[vulgarly pronounced Es'ter], a beautiful Jewish maiden, the heroine of the Biblical book that bears her name.
1. Name. — Her proper Hebrew name was Eadassah (q.v.), but on her introduction into the royal harem she received, in accordance with Oriental usage (comp. Da 1:7), the new and probably Persian name of Esther (אֶסתֵּר, Ester'; Sept. Ε᾿σθήρ, and so Josephus [Genesis ῆρος, Ant. 11:6, 2, etc.; Vulg. Esther), which thenceforth became her usual and better-known designation, as appears from the formula הַיא אֶסתֵּר, "that is, Esther" (Es 2:7), exactly analogous to the usual addition of the modern names of towns to explain the use of the old obsolete ones (Ge 35:19,27; Jos 15:10, etc.). As to its signification, Gesenius (Thes. Hebrews page 134, a) cites from that diffuse Targum on this book, which is known as the second Targum on Esther, the following words: "She was called Esther from the name of the star Venus, which in Greek is Aster" (i.e., ἀστἡρ, Lat. aster, Engl. star; see Lassen, Ind. Biblioth. 3:8, 18). Gesenius then points to the Persian word satarah, star, as that of which Esther is the Syro-Arabian modification; and brings it, as to signification, into connection with the planet Venus, as a star of good fortune, and with the name of the Syrian goddess Ashtreth (q.v.). In this etymology Fürst acquiesces (Hebrews Handwb. s.v.).
2. History. — She was the daughter of Abihail (who was probably the son of Shimei), a Benjamite, and uncle of Mordecai (q.v.). Her ancestor Kish had been among the captives led away from Jerusalem (part of which was in the tribe of Benjamin) by Nebuchadnezzar when Jehoiachin was taken captive. The family did not avail itself of the permission to return to Palestine under the edict of Cyrus. Her parents being dead, Esther was brought up as a daughter by her cousin Mordecai, who had an office in the court or household of the Persian monarch "at Shushan, in the palace." The reigning king of Persia, Ahasuerus, having divorced his queen, Vashti, on account of the becoming spirit with which she refused to submit to the indignity which a compliance with his drunken commands involved, search was made throughout the empire for the most beautiful maiden to be her successor. Those whom the officers of the harem deemed the most beautiful were removed thither, the eventual choice among them remaining with the king himself. That choice fell on Esther, who found favor in the eyes of Ahasuerus, and was advanced to a station enviaile only by comparison with that of the less favored inmates of the royal harem. B.C. 479. The king was not aware, however, of her race and parentage; and so, with the careless profusion of a sensual despot, on the representation of Haman the Agagite, his prime minister, that the Jews scattered through his empire were a pernicious race, he gave him full power and authority to kill them all, young and old, women and children, and take possession of all their property. The circumstance that Esther herself, though queen, seemed to be included in this doom of extirpation, enabled her to turn the royal indignation upon Haman, whose resentment against Mordecai had led him to obtain from the king this monstrous edict. The laws of the empire would not allow the king to recall a decree once uttered; but the Jews were authorized to stand on their defense; and this, with the known change in the intentions of the court, averted the worst consequences of the decree. The Jews established a yearly feast in memory of this deliverance, which is observed among them to this day. See PURIM. Such is the substance of the history of Esther, as related in the book which bears her name. (See below.) The details, as given in that book, afford a most curious picture of the usages of the ancient Persian court, the accuracy of which is vouched for not only by the historical authority of the book itself, but by its agreement with the intimations afforded by the ancient writers, as well as by the fact that the same usages are in substance preserved in the Persian court at the present day. SEE HAREM.
Sir John Malcolm tells us that the sepulcher of Esther and Mordecai stands near the center of the city of Hamadan. It is a square building, terminated by a dome, with an inscription in Hebrew upon it, translated and sent to him by Sir Gore Ouseley, ambassador to the court of Persia, as follows: "Thursday, fifteenth of the month Adar, in the year 4474 from the creation of the world, was finished the building of this temple over the graves of Esther and Mordecai, by the hands of the good-hearted brothers Elias and Samuel, the sons of the deceased Ishmael of Kashan." According to the vulgar Jewish sera, this would have been not more than eleven centuries ago; but' the date may be after the computation of the Eastern Jews, which would make it about A.D. 250. Local tradition says that it was thoroughly repaired about 175 years since by a Jewish rabbi named Ismael (Kitto, Pict. Bible, at Es 10:1). SEE ACHMETHA.
3. Proposed Identifications with Personages in Profane History. — The question as to the identity of the Persian king referred to in connection with Esther is discussed under AHASUERUS SEE AHASUERUS , and the reasons there given lead to the conclusion that he was Xerxes, the son of Darins Hystaspis. (See, however, a contrary view in the Jour. of Sac. Lit. July, 1860, page 406 sq.)
