JEWS DURING THE PERSIAN PERIOD

JEWS DURING THE PERSIAN PERIOD


The Neo-Babylonians (Chaldeans) gave up Babylon without a fight in 539 B.C. to the Persian king Cyrus, who acquired Palestine and allowed the Jews to return their homeland and rebuild their temple. For 200 years the Jews lived under Persian rule. A religious revival occurred under prophet Ezar and the Persian Jewish leader Nehemiah. The Biblical cannon was established by 4th century B.C. Some scholars think most of it was written during the reign of the Judean King Josiah (ruled 639 to 609 B.C.). This period also saw the emergence of rabbis, arbiters of law and custom. After the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, Judea became a province of the Greek-ruled Seleucid (Syrian) kingdom.

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Only limited information is available concerning the Jews in the Persian period. Apart from Biblical sources and a few Persian inscriptions, contributions coming from archaeological studies or literary documents from other parts of the Near East have been, at best, peripheral. Nevertheless it is possible to gain some insight into the historical situations that produced the biblical literature of this period and to reconstruct in broad general outline some aspects of Jewish life and thought. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

After the Babylonian Exile (538 BCE-70 CE) 538-333 B.C. Persian Period.
538 B.C. Edict of Cyrus (first return from Exile).
520-515 B.C. Jerusalem ("Second") Temple rebuilt.
520 B.C. Judean Prophet Haggai.
500 B.C. The notion of a Messiah, a political/military-religious/moral leader, develops.
450-400 B.C. Reformation led by Ezra and Nehemiah.
ca. 450 B.C. Torah (Pentateuch = first division of Jewish Scriptures) begins to gain recognition as Scripture.
438 B.C. Achashverosh becomes king of Persia.
426 B.C. First decrees by Haman; fast ordered by Esther, Haman's downfall and execution.
425 B.C. Haman's ten sons executed; Purim celebration.
424 B.C. Megillah recorded.
411 B.C. Bagoas, a Persian, is made governor of Jerusalem.

Brief Outline of Judaism during the Persian era (550-c.300 B.C.): 1) Scant documentation about this period; 2) Apparently it was a peaceful, uneventful time; 3) Centrality of the Temple and priesthood; 3) Probable influence of Persian religious ideas and institutions: A) Angels, Satan; B) Afterlife (Resurrection); C) Need to consciously differentiate between Jewish monotheism and Zoroastrian dualism; 5) Theology:Free will, Angels, Afterlife; 6) Attitude to Bible:, Literalist, Sophisticated scholarly interpretations, "Inspired Exegesis"; 7) Attitude to Oral Torah:, No such thing, Equal to Written Torah, "Inspired Exegesis"; 8) Practices:, Emphasis on priestly obligations (for priests), Application of priestly laws to non-priests (tithes and purity rules), "Inspired Exegesis". 9) Two models of religious authority appear to have coexisted throughout the Persian period: A) Hereditary priests presided over the political administration of the community, as well as the Temple. B) "Scribes" studied and taught the Torah, and perhaps other components of the religious tradition. [Source: people.ucalgary.ca]

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ; Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Christianity.com christianity.com ; BBC - Religion: Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ ; Christianity Today christianitytoday.com

Rise of the Persian Empire


Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “King Cyaxeres of Media died in 585 and was succeeded by his son Astyages (585-550). Among the formerly migratory Aryan groups that composed part of the empire was the tribe from Parsua, the land west of Lake Urmia, now settled in the area east of the Persian Gulf called Parsa, after their former homeland. By the middle of the seventh century, tribal holdings had expanded and incorporated the Anshan area north of the gulf. At the beginning of the sixth century, King Cambyses I, known as "King of Anshan," a petty prince within the Median Empire, married the daughter of the emperor, King Astyages, and the son born of this union was Cyrus, destined to become "the Great." [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“Cyrus became king of Anshan in 559, and Astyages, cognizant of Cyrus' intention to revolt, prepared to attack. A rebellion within his army frustrated Astyages' plans, and by 550 Cyrus was in control of the Persian-Mede empire and was beginning a series of brilliant military maneuvers. Nabonidus, fearful of Cyrus' power, entered into alliances with Croesus of Lydia in Asia Minor (560-546) and with Amasis of Egypt (569-525). Cyrus moved across northern Mesopotamia, removed Syria from Babylonian control, and disregarding the usual military practice whereby hostilities ceased during the winter months, attacked Croesus in his winter palace at Sardis and made Lydia part of his kingdom. The Babylonian-Egyptian pact was dissolved. Cyrus conquered Afghanistan and prepared to move on Babylonia. <=>

“Babylon was ready for Cyrus. Fifth columnists had been at work spreading pro-Persian propaganda. Babylonians, irritated by Nabonidus' long absence in the desert and troubled by the monarch's religious deviations, were willing to heed reports about the liberal-minded Persian. It is not impossible that the subversive work reached into the Jewish community.6 The Persians entered Babylon without battle. According to the Cyrus cylinder,7 Cyrus came at the invitation of Marduk who, angry with Nabonidus, searched for a righteous man and pronounced the name of Cyrus, commanding the Persian king to assume control of the land (cf. Isa. 45:4).8 Cyrus records that his army strolled toward Babylon, weapons sheathed, welcomed by the entire countryside. Upon taking control of the city, he forbade plunder by his troops, began a program of urban renewal, permitted captive peoples to return home, restored sanctuaries and returned sacred implements to their respective shrines. Cyrus speaks of himself as a worshipper of Bel-Marduk.9 Whether or not he was a follower of the prophet Zoroaster cannot be known for sure, but some parts of II Isaiah have been compared with the religious documents of Zoroastrian faith, known as the Gathas, and parallels suggesting dependence have been noted,10 but the evidence is still sub judice. <=>

