Many liberal scholars argue that the Book of Esther is a work of fiction like the apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit. Their main argument against the historicity of Esther is that the events recorded in it are not explicitly recorded in any other ancient source. If it is historical, then why don’t ancient historians like Herodotus or Plutarch ever describe them? As a Protestant, I am in agreement that the apocryphal books of Judith and Tobit are fictional and non-canonical, but there is good evidence to believe that the events described in Esther are historical.
1. The deliverance of the Jews as described in Esther is celebrated by the Jewish people every year in the festival of Purim. If Esther is a work of fiction, then where did the celebration of Purim come from? This festival is a historical relic pointing back to a real event that the Jewish people have always believed really happened. Just as the Jews celebrate Hanukah because it is the celebration of their deliverance from the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC, they celebrate their deliverance from those who wanted to destroy them when they lived among the Persians. In contrast, the Jews have never celebrated the fictional events described in the apocryphal books of Judith or Tobit.
2. The events of the Book of Esther fit in well with the life of King Ahasuerus or Xerxes as described by Herodotus. After Ahasuerus was defeated by the Greeks, Herodotus writes that he “sought consolation in his harem.” This piece of corroborating evidence gives us another reason why he took Esther into his palace. In addition, the book’s description of the government and customs of Persia fit in with what we know from other sources.
3. The argument that the events described in Esther cannot be historical because they are never explicitly repeated in any other ancient writing is an example of the multiple attestation fallacy. This historical fallacy commits the error of thinking that historical events cannot be proven to be true unless they are recorded by multiple ancient sources. But if this method of doing history were to be consistently applied, then a large portion of ancient history would be unknown to us because there are many historical events which are only recorded once. Our knowledge of the ancient world is fragmentary and we are fortunate to have as much information as we do. This argument also reflects an anti-supernatural bias against the Bible since these critics do not want to believe in the God who rescued the Jewish people through Esther. This is ironic given that Esther is the only book in the Bible which does not use God’s name.