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Relationship to Old Testament. The relationship of Esther to the Old Testament as a whole is discussed at Old Testament: Organization.
Story. The book of Esther consists of five major sections:
Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Esther include:
This section should be brief and explain facts about the historical setting that will help a reader to understand the book. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
Over the course of two decades beginning in 605 BC, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah, carried of its elites in several waves, and destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (Temple of Solomon).
In 539 BC the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon and almost immediately ended the Babylonian Captivity by allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). While some Jews did return to Jerusalem, most remained living among the gentile in other parts of the Persian empire. The rebuilt Jerusalem Temple (Temple of Zerubbabel) was finally completed and dedicated in 515 BC during the reign of Darius I (r. 522-486 BC) (Ezra 6:14-15). Darius, near the end of his reign, invaded Greece but was prevented from advancing further by his defeat at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
The story of Esther is set during the reign of Darius's son Xerxes (r. 486-465 BC). The 180 day banquet at which Xerxes put away his queen Vashti (Esther 1) occurred during the third year of his reign, likely winter 483-482 BC, and would be consistent with gathering his nobles to make plans during that time for a second Persian invasion of Greece. This invasion failed when the Persian army and navy suffered twin defeats on the same day in 479 BC. Esther was then presented to king Xerxes during the the seventh year of his reign in about January 478 BC (Esther 2). The main action of the story involving Haman at the royal court occurred another four years later during Xerxes' twelfth year in April-June 474 BC (Esther 3-9). The Jews then prevailed over their enemies on 5 April 473 BC, and the next day celebrated Purim for the first time.
A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel, including Esther, is found at Old Testament: Historical Overview.
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- The central chapter recounts how Haman the Agagite (3:1) (likely of Amalek and thus representative of the world) is mistaken regarding who will ultimately be honored (6:6). Even in exile, the Lord protects his people (4:14). The only question is whether and how individuals will choose to participate (4:14). Like Ruth and Jonah, sometimes good people need to be pushed to do things that are good but difficult. (4:10-14; 5:6-8). Those who seek to destroy the Lord’s people will have that destruction turned back upon themselves (6:13).
- In the opening section Mordecai the Jew protects Xerxes, the head of the Persian empire that conquered Israel (2:21-23). In the middle paragraph Xerxes in turn honors Mordecai (6:1-11) and then protects the Jews from their enemies (7:5-10; 8:3-14). Esther is sometimes read as a tract against insurrection.
- It has been suggested that the seven day feast given by Xerxes to all the people (1:5) would most likely have occurred over the first seven days of a regnal year, or from 3 to 9 April 482 BC. This feast did immediately follow the 180 day feast given to his nobles at the winter palace in Susa (1:3), which would then have run from 4 October 483 to 2 April 482 BC. It has also been noted that this 180 day feast would be consistent with planning the second Persian invasion of Greece, for which Xerxes was absent during May-December 480 BC. Following Xerxes's return to the capitol, Esther's twelve months of purification (2:12) would then have run from February to December 479 BC, followed by her presentation to king Xerxes (2:16) in either December 479 or January 478 BC.
- Esth 1:16-20. The reason that the previous queen Vashti was banished for her disobedience to the king was a fear that wives would follow her example and cease to obey their husbands (1:16-20). Though Xerxes is the ruler and Esther is not, Xerxes is celebrated for granting his wife Esther what she requests.
- Esth 3:6: Scope of Haman's revenge. The phrase that Haman "thought scorn to lay hands to Mordecai alone" (3:6) means he thought it too little to revenge himself upon only one individual, and so he determined to revenge himself upon Mordecai's entire people, the Jews. Haman's identification as an "Agagite" (3:1) may mean that Haman was a descendant of king Agag, who was destroyed along with his people the Amalekites by the Jews at the time of king Saul (1 Sam 15:32-33), which would provide Haman with a motive to avenge himself upon the entire Jewish people.
- Unity of time: Three months. The plot of this story began when Haman cast the lot, or Pur (3:7), on the first day of Nisan, which is known by the modern calendar as Friday, 5 April 474 BC. The edict authorizing destruction of the Jews (3:12) was issued twelve days later on Wednesday, 17 April 474 BC. The counter-edict in favor of the Jews (8:9) was issued on Monday, 25 June 474 BC. Most of the action at court thus occurred during the intervening period of only three months. The entire story wrapped up on the 13th day of the month Adar when the Jews instead destroyed their enemies (9:1), which date is known by the modern calendar as exactly one year later, 5 April 473 BC. The feast of Purim was then first celebrated (9:17) the next day on 14 Adar, on 6 April 473 BC.
