The first wife of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I, reigned 485–465 B.C.E.), the king of Persia, Vashti is the featured character in the first episode (thought by some scholars to come from a “Vashti” source) of the Book of Esther, a work of historical fiction of the late Persian-early Hellenistic period (fourth century b.c.e.). King Ahasuerus, in the midst of a drinking banquet with his noblemen, summons Vashti to appear before the company with her roya1 crown upon her head, so that he can show off her beauty. She refuses (her reasons are not given, although the rabbis speculated that she was summoned to appear naked), and the king, enraged, puts her away permanently, thus setting in motion the chain of events that will make the Jewish girl Esther the queen of Persia.
Vashti stands out in the Book of Esther as the only woman who directly disobeys an order from a man. This makes her admirable to some modern readers, although the results of her disobedience are not particularly desirable. Not only is Vashti banished, but also a decree requires all women to honor (and obey?) their husbands. However, the author’s customary irony may be at work here: Vashti does not wish to appear before the king, and her “punishment” grants her wish.
Meyers, Carol, General Editor. Women in Scripture. New York: 2000.
White, Sidnie A. “Esther.” Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, 124–129. Kentucky: 1992.