Old Testament

Who was Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther?

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.

NIVThis is what happened during the time of Xerxes…
ESVNow 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.

Photo of Ahasuerus (Xerxes)
Rock relief of Xerxes at his tomb

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 Great550–529 BC
Cambyses I529–522 BC
Bardiya (Pseudo-Smerdis)522 BC
Darius I (the Great)522–486 BC
Xerxes I/Ahasuerus (*Esther*)486–465 BC
Artaxerxes I465–425 BC
Xerxes II425–424 BC
Darius II424–405 BC
Artaxerxes II405–359 BC
Artaxerxes III359–338 BC
Arses338–336 BC
Darius III336–330 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!

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

4 Comments

  • Joe Elledge

    For Timothy Bateman. Be careful with Ezra 4. The study notes in the ESV as well as a commentary I read on Ezra says that Ezra 4:6 to Ezra 4:23 is an interruption in the historical narrative. So the historical narrative actually ends with 4:5 and resumes with 4:24. The purpose of the interruption is to show that the problems faced by the new community who returned under Cyrus were persistent and deeply rooted in the situation. So…the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 is actually Artaxerxes and is no mistake. If I have misunderstood you, I apologize.

  • Alin

    Floyd Nolen Jones makes a very good point in showing that Ahasuerus is in fact Darius I The Great. His time fits better the environment of Persia during Esther (the 127 provinces which were part of the empire during Darius but not during Xerxes, who looses many of them). Also the caracter of Darius is more in line with Ahasuerus than Xerxes’.

    The article of Jones is for free on internet and I really believe now that Ahasuerus is Darius, Xerxes’ father.

    Regards,
    Alin

  • Timothy Bateman

    What also may help clarify (or confuse) is the start of Esther which says:
    Est 1:1  Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 
    Est 1:2  in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, 
    Est 1:3  in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. (ESV)

    Now this highlights that there was ANOTHER Ahaseurus who had reigned, but did not reign from India to Ethiopia.
    This Ahaseurus is also mentioned in Ezra (and highlights a separate error you made).
    Ezr 4:4  Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 
    Ezr 4:5  and bribed counsellors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. 
    Ezr 4:6  And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

    Now this Ahasuerus is NOT Xerxes, the one in Esther 1, but the prior Ahaseurus. This Ahaseurus is Cambyses I (and also confusingly called Artaxerxes – see Ezra 4:7).
    Perhaps you want to write an article concerning this?

Leave a Reply to Peter Goeman Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.