Ahasuerus Makes Esther His Queen
Following the death of Cyrus the Great in 529 B.C.E., Xerxes I took over the rule of the Persian Empire. It is likely that King Ahasuerus, as he is called in the Book of Esther, is Xerxes I—the name Ahasuerus is the Hebrew form of Xerxes.
The Bible tells us that after a series of victories that expanded the Persian Empire and brought fame to its king, Ahasuerus held a six-month feast that celebrated his achievements. Although the rabbis forbade the Jews from participating, most Jews joined in the festivities.
During one of the many feasts, an intoxicated Ahasuerus sent for his queen, Vashti, to appear at the party. Vashti had royal blood flowing through her veins. She was the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar and the sole survivor of the slaughter in the royal palace of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, during the Persian invasion.
For whatever reason—one version has it that she was too modest to dance in front of the king and his company, while another suggests she was vain and didn't want to appear because of a blemish on her face—Vashti refused to oblige the king. The refusal cost Vashti her life.
Esther's Hebrew name was Hadassah. According to the Purim tradition, Persians called her Esther because her beauty was compared to the beauty of the Persian goddess Ishtar/Astarte/ Easter. But in Hebrew, the name Esther has the same root as the word “hidden,” and being hidden is one of the central motifs in the Purim narrative.
The New Queen
Ahasuerus needed a new queen, and so he staged a beauty contest and proclaimed that he would pick the winner as his wife. Among the women of Persia, the most beautiful one of all was Esther, a Jewish woman. When Ahasuerus picked her, she consented to marry him. Following the advice of her uncle and guardian, Mordecai, Esther kept the fact she was Jewish to herself, hiding her Jewish identity. Ahasuerus married Esther, and that may have been the end of the story, if it wasn't for Haman, an ambitious and ruthless advisor of the king.