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'Esther and Mordechai writing letters to the Jews’ (1675) by Aert de Gelder.

The Remarkable Story of Esther: A Brave Queen and Champion for the Jews

The story of Esther is one of the most important for the Jewish faith, and it is also one of the most inspirational in the entire Bible. She was an independent woman in the court of a Persian king and a brave heart who knew how to fight for her beliefs.

Esther is remembered as one of the ancient icons which connects the worlds of Persia and Israel. It is believed that her husband was the famous Persian king Xerxes I of the Achaemenid Empire. Flavius Josephus suggested that she was actually married to his son Artaxerxes, but this seems to be unlikely. Although there are many speculations about the identity of the king, this article will use the most probable of the men – Xerxes. Anyway, the story of Esther's life became the foundation for a cult of her tomb, which is now located in the city of Hamadan in Iran.

Queen Esther (1879) by Edwin Long.

Queen Esther (1879) by Edwin Long. ( Public Domain )

Esther’s Tale

Esther is the heroine of the Book of Esther, one of the texts from the Bible. As mentioned, according to the book, Esther was a Jewish queen and wife of the Persian king who is known as Ahasuerus, however in many translations his name is already shown as Xerxes. As the Bible says:

''1   This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush:
2   At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa,
3   and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
4   For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.
5   When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.
6   The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones.
7   Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality.
8   By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.''

Esther Scroll. (1750)

Esther Scroll. (1750) ( Public Domain )

Esther and Mordechai

Tradition says that Esther was buried with her uncle, who was like a mother and father to her.

The story about Mordechai and Esther became the basis for the Jewish celebration of Purim. Esther and Mordechai lived around the 5th century BC.

The reason for Esther’s fame is the fact that she was able to oppose the powerful king of Persia. She asked the king to have mercy on the Jews - and the power of her heart and bravery created a miracle. The Persian king decided to save the Jewish community. Moreover, he made Esther’s uncle a very important official. Some accounts provide this legend in more detail and there are many differences in the Jewish and Iranian version. (Her story is often more connected with Iran than Israel.)

The one who wanted to slaughter the Jews was a man called Haman, who was one of the closest people to the king. He was the one who encouraged Xerxes to massacre the Jews. However, after talking with Esther, the king decided to kill Haman. He saw how bad of a person Haman was and decided that Mordechai should replace him.

Esther denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand.

Esther denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand. ( Public Domain )

Is Esther Buried in Hamadan?

The current building of the tomb in Hamadan which supposedly contains the burials of Esther and Mordechai comes from the 14th century. It's a tomb tower, which was the most important destination for Jewish pilgrimage for centuries. It is decorated with Hebrew inscriptions left by people who visited. The tomb was repainted so often, that they are very difficult to read and understand.

This tomb has been criticized by Iranian politicians, who have made a few attempts to lower the importance of the site. However, there are still many people in the highest levels of government who believe in the tomb’s power to connect two nations whose relationship has been difficult since the beginning.

Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, Hamedan, Iran.

Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, Hamedan, Iran. ( Philippe Chavin /CC BY SA 3.0 )

The tower of the tomb is mostly hidden behind a metal barrier. Tourists who visit it cannot expect to see English signs and it's necessary to ring the door bell and wait for the Rabbi. The entrance to the building is through a 400 kg (881.85 lb.) stone-slab door. The inside of the tomb may be disappointing for some. There is no sign of antiquity within. There are many hypotheses about the people who are buried in this tomb, but it doesn’t matter much if it really is the grave of Esther and Mordechai or not, it is still an important place which reminds people of their remarkable history.

It is also uncertain if the names of these two famous individuals are real. Some researchers suggest that they could have been inspired by the Babylonian gods Ishtar and Morduk, but this doesn’t decrease the value of their story either.

A Cult for a Brave Woman

Esther has now become an icon for feminists. Due to her strong personality and fight for her rights, she has been called the first Israeli woman activist. She's a character in many movies and books, but her biggest influence appears in the actions of pilgrims and women around the world, who are inspired by her bravery today.

Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther (1660) Rembrandt.

Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther (1660) Rembrandt. ( Public Domain )

Top Image: ‘Esther and Mordechai writing letters to the Jews’ (1675) by Aert de Gelder . Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

Comments

It’s so unfortunate that Zoroastrianism was plagiarized and replaced. It was a Religion to be respected and appreciated as the “Righteous” root of many to follow. This particular connection is very significant for sure. Thank you for sharing!

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