The Names, Susanna, Hadassah and Esther
Damien F. Mackey
My conclusion in this series has been that the Susanna in Daniel became Queen Esther. But this conclusion now presents us with three names: Susanna, Hadassah and Esther, since, as we are informed (Esther 2:7): “… Hadassah … was also known as Esther”.
Making Sense of the Names
There are a stream of similarities running through the Story of Susanna and the Book of Esther.
The Story of Susanna commences (13:1):
“Now there was a man that dwelt in Babylon, and his name was Joakim …”.
Whilst, according to Esther 2:5:
“Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai …”.
In this series I have identified, as one, this “Joakim” in Babylon with this “Mordecai” in Susa.
The Babylonian (Chaldean) era had come and gone and Joakim, now as Mordecai, lived under a Medo-Persian king, in Susa. The great man had two names, the one Hebrew, Joakim (i.e., Yehoyaqim,יְהוֹיָקִם , “raised by God”), and the other his given Babylonian name: “The Talmud (Menachot 64b and 65a) relates that his full name was “Mordechai 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 hypocorism”.
In the same way we can account for the name, “Esther”, the foreign name given to our heroine in Babylonian captivity (as in the Story of Susanna). The name is generally considered to derive from the Mesopotamian goddess (of fertility, love, war, sex and power), Ishtar, the same as the biblical Astarte. Previously, I had referred to Ewald’s view that the account of the two lustful elders, who accused Susanna, had its counterpart in a legend involving the Babylonian “goddess of love”, who I presumed to be Ishtar. Thus I wrote:
Whilst I myself am unaware of the Babylonian legend to which Ewald referred, I would find it very intriguing if this Babylonian “goddess of love” was Ishtar herself – as I think she must have been. My reason for saying this will become clear later in this series, as I proceed to develop a wider identity for Susanna in a biblical context.
My conclusion would be – unlike Ewald’s – that the Babylonian legend had derived from the Story of Susanna. And this Susanna, I have argued, became Queen Esther, whose name arose from the pagan “goddess of love”, Ishtar.
Regarding the name, “Hadassah”, at least one scholar, as I recall (though I no longer have the reference), had argued that it was simply a Hebrew version of Esther. I think that that might be stretching things, however. More likely, Hadassah was the woman’s Hebrew name, meaning “myrtle (tree, sprig)” – just as Mordecai had an original Hebrew name before his being given a Babylonian name as well.
That leaves us to account for the name “Susanna”, literally meaning “lilly”.
One is reluctant to suggest that the woman had two Hebrew names, Hadassah and Susanna.
A possibility, I think, is that Susanna might be a name added retrospectively, and referring to the fact that Hadassah-Esther had become, in the Medo-Persian period, the queen of Susa. Hence Susanna, “She-of-Susa”. Again a hypocorism.
Susan is a feminine given name, from French Susanne, from Late Latin Susanna, from Greek Sousanna, from Hebrew Šošanna, literally meaning “lily“, a term derived from Susa (Persian: Šuš), a city in southwest Iran that was the ancient capital of the Elamite kingdom and Achaemenid empire.
Perhaps further strengthening my identification of Susanna with Queen Esther (= Ishtar) may be the Babylonian “goddess of love” legend, reminiscent of the account of the two elders, and the possible reference, in the name, “Susanna”, to the capital city of Susa, where Esther reigned.