Unveiling Esther as a Pragmatic Radical Rhetoric
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Philosophy and Rhetoric 33.3 (2000) 193-220

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Unveiling Esther as a Pragmatic Radical Rhetoric

Susan Zaeske

Ahasuerus, king of Persia, hosted in the courtyard of his pavilion a grand feast bountiful in royal wine. Likewise, Queen Vashti gave a feast for the women in the king's palace. On the last day of the celebration, an inebriated Ahasuerus commanded Vashti to appear wearing her crown (only her crown, according to some interpretations 1 ) to show the people her beauty. She refused. Burning with anger, Ahasuerus consulted his advisors with regard to how he should respond to the affront. They concluded that not just the king, but all husbands of the kingdom had been wronged. They advised the king to depose Vashti and issue a law commanding all wives to obey their husbands. Following this advice, Ahasuerus uncrowned Vashti and selected as his new queen the beautiful Esther, who hid the fact that she was a Jew.

Esther had been raised in the provinces by her cousin, Mordecai, 2 who came with her to the king's city. One day when Mordecai encountered the king's prime minister, Haman, he refused to obey the law commanding all to bow before the king's official because Haman was an infamous enemy of the Jews. Haman was so angered by Mordecai's insolence that he decided to seek revenge by destroying not just Mordecai, but all the Jews in the kingdom. After casting lots to determine the best time to approach the king, Haman obtained Ahasuerus's permission to annihilate the Jews.

When he learned of the imminent execution, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes and made his way through the streets of Susa, wailing. Through a messenger, Mordecai bid Esther to intercede with the king on behalf of her people. She protested that doing so would be a dangerous act because approaching the king without summons was an offense punishable by death. Reminded by Mordecai that inaction on her part meant death for her people, and possibly herself, Esther resolved to beseech the king. She commanded Mordecai to gather all the Jews in the city to fast and pray for her for three days. Then, Esther pledged, "I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish!" (Esther 4:16). [End Page 193]

On the third day, Esther stood waiting in the inner courtyard of the palace, in front of the king's quarters, where he was sitting on his throne. When Ahasuerus noticed the queen, she won his favor and he extended his gold scepter. The king then said to her, "What do you want Queen Esther? What is your petition? Even if it be half of my kingdom, you may have it"(Esther 5:3). Esther did not immediately state her request, but invited the king and Haman to a banquet she would prepare for them. At the banquet, the king again invited her request. Again, she deferred, instead asking both men to another banquet.

During the night between banquets, the king suffered a bout of insomnia and ordered the book of records brought to him. Ahasuerus read that Mordecai the Jew had saved his life by informing the king's guards of an assassination plot. The next day, the king asked Haman how best to honor a man for his loyalty. Thinking that Ahasuerus wished to honor him, Haman suggested that such a man should be paraded through the streets on a fine horse. To Haman's horror, he was ordered to lead a celebratory parade for his worst enemy, Mordecai.

Haman was so distraught that he was almost late for the second banquet in the queen's chambers. Once all were assembled, the king repeated his offer to receive Esther's petition. She answered, "If I have obtained your favor, Your Majesty and if it please the king, let my life be granted to me at my request. And my people's at my petition! For we've been sold, I and my people, for destruction! For slaughter and annihilation...