Although the Book of Esther is fiction, we learn a great deal from it about life in the Jewish Diaspora during the Persian period, especially when read in conjunction with other ancient literary sources and modern archaeological evidence.

New archaeological evidence about Jewish life in the Diaspora is being discovered with increasing frequency, sometimes in the most unexpected places. For example, in 1979, in modern Larnaca on Cyprus, when excavation began for a modern building, an ancient cemetery was discovered. Some cemetery stelae and bases containing inscriptions dating to the 4th century B.C.E., initially thought to be purely Phoenician, in fact contained Hebrew names, including some with the theophoric element -yahu, a form of the Hebrew God Yahweh.

For example, one inscription (shown above) on a stele base reads as follows:

l sûlm bn ’spyhw

“Belonging to Shallam, son of ’Asaphyahu”

’Asaphyahu is a purely Hebrew Yahwistic name.

Another man, whose father had a Yahwistic name (‘Azaryaµhuµ), is designated as “chief of the scribes.” The son seems to have adopted a gentile name (Mattan ‘ashtart, which means the gift of the Phoenician goddess Astarte.)

Other inscriptions indicate that Jews were not the only minority on the island that had reached bourgeois and official status. During the Persian period, there were people living here of Greek, Anatolian and Jewish origin, as well as Phoenicians.