Vol. 8, No. 7
Copyright © James B. Jordan 1996
by James B. Jordan
2. The Setting of the Book of Esther
(continued from previous issue)
E. W. Faulstich presents his arguments in his book History, Harmony, The Exile & Return (Spencer, IA: Chronology Books, 1988). To understand it, we have to have some background.
The Assyrians ruled the near east. Median king Cyaxeres decided to make war on Assyria, and enlisted the support of the governor of Babylon, which was under Assyrian rule. They succeeded in defeating Assyria, and Babylonia became a separate empire under her former governor, Nabopolassar, allied with Media. At this time, Persia was just a small kingdom.
Cyaxeres and Nabopolassar cemented their alliance with a marriage. The daughter of Cyaxeres, Amytis, married the son of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar built the famous hanging gardens of Babylon because Amytis missed the beautiful mountain scenery of Media.
Cyaxeres’ son was Astyages, and he succeeded his father. Thus, Astyages ruled Media at the time when his brother-in-law Nebuchadnezzar ruled Babylon. Astyages also formed an alliance with the small kingdom of Persia, marrying his daughter Mandane to the Persian king Cambyses. Their son was Cyrus the Great.
Now, Faulstich notes that according to Daniel 5, Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar. He supposes that Belshazzar came to the throne when Nebuchadnezzar went insane for seven years (Daniel 4). After three years of incompetent rule, Belshazzar was overthrown. At that time, Nebuchadnezzar’s wife Amytis asked her brother Astyages to take over Babylon. Thus, Astyages ruled Babylon for the next four years, until Nebuchadnezzar was restored. According to Faulstich, Astyages was "Darius the Mede."
Now, this Darius was "son of Ahasuerus" according to Daniel 9:1. This would mean that the Median king Cyaxeres was this Ahasuerus. Faulstich assumes that "Ahasuerus" was a Median throne name, and thus was used by Astyages as well.
Faulstich posits Astyages as the Ahasuerus of Esther. He substantiates this claim by insisting that Esther must have come into exile with her uncle Mordecai, and thus would be far too old to have married any later Persian king.
What are we to make of this? In fact, Faulstich’s proposal is a house of cards. First of all, there is nothing that even hints that Esther came into captivity with Mordecai. It is very likely that Mordecai adopted Esther when he returned to Jerusalem in Ezra 2, in the second year of Cyrus. If she was a young orphan, he would have taken her in, and then taken her back to Babylon and Susa with him. It is even possible that Mordecai was the person who transported the Jewish appeals mentioned in Ezra 4. At any rate, Faulstich has no grounds for his insistence that Esther was alive at the time of the initial exile.
Second, as I noted in the newsletters on Daniel, there is little doubt now that "Darius the Mede" is Cyrus himself, great-grandson of King Cyaxeres of Media. The Hebrew "Ahasuerus" is likely synonymous with the Greek "Cyaxeres," both corruptions of the Persian/Median "Uwaxshtra."
Third, as I noted in the same newsletters, the "queen" in Daniel 5 speaks to Belshazzar with authority, and speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as his "father." Thus, it has reasonably been suggested that the queen is Belshazzar’s mother, the wife of Nabonidus, and that she was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, even though Nabonidus was a "usurper," Belshazzar would be a grandson of Belshazzar. Thus, Faulstich’s insistence that there were two Belshazzars, one the son of Nebuchadnezzar and the other the son of Nabonidus, cannot be sustained.
Fourth, it is sheer supposition that this "first Belshazzar" and then Astyages stood in for Nebuchadnezzar during his seven years of insanity.
Fifth, while Daniel speaks of the "laws of the Medes and Persians," indicating that Media was still the dominant partner, Esther speaks of the "laws of the Persians and Medes" (Esther 1:19). Moreover, Esther uses the phrase "Persian and Media" in 1:3, 14, & 18. This indicates that the events happened later on, after Persia became the dominant partner (which happened shortly into the reign of Cyrus).
Sixth, Esther’s king was able to order the extermination of the Jews throughout all 127 provinces of "his" empire. This happened in the 12th year of his reign. By that time, Nebuchadnezzar was again of sound mind, and ruling the Babylonian empire. How could the Median king issue such a command? Esther 8:9 and 9:30 say that the king ruled all 127 provinces at the time. How could this be, if Nebuchadnezzar was in charge?
