Background to the Book of Esther

Assignment: Read through the entire Book of Esther as a story.

Understanding What You Read

  1. List out the people mentioned in Esther and what you know about them.
  2. What do you think is the purpose of this book? What is God trying to teach through this story?
  3. On the map below, locate the east and west borders of the Persian Empire.
  4. On the map below, locate one of the capital cities, Susa.
  5. What verse would you select as the key verse of the book?


Esther’s story takes place between the first return from captivity, led by Zerubbabel, and the second return lead by Ezra. It would fall between the 6 and 7 chapters of Ezra.

It is believed to be written after Ahasuerus’ reign since Esther 10:2-3 is in the past tense. A fire destroys the palace at Susa thirty years after Ahasuerus’ death, so many believe that Esther was written before that time.

Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name of the king. His Greek name was Xerxes. His Persian name was Khshayrsh. He reigned from 486 to 464 B.C.

The banquet mentioned in Esther 1 takes place during Ahasuerus’ third-year or 483 B.C. The Greek historian, Herodotus, mentions this banquet as the time when Xerxes planned to attack Greece. He lost and Herodotus says he sought comfort in his harem, which was the time of the contest and crowning of Esther, which would be 479 BC (Esther 2:16-17).

Haman’s plot takes place in the twelfth year, which would be 473 BC (Esther 3:7, 13). Thus the book covers a 10-year time span.

Persian Emperor Date of Reign Length of Reign Biblical References
Cyrus (Greek)

Kurus (Persian)

Koresh (Hebrew)

(Darius the Mede was king of Babylon under Cyrus)

536-530 BC 7 years Daniel 5:32; 6:28; 9:1

Ezra 1:1-4:5

Cambyses (Cyrus’ son)

Kanbuziya (Persian)

529-522 BC

(Started co-reigning the last two years of Cyrus)

8 years
Bardiya (called Smerdis by the Greeks). He was Cambyses’ brother. 522 BC 7 months He is the king who ordered the building of the Temple to be stopped in 522 BC, though some think it might have been Cambyses. Mentioned in Ezra 4:6-24 by the titles Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes.
Darius the Great (an officer of Cambyses)

Darayaus (Persian)

521-486 BC 36 years Haggai


Ezra 5:1; 6:1-15

Temple was completed in 516 BC.

Ahasuerus, son of Darius (Xerxes was his Greek name). His Persian name was Khshayarsha 485-465 BC 21 years Esther

The fourth king mentioned in Daniel 11:2

Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes

Artaxsaca (Persian)

465-424 BC 40 years Ezra 7-10




The author is unknown. The writing is not in the same style as Ezra and Nehemiah, which suggests a different author. Whoever the author was, he had access to records during that time (Esther 2:23; 10:2).


The book illustrates how God uses ordinary people to overcome apparently impossible obstacles to His plan. It speaks of God’s protection of His people. Yet, God’s name is not mentioned, which does emphasize that God can and does work behind the scenes. Even without a direct mention of God, those involved are aware of God or seek God’s aid.

The story is sequenced through a series of eight feasts or banquets.

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