Mordecai Prime Minister & Susa

Like they say, “Hell has no fury like a woman’s scorn.”

Adar is the sixth month of the civil year and the twelfth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar.
It is a winter month of 29 days. In leap years, it is preceded by a 30-day intercalary month named Adar Aleph (Aleph being the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), Adar Rishon (First Adar) or Adar I and it is then itself called Adar Bet (Bet being the second letter of the Hebrew Alphabet), Adar Sheni (Second Adar) or Adar II.

Occasionally instead of Adar I and Adar II, “Adar” and “Ve’Adar” are used (Ve means ‘and’ thus: And Adar).

Adar I and II occur during February–March on the Gregorian calendar.

Based on a line in the Mishnah declaring that Purim must be celebrated in Adar II in a leap year (Megillah 1:4), Adar I is considered the “extra” month. As a result, someone born in Adar during a non leap year would celebrate his birthday in Adar II during a leap year.

However, someone born during either Adar in a leap year will celebrate his birthday during Adar in a non-leap year, except that someone born on 30 Adar I will celebrate his birthday on 1 Nisan in a non-leap year because Adar in a non-leap year has only 29 days.

“Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s commandment and his decree drew near to be put in execution, in the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over them, (though it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them;)

The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities throughout all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, to lay hand on such as sought their hurt: and no man could withstand them; for the fear of them fell upon all people.

And all the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies, and officers of the king, helped the Jews; because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them.

For Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame went out throughout all the provinces: for this man Mordecai waxed greater and greater.

Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them.

And in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men.

And Parshandatha, and Dalphon, and Aspatha,

And Poratha, and Adalia, and Aridatha,

And Parmashta, and Arisai, and Aridai, and Vajezatha,

The ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews, slew they; but on the spoil laid they not their hand.

On that day the number of those that were slain in Shushan the palace was brought before the king.

And the king said unto Esther the queen, The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? now what is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: or what is thy request further? and it shall be done.

Then said Esther, If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do to morrow also according unto this day’s decree, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.

And the king commanded it so to be done: and the decree was given at Shushan; and they hanged Haman’s ten sons.

For the Jews that were in Shushan gathered themselves together on the fourteenth day also of the month Adar, and slew three hundred men at Shushan; but on the prey they laid not their hand.

But the other Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of their foes seventy and five thousand, but they laid not their hands on the prey,

On the thirteenth day of the month Adar; and on the fourteenth day of the same rested they, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.

But the Jews that were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day thereof, and on the fourteenth thereof; and on the fifteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.

Therefore the Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns, made the fourteenth day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another.

Kever Esther & Mordechai

In Northern Israel, near Mt. Meron, is a location marked as the holy tomb of Mordechai and Esther.
This is not the only location noted as the Kever of Mordechai and Esther, another is in current day Iran but historical Persia, the location of the Purim story.

The above picture is the one in Israel.

Down a hill is an entrance to a small cave and the remains of a kever with the entrance blocked.

Is this the holy resting place of Mordechai and Esther of the Megillah?

Perhaps, perhaps.

Commentor mochinrechavim added, “Mordechai returned with Ezra to Eretz Yisroel, so this location makes sense as I can’t imagine Mordechai returning to live in Persia.

Esther however was a queen and I cannot imagine it would have been possible to leave to be buried until the redemption like Yosef.

The Jews during Purim were saved, but not redeemed.”

And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, both nigh and far,

Tomb of Esther and Mordechai
The Tomb of Esther and Mordechai is located in Hamadan, Iran.

Widely believed to house the remains of the biblical Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, it is the most important pilgrimage site for Jews in the country.

In 1891, the tomb was described as consisting of an outer and inner chamber surmounted by a dome about 50 feet (15 m) high.

The dome had been covered with blue tiles, but most of them had fallen away.

A few tombs of worthy Jewish individuals were located within the outer chamber.

According to Stuart Brown, the site is more probably the sepulcher of Shushandukht, the Jewish consort of the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I (399–420 A.D.).

Is this truly the tome of Mordechai? Or maybe…

To stablish this among them, that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly,

As the days wherein the Jews rested from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day: that they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.

And the Jews undertook to do as they had begun, and as Mordecai had written unto them;

Because Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had devised against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur, that is, the lot, to consume them, and to destroy them;

But when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letters that his wicked device, which he devised against the Jews, should return upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.

Wherefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. Therefore for all the words of this letter, and of that which they had seen concerning this matter, and which had come unto them,

The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year;

And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.

Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote with all authority, to confirm this second letter of Purim.

Esther and Mordecai Writing the Second Letter of Purim by Arent de Gelder (1645-1727).
After the evil Haman’s plans for the extermination of all Jews in Persia is frustrated by Esther and Mordecai, King Ahasuerus grants the Jews permission to wreak vengeance.

In grand old Testament style, the Jews slaughter tens of thousands of perceived enemies and then whoop it up.

After Haman is hanged, Mordecai replaces him as the king’s most important servant.

Esther is the king’s wife – both Esther and Mordecai are Jews.

Together they write a letter to the Jews in all 127 provinces of Persia, reminding them to annually commemorate this victory on the 14th and 15th day of the month of Adar.

That letter became known as the first letter of Purim.

The second was sent not much later, confirming the first.

The name of this feast, Purim, is from the Persian word for lot: pur and refers to how Haman cast lot to decide on the date of execution, as can be read in Esther 3.

And he sent the letters unto all the Jews, to the hundred twenty and seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth,

To confirm these days of Purim in their times appointed, according as Mordecai the Jew and Esther the queen had enjoined them, and as they had decreed for themselves and for their seed, the matters of the fastings and their cry.

And the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim; and it was written in the book” (Est 9:1-32).

“And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea.

And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the declaration of the greatness of Mordecai, whereunto the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?

For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed” (Est 10:1-3).

1 Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire from destruction in the wake of a plot by Haman.  It is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years). 

Susa

Ruins of Susa
Susa (also called Shushan, Greek Susiane), was one of the city-states of ancient Elam which later became the winter capital of the Persian Achaemenian kings (c. 675 – 330 B.C.).

There is evidence that Susa has been continuously inhabited from 4,200 B.C. placing it among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

In addition, there are traces at Susa of a village inhabited around 7,000 B.C. and painted pottery dating from ca. 5,000 B.C. at the site.

The Susa historical site is located in the Susiana Plain that is irrigated by the Karkheh Kur (Choaspes), Ab-i Dez and Karun rivers, The Karkheh and Karun rivers form the western and eastern (together with the Zagros mountains) boundaries of the plain.

Today, the site is surrounded by the modern-day Shush, a town in the south-west Iranian province of Khuzestan.

The archaeological site includes the ruins of the Achaemenian palace complex of Darius I, the Great, and is located on a 15 meter high artificial raised 100-hectare terrace.

Susa was inhabited from the 4th millennium B.C. to the 13th century a.d.  Early on the city became a religious center, with temples to Inshushinalc (“lord of Susa”) and other deities.

During the 3rd millennium B.C. Susa,  along with another city called Anshan, was a center of Elamite civilization. It eventually came to have a large and prosperous population.

Through the 2nd and early 1st millenniums B.C. the city was either an independent Elamite capital or controlled by foreign powers, such as the Babylonians and Assyrians.

It also became an important commercial hub, with contacts in India, Egypt, Arabia and Greece.

Ruins of King Darius’ palace complex at Susa
Susa became part of the Persian empire under Cyrus II, the Great in 538 or 539 B.C.

During the balance of Achaemenian period (to 330 B.C.), Susa functioned as one of the rotating capitals (a winter capital) of the Achaemenian Kings.

Darius I, the Great, built an extensive palace complex ca. 510 B.C., and Herodotus mentions Susa as being the capital of Darius’ empire (Herodotus does not make any mention Persepolis being a Persian capital).

The palace complex – whose building continued under Darius’ son Xerxes – was destroyed by a fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.) and then restored fifty years later by his grandson, Artaxerxes II (404-358 B.C.).

Alexander of Macedonia captured Susa in December 330 B.C. and plundered the city, seizing some 40,000 talents of gold and silver from the treasury.

Susa came to the height of its power during the 13th and 12th centuries b.c.  Oneof its kings, Shutruk-Nahunte, conquered Babylon and brought fabulous spoils to Susa, including the Code of Hammurabi (which was discovered at the Susa acropolis in 1900).

In 646 B.C. the city was destroyed by the Assyrians under Assurbanipal.  Susa was rebuilt shortly afterward but again was conquered by Cyrus of Persia in 539 B.C.

Darius (522-486 B.C.) made Susa the winter palace for the Persian Empire, and in this capacity its prestige and prosperity greatly increased.

