The Real People behind the Book of Esther

Some objections to the historicity of the Bible are based on questions about the accuracy of the details of its characters and their lives. I’ve been studying the Book of Esther for part of my sermon series on God’s sovereignty, and I find that it is no exception. Even the Jewish Encyclopedia says of Esther, “In view of all the evidence the authority of the Book of Esther as a historical record must be definitely rejected” (view entry).

I know that, in a format such as this, I don’t have the time or space to make a case for the historicity of the Book of Esther that will fully satisfy all objections. However, I’d like to lay out a few reasons why I believe that the main characters really existed as the Bible claims.

1. Wasn’t Mordecai too old?
One common objection to the Book of Esther is that if Mordecai was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar, he would be well over 100 years old at the time of the story. This objection is based on the following passage:

“Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away” (Esther 2:5-6).

However, upon reading the passage, my immediate thought is that it was Kish the Benjamite, Mordecai’s great-grandfather, who was carried away into captivity. This view is corroborated by John Gill in his Exposition of the Entire Bible. Gill indicates that to place Mordecai in the exile, rather than Kish, would render Esther more than 75 years old, hardly one of the “fair young virgins” described in Esther 2:2. However, it is entirely reasonable, given the phrasing, to place Kish among the exiles. And doing so erases the timeline problems mentioned above. As for whether or not there is any record of Mordecai, James Holding of Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministry indicates that even critics of the Book of Esther acknowledge the existence of an influential accountant in Xerxes’ court, named…you guessed it: Mordecai (http://www.tektonics.org/af/esther.html).

2. Who was Ahasuerus?
Some have alleged that there was no king of Persia named Ahasuerus. But, Tim O’Hearn at Minutes with Messiah makes an interesting case that Ahasuerus was none other than Xerxes the Great. The timeline of Ahasuerus’ reign, along with his characteristics, line up very nicely with the historical records of Xerxes. So if he’s really Xerxes, why doesn’t the Bible call him Xerxes? Several sources indicate that Ahasuerus is a rough Hebrew transliteration of the Persian name Xerxes. In this time of empires and upheaval, language was fluid, and it’s not unusual to see one person with multiple names in multiple languages (e.g., The Hebrews Daniel, Hananiah, Mischael, and Azariah were called by the Babylonians Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, respectively).

3. Why is there no record of Vashti?
History records a queen named Amestris being Xerxes’ consort. So what about Vashti and Esther? Holding writes, “Persian kings could take multiple wives […] note also that Esther is indicated to be one of many women; 2:14, 17), and ‘Vashti’ may be derived from the Avestan Vashishta (‘the best’ or perhaps ‘sweetheart’) — which would make it a royal title or epithet rather than a proper name” (view source). The Vashti of the Bible could very well have been a title for Amestris.

I believe that evidence allows for, rather than disproves, the historicity of the Book of Esther.

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