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Queen Vashti

Claudia Miclaus
The beautiful Queen Vashti, wife of King Xerxes, did not feel like responding to her husband's request; however, this was an act of public humiliation, and the king was advised to issue a punishment accordingly. What would you have done if you had been the Queen? This post elaborates this feminist icon, who chose to value her dignity than submit to shame.

Did You Know?

King Xerxes' drinking party was planned for an astonishing 180 days. That's all of his officers drinking for 6 straight months!
Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. This festive day signifies the deliverance of the Jewish people in the Persian empire. This event is recorded in the Book of Esther, and hence, this book is read on this day.
This book was recorded in a scroll, and the text was then recorded into other books and also into the Old Testament of the Bible.
A striking story in this book that was crucial to the liberation has become the topic of discussion for many people. It is the story of Queen Vashti, who was the wife of King Ahasuerus or Xerxes. According to the story, King Xerxes holds a big royal banquet to celebrate and calls in all the kings and princes from the surrounding kingdoms.

The Order

✦ Xerxes decreed that the guests shall be served wine in golden goblets and that the wine shall pour freely. No one will be denied. Anything the guests ask, they will be given. This drunken revelry went on for 7 whole days. After the seventh day, Xerxes in his drunken stupor became proud and vain.
In addition to showing off his wealth, now he wanted to show off his wife―Queen Vashti, whose beauty is legendary.

✦ The kings and princes in their official visits had seen her in the court. This may have been the reason that Xerxes wanted to show her off in her full splendor. He ordered her to present herself to his guests nude, wearing only her crown.
✦ When the messengers reached the queen with the order, she refused to leave her quarters. This enraged Xerxes. He then consulted with his advisers and the other respected kings in his company, asking them what he should do with Vashti. They advised him to make an example of her.
Some cautioned against weak punishment and pardon, since it could set a dangerous precedent where the subjects could start challenging the authority in the future.
✦ Among them, a man named Memucan had this to say to the King―"Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles & the peoples of all the provinces," he argues, "for the queen's conduct will become known to all the women & they will despise their husbands...there will be no end of disrespect and discord."― (Esther 1:16)

The Punishment

✦ Banishment was recommended, and hence, Queen Vashti was cast out of the kingdom, and warned never to return.
✦ This, however, left the queen's throne empty. Xerxes launched a countrywide search for a potential successor. He sent his men to the farthest reaches of his kingdom, and they were given special instructions. The girl should be exceptionally beautiful and should be a virgin.

The Next Queen

✦ Many such women were brought, and Xerxes tested them all, observing who pleased him the most. An orphan named Esther caught his eye, and she became the next queen. She was also responsible for liberating the Jews from Persian lands, being a Jew herself. She kept her identity and history hidden.
✦ She had a cousin named Mordecai, who planned the liberation from the start, instructing Esther how to behave and please the king.


The act of disobedience of Vashti has been taken as a story to be studied by many feminists. This story is also widely discussed, and Vashti has come to be one of the most widely discussed heroines in the Bible, almost at par with Mary, Bathsheba, and Martha. Modern church-going women hail the self-respecting attitude of Vashti.
She is seen as a woman who doesn't blindly obey her husband. In the story, Xerxes wanted to parade her naked in front of his guests, and keeping in mind that he had also promised them anything and everything, who is to say they wouldn't have asked for Vashti herself.

The Positive Side

Vashti shows logic and confidence in the face of grave odds. At that time, even questioning the king's orders was punished with execution. She wanted to protect her dignity and keep her integrity until the end, and this is applauded by women activists.

The Other Side

Some orthodox men say that Vashti is a bad example of a woman. She was too proud and vain and hence did not come out of her quarters. They applaud Esther's behavior because she is very docile and compliant.
They say that Esther is the better woman. The feminists argue back that Esther only obeyed unquestioningly, because of two reasons: one being that she was instructed by Mordecai to please the King in any way possible, and the second that if she disobeyed after all the ruckus Vashti created, she would be executed without second thought.

According to the Old Testament

There are also commentaries in the Old Testament stating that Vashti did not come out of her quarters because she had leprosy. Another story states that she was visited by an angel and was punished by growing a tail. Scholars believe that this tail could have been the male reproductive organ, and that could be the reason that Vashti did not want to be paraded nude.
Apart from this central story, very less is known about Vashti, but come the age of modernity and feminism, she was hailed as a hero in the Bible and the Book of Esther.
They reason that because of her banishment, Esther was made the queen, which in turn resulted in the liberation of the Jews. This makes her and Esther the two heroines that are celebrated in each reading of the book on the holiday of Purim.