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Esther (Hebrew: אֶסְתֵּר, Modern Ester Tiberian ʼEstēr), 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). However, many historians believe that Esther was a queen of Persia under a later king of Persia, during the time of the Sassanid Empire. Her story is the basis for the celebration of Purim in Jewish tradition.


Biblical story

King Ahasuerus held a 180-day feast in Susa (Shoushan). He ordered his queen, Vashti, to appear before him and his guests wearing no veil, which was dishonorable, 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. One 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]

For his wife and queen, King Ahasuerus chose Esther, whose parents died so her cousin Mordecai had to raise her, to replace the recalcitrant queen Vashti. Esther was originally named Hadassah, meaning myrtle, and received her name of Esther—a form of the Persian name Satarah, meaning star—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 was the daughter of a Benjamite, Abihail. When Cyrus gave permission for the exiles to return unto Jerusalem she stayed with Mordecai.

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