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Literature / Book of Esther

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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 Protestant canon version of Esther is ten chapters long, with the tenth chapter ending at verse 3. The Vulgate version (which is based on the Greek) extended the story to about sixteen chapters, though these additions are interspersed into the original story in Catholic editions, bringing the chapter count back down to ten.

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 it's very clear there was a King Xerxes/Ahasuerus (actually, a couple of them, the one from this book usually identified as Xerxes I), history never says he had a primary wife by the name of Vashti. His primary queen was named Amestris. Although it's clear he had 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.
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  • Audience Participation: When the book is read aloud during Purim, audiences are expected to boo and jeer every time they hear the name of Haman (boooo!). 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 most... in 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 it, the visitor is to be killed unless the king decides it's one he's glad to see. Naturally, this puts a snag in Esther addressing to the king the matter of the Jews. Thankfully, though, she has her family, maidservants, and fellow Jews fast along with her so that things could turn out in her favor.
    • 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.
  • Dream Intro: The Greek additions to the original story start with one for Mordecai. The last chapter ends with Mordecai's interpretation of the dream he had at the beginning.
  • Evil Chancellor: Haman is one of the earliest examples and one of the evilest.
  • Fainting: According to the Greek additions to the original story, Esther fainted when she went into the king's throne room on the third day to address the king in order to save her people.
  • Farce: A very early example of the genre, with a buffoonish king, a comically evil villain, obvious Contrived Coincidences, and a feel-good happily-ever-after ending.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: Haman's stated rationale for ordering a massacre of the Jews is, quote, "Their laws are different from those of every other people."
  • 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 to the king that she's Jewish herself and exposes Haman's plot, the law authorizing pogrom cannot be annulled, even by the king. However, there is nothing that prevents him from passing a new law enabling the Jewish population to defend themselves with state support.
  • Genocide Backfire: How Xerxes gets around the fact that he can't alter the law authorizing the pogrom: He adds an amendment saying that it's perfectly legal for the Jews to fight back against anyone who wants to kill them. Cue ass-kicking of anti-semites.
  • Guile Heroine: Esther is able to keep her head in stressful circumstances, and her courage saves her people.
  • Happily Adopted: The book states twice that after Esther's parents' death Mordecai, her cousin, "took her as his daughter." He remains by her side throughout the entire story.
  • 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.
  • Heel Realization: King Xerxes, after being scorned by his consort Queen Vashti and in a drunken state orders for her to be removed from her position as queen, even going so far as to have a law put in place that all wives of his empire must give respect unto their husbands, realizes what he had done after he recovers from the wine and his anger. Unfortunately, he also realizes that the law of the Medes and Persians states that any decree of the king that is made into official law cannot be revoked (which is later stated in Esther's plea to the king to have Haman's plan to exterminate the Jews revoked), so he has his servants go and find ten beautiful maidens that he could choose his next queen from, which eventually leads to Esther being that queen.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Haman builds a gallows on which to hang Mordecai. When his plot is discovered, Hangman Haman himself is hanged on it.
  • Humiliation Conga: Boy does Haman ever get his comeuppance! First is a Hitler-to-Jesse-Owens mission — he has to publicly honor his hated rival Mordecai, with an elaborate parade that Haman came up with when thinking he'd 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 or rape 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. Every detail of Haman's luck is really spiraling downhill. You almost feel sorry for the guy. Almost.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The gallows that Haman builds (and gets hanged on at the end) was most likely an impaling stake, which was the usual Persian practice of the time. It was fifty cubits high— about 75 feet. Ouch.
  • 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 accurate 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.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Mordecai tells Esther outright that the Jews will be saved regardless of her actions, because God won't allow otherwise to happen. Esther is the one who will suffer if she refuses to help.
  • Irrevocable Order: Xerxes informs Esther that the previous royal order to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire cannot be rescinded once issued, necessitating the Loophole Abuse method of issuing a second order allowing the Jews to defend themselves on the designated day.
  • 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. (At least not the Hebrew only version anyway; the Greek additions are another story.) 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 it's possible Esther was invented to explain the festival of Purim which already existed. No doubt, though, Xerxes was an actual Persian King, possibly 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: How Haman's planned massacre is ultimately prevented. Not even the king can rescind a royal decree once issued — but there's nothing preventing him from issuing a new decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves and, in their turn, take the property of those who tried to kill them.
  • 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 hated rival. Humiliation Conga ensues.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Haman throws himself at Queen Esther to beg for his life, another thing that backfires. The king comes in at the wrong moment and assumes that Haman is trying to assault/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 assumes he's the one implied, only to find to his horror that the king actually meant Haman's hated rival Mordecai.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Haman being asked to think up a reward and assuming it's for himself is a textbook example.
  • Promoted to Parent: Mordecai has raised Esther after her parents died.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Esther pleads with Xerxes to cancel Haman's plans for genocide of her people. Xerxes tells her that nothing that is signed and sealed with the king's signet ring can be revoked, but also allows her to have new orders written that allow the Jews to defend themselves on the day the genocide would take place.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Xerxes holds a competition to find himself a beautiful wife 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.
  • Through His Stomach: Esther prepares two banquets for King Xerxes in order to gain his favor and listen to her petition to spare her people. It is at the second banquet that Esther exposes Haman as the adversary responsible for the plot against the Jews.
  • The Unseen: God is never once mentioned, but the story serves as a great example of Him placing the right people in places where they'll eventually be needed.
  • Villains Want Mercy: Haman begs Esther to save his life. It backfires when Xerxes catches him throwing himself at her while on her bed.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Esther is declared to be this by Xerxes.
  • 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.


Example of: