- Christogenea Saturdays
The Book of Esther, Fraud, or Fable? Part 1
“Oh no”, some would say, “now he's attacking the Bible!” Well, whose Bible is that? And what is the Bible? The books which we call the Bible were compiled into a single volume by men, and originally many of them were argued over at great length. Of the 66 books (they are not all “books”, but we will call them “books” for our purposes here) in the King James Version of the Bible, 65 certainly belong there. However the original King James Version of the Bible contained 80 books. The Geneva Bibles which were published in the 16th century and which were the Bibles of the first American protestants also contained 80 books. Someone before us must have attacked the Bible 14 times, because 14 books are already missing! Those 14 books are sometimes published separately and are called the “Apocrypha”. Reportedly, Martin Luther was the first to have published a Bible with these 14 books placed under that special designation, and the Geneva and King James Bibles followed his lead. The typical Catholic Bibles have 72 books, because they retain 6 books from the Apocrypha as well as the 66 found in the King James Version.
But other ancient scriptures exist which are not in the Bible, and were quoted by the apostles as scripture, yet they are not found in the Apocrypha. For a clear example of this, there is Jude 14, where the apostle quotes Enoch. The passage is famous, where it says “14 And Enoch, seventh from Adam, prophesied to these saying 'Behold, the Prince has come with ten thousands of His saints 15 to execute judgment against all and to convict every soul for all of their impious deeds which they committed impiously and for all of the harsh things which the impious wrongdoers have spoken against Him!'” But no such prophecy from Enoch is found in the Old Testament as we have it today. So there are books which the apostles themselves esteemed as Holy Scripture, which never made it into our Bibles at all.
Brenton's Septuagint contains the 39 Old Testament books familiar from the King James Version, and then it has 15 Apocryphal books. He would have had 16, but he placed the infamous writing commonly called the “Additions to Esther” at the end of the canonical Esther, which is the way the Greek manuscripts have it. The King James and Geneva Bible Apocryphae have the Greek additions to Esther as a separate book, otherwise they would only have 13 books in their Apocryphae.
That leads to another question, which is why are there additions to Esther in the first place? Or, from another perspective, why is the Greek version of Esther in the Septuagint ten verses longer than the Hebrew version found in the Masoretic Text?
The answer to that question is also the first reason why the Book of Esther must be called into question: the book does not make one mention of Yahweh. It does not even contain a Hebrew word for God, neither el nor elohim. Neither does the Greek version contain any mention of God, until a later hand added the 10 verses which we have as the “Additions to Esther” found in the Apocrypha. But those verses do not exist in any Hebrew copy of the manuscripts (perhaps we should say Jewish, or even Yiddish).
The Book of Esther was apparently accepted by at least some men in early times. For instance, it is found in our modern copies of Josephus' Antiquities of the Judaeans. However all mentions of Esther in the writing of Josephus are only found where the story is provided in a copy which Josephus had apparently paraphrased into Greek. The later Greek “Additions to Esther” mentioning God are missing from the Greek copy in Josephus. But the paraphrase of the story found in Book 11 of Josephus' Antiquities mentions God several times, where God is not mentioned at all in the surviving Hebrew copies of the book, and it is evident that Josephus himself must have added them, if indeed he wrote this portion of his work.
Another early place where we find mention of Esther is in the so-called Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians which is supposedly from the late first century AD. However that epistle is known in Greek only as early as the Codex Alexandrinus, and its authenticity has been disputed since at least the 9th century, notably by Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople of that time. An earlier Latin copy is said to exist, but the text is for us presently unattainable. However we doubt the authenticity of that epistle as it stands, because among other things disagreeable to Scripture it claims that Esther was to be credited “for the delivery of the twelve tribes of Israel, in danger of being destroyed”. Now the Book of Esther was set in Persia and only referred to the Judaeans of the Babylonian captivity. Even Josephus understood that the tribes which were much earlier deported by the Assyrians were not Judaeans, or “Jews”, but were pagan barbarians, and with them Josephus had identified the Parthians and the Alans. Paul of Tarsus and Simon Peter both would have agreed.
