Memucan, Hen-pecked Advisor????

Ancient costumes

Reference: Esther chapter 1

Heart of the Story: King’s advisor who recommend Xerxes divorce Vashti when she disobeyed him.

Backstory: King Xerxes of Persia gave an elaborate banquet for the men of Susa. At the banquet which included much wine, the king over drank. He ordered Queen Vashti to appear before the male banqueters wearing only her royal crown. She refused his directive. King Xerxes was furious.

Story: King Xerxes had 7 noble men who acted as his immediate advisors:  Carshena, Shethar, Asmatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan. These seven men were the highest ranking men in the kingdom after Xerses. King Xerxes asked them according to the law what should be done to Vashti because of her disobedience to the King.

Memucan answered that Queen Vashti:  1) had done wrong, 2) the King should write a royal decree that Vashti  should never again enter King Xerxes presence, 3) Queen Vashti royal position should be given to another woman who is better than Queen Vashti.

The good news for Queen Vashti (at least) was that she would not be put to death. Vashti would have to leave the royal court least she inadvertently enter the king presence.  The reasons she was probably not put to death was twofold: 1) she had sons by Xerxes who one of whom would be king after Xerxes. Xerxes did not want to kill their mother. 2) Xerxes knew that Vashti coming into the banquet room nude except for her crown was completely outside Persian standards of modesty. He was wrong to command her to do that.

Pondering Relationships:  The relationship between Vashti and Xerxes was fairly clear; she was a trophy wife. The relationship between Memucan and Vashti may have been more complex. Possibly, Memucan hated Queen Vashti, saw her as a rival for the King’s ear, and wanted to get rid of her. His suggestion that Xerxes divorce Vashti and expel her from the King’s presence got rid of a court rival. On the other hand Memucan may have liked the queen. He spoke up promptly to expel Queen Vashti rather than waiting for another wise man to suggest that Vashti be killed.  Memucan protected the queen.

Memucan’s rationale for his recommendations is noteworthy. He stated that wives throughout the kingdom would cease to obey their husbands if Vashti went unpunished for disobeying Xerxes. To prevent Persian wives from disobeying husband, Xerxes had to make an example of Vashti. Further King Xerxes was to write an edict that a man was ruler over his household.

Memucan’s suggestion that King Xerxes proclaim the edict throughout the Persian Empire to protect men from disobedient wives causes readers to wonder at his motivation. In his own home did he have trouble with a disobedient wife?  What personal gain did he expect from this particular edict? Could and would he use the edict to become more of an autocrat in his own home?

Reflection: What motivation do you think Memucan had for suggesting King Xerxes write an edict that a wife respected her husband? Do you think that Memucan could have had a problem with an assertive wife?

Copyright: February 8, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth

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