As we peer through the bog mists of the past where history lives, we must conclude that that history of the past is colored by interpretation and perhaps a bit of legend. The writer of history brings their own biases into the pictograph which is presented.
Oral traditions were passed down from generation to generation before they became the writings of the ancients. As each generation recounted the stories and tales of the past, new elements were added and other elements deleted.
Oral history is like a living, running stream. The stream bed over time changes as the melting winter snows cause a gush of spring rains which rearranges the bed each passing year.
One such tale is found in the Hagiographa of the Hebrew Bible. The Hagiographa is a collection of Five Megillot (Book of Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, the Book of Lamentations and the Book of Esther).
We will focus on the first chapter of Esther. This is where Queen Vashti is introduced as well as her exit as Queen.
According to the Jewish Midrash Vashti was the daughter of King Belshazzar whose father was King Amel-Marduk, son of Nebuchadnezzar. She was a young girl when Babylon fell and her father was killed.
There are two versions of how she became Queen. One states that Darius saved her for his son. The other is that Ahasuerus was a stable boy in the royal stables, and as the daughter of a king his marriage to Vashti elevated him to the kingship.
As the story is related Ahasuerus gave a banquet for the nobles and friends from the 127 provinces under his rule. Vashti held a similar banquet for the noble women.
There was speculation that she did this to ensure if a revolt occurred among the nobles against her husband that she would have a bargaining tool. Another explanation was that Vashti knew how the men would gorge themselves with the palace delicacies and drink wine like water.
Also she was fearful that the same fate would befall her husband like her father who was reveling during the night before he was killed, because he had drunk from the vessels from the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem which her grandfather had sacked and burned. The seer Daniel had told her about that fateful night.
As a woman, she knew how salacious men became after partying with their friends. She had endured the indignities that Ahasuerus did to her after his binge drinking.
After he recovered from one of his drunken stupors, he never remembered what had transpired. Vashti never showed him the bruises which covered parts of her body from his rough treatment.
She was glad that she had not conceived a child with this man. Her bloodline would end with her death.
Perhaps, it was Ahasuerus’ chief counsellor Memucan who made the suggestion that Vashti be summoned before the king’s male guests so they could feast their eyes on her beauty. As the Chief Counsellor of the Seven, Memucan had lusted after Vashti since he had first seen her as a young girl—a Babylonian princess.
The king sent his seven eunuchs on the seventh day to fetch Vashti with her “keter malkhut (royal crown)” OJB. Vashti and the royal ladies knew precisely what they wanted.
Vashti had to make a decision to disrobe or to disobey. They wanted her naked for their drunken eyes.
She dismissed the eunuchs and told them to inform her husband that she would not degrade herself before his drunken guests. She was of the royal line of Babylon and no Babylonian woman of virtue would do such a shameful display.
With Memucan fanning the flames of drunkenness the king reacted like any monarch would do in a drunken stupor when their command was disobeyed. He got angry.
He asked his seven counsellors what to do about Vashti’s disobedience to the king’s edict. As Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres and Marsena conferred with each other, Memucan made a proclamation:
“Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but to all the officials and all of the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 For this deed of the queen will be known to all the women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, as they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him but she did not come!’ 18 This day the women of nobility from Persia and Media will respond to all the officials of the king and there will be no end to contempt and anger. 19 If it pleases the king, let a royal edict go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of Persia and Media so that it will not be altered, that Vashti cannot come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to her neighbor who is better than she. 20 And let the king’s decree that he will make be proclaimed in all his kingdom, because it is vast and all the women will honor their husbands, great and small.” LEB
So in his drunken state he issued the decree which could not be altered. Vashti was removed as Queen.
What happened to Vashti? Some commentators believe she was exiled back to Babylon; others believe she was executed and others believe she escaped with help from the eunuchs and counsellors.
There are those who believe Ahasuerus realized his tragic mistake after he came to his senses. After Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres and Marsena informed him of Memucan’s manipulation of the situation he took action against Memucan. In the rest of Esther Memucan is never mentioned again.
Of course there are those commentators who believe that Vashti’s punishment was because she had paraded around the Jewish women captives naked, so she was given leprosy and a tail. It was the seventh day –the Sabbath when Vashti refused the king’s command, and God used the day that He rested from all His work to set in motion a chain of events to save His people. So the commentators surmise.
Whatever Vashti’s fate, she made a lasting impact on her community. She has been regarded as a noble woman who refused to debase herself for drunken men.
The last Princess of Babylon has been remembered all of these centuries. Perhaps, she can be given credit for launching the women liberation movement back then in the mists of history and legend.
G. D. Williams © 2015
Ann Manry Kenyon
In the Book of Esther, Vashti is a brave woman who risked her life for her beliefs. She was a woman who did pick her battles — and this was not a small matter of a single party. By refusing the king’s summons, Vashti was taking a stand for women’s rights. King Ahasuerus and his advisers — especially Haman — understood this and that was why they advised the king to depose Vashti immediately. If he did not, it would send a message to all of Persia’s men and women that it is acceptable for a woman to disobey her husband’s orders. Male sovereignty would be jeopardized. And so Vashti was deposed (and likely killed), and King Ahasuerus commenced a search for a new wife. And the rest, as they say, was history—or legend.
She heard again the King’s command,
And left her high estate;
Strong in her earnest womanhood,
She calmly met her fate,
And left the palace of the King,
Proud of her spotless name —
A woman who could bend to grief,
But would not bow to shame.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
I was a princess ere I was a queen,
And worthy of a better fate than this!
There lies the crown that made me queen in name!
Here stands the woman–wife in name alone!
Now, no more queen—nor wife—but woman still–
Ay, and a woman strong enough to be
Her own avenger.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox