Xerxes, Vashti and Esther (Esther 7)

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Xerxes I, who ruled the Persian empire from 486 to 465 B.C., is best known for his failed invasion of Greece. Xerxes’ palace at Susa has been excavated and some administrative records from his reign recovered. The historian Herodotus (ca. 848-425 B.C.), in his history of the war between the Greeks and the Persians, provides a great deal of information about Xerxes. However, while Herodotus’ record of the major events of the war is basically trustworthy, his anecdotes about Persian court life are dismissed today by many historians as being little more than gossip (Herodotus, a Greek, they submit, wanted to portray Xerxes as a weak womanizer). Our only other major source of information about Xerxes is in the Bible.

  • Ezra recorded that in the beginning of Xerxes’ reign, enemies of the Jews “lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:6). Egypt revolted in 486 B.C., and the allegation may have been that the Jews were planning to do the same. Thus, the book of Ezra was written against the backdrop of a Persian empire that was likely to be alarmed by slanderous accusations of sedition.
  • After suppressing the Egyptian revolt in 485 B.C., Xerxes invaded Greece in 481-480 B.C. The 180-day banquet Xerxes hosted during his third year (483 B.C.), may have been an extended planning session for the Greek campaign.
  • The banquet for the elite was followed by a shorter, seven -day version for all the residents of Susa (Esther 1:5-9). During this banquet Vashti embarrassed the king by disobeying his order (1:10-22). Xerxes did not take action to replace Vashti until his sixth year (480 B.C., 2:1-4), probably because he was away for three years putting down a revolt in Babylon (482 B.C.) and leading the unsuccessful invasion of Greece (481-480 B.C.).
  • Esther was selected as a potential candidate for queen and, following a year of preparation (2:12) was chosen as the new queen during Xerxes’ seventh year (479 B.C., 2:16). Fourteen years later Xerxes was assassinated in a palace intrigue.
  • Herodotus specified that Xerxes’ queen was named Amestris, ans some scholars have equated Amestris with Vashti and others with Esther. However, as stated earlier, Herodotus’ information about Persian court life should not be used as a basis for evaluating the book of Esther.

 

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