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Queen Esther’s Tomb in Iran

Lawrence Bush
July 22, 2017

Archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld was born in Hanover Province, Germany on this date in 1879. He was deeply involved in archaeological excavations in Iran during the early 20th century and helped prompt the creation of the Persian law of antiquities, which protected some of humankind’s most ancient artifacts. Herzfeld also identified a shrine in Hamadan in the Kurdish region of Iran, which Iranian Jews traditionally viewed as the burial site of Queen Esther and her Uncle Mordecai of Purim fame, as belonging to Shushan Dokht, the Jewish queen of King Yazdagerd I (ca. 399-420 CE), who is said to have obtained permission for Jews to live in Hamadan. “For centuries, Iranian Jews, Muslims, and Christians, particularly women praying for fertility, venerated the modest brick shrine,” writes “. . . Until the 1970s, the shrine was hidden away in a crowded part of Hamadan, surrounded by houses, and accessible only through a narrow dirt alley. But in 1971, in honor of a national celebration of 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy, the Iranian Jewish Society commissioned architect Yassi (Elias) Gabbay to undertake a renovation.... An outer chamber holds tombs of famous rabbis and provides access by means of an archway to the interior chamber. The interior chamber features Hebrew writing along the walls and holds two carved sarcophagi, supposedly marking the burial spots of Esther and Mordecai. This chamber also houses a cabinet with a 300-year-old Torah scroll.” Herzfeld was forced to out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and became a faculty member at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study from 1936 to 1944, then died in Basel, Switzerland in 1948.

“The earliest Jewish source on the tombs is Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Hamadan in the year 1067. According to him, there were 50,000 Jews living in Hamadan, where Esther and Mordechai were buried in front of a synagogue.... This tradition is not supported by the Jews outside of Persia and does not appear in either Babylonian or Jerusalemite Talmuds.”--Encyclopedia Iranica

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.