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Esther: The Time, Place and Occasion of the Story

EstherAs noted in my previous post, I am in the midst of a year long personal study of Esther that has resulted in me teaching a class on the book.

Part of studying any book of the Bible is to ask questions regarding authorship, when it was written, who the original audience of the book was, etc. Our interpretation of the book is shaped by the answers to these questions. Sometimes the answers are really clear (Paul wrote the book of Philippians… very little dispute here). Sometimes the answers are less clear, though generally agreed upon in the evangelical world (Moses wrote Genesis). Sometimes we don’t know at all, but we still need to ask.

Where we are in history: the time, place & occasion of Esther

  • Authorship and Date of writing
    • Authorship is often attributed to either Ezra or Mordecai
    • Truth is, we don’t know
    • Esther was likely written after Mordecai, but before 330BC when Alexander the Great conquered Persia
    • Evidence: The Hebrew used in Esther shows no signs of any Hellenistic influence, something that would have been expected if it was written after Alexander’s conquest
  • Original Audience
    • Esther was written to Jews, likely still scattered throughout the empire
    • Story of Esther served as an impetus for the celebration of Purim
  • Historical Timeline
    • 722 – Northern kingdom (Israel) fell to Assyria
    • 586 – Southern kingdom (Judah) fell to Babylon, the beginning of the exile
    • 539 – Cyrus the Persian captured Babylon
    • 538 – Cyrus decreed that Israelites could return to Jerusalem / their homeland
    • 515 – Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem
    • 486-464 – Ahasareus reigned in Persia
    • ~479 – Esther named queen
    • Two other historical notes of interest
      • Xerxes infamous failed attack on Sparta’s 300 men takes place between chapters 1 and 2 of Esther
      • Whole of Esther takes place between chaters 6 and 7 of Ezra
  • The People

    Ahasareus, aka Xerxes

    • The story of Esther has 4 main characters
    • Ahasareus, better known as Xerxes
    • Haman the Agagite (Boo!)
    • Mordecai the Jew
    • Esther, the orphan girl become queen, raised by her cousin Mordecai
  • The Place: Susa, the winter capital of Persia
    • 2 important location notes
    • First, turns out King Xerxes was a snowbird!
    • Second, and more importantly, the Jews should never have been in Susa. They should have gone back to Jerusalem when they had the chance. So this story reflects part of what happens when God’s people are more interested in acclimating to the systems of the world than to being part of God’s kingdom.
    • See the map of the Persian kingdom below



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