Tuesday Mar 15, 2022

Queen Esther: Averting a genocide

“If I perish, I perish.”

Queen Esther

Biblical queen of Persia

 

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The Artwork:

Esther’s portrait  in the Fearless Portrait project consists of an Ink drawing of her on an 1843 map of Persia and surrounding region. The portrait is based on 19th and early 20th century painter Kate Gardiner Hastings’ painting called “Esther.” 

The Story:

Haman, the highest ranking official in the Persian court of King Xerxes, nursed a grudge against a Jewish man and conspired to have all the Jews in Xerxes’ realm killed. A royal decree was sent out for their destruction. 

When Mordecai heard of the murderous plot, he brought the news to the young woman he had raised as a daughter—Esther, the Queen of Persia. At Mordecai’s urging, Esther kept her Jewish heritage secret when she became queen. This time, he instructed her to go before the king and beg for mercy for her people.

At this time, it was a death sentence to appear before the king without an invitation and it had been 30 days since the king had called for Esther. Yet Mordecai appealed to Esther, saying, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther responded to Mordecai, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in the city. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

On the third day, dressed in her royal robes, Esther entered the throne room. Seeing the queen, the king was pleased with her and asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given to you.”

Knowing her husband’s fondness for food and wine, Esther invited the king and Haman to a series of banquets. After eating and drinking, the king again asked Esther, “What is your petition? It will be given to you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.” Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated.”

By the end of the evening, Haman was dead, Mordecai elevated in his place, and a fresh edict issued to cancel out the original murderous plan. 

From that time to the present, Jews around the world celebrate Queen Esther’s bravery in saving her people from genocide with the Purim holiday (usually in March).

 

Background on Esther:

Esther’s ascent to the heights of the Persian royal court was an unlikely trajectory. Born in exile away from the Jewish homeland around 592 BC, Esther was an orphan. Her cousin, Mordecai raised her as his own daughter. She would have had a normal life if it were not for an unusual series of events that kicked off when she was a young woman—perhaps just a teenager. 

After a weeklong bender with all the men of his capital city, King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to come out before his guests wearing nothing but the royal crown. When she refused, his advisors counseled the king that this offense was not only against the king but against all the men of the kingdom and if not dealt with harshly, would cause all the wives in the realm to disrespect their husbands. So, Vashti was disposed of, never to be heard of again. 

Xerxes commissioned a search for a new queen and all the beautiful virgins of the kingdom were brought to the palace. After undergoing months of beauty treatments, the women were sent to the king one by one for him to sleep with. Esther won the king’s favor, and he made her queen. 

 

Music:

This episode contains music from Geovane Bruno and the English Chamber Orchestra performing the Overture to George Friderich Handel’s oratorio “Esther”

 

Sources: 

  • Brown, E. (2020, March 8). Esther, Sex, and Power. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/esther-sex-and-power/607534/
  • Crispe, S. E. (n.d.). Esther: Hidden Beauty. Chabad.Org. https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/367185/jewish/Esther-Hidden-Beauty.htm
  • Encyclopedia.com. (n.d.). Esther | Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/bible/old-testament/esther
  • Esther (NIV). (n.d.). Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Esther%202&version=NIV
  • Friedlander, R. (n.d.). Five Things About Esther That Nobody Talks About. Jews for Jesus. https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/inherit/five-things-about-esther-that-nobody-talks-about
  • Isbouts, J. (2021, May 4). Did Queen Esther’s beauty or bravery foil a massacre? National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/queen-esther-beauty-bravery-foil-massacre
  • Koren, Y. (2018, February 26). The harem of violated women in Megillat Esther. The Times of Israel. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-harem-of-violated-women-in-megillat-esther/
  • Wikipedia contributors. (2022, March 6). Esther. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esther

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