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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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ESTHER (‘star’). The Jewish name, of which this is the Persian (or Babylonian) form, is Hadassah (cf. Esther 2:7 ), which means ‘myrtle.’ She was the daughter of Abihail, of the tribe of Benjamin, and was brought up, an orphan, in the house of her cousin Mordecai , in Shushan. Owing to her beauty she became an inmate of the king’s palace, and on Vashti the queen being disgraced, Esther was chosen by Xerxes, the Persian king, to succeed her. The combined wisdom of Mordecai and courage of Esther became the means of doing a great service to the very large number of Jews living under Persian rule; for, owing to the craft and hatred of Haman , the chief court favourite, the Jews were in danger of being massacred en bloc ; but Esther, instigated by Mordecai, revealed her Jewish nationality to the king, who realized thereby that she was in danger of losing her life, owing to the royal decree, obtained by Haman, to the effect that all those of Jewish nationality in the king’s dominions were to be put to death. Esther’s action brought about an entire reversal of the decree. Haman was put to death, and Mordecai was honoured by the king, while Esther’s position was still further strengthened; the Jews were permitted to take revenge on those who had sought their destruction. Mordecai and Esther put forth two decrees: first, that the 14th and 15th days of the month Adar were to be kept annually as ‘days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor’ ( Esther 9:22 ); and, second, that a day of mourning and fasting should be observed in memory of the sorrow which the king’s first decree had occasioned to the Jewish people ( Esther 9:29-32 , cf. Esther 4:1-3 ).

The attempt to identify Esther with Amestris, who, according to Herodotus, was one of the wives of Xerxes, has been made more than once in the past; but it is now universally recognized that this identification will not bear examination. All that is known of Amestris her heathen practices, and the fact that her father, a Persian general named Otanes, is specifically mentioned by Herodotus proves that she cannot possibly have been a Jewess; besides which, the two names are fundamentally distinct. As to whether Esther was really a historical personage, see the next article.

W. O. E. Oesterley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Esther'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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Esther, Book of
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