Again, there is way too much in this one to do more than this chapter. Maybe we’ll speed things up a bit down the road.The king of Persia has banished Queen Vashti for refusing to come show off her beauty at a party that it may not even have been appropriate for her to be at and leaving the parallel party that she was hosting which it may not have been appropriate for her to leave. Here is the last post; here is a link to where you can read the chapter if you are unfamiliar with it.
When the king is done being mad, it’s time to find a new queen. A “better” queen, if you recall from the last chapter. In order to do this, they have all the young and beautiful women virgins”gathered” and prepared for him.
I am far from the first to talk about Esther in a blog post and I found myself reading some of the Rachel Held Evans‘s series on it. She points out that “gathered” is an especially interesting word to use here because of all that it implies. These women were not asked to volunteer. Their families weren’t even asked to approve or volunteer them. He simply has officials go around and collect them so that they may all be “prepared” and he could spend the night with each one until he found the one who “pleases” him most.
Is it just me, or does it sound like he’s about to have all these virgins brought to him so that he can have sex with all of them in order to decide which should be queen?
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.
First he has the gathered about brought to the palace to be placed in a harem under the supervision of a eunuch. Esther apparently wastes no time in getting on his good side and he not only gives her servants and her “cosmetics”, whatever that constituted back then, but also gave her “the best place in the harem”. She was obviously a favorite right away.
At some point, her former guardian, Mordecai, had told her to hide her heritage, which she does. They had been a conquered people and whether the king here is Xerxes or Artaxerxes, he was definitely after Cyrus, who had ended the captivity of the Jews and allowed them to go home and rebuild. Simply put, I can’t imagine them having a particularly high social standing within the empire that conquered the empire they were conquered by, you know what I mean?
Then we find out that it took a WHOLE YEAR to be fully prepared to even spend one night with the king. I don’t know what their beautification ritual was, but here’s how the text describes it:
after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women
It occurs to me that the cleansing rituals for Israelite women of this time may have been liberating them from stricter constraints that we aren’t aware of and that perhaps our perception of the strict cleansing rituals of the past simply lack perspective. But it’s just a half-though I wanted to share, I’ll have to do some research on that in the future.
Strangely, it then says that she “went in to the king in this way”. I get that it mostly means into his chambers, but this kind of verbiage was previously used for penetrating the woman, so…… I don’t know but it just tweaks me a bit. He could have been into whatever he wanted, not the point. Why would they say it like that? I feel like there’s a meaning that I’m missing.
After all that, she gets one night with the king. Just one night. Then she can’t go see him again on her own. She has to be asked back by name. It doesn’t explicitly say what happens in this one night and most of our speculation leads us to think of sex, but I ask you to remember that it doesn’t have to be sex and it certainly shouldn’t be thought of as only sex, even if there is sex. Two people spending the night together now can mean many things, too. It could have been sex, or sex and a cuddle, or just oral, or just seeing what she was willing to do for him throughout the night. It’s not like we can reasonably expect that he had crazy sex with all these women night after night. Sure, maybe the first few, but even a man will eventually tire.
The text includes that while the women can take whatever they want with them to the king’s chambers, Esther only took what the eunuch suggested, though not a description of what these things are.And, of course she did. Doesn’t this guy know the king pretty well by now? Why would she not take his advice? Maybe he even knew what the nightly trial was? Was she the only one to do this? But it also includes that she was quickly gaining favor with everyone she met. I’ve heard actually taking advice from men makes them like you more too. I think a lot of women hear that at some point. Whether or not that man is in a position to offer sound advice such as the eunuch appears to have been is an entirely different matter. Still, she’s winning favor with everyone, not just the eunuch and the king. She’s being summed up as a woman people like to have around and who is beautiful, but not by much else.
Then there’s this other weird thing about the verbiage:
And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crownb on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
More than all the virgins.
More than all the other virgins? Maybe that’s an oversight, she was definitely a virgin when she got there. Did he not actually sleep with them during this night and they all remained virgins? Or was it that Esther so pleased him that he didn’t care to see who the remaining virgins were? We come back to the question about whether or not the night with the king even included sex. He had a harem full of other women for sex. Could the nightly trial just be to see who liked being around? We’ll never know.
So he crowns her as the new queen and throws a feast in her honor, though it was for “all his officials and servants” and perhaps not one that she attended, and he also remits a bunch of taxes.
The last paragraph of this chapter doesn’t quite mesh with the others, not even in an epilogue fashion. It has Mordecai hanging out at the king’s gate and overhearing a plot against the king by some of the eunuchs. He tells Esther, Esther tells the king, and eunuchs are executed, even chronicling the event. If you recall, Mordecai is Esther’s next of kin, the person who raised her and who she appears to listen most to. He brought her in to be queen and though we don’t know whether or not she wanted to be queen, I can guess that she wasn’t completely against the idea. I don’t imagine that finding the most pleasure in her out of hundreds or thousands or even dozens of other women included resistance or disappointment with being there. Make no mistake, that does not imply in any way that this doesn’t fall into a bad place between consent and rape. There was no way to gain affirmative consent from any of these women, if they did say yes and appear enthusiastic. He was the king. Equality was not an option or even an illusion. He’d just banished the other queen for not showing off at a party, I’m sure they didn’t need a lot of imagination to know what kinds of punishment he could devise for resisting him.
There’s a good possibility that plenty of women were happy to be there, even if they weren’t happy to be touched by him. There’s a fairly long line of history that involves women making sound financial decisions when making marriage decisions and dealing with the touching for the security. Is it rape then? These are the places where putting words on circumstances that existed before the word, is difficult. How many of these women would have considered themselves raped? How many wouldn’t because they would have happily gone to the king anyway? Is Esther among them?
That Esther appears to have wanted favor with those around her, it’s possible that she wanted to be there and wasn’t forced by the king or Mordecai. Maybe convinced, maybe coerced a little for the betterment of more than herself, but she doesn’t appear to be forced to me. What do you think?