The city grew to 625 acres. It remains correspond to what we see described in Esther.  During the reign of Darius a canal separated the unfortified, lower city on the eastern bank (i.e., “Susa”, 9:13-15) from the fortified, upper city on the western bank (i.e., “the citadel of Susa” in 1:5; cf. Dan 8:2).

An artisans’ village was located east of the citadel. Citadel remains include a monu­mental gate (cf. Est 2:19,21) with trilingual inscriptions (cf. 1:22) and a large palace with two divisions: a three-acre audience hall and a ten-acre resi­dential area with four successive inner courts (cf. 4:11;5:1-2;6:4).

The palace of Darius burned during the reign of Artaxerxes I but was restored under Artax­erxes II, who built a provisional palace in the lower city.

Alexander the Great took Susa without a fight, and the city continued to flourish as a center of trade and textile production, with a large population of Jews, until it was finally abandoned during the 13th century A.D.

Esther’s Banquet & Signet Rings

Does Esther know that Haman wants to hang her uncle?  If so, I think she has something up her sleeve. 

Is something going to happen to Haman?

“So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen.

And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom.

The painting Xerxes and Haman at the Feast of Esther is one of the few works of Rembrandt Van Rijn whose complete provenance is known.
The origin of the paining can be traced back to 1662, two years after its completion.

The painting is rather dark because of the varnish that was once used.

Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request:

For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage.

Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?

And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.

And the king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life to Esther the queen; for he saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.

Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was. Then said the king, Will he force the queen also before me in the house? As the word went out of king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face.

And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then the king said, Hang him thereon.

So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified” (Est 7:1-10).

“On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews’ enemy unto Esther the queen. And Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was unto her.

And the king took off his ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.

Inscribed jar with demotic, hieroglyphic, and cuneiform
This small calcite (Egyptian alabaster) jar probably once held a type of ungent, oil, or other precious material. The ovoid shape, squared-off rim, and lug handles are typical features of the alabastron, a common Egyptian stone vessel type from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty through the Roman Period.

The unusual feature of this jar lies in its multiple inscriptions, with two texts in three distinct scripts, representing four different languages. Through the different scripts and languages of its inscriptions, this small cosmetic jar embodies the diversity and far-flung political and economic connections of Persian-period Egypt.

And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews.

Then the king held out the golden sceptre toward Esther. So Esther arose, and stood before the king,

And said, If it please the king, and if I have favour in his sight, and the thing seem right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king’s provinces:

The Punishment of Haman by Michaelangel (1508-1512).
Haman is the antagonist in the biblical Book of Esther.

According to this story, Haman was a 4th century B.C. Persian noble and vizier of the empire under Persian King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Artaxerxes II but thought by most modern scholars to be Xerxes I.

In the Book of Esther, Haman conceives an implacable hatred for the Jews after Queen Esther’s uncle Mordecai refuses to bow before him as commanded by the king.

He then receives the king’s authority to exterminate the Jews throughout the empire.

Esther, however, cleverly foils his plot, and Haman ends up hanged on the very gallows he had intended for Mordecai.

True of Fiction?
The story of Esther, Mordecai, and Haman is generally considered fictional by scholars today, as no such figures appear in the annals of Persian history, and the story has more of the qualities of a fairy tale than a historical account.

In Jewish tradition, Haman is the archetypal enemy of the Jews, a type of Hitler before-the-fact. At the Jewish festival of Purim, he is the object of much scorn by participants, especially children, who delight in eating pastries known variously as “Haman’s hats” and “Haman’s ears.”

For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?

Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews.

Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse.

Then were the king’s scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language.

And he wrote in the king Ahasuerus’ name, and sealed it with the king’s ring, and sent letters by posts on horseback, and riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries:

Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey,

Upon one day in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar.

The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, and that the Jews should be ready against that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.

So the posts that rode upon mules and camels went out, being hastened and pressed on by the king’s commandment. And the decree was given at Shushan the palace.

Signet Rings
Many people wear or own signet rings today. They are expressions of individuality and fashion statements, sometimes they are even family heirlooms. In fact the signet ring used to be an important cultural item of jewellery and has played a surprisingly significant role in history.

Originally signet rings were emblazoned with a family crest and they would frequently be used to stamp, or sign a document. The metal shapes would leave a permanent mark in any soft wax or even clay and this would be placed onto a variety of legal documents. Some of the most important documents in history have been stamped with a signet ring. In its day the stamp of a ring was seen as more authentic than a signature.

