Sometimes different Bible translations can lead to interesting questions. For example, if we were to compare the NIV and the ESV translations, we would come across a seemingly large difference. According to the NIV Xerxes was king during the time of Esther, but according to the ESV Ahasuerus was king.
|NIV||This is what happened during the time of Xerxes…|
|ESV||Now in the days of Ahasuerus…|
Why does the NIV say the king was Xerxes, while the ESV says the king was Ahasuerus? Many translations struggle with the issue of how to identify the king of Esther. To complicate matters somewhat, the LXX and Josephus identify the king as Ἀρταξέρξης (Artaxerxes), thus giving us three options.
The Hebrew text reads אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ (Ahasuerus), a name which is confirmed by other Greek translations, the Latin Vulgate, the Targums, and the Syriac translation. On the other hand, the name Xerxes is actually the appropriate Greek derivation of the king’s Persian name, khsyayʾrsha.
What this means is that, technically, both names (Ahasuerus and Xerxes) are correct identifications for the son of Darius the Great. However, the LXX’s identification of Artaxerxes is incorrect and an historical mistake (which does not make it into any English translations that I am aware of).
To see where Ahasuerus fits into the historical picture, here is a listing of the post-Babylonian rulers of Persia and their corresponding dates.
|Cyrus the Great||550–529 BC|
|Cambyses I||529–522 BC|
|Bardiya (Pseudo-Smerdis)||522 BC|
|Darius I (the Great)||522–486 BC|
|Xerxes I/Ahasuerus (*Esther*)||486–465 BC|
|Artaxerxes I||465–425 BC|
|Xerxes II||425–424 BC|
|Darius II||424–405 BC|
|Artaxerxes II||405–359 BC|
|Artaxerxes III||359–338 BC|
|Darius III||336–330 BC|
For point of reference, Daniel is deported in 605 BC, and lives long enough in Babylon to be a part of the Persian dynasty under Cyrus the Great (539 BC). The story of Esther and King Ahasuerus likely happens approximately 50 years after Daniel dies. Subsequent to Esther, Ezra leads a second return to the land of Israel about 20 to 30 years later in 458 BC under Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:1).
Different Bible translations may use Xerxes or Ahasuerus, but they technically refer to the same individual, and are likely different throne names. Xerxes is more common in non-biblical literature, but Ahasuerus is the preferred Hebrew rendering (cf. Dan 9:1 for another Ahasuerus is referenced). Thus, Ahasuerus and Xerxes are the same individual by different names. However, if you ever see arguments for Artaxerxes as the king during the time of Esther—don’t believe it!