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According to the Bible, she was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus is traditionally identified with Xerxes I during the time of the Achaemenid empire. Her story is the basis for the celebration of Purim in Jewish tradition.
King Ahasuerus held a 180-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 the women of the empire would despise their husbands. And this would cause many problems in the kingdom. Therefore it would be good to depose her.
To find a new queen suitable to the King, it was decreed that beautiful young virgins be gathered to the palace from every province of his kingdom. Each woman underwent twelve months of beautification in his harem, after which she would go to the king. When the woman's turn came, she was given anything she wanted to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. She would then go to the king in the evening, and in the morning go to the harem where the concubines stayed. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased enough with her to summon her again by name.
"Esther 2:7 And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter." Esther was the daughter of a Benjamite, Abihail. When Cyrus gave permission for the exiles to return unto Jerusalem she stayed with Mordecai.
Shortly, when Mordecai was sitting at the king's gates, he overheard two of the king's officers guarding the gates plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai let Esther know, and she warned the king about it, and Mordecai was given credit. The two conspirators were hanged on a gallows.
Soon after this, the king granted Haman the Agagite, one of the most prominent princes of the realm, special honours. All the people were to bow down to Haman when he rode his horse through the streets. All complied except for Mordecai, a Jew, who would bow to no one but his God. This enraged Haman, who, with his wife and advisers, plotted against the Jews, making a plan to kill and extirpate all Jews throughout the Persian empire, selecting the date for this act by the drawing of lots (Esther 3:7). After laying charges of sedition against the Jews, Haman gained the king's approval to write a decree for their destruction; offering ten thousand silver talents to the king for approval of this plan (Esther 3:9-11).
Mordecai tore his robes and put ash on his head (signs of mourning or grieving) on hearing this news. Esther sent clean clothes to him, but he refused them, explaining that deliverance for the Jews would come from some other place, but that Esther would be killed if she did not do what she could to stop this genocide — by talking to the king. Esther was not permitted to see the king unless he had asked for her, otherwise she could be put to death. Esther was terrified of this (she had not been called to the king in 30 days), so she and her maid-servants and her people the Jews of Persia fasted earnestly for three days before she built up the courage to enter the king's presence. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and held out his scepter to her, showing that he accepted her visit. He then asked Esther what she wished of him, promising to grant even up to half his kingdom should she ask. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman. During the banquet, she requested another banquet with the king and Haman the following day.
After the banquet Haman ordered a gallows constructed, 75 feet (23 m) high, on which to hang Mordecai. Meanwhile, the king was having trouble sleeping, and had some histories read to him. From the reading the king remembered that Mordecai had saved him from an assassination attempt, and had received no reward in return. Early the next morning, Haman came to the king to ask permission to hang Mordecai, but before he could, the king asked him "What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?" Haman thought the king meant himself, so he said that the man should wear a royal robe and be led on one of the king's horses through the city streets proclaiming before him, "This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!" The king thought this well, then asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way, to honor him for previously telling the king of a plot against him. After doing this, Haman rushed home, full of grief. His wife said to him, "You will surely come to ruin!"
That night, during the banquet, Esther told the king of Haman's plan to massacre all Jews in the Persian Empire, and acknowledged her own Jewish ethnicity. Haman then pleaded with Esther to save his life. Seeing Haman on Esther's couch begging, the king became further enraged and had him hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The king then appointed Mordecai as his prime minister, and gave the Jews the right to defend themselves against any enemy. The king also issued a second edict allowing the Jews to arm themselves, and kill not only their enemies but also their enemies' wives and children, as well as partake of the plunder (Esther 8:11). This precipitated a series of reprisals by the Jews against their enemies. This fight began on the 13th of Adar, the date the Jews were originally slated to be exterminated. Altogether eight hundred were killed in Susa alone, 75,000 in the rest of the empire. The Jews took no plunder (Esther 9:10,9:15-16).
The Jews established an annual feast, the feast of Purim, in memory of their deliverance. According to traditional rabbinic dating, this took place about fifty-two years after the start of the Babylonian Exile.
Origin and meaning
According to Esther 2:7, Esther was originally named Hadassah. Hadassah means "myrtle" in Hebrew. It has been conjectured that the name Esther is derived from a reconstructed Median word astra meaning myrtle.
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'", which descended with the /th/ into the Ugaritic Athtiratu and Arabian Athtar. 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. 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, not the Chaldean Empire or Persian Empire of the Book of Esther.
The Targum 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".
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.
Given the great historical link between Persian and Jewish history, modern day Persian Jews are called "Esther's Children". A building known as the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai is located in Hamadan, Iran, although the village of Kfar Bar'am in northern Israel also claims to be the burial place of Queen Esther.
- The Italian Renaissance poet Lucrezia Tornabuoni chose Esther as one of biblical figures on which she wrote poetry.
- In 1689, Jean Baptiste Racine wrote Esther, a tragedy, at the request of Louis XIV's wife, Françoise d'Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon.
