The story of Esther is the foundation for the festival of Purim, the only time of the year when Jews are expected to drink to excess. It is the story of a threat to the Jews living under the Persian Empire "which stretched from India to Ethiopia" and how they are saved by a Jewish woman. It is also a domestic drama of the royal court, which begins with the feast of a king and the disobedience of a queen, and ends with the obedience of a king and the feast of a queen. The winning of the battle of the sexes by a woman stands as a metaphor for the survival of the relatively powerless Jews when faced with a hostile government. This question of survival was of the greatest importance precisely at the time Josephus was composing his works.
Esther's story is retold by Josephus in Book 11, Chapter 6 of the Jewish Antiquities. Since Purim is not a holiday ordained by Moses in the first five books of the bible, scholars have wondered if Jews of ancient time indeed observed it annually. Josephus' statement at the end of his version, that the Jews "still keep" the festival of Purim, is the earliest evidence we have of the celebration of this holiday.
While principally Josephus simply rephrases the biblical book of Esther, there are interesting differences that reflect a combination of at least two written versions of the story circulating in Josephus' time, and which also include certain interpretive additions, unknown in any of our surviving sources, which could represent the opinions of Rabbis of the time or Josephus himself. Some of these survived to be included in the Rabbinic commentary on the Book of Esther, the Talmud volume called Tractate Megillah.
There are two versions of Esther we know of: the original Hebrew and a later Greek translation. The first (the Megillah) is found in the canonical Hebrew Bible. The Greek translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, was composed in Egypt c. 270 BCE (as told in Antiquities 12.2.7 57; 12.2.12 101-109), and contains a variation of the book of Esther, called today the Apocryphal Esther. This Greek version has six additions to the Hebrew, labeled by the letters A through E, which serve to increase its air of authenticity and, more significantly, to correct a serious lapse in the story: there is no religious teaching, and the Hebrew Book of Esther is the only book of the Bible which does not contain the Holy Name. (The Apocryphal Esther is available in English in Catholic bibles and in translations such as the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha.)
The lack of a religious perspective almost prevented the book from being included in the canonical books and is the reason, it is widely thought, why Esther is the only book of the Bible that was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Greek additions add prophetic dreams and prayers to Heaven that serve to reintroduce the religious aspect.
Josephus derives much of his version of Esther from the Septuagint, which no doubt was easier than trying to create a completely new translation from Hebrew to Greek. The retelling of Esther provides a good example of how Josephus rephrases and elaborates upon authoritative texts (an observation important in understanding the composition of the description of Jesus).
In the text of Esther I present here, I do not repeat the entire book, which one should definitely read but is readily elsewhere on-line. Instead I am interested in seeing how the Purim story appears from Esther's point of view. Therefore, I have extracted the sections that depict Esther's experiences, and only summarize the rest.
These extracts are my own variation on Whiston's translation. For more details, see the note on the translations on this site.
My comments have made use of Ralph Marcus' footnotes in the Loeb Edition of The Jewish Antiquities, Books IX- XI (Harvard, 1937), and Carey Moore's volume, Esther, in the Anchor Bible series (Doubleday, 1971).
For rabbinic sources I have made use of the translation and explanations found in the Schottenstein Edition of Talmud Bavli, Tractate Megillah (Mesorah Publications, New York, 1971).
The Jewish Antiquities 11.6.1-13 184-296
The Great King and the Jewish WomanAfter the death of Xerxes the kingdom was transferred to his son Asueros, whom the Greeks call Artaxerxes. While he was governing the Persians the whole nation of the Jews, with their wives and children, were in danger of perishing. The cause of this we shall describe in a little time; for it is proper first to tell something of this king and how he came to marry a Jewish woman who was herself of royal family, and who is said to have saved our nation.
The Feast of ArtaxerxesWhen Artaxerxes had taken over the kingdom and had set governors over the hundred twenty and seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia, in the third year of his reign, he held a costly feast for his friends and for the peoples of Persia and their governors, as was proper for a king when he had a mind to make public demonstration of his riches, for a hundred and eighty days. After which he made a feast for other nations and their ambassadors at Susa for seven days.