Impact of Persian Rule on Palestine and the Jews

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The Persian conquest brought dramatic changes in governmental policies to that part of the world once controlled by Babylon. Cyrus' liberal attitude toward his subjects, his respect for local tradition and custom-both religious and cultural-and his willingness to permit flexibility within his empire, appear to have won for the Achaemenid ruler generous cooperation from his people. A workable government, not without its bureaucratic structure, put minimal social pressures on the populace. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“Cyrus' policy enabling captive peoples to return to their homelands encouraged Jews to journey to Palestine. In the book of Ezra, compiled in the fourth century B.C., the royal edict affecting the exiles has been preserved in two versions: one in Hebrew, the language of Judah (Ezra 1:2-4), and the other in Aramaic, a sister tongue which had become the business language for the western part of the Persian empire (Ezra 6:3-5). It is possible, as many scholars have suggested, that the Aramaic version is the original account, and perhaps the Hebrew version rests on the spoken announcement of the herald who proclaimed it.1 In any case, the decrees are in basic agreement in that both record permission to rebuild the temple, and although the privilege of returning to Palestine is mentioned only in the Hebrew version, perhaps it is implied in the Aramaic. <=>

“Within the fifth Persian satrapy Cyrus had created the province of Judah, extending from a line north of Hebron and just south of Bethzur to the area north of Jerusalem, a distance of about twenty-five miles. This land appears to have been removed from an administrative district with headquarters in Samaria. A certain Shesh-bazzar (Ezra 1:8; 5:14), who, if he is to be identified with Shenazzar of I Chronicles 3:18 (a tenuous hypothesis)3 may have been the son of the exiled King Jehoiachin and therefore a prince of the Davidic line, was appointed governor. The narrative in Ezra 3:1-4:4, which implies that Zerubbabel was the first governor, has confused the issue, leading some scholars to the conviction that Shesh-bazzar and Zerubbabel were one and the same person, and that Shesh-bazzar was the governor's Baby-vincing argument.4 Without entering into the arguments, it seems simplest and best in the light of the evidence to recognize Shesh-bazzar as the first governor and Zerubbabel as his successor and to acknowledge Cyrus' political acumen in encouraging loyalty by giving the returning Jews one of their own people, possibly a member of their own royal family, as their first governor. <=>



Zoroastrian Religion

Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of the Persians. It developed around the time of the Jewish Exile or before that. Zoroastrian ideas about good and evil, Heaven and Hell and God and Satan had a lasting impact of Judaism and Christianity. Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The date of Zoroaster's birth is not known and dates accepted by scholars vary from the pre-Exilic through the Exilic periods. According to tradition, he was born in eastern Iran, perhaps near Lake Urmia. Legends concerning his early childhood relate miraculous escapes from enemies who wished to destroy him. The account of his spiritual pilgrimage tells how he was led by Vohu Manah (Good Thought) to an assemblage of spirits and was instructed by Ahura Mazda (also called Ormazd or Hormuzd) in a true or pure religion. His initial efforts to reach his countrymen were unsuccessful, but he eventually converted King Vishtaspa, chief of a small tribal federation. With royal support, the influence of the religion spread and attempts were made to convert neighboring groups by force through a series of holy wars. In one of these wars, Zoroaster died. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“His teachings centered in a cosmic dualism in which Ahura Mazda, the all-knowing creator and sustainer of the world of good, was pitted against the powers of evil symbolized by Angra Mainyu, the epitome of evil. Here truth struggled with the lie and light battled darkness. Ethical values were attributed to the opposing forces by the prophet, so that right and wrong tended to have black and white characteristics. Man, endowed with free choice, is involved in the cosmic struggle and must choose between the sides. Within this cosmic bipolarity, Zoroaster envisioned history moving toward an ultimate goal. In the final epoch of time, truth and goodness would triumph. Then, in the eschaton, a savior would come to renew all existence and resurrect the dead, uniting the body and soul. <=>

“At death, man's soul approached the "Bridge of Separation" over which the righteous were able to pass to paradise but where the evil were turned back for punishment. At the end of time, after the resurrection, every man would be tested in a flood of molten metal. For the righteous the final test would be as entering a warm bath, but for the evil the fiery test would mean complete extinction. As one possessing free will, the individual could not be judged as a member of a group; nor could he be burdened with the sins of his ancestors. Each man, by personal choice and action, determined his own ultimate fate. The eschatological hopes promised rewards beyond man's wildest dreams or punishment that signified complete extermination. <=>

“When Cyrus seized control of the Median empire during the sixth century and founded his own royal Achaemenid line,12 the house of Vishtaspa, Zoroaster's patron, was terminated. Without royal support Zoroastrianism had to struggle for existence. What impact this religion may have had on Cyrus is not known. The Cyrus cylinder speaks of allegiance to Marduk, and Jewish records indicate that Cyrus spoke of being commissioned by Yahweh to build the Jewish temple (II Chron. 36:22 ff.; Ezra 1:1-4). Possibly Cyrus diplomatically employed the name of whatever god was in popular use in the part of the empire with which he was dealing.13 At present there is no way of knowing what god Cambyses II, son of Cyrus who ruled from 529 to 522, may have worshipped. Not until Darius I, the Great (521-486), the Achaemenid prince who rescued the throne of Persia from a usurper named Gaumata is there any tangible evidence of allegiance to Ahura Mazda and the religion of Zoroaster. On the other hand, the pervasive influence of the great teacher and his followers should not be underestimated, and it is not impossible that some of the expressions of the cosmological motifs in II Isaiah owe something to the teachings of Zoroaster. <=>


Zoroastrian Temple in Yazd


Isaiah on the Persian Period

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Reasons for the separation of Isaiah 40-55 from the work of Isaiah of Jerusalem have been stated, but the criteria for dating these chapters in the closing days of the Exile have only been touched upon. To begin, there echoes throughout II Isaiah complaints of abandonment, forsakenness and loneliness similar to those more fully expressed in Lamentations, Ezekiel and Job (cf. Isa. 40:2, 27; 42:24 f.; 43:27 f.), coupled with promises of forgiveness and fulfillment (40:11; 41:8-10, 14-16; 43:1-7, 10-13). The period into which these statements fit best is the Exile. Further evidence for dating is obtained from the allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (44:26-28). It is clear that the Assyrian oppression is long past (52:4) and, despite the fact that there is no mention of the Exile as such, the announcement of the proximity of Babylon's fall (43:14; 47:1-3; 48:14, 20), the naming of Cyrus of Persia as the deliverer (44:28; 45:1) and less direct references to him (41:1-4, 25; 48:14-15) point to a time of writing somewhere between June, 546 when Cyrus began to threaten Babylonian supremacy and 538 when Babylon came under Persian control. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“No mention of Cyrus is found in Chapters 49-55 and it has been suggested that Chapters 40-48 were composed before Cyrus took Babylon when the prophet's hopes for the captive Jews were highest and that Chapters 49-55 represent writings from 538 when Cyrus failed to fulfill the prophetic hope that he would become a Yahweh worshipper. On the other hand, the pattern may reflect editorial organization in which two collections of materials are represented: one of hymns and oracles about Yahweh and Israel and the fall of Babylon and the other centered in the new Jerusalem, Mount Zion and the mission of Yahweh's people. But even so broad a division may be oversimplification, as many themes overlap and are found in both sections. <=>