Before the days of the internet and other electronic wizardry it was normal for all the most influential people in the world to have these rings and use them to confirm the authenticity of any document. These rings usually look magnificent but they were designed with a very practical purpose in mind.

Every ring was unique, the markings usually included the family crest but there would always be a significant mark which personally identified the ring holder. Some of the rings were simple monograms or icons which were associated with the most important families. All rings were reverse engineered to ensure that the design came out properly when they were stamped on a document. Of course, this level of detail also ensured the rings were expensive and very difficult to copy.

And Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a garment of fine linen and purple: and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.

The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.

And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them” (Est 8:1-17).

Signet Rings

Signets were a type of seal, worn either as a ring or on a cord around the neck and used to leave impressions in clay or wax.

The impression functioned as a signa­ture to authorize or authenticate a document, or to indicate that some­thing had been sealed shut by the signet’s owner.

The signet ring of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s Throne Name (King Tut).

Although the use of signet rings is attested from early times (Gen 41:42), in the ancient Near East cylinder seals and scarabs (stone beetles used as talismans, ornaments or symbols of resurrection) were also common.

Seals on finger rings became more popular from the 5th century b.c. onward, and most Biblical examples come from the late pre-exilic (Jer 22:24) or Persian period.

King Darius used his signet ring to seal the stone over the lions’ den (Dan 6:17), and rulers gave signet rings to individuals as signs of high office and to enable them to imple­ment official business.

King Xerxes first pre­sented his signet ring to Haman, authorizing him to dispose of the Jews (Est 3:10ff.).

Later, Xerxes reclaimed the ring and bestowed it instead upon Mordecai, who issued an edict permitting the Jews to defend themselves against any attackers (8:2,8).

In Hag 2:23 God se­lected Zerubbabel as his representative, likening him to God’s own signet ring, as though God’s name were stamped upon his representative as a verification of his office.

The Courage of Esther & The King’s Gate

Whenever the king makes a decree that’s it, so are they going to kill Mordecai?  How is Esther going to deal with that?

Statue of Darius, once erected in Egypt, but later brought to Susa.
This statue of Darius I the Great was carved in Egypt from greywacke from the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat, but was later erected near the east gate of the great Achaemenid king’s palace in Susa.

It is not entirely clear why it was moved from the ancient country along the Nile to the capital of Elam, but a probable explanation is that this happened after 486, when the Egyptians revolted against Darius’ son and successor Xerxes.

He reconquered the country and it is possible that he carried off the statue of his father from Heliopolis to Susa.

“Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king’s house, over against the king’s house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house.

And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre.

Then said the king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.

And Esther answered, If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.

The Achaemenid Empire
According to the official story, the Achaemenid or Persian empire was founded by Cyrus the Great, who became king of Persis in 559 B.C. and defeated his overlord Astyages of Media in 550.

The size of the Median empire is not exactly known, but it seems to have included Cappadocia and Armenia in the west and Parthia, Aria and Hyrcania in the east.

Cyrus added Lydia (perhaps in 547, but probably later), Bactria and Sogdia, campaigned in India, and captured the city of Babylon in 539.

His capital was Pasargadae, built on the site where he had defeated Astyages.

In 530, Cyrus was killed during a campaign against the Massagetae, a Scythian tribe.

Then the king said, Cause Haman to make haste, that he may do as Esther hath said. So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared.

And the king said unto Esther at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed.

Then answered Esther, and said, My petition and my request is;

If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do to morrow as the king hath said.

Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai.

Nevertheless Haman refrained himself: and when he came home, he sent and called for his friends, and Zeresh his wife.

And Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king.

Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king.

Achaemenid nobleman, late sixth/early fifth century B.C.

Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.

Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to morrow speak thou unto the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon: then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made” (Est 5:1-14).

“On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.

And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus.

And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him.

And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king’s house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.

And the king’s servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. And the king said, Let him come in.

The Greek researcher and storyteller Herodotus of Halicarnassus (fifth century B.C.) was the world’s first historian.
In The Histories, he describes the expansion of the Achaemenid empire under its kings Cyrus the Great, Cambyses and Darius I the Great, culminating in king Xerxes’ expedition in 480 B.C. against the Greeks, which met with disaster in the naval engagement at Salamis and the battles at Plataea and Mycale.

Herodotus’ remarkable book also contains excellent ethnographic descriptions of the peoples that the Persians have conquered, fairy tales, gossip, legends, and a very humanitarian morale.

