Ahasuerus, Vashti and Esther


#1

In the Book of Esther, Esther is presented as the positive role model of a woman and quite a holy figure after the manner of the saints of the Old Testament. How is this reconciled with the turning away of Vashti by Ahasuerus?

Strictly speaking, it didn’t even look like divorce but more like separation.

According to Humanae Vitae, it is not licit to do evil so that good could come out of it and marital contact with someone who isn’t your spouse is deemed evil, especially if the person is married to someone else.

There are various instances of divorce, remarriage, bigamy, polygamy, extramarital intercourse and basically everything else in the Bible, but each is reprobated except one instance where God allegedly directly ordered someone to sleep with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Ahasuerus is not exactly praised, although there is no condemnation. Esther, however, is praised practically all the time.

Even if we view this in the light of divorce being allowed in the Law and assume that Ahasuerus did divorce Vashti, there were still rabbis who accepted adultery as the only reason, which was not the case with Vashti, and Jesus expressly said “in the beginning, it was not so”, indicating that God frowned on divorce.

So, what gives?


#2

[quote=chevalier]In the Book of Esther, Esther is presented as the positive role model of a woman and quite a holy figure after the manner of the saints of the Old Testament. How is this reconciled with the turning away of Vashti by Ahasuerus?

Strictly speaking, it didn’t even look like divorce but more like separation.

According to Humanae Vitae, it is not licit to do evil so that good could come out of it and marital contact with someone who isn’t your spouse is deemed evil, especially if the person is married to someone else.

There are various instances of divorce, remarriage, bigamy, polygamy, extramarital intercourse and basically everything else in the Bible, but each is reprobated except one instance where God allegedly directly ordered someone to sleep with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Ahasuerus is not exactly praised, although there is no condemnation. Esther, however, is praised practically all the time.

Even if we view this in the light of divorce being allowed in the Law and assume that Ahasuerus did divorce Vashti, there were still rabbis who accepted adultery as the only reason, which was not the case with Vashti, and Jesus expressly said “in the beginning, it was not so”, indicating that God frowned on divorce.

So, what gives?
[/quote]

I think Jewish law on divorce was subject to many interpretations. Some rabbi’s allowed divorce only for the strictest of reasons, others were quite lenient. I don’t think there was a definitive ruling - which is why they asked Jesus.

Moreover Jewish Law appears to have permitted polygamy at that time.

I don’t see a problem


#3

Yes, the law might have permitted that but for the hardness of human hearts. From Jesus, we’ve got quite an unambiguous statement about God’s attitude towards it and it looks like God frowned on some things that the Law allowed.


#4

[quote=Joe Kelley]I think Jewish law on divorce was subject to many interpretations. Some rabbi’s allowed divorce only for the strictest of reasons, others were quite lenient. I don’t think there was a definitive ruling - which is why they asked Jesus.

Moreover Jewish Law appears to have permitted polygamy at that time.

I don’t see a problem
[/quote]

Jewish law did permit polygamy at that time. And rabbis of that time did have many different interpretations of divorce. I don’t see a problem either. Christians believe that Jesus came and completed the Law and gave the Jews a better understanding of it. (Such as adultery and divorce.) How can you hold people responsible for something they didn’t know?


#5

[quote=chevalier]Yes, the law might have permitted that but for the hardness of human hearts. From Jesus, we’ve got quite an unambiguous statement about God’s attitude towards it and it looks like God frowned on some things that the Law allowed.
[/quote]

It’s always been my understanding that in Persia, if the king saw a woman he wanted to marry, that woman had to marry him. This might have been the case with Esther. Esther saved G-d’s chosen people from being slaughtered, and the Bible makes it clear that she was a righteous woman. (That’s why Purim is such a huge celebration for Jews.) That’s good enough for me. She is to be honored.


#6

I’m not questioning, although I’m indeed asking as I fail to understand some things fully. I’m not trying to hold people responsible to laws established later, but trying to explain something which may look like a contradiction. The point is basically that Esther is considered holy for what she did while if she lived in the 21st century and did the same, we all know what the church’s stance would be. So, there indeed seems actually to have been some change, as we can’t say there’s been no change if things in fact look different. What’s the nature of that change? What’s that which makes some things holy in the OT while they would be regarded as sinful for anyone who would do the same under the NT? At one point, an act of polygamy is holy, at another it’s regarded as absolutely wrong with an added prohibition from doing wrong things for good purposes.


