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Lesson 3 of5
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Background of Esther

The book of Esther invites the reader into the world of the powerful and wealthy Persian royal court. The Persians came into power throughout the ancient world under Cyrus the Great (560-530 B.C.E.) and continued their dominance until the conquest of the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. Under Persia, the Jews were subject to yet another powerful empire, as they had been subject to the earlier empires of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon prior to the Persians, and as they will soon be subject to the later empires of Greece and then Rome. The Persian court as described in Esther is rich and powerful beyond imagining, and, as with all empires, the people must deal with palace intrigues, with the whims of power and foreign law, and with the inevitable scapegoating of foreign peoples. The book is written with irony and humor for the purpose of encouraging the Jewish people in such a situation. The Jews are now a people in Diaspora–that is, scattered throughout the ancient world–and Esther provides inspiration (and a bit of fun) as they try to discern how to live in a foreign land. They must balance the call to assimilate and to serve the capital city of Susa, where they now live, with the continued need to maintain their own separate identity as a people. And in all of this, the book of Esther helps them to discern the presence of God in a time and place where God seems quite absent.