Monday, November 15, 2010

Esther 1-2

The Facts (Chapter number: Verse)

1:9-20 - King Ahasuerus held a great banquet for all his officials and ministers. During this time, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in he palace of King Ahasuerus. On the seventh day, the king commanded his seven eunuchs to bring the queen before him wearing her crown, so that he could show the officials and people her beauty. The queen refused to come at the king's command. At this the king was enraged and his anger burned within him.

The king consulted the sages who knew the laws . The king wanted to know what to do with the queen because she had not done what was commanded by the king. One of his officials, Memucan, said, "Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say 'King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.' This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's behavior will rebel against the king's officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath! If it please the king let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to one better than she. So when he decree made by the king if proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike."

Esther 2 - After the king's anger had abated, he remember Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed. The the King's servants aid let beautiful virgins be sought out for the king, and let the king appoint commissioners i all the provinces of his kingdom gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in the citadel of Susa under custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch who is in charge of the women. There the women could have their cosmetic treatments given to them, and the girl who please the king most shall take Queen Vashti's place. his advised pleased the king and so he did just this.

There was a Jew in the citadel of Susa named Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives taken away with King Jeconiah of Judah. Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother. Esther was fair and beautiful. So when the king's order and edict were proclaimed, Esther was gathered up with many other young girls in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai. Esther pleased Hegai and she was quikly taken to get her cosmetic treatments, her portion of food, seven chosen maids from the king's palace and advanced her to the top place in the harem. Esther did not mention her people or kindred for Mordecai had charged her not o. Everyday Mordecai walked around in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was.

After twelve months under the cosmetic treatment regulations for the women(six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics), the time came for each girl to take a turn in front of King Ahasuerus. When the girl went in to the king she was given whatever she asked for to take with her from the harem to the king's palace.In the evening she went in, and the next morning she came back to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. The girl would not see the king again unless he delighted in her and summoned her by name.

When Esther went to see the king she asked for nothing except what Hegai had advised her to ask for. Esther was admired by all who saw her. When Esther was taken to see the king in the tenth month the king loved her more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so the king set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet to his ministers and officials ("Esther's Banquet"). He also granted a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts with royal liberality.

When the virgins were being gathered together, Mordecai was sitting a the kings gate. Esther had still not revealed her people or kindred for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him. While Mordecai had been sitting outside the gates he overheard two of the eunuchs plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai told this information to Queen Esther and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be true both men were hanged on the gallows.

My Comments

Ah, I think I already see a pattern here. We open up with the story about the woman who does not listen to her husband or any man, as it would seem. This is seen as a great insult since she is a woman, queen or no, and should not insult a man, especially the king, by not listening to his commands. So this queen is gotten rid of just for simply not wanting to prance around for the king and his officials. Right off the bat too. As far as we know this was her only offense, but it seems it only takes one sign of rebellion to be labeled a trouble maker. On top of that it is pointed out that if other women get wind of the fact that the Queen refused an order from the King that these other women would start disobeying their husbands. Supposedly this would cause their entire culture and civilization as they know it to collapse around them, I guess. So their course of action is to treat Vashti as an example to all women who would dare to not obey their husband's every whim. Vashti is not only punished but her punishment is made extremely public and the search for her replacement is decreed throughout the land. The message is clear: if a woman does not do exactly as you say it is perfectly okay to cast her aside and find a more subservient woman who will do everything you desire.

I mean really, even the Queen herself cannot show any sort of individuality or personality. If someone as powerful as the queen can't assert ANY power over her life then what chance does a normal common woman?

Vashti, the horrible rebel woman, is quickly replaced by Esther, the beautiful and virginal women who listens to any advice or command given to her by a man. Every single one. Mordecai tells her to never mention her people or kindred, and she never does (a point which is repeated no less than three times during the second chapter). She says exactly what Hegai tells her to say, and she does just that. She is subservient to the king and quickly becomes his favorite.

The moral so far for women: if you dare to go against a man's wishes in the slightest you will be cast out and made an example of, but if you listen to every whim and advice given to you by a man you will be showered with gifts, given a crown, and even have a banquet and holiday in your name.

And oh my god I cannot accurately explain how horrible I think the process of the king choosing a new queen is. I mean really, he herds all of the virgins in the kingdom into a citadel to have a year long cosmetic treatment. And virgins during this time, far as I can tell, are very young women. Especially in cultures during this time period (hell, even in some cultures today) a girl as young as 13 or 10 is considered eligible for marriage and having kids. Honestly, it seems the younger the better since the younger they are the more likely it is that they are virginal. Even if these girls are 15 or so it's still skeezy. Really is. So he rounds up these girls, holds them up for a year to get all prettified, and after that year he takes a girl a night to "try out" and in the morning shoves her into his second harem. Seriously, a second harem? I mean holy shit, this is just glorified sex slavery. The whole thing is glorified sex slavery. Taking girls captive, more than likely against their will. I'm sure no one asked these girls if they minded being taken to see if the king wanted them to be the next queen. The commissioners probably went to the father of the family and offered him the deal, and since it sounds like a fine deal for the father, (since he's not the one who's about to become a sex slave and who will probably only gain from this agreement) most of the girls were probably taken without even a thought to what they would want.