Now this feast was ordered in the following manner. He caused a tent to be pitched made of pillars of gold and silver with curtains of linen and purple spread over them, with room for many thousands to sit down. The cups with which the waiters served them were of gold, and adorned with precious stones for pleasure and beauty. He also gave order to the servants that they should not force them to drink by bringing them wine continually, as is the practice of the Persians, but to permit every one of the guests to enjoy himself according to his own inclination. Moreover, he sent messengers throughout the country and gave order that they should have a rest from their labors and keep a festival many days, in honor of his kingship.
In like manner did Asti the queen gather the women together and make them a feast in her palace.
The Septuagint (that is, the Greek Bible) says the king is Artaxerxes, but the Hebrew has Xerxes; Josephus gives both names in Greek, but equates them. The queen's name, given by Josephus and the Septuagint as Asti, is Vashti in the Hebrew version. Where names differ between the Septuagint and Hebrew we see Josephus using the Greek.
Xerxes, the king of the original Hebrew version, was the ruler of the great Persian empire from 486 to 465 BCE. His attempt to extend his empire into Europe, and his defeat at the hands of the Greeks at Marathon and Plataea, were well known to Josephus' readers. Artaxerxes, his son, was weaker, and ruled from 464 to 425 BCE. By placing the Esther story in correct chronological position in his history it becomes intertwined with the familiar history of his readers' world and so carries with it the air of historical accuracy, something which, apparently, not all of his countrymen of the time would have agreed with.
Josephus states here that Esther was of royal family, which is not manifest in the Bible but which is the view of the Talmud, as discussed below.
The Disobedience of Queen AstiNow the king was desirous to show her to those that feasted with him, as she exceeded all other women in beauty, and he sent some to command her to come to his banquet. But she, out of regard to the laws of the Persians, which forbid the wives to be seen by strangers, did not go to the king; and though he repeatedly sent the eunuchs to her, she nevertheless continued to refuse to come, until the king was so much angered that he broke up the banquet, rose up, and called for the Seven Persians who were responsible for the interpretation of the laws, and accused his wife, saying that he had been insulted by her because although she had repeatedly been called by him to his banquet, she had not obeyed him once.
He therefore ordered that they should inform him what could be done by law against her. So one of them, named Memucan, said that this affront was given not to him alone, but to all Persian men, who were in danger of being treated contemptuously by their wives and thus leading shameful lives, "for no woman would have any respect for her husband if they had such an example as the arrogance of the queen towards you, who have power over everything." Accordingly, he exhorted him to punish severely she who had so greatly insulted him, and when he had so done, to publish to the nations what had been decreed against the queen. So the resolution was to put Asti away, and to give her high place to another woman.
The Bible does not give a reason for the Queen's refusal. Josephus provides a curiously moral reason - but why? Does he feel the need to defend the honor of Persian women, or to generally praise the law-abiding nature of Persians?
Josephus omits one detail from the Bible: that the king, having been partying with his friends for seven days, was drunk when he made the request to Vashti ("in good humor" - NRSV; "merry with wine" - JPS; "feeling high from the wine" - Moore). One might think a woman is right to refuse a drunken request from her husband to show her off to his pals at a wild party. Josephus' omission of this fact about the king raises the moral tone of his version which parallels his attributing Asti's refusal to her morality. Is Josephus, who was living in the Roman imperial court at the time of this translation, cautious not to say ill things about emperors and their wives?
In T. Megillah the Rabbis provide several speculations as to the refusal, none of them having any sort of moral basis as Josephus suggests, but instead propose that Vashti (Asti) was going to present herself naked to the guests, in order to prove her natural beauty without adornment, yet could not do so through the intervention of heaven, which took one of two forms: one tradition has it that she broke out in leprosy, the other that the Angel Gabriel came and caused her to grow an appendage. (T. Megillah 12b).
The Search for the Most Beautiful VirginBut the king was in love with her and could not bear the separation, and yet by the law he did not have the power to be reconciled to her; so he grieved at not being able to obtain his desire.