Paul of Tarsus, and Peter in chapter 2 of his first epistle, would agree that the ancient Israelites are the pagan nations of Europe. The Old Testament prophets themselves explain that Israel became pagan. Yet this so-called Epistle of Clement, who was allegedly a student of those original apostles, would say that the twelve tribes are all Jews? We do not believe him.
Among the so-called “Church Fathers”, the Book of Esther was apparently accepted by the 2nd century Clement of Alexandria. Certain writings in the works of the 3rd century Origen notice the different versions of Esther, but in other places in his writing he accepted the story. In one of those places, Origen, who was also from Alexandria, had also confused the Jews of Esther with Israel, where he mentioned the story in his commentary on the Gospel of John. The 4th century writings of Lactantius, a Roman of North Africa who converted to Christianity late in his life, accepted the Esther story, and he thought the Persian king of the story was the famous Xerxes. Lactantius received his Christian education from Arnobis of Numidia, another Christian apologist who had some clearly Gnostic influences. We do not find any mention of Esther in the numerous early writings of any of the other early “Church Fathers”.
The Book of Esther, which seems to have been promoted by the Jews, is often said to have made its way into the canon of the still-future Roman Catholic Church when Jerome, translating the Hebrew scriptures into Latin in Alexandria, included the book in his Vulgate. Bertrand Comparet, whose own sermon on Esther we shall incorporate into this short series, made that mistake. However Eusebius, a hundred years before Jerome, had included Esther in the list of Old Testament books which he had compiled from Origen, and certainly had also approved of the book. So the inclusion of Esther among canonical books predates Jerome, but nevertheless leads back to the Judaeans, or Jews, of Alexandria. The book is, however, included in the three oldest of the Great Uncial Greek manuscripts, the Codices Sinaiticus, Vaticanus and Alexandrinus. All of these are from the 4th and 5th centuries.
Men are fallible. Men are prone to making compromises. Men often have political agendas. For these reasons and others, no decision of man should be considered sacrosanct. Every decision of man must be reviewed by Christians in comparison with the Word of our God. To see the failure of man compared to the ideals upheld by the Word of God is one aspect of true humility.
We also may be fallible, however the Book of Esther has many clear problems indicating that it does not belong to either history or scripture. First we shall examine some scriptural arguments against the book, and then we shall examine its historical fitness alongside contemporary scripture. Finally, we will discuss the internal problems with the book itself.
There is not one passage from the Book of Esther found in the New Testament or any late Biblical book of the Old Testament or the Apocrypha. The apostles never quote it or allude to it in any writings. The events of the Book of Esther are not found in any other historical source, they are not supported by any inscriptions, nor are they found in any of the later Biblical literature, which includes Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, all of whom are from the Second Temple period. Both Nehemiah and Ezra had intimate dealings with the Persian kings, notably Cyrus and Artaxerxes, and neither make any mention or allusion to anything from the Esther story. The prophet Daniel was also acquainted with the Persian king Cyrus. The Persian kings were held in high esteem by all of these prophets. There is nothing of Esther found in the four books of the Maccabees, the Wisdom of Sirach, or in any other late Biblical writing.
Out of all of the books of the Old Testament, the Book of Esther is the only one which is completely missing in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some claim that this is by fortune, that they simply did not survive. However there have been extensive calendrical materials unearthed among those scrolls, and none of the calendars used by the Qumran sect mark the feast of Purim which the Book of Esther initiates. Therefore it is absolutely likely that the sect did not have Esther in their canon.
There are, however, some Dead Sea Scrolls which evidently record some interactions between men of the captivity of Judah and a Persian king called by the title Darius. These are designated as 4Q550, and with great chutzpah many Dead Sea Scroll publications alternately call them “4QProto-Esther”. In fact, one publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook, comparing the account which is evident in the fragments of 4Q550 with the Book of Esther, claims that “It takes place, like Esther, in the Persian court, and the King whose court provides the setting is also Xerxes.” When we are done here this evening, we shall see how foolish a statement that is, because Xerxes could never have been the King of Esther.
