." vs. "to see what would become of Esther."
Esth 2:13 "All she says is given to her to go with her out of the house of the women to the kingís house." vs. "and to whomsoever he shall give the command, will bring her to come in with him from the womenís apartment to the kingís chamber."
Esth 2:14 "where Shaashgaz, the kingís eunuch who kept the concubines" vs. "Gai [Hegai] the kingís chamberlain keeper of the women"
Esth 2:14 "delights in her, and she is called by name." vs. "unless she should be called by name."
Esth 2:15 "whom he had take to himself for his daughter" vs. (absent)
Esth 2:15 "she did not seek a thing except what Hegai the kingís eunuch, the keeper of the women, said" vs. "she neglected nothing which the chamberlain, the womenís keeper, commanded"
Esth 2:16 "tenth month, which is the month Tebeth" vs. "twelfth month, which is Adar"
Esth 2:17 "loved Esther above all women" vs. "loved Esther"
Esth 2:17 "grace and favor" vs. "favor"
Esth 2:17 "royal crown on her head, and made her to rule instead of Vashti." vs. "put on her the queenís crown."
Esth 2:18 "princes and all his servants, Estherís banquet" vs. "friends and great men for seven days, and he highly celebrated the marriage of Esther"
Esth 2:18 "the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king." vs. "his dominion."
Esth 2:19 "And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the kingís gate." vs. "But Mardochaeus served in the palace."
Esth 2:20 "kindred or her people" vs. "kindred"
Esth 2:20 "for Esther obeyed Mordecaiís command, as she did when she was reared by him" vs. "for so Mardochaeus commanded her, to fear God, and perform his commandments, as when she was with him: and Esther changed not her manner of life."
Esth 2:21 "In those days, while Mordecai sat in the kingís gate, two of the kingís eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, of those who guarded the threshold, were angry, and sought to stretch out a hand against king Ahasuerus." vs. "And two chamberlains of the king, the chiefs of the body-guard, were grieved, because Mardochaeus was promoted; and they sought to kill king Artaxerxes."
Esth 2:22 "Esther the Queen" vs. "Esther"
Esth 2:22 "told the king in the name of Mordecai" vs. "declared to the king the matter of the conspiracy."
Esth 2:23 "And when the matter was searched into, it was found out; and the two of them were hanged on a tree. And it was written in the Book of the Matters of the Days before the king." vs. "And the king examined the two chamberlains, and hanged them: and the king gave orders to make a note for a memorial in the royal records of the good offices of Mardochaeus, as a commendation."
Esth 8:1-12 is very different in the Lucianic Recension of the Septuagint than either the Hebrew or the regular Septuagint. (The Expositorís Bible Commentary volume 4 p.828.)
Esth 9:24 "the Agagite" vs. "the Macedonian"
Esth 10:3 "great among the Jews, and pleasing to the multitude of his brothers, seeking the welfare of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed." vs. "a great man in the kingdom, and honoured by the Jews, and passed his life beloved of all his nation."
Bibliography for this question: the Hebrew translation is from Jay P. Greenís Literal Translation and the Septuagint rendering is from Sir Lancelot C.L. Brentonís translation of The Septuagint : Greek and English. The Expositorís Bible Commentary and the footnotes in the NASB, NIV, NKJV, and NRSV Bibles also were used.