#7

[quote=chevalier]I’m not questioning, although I’m indeed asking as I fail to understand some things fully. I’m not trying to hold people responsible to laws established later, but trying to explain something which may look like a contradiction. The point is basically that Esther is considered holy for what she did while if she lived in the 21st century and did the same, we all know what the church’s stance would be. So, there indeed seems actually to have been some change, as we can’t say there’s been no change if things in fact look different. What’s the nature of that change? What’s that which makes some things holy in the OT while they would be regarded as sinful for anyone who would do the same under the NT? At one point, an act of polygamy is holy, at another it’s regarded as absolutely wrong with an added prohibition from doing wrong things for good purposes.
[/quote]

Honestly, I can’t answer with absolute certainty. I’m not sure if anyone can, since it’s G-d, and He’s beyond our comprehension in many ways. I’m just beginning to explore the Catholic faith. For some reason that we don’t know (And may never know during out earthly lifetimes). G-d chose to allow polygamy during this time. And I also think it’s safe to say that G-d allowed Esther to be put into this situation so that some good would come out of it. (Namely, that His people would be saved from death and He would be glorified.) Maybe it’s not so much an approval of or an allowing of polygamy, but more along the lines of G-d using something bad to bring about something good. There wasn’t a definitive ruling about divorce at that time, like the other poster said. That’s why Jesus was asked during His ministry.


#8

Hi, chevalier,

I think what you might be doing is mixing two
different categories…*allowable *and “holy.”

If a person does X [allowable] in order to save
her people [laudatory motive], then that person
can be held to have done great service.

What may be causing some confusion is:
You cannot use illicit means to achieve a good end.
But her actions were *not *illicit according to the Mosaic Law.

We can say that the *standard *of behavior
was “raised” by Jesus, but we cannot then
apply that standard to an earlier time.

Adultery can only *be *adultery if the laws
of the marriage contract are broken.
Jesus tightened up the terms of the contract.
“You have heard it said…but I say…”

It is not at all the same as saying, for example,
mugging a person used to be allowed, but
now it’s not. The use of force in the process of
theft was sinful, is sinful and will remain sinful.

Hope this helps,
reen12


#9

[quote=reen12]Hi, chevalier,

I think what you might be doing is mixing two
different categories…*allowable *and “holy.”

If a person does X [allowable] in order to save
her people [laudatory motive], then that person
can be held to have done great service.

What may be causing some confusion is:
You cannot use illicit means to achieve a good end.
But her actions were *not *illicit according to the Mosaic Law.

We can say that the *standard *of behavior
was “raised” by Jesus, but we cannot then
apply that standard to an earlier time.

Adultery can only *be *adultery if the laws
of the marriage contract are broken.
Jesus tightened up the terms of the contract.
“You have heard it said…but I say…”

It is not at all the same as saying, for example,
mugging a person used to be allowed, but
now it’s not. The use of force in the process of
theft was sinful, is sinful and will remain sinful.

Hope this helps,
reen12
[/quote]

Thank you. You explained it much better than I could. You’ve helped my understanding as well. I just recently started reading the New Testament, so I’m not very knowledgable about Jesus.


#10

[quote=chevalier]In the Book of Esther, Esther is presented as the positive role model of a woman and quite a holy figure after the manner of the saints of the Old Testament. How is this reconciled with the turning away of Vashti by Ahasuerus?

I always assumed that Esther was not given much choice in becoming Ahasuerus’s wife. No where in the bible does it say that she loved the king or even found him attractive. Consider this, she was not allowed to come to him, unless he called for her. The intial fear that she shows when her uncle asks her to seek out the king(Even going so far as to state, “if I die, I die”) does not sound very much like a happy, fairy book marriage between equals.

Strictly speaking, it didn’t even look like divorce but more like separation.

Well, you have to ask yourself when the king begins to miss Vashanti in verses 2:1, why doesn’t he send for her? And why does Esther express such fear of her husband? There is the possiblity that he had his first wife executed. That is just my opinion of course.

Esther, however, is praised practically all the time.

