Note that this post has been edited in December 2013 to reflect the author's further research. She now believes that Esther was the contemporary of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah. Edited and added text appears in red below.
The events of Esther can be inserted into the timeline between Ezra chapters 6 and 7. In our previous timeline we saw that the Persian King Darius Hystaspis (also known by the Ahasuerus), ruled from 521-486 B.C. In the beginning of the book of Esther we are told that the drunken party that signaled the downfall of Queen Vashti took place in the third year of his reign ( Esther 1:3) placing the time of the search for a new queen around 483 B.C. Haman's plot did not occur until several years later (see Esther 3:7 which shows that Pur was cast in the twelfth year of the king's reign. Although we often operate under the assumption that the highlights of Esther's life presented in this book happened in rapid-fire succession a careful reading of the dates in 1:3 and 3:7 prove otherwise. Almost 10 years passes in the course of this book.
As an interesting footnote I found this informative article concerning the feast of Purim. Read down far enough to digest the author's argument that Jesus celebrated Purim in AD 28. Since we obviously believe the book of Esther to be part of the scriptural canon it seems reasonable to conclude that He would commemorate this national celebration. On the other hand, it seems to me that the fact that Jesus celebrated this feast, which is not one that God commanded His people to observe, validates the inclusion of Esther into the canon even though some argue otherwise because God is not directly mentioned by name anywhere in the book.
Esther was the cousin of Mordecai. There was a vast age difference between these two people, but this is very possible,as any genealogist knows and which is exhibited in my own family of 30+ first cousins where the youngest are the same age as the children of the oldest. Mordecai could easily have raised his uncle's daughter as his own child.
Mordecai was carried away from Judah as a Babylonian captive. Esther was born in captivity. That Mordecai lived long enough to become an official in the Persian king's court meant that I needed to reexamine my original timeline for this book. By moving Esther back a generation to being the wife of Darius Hystaspis Mordecai's age fits into the realm of being a senior citizen and not that of being a candidate for the Oldest Person Alive for the time with or without the Guinness books! He would probably have been somewhere in his eighties when he was promoted.
Ezra lists the name of Mordecai in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah lists him in Nehemiah 7:7. There is no reason to believe that this is not the same Mordecai that everyone contemporary to that time would know. After all, he was the relative of the queen and was even a high government official in his own right.
As for the queen, Nehemiah mentioned her as being beside the king when he presented his request to the king in Shushan the Palace. Why would he mention that the queen was there unless she was known by the readers? There were probably many people in the room, but this little detail speaks volumes. Esther was there! Not only was she interested in his request but she was Jewish and would be interested in the homeland that she herself had never seen. And the people receiving Nehemiah's message would be interested that their champion, Queen Esther heard Nehemiah's request! Telling the readers that he was in Shushan was another clue that the queen mentioned was the lovely Jewish girl who became their queen, Esther, formerly known by her name of Hadassah.
(Here is a link to a well-thought out blog that discusses this issue. Feel free to browse through the various posts concerning Esther "The Queen of Persia" as well as Nehemiah and Ezra. Most of the information that I have read agrees with the book by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones that I quote so often on this blog.)
The prophet Malachi's message was similar to that of his contemporary, Nehemiah, but directed specifically to the priests. Remember that the Jews had begun the Temple rebuilding under Zerubbabel but had stopped when they had met opposition, then renewed their effort after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had delivered stern messages from God telling them to get back to work. In Malachi's time the project had not been totally completed but worship services had been going on long enough for the people, and even the priests, to have lost interest in them. The people were not giving offerings and the priests were not fulfilling the duties of their offices. And worse, the priests refused to keep themselves set apart for the ministry!
Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament but I included it in the schedule before Nehemiah as a reminder that it takes place at that same time. There would then be a 400 year silence between these books and the coming of The Prophet in the New Testament. In that interim time between the testaments would fall the Maccabean Period when the miracle of the Temple oil lasting for 8 days led to the celebration of Hanukkah (the above mentioned linked article also states that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah and this article explains the history of this holiday).
Malachi most likely delivered the message that He had received from God in approximately 430 B.C.
As the cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah, finds himself in a certain place "for such a time as this" just like Queen Esther did a few years earlier. And in reading the first few verses of the book of Nehemiah we find that Nehemiah served in the very same palace, Shushan, as did Esther. The king in Nehemiah's time was Ahasuerus, also known as Darius Hystapsis, the husband of Esther. According to Nehemiah 2:1 it was in Ahasuerus' 20th year of reign that the king questioned Nehemiah concerning his sad face. It was this grieving attitude that immediately moved Nehemiah to a quick prayer before uttering a bold request to be allowed to go to Jerusalem to lead in the rebuilding of the city walls and gates. This places the date of Nehemiah's request at 501 B.C.
The Bible does not specifically say why the king allowed Nehemiah and the Jews to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It just says that he did. Perhaps his fondness for Esther prompted him to allow the walls of her peoples' capital city to be rebuilt. Remember that as far as we know Esther had never seen the city of Jerusalem. She was born in captivity but perhaps Mordecai had told her about their home far away.
Nehemiah was the contemporary of Ezra, Esther, and Malachi. The book tells us that Nehemiah spent at least 12 years as the governor in the area as appointed by the king (Nehemiah 13:6). He stood before the king again, 12 years later, asking to return to Jerusalem. When that petition was granted he returned to Jerusalem in an effort to teach the people to build walls of separation around their hearts. His book ends with much the same rebuke and appeal as does the one written by Malachi. Thus was the state of affairs at the end of the Old Testament timeline!