Susa

This ancient city, now represented by four mounds in Southwest Iran, was the place (called Shushan) where the events took place that are described in the book of Esther. In addition, Nehemiah and possibly Daniel resided in Susa for a part of their lives.

Pleasantly situated in ancient Persia about 200 miles East of Babylon, Susa was the winter capital of the Elamite rulers as far back as 2200 B.C. Its real prosperity began in 538 B.C. when Cyrus made Susa one of the richest cities of the east. Darius I (521-485 B.C.) extended the Persian empire from the Nile to the Indus, and the splendor of the period is reflected even now in the ruins of his palace and throneroom. Daniel, along with other Jews in Babylonia, may have been taken to Susa after 539 B.C. (Dan. 8:2), and it is possible that his encounter with the lions occurred there. According to local tradition, Susa was the site of his death and burial. As the book of Esther relates, Persian king Xerxes I (485-465 B.C.) banished his wife Vashti from the presence early in his reign at Shushan and subsequently married Esther, an attractive and resourceful Jewess who was able to deliver her people from persecution (Esther 8-9). Nehemiah, a high official at the royal court of Susa, was appointed civil governor of Judea in 445 B.C. by Artaxerxes I (464-423 B.C.), and he helped bring stability to the returned exiles in the Jerusalem area (Neh. 2-7).

Excavations beginning in 1851 reveal that the city covered nearly 5000 acres, and was divided in four parts: the citadel mound, the palace area, the business and residential district, and the flat land West of the river. The palace covered 123 acres, and was comprised of the splendid throneroom, the royal residence, and the abode of the harem. There were numerous courtyards, gardens, stairways, and arched gateways, as described in the book of Esther. From the ruins a cube engraved with numbers was recovered and this proved to be a “pur” or lot, after which the Jewish festival of Purim was named (Esther 9:26). Clearly the writer of Esther knew Persian court life intimately, and the book presents an authentic account of the period.

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