But when his friends saw him in such pain they advised him to cast out the memory of his wife and his desire for her, but to send abroad over all the habitable earth to search out for comely virgins, and to take her he best liked for his wife; because his passion for his former wife would be quenched by the introduction of another, and the affection he had for Asti would little by little be withdrawn and transferred to the woman living with him.
He was persuaded to follow this advice, and accordingly gave order to certain persons to select from the virgins of his kingdom those that were esteemed the most beautiful and to bring them to him.
So when a great number of these virgins were gathered together, there was found a girl in Babylon who had been orphaned and was being brought up by her uncle, Mordecai - for this was his name. He was of the tribe of Benjamin and was one of the principal men among the Jews. And Esther - for this was her name -
stood out and surpassed all the others in beauty, and the grace of her face attracted the eyes of all who looked upon her.
Josephus does not tell us that the Bible states her given name was Hadassah, Hebrew for myrtle. "Esther" is a Persian name deriving from "star" (from the same Indo-European root, ster-, as the English word) and refers to the Persian Goddess Ishtar. Many other Jews in Josephus' history have two names, a Hebrew one and a second that is more familiar to the prevailing Gentile culture. The Talmud states that Hadassah used her Persian name Esther to conceal her Jewish identity, with a pun on the Hebrew word hesther, which means "concealment" (T. Megillah 13a).
The Bible states that Mordecai was her cousin, not her uncle as Josephus and later tradition have it. Josephus and the Talmud also agree in interpreting Mordecai as being of a royal family, a descendant of Kish who was the father of King Saul.
The name Mordecai (Marduka) appears in Babylonian Persian records; in particular, about the time of Xerxes' ascension to the throne, there is a record of a royal accountant in Susa named Mordecai (Moore, Intro., p. L).
Josephus adds the psychological reasoning behind the king's search, i.e., in order to transfer his love to another woman; this is unscriptural.
In the HaremSo she was handed over to one of the eunuchs to take care of her; and she was given every attention, and was anointed freely with spices and with costly ointments, such as women's bodies required. This treatment was enjoyed for six months by the virgins, who were in number four hundred. When the eunuch thought the virgins had been sufficiently purified in the forementioned time and were now fit to go to the king's bed, he sent one every day to have sex with the king. After the king had intercourse with her he sent her straight back to the eunuch.
The Marriage of EstherBut when Esther came to him he was pleased with her and fell in love with the maiden, and made her his lawful wife. He held a wedding for her on the twelfth month, which was called Adar, of the seventh year of his reign. He also sent messengers, angari, as they are called, to every nation, and gave orders that they should keep a feast for his marriage, while he himself entertained the Persians and the principal men of the nations a whole month for his marriage.
And when Esther came to the royal palace he placed the crown upon her head.
And thus Esther was married, without revealing to the king what nation she was derived from.
Then her uncle moved from Babylon to Susa in Persia and dwelt there; every day he was waiting by the palace and inquiring how the girl did, for he loved her as though she had been his own daughter.
The fact that Esther lived in the harem while concealing her nationality must mean that she did not obey religious strictures, such as keeping the Sabbath and eating only kosher food. This problem was debated in the Talmud and by later Rabbis, with the suggestion that she kept these secretly, and asked for special food so as not to alter her beauty.
The detail of 400 concubines is not from the Bible; however, Josephus' contemporary Plutarch wrote that Artaxerxes II had "three hundred and sixty concubines, all women of the highest beauty" (Moore, p. 21).
A Dangerous KingNow the king had made a law that when he sat upon his throne none of his own people should approach him unless they were called, and men with axes in their hands stood round his throne in order to punish any that approached to him without being called. However, the king sat with a golden scepter in his hand, and when when he had a mind to save any one of those that approached to him without being called, he extended it, and the one that he touched became then free from danger. But of this matter we have now said enough.
This whole passage is not in the sources; Josephus has interpolated it to prepare for the later drama.