In Chapter 45, for the first time, Cyrus of Persia is specifically named, and Deutero-Isaiah arguing from the premise of a universal deity draws a neat syllogism to prove that it is Yahweh who directs Cyrus' destiny, whether Cyrus knows it or not! Indirect references to the Akitu festival appear in 45:20 ff. where guess-work predictions arrived at in the assembly of the gods are compared with the accuracy of Yahweh's pronouncements, and in 46:1 f., where one can almost picture the processional. Scorn for those who worship immobile and mute statues, obviously a reference to Babylonians, serves to introduce Yahweh who is beyond representation, whose will is made known and whose purposes come to pass. Here II Isaiah makes one of several clear-cut statements of monotheism (46:9). <=>

“Having promised the deliverance of the exiled people (46:13) Deutero-Isaiah now pronounces the doom of Babylon and mocks the inability of soothsayers and astrologers to deliver the nation (cf. Isa. 3:16 and 47:3). Within the message of hope and redemption, a solemn warning is issued to exiles drawn to Babylonian religion (48:5) or with serious doubts about the prophet's message. The exultant cry of promise draws on the tradition of the Exodus from Egypt, promising that what Yahweh did in the past he would do again (48:20-22). The servant theme in Chapter 49 is far from clear. The servant, chosen in the womb and predestined for his task, is to bring Israel back to Yahweh (49:1-5). This servant will be a light to the nations (49:6). If the prophet is continuing the servant theme in Verse 7, then the servant-redeemer is despised and abhorred. Could a member of the captive royal family be meant here, or is this a group within the exiled people, or is the reference to the exiled people personified as an individual?<=>


Jews return from exile


“The arguments of those who said that Yahweh had forgotten his people (49:14 ff.) or had, as Hosea had phrased it, divorced Israel (50:1 ff.) are denied. II Isaiah's appeal is to tradition, and the promise of redemption is renewed (51:1 ff.). The prophet now calls upon Yahweh to redeem as in the past, beginning his hymn with "Awake, awake" (51:9-11). Yahweh's response is a promise of release, and similar cries "rouse yourself, rouse yourself" (51:17) and "awake, awake" (52:1) are directed toward Jerusalem to encourage the people to rise to the challenge of the new tomorrow. <=>

“Within this section is the portrait of the suffering servant, a motif of redemptive suffering drawn from the Akitu rites where the human scapegoat bore the sins of many to bring new purification to the nation (52:13-53:12). In Deutero-Isaiah's use of this concept, the servant suffers and is cut off from the land of the living like the Akitu victim, but unlike the Babylonian scapegoat, the servant is promised that he will witness the fruits of his suffering (53: 10 f.) and will share the booty of the rich and powerful (53:12). Chapter 54 is a comfort hymn contrasting the state of abject misery with the promised good fortune. The final chapter continues the words of promise and urges repentance, for the time of Yahweh's inbreaking is at hand and the exiles must be prepared. The word of Yahweh had been spoken, the time for fulfillment had come.”<=>

Return of the Jews to Palestine

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “How many Jews went from Babylon to Palestine cannot be known, but it is estimated that their numbers were limited. Among those returning was the governor, Shesh-bazzar, Zerubbabel the prince of the Davidic line, Joshua the high priest, some Levitical priests, followers of Deutero-Isaiah and perhaps the prophet himself, and others whose longing for their childhood home matched that of the writer of Psalm 137. Others were to follow. (Read Ezra 1:6-11) How much financial support or material aid may have been given by Cyrus cannot be ascertained, but the Persian ruler is known to have given grants of money to assist in resettlement and both the Cyrus cylinder and the edict preserved in Ezra 6:3-5 mention support for the reconstruction of shrines and the return of sacred vessels. Many Jews born in exile and comfortably settled in Babylon preferred to remain where they were despite the predictions of future glory for Palestine by Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“What emotions the Jews experienced as they entered Jerusalem, with its tumbled stones serving as a grim reminder of the devastation of half a century earlier, have not been recorded. In contrast with the splendors of Babylon, the scene must have been shocking: ruins of the sacred altar, the demolished temple, the fallen walls and broken dwellings covered with drifted soil and overgrown with weeds. Perhaps there was a small village, a cluster of homes built by those who had not been exiled. All of this must have seemed a far cry from what may have been anticipated from the words of the Exilic prophets. <=>


Isaiah predicting the return of the Jews fom exile

“With considerable energy the newcomers began to build homes and lay the foundation for a new temple. According to Ezra 3 the altar was built, almost at once, and the offering of sacrifices begun. But work did not proceed without difficulty. Crop failure placed severe economic strains upon the community. Animosity and jealousy between the exiles and the descendants of those who had remained in the land hindered progress. The permanent residents appear to have greeted the Babylonian Jews with something less than enthusiasm (cf. Ezra 4:4 f.), possibly because of claims relating to repossession of family land or because of other economic reasons. On the other hand, it is not impossible that some exiles contributed to the tension. Raised and educated in the environment of sophisticated Babylon, with differing outlooks and customs, and persuaded by the prophets of the Exile that they had been cleansed by suffering to be the seed of the new Israel and the hope of the future, they may have been somewhat patronizing to their rural cousins. When local people sought to participate in the rebuilding program, their offers were haughtily refused (Ezra 4:3). There is some evidence that the followers of Deutero-Isaiah did not favor a policy of separation and, in keeping with the monotheistic emphasis of the great prophet, argued that all who came to the one God in the faith of Judaism would be accepted (Isa. 56). <=>

