Adeola Juwon

Jul 25, 2020

4 min read


Someone asked a question on Facebook yesterday: Which Bible character would you like to meet?

My answer was queen Vashti, here’s why:

One book in the Bible that aroused my curiosity was the book of Esther. First, it’s the only book in the Bible in which God’s name wasn’t mentioned. Not even once — at least at surface read (Sidney Collet explained the reason for this in his amazing book, ‘Scriptures of Truth).

Also, the book began with a story which as I grow up, I’ve found to be one-sided, controversial and a bit unfair to one of the characters in the story, Beautiful King Vashti.

We all know the story so I won’t bore us with it.

When our Sunday school teachers taught us this story then, Vashti was portrayed as a rude, proud queen who refused the bidding of a king.

While I understand the fact that God used that situation for the good of the Jews, I’ll like us to review the story again.

A drunk king asked that his queen be brought to parade before him and his drunk princes. To show off her beauty, he said. Vashti refused. The Bible didn’t tell us why.

Chimamanda Adichie taught us the danger of a single story. So, it’s only fair that we know Vashti’s side of the story.

History, especially unwritten ones, can be a complicated issue. So, while I made research upon research as to why the beautiful queen could refuse the king order, I came about a lot of theories, some having historical references while some do not.

For example, there’s a theory which said the King asked her to wear nothing but her royal crown. That means she was to be paraded naked. Historian dismissed this theory but agreed that had Vashti honoured that order, she would have in some way be disrespected by the drunk men she was to entertain. I agree. Too much wine suspends reason. History made us know that, though a queen, she has little or no respect from the King and she’s inferior in a grossly patriarchal culture she was in then. It was why Esther couldn’t just appear before the king, her husband, without being summoned.

Stacey Goldman, a teacher of Torah who studied in Israel, wrote:

“The Midrash gives a surprising explanation. Apparently, Vashti grew a tail and was embarrassed about her unusual appendage! While this Midrash is enjoyed by elementary students and creates nice cartoons for animated Megillahs, it is a bit hard for an adult to digest.

In a story where G‑d is not mentioned and there are no overt miracles, why would something as fantastic as a tail grow out of a woman’s body? The Maharal of Prague provides a fascinating explanation. He explains that this Midrash does not need to be taken at face value; The tail could represent an extra heaviness added to her body which sapped her energy and added weight. Today we use the expression of a “spare tire” to imply a flabby stomach. What if the tail implied that Vashti had put on a few extra pounds and would not put her less than perfect body on display for public view? If she had been working out in the gym instead of indulging at her party, would she have willingly submitted to her husband’s demand? If this were the motivation behind her refusal, does this constitute modesty?”

If Stacey’s rabbinical account is to be believed, it appeals to reason that, apart from the fact that having her to parade before a group of drunk men is condescending and that she might have been disrespected; growing a ‘tail’ is enough reason not to want to appear before these dignified men. It would have been quite shameful for someone who was known for her beauty, her perfect size and shape to be seen when she’s sure she’s not looking her best.

It’s about time we cut Vashti some slack. Yea, she might not have been modest as historical accounts suggest (but really, who the heck are we to judge? Should the moral compass turn towards, are we better?) Also, the king was a patriarchal dickhead (yea, I know it’s the culture of that time).

In retrospect, I support Vashti’s decision. She might have even been a feminist for all I know. And I would love to meet her to hear her own side of the story.