Note that Queen Aste was punished for not coming when the king called; now we are told there is also a punishment for the opposite offense, coming when not called.
An Assassination PlotSome time after this Bagathoos and Theodestes plotted against the king, but Barnabazus, the servant of one of these eunuchs, who was by birth a Jew, was discovered their conspiracy and revealed it to the uncle of the queen's wife, Mordecai, who by way of Esther made the conspirators known to the king. The king, alarmed, investigated and discovered the truth, and crucified the eunuchs. As to Mordecai, at that time he gave him no reward for saving his life. He only bid the scribes to set down his name in the records, and bid him stay in the palace as a close friend of the king.
The Decree Against the JewsSummary of 11.6.5-6
The king had an advisor, Haman, who was descended from the Amalekites, who were ancient enemies of the Jews. Haman came to greatly dislike Mordecai for not showing him sufficient respect and resolved to punish not only Mordecai but his entire people. Therefore Haman persuaded the king to let him order the destruction of all the Jews in his empire, on the grounds that the Jews obeyed their own laws over those of the king. The date of the destruction was chosen by throwing "dice" (Persian purim), for which reason the king appointed the fourteenth day of the twelfth month as the fateful day.
What to do? The Debate of Mordecai and EstherNow when Mordecai was informed of what was done [the destruction decree], he rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth, and sprinkled ashes upon his head, and went about the city, crying out that "a nation that had done no wrong was to be destroyed." And saying this he went as far as the palace, but there he stopped, for it was not lawful for him to go enter it in that clothing. The same was done by all the Jews that were in the cities where this decree had been published, with lamentation and mourning on account of the calamities that had been announced against them.
But when certain persons had told the queen that Mordecai stood before the court in such pitiful dress she was disturbed at this report and sent out men to change his garments. But when he could not be induced to take off his sackcloth (because the sad occasion, he said, that forced him to put it on was not yet over) she called the eunuch Acratheus, who was near, and sent him to Mordecai to find out what sadness had befallen him for which he was in mourning and for which he was wearing that attire that he would not take off even at her request. Then Mordecai explained to the eunuch the reason was the decree that had been sent by the king throughout the whole country and the promise of money with which Haman bought the destruction of their nation.
He also gave him a copy of what was proclaimed at Susa, so as to be carried to Esther, and instructed her to petition the king about this matter and to save her nation, and not to think it beneath her dignity to put on humble dress in which she might beg for the Jews who were in danger of being destroyed. For Haman, who was second only to the king, had accused the Jews and had provoked the anger of the king against them.
Esther and the other women in the harem were separated from the rest of the world. Communicating with Mordecai is a slow process that can be done only through the eunuchs.
There have now been five exchanges of information: the report of Mordecai's appearance; Esther's request for him to change; his refusal; her asking why; his revelation of the decree. This only begins the conversation.
An addition by Josephus is Mordechai's concern that Esther wear humble clothes when she makes her plea to the king. As we will see, Esther does not fully heed this request: she wears humble clothes while praying, but then changes into her best to go to the king.
When she was informed his request, she sent to Mordecai again and told him that she had not been summoned by the king, and that anyone who goes in to him without being summoned would be killed -- unless the king, wishing to save any one, holds out his golden scepter to him. For to whomsoever the king does so, even though having gone in without being called, that person obtains pardon and is saved.
Now when the eunuch carried this message from Esther to Mordecai, he bade him also tell her that she must not only provide for her own preservation, but for the common preservation of her nation, for that if she now neglected this opportunity, there would certainly arise help to them from God some other way, but she and her father's house would be destroyed by those whom she now despised.
These are the sixth and seventh communications between them. Esther now repeats what Josephus said previously about the danger in approaching the king. Mordecai's response does not give Esther much room to be heroic; then again, he is frightened and by no means certain they can survive without Esther's help, so feels the need to bluff her into action.
Heavenly intervention is implied but not stated explicitly in the Hebrew version; Josephus again is using the more religious Greek translation.
