The New International Encyclopædia/Esther

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ESTHER, ĕs'tẽr (Heb. Ester; cf. Babylonian Ishtar, and late Bab. Estrā), or Hadassah (Heb., myrtle). A biblical character who has given her name to the book of Esther, which forms part of the collection of the Old Testament. According to this book, Esther is a Jewess of the tribe of Benjamin. She is represented as the daughter of Abihail, orphaned in early life, and brought up by her cousin Mordecai (Esther ii. 7, 15) in Susa, the Persian capital ( ii. 5). When the King of Persia, Ahasuerus (Xerxes, B.C. 485-65), angered at the refusal of his Queen, Vashti, to unveil herself publicly at a banquet, desired a new queen (i.-ii. 4), Esther was brought to the palace and was chosen in Vashti's place (ii. 8-20). As Queen she accomplished that for which she has since been famous—the deliverance of her nation from the cruelty of Haman, the King's Prime Minister, and also brought about the overthrow of Haman himself (iii.-ix.). In commemoration of this deliverance the Jews celebrate the Feast of Purim. See Purim.

There are several difficulties involved in supposing Esther to have actually been the Queen of Xerxes. Herodotus mentions Amestris as the only Queen of Xerxes, and what we know of her does not at all agree with the story of Esther. Moreover, the Persian kings chose their wives from the principal Persian families, or from the daughters of foreign potentates. Hence it has been supposed that Esther was in reality merely the favorite of the King's harem; but even this is unlikely. See Esther, Book of.