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. Her story is the basis for the celebration of Purim in Jewish tradition.
In the Bible
King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) 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.
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 Benjaminite 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. When Cyrus gave permission for the exiles to return unto Jerusalem she stayed with 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. One day, while sitting at the gate of the king's palace, Mordecai overhears a plot of two eunuchs against the king. Having informed the king through Esther of the conspiracy, Mordecai brings about the execution of the two conspirators and the event is recorded in the royal chronicles.
The grand vizier, Haman the Agagite,[note 1] 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.
Mordecai tore his robes and put ash on his head (signs of mourning or grieving) on hearing this news. Esther's sheltered life in the harem is suggested by the fact that she is unaware of the decree, and that Mordecai advises her of it through Hathach, one of the king's chamberlains. He informs her that she should not think that she would escape simply because she was in the palace. At the request of Esther, he institutes at Susa a general fast for three days.
Esther cannot approach the king without being summoned, on pain of death, and the king has not summoned her in thirty days, implying that she may have fallen out of favor. Nevertheless, at the end of the three days, Esther dressed in her royal apparel and went before the king. When the king asked her what her request was, she invited the king and Haman 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 purposed to hang the hated Mardochai.
But that night the king, being sleepless, ordered the chronicles of the nation to be read to him. Recalling that Mardochai 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 Mardochai.
Only at the second dinner party, when the king is sufficiently beguiled by her charms, does she reveal to the plot of Haman which involved the destruction of the Jewish people. She reveals, for the first time, her identity as a Jew and accuses Haman of the plot to destroy her and her people. The king ordered that Haman should be hanged on the gibbet prepared for Mardochai, and, confiscating his property, bestowed it upon the intended victim. The king then appointed Mordecai as his prime minister, and issued a decree authorizing the Jews to defend themselves.
The Jews established an annual feast, the feast of Purim, in memory of their deliverance. Haman set the date of a date is set of Adar 13 to commence his campaign against the Jews. This determined the date of the festival of Purim.
Origin and meaning of the name Esther
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.
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. 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."  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, African Americans, and lesbians.” Zaeske argues that Esther speaks not only for women but for a multi-gender oppressed group and does it in such a way that “depicts rhetorical dynamics, not only of Jews living in a foreign court, but also of women coping in a society intensely hostile to their gender.” In this way, Esther’s rhetoric has been interpreted not as strictly feminist rhetoric or strictly Jewish rhetoric but rhetoric of intersectional exiled or marginalized groups.
Given the great historical link between Persian and Jewish history, modern day Persian Jews are called "Esther's Children". A building alleged to be the Tomb of Esther and Mordecai 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
- 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 1983 musical entitled Swan Esther was written by J. Edward Oliver and Nick Munns and released as a concept album with Stephanie Lawrence and Denis Quilley. Swan Esther has been performed by the Young Vic, a national tour produced by Bill Kenwright and some amateur groups.
- 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."
- 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.
- Esther is one of the five heroines of the Order of the Eastern Star.
- On March 8, 2011, the Maccabeats released a music video called "Purim Song".
- The Book of Esther is a 2013 movie starring Jen Lilley as Queen Esther and Joel Smallbone as King Xerxes.
- Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett. 2005, NavPress.
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.
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- "Esther", Jewish Encyclopedia
- "Mordecai", Jewish Encyclopedia
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- NeXtBible Study Dictionary, entry "Ahasbai"
- Targum to Esther 2:7
- Tidball, Dianne (2001). Esther, a True First Lady: A Post-Feminist Icon in a Secular World. Christian Focus Publications. ISBN 9781857926712.
- Kuyper, Abraham (2010-10-05). Women of the Old Testament. Zondervan. pp. 175–176. ISBN 9780310864875.
- Coogan, Michael David; Brettler, Marc Zvi; Newsom, Carol Ann and Perkins,Pheme. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 9780195288803
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- "The Maccabeats - Purim Song". YouTube. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
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- McDonald, Lee Martin (2006-11-01). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Baker Academic. pp. 56, 109, 128, 131. ISBN 9780801047107.
- Zaeske, Susan. "Unveiling Esther as a Pragmatic Radical Rhetoric", Philosophy and Rhetoric, vol.33, issue 3, 2003
- 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.
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