1: Biblical verses, the Book of Esther.

1: Biblical verses, the Book of Esther.

This biblical book relates the story of Esther, a young Jewish woman living in the Persian diaspora, who saves the Jewish people from genocide. King Ahasuerus, the hapless ruler of Persia, chooses Esther to be his queen because of her beauty, not knowing that she is Jewish. Ahasuerus ultimately approves the plan of his vizier, Haman, to kill all the Jews in the kingdom, this plot emerging from Haman’s damaged pride in a power struggle with Esther’s cousin Mordechai. Esther follows her cousin’s advice and risks her own life to plead with the king on behalf of her people. As a result of Esther’s request, and the revelation that she herself is Jewish, Haman is executed and the Jews are given permission to defend themselves. The Book of Esther, said by many scholars to have been written in the fourth century BCE, contains the origin story for the Jewish holiday of Purim.

The included excerpts highlight key moments in which the character Esther asserts herself as a heroine. Students may also be asked to read the entirety of the Book of Esther, which would be useful for getting a richer understanding of the character, and perhaps to prepare their own list of four or five verses demonstrating Esther's heroism.

Suggested Activity: Based on their reading of these excerpts from the Book of Esther, ask your students to put together a table of arguments, with a column for "pro" and a column for "con," illustrating how Esther may or may not be heroic.

Source: Esther 2:15,20, 4:13-16, 5:7-8, 7:2-6,  trans. Jewish Publication Society, 1917.   Source sheet compiled by Jessica Kirzane and Michael Yashinsky using sefaria.org, 2017.