(A summary with some historical comments can be found here.)

So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?

And Haman answered the king, For the man whom the king delighteth to honour,

Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head:

And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.

Susa Great Gate
East of the Achaemenid palace at Susa was a large gate that must have resembled the Gate of All Nations at Persepolis, although there is no evidence for lamassu’s flanking the entrance.

Only the foundations were discovered.

This gate is also mentioned in the biblical Book of Esther as the place where Mordecai discovered a plan to kill king Xerxes and where he sat down in mourning.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus also mentions people at the gate, waiting for an audience (e.g., in the story of Syloson’s cloak).

In front of the great gate stood a statue of king Darius I the Great that was excavated in 1972.

It is now in the Nationial Museum in Tehran, and is remarkable because it is made of Egyptian greywacke, shows the king in a characteristic Egyptian pose, and contains an inscription written in hieroglyphic script. It was probably originally erected in the ancient country along the Nile, and brought to Susa by Xerxes after a revolt.

Inside the gate, two heavy columns carried the roof.

The column bases contain an Achaemenid royal inscription that is known as XSd, which says:

“King Xerxes says: By the grace of Ahuramazda, king Darius, my father, built this portico.”

Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.

Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour.

And Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered.

And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him. Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him.

And while they were yet talking with him, came the king’s chamberlains, and hasted to bring Haman unto the banquet that Esther had prepared(Est 6:1-14).

The King’s Gate

Susa, the city of the summer palace of the Per­sian rulers, is the setting for Esther. Archaeological research conducted dur­ing the 1970s by a French team has un­covered some locations mentioned in the book.

A particularly interesting find is the gatehouse mentioned in Esther 2:19-21,3:2-3,4:2 and else­where. This gatehouse, approximately 87.5 yards (80 m) east of the palace, was an imposing structure.

It was about 43.8 yards (40 m) across and had a cen­tral room that was roughly 23 yards (21 m) square. Massive columns flanked the structure.

A trilingual inscription from Xerxes himself celebrates the building of the gatehouse by his pre­decessor, Darius, and honors the Persian god Ahuramazda.

A monumental statue of Darius also once stood at the western end of the gate.  

The historian Herodotus spoke of suppliants who wailed before the Persian king’s gate (History, 3.117), and it may have been that the rule mentioned in 4:2 – that no one could enter the gate wearing sackcloth – was intended to make the point that petitioners could come as far as, but no farther than, this gate.

The Conspiracy of Haman & Counselors and Concubines: Life in an Ancient Royal Palace

The king was Greek, and Esther a Jew, and they didn’t do things like that back then.  You must have had Your hand in it to make it work.

“After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.

Purim is celebrated by giving mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim), a celebratory meal (se’udat Purim), and public recitation of the Scroll of Esther (keriat ha-megillah), additions to the prayers and the grace after meals (al hannisim).

Other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebrations.

Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies.

In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, Purim is instead celebrated on the 15th of the month on what is known as Shushan Purim.

Today, only Jerusalem celebrates Purim on the 15th.

And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.

Then the king’s servants, which were in the king’s gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment?

Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai’s matters would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.

Haman was a high official, in effect the prime minister, of the Persian king Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes (reigned 485-465 B.C.).

He was an Agagite, apparently because he, or his parents, originated from Agag, a region bordering on Media.

Haman is known to Bible History from the book of Esther where, because Esther’s cousin Mordecai (who was in fact very loyal to the king himself) would not bow down to him, Haman spitefully tried, and failed, to destroy all Jews within the kingdom.

And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.

And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had shewed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.

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.

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.

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.

And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews’ enemy.

And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.

Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther, by Rembrandt.
Haman is the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who, according to the Bible, was a vizier in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Xerxes I.

As his name indicates, Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites, a people who were wiped out in certain areas by King Saul and David.

Haman in the Hebrew Bible

Haman is described as the son of Hammedatha the Agagite.

In the story, Haman and his wife Zeresh instigate a plot to kill all of the Jews of ancient Persia.

Haman attempts to convince Ahasuerus to order the killing of Mordecai and all the Jews of the lands he ruled.

The plot is foiled by Queen Esther, the king’s recent wife, who is herself a Jew.

Haman is hanged from the gallows that had originally been built to hang Mordecai.

The dead bodies of his ten sons Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha (or Vajezatha), are also hanged after they die in battle trying to kill the Jews.

