Where does the book of Esther fit in?

This small book of history is a novella in the Old Testament tucked in between Nehemiah and Job. Chronologically it takes place after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., when many Jews (including the prophet Daniel) were sent into Babylonian exile. Cyrus the Great allowed the first group of exiles to leave Babylon to return to and rebuild Jerusalem in 538 B.C. Esther’s story takes place nearly 60 years after that.

See more: This helpful timeline shows the exile in Babylon in relation to the rest of the Bible’s stories.

Persian Empire

While the Babylonian exile initially began in modern-day Iraq, the Babylonian empire soon fell to the Persians, who expanded the empire from Eastern Europe to Africa to India. Esther was likely born during the captivity in what is now Iran. This was the first empire to implement a system of roads and the first postal service (no doubt using the “fast horses” in Esther 8:10). Greek historian Herodotus is said to have exclaimed that “There is nothing in the world which travels faster than the Persian couriers (The Histories).”
Photo of Persian Royal Road from Sardes to Susa
Persian Royal Road from Sardes to Susa

During the time of Esther, Persia was ruled by Xerxes, or in Hebrew, Ahasuerus (pronounced Ăḥašəwērôš). Interestingly, it is not clear which Xerxes this is, although Herodotus (and most scholars) names Xerxes I, who ruled from 486-465 B.C. The son of Darius I and Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great, Xerxes was in his mid-30’s when he was crowned King.

See more: This map of the Persian Empire shows why they were considered the largest empire of their time.

Diaspora

A diaspora refers to people who were taken from their homes and resettled elsewhere. A capitalized Diaspora specifically refers to the Jews scattered after the Babylonian exile. There have been multiple diasporas faced by the Jews at different time periods throughout history; several are shown on the timeline linked above.

During Persian rule, the Jewish Diaspora that remained in Persia (after the others had returned to Jerusalem) had learned to fit in with the culture and avoid antisemitism. Many were given Babylonian names, such as Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as well as Esther and her cousin Mordecai. In fact, the name Esther is a tribute to the Persian goddess Ishtar; her Hebrew name was Hadassah (Esther 2:7).

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