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Esther 1:1-9

Context
The King Throws a Lavish Party

1:1 1 The following events happened 2  in the days of Ahasuerus. 3  (I am referring to 4  that Ahasuerus who used to rule over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces 5  extending all the way from India to Ethiopia. 6 ) 1:2 In those days, as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa 7  the citadel, 8  1:3 in the third 9  year of his reign he provided a banquet for all his officials and his servants. The army 10  of Persia and Media 11  was present, 12  as well as the nobles and the officials of the provinces.

1:4 He displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his majestic greatness for a lengthy period of time 13  – a hundred and eighty days, to be exact! 14  1:5 When those days 15  were completed, the king then provided a seven-day 16  banquet for all the people who were present 17  in Susa the citadel, for those of highest standing to the most lowly. 18  It was held in the court located in the garden of the royal palace. 1:6 The furnishings included linen and purple curtains hung by cords of the finest linen 19  and purple wool on silver rings, alabaster columns, gold and silver couches 20  displayed on a floor made of valuable stones of alabaster, mother-of-pearl, and mineral stone. 1:7 Drinks 21  were served in golden containers, all of which differed from one another. Royal wine was available in abundance at the king’s expense. 1:8 There were no restrictions on the drinking, 22  for the king had instructed all of his supervisors 23  that they should do as everyone so desired. 24  1:9 Queen Vashti 25  also gave a banquet for the women in King Ahasuerus’ royal palace.

1 sn In the English Bible Esther appears adjacent to Ezra-Nehemiah and with the historical books, but in the Hebrew Bible it is one of five short books (the so-called Megillot) that appear toward the end of the biblical writings. The canonicity of the book was questioned by some in ancient Judaism and early Christianity. It is one of five OT books that were at one time regarded as antilegomena (i.e., books “spoken against”). The problem with Esther was the absence of any direct mention of God. Some questioned whether a book that did not mention God could be considered sacred scripture. Attempts to resolve this by discovering the tetragrammaton (YHWH) encoded in the Hebrew text (e.g., in the initial letters of four consecutive words in the Hebrew text of Esth 5:4) are unconvincing, although they do illustrate how keenly the problem was felt by some. Martin Luther also questioned the canonicity of this book, objecting to certain parts of its content. Although no copy of Esther was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, this does not necessarily mean that the Qumran community did not regard it as canonical. It is possible that the absence of Esther from what has survived at Qumran is merely a coincidence. Although the book does not directly mention God, it would be difficult to read it without sensing the providence of God working in powerful, though at times subtle, ways to rescue his people from danger and possible extermination. The absence of mention of the name of God may be a deliberate part of the literary strategy of the writer.

2 tn Heb “it came about”; KJV, ASV “Now it came to pass.”

3 tn Where the Hebrew text has “Ahasuerus” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV) in this book the LXX has “Artaxerxes.” The ruler mentioned in the Hebrew text is Xerxes I (ca. 486-465 B.C.), and a number of modern English versions use “Xerxes” (e.g., NIV, NCV, CEV, NLT).

4 tn Heb “in the days of Ahasuerus, that Ahasuerus who used to rule…” The phrase “I am referring to” has been supplied to clarify the force of the third person masculine singular pronoun, which is functioning like a demonstrative pronoun.

5 sn The geographical extent of the Persian empire was vast. The division of Xerxes’ empire into 127 smaller provinces was apparently done for purposes of administrative efficiency.

6 tn Heb “Cush” (so NIV, NCV; KJV “Ethiopia”) referring to the region of the upper Nile in Africa. India and Cush (i.e., Ethiopia) are both mentioned in a tablet taken from the foundation of Xerxes’ palace in Persepolis that describes the extent of this empire. See ANET 316-17.

7 tn Heb “Shushan” (so KJV, ASV). Most recent English versions render this as “Susa.”

sn The city of Susa served as one of several capitals of Persia during this time; the other locations were Ecbatana, Babylon, and Persepolis. Partly due to the extreme heat of its summers, Susa was a place where Persian kings stayed mainly in the winter months. Strabo indicates that reptiles attempting to cross roads at midday died from the extreme heat (Geography 15.3.10-11).

8 tn The Hebrew word בִּירָה (birah) can refer to a castle or palace or temple. Here it seems to have in mind that fortified part of the city that might be called an acropolis or citadel. Cf. KJV “palace”; NAB “stronghold”; NASB “capital”; NLT “fortress.”

9 sn The third year of Xerxes’ reign would be ca. 483 b.c.

10 tc Due to the large numbers of people implied, some scholars suggest that the original text may have read “leaders of the army” (cf. NAB “Persian and Median aristocracy”; NASB “the army officers”; NIV “the military leaders”). However, there is no textual evidence for this emendation, and the large numbers are not necessarily improbable.

11 sn Unlike the Book of Daniel, the usual order for this expression in Esther is “Persia and Media” (cf. vv. 14, 18, 19). In Daniel the order is “Media and Persia,” indicating a time in their history when Media was in the ascendancy.

12 sn The size of the banquet described here, the number of its invited guests, and the length of its duration, although certainly immense by any standard, are not without precedent in the ancient world. C. A. Moore documents a Persian banquet for 15,000 people and an Assyrian celebration with 69,574 guests (Esther [AB], 6).

13 tn Heb “many days” (so KJV, ASV); NASB, NRSV “for many days.”

14 tn The words “to be exact!” are not in the Hebrew text but have been supplied in the translation to bring out the clarifying nuance of the time period mentioned. Cf. KJV “even an hundred and fourscore days.”

15 tc The Hebrew text of Esther does not indicate why this elaborate show of wealth and power was undertaken. According to the LXX these were “the days of the wedding” (αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ γάμου, Jai Jhmerai tou gamou), presumably the king’s wedding. However, a number of scholars have called attention to the fact that this celebration takes place just shortly before Xerxes’ invasion of Greece. It is possible that the banquet was a rallying for the up-coming military effort. See Herodotus, Histories 7.8. There is no reason to adopt the longer reading of the LXX here.

16 tc The LXX has ἕξ ({ex, “six”) instead of “seven.” Virtually all English versions follow the reading of the MT here, “seven.”

17 tn Heb “were found.”

18 tn Heb “from the great and unto the small.”

19 sn The finest linen was byssus, a fine, costly, white fabric made in Egypt, Palestine, and Edom, and imported into Persia (BDB 101 s.v. בּוּץ; HALOT 115-16 s.v. בּוּץ).

20 tn The Hebrew noun מִטָּה (mittah) refers to a reclining couch (cf. KJV “beds”) spread with covers, cloth and pillow for feasting and carousing (Ezek 23:41; Amos 3:12; 6:4; Esth 1:6; 7:8). See BDB 641-42 s.v.; HALOT 573 s.v.

21 tn Heb “to cause to drink” (Hiphil infinitive construct of שָׁקָה, shaqah). As the etymology of the Hebrew word for “banquet” (מִשְׁתֶּה, mishteh, from שָׁתָה, shatah, “to drink”) hints, drinking was a prominent feature of ancient Near Eastern banquets.

22 tn Heb “the drinking was according to law; there was no one compelling.”

23 tn Heb “every chief of his house”; KJV “all the officers of his house”; NLT “his staff.”

24 tn Heb “according to the desire of man and man.”

25 sn Vashti is the name of Xerxes’ queen according to the Book of Esther. But in the Greek histories of this period the queen’s name is given as Amestris (e.g., Herodotus, Histories 9.108-13). The name Vashti does not seem to occur in the nonbiblical records from this period. Apparently the two women are not to be confused, but not enough is known about this period to reconcile completely the biblical and extrabiblical accounts.



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