“Samaritan Jews appear to have added to the problem of relationships, perhaps because they resented the establishment of a separate province of Judah out of territory they had considered to be within their jurisdiction. Consequently, they did all they could to hinder progress. The tension between Samaritan and Jew, which may have had its roots back in the suspicion that appears to have always existed between the north and the south even in the time of the united kingdom, did not lessen, but grew into a breach that was never to be healed. It is not surprising to find that the work of the temple ground to a halt while the exiles concentrated. on social and economic problems. <=>

“Meanwhile, Cyrus seems to have paid little heed to the Jewish settlement. Nomadic invaders from Central Asia drove him to press for expansion of his kingdom on the northeastern borders. In 530, in a frontier battle, Cyrus was killed. His tomb, long ago plundered, is a simple structure of square cut stones built on a raised platform with six tiers of stairs. Plutarch, who lived between A.D. 46 and 120, recorded an inscription which was supposed to be on the tomb: "O man, whoever you are and from wherever you come, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus and I won for the Persians this empire. Therefore, do not begrudge me this little earth which covers my body" (Life of Alexander: vi. xxix. 5). <=>

Story of Esther

20120503-Esther Triumph_of_Mordecai.jpg
Esther and the Triumph of Mordecai
The story of Esther — the basis of the holiday Purim — takes place in Shishan, the winter capital of Persia. Esther was a beautiful Jewish woman who lived there with her uncle Mordechai, who had adopted her. The leader of Persia was Emperor Akshashversus (also known by the Greek name Xerxes). After dismissing his wife Vashto because she refused to follow his orders, the emperor selected Esther as a new wife. She had been a member of his harem. Akshashversus didn't know she was Jewish. Shortly after she became queen, she warned the emperor of a plot to kill him after being told of the plot by Morechai. Akshashversus was grateful.

Haman, one of the king's favorite ministers and a fanatical anti-Semite, became enraged when Mordecai refused to bow to him and decided to vent his anger on all the Jewish people in Persia. He asked for and received permission from Akshashversus to exterminate the Jews on the false charge of treason.

Esther and the Triumph of Mordecai Mordechai pleaded with Esther to plead with Akshashversus for help but she could only communicate with the emperor if he called her. If she called him she risked being put to death. After fasting for three days she appeared in the inner court. There Akshashversus asked her what she wanted. She said she wanted to invite the emperor to a banquet. He agreed. That night he couldn't sleep and asked that book of records be read to him. From the records he learned that it was Mordechai who uncovered the assassination plot and saved his life. At the banquet, Esther pleaded with the emperor to spare the Jews.

Akshashversus decided that the Jews must be saved. But changing a ruling was impossible because it would mean the emperor wasn't infallible. Instead, Akshashversus supplied weapons to the Jews who defeated troops loyal the Haman. Haman, his top aides and 10 of his sons were hung on gallows that had been prepared for the Jews.

Historical Study of Esther

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The book of Esther is a secular legend with its setting in Susa, the Persian capital. The story may have originated during the Persian period, although it probably was not reduced to the form in which we know it until the beginning of the Hellenistic era. Some scholars have attempted to discover references to Babylonian deities and rituals in the book, identifying Mordecai with Marduk, Esther with Ishtar, and other characters with minor, obscure deities.5 Others have tried to relate the writing to Assyrian springtime rites, to Persian New Year observances,6 to Greek wine festivals, to historical events such as the victory of the Jews over Nicanor in 161, or to other historical or cultic themes. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]


Esther accuses Haman

“That Esther is not history, despite some accurate details about Persian government (cf. 1:14; 3:7), is clear from the numerous inconsistencies and exaggerations. Ahasuerus is usually identified as Xerxes (Khshayarsha), who reigned between 485 and 465 B.C. A Persian administrator named Marduka (Mordecai) is known from this period, but there is no indication that he was a Jew, although some Jewish parents did give their children the name Mordecai, which honored the chief god of Babylon (cf. Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:7). According to the Greek historian Herodotus, a contemporary, Xerxes' wife was Amestris, not Vashti or Esther. Nor do these names appear as the wives of other Persian monarchs. However, if Xerxes, like Artaxerxes II, had a concubine for each day of the year, Vashti or Esther may have been among them. Mordecai is supposed to have been one of the Jews that went into exile under Nebuchadrczzar, which would make him well over 100 years old when appointed to the court (2:5 f.). The extermination of 75,000 people by the Jews with Xerxes' permission seems unlikely (9:16). Certain exaggerations are so extreme that they must have been included to delight the audience. For example, the gallows are 50 cubits or about 75 feet high! Haman estimates he could raise 10,000 talents or about $18,000,000 by confiscating Jewish property-a sum estimated at more than one half of the annual income of the Persian empire. It seems best to recognize the story as a legend embodying, as most legends do, some accurate historical details. <=>

“The earliest references to the book of Esther are found in Contra Apion 1:8, the work of the Jewish historian, Josephus (A.D. 1). Josephus drew upon the LXX version of Esther, which includes the "additions to Esther" that we will consider later. The omission of any reference to Esther in the second century work known as Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, written by Jesus ben Sira, in which Jewish heroes are extolled, has led some scholars to date Esther after this time. Arguments from silence are never very convincing. <=>

“The tendency of the writer of Esther to refer to the events of the story as taking place in the distant past (1:1, 13; 10:2) and the expanded explanations (4:11; 8:8) suggest a time of recording long after the events described. The reference to the dispersed Jews best fits the Greek period (3:8). On the basis of this limited evidence, it would appear that the story was written in the early Greek period, a time when stories about Jewish successes in Persian royal circles would suffer least contradiction and a time when the spirit of Jewish independence appears to have been strong. <=>

