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Esther as imagined by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Esther (Hebrew: אֶסְתֵּר, Modern Ester Tiberian ʔɛster), born Hadassah, is the eponymous heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther. According to the Bible she was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus (traditionally identified with Xerxes I). Her story is the basis for the celebration of Purim in Jewish tradition.

Biblical story

Template:Duplication King Ahasuerus held a 180-day feast in Susa (Shushan). He ordered his queen, Vashti, to appear before him and his guests wearing her crown, 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. 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.[1]

To find a new queen suitable to King Ahasuerus, 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.[2]

King Ahasuerus chose Esther for his wife and queen, an orphaned Jewish child raised in Persia by Mordecai, her cousin, was chosen by King Ahasuerus to replace the recalcitrant queen Vashti. Esther was originally named Hadassah, meaning myrtle, and received her name of Esther when she entered the royal harem.

“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 is a form of an Persian name, Satarah, which means star. Esther was the daughter of a Benjamite, Abihail. When Cyrus gave permission for the exiles to return unto Jerusalem she stayed with Mordecai.

Shortly afterward, Mordecai overheard a plot to assassinate the king. He promptly told Esther of it, and she warned her husband of the threat. An investigation was made and the conspirators were swiftly arrested and executed. An account of the matter was then written in the official archives before the king.

Soon after this, the king granted Haman the Agagite,[3] one of the most prominent princes of the realm. 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). He gained the king's approval. He offered ten thousand silver talents to the king for approval of this plan, but the king refused to take them (Esther 3:9-11).

Mordecai tore his robes and put ash on his head (signs of mourning or grieving/anguish) 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. He held out his scepter to her, showing that he accepted her visit. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman. During the banquet, she requested another banquet with the king and Haman the following day.

Ahasuerus, Haman and Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1660.

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. He was reminded 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 permssion 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. The king was enraged and ordered Haman to be 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 betake 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. Esther and the Jews went on to kill only their would-be executioners, and not their wives and children, this altogether meaning three hundred killed in Susa alone, fifteen in the rest of the empire. The Jews also took no plunder (Esther 9:10,9:15-16).

Jews established an annual feast, the feast of Purim, in memory of their deliverance. According to traditional Jewish dating this took place about fifty-two years after the start of the Babylonian Exile.

Origin and meaning

Esther and Mordecai, by Aert de Gelder

According to the 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.[4]

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 Hebrew rendition of a form of "Ishtar" in which the "sh" sound had become an "s" sound. Wilson, who identified Ahasuerus with Xerxes I and Esther with Amestris, suggested that both "Amestris" and "Esther" derived from Akkadian Ammi-Ishtar or Ummi-Ishtar.[5] 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", 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." Esther can also be understood to mean "hidden" in Hebrew, and her name is interpreted thus in another Midrash, where it is said that Esther hid her nationality and lineage as Mordecai had advised. Because the methods and aims of God are believed to be similarly hidden, "The Book of Esther" in Hebrew can be understood[by whom?] as "The Book of Hiddenness," representing God's hiddenness in the story.


It has been suggested that [[::Esther in rabbinic literature|Esther in rabbinic literature]] be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)

Esther is considered a prophet in Judaism.


Esther is commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on May 24.

Persian culture

The Shrine of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, Iran

Given the great historical link between Persian and Jewish history, modern day Persian Jews are referred to as "Esther's Children". A building known as The Mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai is located in Hamedan, Iran.[6]

Modern retelling

  • 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.
  • 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
  • One of the parts of Amos Gitai's Exile series, called Esther is an updated version of the story.
  • 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.
  • A 1999 TV movie that follows the biblical account very closely, Esther. Starred Louise Lombard in the title role and F. Murray Abraham as Mordecai.
  • In 2000, VeggieTales, a company that uses CGI vegetables to teach children lessons from the Bible in a comical way, released Esther… The Girl Who Became Queen.
  • In May 2005 the musical Luv Esther was first shown. It is written by Ray Goudie.
  • 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.


  1. Esther 1:16-20
  2. Esther 2:14
  3. A descendant of the Amalekite people, probably 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.
  4. John Barton, John Muddiman, The Oxford Bible commentary, entry Esther, Oxford University Press, 2001
  5. NeXtBible Study Dictionary, entry Ahasbai
  6. wikimapia

Further reading

  • Beal, Timothy K. The Book of Hiding: Gender, Ethnicity, Annihilation, and Esther. NY: Routledge, 1997. Postmodern theoretical apparatus, e.g. Derrida, Levinas
  • Michael V. Fox Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2001. 333 pp.
  • 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, [1]
  • White, Sidnie Ann. “Esther: A Feminine Model for Jewish Diaspora” in Newsom

External links

cy:Esther et:Ester fa:استر (کتاب استر) ko:에스텔 (구약성서) lt:Estera ja:エステル (人物) pt:Ester nn:Estér ru:Есфирь sk:Kráľovná Ester fi:Ester uk:Есфір yi:אסתר diq:Ester zh:以斯帖