Thursday, March 08, 2012

Esther and Vashti: Biblical queens inspire LGBT writers

“Two Women in Scarves” (

Differences between two Biblical queens, Esther and Vashti, are remembered in the work of LGBT writers -- and in the Jewish festival of Purim today (March 7-8 this year).

Vashti was a Persian queen who refused an order from the king. Esther hid her Jewish identity in order to become the next queen of Persia. Later she "came out" as Jewish to the king, thereby saving her people from a planned massacre. Their story is told in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).

Submissive, secretive Esther is traditionally considered the heroine of the story, but independent-minded Vashti has been reclaimed by feminists and now LGBT people.

Lesbian playwright Carolyn Gage imagined a love story between the two queens in her play “Esther and Vashti,” while Rev. David Bahr considers both queens as role models for gay and lesbians called to ordained ministry in a paper written for his Doctor of Ministry.

Gage describes her play as “a fast-paced, high-action drama where the love story of two women of different cultures and class backgrounds plays itself out against a backdrop of anti-Semitism and the sexual colonization of women.” Her “radical feminist retelling” fills in the blanks of scripture. In her version, Esther, a radical Jewish lesbian living in exile, and Vashti, a Persian woman of privilege, were lovers before Vashti married the king. The plight of the two women coincides with their successful effort to stop the impending massacre of the Jews.

David Bahr applies the strategies of the two queens to contemporary challenges in “Openly Gay and Lesbian Pastors Called by Predominantly Straight UCC Congregations,” a research project for his D.Min. at Wesley Theological Seminary in 2006. His theological reflection states, “As Esther and Vashti wrestle with their callings, I believe they can be instructive for gay men and lesbians called to ordained ministry. When should we wait, wondering if we are being prepared for something bigger? And when is enough, enough? What gives us the greatest sense of integrity? Or perhaps, who is best served? Both Esther and Vashti also present ‘models of resistance to wrong’ – one of direct dissent and one of working within the system.” Bahr currently serves as pastor of Park Hill Congregational Church UCC in Denver, Colorado.

In a famous quote from the Book of Esther, the man who had urged her to hide her Jewish identity changes his advice when their people are about to be massacred: “Perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Now is a good time to reflect what Esther and Vashti mean to queer people and our allies today.

Related links:

Closets (Esther 4:13-14) (The Bible in Drag Blog)

Esther and Vashti at Carolyn Gage website

Openly Gay and Lesbian Pastors Called by Predominantly Straight UCC Congregations by David Bahr

Mona West also writes about Esther in The Queer Bible Commentary

Carolyn Gage page at
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

March is Women's History Month, so women will be especially highlighted this month at the Jesus in Love Blog.

The traditional view of Esther is presented in the following:
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David Bahr said...

Thank you for including my work. It is so wonderful to know anyone knows it's out there!! Within the text, the link to the study is correct, but below in the Related Links, it is broken. It currently can be found at OR

Kittredge Cherry said...

You’re welcome, David! And thanks for alerting me to the broken link, which I fixed as soon as possible. It is a pleasure to find gems such as your study waiting quietly on the Net for someone like me to find and share.

C.W.S. said...

The Reverend Steve Carson once wrote a stanza about Esther for the hymn The glory of these forty days to replace one of its male-only stanzas and provide osme balance.

Knowing Steve, it's probably not a coincidence that the feast of Purim generally falls during Lent.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I would enjoy reading Steve’s stanza on Esther written for these 40 days in which we find ourselves now. Steve is definitely a role model for me in honoring Jewish - Christian connections. I wonder if he ever wrote about Vashi?!

I wonder what Steve is doing these days. I tried unsuccessfully to get back in touch with him. I heard that he was back in SF a couple years ago.