“The book is completely secular7 and contains no reference to the deity. It exalts a Jewish heroine who saves the people from persecution, and it delights in Jewish success and victory over the enemy. The writer possessed genuine narrative skill and developed his theme through a succession of dramatic climaxes, alternating tension with delightful humorous touches (cf. 1:21-22; 3:9; etc.). But the story is more than entertainment. It is a grim reminder to a people buffeted by great powers of the ever-present potential of persecution by a tyrant-not necessarily the king, but rather the power-hungry, attention-loving, minor official whose pomposity was so easily threatened by the non-conformist or the man of conviction. In the magnificent characterizations, the author provided his readers with a response to tyranny and oppression and exposed the transparent motives of theoppressor, and exalted the individual who remained faithful to his commitments and to himself. Later the book of Esther was linked to the festival of Purim. <=>

Persian Rule After the Death of Cyrus


Cyrus II allows the return of the Jews

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “News of Cyrus' death reached Babylon late in 530 and his son Cambyses II (529-522) who had been reigning as king of Babylon ever since Cyrus captured that city, now became "King of the lands" and "King of kings," officially beginning his first year in Nisanu (March-April) in 529. Almost immediately the new monarch began the invasion of Egypt, and, with the conquest of this territory in 525, ruled the greatest empire the world had ever known. So far as it is possible to tell, Cambyses II continued Cyrus' policy of non-interference with the religious and social customs of his people. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“When Cambyses, perhaps mentally and emotionally ill, committed suicide, a pretender, Gaumata the Magian, posed as Cambyses' brother (who had been murdered) and claimed the throne. Simultaneously, various provinces (conquered areas) seized this moment to attempt to gain independence. Gaumata, the usurper, was overcome by Darius I, the Great (521-486), an Achaemenid prince (See Below).

“The disrupting events associated with the death of Cambyses seem to have been interpreted by two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, as signaling the collapse of the Persian empire and the time for the establishment of the ideal state envisioned by the Exilic prophets. With the fanatical zeal of those who have but one theme by which all else is interpreted, they convinced Zerubbabel, who was by this time governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest, and indeed, the whole populace, that once Yahweh's temple was completed, Zerubbabel would be crowned king of the new kingdom of the Jews which would soon be established. But before turning to their persuasive message preserved in their collected oracles we will consider the final portion of the composite book of Isaiah, Chapters 56-66, which belong in the period just before the time of Haggai and Zechariah. <=>

Completion of the Temple

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Whatever dreams Haggai and Zechariah may have entertained for the collapse of Persia were dispelled when, by 519, it became clear that Darius had put down all rebellions and was in control of a tightly consolidated empire. Although Darius made no effort to interrupt the building of the Jewish temple, the satrap Tattenai, governor of the province beyond the river," attempted to intimidate the builders and dispatched a letter of inquiry to verify the Jewish claim of official permission to build. The letter went to the summer capital of the empire at Ecbatana and a search of the archives produced Cyrus' edict (Ezra 6:3-5), completely vindicating Jewish claims. Indeed, Darius went further and presented items for sacrifice and ordered Tattenai's province to provide a subsidy for the Jews. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]


model of the Second Temple of Jerusalem

“In the spring of 515 the new temple, now the second temple, was completed. The dedication service (Ezra 6:17) did not reach the elaborate proportions of Solomon's (cf. I Kings 8:5), but these were difficult days for the Jews and the kingdom was much smaller. With the temple came renewed interest in liturgy and worship patterns which ultimately was to result in the compilation of a book of Psalms, as we shall see. <=>

“Hopes for the ideal kingdom under Zerubbabel faded, and the Jewish prince disappears from history, perhaps, as some have suggested, removed from office by the Persian king. It was one thing to rebuild a place for worship, but quite another to become the symbol of divine overthrow of the existing government. How the Jewish community was affected by the failure of the prophetic hopes is not recorded. In the absence of a king, the role of the high priest in the temple assumed greater significance as the community, which saw itself as a people of Yahweh, looked to this office for leadership. Meanwhile the political affairs of Judah were administered by a governor appointed by the Persians, although it is possible that the Jewish state was incorporated in a larger district with headquarters at Samaria. <=>

Persia Under Darius

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Gaumata, the usurper, was overcome by Darius I, the Great (521-486), an Achaemenid prince who recorded his achievement and his version of events leading up to his victory in the Behistun rock inscription carved into a high cliff above the main highway between Ecbatana (the capital city) and Babylon. A relief panel shows Darius with one foot on the neck of the prostrate Gaumata, behind whom are the captured leaders who attempted to defect. What is more significant, perhaps, is the figure of the winged disc with a human head, the symbol of Ahura Mazda, god of the Zoroastrian faith. With Darius, Zoroastrianism became the religion of the Persian court. There is no evidence of any official change in attitude toward the beliefs of the different groups constituting the empire, but, as we shall see, there is ample evidence that some Persian concepts made a lasting impression on Jewish religious thought. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Under Darius the empire prospered. From all parts exotic products flowed into central cities. Beautiful new buildings were erected. Communication was facilitated with road improvements, a canal was dug linking the Nile and the Red Sea, and better protection was provided for caravans. Banking and commerce were encouraged and a coinage system was developed for the empire. <=>

“Meanwhile, development and expansion were taking place in the Aegean world. Greek mercenaries had fought both for Cambyses and against him in the war with Egypt. Greek power had now become a threat to be reckoned with on Persia's western front. Finally, Darius engaged in war with the Greeks, suffering bitter defeat at Marathon in 490. When Darius died in 486, the Greek-Persian struggle was inherited by his son, Xerxes. <=>

Persia Under Xerxes

Xerxes (ruled 486-465 B.C.) was the son of Darius. He was regarded as weak and tyrannical. He spent the early years of his reign putting down rebellions in Egypt and Babylon and preparing to launch another attack on Greece with a huge army that he assumed would easily overwhelm the Greeks. Herodotus characterizes Xerxes as man a layers of complexity, Yes could cruel and arrogant, Put he could also childishly petulance and tear-eyed sentimentality. In one episode Xerxes look over the might force fore he has created to attack Greece and then breaks down, telling his uncle Artabanus, who warned him not to attack Greece, “by pity as I considered the brevity of human life."


