March 17, 2023

#08-294: The Book of Esther

Queen Esther in the palace of King Ahasuerus (Wikimedia)

Note: Despite her lack of historical status, Queen Esther has been held up as a model Jewish hero for generations, and her act is commemorated in a holiday even today.

Get Ready: Does a person need to be "real" to have a major impact on her or his culture?

The Book of Esther is unusual in that, of the Bible's 66 books, it is one of only two that never mentions the name of God. (The other is the Song of Songs.) Instead, it focuses on the Jewish community, and especially on one of their great heroes, a woman named Esther.

The Jewish people had been taken captive and transported to Persia, where they lived in oppressive circumstances under the king, Ahasuerus. (If, as some scholars believe, this was actually King Xerxes I, he is the only historical figure mentioned in the story, The rest is entirely fiction.)

Ahasuerus had ordered his queen, Vashti, to display her beauty to the guests at a banquet. When she refused, he deposed her for her disobedience and set about choosing a new queen. Beautiful women were brought from throughout the empire, and the winner and new queen was a woman named Esther-- actually a Jewish orphan who was raised by her cousin Mordecai, who told her to keep her ethnicity a secret.

It happened that this Mordecai uncovered a plot against the king's life. When he revealed it, the conspirators were hanged and Mordecai's name was recorded in the king's chronicle for his good deed.

Meanwhile, Ahasuerus's vizier , Haman, was offended because Mordecai, a Jew, had refused to bow down to him. Because of this, Haman plots to kill all the Jews in the empire, and gets the king's permission by claiming that the Jews are rebellious--a lie.

Mordecai, of course, asked Esther to intercede, but she was afraid to go against the king. Ahasuerus, unable to sleep one night, asked that the court chronicles be read to him, and while listening was reminded of the act of Mordecai in saving him.

The next day, Haman approached the king to ask for permission to hang Mordecai, but before he could speak, the king asked him: "What is the best way for me to honor a man who has done well by me?" Haman, assuming it was he who would be honored, said such a man should be dressed in the king's clothes, and led through the streets on the king's horse, wearing the king's crown, and with a herald calling out his accomplishment.

Imagine his surprise when the king said, "Go, and do this for Mordecai the Jew"!

That night, at a banquet, Esther revealed to the king and Haman that she, too, was a Jew, and she would have the king spare her people. And so it was. Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai, and the Jews were permitted to take up arms to stop anyone who tried to kill them.

Esther had saved the day, and Mordecai took a prominent position in the king's court. The Jewish holiday of Purim commemorates the whole affair to this day.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. chronicles
  2. conspirators
  3. deposed
  4. gallows
  5. herald
  6. intercede
  7. orphan
  8. rebellious
  9. spare
  10. vizier

  1. a young person whose parents have died
  2. removed from power
  3. a place to hang someone
  4. official records
  5. a person who makes announcements
  6. an advisor
  7. let go; save
  8. going against the government
  9. speak on behalf of
  10. people who plan a crime together

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 17, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. j; 3. b; 4. c; 5. e; 6. i; 7. a; 8. h; 9. g; 10. f