Just, I really dunno what to say about this. The king isn't presented as some sort of villain or un-Godly man. So far the Bible has been very neutral about him. And yet here is this entire story about how he casts out a woman just for pissing him off and then he proceeds to gather virgins to basically become his sex slaves. If not sex slaves then at least one night stands which I honestly consider to be rape because the incredible difference in power in this situation, considering how little power women have at all, basically means that any idea of consent is just out the window. Even if the women bothered to say no to the king would it have mattered? After the example made of the queen what might they think would happen to them, women who aren't even the queen and are denying him what he wants? I know if I was a young girl in that situation I would probably agree to anything if it meant possibly getting out of there with my life. And it seems he kept all of the girls he had his way with, since they went to his second harem. Which makes sense, they were no longer virgins and getting them a husband after that would be extremely difficult. He had to have kept them. He may have never used them again, but they were still his.


Wednesday: More Esther


  1. This is all regular treatment of women by men in the Bible. Here are some quotes from other pages in your blog:
    Numbers 31-34
    "Moses commands the Israelites to kill every male child and kill every woman who has known a man. But all the young girls who have not known a man may be kept alive for the Israelites to keep."

    1Kings 1-2:
    King David was very old and could not get warm no matter how many blankets covered him. So his servants said to him, "Let a young virgin be sought for the king ad be his attendant. Let her lie in your bosom so that my lord the king may be warm."

    1 Kings 6-7
    "Solomon made a house much like the hall he made himself for Pharaoh's daughter, whom he had taken in marriage."

    Nehemiah 12-13
    "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves."

    There was a low bar set when using a virgin as a blanket is presented as a good thing.


    You wrote "The king isn't presented as some sort of villain or un-Godly man." That could be re-written as "The king is presented as a man." It's not like he wasn't following the regular method of divorce, right? What I'm saying is, appearing to be a regular guy in the Bible is yet another low bar.

  2. Indeed, the idea of virgins being used as sex slaves and unwitting blankets isn't new. But I think this is the first time the Bible has been so descriptive about it. Yes previous passages mention virgins being taken from captured cities, but it doesn't plainly tell how these virgins are used afterward (though we can pretty much guess). The virgins summoned for King David were blankets but it wasn't specified HOW they were used as blankets.

    But here we have the girls going in one by one after a year of being prepped for the king and they would go in in the evening and out in the morning. The Bible is very clear here as to what is going on. Previously it is vague and tends to leave most of what happens to captured or apprehended virgins out of the story. But here, it's plain as day. These women are taken, basically forced to have sex with this king, and when he is done with them and they do not please him he shoves them into his second harem house.

    It's just so alarmingly descriptive compared to other passages. Much like the descriptive and clear rape laws in previous books, the fact that it is so plainly written and yet people do not take issue with it is unsettling. I can give passes for the vaguer passages, you can come up with all sorts of crap to justify those. But when it's right there in your face I'm not sure how you can get around that.

    And so far it's not really clear if he "divorced" Queen Vashti so much as just demoted her in his line of concubines and wives. Which is probably worse than being divorced because she is still technically owned by him so she cannot find a new husband or be her own woman (or at least go back to her family), yet she has been relegated to a position where she might as well not even exist. The bar for the Bible's idea of a "decent" man is very low indeed.

  3. The purpose of the story, to me, isn't to say what a great guy Ahasuerus is, using a virgin a day, but to show that a Jewish woman overcame great odds to wow the Persian king and become queen, thus stopping the use of a virgin a day. The awful part of the story is elaborated only to highlight Esther's unlikely success. That the awfulness is not a great stretch from the harem of Solomon is ironic. So people can celebrate the triumph of Esther without celebrating the (foreign, non-Jewish) king's abuse of women.


    The story of Esther has a parallel in Scheherazade of the Thousand and One Nights, another story of a king abusing women. We needn't get sidetracked, but I saw it so plainly in your write-up and wanted to note it.

  4. Maybe this entire story so far has just been too vague. Generally foreign kings aren't treated with such neutrality, so it seems odd that this is the case here. And I don't think Esther is supposed to be praised for stopping the king from sleeping with unwilling virgins. She was picked not because she did anything herself but because she simply listened to the men around her and did as they said. She was barely an active participant in this. She just happened to be the most beautiful and the best at obeying men. As I've read more, her entire story seems to actually be based around how she saves the Jews from an evil king who plans to destroy them all, so this chapter just serves as back story as to how she got to be queen. Which is fine and dandy, I'm all for back story. I just wish the Bible wasn't so ho-hum neutral about the virgin a day bit. All I ask is a little vilification of the king, just so it doesn't seem like this type of treatment of women is acceptable behavior. Instead it's just treated as neutral backdrop for Esther's rise to "power."

    I hope Esther becomes much more active in her story as it goes on. Would be a bit disappointing for a book to be named after her and then have her really not do much other than just obey the orders of men really really well. :\ I also realize I hate talking about these women as if they are not actually people with motivations and their own thought, but when the Bible treats them like passive robots for men to order around it's difficult to talk about them differently.

    I yearn for another Jael or Deborah.


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