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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Ahasuerus

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Ahasue´rus or Achashverosh is the name, or rather the title, of four Median and Persian monarchs mentioned in the Bible.

The first Ahasuerus is incidentally mentioned, in Daniel 9:1, as the father of Darius the Mede. It is generally agreed that the person here referred to is the Astyages of profane history. See the article Darius.

The second Ahasuerus occurs in Ezra 4:6, where it is said that in the beginning of his reign the enemies of the Jews wrote an accusation against them, the result of which is not mentioned. The Persian king here meant seems to be the immediate successor of Cyrus, the frantic tyrant Cambyses, who came to the throne B.C. 529, and died after a reign of seven years and five months.

The third Ahasuerus is the Persian king of the book of Esther. The chief facts recorded of him there, and the dates of their occurrence, which are important in the subsequent inquiry, are these: In the third year of his reign he made a sumptuous banquet for all his nobility, and prolonged the feast for 180 days. Being on one occasion merry with wine, he ordered his queen Vashti to be brought out, to show the people her beauty. On her refusal to violate the decorum of her sex, he not only indignantly divorced her, but published an edict concerning her disobedience, in order to insure to every husband in his dominions the rule in his own house. In the seventh year of his reign he married Esther, a Jewess, who, however, concealed her parentage. In the twelfth year of his reign, his minister Haman, who had received some slights from Mordecai the Jew, offered him 10,000 talents of silver for the privilege of ordering a massacre of the Jews in all parts of the empire on an appointed day. The king refused this immense sum, but acceded to his request; and couriers were dispatched to the most distant provinces to enjoin the execution of this decree. Before it was accomplished, however, Mordecai and Esther obtained such an influence over him, that he so far annulled his recent enactment as to dispatch other couriers to empower the Jews to defend themselves manfully against their enemies on that day; the result of which was, that they slew 800 of his native subjects in Shushan, and 75,000 of them in the provinces.

Although almost every Medo-Persian king, from Cyaxares I down to Artaxerxes III (Ochus), has in his turn found some champion to assert his title to be the Ahasuerus of Esther, some have contended on very plausible grounds that Darius Hystaspes is the monarch referred to. But in the first place, it is impossible to find the name of Darius in Achashverosh; and, in the second, the moral evidence is against him. The mild and just character ascribed to Darius renders it highly improbable that, after favoring the Jews from the second to the sixth year of his reign, he should become a senseless tool in the hands of Haman, and consent to their extirpation. Lastly, we read of his marrying two daughters and a grand-daughter of Cyrus, and a daughter of Otanes—and these only; would Darius have repudiated one of these for such a trifle, when his peculiar position, as the first king of his race, must have rendered such alliances indispensable?

The whole question, therefore, lies between Xerxes and his successor, Artaxerxes Longimanus. As Artaxerxes allowed Ezra to go to Jerusalem with a colony of exiles in the seventh year of his reign (Ezra 7:1-7); and as he issued a decree in terms so exceedingly favorable to the religious as well as civil interests of the Jews (Ezra 7:11-26), how could Haman, five years afterwards, venture to describe the Jews to him as a people whom, on the very account of their law, it was not for the king's profit to suffer? And how could Haman so directly propose their extermination, in the face of a decree so signally in their favor, and so recently issued by the same king? especially as the laws of the Medes and Persians might not be altered! Again, as Artaxerxes (assuming always that he is the Artachshast of Ezra 7:1, and not Xerxes) was capable of such liberality to the Jews in the seventh year of his reign, let us not forget that, if he is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther, it was in that same year that he married the Jewess. Now, if—by taking the first and tenth months in the seventh year of the king (the dates of the departure of Ezra, and of the marriage of Esther) to be the first and tenth months of the Hebrew year (as is the usual mode of notation), and not the first and tenth from the period of his accession—we assume that the departure of Ezra took place after his marriage with her, his clemency might be the effect of her influence on his mind. Then we have to explain how he could be induced to consent to the extirpation of the Jews in the twelfth year of his reign, notwithstanding that her influence still continued, for we find it evidently at work in the twelfth year. But if, on the other hand, his indulgence to Ezra was before his marriage, then we have even a greater difficulty to encounter. For then Artaxerxes must have acted from his own unbiassed lenity, and his purposed cruelty in the twelfth year would place him in an incongruous opposition with himself. As we, moreover, find Artaxerxes again propitious to their interests, in the twentieth year of his reign—when he allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem—it is much easier to believe that he was also favorably disposed to them in the twelfth. At any rate, it would be allowing Esther a long time to exercise an influence on his disposition, if his clemency in the twentieth year was due to her, and not to his own inclination. Besides, the fact that neither Ezra nor Nehemiah gives the least hint that the liberal policy of Artaxerxes towards them was owing to the influence of their countrywoman, is an important negative point in the scale of probabilities. In this case also there is a serious difficulty in the name. As Artaxerxes is called Artachshast in Ezra and Nehemiah, we certainly might expect the author of the book of Esther to agree with them in the name of a king whom they all had had such occasion to know. Nor is it perhaps unimportant to add, that Norberg asserts, on the authority of native Persian historians, that the mother of Bahman, i.e. Artaxerxes Longimanus, was a Jewess. This statement would agree excellently with the theory that Xerxes was Ahasuerus. Lastly, the joint testimony borne to his clemency and magnanimity by the acts recorded of him in Ezra and Nehemiah, and by the accordant voice of profane writers, prevents us from recognizing Artaxerxes in the debauched, imbecile, and cruel tyrant of the book of Esther.

On the ground of moral resemblance to that tyrant, however, every trait leads us to Xerxes. The king who scourged and fettered the sea; who beheaded his engineers because the elements destroyed their bridge over the Hellespont; who so ruthlessly slew the eldest son of Pythius because his father besought him to leave him one sole support of his declining years; who dishonored the remains of the valiant Leonidas; and who beguiled the shame of his defeat by such a course of sensuality, that he publicly offered a reward for the inventor of a new pleasure—is just the despot to divorce his queen because she would not expose herself to the gaze of drunken revelers; is just the despot to devote a whole people, his subjects, to an indiscriminate massacre; and, by way of preventing that evil, to restore them the right of self-defense (which it is hard to conceive how the first edict ever could have taken away), and thus to sanction their slaughtering thousands of his other subjects.

There are also remarkable coincidences of date between the history of Xerxes and that of Ahasuerus. In the third year of his reign the latter gave a grand feast to his nobles, which lasted 180 days (Esther 1:3); the former, in his third year, also assembled his chief officers to deliberate on the invasion of Greece. Again, Ahasuerus married Esther at Shushan, in the seventh year of his reign: in the same year of his reign, Xerxes returned to Susa with the mortification of his defeat, and sought to forget himself in pleasure—not an unlikely occasion for that quest for fair virgins for the harem (Esther 2:2). Lastly, the tribute imposed on the land and isles of the sea also accords with the state of his revenue exhausted by his insane attempt against Greece. In fine, these arguments, negative and affirmative, render it so highly probable that Xerxes is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther, that to demand more conclusive evidence, would be to mistake the very nature of the question.

The fourth Ahasuerus is mentioned in Tobit 14:15, in connection with the destruction of Nineveh. That circumstance points out Cyaxares I as the person intended.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Ahasuerus'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/a/ahasuerus.html.

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