A second inquiry remains, Who, then, was Esther? Artissona, Atossa, and others are indeed excluded by the above decision; but are we to conclude, with Scalirer, that because Ahasuerus is Xerxes, therefore Esther is Amestris? Surely not. None of the historical particulars related by Herodotus concerning Amestris (Herod 9:108; comp. Ctesias, ap. Photius, Cod. 72, page 57) make it possible to identify her with Esther. Amestris was the daughter of Otanes (Onophas in Ctesias), one of Xerxes's generals, and brother to his father Darius (Herod. 7:61, 82). Esther's father and mother had been Jews. Amestris was wife to Xerxes before the Greek expedition (Herod. 7:61), and her sons accompanied Xerxes to Greece (Herod. 7:39), and had all three come to man's estate at the death of Xerxes in the 20th year of his reign. Darius, the eldest, had married immediately after the return from Greece. Esther did not enter the king's palace till his 7th year, just the time of Darius's marriage. These objections are conclusive, without adding the difference of character of the two queens. The truth is that history is wholly silent both about Vashti and Esther. Herodotus only happens to mention one of Xerxes's wives; Scripture only mentions two, if indeed either of them were wives at all. But since we know that it was the custom of the Persian kings before Xerxes to have several wives, besides their concubines; that Cyrus had several (Herod. 3:3); that Cambyses had four whose names are mentioned, and others besides (3:31, 32, 68); that Smerdis had several (ib. 68, 69); and that Darius had six wives, whose names are mentioned (ib. passim), it is most improbable that Xerxes should have been content with one wife. Another strong objection to the idea of Esther being his one legitimate wife, and perhaps to her being strictly his wife at all, is that the Persian kings selected their wives not from the harem, but, if not foreign princesses, from the noblest Persian families, either their own nearest relatives, or from one of the seven great Persian houses. It seems therefore natural to conclude that Esther, a captive, and one of the harem, was not of the highest rank of wives, but that a special honor, with the name of queen, may have been given to her, as to Vashti before her, as the favorite concubine or inferior wife, whose offspring, however, if she had any, would not have succeeded to the Persian throne. This view, which seems to be strictly in accordance with what we know of the manners of the Persian court, removes all difficulty in reconciling the history of Esther with the scanty accounts left us by profane authors of the reign of Xerxes.
It may be convenient to add that the Od year of Xerxes, in which the banquet that was the occasion of Vashti's divorce was held, was B.C. 488, his 7th, B.C. 479, and his 12th, B.C. 474 (Clinton, F.B.), and that the simultaneous battles of Plataea and Mycale, which frightened Xerxes from Sardis (Diod. Sic. 11:36) to Susa, happened, according to Prideaux anl Clinton, in September of his 7th year. For a fuller discussion of the identity of Esther, and different views of the subject, see Prideaux's Connexion, 1:236, 243, 297 sq., and Petav. De doctr. temp. 12:27, 28, who make Esther wife of Artaxerxes Longim., following Joseph. Ant. 11:6, as he followed the Sept. and the apocryphal Esther; J. Scalig. (De emend. temp. 6:591; Animadv. Euseb. page 100) making Ahasuerus, Xerxes; Usher (Annal. Vet. Test.) making him Darius Hystaspis; Loftus, Chaldaea, etc. Eusebius (Cenon. Chron. £38, ed. Mediol.) rejects the hypothesis of Artaxerxes Longim. en the score of the silence of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and adopts that of Artaxerxes Mnemon, following the Jews, who make Darius Codcmannus to beathe same as Darius Hystaspis, and the son of Artaxerxes by Esther! It is most observable that all Petavius's and Prideaux's arguments against Scaliger's view apply solely to the statement that Esther is Amestris. SEE XERXES.
4. The character of Esther, as she appears in the Bible, is that of a woman of deep piety, faith, courage, patriotism, and caution, combined with resolution; a dutiful daughter to her adoptive father, docile and obedient to his counsels, and anxious to share the king's favor with him for the good of the Jewish people. That she was a virtuous woman, and, as far as her situation made it possible, a good wife to the king, her continued influence over him for so long a time warrants us to infer. There must have been a singular grace and charm in her aspect and manners, since she "obtained favor in the sight of all that looked upon her" (Es 2:15). That she was raised up as an instrument in the hands of God to avert the destruction of the Jewish people, and to afford them protection, and forward their wealth and peace in their captivity, is also manifest from the Scripture account. But to impute to her the sentiments put in her mouth by the apocryphal author of chapter 14, or to accuse her of cruelty because of the death of Haman and his sons, and the second day's slaughter of the Jews' enemies at Shushan, is utterly to ignore the manners and feelings of her age and nation, and to judge her by the standard of Christian morality in our own age and country instead. In fact, the simplicity and truth to nature of the scriptural narrative afford a striking contrast both with the forced and florid amplifications of the apocryphal additions, and with the sentiments of some later commentators. See Debaeza, Historia Esther (in his Comment. Ahegor. vi); Anon. De Assuero (in the Crit. Sac. Thes. Nov. 1:761); Robinson, Script. Char. 2; Hughes, Esther and her People (London, 1846); Justi, Ueb. d. Ahasuerus in Esther (in Eichhorn's Repertor. 15:1 sq.); Tyrwhitt, Esther and Ahasuerus (London, 1868, 2 volumes, 8vo).