But Esther sent the very same eunuch back to Mordecai and instructed him to go to Susa and to gather the Jews that were there together in to a congregation, and they should fast and abstain from all of food on her account for three days, and she said she and her maids would do the same: and then she promised that she would go to the king, even though it were against the law, and if she must die then she will submit to that fate.
We aren't told Esther's thought leading up to her decision. Was she indeed bluffed by Mordecai, or did she decide it was best herself?
This is the eighth and last communication.
The following sections Josephus has derived from Additions C and D of the Greek version.
The Fast of EstherAccordingly, Mordecai did as Esther had instructed him and made the people fast; and he prayed to God not to overlook his nation at this time when it was going to be destroyed; but that as he had often before provided for them and forgiven when they had sinned, so now to deliver them from that destruction which was announced against them. It was not that the nation had sinned that they must they be so ingloriously slain, but that he was himself the occasion of the wrath of Haman; "Because," he said, "I did not worship him, nor could I endure to pay that honor to him which I pay to thee, O Lord; because of that he was angered and has contrived this thing against those who would not transgress thy laws."
The same prayers the multitude cried, and entreated God to provide for their deliverance and to free the Israelites that were in all the land from this calamity which was now coming upon them; for they already saw it before their eyes and awaited its coming.
And Esther prayed to God after the manner of her country, by casting herself down upon the earth and putting on her mourning garments and bidding farewell to meat and drink and all delicacies, for three days' time; she entreated God to take pity upon her and to make her words seem persuasive to the king and her appearance more beautiful than ever before, that both by her words and her beauty she might succeed in averting the king's anger if he were in some way provoked by her; and to make her a consolation for those of here own country, who were in the utmost danger of perishing; and to excite in the king a hatred toward the enemies of the Jews and he that had contrived their destruction.
The Fast of Esther is now commemorated on the thirteenth of Adar.
These prayers of Mordecai and Esther appear only in the Greek version (Addition C). Josephus has no doubt included them for the religious content absent from the Hebrew version, but he has shortened and summarized them.
The following section followers extremely closely to Addition D of the Greek. Evidently Josephus knows his readers are more interested in action than in prayers.
Esther Faces DeathWhen Esther had supplicated God in this manner for three days, she put off the garments she had been wearing and altered her look, adorning herself as befitting a queen, and taking two of her handmaidens with her, one of which gently supported her as she leaned upon her and the other, following after, lifting with the tips of her fingers the train of her robe which fell in folds on the ground, she came to the king; with a blushing face but enveloped in a gentle and majestic beauty.
Yet as she went to him she was filled with fear.
When she came to him he was sitting on his throne in his royal apparel, which was a robe interwoven with gold and precious stones, that made him seem to her more terrible, and when he looked at her harshly and with a face on fire with anger, she suddenly was taken faint with fear and fell in dread upon the side of her maid. But the king, by the will of God, I think, changed his intention, and afraid for his wife, lest she suffer a serious injury out of her fear, he leaped from his throne and took her in his arms until she came to herself, embracing her, and speaking comfortably to her, and urging her to take heart and not to expect any sad fate for her coming to him without being summoned, because that law had been made for subjects, but she who ruled equally with himself had complete security. So saying, he put the scepter into her hand and laid his staff upon her neck, in accordance with the law; and so freed her from fear.
And after she had recovered herself by these encouragements, she said, "My lord, it is not easy for me to say what suddenly happened, for as soon as I saw you to be so great and handsome and terrible, my spirit departed from me and I had no soul left in me." And while it was with difficulty, and in a low voice, that she could say this much, the king was in great anguish and confusion, and encouraged Esther to be of good cheer and to hope for the best, since he was ready, if she should require it, to grant her half of his kingdom.
Therefore Esther asked that he and his friend Haman come be entertained by her, for, she said, she had prepared a banquet for him. He consented, and so they came; and as they were drinking, he asked Esther to let him know what she desired, for there was nothing which would not be granted, he said, even if she should desire to take half of his kingdom. But she put off revealing her wish until the next day, if he would come again with Haman to be entertained.