Esther 5-7a (5:1-7:6)
- Esth 7:4: The king's interest. See the LDS edition footnote to 7:4b explaining that Esther would not plead for her people if they were merely to be sold into slavery, for that would not injure the king’s interest. But she does plead for her people because the king’s interest would be injured if her were deprived of his subjects. This contradicts Haman’s argument that the Jews should be destroyed because their presence in the kingdom does not profit the king (3:8).
Esther 7b-8 (7:7-8:17)
- Mordecai's counter-edict authorizing the Jews to defend themselves and destroy their enemies (8:9) was issued on Monday, 25 June 474 BC, a little less than three months after Haman's original edict authorizing the destruction of the Jews (3:12) was issued on Wednesday, 17 April 474 BC.
- Mordecai supplants Haman. Mordecai did not just survive Haman’s attempt to kill Modecai. Esther inherits the house that Haman himself had occupied, and she sets Mordecai to rule over it (8:1-2).
- The plot of this story began when Haman cast the lot, or Pur, (3:7) on the first day of the month Nisan, which is known by the modern calendar as 5 April 474 BC. The Jews throughout the Persian empire destroyed their enemies (9:1) on the 13th day of the month Adar, which is known by the modern calendar as exactly one year later, or 5 April 473 BC. The feast of Purim was then first celebrated (9:17) the next day on 14 Adar, or on 6 April 473 BC.
Outline and page map
This section contains an outline for the entire book. Items in blue or purple text indicate hyperlinked pages that address specific portions of the book. Click the "edit" link to edit or add content to this section. →
A. Greatness and power of the Persians (Chapter 1-2)
- B. Edict for destruction of the Jews (Chapter 3-4)
- C. Haman's plans frustrated, Mordecai honored (Chapter 5-7a)
- B. Edict for defense of the Jews (Chapter 7b-8)
A. Greatness and power of the Jews (Chapter 9-10)
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Prompts for life application
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Prompts for further study
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Translations and Lexicons.
Related passages that interpret or shed light on Esther
- The Joseph Smith Translation made no changes to the book of Esther.
- Esther does not appear to be related especially closely to any other particular books or chapters of scripture. However, several other books of the Old testament likewise date from the first century of the Persian empire (see Old Testament: Historical Overview).
References cited on this page.
- Coogan, Michael D. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. (ISBN 0195087070). BS635.2 .094 1998.
- Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and and Problems of Chronology in the Bible, revised ed. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1998. (ISBN 1565631439). BS637.2 .F5 1998.
- Jones, Floyd Nolen. The Chronology of the Old Testament, 15th ed. (New Leaf Press ed.). Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2005. (ISBN 089051416X). Page references are to the published edition rather than the online PDF file.
- Steinmann. Andrew E. From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. (ISBN 0758627998). BS637.3 .S74 2011.
- Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 149-50. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Esther: Queen of Persian and Advocate for Her People." In Old Testament: First Kings to Malachi (Institute Manual), vol. 2, third ed. (PDF version), ch. 31, p. 329-32. Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003.
- Fox, Michael V. Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. (ISBN 0872497577) BS1375.3 .F694 1991. This book is insightful, readable, and thorough, and in a mere 300 pages will tell you more about the book of Esther than you ever wanted to know. There may be a newer edition.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.
- Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 252-53; Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 158-59, 172.
- Coogan, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, 388, 403; Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 267; Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 165-67, 192.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 192-95; Coogan, The Oxford History of the Biblical World, 397, 403-04, 415. The title "Ahasueras" simply means "mighty king," and thus could refer to any of the Persian kings, but the scholarly consensus view places the beginning of the story of Esther in the third year of the reign of Xerxes. Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, 199, 205. However, Jones argues instead for Darius's third year, stating that the Hebrew grammar of Esther 2:5-6 indicates that it was Mordecai rather than his grandfather Kish who came out of Jerusalem about the same time as Daniel. If Mordecai was age ten in 586 BC when Babylon carried off the third wave of deportees from Jerusalem, then by the third year of Darius' reign in 520 BC Mordecai would be age 76, but by the third year of Xerxes' reign in 484 BC he would be age 112, clearly too old for active service in the palace. Jones, Chronology of the Old Testament, 199-205.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 192-95.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 195.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 195.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 195.
- Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 149-50.
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