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two queens

This is not about trans-sexuals. It’s about Queen Esther—more particularly her immediate, deposed predecessor Queen Vashti. The Old Testament book of Esther is rather strange. God is not mentioned. The author is familiar with Persia; Israel not so much. It records events among Jews who chose to remain in exile rather than return to Israel. Its hero, Esther, becomes Queen of Persia via sexual favors to the king.
Esther’s predecessor, a woman named Vashti was Queen of Persia. Her husband Ahasuerus (Xerxes in the Greek chronicles) was King. In the third year of his reign Ahasuerus summoned to the capital the cultural, political and military elite from all 127 provinces of the vast Persian Empire. This six month event was an elaborate, formal, conclave at which the elites offered personal allegiance to the King, political philosophy was announced, governing systems organized, and perhaps military plans to invade Greece formulated. All amid constant banqueting, receptions and entertainments.

The conclusion of the six month conference was celebrated by a seven-day feast for the capital bureaucracy. This party became raucous; “royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king.” As the revelers toasted the wealth, opulence and beauty of the empire the drunken king suddenly got the notion to show off the empire’s beautiful queen. He summoned her to strut her stuff before the bureaucracy.

Queen Vashti refused. Hosting a feast for the leading ladies of the capital, she answered, “No” to her husband’s booty call.

Rabbis speculate the proud, inebriated king anticipated his queen would perform a nude catwalk,
wearing only her royal crown. That interpretation is not necessary. It is possible. Aspiring actors commonly try to gain notice by posing nude.

Queen Vashti said, “No.”

Anna Carter Florence of Columbia Theological Seminary writes that Vashti, “doess not shuck her clothes, swallow her pride, and pretend she is Demi Moore trapped in a strip tease joint for the good of her family. Queen Vashti is probably the first woman to just say, ‘No.’ No, I will not display myself for your benefit. No, I will not degrade myself so that you can save face in front of your friends. No, I will not do whatever you tell me to do.”

Unlike the dozens of females who grasped for celebrity by doing what the
Harvey Weinsteins and Charley Roses and Dave Lettermans wanted, Queen Vashti said, “No.” Unlike the thousands of young females who grasp for popularity by texting nude selfies to guys, Queen Vashti refused to do what the guys wanted.

Her display of self-respect reflects a strong, classy woman. She surrendered her social status rather than compromise herself. Queen Vashti did have one important advantage over today’s seekers of celebrity. She knew the price of celebrity. She was willing and able to
fulfill the role of Queen but unwilling to do whatever it cost to maintain her position. She could let it all go. She could live quietly, she could be neglected; even willing to face execution rather than demean herself.

This isn't a clean story. Vashti does not save the day with her “No.”

In the eyes of the world, she becomes a loser: she looses her crown, her position, her husband, her celebrity status. Worse, Vashti’s “No” inspired a pretty harsh law requiring wives be subservient to their husbands. On the other hand, Queen Vashti’s confrontational “No” may have helped Queen Esther formulate her own more effective “No,” so that the Jews in the empire were not systematically murdered.

Queen Vashti encourages women and men to be courageous, to speak up for themselves. ~

Dan Nygaard