Now when the king had promised to do so Haman went away very glad, because he alone had had the honor of dining with the king at Esther's banquet, and because no one but himself had obtained a similar honor from any of the kings. But when he saw Mordecai in the court, his mood changed to indignation, for Mordecai still paid him no manner of respect when he saw him.
As said before, Josephus closely follows the Greek Addition D in most of the above. Some points of religious interpretation are worth mentioning.
Esther's beauty is seemingly one of the causes for the king's change of heart. There is no mention of her beauty in the original Hebrew. But the Greek states that as she walked to the king she was "radiant with perfect beauty, and she looked happy, as if beloved" (NRSV Apocr. Esther D 15:5); The suggestion is that divine favor is upon her and may protect her. Josephus, paraphrasing the same line, obscures the religious connotations, stating only that she is wrapped in a gentle and "majestic" beauty. But the Talmud makes it explicit, saying she was "clothed in the Divine Spirit." (T. Megillah 15a).
This diving beauty has different effects when the king at last sees Esther. The Greek states explicitly that "God changed the spirit of the king to gentleness," continuing the theme of Esther's divine protection. But Josephus again is less explicit, saying "the king, by the will of God, I think, changed his intention." By adding the "I think," Josephus removes from the story an explicit supernatural appearance. Does he do this as a compromise between the Greek and the Hebrew versions? Or because he believes his readers will scoff at straightforward assertions of divine intervention, both by their skeptical nature and because of the recent history of the Jews?
The Talmud, on the other hand, multiplies the divine appearances at this crucial moment of the story. Three ministering angels came: one raised her head, one endowed her with charm, and on stretched the king's scepter towards her. The king himself, who is considered as wicked as Haman, is not here given any credit for changing his mind. (T. Megillah 15b).
Summary of 11.6.10
Haman, pleased by the banquet, tells his wife and friends of his new honor. His wife advises he build a cross on which to put Mordecai.
The King finds in the records how Mordecai warned him of the assassination plot years before and realizes he had not rewarded him; Haman is forced to honor Mordecai in the way Haman himself thought would be his, with a royal parade. Haman's friends subsequently warn him he would never be able to have his revenge against Mordecai, who was protected by divine favor.
Now while these men [Haman and his friends] were thus talking to one another, Esther's eunuchs came to hasten Haman away to the banquet. But one of the eunuchs, named Sabuchadas, saw the cross that was set up in front of Haman's house and inquired of one of his servants the purpose for which they had prepared it. And so he learned that it was for the queen's uncle (for Haman was about to petition the king to punish him), but for the time being he held his peace.
Josephus has added the eunuch's inquiry (and his name) at this point to prepare the reader for future events; another example, like the description of the king's guard, of Josephus' efforts to improve the dramatic impact of the story.
The "cross" that Haman has set up is, in the Hebrew and the Septuagint versions, simply a gallows. Josephus consistently changes the word used in the Septuagint (khulon), which generally means tree, gallows, or pole, and calls the object instead a stauros, which his readers would have understood to mean a cross. Why did he do this?
Esther's PleaNow when the king, while at the banquet with Haman, asked the queen to tell him what gifts she desired to obtain, assuring her that she should have whatever she desired, she then lamented the danger her people were in, and said that she and her nation had been given up to be destroyed, and for this reason she made this her petition; for she would not have troubled him if he had only ordered that they should be sold into bitter slavery -- for such an evil would have been bearable -- but she begged that they might be delivered from this fate.
And when the king asked who was the author of this misery to them, by this time but one thing remained: she openly accused Haman as being the wicked instrument that had formed this plot against them.
Greatly agitated, the king rushed out of the banquet hall into the garden, whereupon Haman began to beg and plead with Esther to forgive him his wrongs, for he perceived that he was in deep trouble. And as he fell upon the queen's couch and was pleading with her the king came in, and, becoming even more infuriated at this sight, said, "O vilest of all mankind, are you even trying to violate my wife?"
