Literature / Book of Esther

The Book of Esther tells the story of the titular heroine, a young woman who was taken to become a Persian Queen, while her cousin works in his court. While there, a plot is made by the official Haman to murder all the Jews.

One of the fun and more exciting stories in the Bible, the events are commemorated by the uproarious festival of Purim, and the (surprisingly short) book is read in the synagogue that day at an atypically-noisy session.

The story is the basis for the film One Night With The King. And the VeggieTales episode "Esther: The Girl who Became Queen." And author Joan Wolf's romance novel The Reluctant Queen: The Love Story of Esther.

It was also adapted into a politically charged Israeli film, titled Esther by Amos Gitai.


  • Anachronic Order: In Christian canonical ordering, the Book of Esther comes after the Book of Nehemiah, even though its events come directly before. (In the Jewish ordering, Esther is grouped with the literary books and Nehemiah with the late historical books, in different subsections of the Bible.)
  • Artistic License History: Although there really was a King Xerxes/Ahasuerus (actually, a couple of them, the one from this book is usually identified as Xerxes I), he did not have a primary wife by the name of Vashti. His primary queen was named Amestris. Although he did have a Royal Harem full of other, "lesser" queens, there is no record of any "beauty contest" held to obtain them. He most likely obtained these wives and concubines in the same way that most kings of that time and place obtained their wives and concubines: through Altar Diplomacy. Nor did Amestris ever get divorced by him, or deposed from her position as queen.
  • Audience Participation: When the book is read out loud during Purim, audiences are expected to boo and jeer every time they hear the name of Haman. Noisemakers are even provided just so we can be sure his name is properly drowned out.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: A longer version with all the girls (including Esther) selected for the contest.
  • Beauty Contest: Xerxes has a very elaborate one to choose the new queen. No surprises, the winner is Esther.
  • Bowdlerise: Many people hear the search for a queen portrayed as a beauty contest. While physical beauty was part of it, it was really more about who could "please the king" the bed. In other words, it was more of a Casting Couch than a Beauty Contest. Also, these girls had little to no say in whether or not they actually joined the Royal Harem.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • If anyone visits the king without him having called for them, they are to be killed unless the king decides he's glad to see them. Naturally, this puts a snag in Esther addressing the matter of the Jews with the king.
    • When Haman finds out that Mordecai's reason for not bowing down to him is that Mordecai is a Jew, he decides to massacre all the Jews.
  • Evil Chancellor: Haman is one of the earliest examples, and one of the evilest.
  • Final Solution: What Haman proposes regarding the Persian Jews.
  • Forgot I Could Change the Rules: Averted. The king is maneuvered into creating a law that would allow all the Jews to be massacred by Haman. When Queen Esther reveals that she is Jewish herself and exposes Haman to the king, the law authorizing pogrom cannot be annulled by even the king. However, there is nothing that prevents him from passing a new law enabling the Jewish population to defend themselves with state support.
  • Guile Heroine: Esther is able to keep her head in stressful circumstances, and her courage saves her people.
  • Happily Ever Before: For one person; Xerxes's assassination is foiled in this book, but later he was eventually murdered by a court guard. There is also no mention of Esther outside of this book.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Haman builds a gallows to hang Mordecai on. When his plot is discovered, Haman himself is hanged on it.
  • Humiliation Conga: Boy, does Haman ever get his comeuppance. First he has to publicly honor his hated rival Mordecai, with an elaborate parade that Haman came up with thinking he was going to be the honoree. Then his fancy dinner with the king and queen turns out to be a set-up to expose him as the villain. When he tries to plead with the queen for his life, the king thinks he's trying to assault her and sentences him to death right then and there. He winds up literally Hoist by His Own Petard on the gallows he built himself for Mordecai. You almost feel sorry for the guy. Almost.
  • Informed Judaism: Esther's Jewishness is a major plot point, but she apparently passed for a non-Jew well enough that her own husband was surprised to find out her ethnicity/religion. However, hiding her Jewishness from Xerxes before they get married is also part of Mordecai's plan. Possibly a more acurate example of this trope in the story would be the scholarly suggestion that Esther and Mordecai are secular Jews, rather than religious ones. See YMMV.
  • I Owe You My Life: Mordecai reveals the plot to kill Xerxes, and the king later decides to reward him.
  • Jesus Taboo: Rather surprisingly for a book of The Bible, the story never once mentions the name of God. It's generally accepted that the point is God can work behind the scenes In Mysterious Ways even when he is The Unseen.
  • "Just So" Story: There is no evidence Persia ever had a Jewish queen and its possible Esther was invented to explain the festival of Purim which already existed. Xerxes was an actual Persian King though, the same one who is in 300 as a matter of fact.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Haman is furious when Mordecai refuses to bow to him, and decides to kill all the Jews to get revenge.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: The girls selected for the harem are mentioned as being virgins (though some translate it simply as "teenage girls," whether they were actually virgins or not.) Esther, in particular, is lauded for her chastity, which is described as being part of her beauty or appeal. note 
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Haman goes to ask the king for a death warrant for Mordecai, but gets sidetracked when Xerxes asks him what a good reward would be for a man who has done great service to the king. Haman, assuming that he's the honoree, proposes an elaborate public ceremony. Turns out the king was asking about Mordecai, and Haman is ordered to carry out his own plan to honor his rival. Humiliation Conga ensues.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Haman throws himself at Queen Esther to beg for his life. The king comes in at the wrong moment and assumes that Haman is trying to rape her. This does not end well for Haman.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Xerxes calls in Haman to discuss how he should reward a man who has done a great service to the king. Haman thinks he's talking about himself, only to find to his horror that the king is actually talking about his hated rival Mordecai.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Haman being asked to think up a reward and assuming it's for him is a textbook example.
  • Promoted To Parent: Mordecai has raised Esther after her parents died.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Xerxes holds a competition to find a beautiful wife for him to replace his divorced one Vashti.
  • Rags to Royalty: Esther gets hand-picked to be the queen.
  • Royal Harem: The home of all the women selected for the Beauty Contest.
  • Suddenly Ethnicity: To stop Haman's planned pogrom, Esther makes the big reveal that she's Jewish. Granted, the audience has known this all along, but her own husband is astonished to find out.
  • Toilet Seat Divorce: The king divorces Vashti because she refused to appear in public.
  • There Are No Coincidences: "It so happened" is a recurring line in this book.
  • The Unseen: God is never mentioned, but the story serves as a great example of Him placing the right people in places where they'll eventually be needed.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: A literal case, at least implied. The previous queen, Vashti, is asked to parade before Xerxes' drunken party guests wearing her royal crown— the insinuation being, only her crown. Her refusal sets the story in motion.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Haman begs Esther to save his life. It backfires when Xerxes catches him throwing himself at her bed.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Esther is determined to be by Xerxes.