Xerxes I

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Xerxes, or Khshayarsha (485-465), who is probably the King Ahasuertis mentioned in Esther 4:6, had a troubled reign. A revolt in Egypt was followed by another in Babylon, and on this great city Xerxes released his anger, pulling down portions of the city wall and demolishing Esagila, the shrine of Marduk. The war with Greece went badly and Xerxes was forced to withdraw from Europe. In 465 he was assassinated. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“In 460, Egypt, supported by Greece, revolted against Artaxerxes I Longimanus (465-424), son of and successor to Xerxes, and it was not until 455 that Egypt again came under Persian rule. Darius II, son of Artaxerxes I by a Babylonian concubine, came to power following a civil war marked by numerous assassinations, and he reigned during a tumultuous time in Persian history. Satraps rebelled and weakened the empire. Fortunately for the Persians, the Greeks were embroiled in their own Peloponnesian war and were far too busy to take advantage of Persia's weakness. <=>

“Artaxerxes II Mnemon (404-359), the next monarch, struggled through civil war, intrigues, assassinations, and a revolt by which Egypt gained her long-sought independence. When Artaxerxes III (358-338) assumed the throne, his able but ruthless approach brought the loss of provinces by rebellion to a halt and made possible the repossession of some areas previously lost. When provinces along the Mediterranean revolted, the Persian army, greatly strengthened by Greek mercenaries, attacked and destroyed a number of coastal towns, including Sidon, and opened the way for an attack on Egypt. About this same time, Philip of Macedon was uniting Greece, and now Greek armies, strengthened by Macedonian forces, were poised for world conquest. <=>

“Artaxerxes III was murdered by a certain Bagoas, a eunuch, who exterminated most of the Achaemenid line before passing the kingship to Darius III Codommanus (335-331) because, as an imperfect man, Bagoas could not rule. Darius reconquered Egypt but was unable to withstand the tremendous military power of the new Greek-Macedonian forces led by Alexander the Great. Now the Hellenization of the Near East, already well under way, was to be greatly accelerated, as we will see in the next section on the Greeks. During the years of Persian rule walls were erected around the city of Jerusalem, largely through the efforts of Nehemiah. Some information about Jewish life in Egypt comes from the Elephantine papyri, which were written during the reigns of Artaxerxes I and his son Darius II (423-405). <=>

After the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, Judea became a province of the Greek-ruled Seleucid (Syrian) kingdom.

Zechariah on the Struggle of the Jews to Create a New State


Tomb of Zechariah in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The next major project facing the people of Jerusalem was the rebuilding of the wall of the city. Zechariah's dramatic claim that Yahweh would protect the city with a wall of fire (Zech. 2:5) was an inspiring ideal, but in real life a city without a physical wall was open to any wild animal or band of marauders that cared to enter by day or night and, in the event of war, offered no protection from the enemy. As in the days of the erection of the second temple, dynamic and determined leadership was needed to accomplish the rebuilding. Such leadership was found in Nehemiah. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“Zechariah provides important information about the struggle of the Jews to form a new state after the Exile and about problems associated with the construction of the second Temple. There can be little doubt that the two prophets were instrumental in bringing the temple to completion. With the new temple, Jewish religion was given a center for worship, an altar for sacrifice and a headquarters for administration and interpretation. In Babylon, Jewish scholars were to continue wrestling with the implications of the faith for centuries, but it was always to Jerusalem that the faithful looked as the center of the religion. <=>

“The effect of the teachings of the Exilic prophets, particularly Ezekiel, is readily recognizable, and belief was strong that fulfillment of Exilic prophecies of the ideal kingdom was at hand. With Haggai and Zechariah the concept of leadership begins to acquire overtones that later become messianic and eschatological, but it was not until the hopes for the future failed and the possibility of an earthly king ruling an ideal kingdom faded that messianic and eschatological themes developed. Zechariah and Haggai are really not concerned with eschatological (end of time) ideas, but rather with the new tomorrow that was so close that it was to follow the completion of the temple, a new day that was imminent in Zerubbabel, the "servant of Yahweh" (Hag. 2:23; Zech. 3:8), "Yahweh's signet" (Hag. 2:23), "the Branch" and the "Rod" (Zech. 3:8; 6:12 f.) of the root of David. The political ends and the national triumph to be experienced under Zerubbabel came not through the monarch but through mighty acts of Yahweh, and it was the conviction that this new day was at hand that give these prophetic oracles their sense of urgency and immediacy, reflections of the enthusiasm and driving power of the two prophets. <=>

“Zechariah's visions show how far advanced the development of angelology was in Jewish thought. Not only is there a court of heaven with the Satan, the accuser, familiar from the Joban prologue, but angelic horsemen and angelic interpreters are added. At this point, apart from the Satan, the angelic functionaries are anonymous and without titles. <=>

“Zechariah and Haggai give no indication of a change in the way in which the "word of Yahweh" was experienced, but they appear to have had experiences much like the early prophets (cf. Zech. 7:8; Hag. 1:2, 7, etc.). Like their predecessors, they believed that Yahweh revealed his intentions to his servants, the prophets. <=>

“A new answer is given to the problem of theodicy. Yahweh was about to act to reward the righteous, not in the distant future but immediately-a prediction that failed. There was no argument with the teachings of the Exilic prophets that the Exile was punishment for sin, a purging, and that a new community would arise. Haggai and Zechariah were convinced they were part of the ideal Israel. <=>

Jews on Elephantine Island in Egypt


Elephantine Island ruins

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “From the Persian fortress known as Yeb on the island of Elephantine at the first cataract of the Nile have come a considerable number of private and public papyri written in Aramaic.13 Some of these documents afford an intimate glance into the life of a colony of Jews who lived in this military outpost of the Perisan empire. Correspondence between the Jewish leaders in Yeb and Bagoas, the governor of Judah, reveal that when Cambyses invaded Egypt (525) the Elephantine Jews possessed a temple of Yahweh (spelled Yahu or Yaho) with five entrances of hewn stone, stone pillars, a cedar roof, doors hinged with bronze, utensils of gold and silver and an altar of sacrifice. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“This temple was destroyed in 410 at the instigation of the priests of the ram-headed god Khnum. In a letter to Bagoas requesting permission to rebuild the temple, reference was made to the sons of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, apparently the same official with whom Nehemiah had come into conflict. No written reply from Bagoas was found, but a record of his words as reported by an emissary grants permission to rebuild the temple with an altar for incense and meal offerings, but no mention is made of an altar for sacrifice. The temple was restored and remained in use until it was again destroyed, probably by Pharaoh Nepherites I (399-393). <=>