Reading the translations of the fragments of 4Q550, however, they have absolutely no similarity to anything in the Book of Esther. Unlike Esther, these scrolls do not use Ahasuerus as a title for the king, but they instead use the word Darius as it was transliterated into Hebrew characters, as it also appeared in the Book of Daniel. The accounts are of a man of Judah who was a tailor and who was favored by the king, and apparently the relationship is carried down to the king's son as well as the son of the man. The designation of “4QProto-Esther” for the scrolls designated 4Q550 is only wishful thinking by the Jews, as those scrolls do not at all represent anything even remotely similar to the Esther story.
The word Ahasuerus is not generally used in Ezra or Nehemiah as a title for the kings of Persia, who are usually called Artaxerxes instead, the words representing different Hebrew words, although Cyrus and Darius are also mentioned. However Ahasuerus appears twice outside of Esther, in Daniel 9:1 and in Ezra 4:6. In Daniel 9:1 the word Darius as well as Ahasuerus were both titles, since the reference must have been to Cyrus, who came first among the Persians to the kingdom of the Babylonians. Since Ezra followed Daniel by nearly a hundred years and uses the term Ahasuerus to refer to a king at a time following that of Cyrus, we see that the word as it is used by those writers describes two different men. Ahasuerus, like Artaxerxes and Darius, is just a title and not a name. The Greek historians came to know specific Persian kings by these various titles. Now while Ahasuerus is not a word from any form of the name Cambyses, the Ahasuerus of Daniel must be a reference to Cambyses I the father of Cyrus, and the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6 must be a reference to Cambyses II the son of Cyrus, and the last of the dynasty. He was followed by Darius I, who was followed by Xerxes I and then he was followed by Artaxerxes I.
Here we are going to quote from a few paragraphs of Bertrand Comparet's critique of the Book of Esther. We will quote more from Comparet in the second part of this series. We will do so that we can see both his good perspectives on this book, and to correct a few of his errors. So this is not only a critical review of Esther, but we hope to also improve on Comparet's treatment of the subject, while giving him credit where it is due.
Usually, I have talked to you about the things that belong in your Bible, but which didn't get there because the translators changed them or left them out. Now I am going to reverse that: I am going to talk to you about something they left in your Bible which doesn't belong there: and that is the Book of Esther.
Those of you who have read it have been puzzled by it, I know; it is a very curious thing to find in the Bible. In the entire Book of Esther, it not only does not mention the name of God once, it doesn't even use the mere title, God, once. It never mentions prayer to God for help or thanksgiving to God for deliverance. It is a completely and brutally materialistic story of murder and robbery, and how did that get in your Bible?
Well, let us look at this a bit. First of all, let us summarize what it says in the Book of Esther. The scene is laid in the Persian Empire. After the overthrow of Babylon by the Medo-Persian Empire, Persia swallowed up Media and it became just the Persian Empire. It opens with the statement that Ahasuerus gave a six month long feast, or more properly a debauch, for his nobles. Now, Ahasuerus is not the name of any person; literally, it means “the mighty one”, and in English usage it would correspond to “his majesty”. You could apply it to any king of any kingdom in all world history, and it would apply as well to one as to another.
There has been considerable speculation as to which Persian king it was talking about, and there is nothing whatsoever in either the Book of Esther or history, to guide them, but judging by the approximate time it was supposed to have occurred, some have guessed that this Persian king might have been Xerxes. I have even seen in some modem translations where they put in the name Xerxes, which is downright forgery and falsification because, in any of the original versions of the Book of Esther, it doesn't name anybody. All the known history of Xerxes' reign proves that the events of the Book of Esther did not take place during his reign.
We will leave off with Comparet now until we can resolve this question, that is: Which Persian king could the Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther possibly be?
Now, the first king that at least some Biblical commentators imagine may have been the Ahasuerus of Esther is Cyaxares, the king of the Medes who ruled from 625 to 585 BC. But this cannot be, since Cyaxares, while he was the first to consolidate the Medes and Persians and for some time ruled over much of Anatolia, Armenia and Mesopotamia, never ruled over 127 provinces from “India to Ethiopia” as the Book of Esther claims.