- In 1718, Handel wrote the oratorio Esther based on Racine's play.
- In 1958, a book entitled "Behold Your Queen!", was written by Gladys Malvern, and illustrated by her sister, Corinne Malvern. It was chosen as a selection of the Junior Literary Guild.
- The play entitled Esther (1960), written by Welsh dramatist Saunders Lewis, is a retelling of the story in Welsh.
- A movie about the story, Esther and the King
- 1962 musical entitled Swan Esther was written by J. Edward Oliver and Nick Munns and has been performed by the Young Vic and some amateur groups.
- A 1978 miniseries entitled The Greatest Heroes of the Bible starred Victoria Principal as Esther, Robert Mandan as Xerxes, and Michael Ansara as Haman.
- Episode 25 of the 1981 anime series Superbook involves this story.
- The novel 'Hadassah' by J. Francis Hudson (Lion Publishing 1996) integrates the Biblical narrative with ancient Greek accounts of the reign of Xerxes (Ahasuerus).
- A 1986 Israeli film directed by Amos Gitai entitled Esther.
- A 1999 TV movie from the Bible Collection that follows the biblical account very closely, Esther, starred Louise Lombard in the title role and F. Murray Abraham as Mordecai.
- In 2000, VeggieTales released "Esther... The Girl Who Became Queen."
- In May 2005 the musical Luv Esther was first shown. It is written by Ray Goudie.
- Esther is the titled heroine in Ginger Garrett's novel Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther
- A 2006 movie about Esther and Ahasuerus, entitled One Night with the King, stars Tiffany Dupont and Luke Goss. It was based on the novel Hadassah: One Night with the King by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen.
- In the 2006 Melbourne Fringe Festival, The Backyard Bard toured a Biblical Storytelling production of 'Esther', featuring four women storytellers telling the story word-for-word from the Biblical account.
- In the anime Trinity Blood Esther is the main character, a nun with a star on her side. She is prophesied to be "the morning star" who will lead the people to peace.
- In the 2008 HBO television movie Recount, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (portrayed by Laura Dern) compares herself to Queen Esther, of whom she says "was willing to sacrifice herself to save the lovely Jewish people."
- Esther is one of the five heroines of the Order of the Eastern Star.
- Esther (opera) was composed by Hugo Weisgall.
- Debra Spark's 2009 Novel, Good for the Jews is a modern day retelling of Esther set in Madison, Wisconsin.
- On March 8, 2011, the Maccabeats released a music video called "Purim Song".
- "A Reluctant Queen" by Joan Wolf is a fictionalized re-telling of Esther's story.
- The Book of Esther, a 2013 movie starring Jen Lilley as Queen Esther and Joel Smallbone as King Xerxes.
- Esther 1:16-20
- Esther 2:14
- Esther 2:7
- 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.
- John Barton, John Muddiman, The Oxford Bible commentary, entry Esther, Oxford University Press, 2001
- John Huehnergard, "Appendix 1: Afro-Asiatic," In The Languages of Syria-Palestine And Arabia, edited by Roger D. Woodard, 225-246. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008: 243.
- Aïcha Rahmouni, Divine Epithets in the Ugaritic Alphabetic Texts, Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 1, The Near and Middle East. Translated by J.N. Ford (Leiden, 2007), 86.
- Joseph Offord, "The Deity of the Crescent Venus in West Asia," JRAS (1915): 198.
- NeXtBible Study Dictionary, entry "Ahasbai"
- Targum to Esther 2:7
- Dianne Tidball, Esther: A True First Lady. Christian Focus Publications, 2001.
- Abraham Kuyper, Women of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1941), 175-176.
- Parvaneh Vahidmanesh (5 May 2010). "Sad Fate of Iran's Jews".
- Jacqueline Schaalje (June 2001). "Ancient synagogues in Bar'am and Capernaum". Jewish Magazine.
- Robin, Larsen and Levin. p. 368. Missing or empty
- "The Maccabeats - Purim Song". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
- Beal, Timothy K. The Book of Hiding: Gender, Ethnicity, Annihilation, and Esther. NY: Routledge, 1997. Postmodern theoretical apparatus, e.g., Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas
- Michael V. Fox Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2001. 333 pp.
- Robin, Diana Maury, Larsen, Anne R. and Levin, Carole (2007). Encyclopedia of women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. ABC-CLIO, Inc.
- Sasson, Jack M. "Esther" in Alter and Kermode, pp. 335–341, literary
- Webberley, Helen The Book of Esther in C17th Dutch Art, AAANZ National Conference, Art Gallery NSW, 2002
- Webberley, Helen Rembrandt and The Purim Story, in The Jewish Magazine, Feb 2008, 
- White, Sidnie Ann. "Esther: A Feminine Model for Jewish Diaspora" in Newsom
- Grossman, Jonathan Esther: The Outer Narrative and the Hidden Reading, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2011.
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