Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Crown prince Xerxes, the future ruler of Persia and known in the Book of Esther as King Ahasuerus, stands behind his father Darius I (ruled 521–486 B.C.E.) in a stone relief from the main banquet hall at the royal palace at Persepolis. Xerxes’ impetuous yet fateful decision to ban his wife Vashti and to replace her with a new queen (according to the account in Esther) put in motion a series of events that staved off a dire threat to the survival of the Jews in the Persian empire. While some of the details in Esther do not match with what we know of Persian history, many others do, leading author Michael Heltzer to propose a date—and a motive—for the book’s composition.