Esther should be praised. She was a young woman in an incredibly difficult situation. It sounds as if the king would not have wasted any guilt over murdering her entire family, if she did not obey.After all he was ready to let Mordeci eradicate all the jews in his kingdom with very little provacation. She is brave, selfless and very strong.
[/quote]


#11

Jew_Man_73 - Thanks for the confirmation.

I am always uneasy when I comment on Jewish Law. I try to make clear that my knowledge is very limited.


#12

Oh my gosh, Jew_Man_73, I’m pleased that
you think that I spoke well.

I love Judaic thought and the Jewish sages.
There is a warmth and a love of G-d there
that inspires me.

As you begin reading about Jesus, may I
mention two brief things?

-In at least a couple of places in the gospels,
{Matthew, Mark, Luke] Jesus’ fellow Jews
commented: Who is this man? He speaks with authority…
and
-is it possible to conceive that the prophets
in the Hebrew Scriptures who spoke of the
Messiah were correct, but not complete in
their prophecies? It’s the only way that I
can understand how Jesus is the Messiah,
when I look at the claims that He did not
fulfill those prophecies.

Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate them,
Maureen [reen12]


#13

Strictly speaking, it didn’t even look like divorce but more like separation.

Well, you have to ask yourself when the king begins to miss Vashanti in verses 2:1, why doesn’t he send for her? And why does Esther express such fear of her husband? There is the possiblity that he had his first wife executed. That is just my opinion of course.

Esther, however, is praised practically all the time.

Esther should be praised. She was a young woman in an incredibly difficult situation. It sounds as if the king would not have wasted any guilt over murdering her entire family, if she did not obey.After all he was ready to let Mordeci eradicate all the jews in his kingdom with very little provacation. She is brave, selfless and very strong.

Exactly. The Bible makes it clear that Esther didn’t love him, she was basically forced into the marriage. Also, Ahasuerus did separate from Vashti, not divorce her. Esther is a hero if ever there was one. She saved the Jews. I have always admired her.
[/quote]


#14

[quote=Joe Kelley]Jew_Man_73 - Thanks for the confirmation.

I am always uneasy when I comment on Jewish Law. I try to make clear that my knowledge is very limited.
[/quote]

You’re welcome, you did a great job! :clapping:


#15

[quote=reen12]Oh my gosh, Jew_Man_73, I’m pleased that
you think that I spoke well.

I love Judaic thought and the Jewish sages.
There is a warmth and a love of G-d there
that inspires me.

As you begin reading about Jesus, may I
mention two brief things?

-In at least a couple of places in the gospels,
{Matthew, Mark, Luke] Jesus’ fellow Jews
commented: Who is this man? He speaks with authority…
and
-is it possible to conceive that the prophets
in the Hebrew Scriptures who spoke of the
Messiah were correct, but not complete in
their prophecies? It’s the only way that I
can understand how Jesus is the Messiah,
when I look at the claims that He did not
fulfill those prophecies.

Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate them,
Maureen [reen12]
[/quote]

Thank you for your kind words about the Jewish people! You did very well! :tiphat: And thank you for the references about Jesus. I’ll look them up.


#16

And I also think it’s safe to say that G-d allowed Esther to be put into this situation so that some good would come out of it. (Namely, that His people would be saved from death and He would be glorified.) Maybe it’s not so much an approval of or an allowing of polygamy, but more along the lines of G-d using something bad to bring about something good. There wasn’t a definitive ruling about divorce at that time, like the other poster said. That’s why Jesus was asked during His ministry.

Well, yes, but God isn’t affected by human rulings on the matters of faith - He may influence them, of course, but it doesn’t work the other way round. Jesus didn’t tighten the marital boundaries on a whim, but He said it was how God always wanted and how it was in the beginning.

Esther should be praised. She was a young woman in an incredibly difficult situation. It sounds as if the king would not have wasted any guilt over murdering her entire family, if she did not obey.After all he was ready to let Mordeci eradicate all the jews in his kingdom with very little provacation. She is brave, selfless and very strong.

My point is, what a Catholic moral theologian would say about a girl who did the same. Let’s call Ahasuerus El Presidente, Esther can be Carmen and Vashti Mercedes. Mordekain can be Ramone. El Presidente decides to get rid of the local Catholic community some time after stopping talking to Mercedes, Ramone comes up with a plot involving Carmen and the rest goes the familiar way.

