How Far to Elephantine?

When Mordecai created a new edict allowing the Jews of the Persian empire to defend themselves from their attackers (Esther 8:11-12), he needed to send it throughout the kingdom. In fact, it went to the Jewish communities as well as to all the various governors throughout the empire, “from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces” (Esth 8:9). Once copies of the new edict were made, how far would it need to be taken, and how long would it take to get it to the farthest reaches of the  empire?

After Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army sacked Jerusalem in the 6th century BC, some of the Jews who were not taken into captivity fled to Egypt (Jer 43). Some of them ended up at Elephantine, an island in the middle of the Nile River far to the south.

An archive of Jewish documents from about the time of Esther was found on the island of Elephantine in the early 1900s. It indicates they even had their own temple there. This island was at the southern frontier of the Persian empire in the days of Esther and Xerxes. So how long would it have taken for Mordecai’s edict to reach that community?

The Book of Esther states that the edict was taken by horse-mounted couriers, “hastened and impelled by the king’s command . . . riding on royal steeds.” The distance from Susa to Elephantine is about 1,700 miles. The route is highlighted in red on the map below.

This is farther than the distance from Omaha to San Francisco. If a horse is generously allowed 40 miles per day, and assuming a clear path with no major obstacles (flooding, storms, unrest, etc.), such a trip could be accomplished in about 45 days. It could have easily taken twice that long. Couriers traveling in the other direction, toward India and the east, had a similar journey to reach that frontier. However, since Haman’s casting of lots had been directed by God to delay the threat against the Jews until the end of the year (the twelfth month, Esth 3:13), there was plenty of time for the people of God to prepare to defend themselves.


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