Is The Bible Wrong About History?
Esther is a true and a very interesting story!
THE HUMANIST'S CLAIM: The book of Esther purports to describe how a young Jewish girl named Esther was chosen by the Persian king Xerxes I to be queen after he had divorced Vashti. Although historians know a great deal about Xerxes I, there is no record that he had a Jewish queen named Esther or was married to Vashti.
Additionally, the book of Esther describes the Persian empire as having 127 provinces, but historians maintain there was no such division of the empire. Also contrary to the book of Esther, historians assure us Xerxes did not order Jews in his territories to attack his Persian subjects.
I love the book of Esther. I like it so much that I wrote a commentary about Esther called "The Presence of God." I encourage you to read it. Its available on Amazon. Or use this link to get a free PDF copy.
The humanists include three references to Stephen L. Harris’, Understanding the Bible as the source of their information about Esther. He is similar to Andrew White. He is opposed to Christianity, anti-Bible, and is not afraid to make up things to support his accusations. His book is not about understanding the Bible. It is about tearing down the Bible and replacing it with humanism. It is not a reliable reference, but we will go with what the humanists have written and answer their accusations anyway.
Historical Silence Does Not Mean They Did Not Exist
If a place or person does not show up in secular historical records, does that mean they did not exist? This is an argument from silence, and it is not valid.
Arguments from silence have not fared well when used against the Bible. Historians said the Bible was wrong because there was no historical evidence, outside of the Bible, that Hittites ever existed... then the evidence turned up. They were wrong. There was no evidence that Sodom existed. Then in 2015 archeologists announced that Sodom had been found. Historians said that there was no evidence the city of Jericho existed at the time Joshua entered the Promised Land. Then in the late 1980's it archeologists discovered thjey had been looking for the wrong kind of pottery, and looking in the wrong places... Jericho had been found!
Saying there are no historical records (except for the Bible) does not mean the person or place does not exist... it just means they we have no historical records, other than the Bible, concerning that person or place. And they are not willing to trust the Bible.
That is an interesting statement... not willing to trust the Bible. If they find just one broken clay tile with an inscription giving a person's name, “Eureka!” They cry. “We know for sure that person existed." If a fragment of a copy of one ancient document is found with a person's name on it, "Eureka!” They shout. “We have proof that person existed." However, the document that has more ancient copies available than any other... by far... and that has proven to be reliable over and over... the Bible, is not considered to be reliable or sufficient on its own. An argument from silence is considered stronger evidence against the testimony of the most reliable ancient document we have... the Bible. That is desperation. Desperation driven by a desire to not be accountable to the God who created them.
Let's Look At Esther and Vashti
They are correct, there is no evidence outside of the Bible, documenting that a woman named "Esther" was a queen of Persia. However, this type of argument from silence does not provide any proof that there was no Queen Esther, nor does it take into consideration that she may have had a different Persian name.
There is some evidence concerning Vashti. For example, the Greek historian Herodotus associates the name Amesrtis with Vashti. He recorded that Amesrtis was the wife of Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes.
On the other hand, there are very good reasons why, 2500 years later, history may seem to be silent concerning the people described in the book of Esther. How important was Queen Esther to the royalty of Persia? Political circumstances resulted in their selecting a queen from outside the royal family. Doing that was unheard of, but they had no choice. The Bible account records that, after becoming queen Esther did not spend much time with Xerxes. She was an outsider, and probably kept as an outsider. Since the royal families controlled what was recorded for history, it is likely that she would just be left out... sort of a black sheep that nobody talked about.
What about Vashti? Although she was a very capable and skilled queen, Vashti embarrassed the king, and caused a major problem for the extended royal family. It is very likely that the royal family was not interested in including her in the royal records either. Esther and Vashti? That was a troubled time that was embarrassing for us royals. We just need to forget about them.
127 Persian Provinces
The humanists claim “there was no such division.” It is difficult to know what they are claiming. Is it that the Persian Empire was not divided into provinces? Is it that the number 127 is not correct? There is no way to know what the humanists are claiming, making this an invalid claim.
