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Taanith Esther

Esther

[es-ter]
Esther born Hadassah, is a queen of Persian Empire in the Hebrew Bible, the queen of Ahasuerus (traditionally identified with Artaxerxes II), and heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther which is named after her.

As a result of Esther's intervention and influence, Persian Jews lived in Persia (modern Iran) for 2400 years thereafter. Esther's husband Ahasuerus followed in the footsteps of Cyrus the Great, in showing mercy to the Jews of Persia: Cyrus had decreed an end to the Babylonian captivity of the Jews upon his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC.

History

King Ahasuerus of Persia held a one hundred and eighty-day feast in Susa to display the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. The King ordered his queen Vashti to appear before him and his guests wearing her crown, to show off her beauty. But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Furious at her refusal to obey, the King asked his wise men and the seven princes of Persia and Media what he should do to her, according to the law; they advised the King to depose Vashti to make her an example for other disobedient wives. The King followed this advice, then began searching for a new queen by means of a beauty contest. Beautiful young virgin women were gathered to the palace from every province. Esther was advanced for this role by Mordecai, her cousin and guardian. For 12 months each woman underwent beauty treatments in the 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 him in the evening, and in the morning return to the harem as a concubine. She would not return to the King unless he was pleased with her and summoned her. Four years after Queen Vashti was executed, King Ahasuerus then chose Esther to be his wife and queen.

Shortly afterward, Mordecai overheard a plot to assassinate the King. He promptly told Esther of the plot, who warned her husband of the threat. An investigation was made and the conspirators were swiftly arrested and executed. As such, the King orders Mordecai's deed recorded in the history.

Soon after this the king granted Haman the Agagite and one of the most prominent princes of the realm, supreme authority over the kingdom. All the people were to bow down to Haman when he rode his horse through the streets. All complied except for Mordecai, who would bow to no one but his God. This enraged Haman, who, with his wife and advisors, plotted against the Jews, making a plan to kill and extirpate all Jews throughout the Persian empire, selecting the date for this genocidal act by the drawing of lots. 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. Mordecai tore his robes and put ash on his head on hearing this news. Esther sent clean clothes to him, but he refused them, explaining deliverance for the Jews would come from some other place (presumably God, as the Jews believe they are God's chosen people), 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, and if she did 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 fasted and prayed earnestly for three days before she built up the courage to enter the king's presence. He held out his sceptre 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.

After the banquet Haman ordered a gallows constructed, 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. That night the king called Haman and asked, "What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honour?" 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 honour!" The king thought this was good, then asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way, to honour 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, over the banquet, Esther told the king of Haman's plan to massacre the 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.

A peculiarity of Persian law that also occurs in the Book of Daniel is that royal edicts of this sort could not be reversed, even by the king--by siding with the Jews instead of their persecutors the King presumably dissuaded any pogroms. The King also issued a second edict allowing the Jews to arm themselves, and 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 not only their would be executioners but also their wives and children, this altogether meaning three hundred killed in Susa alone, seventy-five thousand killed (fifteen thousand in the Greek biblical account) in the rest of the empire.

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 return.

Esther appears in the Bible as a woman of deep faith, courage and patriotism, ultimately willing to risk her life for her adoptive father, Mordecai, and the Jewish people. Scripture portrays her as a woman raised up as an instrument in the hand of God to avert the destruction of the Jewish people, and to afford them protection and forward their wealth and peace in their captivity. It is notable, though, that God is not mentioned by name at any time in the Biblical Book of Esther but is inferred by reference to fasting. However, the divine name in Tetragrammaton form does appear as an acrostic at Esther 1:20; 5:4,13; 7:7, and a form of the Divine Name ("I shall prove to be,") at Esther 7:5.

There is also a hidden plot in the story: Esther was a descendent of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin and a relative of King Saul; and Haman the Agagite was the descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites, who were nearly wiped out by Saul (Saul's reluctance to do so cost him the throne of Israel in the eyes of God). The plot involves Haman's quest for revenge and Esther's redemption of Saul's mistake, saving the Jews from the last of the Amalekites and certain extinction.

For a discussion of the historicity of Esther, see Book of Esther.

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.

There is a fictional book by Rebecca Kohn called The Gilded Chamber that retells the story.

"Behold Your Queen!" (1951) by Gladys Malvern is a re-telling of the Biblical story, suitable for young girls.

Another novel by Norah Lofts, "Esther", recounts the well-known story.

A 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 Haman.

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 2005, biblical novelist Ginger Garrett released, Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther 480-465 BC.

In 2006, Lightstone Studios, LLC released "Esther and the King," a live-action movie musical. It is part of the Liken Bible Series. See www.Likenit.com.

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.

A "pop opera" Luv Esther has toured the United Kingdom to much acclaim and was performed at London's Shaw Theatre on 8th and 9th May 2008 as part of the first Pentecost Festival weekend.

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.

Origin and meaning of her name

According to the , Esther was originally named Hadassah. Hadassah means "myrtle" in Hebrew and the name Esther is most likely related to the Median word for myrtle, astra, and the Persian word setareh meaning star — the myrtle blossom resembles a twinkling star. The Targum provides another Midrashic explanation: that she was as beautiful as the Evening Star (or Morning Star), which is astara in Greek. In the Talmud, Tractate Yoma (29a), Esther is compared to the "morning star", and is considered the subject of Psalm chapter 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 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 as "The Book of Hiddenness," representing God's hiddenness in the story.

It is also possible that Esther is derived from Ishtar, Akkadian for the Evening Star. (Despite resembling Indo-European words for star, the Semitic "Ishtar" is unrelated, the root beginning with a pharyngeal ayin and the sh sound derived from an earlier th sound.) "Ishtar" was worshipped throughout the Middle East as a goddess. Some critics of the historicity of the Book of Esther seized on this as evidence to support a view that the story of Esther derived from a myth about Ishtar. However, in Hebrew the goddess was referred to by the Hebrew cognate of her name - Ashtoreth. "Esther" cannot be derived directly from the latter. 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 . 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.

Esther in Christianity

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

Esther in Judaism

Esther in rabbinic literature

see Esther in rabbinic literature

Mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai

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

See also

Bibliography

  • Beal, Timothy K. The Book of Hiding: Gender, Ethnicity, Annihilation, and Esther. NY: Routledge, 1997. Postmodern theoretical apparatus, e.g. Derrida, Levinas
  • Berlin, Adele. “Esther” in JSB, 1623-1625
  • Jon Levenson Esther, an excellent commentary
  • Michael Fox Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2001. 333 pp., excellent literary analysis
  • 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
  • White, Sidnie Ann. “Esther: A Feminine Model for Jewish Diaspora” in Newsom

References

External links

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