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The Triumph of Mordecai (1736-39), Oil on canvas, Jean François de Troy (French, 1679–1752)

Mordecai or Mordechai (Hebrew: מרדכי, Mordeḵạy) the son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin, is one of the main personalities in the Book of Esther in the Holy Bible.

Origin of Name

The name Mordecai is of uncertain origin but is considered identical to the name Marduka or Marduku attested in the Persepolis Tablets. The name is commonly interpreted as a theophoric name referring to the god Marduk with the understanding that it means "[servant/follower/devotee] of Marduk" in Aramaic. (The Book of Daniel contains similar accounts of Jews living in exile in Babylonia being assigned names relating to Babylonian gods.) Some suggest that as Marduk was a war god, the expression "[servant] of Marduk" may simply denote a warrior—the popular translation of "warrior" is commonly found in naming dictionaries. Others note that Marduk was the creator in Babylonian mythology whence the term might have been understood by Jews to mean simply "[servant] of God".

The Talmud (Megillah 15a) relates that his full name was "Mordecai Bilshan" (which occurs in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 ). Hoschander interpreted this as the Babylonian marduk-bel-shunu meaning "Marduk is their lord", "Mordecai" being thus a hypocoristicon. Another interpretation of the name is that that it is of Persian origin meaning "little man". Other suggested meanings of "contrition" (Hebrew root m-r-d), "bitter" (Hebrew root m-r) or "bruising" (Hebrew root r-d-d) are listed in Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary of the late 19th Century. There is also speculation that the name is derived from Aramaic mar dochi; mar being a title address for a gentleman and dochi, meaning "one who incurs merit" (cf. Hebrew zoche). The Talmud provides a Midrashic interpretation of the name Mordecai Bilshan as mara dachi ("pure myrrh") alluding to Exodus 30:23 and ba'al lashon ("master of languages") reminding us that as a member of the Great Assembly he could speak foreign languages.

Life and deeds

The Triumph of Mordecai (1624), Oil on panel, Pieter Pietersz Lastman (Deutch, 1583–1633)

The Talmud lists him and his cousin Esther as prophets (See Megilla 15). The Talmud says Mordecai prophesied in the second year of Darius. Mordecai's genealogy in the second chapter of the Book of Esther is given as a descendant of Kish of the Tribe of Benjamin. Kish was also the name of the father of Saul and the Talmud accords Mordecai the status of a descendant of the first King of Israel.

Mordecai resided in Susa, the metropolis of Persia. He adopted his cousin Hadassah (Esther), an orphan child, whom he tenderly brought up as his own daughter. When "fair young virgins" were sought, she was brought into the presence of King Ahasuerus and subsequently made queen in the place of the deposed queen Vashti. Mordecai was then promoted to some office in the court, and was one of those who "sat in the king's gate". While holding this office, he discovered a plot of the eunuchs to put the king to death, which, by his vigilance, was defeated. His services to the king in this matter were duly recorded in the royal chronicles.

Haman the Agagite had been raised to the highest position at court. Mordecai refused to bow down before him; and Haman, being stung to the quick by the conduct of Mordecai, resolved to accomplish his death in a wholesale destruction of the Jewish exiles throughout the Persian empire. Tidings of this cruel scheme soon reached the ears of Mordecai, who communicated with Queen Esther regarding it, and by her wise and bold intervention the scheme was frustrated. The Jews were delivered from destruction, Mordecai was raised to a high rank, and Haman was executed on the gallows he had by anticipation erected for Mordecai. In memory of the deliverance thus wrought for them, the Jews to this day celebrate the feast of Purim.

"Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away." - Esther 2:5-6

Some interpret this verse to mean that Mordecai himself was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar, others interpret it to mean that his great-grandfather Kish was exiled making Mordecai three generations removed from the time of Jeconiah's exile.


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