The Tombs of Esther and Mordecai

The mausoleum of Esther and Mordecai

The mausoleum of Esther and Mordecai

There have always been Jewish communities in the Islamic countries. After all, the Jews are “people of the book”, or dhimmis, who are entitled to protection and are not to be forced into conversion. However, there is no denying that the Jewish communities in the Near East are in decline. I am afraid that the beautifully restored synagogue in Beirut will never be used. There’s a famous joke that in Baghdad, there are only two Jews left, who are quarrelling. In Hamadan, a great city in western Iran, there are some thirty Jewish families, which is considerably less than the 3,000–6,000 Jews that used to live there after the Second World War, or the 30,000 mentioned in the Middle Ages.

Nevertheless, the place is of some significance to oriental Judaism, because in the city center, there’s a small mausoleum, which is dedicated to Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai, the two heroes of the Biblical book Esther. It is a beautiful, small building, made of bricks. Even when you don’t have a Ph.D. in architectural history, you can easily date it to the Middle Ages: it looks like a Seljuk türbe, or tomb-tower.

The two cenotaphs

The two cenotaphs

The two tombs inside the building can be dated to the thirteenth century. They are empty. The Hebrew inscription on the walls inform us that the cenotaphs were built by the mother of two brothers, who had served as physicians at the court of a Mongol ruler.

So, the mausoleum has nothing to do with the two Biblical persons. However, it must be noticed that the veneration of Esther and Mordecai is quite old: it was mentioned by Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish author who visited Hamadan in the mid-twelfth century. Why the Jews of Hamadan had, by that time, started to venerate the Achaemenid queen and her relative, is a bit of a mystery: after all, the scene of the story is laid in Susa. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the cult of Esther and Mordecai antedates the building of the mausoleum that is now shown as their final resting place.

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2 Responses to The Tombs of Esther and Mordecai

  1. Another fine article,short but very informative.The Jewish nation,despite their contributions to the world since deep antiquity is a story of flux.Like the rest of the world,they will never know peace due to the evil that pervades this world,now and forever.Thanks to Bill and Jona.Garry in Kentucky.

  2. I enjoyed reading your article on the Tomb of Esther and Mordecai. Actually, it is noted by the Encyclopaedia Iranica that it was popular medieval thought that Esther was the mother of Cyrus the Great. Our current understanding of Persian history is murky and contradictory at times, but the conventional belief is that Cyrus was the son of Mandane. Many have wisely placed Esther as the Queen of Astyages, the father of Mandane. I say ‘wisely’ because Esther and Mordecai were cousins and were taken captive during the brief three-month reign of Jeconiah–over a century prior to Xerxes, the traditional husband of Esther! If Astyages truly was the Ahasuerus of Esther 1 in the Bible, it might possibly explain the entire chapter devoted to Cyrus in Isaiah 45. A Persian friend of mine states that he grew up in Iran with the knowledge of Cyrus being a Jew! (He also grew up in Iran having been taught that the Germans were descended in the main from the ancient Germanioi tribe of Iran.) The past may still have many secrets to reveal!

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