🔼The name Vashti: Summary
- Beautiful One
- When Drinking
- From a Persian or Arabic word that means beautiful one.
- From the noun שתי (sheti), a drinking, from the verb שתה (shata), to drink.
🔼The name Vashti in the Bible
Vashti is the only woman in the Bible whose name starts with a V. That's no real miracle because the Hebrew language doesn't have a V. In later Hebrew the letter beth began to sound like a v — that's where the names Avraham and Tel Aviv (see the Biblical name Tel-abib) come from — but in the Bible, there are no v's. The only letter that comes close is the letter waw, but only very few words start with a waw. Actually, there are more names in the Bible that start with a waw (5 or 6) than there are words that start with a waw (2 nouns, 1 verb and 1 adjective). But the waw is also a demonstrative particle, meaning "and," and that makes it one of the most occurring letters in the Bible.
Vashti is the queen of Persia, wife of king Ahasuerus. One day both the king and the queen host banquets, each in their own quarters. When the king gets tipsy he wants to show off Vashti's beauty, but Vashti decides she has better things to do and doesn't show. This upsets the king but also his court because all the men begin to fear that Vashti's refusal will lead the women of the realm to rampant uppitiness. Vashti is subsequently stripped of her royalty, and the hunt for a replacement commences. Scores of pretty young women are rounded up and brought to Susa for the king to make a selection. He chooses Hadassah, a beautiful exile, who is being raised by Mordecai, whose grandfather was the brother of king Saul, both sons of Kish. Hadassah, now named Esther, is the daughter of Abihail, the brother of Mordecai's father Jair.
Esther famously averts the holocaust architected by Haman — a feat still celebrated in the feast of Purim. Had queen Vashti been more compliant, that holocaust may have occurred.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Vashti
The name Vashti is not a Hebrew name but a Persian one. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reports close relations with an Arabic feminine noun (or name) that means Beautiful One, and thus Jones translates this name with Beautiful Woman (as does NOBSE Study Bible Name List).
But there are a few ways to transliterate a name from Persian to Hebrew, and the way this name was Hebraized may indicate a bit of a word joke.
As noted above, the letter waw most often occurs as a junction between words, but it's always stuck inseparably to the beginning of the second word, and sometimes it occurs at the beginning of a sentence, tying this sentence to the previous one. It mostly simply means "and," but often it's used to "introduce a circumstantial clause" (as HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament eloquently puts it), as in "why is your countenance sad since/when you are not sick?" (Nehemiah 2:2).
When we treat the waw of the name Vashti as the waw-particle, and drop it all together, what remains is the word שתי (sheti), meaning a drinking, from the verb שתה (shata), meaning to drink:
The verb שית (shyt) means to give, set or place firm. Noun שית (shyt) refers to occupational garb, the dress upon which the profession stands. Noun שת (shat) describes a national foundation; whatever a nation is set on. Noun שית (shayit) collectively describes a kind of plant (perhaps a bottle tree?).
Noun שת (shet) probably also derives from this verb, and appears to refer to human buttocks. It's not often emphasized but our buttocks truly signify our species (apart from our brain). No other animal has buttocks like man, and this handsome feature allows humans to trot literally for days. Given time, humans can outrun pretty much any other animal (including horses and antelope.)
The noun שי (shay) may or may not be related to the previous verb. It denotes a devotional offering made to the Temple by foreigners.
The verb שאה (sha'a) means to roar loudly, and that with destruction in mind. Noun שאון (sha'on) describes the roaring sound of wild waters or armies converging. Noun שאוה (sha'awa) denotes a devastating storm. Nouns שאיה (she'iya) and שאת (she't) mean ruin.
The unused verb שוא (shw') clearly must have meant something similar to the previous. Noun שוא (shaw') means emptiness or nullification. Nouns שוא (shw'), שואה (sho'a), שאה (sho'a), משואה (mesho'a) and משאה (mesho'a) mean ravage, ruin and desolation. Noun תשאה (teshu'a) denotes a sound, probably loud and accompanying destruction.
Verb שוה (shawa) means to be smooth and hence to agree with or to be like. Noun שוה (shaweh) describes a level plain.
Either this same verb or an identical other one means to set or place, and is clearly similar to שית (shyt).
Noun שה (seh) denotes a sheep or goat. This word appears to be like our word "head" as it describes a unit of whatever flock or herd. This noun is sometimes spelled alternatively as שי (shay).
Verb שתה (shata) means to drink. Nouns שתי (sheti) and שתיה (shetiya) mean a drinking. Noun משתה (mishteh) describes a place of or occasion of dinking: a banquet feast.
This noun שתי (sheti) is used in the Bible only once, in Ecclesiastes 10:17: "Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time — for strength and not for drunkenness" (NAS).
But the curiousness of all this is that even the Masoretic symbols of the word שתי and the name ושתי are identical.
To a Hebrew audience, the name Vashti may have sounded like When Drinking (=that's what you get!).