Then were the king’s scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king’s ring.

And the letters were sent by posts into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.

The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day.

The posts went out, being hastened by the king’s commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed” (Est 3:1-15).

“When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry;

And came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.

And in every province, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

So Esther’s maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him: but he received it not.

The Last Public Hanging in America, 1936.

Hanging is one of the oldest means of execution, dating back to the times of The Old Testament in The Book of Esther. where the ten sons of Haman were hanged.

Hanging has been practiced legally in the United States of America from the nation’s birth, up to 1972 when the United States Supreme Court found capital punishment to be in violation of the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution.

Four years later, the Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling, and in 1976, capital punishment was again legalized in the United States.

However, today hanging is only legal in the states of Washington and New Hampshire.

Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king’s chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was.

So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king’s gate.

And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.

Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.

And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai.

Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai;

All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or women, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.

Statue of Yang Guifei (719-756), the favoured concubine of Emperor Tang Xuanzong of China.
Concubinage is an interpersonal relationship in which a person (usually a woman) engages in an ongoing sexual relationship with another person (usually a man) to whom they are not or cannot be married.

The inability to marry may be due to differences in social rank (including sex slave status), or because the non-concubine is already married.

The woman in such a relationship is referred to as a concubine.

Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary by the woman or her family, as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved.

And they told to Mordecai Esther’s words.

Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.

For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,

Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.

So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him” (Est 4:1-17).

Counselors and Concubines:
Life in an Ancient Royal Palace

Piecing together the nature of palace life in the ancient world is fraught with difficulties, since what was true for one place and time may not have been so for another.

Prostitutes, Concubines and Courtesans
With the citizens’ wives cloistered in their own homes for most of their lives, the state felt they had a duty to ensure availability of sexual partners.

Prostitution not only had no social stigma associated with it, it was totally legal and even taxed.

Many of the brothels in Athens were owned by the state, although some were private enterprises.

Athenian society had five different types of prostitutes: slaves in the brothels, streetwalkers or pornai (from whom we get the word “pornography”), symposia call girls called heteras who often danced and played musical instruments, concubines and courtesans.

Prostitutes in brothels and on the street had a fairly miserable existence, the rate they could charge was limited by law, and women in brothels were often expected to spend time between clients weaving or engaged in other crafts to further generate income for the brothel.

Concubines generally entered into longer-term arrangements with a single man, and enjoyed better pay and an overall higher standard of living than street and brothel prostitutes.

The courtesans were educated women, sought after for more than just sexual intercourse, they were skilled conversationalists and the most worldly of Athenian women.

Although the social freedoms enjoyed by a courtesan were limited by contrast with many other contemporary cultures, they were greater than those enjoyed by any other group of Athenian women.

Not all ancient courts, for instance, followed thesame rules. Nevertheless, it is possible draw together some general tendencies about ancient Near Eastern palace life from various examples from the Biblical world.

Counselors and High Officials

As advisors to the king, counselors and courtiers were held in high esteem. Their advice influenced the king and the court in many matters; this influence could be either for evil (2 Chr 22:3), or for good (e.g., Baruch used his influence to read Jeremiah’s prophecies not only to the people but to his fellow officials as well; Jer 36:5).

High officials were expected to be “wise,” but in the ancient Near East wisdom involved not only education or good judgment but also an ability to read omens and practice divination (as was the case in the examples of Joseph’s and Daniel’s ability to interpret dreams or solve riddles).

The fundamental duty of royal counselors was to give the king advice that would enable him to retain his power and prestige.

Sex in Ancient Athens
To understand sexuality in ancient Athens it’s necessary to remember that the Athenian culture had no corollary to many of the ideas at the root of modern Western attitudes towards sex.

Athens had no Eve, shamed by her nakedness, no commandments carved in stone.

What they did have carved in stone were phalluses.

Lots and lots of them, by some accounts.

Male sexual organs were frequently included in art, literature, drama and even the streets of Athens.

Stone pillars called herms, featuring a bust of the god Hermes at their top and an erect phallus at their base, were placed outside houses for good luck.

Nudity was, if not exactly commonplace, perfectly acceptable.

Athletic competitions and many artistic representations of the human form were undertaken nude.

Sex was an act defined by the phallus.

It was not an act done with a partner, but rather to a partner.

The active party penetrated the passive; in all but the rarest case the active party was an adult male citizen.