At this Haman was panic-stricken, and while he was still unable to utter another sound, Sabuchadas the eunuch came in and accused Haman, saying that he had found a cross at his house that had been prepared for Mordecai (for the servant had told him so upon his inquiry when he had come to call Haman to the banquet). He said further that the cross was fifty cubits high.
When the king heard this he decided that Haman should be punished in no other manner than that which had been devised by him against Mordecai, so he gave order immediately that Haman should be hung upon that same cross until he was dead.
Josephus telescopes the two banquets that occurred in the Bible, again apparently to suit his Greek readers; this increases the pace of the story and eliminates the fairy tale aspect of the repeated requests. In addition, it has the effect of making Esther more assertive and less hesitant than the Biblical story.
Josephus' Golden RuleAnd from hence I cannot forbear to marvel at God and to contemplate his wisdom and his justice, for not only did He punish the wickedness of Haman, but he also so disposed it that he should undergo the very same punishment which he had contrived for another. Thereby He teaches others this lesson, that what mischief any one prepares against another, he has, without knowing it, first contrived it against himself.
It may seem disappointing that this appreciation of irony is Josephus' only offered interpretation of the story. Note, however, that this is a version of the Golden Rule, in its negative formation, "Do not do to others what you would not want done to you."
Or does Josephus have something more immediately relevant in mind which he covers up with this polite moral? After all, the Jews suffered two decades previously a calamity that threatened their existence as much as Haman's plot did. Were there people in Rome who advocated the continuation of attacks against the Jews? Is this moral Josephus' way of warning them? Perhaps his readers of the time would well understand that he was referring to certain persons among his contemporaries.
The Crucifixion of HamanSo in this manner Haman was destroyed, who had so rashly abused his position of honor with the king, and his property the king bestowed on the queen. He also summoned Mordecai -- for Esther had informed him of her relation to him -- and gave the ring to Mordecai which he had previously given to Haman.
Then the queen gave Haman's estate to Mordecai and prayed the king to deliver the nation of the Jews from the fear for their lives, and she showed him what the letter that had been sent throughout the country by Haman, the son of Ammedatha; for, she said, if her country were destroyed and her countrymen were to perish, she could herself bear to live no longer.
The king promised he would not do any thing that would upset her nor oppose what she desired; and he asked her to write what she pleased about the Jews in the king's name and seal it with his seal and send it throughout his kingdom, for those who read missives secured by the king's seal would in no way oppose what was written in them.
The text of the king's letter, which does not appear in the Hebrew but occurs in Addition E of the Greek version, is here repeated at length by Josephus.
Summary of 11.6.12-13 (up to section 288)
The king sent a letter to the one hundred twenty seven provinces of his empire, with this central portion: " Haman made a conspiracy against me and my life, who gave him his authority, by endeavoring to take away Mordecai, my benefactor, and my savior, and by basely and treacherously requiring to have Esther, the partner of my life, and of my dominion, brought to destruction; for he contrived by this means to deprive me of my faithful friends, and transfer the government to others: but since I perceived that these Jews, that were by this pernicious fellow devoted to destruction, were not wicked men, but conducted their lives after the best manner, and were men dedicated to the worship of that God who hath preserved the kingdom to me and to my ancestors, I do not only free them from the punishment which the former epistle, which was sent by Haman, ordered to be inflicted on them, to which if you refuse obedience, you shall do well; but I will that they have all honor paid to them." In addition, the king allows the Jews to defend themselves against any who would harm them on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar.
The Obedience of King ArtaxerxesNow when the royal decree had gone to all the country that was subject to the king, the Jews at Susa slew five hundred of their enemies; and when the king had told Esther the number of those that were slain in that city, but did not know completely what had happened in the provinces, he asked her whether she wished anything further, saying it would be done. She thereupon asked that the Jews might be permitted the next day to deal with their remaining enemies in the same manner and to crucify the ten sons of Haman.
The king permitted the Jews to do so, desiring not to oppose Esther in anything. So they again gathered themselves together, on the fourteenth day of the month Dystros, and killed about three hundred of their enemies, but touched nothing of the riches they had.
