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It seems from the flow of the megillah that King Achashverosh had given Haman the authority to do what he wanted.
Haman approached the king with the complaint that there was "a people who were many, and differed" יֶשְׁנ֣וֹ עַם־אֶחָ֗ד מְפֻזָּ֤ר וּמְפֹרָד֙ בֵּ֣ין הָֽעַמִּ֔ים בְּכֹ֖ל מְדִינ֣וֹת מַלְכוּתֶ֑ךָ (Esther 3:8). but he did not specify that it was the Jewish people.

Additionally, we see by the feast of Esther (Esther 7:4-5) that she pleaded for her life and her people's life, and in response the king asked who it was that was responsible for threatening the life of the queen's people. ( מִ֣י ה֥וּא זֶה֙ וְאֵֽי־זֶ֣ה ה֔וּא אֲשֶׁר־מְלָא֥וֹ לִבּ֖וֹ לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת כֵּֽן )

It seems that Achashverosh did not put 2+2 together and wasn't aware that Haman was plotting against the Jewish people. And seemingly, as soon as he found out, he took action against the decrees of Haman.

But can we really say that Achashverosh was not aware that Haman was plotting to destroy the entire Jewish population?

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    Very interesting observation that Esther 3:8 doesn't say inside Haman told the King what nation he was talking about. I never noticed that.
    – Avraham
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 18:58
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    It seemed to me that he did know and was apathetic until the point he realized this would impact him personally as his wife would be included as well as Mordechai (the man who saved his life) it seems to suggest that achashverosh was dumb and easily influenced. The other example being executing vashti and the decree after her death. Again suggests he was someone wicked but mainly stupid and easily swayed while Haman was truly evil and self serving
    – Dude
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 20:06
  • i think the question of was Achashverosh a smart man or an idiot deserves its own post. there are many sources to back up both options.
    – The Targum
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 20:10
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    I once heard an approach, I don’t recall where, that Haman said “labed” which can mean to enslave if it’s with an ayin, or to destroy if it’s with an aleph. Achashverosh understood he wanted to enslave them. That’s why Esther says “had we of been sold as slaves I would have been quiet” because that’s what Achashverosh thought was supposed to happen.
    – Chatzkel
    Commented May 4, 2023 at 1:33
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    The premise is mistaken. Even if he did know Haman planned to kill the Jews, he did not know that Esther was Jewish, and he did not know she was talking about Haman, especially since she had invited Haman twice. If he knew Haman was planning to kill the Jews (as the answers seem to show), then after inviting Haman and respecting him, he probably thought she was anything but Jewish, and that she was accusing anyone but Haman. Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 3:17

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At least in the Gemara it's clear that Achashverosh also wanted to get rid of the Jews and was happy with Haman's scheme. Megillah 14a commenting on Esther 3:11 says:

מָשָׁל דַּאֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ וְהָמָן לָמָּה הַדָּבָר דּוֹמֶה? לִשְׁנֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם, לְאֶחָד הָיָה לוֹ תֵּל בְּתוֹךְ שָׂדֵהוּ וּלְאֶחָד הָיָה לוֹ חָרִיץ בְּתוֹךְ שָׂדֵהוּ. בַּעַל חָרִיץ אָמַר: מִי יִתֵּן לִי תֵּל זֶה בְּדָמִים! בַּעַל הַתֵּל אָמַר: מִי יִתֵּן לִי חָרִיץ זֶה בְּדָמִים!

The actions of Ahasuerus and Haman can be understood with a parable; to what may they be compared? To two individuals, one of whom had a mound in the middle of his field and the other of whom had a ditch in the middle of his field, each one suffering from his own predicament. The owner of the ditch, noticing the other’s mound of dirt, said to himself: Who will give me this mound of dirt suitable for filling in my ditch; I would even be willing to pay for it with money, and the owner of the mound, noticing the other’s ditch, said to himself: Who will give me this ditch for money, so that I may use it to remove the mound of earth from my property? (Shteinzaltz translation and elaboration).

Also the gemara on 13b elaborates on what Haman said in 3:8-10, and those criticisms are clearly specific to the Jews. I.e., Haman was trying to incite the King against the Jews and not some vague undesirable nation.

As for Esther, Achashverosh did not know what nation Esther was. That's pshat in Ether 2:10, and mentioned repeatedly in Megillah 13-15.

So, based on the gemara, Achashverosh knew the decree was to kill the Jews but he did not know Esther was Jewish, so he was surprised by her revelation (especially since he was antisemitic so why would he think his wife was Jewish).

If you want a more "pshat" answer not based on the Gemara, Achashverosh didn't know the nation Haman had in mind but was shocked to find out it was the same nation as Esther. After all, he was king over 127 nations so the odds were less than 1%, and furthermore it seems quite audacious for Haman to go after the Queen's nation. Either way, to your specific question, there was no evidence for Achashverosh to "put together" until Esther's denouement.

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  • Thank you for adding clarity to the topic. it might have made more sense for achashverosh to respond to esther by saying "oh, you must mean the jews which have been targeted by haman" instead he seems unknowing of what she could be talking about.
    – The Targum
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 19:36
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    I hear you but you are talking about an issue that may not have been very important to him in the heat of the moment. If Eleanor Roosevelt had gone to FDR and said a wicked man is trying to kill my family and you're doing nothing, he might not have immediately concluded "oh she must be Jewish and is talking about Hitler." (Not a perfect analogy, but hopefully makes the point)
    – Avraham
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 19:40
  • yep, that makes sense. i also like that we are having a discussion on two posts at the same time.
    – The Targum
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 19:43
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The Midrash on Esther gives another take on the matter. Haman tries to convince the king to allow him to kill all the Jews. The king is skeptical because the Jews are protected by God:

Resh Lakish said: When the wicked Haman said to Ahashverosh: “Come, let us exterminate Israel”, Ahashverosh replied: “You cannot prevail against them, since their God will not entirely forsake them. See what he did to the kings who preceded us and who laid hands upon them and who were much mightier and more powerful than we are. Whoever comes against them to destroy them and whoever schemes against them is wiped out... How much more so, then, we, who are not equal to those others. Let me hear no more of this...” [Esther R. 7:13]

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