Next, polygamy. If God used to extend the allowance so as to allow the holy figures of the Old Testament to use it for holy ends, why does the Catechism say:

2387 The predicament of a man who, desiring to convert to the Gospel, is obliged to repudiate one or more wives with whom he has shared years of conjugal life, is understandable. However *polygamy *is not in accord with the moral law." [Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive."

?

1645 “The unity of marriage, distinctly recognized by our Lord, is made clear in the equal personal dignity which must be accorded to man and wife in mutual and unreserved affection.” *Polygamy *is contrary to conjugal love which is undivided and exclusive.

Plan revealed from the beginning, not in accord with the moral law, conjugal communion radically contradicted?

1610 Moral conscience concerning the unity and indissolubility of marriage developed under the pedagogy of the old law. In the Old Testament the polygamy of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected. Nevertheless, the law given to Moses aims at protecting the wife from arbitrary domination by the husband, even though according to the Lord’s words it still carries traces of man’s “hardness of heart” which was the reason Moses permitted men to divorce their wives.

That’s what the Catechism says elsewhere. I’m pasting it if anyone wants to go from that, so that he doesn’t have to look for it.


#17

[quote=chevalier]Well, yes, but God isn’t affected by human rulings on the matters of faith - He may influence them, of course, but it doesn’t work the other way round. Jesus didn’t tighten the marital boundaries on a whim, but He said it was how God always wanted and how it was in the beginning.
[/quote]

You seem to be missing a vital point here–that men did not do as God would have liked them to do, they strayed from the truth, which is why Jesus corrected this practice.

My point is, what a Catholic moral theologian would say about a girl who did the same. Let’s call Ahasuerus El Presidente, Esther can be Carmen and Vashti Mercedes. Mordekain can be Ramone. El Presidente decides to get rid of the local Catholic community some time after stopping talking to Mercedes, Ramone comes up with a plot involving Carmen and the rest goes the familiar way.

Next, polygamy. If God used to extend the allowance so as to allow the holy figures of the Old Testament to use it for holy ends, why does the Catechism say:

God never “allowed” people to sin for good ends. People simply didn’t follow God’s intentions and whenever they didn’t bad things happened. In Esther’s case she was forced into a marriage by a pagan king. She had no choice in the matter. The sin wasn’t hers but the king’s. God didn’t allow the man to sin in order to save the Jews, but he recognized that Esther was not responsible for being forced into marriage. The religious leaders of the Jews and the rabbis down through the centuries certainly understood what her position was and what sins had been committed by whom. I think we can bow to their judgment and to that of Jesus who never condemned Esther but who certainly would have if he thought her actions needed to be corrected in the minds of the people.

Plan revealed from the beginning, not in accord with the moral law, conjugal communion radically contradicted?

Not by Esther, a woman of faith who did what she could under the circumstances in which she found herself. Besides, the point of Esther’s story, the reason the author of Esther wrote of it, was to show how God preserved the Jews from annihilation, not to comment on the laws of marriage.

You have to keep foremost in your mind what the author intended not what you think you see in the story that violates this or that law, as you understand it. The Church discourages private interpretation not only of the Bible but of any Church document because people get themselves into moral/theological pickles they aren’t equipped to handle and so become confused or worse, lose their faith or settle for a less full expression of the faith in order to work out their personal dilemmas with Church teaching.

As I’m sure you are aware, the Church isn’t ignorant of the story of Esther or of any other incident in the OT. You may want to consult an orthodox OT expert on the subject if it is truly bothering you to the point of losing your faith.


#18

Ummm, considering Xerxes wasn’t Jewish, I don’t know that the issue of his marriage and seperation were really at issue in the first place. Who knows if Jews even considered Vashti a “wife” of Xerxes in the sense of their moral code?


#19

In order for the above example to fit Esther, El Presidente has to be a ruthless dictator. Imagine Saddam Hussein kidnapping all the most beautiful young women of Iraq from their families and forcing them into his harem. Now all the young women are under threats of not only their lifes but the lifes of their families if they don’t go along with the sham marriages. Would these young women be guilty of adultry? Of course not.


#20

[quote=Ghosty]Ummm, considering Xerxes wasn’t Jewish, I don’t know that the issue of his marriage and seperation were really at issue in the first place. Who knows if Jews even considered Vashti a “wife” of Xerxes in the sense of their moral code?
[/quote]

Excellent point.


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