Mordekai and Marduka (Esther 3)

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Illustration: King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) gives his ring to Mordecai

The book of Esther is unique within the Old Testament in a number of respects. There is no explicit mention of God in the story, the main character is a female and the scene is set within the royal courts of Persia. As with other Biblical accounts, archaeologists have often puzzled over the historicity of the story and its main characters. In particular, the figure of Mordecai has been questioned: Is it plausible that a Jewish man could have achieved such a prominent position within the Persian government? The name Mordecai does represent an athentic personal name from this period, occurring in Aramaic documents as Mrdk and in cuneiform tablets as Mar-du-uk-ka or Mar-duk-ka.

The historicity of Mordecai receives possible confirmation from a cuneiform text dating from the last year of Darius I or the early years of Xrexes I. The tablet mentions a certain government official or scribe named Marduka in the context of a list of payment made to Persian officials and their retainers. The tablet was formerly part of a collection belonging to an Englishman named Lord Amherst of Hackney. At his death the collection was sold to the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin. The German Assyrologist Arthur Ungnad first noted the reference to Marduka and suggested a possible connection to the Biblical Mprdecai in a short article published in 1941. The complete text of the tablet was later published in 1960.

At the very least this text confirms the existence of a Persian royal official named Morduka/Mordecai. This agrees in principle with the Biblical portrait of Mordecai, who is depicted as a royal official “sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 2:19, 5:13, 6:10) and later invested with broad administrative authority (8:2). The fragmentary nature of the evidence and common usage of this name, however, make the identification of Marduka with the Biblical Mordecai a matter of conjecture.


 

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