A likely possibility is that they are referring to the Greek historian Herodotus recording that there were 20 satrapies. Some claim that this contradicts the 127 provinces in Esther. However, there are many problems with that claim. For example, the accuracy of the Heroditus list is in doubt:
This list [Herodotus] continues to be claimed as the basic source for the reconstruction of satrapal administration. But the chaotic arrangement of the nomoi list, which conflicts with geographic reality, its over-emphasis on the western regions, which shows that Herodotus had no authentic source at his disposal. - The Encyclopedia Iranica
On the other hand, based on the language and the great amount of detail provided in Esther, it appears only someone highly placed within the Persian government at the time could only have written the book of Esther. That person would not have made an error in the number of provinces.
However, what if the Esther story was a fabrication? Only a fool would give a specific number they did not know for sure. The number of provinces is completely incidental to the story and of no consequence. If Esther were a fabrication, the writer would have been a fool to include this detail. Since Esther is the foundation of a major festival, and it was publicly circulated shortly after the events it reports happened, an error such as this would have destroyed the validity of the festival. Keep in mind, there were eyewitnesses who would have quickly pointed out this error and ended the fiction.
If we take a realistic look at this, there is a logical reason for this type of difference in the number of provinces. The Encyclopedia Iranica points out that there is confusion about the number of satrapies, and there was most likely a hierarchical governmental structure that subdivided the satrapies into provinces.
These structures in turn determined the hierarchical construction of the satrapal system which, remaining essentially unchanged, proved a successful instrument of administration throughout the entire Achaemenid period. – Encylopedia Iranica
With satrapies being the size of countries, it makes sense that they were sub-divided into what scripture refers to as provinces. The historical record indicates there were even smaller divisions. As far as the number, the Encyclopeia Iranica states:
To document the extent of the empire completely, it would be quite sufficient to enumerate all provinces of one specific level of the administrative hierarchy.
A reasonable assumption is that the author of Esther chose to document the extent of the empire at a level of government different from that used by Herodotus.
Did Xerxes Order the Jews To Attack His Persian Subjects?
We have another misrepresentation of scripture. The Bible does not say Xerxes ordered the Jews to attack his Persian subjects. In fact, many of the Persians, including all of the Persian government officials , joined with the Jews to defend them against their enemies. These are the facts.
#1 - The Jews had permission to use weapons to defend themselves, and destroy and kill anyone who might attack them. The Jews were not ordered to attack all Persians. They were given the right to defend themselves.
#2 - The Bible does not say the Persians wanted to destroy the Jews. Haman, who was an Agagite, was the source of the pan to destroy all Jews. The Agagites were a group of people who had been Israel's mortal enemies for over 500 years.
#3 - The Jews were so inconsequential to the Empire that Xerxes signed a decree that they all be killed with very little thought... a decree presented to him along with the offer of a huge bribe. For this to become public knowledge, especially the part about the bribe, would be disastrous. So it is highly likely that minimal records were made and those (if there were any records at all) may not have survived the passing of millennia. An argument from silence, such as the humanists make here, is not valid.
How Do We Know Esther Is True History?
There is powerful evidence that the story in Esther is true.
The events described in Esther resulted in the Jewish Festival of Purim. That festival began within 15 to 20 years after the events in Esther took place. (www.GotQuestions.org) People who had lived through the events described in Esther were still alive. That means we have a major festival, based on the account in the book of Esther, celebrating the salvation of the Jews from total annihilation, that began within the lifetimes of the people who experienced the events described in the book. Many of the events described in Esther took place publically, such as the hanging of Haman. They were not something that happened within the private confines of the palace, for example, with few witnesses. It would be immediately obvious to many people, if the story of Esther were not true. There were too many eyewitness.
The timeline in which all this happened, and was documented, testifies that the main part of the story of Esther must be true.
There is no evidence that any of the claims against the book of Esther are valid. On the other hand, there is strong circumstantial evidence that supports Esther as being a true and accurate history.
Next claim about errors in Biblical history:
The book of Daniel describes events that supposedly happened during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. The fifth chapter states that Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, was succeeded on the throne by his son Belshazzar. But historians tell us Belshazzar was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar and was never king.
The book of Daniel also says one Darius the Mede captured Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. In contrast, historians know that Cyrus of Persia took Babylon.
I'm surprised that there are only a couple of questions on Daniel. This book is packed with prophecies that have been fulfilled. Just the book of Daniel alone is a strong proof the Bible is true... only God knows the future and the future is laid out in detail in Daniel. But, we'll take a look at the above accusations and... you'll have the answers on the next page.
* Esther became queen in 478 BC