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Did You Know?

Did You Know?

Was Mordecai a historical figure?

A JEW named Mordecai plays a major role in the events of the Bible book of Esther. He was a Jewish exile who worked in the royal Persian palace. This was during the beginning of the fifth century B.C.E. “in the days of [King] Ahasuerus.” (That king is commonly identified today with Xerxes I.) Mordecai put a stop to the plot to assassinate the king. Out of gratitude, the king arranged that Mordecai be honored publicly. Later, after the death of Haman, an enemy of Mordecai and of the other Jews, the king promoted Mordecai to the position of prime minister. That position allowed Mordecai to issue a decree that rescued the Jews in the Persian Empire from genocide.​—Esther 1:1; 2:5, 21-23; 8:1, 2; 9:16.

Some early 20th-century historians claimed that the book of Esther is fiction and that Mordecai never existed. However, in 1941, archaeologists found what may be evidence that supports the Biblical report about Mordecai. What did they find?

Researchers discovered a Persian cuneiform text that mentions a man named Marduka (English Mordecai). He worked as an administrator, possibly an accountant, in Shushan. Arthur Ungnad, an expert in Oriental history, reported that this cuneiform was “the only extra-Biblical reference to Mordecai” at the time.

Since Ungnad’s report, scholars have translated thousands of other Persian cuneiforms. Among these are the Persepolis tablets, which were found in the ruins of the Treasury, near the city walls. These tablets date back to the reign of Xerxes I. They are in the Elamite language and contain several names found in the book of Esther. a

The name Mordecai (Marduka) as it appears in Persian cuneiform writing

Several Persepolis tablets mention the name Marduka, who served as a royal scribe at the palace in Shushan during the reign of Xerxes I. One tablet describes Marduka as a translator. That detail fits the Bible’s description of Mordecai. He was an official who served in the court of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) and who spoke at least two languages. Mordecai regularly sat in the king’s gate of the palace in Shushan. (Esther 2:19, 21; 3:3) This royal gate stood as an imposing building and was the workplace of palace officials.

There are remarkable similarities between Marduka mentioned in the tablets and Mordecai mentioned in the Bible. They lived at the same time and in the same place and served in official positions at the same place of work. All these similarities together suggest that the archaeological discoveries may relate to the Mordecai described in the book of Esther.

a In 1992, Professor Edwin M. Yamauchi published ten names from the Persepolis texts that are also found in the book of Esther.