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In Esther 1:10-11, what exactly does the phrase "display her beauty" mean?

ESTHER 1:10-11 - "On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas—to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at."

I've heard anecdotally that Queen Vashti was being asked to present herself nude, but the text doesn't seem to be saying that.

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If this event actually occurred, we are left to form an opinion as to Xerxes' likely intentions when he called for his wife. If the event is fictional, then we can look at the text to see what the author probably intended.

Bruce Feiler says, in Where God Was Born, page 331, it is known from Persian records that Queen Amestris, Xerxes' only known wife, continued in that role well beyond his third year as king (the date the text suggests Vashti was deposed). This means that Queen Vashti was a literary creation in the Book of Esther, and so we must look at the author's intentions in this passage.

Michael V. Fox (Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, page 165) says the author of Esther rarely gives motivations for the characters' behaviour but leaves us to infer them from words and actions.

Early Jewish commentaries took opposing views on whether Vashti was instructed to appear nude. Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews VI.6.1, said nothing about nudity, but that Persian law prevented the king's wife being seen by other men. Later Jewish midrash began to portray both Xerxes and Vashti in a negative light, so decided that Xerxes' command was that she be brought naked, to be paraded wearing nothing but her royal crown (Esther 1:11: 'with the crown royal'). Based on Jewish midrash, it is now commonly supposed that Xerxes commanded his wife to appear nude in front of the drunken men.

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  • Ah, yes. Midrash. That explains it. The link to later Jewish midrash is especially helpful. Thanks! – P. G. Gable Feb 1 '16 at 12:33
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To put your hermeneutical fears to rest, the Hebrew says ...

להביא את ושתי המלכה
to usher-to-come Vashti the queen

לפני המלך
before the king

בכתר מלכות
in/with crown of the kingdom

להראות העמים והשרים
to show to the people and the leaders

את יפיה
her beauty

כי טובה מראה היא
that good looking was she

I can't find any verse in the Bible that would metaphorize [יפה] or its various declensions as nakedness.

I have even tried googling for "ancient persian euphemism for nakedness" and came up with nothing. But regardless ....

No woman, Jewish, Persian or otherwise should in accordance to biblical principles have agreed to appear before the king and his mob under such situations. To be a dance maid, where we presume those ancient times would involve some sort of poker game shedding of garments.

Vashti should be considered a righteous hero. She made her stand for modesty's sake. She will not be paraded before a bunch of men who had been intoxicated for 7 days. Would it not be a humiliation? And the consequence pornographic? I will say that Vashti is now at the gates of heaven welcoming those who stand for righteous principles.

Yet as a Jew, I am obliged to laud Esther as my hero. It was due to her opportunistic elevation to have unfairly replaced Vashti that saved Jews from yet another massacre. The rabbinic midrash about Vashti having skin issues was too simple-minded, by sweeping a complex issue under the rug.

The rabbis should have said that the misbehaviour of the king and his nobles were punished by their own laws to lose the privilege of the presence of the lovely and modest Vashti. Or perhaps, it was not about fairness, but that her position was out of alignment with divine plans.

We must note that the book of Esther is one of the two books in the Bible where there is not a single mention of G'd.

Is it fair for Jews to reclaim our homeland to displace the "palestinians". Why are we parading the "palestinians" in their nakedness. Are they not human as we are? Have Jews lost legitimacy to the land after being exiled from our homeland?

Let us say, 200 years from now, would it be fair if descendant Tibetans were able to muster the military might, to cleanse Tibet of non-Tibetans? To reclaim Tibet? Is it fair for them now? The Han/Tang Chinese should graciously bow out and excuse themselves from Tibet, shouldn't they?

If my bicycle were stolen and someone paid 20000 rupees for it. And when I found it, do I have the right to my stolen bicycle or not?

As far as the book of Esther is concerned, Esther was the rightful queen to the throne. Vashti conducted herself in righteousness and godliness. Do two rights make a wrong?

But I realise, your Christian scripture says (if I read the koine greek correctly), "yet to those who love god, all is synergy for good, to those being called with purpose."

(BTW, I am so miffed how your bible translations go out of the way to mistranslate Romans 8:28)

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  • This starts out good but ends going completely off topic. – curiousdannii Jan 31 '16 at 13:55
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    I cannot let stand to laud Vashti like as though I am criminalizing my own people. The whole question of Vashti vs Esther is an essential question we face in good vs good. It is easy when it is good vs evil, but good vs good are the conflicts that we actually have trouble resolving. That is the nakedness of ourselves we face constantly. – Cynthia Avishegnath Jan 31 '16 at 23:38
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This interpretation---that she was being asked to present herself nude---is a good example of eisegesis. It could, possibly have meant that, but there's precious little hermeneutical evidence for such an interpretation to have any real merit.

Interpreting scripture requires that we find the meaning of a text first in its immediate context. Nothing in the book of Esther suggests such an interpretation. In we look to the larger historical and cultural context: the Persians were not known for displays of nudism, for example, in their art. In the even larger context of the whole Bible, there is nothing to suggest such an interpretation.

Consider the source of the anecdotes you mentioned, and if you think they have credibility, add them to your post (with references).

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    Unsourced anecdotes are fine in a question that seeks evidence in an answer either for the truth of those anecdotes or otherwise. Unsourced anecdotes in an answer are a different matter. – Dick Harfield Jan 30 '16 at 20:01

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