Finally, if Nebuchadnezzar was in charge, how could Astyages levy a tax on the islands in Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, as Esther 10 says?
Thus, Faulstich’s reconstruction of events is impossible. Esther’s king was Persian, and was in charge of an empire that reached from Ethiopia to India. He could not have been an earlier Median ruler, nor could he have been standing in for Nebuchadnezzar for 12 years.
D. Darius the Great
It should be clear by now that the only possible remaining choice for Esther’s king is Darius the Great. History substantiates this in detail.
First, Darius had to spend the first two years of his reign putting down rebellions. Thus, a feast in his third year is very likely.
Second, then Darius went on several campaigns, so returning to Susa and selecting a new wife in his seventh year is likely.
Third, Darius invaded and conquered India in 506 B.C. (Herodotus, Books 3 & 4). Darius inherited the conquests of his predecessor Cambyses in Egypt and Ethiopia. He subdued the Ethiopians when they rebelled (Herodotus, Book 3).
Fourth, Darius’s fleet took the islands of Samos, Chios, and Lesbos, and the rest of the islands in 496 B.C. (Herodotus, Book 6). In 3:89-97, Herodotus states that these islands paid tribute to Darius. Herodotus adds, "Later on in his reign the sum was increased by the tribute from the Islands and of the nations of Europe as far as Thessaly (3:96). Thucydides (Book 1) and Plato (Menexenus) say that Darius subdued all the islands in the Aegean Sea, and Diodorus Siculus (Book 12) says that these were all lost again by his son Xerxes before the 12th year of his reign, which eliminates the possibility that Xerxes is the Ahasuerus of Esther.
Fifth, Darius was the Persian king who instituted economic reform, standardizing weights, measures, and coinage, and levying tribute upon the subject peoples (Olmstead, pp. 185ff.). The notice about levying tribute in Esther 10 cannot apply to any earlier king, and since it speaks of the institution of this levy, must refer to Darius.
Sixth, we have seen that Darius is called Artaxerxes in Ezra-Nehemiah. In the apocryphal additions to Esther, and in the Greek Septuagint translation throughout, Esther’s king is called Artaxerxes.
Finally, in the apocryphal book 1 Esdras 3:1-2, we read, "Now King Darius gave a great banquet for all that were under him and all that were born in his house and all the nobles of Media and Persia and all the satraps and generals and governors that were under him in the 127 satrapies from India to Ethiopia." While the rest of this story is probably fiction, the description of the banquet seems to come directly from Esther, and we note that the king is Darius.
Thus, for all of these reasons, and especially since no one else is a possibility, it is clear that the Ahasuerus of Esther is Darius the Great.
In Nehemiah 2:6, we read that Nehemiah, cupbearer to King Darius-Artaxerxes, made his request, and the queen was sitting beside the king. Nothing more is said about this queen. There is no queen who would be of interest to the first readers of Nehemiah except Esther, and there is no other queen of interest to us either. There can be virtually no doubt but that Esther is meant here.
The only other matter to notice regarding Darius-Ahasuerus-Artaxerxes is this: He seems very concerned to favor the Jews. Everytime he appears, he is favorable to them. In Esther he is tricked into harming them, but in Esther, the Jews deserve the threat that is issued against them. Darius was a great champion of "Zoroastrianism," having been taught by Zoroaster himself. Zoroaster’s teaching is so in so many respects to Judaism that it almost certainly demonstrates the influence of some devout Jew upon Zoroaster in the formation of his beliefs. It centered on a revelation of God in fire, corresponding to the revelation of God in the fiery glory cloud and in the altar fire in the Old Testament. It featured a Satanic opponent to God, who is often said to be equal to the good God, but may not always have been so considered. While much Zoroastrianism fell back into polytheism, authentic Zoroastrianism was severely monotheistic and creationist, and there were always those who held to the old, pure form of it. Interestingly, Zoroaster’s own poems speak of God (Ahuramazda) and His attributes Good Word and Holy Spirit! The magi who visited Jesus at His birth were Persians, and almost certainly were faithful God-fearers. Thus, everything indicates that Darius, and also Cyrus, was a true God-fearing gentile. The religion of the Persian God-fearers came to be called Zoroastrianism, but we should not let the dualistic and polytheistic later forms of Zoroastrianism confuse us. There were faithful Persian God-fearers in Jesus’ day, just as there were faithful Jews.
