Wine and women. This ch is a prologue to the main story, setting the scene and the tone: luxury, bureaucracy, and bawdiness—all to excess.
The Persian court is decadently lavish and mired in protocol. King Ahasuerus is all‐powerful and totally inept. The dismissal
of Vashti paves the way for Esther's entrance.
Wine: partytime in Persia. We enter the opulent Persian court, filled from ceiling to floor with expensive and exotic furnishings, exquisite drinking‐vessels,
and then the wine, the cause of all that is to follow.
Ahasuerus, usually identified with Xerxes I (reigned 486–465 BCE), although the Septuagint and the Peshitta read Artaxerxes. But this Ahasuerus is a fictional character, a comic figurehead
concerned with the trappings of power but exercising little of his own. From India to Ethiopia: The extent of his sovereignty shows how powerful he was. The Persian empire stretched from “Hi(n)dush”—the area in the Indus
valley, in the modern province of Sind in southern Pakistan—to “Nubia,” south of Egypt, and is described in these terms in
Persian documents. A hundred and twenty‐seven provinces: This is one of several large numbers that add to the tone of exaggeration.
The fortress Shushan: Susa, one of the four Persian capitals (besides Ecbatana [Hamadan], Babylon, and Persepolis), was the main administrative
capital and the king's winter residence. The fortress refers to the acropolis, the seat of the government, and Shushan or “the city of Shushan” refers to the lower city.
The king displays his wealth. This scene parodies the Persian institution of the “King's Table,” an occasion for the bringing
of tribute from the provinces and the bestowing of gifts from the king to high officials. Persian palaces at Persepolis and
Susa had large assembly halls (Persian, “apadana,” Heb, “bitan”) sepa‐ rate from the palace.
Persian parties were famous for their wine‐drinking. Herodotus (Histories
) notes that the Persians decided important issues when they were drunk and reconsidered when they were sober, and vice versa.
Ahasuerus will not have a chance to reconsider (cf. 2.1–2
The rule for the drinking was, “No restrictions!”: The usual drinking practice was not followed. The best explanation is that the wine normally reserved “by royal law” for
the exclusive use of the king was served to the guests. The phrase is then better translated “As for drinking according to
the rule, no one enforced it.” Many commentaries, however, take the phrase as a reference to the amount of wine: Each man
could drink as much or as little as he liked.
Women: the Vashti incident.
It was considered indecent for wives of the Persian nobility to attend male drinking parties; the only female attendees were
dancing girls. Therefore the queen hosted a separate party for the women.
The tongue‐twisting names of the servants are Persian‐sounding, but probably fake. The names in v. 14
mirror this list (Mehuman/Memucan, and so forth).
Just as the king has displayed his wealth, so he wishes to display his queen. Just as the royal wine is not reserved exclusively
for the king, so the king's wife is not kept for his eyes alone. A royal diadem, a mark of belonging to the royal household.
Vashti tries to protect her own honor and her drunken husband's, but must disobey a royal command to do so.
Ever concerned with the proper way of doing things, the king consults sages learned in procedure, the legal experts, or better, the experts in protocol. Law, Heb “dat,” from the Persian “data,” occurs nineteen times in the book, with meanings ranging from “law” to “custom” to “practice.”
In later Heb, it means “religion”; there is no biblical word for “religion.”
A domestic incident becomes a national crisis. The danger Memucan sees in Vashti's refusal is preposterous, as is his solution.
His attempt to preserve the king's honor makes the king look even sillier and more vulnerable.
Vashti refused to appear, and now she may never appear again. Cannot be abrogated, generally understood to mean that a law cannot be revoked, but the expression more likely means “may not be broken” or “to
which there is no exception.” (Cf. 8.5, 8
.) Memucan may have said this out of concern that the king himself will want to make an exception and take Vashti back.
Dispatches were sent: The Persians were noted for their excellent communications network. See also 3.12–13; 8.9–14
, where the dispatches become progressively more urgent. To every province in its own script and to every nation [or “people”] in its own language: This would ensure that the edict could be understood by all in the multiethnic empire. The usual practice was for communications
to be promulgated in Aramaic, the common language of the empire, and to be translated locally. That every man should wield authority in his home: This is not the wording of the edict but the reason for its publication. Cf. 3.14; 8.13
; and perhaps
. Speak the language of his own people, a difficult phrase, perhaps meaning that the dispatches were sent in vernacular languages so that every husband could readily
understand the message and report the contents to his wife.
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