“Some evidence of religious syncretism appears in a "treasurer's report" of temple contributors recording funds collected for Yahweh, Eshembethel and Anat-bethel or Anat-Yahu. There is also reference to "the gods." The element "Bethel" in two of the names appears as a divine name in Aramaean contexts between the seventh and fourth centuries, and the name Anat is the name of a Canaanite goddess in the Ugaritic pantheon. No information about beliefs concerning these deities has been found. Clearly, these Elephantine Jews were not governed by Deuteronomic regulations calling for a single sanctuary in Jerusalem and demanding worship of Yahweh alone. <=>

“In addition to providing information about the theological deviations of this particular group of Jews, the Elephantine materials have aided in fixing Nehemiah's chronology. The mention of the sons of Sanballat in a document written in 410, assuming that Sanballat is the same individual mentioned in Nehemiah's memoirs, places Nehemiah in the reign of Artaxerxes I and dates his visit to Jerusalem in 445/4. <=>

Petition to Authorize Elephantine Temple Reconstruction

The “Petition to Authorize Elephantine Temple Reconstruction” is a remarkable document in which Jews living in Egypt petition to build a Temple to Yahweh at Elephantine in Egypt. Written in Aramaic (the language of Jesus) on both sides of a papyrus sheet, measuring 24 centimeters high and 32 centimeters wide, it contains 30 lines of writing and is a Letter of Official Petition sent by Yedaniah bar-Gemariah and his associates (priests at Elephantine) to Bagohi (governor of Judah). It is dated November 25, 407 B.C. and was discovered in Elephantine, Egypt in 1907. It is now located at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, Germany. [Source: kchanson.com]


Elephantine Temple Reconstruction request

The first side reads: “To our lord, Bagohi, governor of Yehud, (from) your servants: Yedaniah and his associates, the priests who are in the fortress of Yeb. May the God of the Heavens perpetually pursue the welfare of our lord greatly and grant you favors before Darius the king and the "sons of the palace" a thousand times more than now. May you be joyful and healthy at all times. Now your servant Yedaniah and his associates testify as follows: In the month of Tammuz, in the fourteenth year of King Darius, when Arsames departed and went to the king, the priests of the god Khnub, who is in the fortress of Yeb, conspired with Vidranga, who was administrator here, to destroy the temple of Yahu in the fortress of Yeb. So that villian Vidranga sent this order to his son Nefayan, who was in command of the garrison of the fortress at Sawn: "The temple of the god Yahu in the fortress of Yeb shall be destroyed." Nefayan consequently led the Egyptians with other troops. Arriving with their weapons at the fortress of Yeb, they entered the temple and burned it to the ground. They smashed the stone pillars that were there. They demolished five great gateways constructed of hewn blocks of stone which were in the temple; but their doors (are still standing), and the hinges of those doors are made of bronze. And the roof of cedar in its entirety, with the . . . and whatever else was there, were all burned with fire. As for the basins of gold and silver and other articles that were in the temple, they carried all of them off and took them as personal possessions. [Source: Translation by K. C. Hanson adapted from Cowley 1923]

“Now, our ancestors built this temple in the fortress of Yeb in the days of the kingdom of Egypt; and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it (already) constructed. They (the Persians) knocked down all the temples of the Egyptian gods; but no one damaged this temple. But when this happened, we and our wives and our children wore sackcloth, and fasted, and prayed to Yahu, the Lord of Heaven, who has let us "see to" Vidranga. The axes removed the anklet from his feet (?) and any property he had acquired was lost. And all those who have sought to do evil to this temple—all of them—have all been killed, and we have "seen to" them. We have (previously) sent letters to our lord when this catastrophe happened to us;

The 2nd side reads: “and to the high priest Yehochannan and his associates, the priests in Jerusalem; and to Ostan, the kinsman of Anani; and the Judahite elites. They have never sent us a letter. Furthermore, from the month of Tammuz, the fourteenth year of Darius the king, until today, we have been wearing sackcloth and fasting, making our wives as widows, not anointing ourselves with oil or drinking wine. Furthermore, from then until now, in the seventeenth year of Darius the king, no grain-offering, incense, or burnt-offering has been sacrificed in this temple.

“Now your servants Yedaniah, and his associates, and the Judahites, all inhabitants of Yeb, state: If it seems good to our lord, remember this temple to reconstruct it, since they do not let us reconstruct it. Look to your clients and friends here in Egypt. Let a letter be sent from you to them concerning the temple of the god Yahu to construct it in the fortress of Yeb as it was before. And the grain-offering, incense, and burnt-offering will be offered in your name, and we will pray for you continuously—we, our wives, and our children, and the Judahites who are here, all of them—if you do this so that this temple is reconstructed. And you shall have honor before Yahu, the God of the Heavens, more than a man who offers him burnt-offerings and sacrifices worth a thousand talents of silver and gold. Because of this, we have written to inform you. We have also set forth the whole matter in a letter in our name to Delaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. Furthermore, Arsames (the Persian satrap) knew nothing of all that was perpetrated on us.

On the twentieth of Marcheshwan, the seventeenth year of King Darius.

