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.

Posted in Esther and tagged , , .