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When Esther the Jew was chosen by the Persian king her uncle Mordechai told her to keep her identity a secret, which she did:

Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him. (Esther 2:20)

When Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman, the king's chief advisor, he explained why:

Now it came to pass, when they spoke daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's words would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew. Esther 3:4)

Because of this insult Haman persuades the king to issue a decree against the Jews, Mordechai's people. So at this point Haman and the king know that Mordechai is a Jew.

Mordechai then spends a while hanging around the city gate communicating with Esther and urging her to plead for her people.

If the court functionaries knew that Mordechai and Esther were related then it would seem that the secret would already be blown. But if they didn't know there was a connection, wouldn't the communication between Esther and Mordechai arouse suspicion?

Did they know they were related but they kept the secret, or did they not know?

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Save our tags –  Gone Quiet Oct 5 '12 at 21:58
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It really is mysterious who knows what and when in that story. My guess is that the palace was broiling with secrets and lies from top to bottom. I picture Mordechai and Esther hiding their faces with hoods and whatnot, but that might be from watching too many movies. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Oct 5 '12 at 22:45
    
Or you can read what the Talmud says. Esther was Mordechai' first cousin. They were married. All knew that Esther lived with mordechai as an orphan. Her father died before she was born. Her mother died from child birth. No one knew her background/lineage. Her looks are defined by the Talmud as graceful in a way that everyone assumed her background but everyone assumed it was theirs and none knew hers. –  Jon Mar 15 at 17:47
    
@Jon, thanks for the comment. From what I understand (from, e.g. masechet Megillah), the Jews knew the family relationship but it's not clear that the Persian king and his court did from the start. (Why would they?) If the talmud addresses this or you can lay out an argument (starting from the text, i.e. you'll need to show how the talmud knows what it says), I'd welcome an answer. Thanks! –  Gone Quiet Mar 16 at 1:44
    
Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/34941/472 (@Jon, feel free to answer there, where a talmud-based argument will do better.) –  Gone Quiet Mar 16 at 14:49
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2 Answers

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From Esther 8:1

On that day … Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was unto her.

it would seem that the family connection was not known until then.

But that they knew each other could not have been a secret. Mordechai regularly walked past the harem to enquire of Esther’s well-being (2:11). When Mordechai discovered the plot against the king’s life he brought it to Esther “and Esther told the king thereof in Mordecai’s name” (2:22).

Beyond this it’s impossible to guess how much of a connection they were known to have had; and I don’t know whether enough is known about the Persian court to guess how much familiarity would have been considered appropriate between the Queen and a courtier.

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The Book of Esther (see Levenson or Berlin) is part of the venerable genre of the, well, bodice-ripper. It's a romance. It thrives on the implausible.

Since just about all of it is preposterous, it's hard to know where to start, but try here. At the outset, Esther enters the contest. Would the contest really accept a young woman of completely unknown parentage? This sets up the beginning of the conundrum in the question: Esther comes to the palace from the house of Mordechai, yet Mordechai swears her to secrecy as to her background.

One path you can take is this: of course everyone knew the connection, but the fact that this young woman came from Mordechai's house did not, necessarily, imply that she was related to him (and thus Jewish). Now, none the less, this requires Haman to be an idiot. Even if she's somehow an unrelated ward of Mordechai, are we supposed to believe that he'd believe that she'd countenance his obliteration?

So, whichever way you turn, the plot spins around an implausibility. My best advice is to take the usual prescription to drink until you cannot tell Haman from Mordechai, and stop worrying.

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You make an excellent point about the farcical nature of the whole book. –  Gone Quiet Jan 9 '13 at 21:41
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