Even if I have been too kind to Zoroastrianism, the fact is that Darius hated the polytheists. He would have been disposed to favor the Jews, for they alone, except for the Zoroastrians, were monotheists. I am pretty sure that any Zoroastrian who read the Hebrew scriptures would think they were saying the same thing he believed.
3. A Brief Survey of Esther
Esther is structured as two stories, both chiastically arranged, which parallel one another. Vashti’s rebellion parallel’s Mordecai’s. The king’s remembering Vashti, central in the first story, parallel’s the king’s being reminded of Mordecai’s service, which is the central event in the second story. The elevation of Esther as queen in the first story parallels the elevation of Mordecai in the second.
The following events are parallel:
Event First Second
The King issues a command 1:10-11 3:1-2a
The command is disobeyed 1:12a 3:2b-4
King/Haman is furious 1:12b 3:5
King is counselled that the kingdom is in jeopardy 1:13-20 3:6-10
King accepts counsel 1:21 3:11
Letters are sent out 1:22 3:12-15
And now the story. King Darius rules the empire. He is identified as that "King of Rulers" (Ahasuerus) who governs 127 provinces. Given that Mordecai came into exile with Jehoiachin, this can only be Darius. He is called "King of Rulers" because (a) he has been installed by the King of kings, (b) he is a type of the Messianic king, for he rules by righteous laws, and (c) he represents all the emperors who will rule the Jews until the coming of the Messiah.
In the third year of his reign, Darius gave a 6-month banquet and festival for the nobles, princes, and army commanders in the realm, followed by a seven day festival for all the people. This is the first of seven feasts in Esther, all of which are, either explicitly or by implication, feasts of wine. Wine is the sign of kingship in the Bible, as bread is the sign of priesthood. The Jews are included at this feast, obviously. Darius’s palace is described in terms that must remind us of God’s own Palace, the
Part 1: Esther Becomes Queen
A. The Great Feast (1:1-9)
B. Vashti’s disobedience (1:10-12)
C. Advice of the wise men (1:13-22)
D. The king needs a queen (2:1) the king remembers
C’ Advice of the wise men (2:2-4)
B Esther’s submissiveness (2:5-17)
A’ Esther’s Accession Feast (2:18)
Part 2: Mordecai Becomes Chief Counsellor
1. Schemes for power by concealing faith (2:19-20)
2. Serves the king (2:21-23)
B. The Attack on God’s People (chapters 3-4)
1. Haman promoted (3:1-5)
2. Seeks to destroy the Jews (3:6-11)
3. King decrees destruction & letters sent (3:12-15)
4. The Jews mourn (3:15 – 4:3)
5. Mordecai "dies" (4:1-14)
6. Esther decrees 3-day fast (4:15-17)
C. Esther’s First Feast With Haman (5:1-8)
– Haman is well fed
D. At the King’s Gate (5:9-14)
1. Mordecai mourns
2. Haman rejoices with his family
E. The king has a sleepless night (6:1) the king remembers
D’ At the King’s Gate (6:1-14)
1′ Mordecai exalted
2′ Haman mourns with his family
C’ Esther’s Second Feast With Haman (7:1-10)
– Haman dies
B’ The Deliverance of God’s People (chapters 8-9)
1. Mordecai promoted (8:1-2)
2. Esther and Mordecai seek to save the Jews (8:1-6)
3. King decrees salvation & letters sent (8:7-14)
4. The Jews rejoice (8:15-17)
5. The Jews live, their enemies die (9:1-16)
6. Esther decrees 2-day feast (9:17-32)
2′ Serves the king (10:1-2)
1′ Serves his people properly (10:3)
At the climax of the feast, Darius ordered Queen Vashti to put on her royal attire, leave the women’s feast, and join him at the men’s feast. She refused. Why, we are not told, and it is not important to the book of Esther. It is important that she refused a perfectly legitimate command, and that she was punished, because Mordecai knows of this event, and disobeys the king anyway. Possibly, Vashti was from a rival family of nobility, one of those that Darius had been forced to subdue during the rebellions of his first years of reign. Possibly she was flexing her muscles by defying him.
Darius, a wise king, takes counsel, not letting his wrath get the better of him. His counsellors advise him that Vashti’s rebellion will become known, and will encourage more rebellion in the land. Wives will rebel against husbands. This is what is actually said. But when we recall that kings are "husbands" of their people, what is implied is that Vashti’s action will encourage all sorts of disgruntled people to take action against the rule of Darius.
Darius takes the advice of his counsellors, which is to divorce Vashti and set her aside. Note that nothing cruel is done to her. Doubtless she had to retire to the countryside and live among her no-doubt wealthy relatives.
Darius went off to fight rebellions in Egypt and Ethiopia. When he returned, he realized that he needed a queen. His counsellors advised a beauty contest, in which Darius would create a harem by trying out a number of girls, among whom he would select his queen.
Now we are introduced to Mordecai, a Jew who lived in Susa, and who was rearing his young niece. Her name was Myrtle (Hadassah), a name symbolizing the people of Jewry at this time (Zechariah 1). Her Persian name was Esther, meaning Star. The myrtle blossom is star-shaped, which probably accounts in part for the transformation of her name. Therefore also, perhaps a more accurate rendering of her Hebrew name would be Myrtle-blossom.
Mordecai might have concealed Esther, but chose to let her be taken into Darius’s harem. He told her to conceal the fact that she was a Jew. We cannot fail to see that Mordecai was scheming for influence at court.
Unlike the other girls, Esther put herself completely in the hands of the eunuchs who were preparing the girls for their night with the king. In this, she shows the submissiveness that Mordecai and Vashti lacked. After a year of preparation, Esther was taken to the king, who favored her and made her his queen. Then the king gave another banquet, for Esther. This is the second feast in Esther, in which the Jews obviously also participated.
Esther went to Darius in the 10th month of the 7th year of his reign. According to Ezra 6:15, the Temple was completed in the 12th month of the 6th year of Darius. The next month, which was still in Darius’s 6th year by Jewish reckoning, the Temple was dedicated and Passover was celebrated (Ezra 6:16-22). During this time, Esther was in preparation. Darius’s 7th year began, by Jewish reckoning, in the 7th month. Thus, Esther became Queen ten months after the Temple was completed. The link between Esther and the Temple corresponds to the link between the Song of Solomon and Solomon’s Temple, Darius being Solomon in this case.
Shortly after these events, Mordecai, who was sitting in the king’s gate, became aware of a plot to kill Darius (precisely the kind of rebellion Vashti’s actions might have encouraged). Mordecai turned them in, and they were hanged on a tree. Here we see what happens to those who disobey the king, and who encourage rebellion. Knowing all this, Mordecai still chooses to rebel.
The King’s Gate would have been the Supreme Court of Persia. Mordecai might well have been the Jewish representative on this court, or he might simply have been a prominent merchant who often had business there. The former seems more likely, since Mordecai seems to spend a great deal of time at the King’s Gate. (The gate of a city was where the elders sat to hold court; thus, the king’s gate would be the supreme court, meeting in the gate of the palace.)
We now move down to the 12th year of Darius. In the first month of that year, King Darius promoted Haman the Agagite over the rest of the counsellors. The king commanded that the king’s servants bow to Haman and give him homage as the king’s representative, but Mordecai refused to do so. Note that Mordecai seems to be numbered among the "king’s servants." Contrary to the silly remarks in many commentaries, Mordecai did not say, "I won’t honor him because he is an Amalekite." He simply said that he was a Jew, and for that reason he would not obey the king. Notice that the king’s requirement was perfectly legitimate. Esther shows no problem bowing to the king later on. There was no reason for Mordecai to refuse this request.
While Darius had taken counsel when he was enraged, Haman seeks no counsel. While Darius chose simply to depose Vashti, Haman decides to kill Mordecai, and not him only, but all the Jews. Looking for a favorable day, Haman throws lots (purim) for each day of the year. Day after day, month after month, the lots turn up unfavorable. Ignoring this seemingly miraculous discouragement, Haman continues until finally a favorable day is announced in the 12th month.
The feast of Esther 9, which celebrates Haman’s destruction, is called Purim. Commentators have often wondered why, but the reason is simple. God discouraged Haman from attacking His people by giving him unfavorable lots for the first 350 or so days that he cast lots for. In this way, God showed His hidden hand of protection. Moreover, by finally allowing Haman to make his move after eleven and one half months had gone by, God allowed the Jews to make preparations to meet the attack. Thus, the feast was called Purim to celebrate God’s providential care.
(to be concluded)