Bible Reference: Esther 5:8 – 10, 6: 12-13
Heart of the Story: Zeresh was one of her husband’s (Haman) primary counselors. She gave him good and bad advice.
Back Story: This story of Zeresh is set in the Persian Empire. Esther is Queen. Haman is King Xerxes’ chief counselor. He hates the Jews, personified in Mordecai who is a Jewish civil servant in the Empire. Because of his hatred of Mordecai and the Jews, Haman hatches a plan to kill all of the Jews in the Persian Empire so that he has a legitimate reason for killing Mordecai. King Xerxes authorizes Haman’s plan, not realizing that in ordering the death of all Jews, he orders the death of Queen Ester, a Jew.
Story Line: We are first introduced to Zeresh when Haman arrives home and starts to brag to Zeresh and his friends about all of his honors; yet, Haman said that these honors are as nothing because Mordecai sets at the king’s gate and won’t stand and bow to Haman as he goes by. Zeresh and Haman’s friends recommend that Haman have a gallows built and hang Mordecai on it. Haman likes the idea and immediately orders the gallows to be constructed.
The next time, Zeresh is mentioned, she tells Haman that if Mordecai is a Jew then Haman won’t overcome him. Rather Haman will fall before Mordecai. Indeed, that is exactly what happened and Haman is hung on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai.
Exploring Relationships: Although the Persian Empire allowed a man to have more than one wife, Zeresh is the only wife named for Haman. At several points in the Book of Esther, Haman is identified as having 10 sons. Zeresh may have been the mother of all 10 sons or Haman could have had additional wives. In the Esther passages, Zeresh was the primary confident and counselor of Haman both when he decides to build a gallows to hang Mordecai on and when she tell her husband that if he challenges a Jew, Haman will fail.
When I read Zeresh’s insight that Haman would fail if he challenged Mordecai, I wondered where she got this perspective. Then, I read non-biblical articles that identified Zeresh as the daughter of Tattenai. Tattenai was the king’s governor for the region known as “Beyond the River,” which included Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Tattenai was an impartial governor during the Restoration of the Jews. He saw that God favored the Jews. Growing up in Tattenai’s home, Zeresh heard of the Jews and how God watched over them. Very likely when Zeresh recommended that Haman hang Mordecai, she wasn’t aware that Mordecai was a Jew.
The Book of Esther documented that not only was Haman hung, but his sons were hung in retaliation for Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire.
The question of what became of Zeresh is not answered in the Bible. Was she killed along with her husband and sons or was she allowed to live? If she lived, where did she get money and resources to subsist? Haman’s estate was given to Queen Esther who set Mordecai over the estate to manage it. It is doubtful if Mordecai allowed Zeresh to remain on the estate even as a servant. Possibly, the best outcome for this woman was to return to her father’s home and live there. Realistically, Tattanei was probably dead when these events in the book of Esther occurred.
Reflection: Do you feel sorry for Zeresh? Alternatively, do you believe that she reaped what she sowed?
Copyright June 10, 2017. Carolyn A Roth