Damien F. Mackey
The mighty king, ‘Xerxes’, who I consider to be a conflation of various historical kings, is often the choice of biblical historians for “King Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther.
It is common to read commentators identifying the “Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther with Xerxes I, “the Great” (c. 486-465 BC, conventional dates).
For one, Xerxes is thought to have ruled an empire of the likes described in the Book of Esther. Hence, translations of Esther go so far as to substitute the name “Xerxes” for “Ahasuerus” (Esther 1:1-3):
This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
According to what I have argued in Part One, though, the ‘Xerxes’ of text book ‘history’ was actually a mix of various powerful ancient kings, probably beginning with the C8th BC neo-Assyrian potentate, Sennacherib. The comparisons between these two are striking.
No doubt the reason that ‘Xerxes’ also so closely reflects, in various aspects, King Ahasuerus (var. Artaxerxes) of the Book of Esther, is because ‘he’ is also a reflection of that particular king. The latter I believe to have been Darius the Mede/Cyrus.
Some, though, think that “King Ahasuerus” might be Darius “Hystaspes”, who is thought to have been married to one “Atossa” in which the Hebrew name of Queen Esther, “Hadassah”, is clearly visible.
We read of this suggestion regarding Darius “Hystaspes” at, for instance, http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/The_Book_of_Esther_A_New_Translation_1000167196/15 where we find a conglomeration of ladies named, supposedly, “Atossa”:
…. Mr. Tyrwhitt in his elaborate endeavor to show that Ahasuerus is Darius Hystaspis, and Esther identical with Atossa, admits that “the name Hadassah or Atossa is applied by certain Greek writers, not only to princesses descended from Darius and his queen Atossa, but to persons of earlier Persian, and even of the Assyrian annals. We have the ‘Atossa, daughter of Ariaspes,’ mentioned by Hellanicus; and in the pedigree of Cappadocian kings given by Diodorus we have an ‘Atossa, wife of Pharnaces,’ who appears to have been father’s sister to the great Cyrus ; also Herodotus’s Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, who married Cambyses, and devolved as part of his goods and chattels to his successor, the pretended Smcrdis” (note p. 183). ….
Xerxes I is commonly thought to have been the eldest son of “Atossa” and Darius “Hystaspes”. “Atossa”, we are told, “lived to see Xerxes invade Greece. Being a direct descendent of Cyrus the Great, Atossa had a great authority within Achamenian royal house and court. Atossa’s special position enabled Xerxes, who was not the eldest son of Darius, to succeed his father”.
All of this, however, needs to be radically re-assessed.
Persian history has been – just like Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian and Hittite history – greatly overstretched, with kings and eras duplicated/triplicated.
The text books present us with far too many Persian kings, with Egypt experiencing a “first”, and then, suspiciously, a “second” Persian era.
The “Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther belongs, I believe, right at the beginning of the Medo-Persian era, and not about 50 years later than that.
I have in articles such as, e.g.,
Is the Book of Esther a Real History? Part Two
attempted to re-set the Book of Esther in some sort of realistic biblico-historical context. The following is a sample of what I wrote there:
Who Was “King Ahasuerus”?
At the commencement of my:
Is the Book of Esther a Real History? Part Two
I summed up as follows my reconstruction to that point:
So far I have concluded, based on some compelling Jewish legends, that Haman of the Book of Esther was actually a Jew, not an Amalekite (etc.), and that he was in fact King Jehoiachin. And that the opinion that he was an Agagite, or an Amalekite (Greek: Amali̱kíti̱s) may have arisen from Jehoiachin’s chief epithet, “Captive” (Greek: aichmálo̱tos), of similar phonetics.
With the evil king Jehoiachin as the wicked Haman, then the next logical step – as it had previously seemed to me – was that the exaltation of Jehoiachin by king Evil-Merodach (usually considered to have been the Chaldean son and successor of Nebuchednezzar II), as related in 2 Kings 25:27-28, must resonate with the exaltation of Haman by king “Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:1). And so I had concluded that Evil-Merodach was the long sought for king “Ahasuerus”. Hardly a good fit.
Better to conclude that, whereas Evil-Merodach had exalted Jehoiachin “in the year that he began to reign”, “Ahasuerus” appears to have raised up Haman some time after his wedding, in his 7th year (cf. Esther 2:16 and 3:1).
These are two separate incidents.
Clearly, now, “Ahasuerus” was a successor of Evil-Merodach’s.
[End of quote]
That “Ahasuerus” (var. “Artaxerxes”) must have, in my context, followed very soon after the death of Evil-Merodach would be a matter of biological necessity, for, as I had gone on to note: “The age of Haman now needs to be taken into consideration. Already about 55, as we calculated, in the 1st year of Evil-Merodach, he was probably close to 70 in the 12th year of Ahasuerus (the Esther drama focusses on this king’s 12th year)”.
That Haman was not a young man is apparent from the words of one of the Great King’s edicts (Esther 16:1), telling that Haman “was called our father”.