Cyaxares is only put forth as a candidate because of the text of Esther chapter 2 which states “ 5 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; 6 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.” Of course, the Judahites of the Babylonian deportations were never settled in Susa, although in the days of the Assyrians some of the Israelites had been settled there, but the Book of Esther does not attempt to account for that. However the prophet Daniel was made a high-ranking officer of the Persian empire by Cyrus (Daniel 6:1-2) as he had been under the Babylonians (Daniel 5:29) and Daniel was at the palace at Susa, or Shushan as it is called (Daniel 8:2).
But regardless of what we may think about Mordecai being in Susa, the text we have just read can be used to date the events which Esther claims to have happened. Some interpreters assert that the text of verse 6 where it says “who had been carried away” refers to Mordecai. Other interpreters insist it refers to his supposed great-grandfather, Kish. If it refers to Mordecai, then the events of Esther could not have happened until well after the time when Cyrus conquered Babylon, and Mordecai would have already been at least 50 years old when that happened in 539 BC. But if it refers to Kish, who is supposedly the great-grandfather of Mordecai, then Mordecai would probably not have been born until after the time of Cyrus. Accounting 30 years for each generation, if Kish had no children until after he was taken to Babylon, and if he was taken to Babylon as a child of perhaps five years of age in 585 BC, we would esteem the latest reasonable dating for the birth of Mordecai to be around 500 BC. With this, we see that Mordecai would be an adult by the time of Artaxerxes I who ruled Persia from 465 to 424 BC. If Mordecai was 20 years older than Esther, and born not long before 500 BC, then Esther would be of the ideal age for a marriageable maiden when Artaxerxes came to the throne in 465 BC. The next possible candidate is Darius II who ruled from 423 to 405 BC, and then Artaxerxes II who ruled from 404 until 358 BC, however Mordecai would have been far too old to be active during the reigns of either of these kings.
In the past we have exposited on the real history during the time of the events alleged to have happened in the Book of Esther. And we have heard others who think the book is canonical and who claim that those events it describes may have happened later than the time of Artaxerxes I. That is impossible, however, if we are to accept Esther's genealogy for Mordecai. Unless Mordecai was a very old man, and his first cousin was still many decades younger than he was, the events in Esther could not be imagined to have transpired during the reign of any king later than Artaxerxes I.
We have ruled out Cyaxares as a candidate for the King of Esther, and we can likewise rule out his successor Astyages, who ruled over the Medes and Persians from 585 to 550 BC, for the same reasons. Astyages was never a ruler over all of the empire that later came to the Persians under Cyrus. Neither could Cyrus have been the King of Esther, since he did not come into the empire of the Babylonians until 539 BC. Esther dates the years of her King's reign, the third year being at Esther 1:3, the seventh year at Esther 2:6, the twelfth year at Esther 3:7, but the King of Esther already ruled a hundred and twenty seven provinces in the very first verse of the book. So Cyrus is also ruled out. As for the last 9 years of his life, he had spent nearly all of that time at war, especially against the Scythians, which cost him his life in 530 BC.
The first Persian king to rule all of the countries from India to Ethiopia was Cyrus the great. Cyrus was also named in the prophecy of Isaiah as one who would do the work of Yahweh God. From Isaiah 44:28: “28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.”
We see in 2 Chronicles that Cyrus did indeed initiate the reconstruction of Jerusalem, allowing anyone of Judah who so desired to return to their native land. This is described in Ezra and Nehemiah, and also in 2 Chronicles chapter 36: “22 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia [which is evidently 539 BC, the first year that Cyrus had rule over the countries of the Babylonians], that the word of the LORD spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 23 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.”
However the Book of Esther never mentions this Persian kindness to the people of Judah, and it never mentions anything of Judah or of the second temple, or of any initiative to rebuild or return to Jerusalem. The only opinion on the Book of Esther which is consistent with history is this: That it was written by a Jew of the second century BC or later, who himself only had a partial understanding of the history of the Persian period.
Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses II, the man whom Ezra 4:6 refers to by the title Ahasuerus. This king, known for his severity, also spent much of his reign at war. His most noted campaign was against the Egyptians and Ethiopians, and he died soon thereafter. Having ruled for not even 9 years, there is no way he could have been the King of Esther. There was, according to the Greeks, a pretender who had the throne for 9 months after the death of Cambyses, and then he was succeeded by Darius I, who ruled Persia from 522 to 486 BC.
The events of this period concerning Persia and Jerusalem and Judaea are discussed in depth in a paper at Christogenea entitled Notes Concerning Daniel's 70 Weeks Prophecy. It is established in that paper, from the history of Persia and the testimony of both Ezra and Nehemiah, that the Persian king of Nehemiah's time was Darius I. Nehemiah was his cup-bearer, and at the opening of the Book of Nehemiah the prophet was also in Shushan at the palace, where Daniel had been up to perhaps 30 years earlier. Later, Nehemiah was appointed by Darius as governor of Judaea, during which time Nehemiah oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was recalled to Persia in 490 BC, which coincides with the Persian loss to the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon. The dating is established, in part, in Nehemiah chapter 2, since when he first goes to inspect Jerusalem, it lies in ruins so badly that he could not maneuver the animal he rode upon around the debris. Nehemiah was acquainted with Darius from the beginning up to at least the 30th year of his 36-year reign. Perhaps Nehemiah in all of his writing may have mentioned something about the events of the Book of Esther, if they had happened up to that time. Of course, Nehemiah may have been one of the Jews whose life was threatened. By the time of Ezra's commission to finish rebuilding the city, which began nearly 40 years later than Nehemiah's time, the mess described in Nehemiah chapter 2 was cleaned up, the walls and the temple were rebuilt. The building ceased between Nehemiah's recall and Ezra's commission because of the Persian involvement in the war against the Greeks, which involved all of the people and resources of the empire from 490 to 468 BC, the year of Persia's final defeat.
According to Ezra chapter 6, the temple was finished in the 6th year of this Darius the king of Persia, where it says “13 Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily. 14 And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. 15 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.” There it is recorded that Darius had made decrees ordaining the new temple and condemning anyone who would condemn it. It is hardly believable that Darius should agree to kill all of the Jews a year later, as the Book of Esther asserts happened.
Darius I is called Artaxerxes in Nehemiah, because both names are really only titles. The wife of Darius I was the famous Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus the Great who is well known to historians and who lived until 475 BC. There is no room for any Vashti or any Esther in the history of Darius. The Greek historian Herodotus describes how Darius became king, how he was assisted by several other notable Persian families, and how those families all had an agreement from that time, that they would intermarry with each other and therefore assure themselves continued control of the empire. So there is not any room for an Esther or a Vashti in the rules of Darius' immediate successors.
Darius was succeeded by his son, Xerxes I. The wife of Xerxes is Amestris, who is also well known to historians, who was the mother of Artaxerxes I, the king following Xerxes, and who was the daughter of Otanes, one of those noblemen who helped Darius become King, in keeping with the agreement described by Herodotus. In the Book of Esther it says in chapter 2 “ 16 So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.” Xerxes came to the Persian throne in 486 BC, and continued his father's plans to invade Greece. This was effected and Xerxes led his armies into Greece in 480 BC after the victory at the battle of Thermopylae. Athens and many other Greek cities were sacked and razed. This was the seventh year of Xerxes reign, and he ended it on the shores of Attica from which he watched his 2,500-ship navy go up in flames and sink to the bottom of the sea. Xerxes could hardly be the king of Esther, as Lactantius and those before him had so wrongly imagined.
Xerxes returned to Persia and died in 465 BC, where he was succeeded by his son, Artaxerxes I. The first 6 chapters of the Book of Ezra record things which happened before his time, up to the building of the temple in Ezra 6. Most of these things are also recorded in Nehemiah. During these first 6 chapters the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius are mentioned. Then in Ezra chapter 7 we read “Now after these things...”, where Ezra begins to speak of his own time and he records his own commission and his return to Jerusalem. This is corroborated in Ezra chapter 9 where we see that the house of God and the wall of the city had already been built. It was Nehemiah who was commissioned to build that wall, and his book records that he did, whereas Zerubbabel had already built the temple. So from Ezra chapter 7 he refers only to the Persian king Artaxerxes, because that was the king of his own time.
Now Ezra mentions receiving his commission in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, but he is writing this account which we have some years later. From Ezra chapter 7: “7 And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. 8 And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. 10 For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. 11 Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel. 12 Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. 13 I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. 14 Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; 15 And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, 16 And all the silver and gold that thou canst find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem: 17 That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. 18 And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God. 19 The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. 20 And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure house. 21 And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, 22 Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23 Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? 24 Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them. 25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. 26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.”
Let's read Esther 2:16: “So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.” Then from Esther chapter 3: “7 In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar. 8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them. 9 If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.”
So if Artaxerxes is the King of Esther, we are to believe that Esther was married to Artaxerxes during the same year that Ezra received his commission, and then five years after that commission, all the Jews in the empire were to be killed, which would include Ezra the scribe and all the people at Jerusalem. Since Esther describes how the command to kill all the Jews was written in every language, and sent to every province, Ezra would have been certain to get a copy. Yet a few years later, sitting down to write out all of these accounts we see in his books, there is no mention made of any of these things.
On the other hand, would Artaxerxes violate what he himself had written in his decree where it says “And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment”? Could Artaxerxes change his own law? Comparet talks about this, and we plan to present it later. However we shall discuss it at length now.
According to Daniel the Persian kings could not change their laws. From Daniel chapter 6: “8 Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.” Then when the king grieved that Daniel would be thrown into the lion's den, the king could not change his own law. Again, from Daniel 6: “12 Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king's decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.” And then once more: “15 Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.” The Histories of Herodotus, Book 3 chapter 31, indirectly attests that Persian kings had no power to change existing Persian laws, as Cambyses is depicted inquiring of the judges of Persia whether there was a law forbidding him from marrying his own sister. The Book of Esther itself attests that Persian laws could not be altered.
So in the period where according to the Book of Esther itself, since it dates the great grandfather of Mordecai to the Babylonian deportations, we may expect the events of Esther to have taken place, there is no Persian king during whose rule these events could possibly have happened. And if Artaxerxes II was the King of Esther, who ruled from 404 to 358 BC, then Mordecai was a very old man and Esther may have been an old hag rather than a maiden.
But the possibility of the events of Esther having occurred in the reign of Artaxerxes II are just as dismal as for those who came before him. For instance, in Esther, the King gives a royal banquet for all the princes of the provinces. Yet in 401 BC, the 3rd year of his reign, Artaxerxes II was fighting a war of succession with his own brother, whose name was Cyrus. Cyrus had been the prince of one of those provinces, the satrap of Lydia and Phrygia, and he had hired a large army of Greek mercenaries to help him invade Mesopotamia and defeat his brother. The famous Greek historian Xenophon was a general in that mercenary army, and the subsequent history is well-known to us partly through his writings as well as from other sources. The events of the Book of Esther are not at all possible in this time either. It is true, however, that Artaxerxes II had 115 sons from 350 wives. It would not surprise us if there were a Jewess or two in the mix. But his queen and consort was Stateira was the daughter of the Persian nobleman Hydarnes, in keeping with the law since the time of Darius I. Stateira is well known to history, and she was the mother of his son and successor, Artaxerxes III.
Artaxerxes III came to the throne in 358 BC. The empire was crumbling. He was not ruling over Egypt at the beginning of his reign, and although he attacked it and he was initially defeated. He could never meet the description of the King of Esther, since he never ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. When he was defeated in Egypt, other provinces revolted from his rule. He was defeated in Egypt in the seventh year of his reign, and therefore could not have been in the palace in Shushan with Esther. While he later regained control of the empire, the circumstances of his rule could never fit the Esther account. His son Artaxerxes IV only reigned two years. He was succeeded by Darius III who only reigned 6 years.
Then came Alexander the Great.
Esther never happened in Persian history, and the deeper one looks, the higher the pile of bullshit the story is proven to be.