KING XERXES OF PERSIA, otherwise known as Ahasuerus, has the distinction of being the only person in the Bible whose name begins with an X. There's not much else you can say for him. He was a blowhard and a show-off, and anybody with an eighth-grade education could wrap him around his little finger without half trying. Or her little finger.

There was Haman, for example. Haman was Xerxes' right-hand man and a raging anti-Semite. There was also a Jew named Mordecai, who lived in the capital, and one day when Haman came prancing by, Mordecai refused to flatten himself out and grovel in the dust like everybody else. It was the break Haman had been waiting for. He told Xerxes about Mordecai's insubordination and rudeness and said it was a vivid illustration of how the Jews as a whole were a miserable lot. He said if you let one of them in, they brought their friends, and Persia was crawling with them. He said the only laws they respected were their own, and it was obvious they didn't give a hoot in hell about the king or anybody else. He then said that, as far as he was concerned, the only thing to do was exterminate the whole pack of them like rats and offered the king ten thousand in cash for the privilege of organizing the operation. Xerxes pocketed the cash and told him to go ahead.

But then there was also Queen Esther, a good-looking Jewish girl who was both a cousin of Mordecai's and Xerxes' second wife. As soon as she got wind of what Haman was up to, she decided to do what she could to save her people from the gas chamber. Xerxes had a rather short fuse, and you had to know how to handle him, but she planned her strategy carefully, and by the time she was through, she'd not only talked him out of letting the Jews get exterminated, but had gotten him to hang Haman from the same gallows that had been set up for Mordecai. She even managed to persuade Xerxes to give Mordecai Haman's old job.

Unfortunately, the end of the story is less edifying. Not content with having saved their people and taken care of Haman, Esther and Mordecai used their new power to orchestrate the slaughter of seventy-five thousand of their old enemies. The whole unpleasant account is contained in the book of Esther, which has the distinction of being the only book in the Bible in which the name of God isn't even mentioned. There seems every reason to believe that God considered himself well out of it.

-Originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words  

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