The division of rights, responsibilities and roles in sexual relationships was not simply split along gender lines, but also lines of class, and of age.

Thus a wise counselor could make or unmake a king, and the counselor’s prestige (and sometimes his life) depended upon whether or not the king regarded his advice as sound (see 2 Sam 15:32-17:14).

King Xerxes offi­cials advised him to remove Vashti from her position as queen and to replace her with another queen, lest other women hear of her actions and treat their husbands with con­tempt and the king himself become an object of scorn (Est 1:13).

The Royal Wives and Concubines

The king maintained separate quarters from the women; at Mari, the queen was also housed separately from the concubines and other women.

The concepts of “harems” and “concubines” have derogatory connotations in modern times, but this was not the case in the ancient Near East.

“Harem” simply referred to the palace women (including concubines and slaves) or to the area where they lived.

Persian royal women not only could attend banquets (2:10-11) but also accompanied the king on hunts and even on military campaigns.  Concubines in the Persian period included foreigners – daughters of other kings with whom alliances had been made.

The fact that they had their own attendants indicates that they were not of low social station, though within the royal family they possessed only the rights of secondary wives.

In some con­texts access to the palace concubines was equated with the right to the kingship (cf. 2 Sam 3:7; 16:21 -22; 1 Kgs 2:22), so the harem was guarded by a eunuch or other official.

While the access of the concubines to the king was limited (Est 2:14, 4:11), this was not a function of their status; no one of any position could ap­proach a Persian king without having been summoned (4:11).

Offi­cials, however, could not meet with royal women alone (e.g., Mordecai sent word to Esther about Haman’s plot via the eunuch Hathach; 4:5-9). In the Assyrian court the penalty for a courtier attempting to meet alone with a royal woman was death.

Royal women could use their influence to intercede with the king, particularly on behalf of or for the benefit of family members.

In this way Esther was able to reveal a plot against the king that was dis­covered by Mordecai (2:21-23), as well as to intercede on behalf of her people when Haman tried to destroy them (7:1).

Queens, in addition to supervising household man­agement and overseeing the harem, also owned and managed estates and oversaw work details.

Esther Made Queen & Ahasuerus/Xerxe

So is the king going to fire her, or whatever King do to queens?  He’s not going to behead her like King Henry the VIII did, is he?

Vashti
Vashti was Queen of Persia and the first wife of Persian King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther, a book included in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and read on the Jewish holiday of Purim. She was banished for her refusal to appear at the king’s banquet to show her beauty as the king wished, and Esther was chosen to succeed her as queen.

In the Midrash, Vashti is described as wicked and vain. She is viewed as an independent-minded heroine in feminist interpretations of the Purim story.

In the Book of Esther
In the Book of Esther, Vashti is the first wife of King Ahasuerus. While the king holds a magnificent banquet for his princes, nobles and servants, she holds a separate banquet for the women. On the seventh day of the banquet, when the king’s heart was “merry with wine”, the king orders his seven chamberlains to summon Vashti to come before him and his guests wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty.

Vashti refuses to come, and the king becomes angry. He asks his advisers how Vashti should be punished for her disobedience. His adviser Memucan tells him that Vashti has wronged not only the king, but also all of the husbands of Persia, whose wives may be encouraged by Vashti’s actions to disobey.

Memucan encourages Ahasuerus to dismiss Vashti and find another queen. Ahasuerus takes Memucan’s advice, and sends letters to all of the provinces that men should dominate in their households. Ahasuerus subsequently chooses Esther as his queen to replace Vashti.

King Ahaseurus’s command for the appearance of Queen Vashti is interpreted by several midrashic sources as an order to appear unclothed for the attendees of the king’s banquet.

Historical identification
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bible commentators attempted to identify Vashti with Persian queens mentioned by the Greek historians. Traditional sources identify Ahasuerus with Artaxerxes II of Persia.

Jacob Hoschander, supporting the traditional identification, suggested that Vashti may be identical to a wife of Artaxerxes mentioned by Plutarch, named Stateira.[3] Upon the discovery of the equivalence of the names Ahasuerus and Xerxes, Bible commentators began to identify Ahasuerus with Xerxes I and Vashti with a wife named Amestris mentioned by Herodotus, an interpretation accepted by most scholars.

Meaning of the name
The meaning of the name Vashti is uncertain. As a modern Persian name it is understood to mean “goodness” but most likely it originated from the reconstructed Old Persian *vaištī, related to the superlative adjective vahišta- “best, excellent” found in the Avesta, with the feminine termination -ī; hence “excellent woman, best of women”.

