Questions From Readers
◼ Did the young Jewish woman Esther have immoral sex with the Persian king to win his favor and thus gain advantages?
Some may have concluded this from secular reporting, but the reliable record in the Bible contradicts this presumption.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus provides a secular report that Persian queen Vashti refused to appear before her husband, Ahasuerus. Thereupon, the king, evidently Xerxes I of the fifth century B.C.E., angrily rejected Vashti and agreed to an empire-wide search to find a new queen. Beautiful young virgins were assembled and given a lengthy beauty treatment.
“Then, when [the king’s eunuch] thought that the virgins had had sufficient care . . . and were now fit to come into the king’s bed, he sent one every day to lie with the king, who, after having intercourse with her, at once sent her back to the eunuch. But, when Esther came to him, he was pleased with her and then, having fallen in love with her, made her his lawful wife and held their wedding.”—Jewish Antiquities, Book XI, 184-202, translated by Ralph Marcus, (Book 11, chapter 6, paragraphs 1, 2, as translated by William Whiston).
This secular account could lead one to think that the virgins shared in immoral sex with the king and that the only difference in the case of Esther was that her immorality led to marriage and her becoming the queen. The Bible, however, provides us with more accurate and satisfying information.
After describing the beauty treatments, the Bible says: “Then on these conditions [each] young woman herself came in to the king. . . . In the evening she herself came in, and in the morning she herself returned to the second house of the women in charge of Shaashgaz the king’s eunuch, the guardian of the concubines. She would not come in anymore to the king unless the king had taken delight in her and she had been called by name.”—Esther 2:13, 14.
The Scriptures say that Esther “was taken” to “the house of the women” for the lengthy, prescribed beauty regimen: “Then Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus . . . And the king came to love Esther more than all the other women, so that she gained more favor and loving-kindness before him than all the other virgins. And he proceeded to put the royal headdress upon her head and make her queen instead of Vashti.”—Esther 2:8, 9, 16, 17.
Did you note from the Bible account where the women were taken after they had spent the night with the king? ‘To the second house of the women, under the guardian of the concubines.’ So they had become concubines. Mordecai, the writer of the Bible book of Esther, was a Hebrew, and among his people back then, a concubine had the social status of a secondary wife. The divine law provided that an Israelite man could take a foreign girl who was captured during war, and she would become his concubine, or secondary wife, with rights and legal protection. (Deuteronomy 21:10-17; compare Exodus 21:7-11.) Children born to such a legal concubine were legitimate and could gain inheritance. Jacob’s 12 sons, forefathers of the 12 tribes of Israel, were the offspring of his wives and legal concubines.—Genesis 30:3-13.
The procedure was that after the virgins were with the Persian king, they went to the house of concubines. This indicates that they became his secondary wives.
What about Esther? The Bible does not say that she slept with the king and thus gained his favor. It does not tell of her being taken to the house of concubines, but simply says: “Then Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus at his royal house . . . And the king came to love Esther more than all the other women.” Recall that earlier, without any sexual compromise of her virtuous and virgin state, she won the “loving-kindness” of “Hegai the guardian of the women.” Further: “All the while Esther was continually gaining favor in the eyes of everyone seeing her.” (Esther 2:8, 9, 15-17) So Esther clearly impressed the king and won his respect, even as she had won the respect of others.
How thankful we can be to have the facts and insight that the Bible provides for us! Though we are thousands of years removed from the events, we thus have reason for confidence that Esther acted with true virtue and in accord with godly principles.