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What is the significance of knowing that the queen was sitting next to the king during this conversation in Nehemiah? Was there some historical or cultural significance to the queen being present that adds an element to the story?

Nehemiah 2:5-6 ESV - And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.

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    I like your question, but think it might fit better on Biblical Hermeneutics. – David42 Aug 29 '17 at 16:40
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    I don't think that BH.SE could help this question. It is a question that requires interpretation. This question needs to be scoped. – Abstraction is everything. Aug 30 '17 at 16:05
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    @Abstractioniseverything There is likely information about the role of the royal consort in that culture or the significant of such asides in contemporary narratives which would be helpful. That sounds like Biblical Hermeneutics to me. – David42 Aug 30 '17 at 20:08
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In this Matthew Henry commentary over on blueletterbible.org (a great research site!), he notes evidence from the book of Esther that it seemed to be uncommon for the queen to be in the king's presence in a Persian court. Henry suggests that the queen had some interest or motive for being there, whether she was perhaps a false friend trying to hinder Nehemiah's (and God's) purposes, or an honest ally trying to advance them. Henry notes that either way it's significant and a credit to God: either He allowed the request to succeed in spite of a troublesome queen, or He aided its success by making sure the helpful queen was there.

Based on my own personal experiences I think that second option is worth considering. When I find myself in a potentially contentious situation -- say, being rearended by some teenager who had his nose buried in his phone instead of watching the road -- I'm more prone to be temperate and generous in my responses if my wife's with me, vs. if I'm in the car alone. The king's merciful and generous response to Nehemiah's request might have been subtly prompted in the same way.

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The Septuagint has a different take on the "queen".

Nehemiah 2:6 And the king, and his concubine that sat next to him, said to me, For how long will thy journey be, and when wilt thou return? and [the proposal] was pleasing before the king, and he sent me away, and I appointed him a time.

For a bit more on the word "queen" in the Masoretic text (KJV), Strong's says this as regards the Masoretic text. "שֵׁגָל shêgâl, shay-gawl'; from H7693; a queen (from cohabitation):—queen.

The context of the meeting was Nehemiah had brought wine to the king when he was sitting there.

Nehemiah 2:1 And it came to pass in the month Nisan of the twentieth year of king Arthasastha, that the wine was before me: and I took the wine, and gave [it] to the king: and there was not another before him.

Nehemiah was sad. It was not kosher to appear before the king like that, but Nehemiah asked for permission to rebuild. The king agreed.

So, why was the "queen" or "concubine" sitting beside the king? Jamieson suggests it may have been Esther. She had success in turning back evil and in helping preserve the Israelites. We find this hint also.

Esther 7:2 And the king said again unto Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom.

The name of that king was Ahasuerus with Esther, but some believe it the same as Artaxerxes with Nehemiah.

So, the king and queen were fully married as husband and wife. They helped the Jews rebuild their temple. She was mentioned as present most likely because she was well-known.

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