Hoschander proposed that it originated as a shortening of an unattested vashtateira which he also proposed as the origin of the name “Stateira”.

“After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.

Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king:

And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king’s chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them:

And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.

Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name wasMordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;

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.

And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.

So it came to pass, when the king’s commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king’s house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.

And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king’s house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women.

Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.

And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women’s house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.

The palace of Ahasuerus/Xerxes at Persepolis, called Hadiš in Persian, “dwelling place”, was twice as large as the Palace of Darius.

A terrace connected the two royal mansions, which are not very far apart.

Yet, compared to the palace of Darius, the house of Xerxes is badly damaged.

A likely explanation is that it received a special treatment when the Macedonian king Alexander the Great destroyed Persepolis in 330.

His men were especially interested in the palace of the man who had once sacked Athens.

This relief of the great king leaving the palace is an example of the destruction.

The damages from the right are partly due to natural causes, but the face has been destroyed with a hammer, and someone must have made a great effort to create a hole near the king’s ear.

It was probably meant for a piece of cork that would have been wetted with vinegar.

When heated, the cork would start to dilate and would ultimately blow the stone to pieces – a common practice in ancient stone quarries.

For one reason or another, the cork and vinegar were never used.

The main room had 36 columns and was surrounded by six smaller rooms: three to the east, and three to the west.

To the north was a portico, facing the Apadana. (Later, king Artaxerxes III Ochus constructed a palace between the two buildings).

The decoration of this portico was more or less identical to the palace of Darius: for example, there are reliefs of the king leaving his mansion, attended by people carrying a parasol and a fan.

An inscription, known as XPe, written in Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian, says:

“Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings,

the son of king Darius, an Achaemenid.”

There are almost similar inscriptions which mention Xerxes’ father Darius (DPb). According to the inscription known as A1Pa, the palace was completed by Artaxerxes I Makrocheir, the son and successor of Xerxes.

The stairs from the palace of Darius to the interconnecting terrace belong to the best-preserved part of the complex.

The central part of these stairs show Ahuramazda (not Faravahar, as is often claimed), flanked by two sphinxes, an inscription and several soldiers, which are sometimes called “apple bearers” or Immortals.

Now when every maid’s turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women;)

Then thus came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was

 

given her to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king’s house.

In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.

Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king’s chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her.

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.

And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.

Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther’s feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.

And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king’s gate.

Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.

In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king’s gate, two of the king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus.

And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai’s name.

And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king” (Est 2:1-23).

1 The name Mordechai is of uncertain origin but is considered identical to the name Marduka or Marduku attested as the name of officials in the Persian court in thirty texts (the Persepolis Texts) from the period of Xerxes I and his father Darius, and may refer to up to four individuals, one of which might very well be the biblical Mordecai. 

The name is commonly interpreted as a theophoric name referring to the god Marduk with the understanding that it means servant/follower/devotee of Marduk in Aramaic.  The Book of Daniel contains similar accounts of Jews living in exile in Babylonia being assigned names relating to Babylonian gods. 

Ahasuerus/Xerxes

Ahasuerus/Xerxes was the son of Darius the Great, mentioned in Dan 9:1, the grandson of Cyrus the Great and the king of Persia mentioned in the book of Esther.  There is no doubt that he is the well-known historical Xerxes who reigned from 486-465 B.C.

The main support for this identification is to be found in the linguistic equivalence of the names of KJV “Ahasuerus” and the NIV “Xerxes.”  In addition, a close similarity has been noted between the character of the historical Xerxes and the character of the king of the Persians portrayed in the Book of Esther. 

There are also historical correlations.  The feast that was held in the 3rd year of the reign of Xerxes at Susa (Est 1:3) corresponds to an assembly held by Xerxes in his 3rd year in preparation for the invasion of Greece.  Herodotus states that Xerxes, following his defeat at Salamis and Plataea, consoled himself in his 7th year with the pleasures of the harem. 

This parallels the biblical account that relates that Ahasuerus replaced Vashti by marrying Esther in his 7th year (Est 2:16) after gathering all the fair young virgins to Susa.  The Xerxes of Ezra 4:6, whom were written accusations against the Jews of Jerusalem is in all probability the same Xerxes, though sometimes identified with Cambyses, son of Cyrus.