Now there were slain by the Jews that were in the country, and in the other cities, seventy-five thousand of their enemies, and these were slain on the thirteenth day of the month; and the next day they kept as a festival.
In like manner the Jews that were in Susa gathered themselves together and feasted on the fourteenth day and the following day; whence it is that even now all the Jews in the habitable earth keep these days as a festival and send portions to one another.
As noted before, this statement by Josephus is the earliest evidence we have that Purim, a holiday not originated by Moses, was indeed celebrated, and widely so: "in all the habitable earth."
However, this evidence is actually already contained in his source, Esther 9:19, using the same present tense: "On this account then the Jews who are scattered around the country outside Susa keep the fourteenth of Adar as a joyful holiday, and send presents of food to one another..."
We may assume that Josephus was not so foolish as to repeat the present tense if it were not true that the festival were still celebrated in this manner. Still, the evidence would be somewhat more convincing if he used his own words here rather than repeating his source. (E.g., it might be possible to argue that the text was composed by a non-Jewish assistant more proficient in Greek than Josephus was, and that it was simply not well proofread, destroying its evidentiary value.)
The Feast of Queen EstherMordecai wrote to the Jews that lived in the kingdom of Artaxerxes that they are to observe these days and celebrate them as festivals and deliver them down to posterity, that this festival might continue for all time and that it might never be buried in oblivion; for since they were about to be destroyed on those days by Haman, but had escaped the danger and inflicted punishment on their enemies, they would do right to observe those days by giving thanks to God on them. For this reason the Jews still keep the forementioned days, which they call Phruraioi [or Purim.]
The Great King, the Great Queen, and Viceroy MordecaiAnd Mordecai became a great and illustrious person next to the king and shared with him the royal power, and had the companionship of the queen. So by their means the condition of the Jews was better than they could have ever hoped for. And this was the state of the Jews under the reign of Artaxerxes.
The story begins with the Queen Asti refusing to obey the drunken king, who in great umbrage decides he must set an example for all the males of his kingdom and show them they are each to be the king of their castle. But I suggest both the king and Esther learn from that episode. For the king finds he acted rashly and misses Asti, and so he learned to reign in his temper when Esther disobeys and comes to him unsummoned. And Esther learns the king must be treated gently and with subtlety if a queen is to obtain what she desires.
Thus by the end of the story the domestic situation that existed at its beginning has been reversed: the king is obedient to the queen's desires and tolerates her disobedience. The king's feast at the beginning of the story is replaced by the queen's feast at the end (which itself reverses the fast she endured while praying). And so everyone with a good heart is happy.
The situation of Esther has a woman with no power but influential in the court paralleled that of Jews living in foreign lands, and for this reason the brave and humble way she attained the security of her people served as a model for their behavior in subsequent generations. Yet Josephus, who is in a very similar situation when he composed this version of Esther - he was living in the court of the Emperor after the fall of Jerusalem - seems not to have added much, if anything, of his own experience to the story. At most, his alterations tend to affirm the morality of the Emperor, both of the story and of his own time.
Josephus, we have seen, takes steps to alter the story to better suit the tastes of his Greek and Roman audience, who had been brought up on the action-packed tales of Homer and the psychologically insightful dramas of Euripides and Sophocles. He thus inserts passages to foreshadow future conflict, and telescopes delaying events to speed the action.
In addition, we saw he has used the existing Greek translation, with its name changes and extensive later additions, rather than the Hebrew. Did Josephus think these additions were authentic? He seems to have balanced authenticity against his own inclinations to tell a good story and providing religious teaching. These are not necessarily incompatible goals, as some of the Greek additions serve to add to the sense of authenticity -- e.g., they contain the text of the king's letters.
Overall, Josephus tends to include those apocryphal selections that add action, an element of religiosity, and authenticating detail to the story, while eliminating sections that are too slow and place too much emphasis, in the eyes of his readers, on divine intervention.
Finally, he also includes interpretations of the text and details that are not known from surviving copies of his sources. Some, but not all, of his own additions are consistent with Rabbinic traditions later evidenced in the Talmud.