The name of the King, or Emperor, is mentioned three times in the first couple of verses of the book of Esther. “Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign, he gave a feast for all his officials and servants.” Let me set the scene with Guzik’s observations. “At this time, the Persian Empire was the largest the world had ever seen. It covered what we call today Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel; and also parts of modern-day Egypt, Sudan, Libya, and Arabia. ii. Also, at this time, Ezra had returned to Jerusalem after it had been conquered by the Babylonians. The temple had been rebuilt some 30 years before, although more simply and without the glory of Solomon’s temple. iii. In 40 years, under the successor of Ahasuerus (Artaxerxes I), Nehemiah would return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the previously conquered city.”[1]

The English Standard Version uses “Ahasuerus,” as you see in the passage quotes here. But there is some confusion about that, and according to the Handbook for Translators, “Ahasuerus is widely recognized today to be Xerxes I (485–464 b.c.), the son of Darius the Great, though some historians, along with the LXX and the first-century a.d. Jewish historian Josephus, consider Ahasuerus to be Artaxerxes (464–423 b.c.). Other modern historians identify Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes II (404–358 b.c.). The Hebrew text refers to the king as Ahasuerus, from the Persian form of his name, and many translations transliterate this Hebrew form of the name (see the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, the Spanish Common Language Version, the New Jerusalem Version, and the New Jerusalem Bible) Others use the better-known Greek form of his name, Xerxes (see Today’s English Version, the New International Version, the French Common Language Version, the Traduction œcuménique de la Bible and the German Common Language Bible).[2] Ahasuerus and Xerxes appear to be the same person. Xerxes oversaw an empire that recognized most of the known world from India to northern Africa.

Xerxes throws a party for his officials. Most think this party was the result of having put down the rebellion in Egypt, which enabled the consolidation of his authority over all 127 provinces. It was naturally a celebration of victory, and Xerxes felt pretty good about himself. The word “feast” in the English Standard Version might best be translated as “banquet” as in other translations. The Handbook for Translators gives us more information. “The word banquet comes from the root word meaning ‘to drink’ and is used in Esther to indicate eating and drinking on special occasions. The translator should use a word for a formal meal, a meal eaten during a festive event. Here banquet refers to festivities or a celebration that continued for 180 days.” According to Breneman, “Rulers used banquets to display their greatness and to help maintain the faithfulness and loyalty of their subjects. Herodotus described Persian royal banquets at which the king gave gifts to his fellow Persians. ‘It is said fifteen thousand might be his guests.’ The royal chamberlain afterwards had the duty of ‘putting his inebriated master to bed.’”[3] Xerxes is going to do things he regrets, which is quite common under the influence of Alcohol. Sarah Hallowell, a recovering alcoholic, says, “A whole lot of stuff that I did when I was drinking, I would never do sober. I would never have slapped my mother in the face, and I certainly wouldn’t steal and lie every day. Something that I have learned in recovery is that me drinking is another version of me. I take accountability for the harm caused and move forward vowing not to do it again.”[4] Xerxes is going to have some regrets.

[1] Guzik, David. 2006. Esther. David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible. Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

[2] Omanson, Roger L., and Philip A. Noss. 1997. A Handbook on the Book of Esther: The Hebrew and Greek Texts. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[3] Breneman, Mervin. 1993. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Electronic ed. Vol. 10. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.