I'm looking to gather some more background, context, sources and opinions, regarding Achashverosh's Jewishness, or lack thereof.

This was inspired by a recent similar question, and, in fact, much of this question's content was copied therefrom.

So, to the issue:

Many well-known midrashim pose Achashverosh (the one in m'gilas Ester) as a gentile leader. I'm sure we all learned these at one point or another. On the other hand, reading the m'gila as a "story", focusing on the p'shat, but taking into account the historical and cultural context (as supplied by Jewish sources) in addition to relevant background added by other books in the Tanach, it would seem that there is no evidence or basis for the "gentile figure" theory, but rather the evidence seems (at least to me) to point in the opposite direction. (I'm not keeping these details close till there are some answers. I'll share them! (a) When he heard Haman's plot, he agreed; but as soon as he heard that the nation in question was the Jews, he relented. Not the mark of a gentile in those days. (b) 10:1 seems irrelevant in a book of Tanach unless it's to communicate the story of a Jewish king. (c) Ester, although she refused any special cosmetics, is not described as having made herself repulsive, as might be expected by a Jewish girl who's being sought by a non-Jewish suitor.)

Now, taking into account the intended ambiguity, which is one of the most fundamental motifs of the m'gila, and the obvious historical distance, I don't expect to find "the one true history"....

But I am interested in hearing, what is the basis for the "gentile leader" theory? Is there evidence for this, or is it "just" midrash* ? What was the original source? (Obviously besides the midrash itself, and the persuant discussions in e.g. g'mara*... ) Or, alternatively (and preferably), sources and explanations for the opposite theory?

(*) I'm not belittling the importance of those midrashim or the discussions in the g'mara, of course, but it is both important and extremely difficult to discern which stories are intended to be accepted literally, as "historical fact", and which not. Hence this question.


2 Answers 2


It's a pretty reasonable assumption (for ancient times, at least) that the king of a nation is a member of that nationality. (Thus, the kings of Judah and Israel were Jews - "you may not appoint over you a king who is not of your brethren" (Deut. 17:15); those of Moav were Moabites; etc.)

Achashverosh is described throughout the Megillah as the king of "Persia and Media" (or, in 10:2, the other way around, placing Media first). He ruled over a vast empire besides that, "from Hodu to Kush," but those two countries were the core of it. So the logical inference is that he was either a Persian or a Median. (Or maybe both - warning: bad pun ahead: "one man's Mede is another man's Persian.")

  • Maybe all the Persians and Medians were Jewish too? ;-)
    – HodofHod
    Feb 14, 2012 at 0:48
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    @HodofHod: well, sure, everyone knows that Jews control the Media. :)
    – Alex
    Feb 14, 2012 at 1:30
  • This answer could be enhanced when you point out that Esther was never mentioned as being a persian, nor mordechai, nor any other Jew. Even Haman might be recognized as an Agagite, and not a Persian or Median.
    – avi
    Feb 14, 2012 at 7:45
  • @avi: true, but then again, Achashverosh is never described in so many words as "a Persian" either. (Indeed, the only individual I can find in Tanach who is so described is Darius, in Neh. 12:22.)
    – Alex
    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:12
  • @Alex but he isn't described as a Jew or an Agagite.
    – avi
    Feb 14, 2012 at 14:17
  1. TTBOMK all Midrashim treat him as a non-Jew (if not an anti-semite), while (TTBOFK) there is no explicit verse which says that he is Jewish. They may have been unable to write how Achashveirosh was an anti-semite due to political considerations (they were still under his reign when they wrote the Megilla).

  2. If Achashveirosh was Jewish (and especially if he was known to be one), Mordechai would have just told him that Haman wants to kill Jews. He wouldn't need the fasting, and Ester would just walk in and tell him that his nation will be killed.

  • Ad 1, I was looking for scriptural basis. I know midrashim describe him as a gentile. There's no explicit mention that lots of people are Jewish (does it say so about Y'chezkel anywhere? I don't know: I'm not such a baki). Ad 2, a decree had been issued against the Jews with his signature on it.
    – msh210
    Feb 13, 2012 at 23:15
  • re. 2, He never signed a paper to kill the Jews, he signed a paper to kill "a certain minority". IF he was Jewish, Mordechai could have just sent him the paper going around (the same one he showed to Ester) and Achashveirosh would retract. Feb 13, 2012 at 23:20
  • They did walk in on him and ask him to retract. But they thought buttering him up first, and praying, would be more effective, because they didn't know he'd been duped by Haman into targeting the Jews: they thought he was a self-hating Jew who deliberately allowed his name to be beneath a decree against his nation.
    – msh210
    Feb 13, 2012 at 23:24
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    @msh210 mima nafshach. If he read the paper, he would never sign a decree against the Jews. If he didn't, then Mordechai could just send him a copy with an official "reader". No need to fast or send Ester on a suicidal mission. Feb 13, 2012 at 23:25
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    Regarding your point that he is never called Jewish: Was Iyov Jewish? It never says, and suffice to say there is much machloket on the matter.
    – Double AA
    Feb 14, 2012 at 0:47

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