Notes: 1) Bagohi is one of the names in the lists of Judahites who returned from Babylon (see, e.g., Ezra 2:2; Neh 7:7). In the Bible the name is spelled "Bigvai," or in Greek "Bagoas" (e.g., Judith 12:11).
2) The name Yehud was used for Judah while it was a Persian province. Yeb was the ancient name of the island (modern Elephantine, Egypt) in the Nile River. The God of the Heavens is an expression used particularly during the Persian period (see Ezra 1:2; 5:11; Nehemiah 1:4-5; Jonah 1:9).
3) Darius II was the Persian emperor 425/4—405/4 BCE.
4) The month of Tammuz was in June/July. The word "Tammuz" appears in the Bible (Ezekiel 8:14), but it is the name of the Semitic goddess, not the name of the month.
5) The 14th year of Darius II was 410 BCE. The Egyptian god Khnum (spelled "Khnub" in these papyri) was the ram-headed god of creation.
6) Yahu is one form of the divine name of Yahweh, the Israelite god (also: Yo and Yah, as in the names "Yonatan" (Jonathan) [1 Samuel 14:1] and "Hodiyah" (Hodiah) [1 Chronicles 4:19]). "Sawn" (or "Syene"; modern Aswan, Egypt) is the ancient town located on the mainland across from the island of Yeb. Yeb and Syene are just north of the Nile's first cataract. Cambyses was the Persian emperor 529—522 BCE. The use of sackcloth, fasting, and prayer appear often in the Bible and ancient Near Eastern literatures as signs of mourning, grief, emotional distress, regret, contrition, or a combination of these. See, for example, 2 Samuel 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Psalm 69:11; Isaiah 3:24; 37:1-2. Cambyses invaded Egypt in 525 BCE.
7) The 17th year of Darius II was 407 BCE. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria under the Persians. He is mentioned in Nehemiah 2:10; 3:33-4:7; 6:1-14; 13:28.
8) The month of Marcheshvan was in October/November. The word does not appear in the Bible, and the month name in 1 Kings 6:38 is "Bul."

Biblical Material Produced During the Persian Period


Torah

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Now the second temple stood within the walled city of Jerusalem. Cultic rites, conducted by the Levites, included sacrifice, offerings, prayers and songs. Through the work of Ezra, the people had acquired a new understanding of the law of Yahweh and the nature of the covenant. We can assume that temple literature included scrolls of prophetic oracles, the combined JE epic, the Deuteronomic history and probably a collection of hymns, prayers and liturgical data. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“Nevertheless new material was needed. The history of the monarchy, which had started in Solomon's time and had been reworked by the Deuteronomist, had not been extended beyond the middle of the Exilic period. Now, in the Persian period, princes from the Davidic line had lost the privilege of government and the circumstances called for a new understanding and a new interpretation of the past. The author known as the Chronicler, whose writings include I and II Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, accomplished the task of rewriting and updating the history. <=>

“As in Solomon's time the J writer had combined creation mythology and election and salvation traditions, and as in Jeroboam's day the E writer had done the same for the northern kingdom, now, in the light of the experiences of the Exile, a new interpretation of the combined JE sagas was needed. This need was met by the addition of the so-called P writings. The combined work was linked to the book of Deuteronomy to form the completed Torah. <=>

“The third literary effort in the period was necessitated by the completion of the temple and consisted of a collection of prayers and hymns or psalms designed for worship. The editor of the book of Psalms combined older collections, individual prayers and newer hymns into one massive unit for temple use, and this collection, together with some additions made shortly afterward, constitutes our present book of Psalms. <=>

“To these great literary works from the Persian period we will now turn, remembering that in every instance the writers or compilers made use of older materials. That which was added or omitted was part of an effort to keep relevant traditions that had meaning for the cult and the nation by concentrating on that which was seen to be central. In other words these writers in the Persian period engaged in the responsible task of continuing or progressive interpretation. <=>

The Chronicler

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The Deuteronomic interpretation of the nation's past did not go beyond the middle of the Exilic period. Now, in the post-Exilic era, it was deemed necessary to extend that account and to review history from the point of view of more recent theological developments. It has been argued that the Chronicler had no intention of rewriting the history of Judah, but only wished to draw lessons in a homiletic or midrashic1 fashion for the benefit of the community.2 However, in a sense, all history writing is interpretation, and we have noted that the Deuteronomic history was an interpretation of events in the light of the Deuteronomist's "theology of history." The Chronicler continued this process from a somewhat different theological angle of vision. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org <=>]

“It has been stated previously that the work of the Chronicler included I and II Chronicles and Ezra and Nehemiah. The arguments supporting this contention include the recognition of the flow of II Chron. 36:22-23 into Ezra 1:1-4 and the similarity of language, literary style, historical interest and theological outlook in the two books of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. In all documents the writer revealed his deep interest in that which pertained to the temple, the Levitical priesthood, temple singers and worship. There is a consistent emphasis on the importance of genealogies and statistics. Finally, the narratives provide a continuum despite the disrupted order of the Ezra-Nehemiah sequence, and present a unified statement of Jewish history up to the time of Ezra.3 The uniformity of language, style and outlook suggests that the entire work is the product of a single writer, one steeped in Jewish history and cultic life, perhaps a priest or scribe. The affinities of style and outlook between the Ezra memoirs and the work of the Chronicler, first noted by C. C. Torrey,4 have led a number of scholars, including W. F. Albright, to conclude that Ezra was the Chronicler.5<=>

“Whether or not one agrees that the Chronicler was Ezra there is growing accord among scholars that the writing is from the Persian period and that arguments for a date in the Greek period6 can be maintained only with the greatest difficulty. The language of the book is Hebrew strongly influenced by Aramaic and with numerous Persian terms characteristic of the Persian period but which tended to die out during the Greek era. The Aramaic section of Ezra employs the same vocabulary, idioms and spelling forms as the Elephantine papyri and is, therefore, from the same time. Furthermore, the last Persian king mentioned is Darius II (423-405), and the Davidic genealogy in I Chron. 3:10-24 is traced up to the seventh generation from Jehoiachin (598/586); allowing twenty-five years for a generation, we arrive at a date roughly between 420 and 400. It would appear that the Chronicler wrote about 400 or shortly thereafter.7<=>

“Like other early historians, the Chronicler drew on sources8 and some of these can be recognized. It is clear that he had before him copies of I and II Samuel and I and II Kings that were substantially the same as our present versions and that he did not hesitate to reproduce large portions of the earlier work.9 He drew also from the "memoirs" of Ezra and Nehemiah and from a long list of official documents which he identifies: "The Books of the Kings of Judah and Israel" (II Chron. 16:11; 25:26; 32:32) or "The Books of the Kings of Israel and Judah" (II Chron. 27:7; 35:27; 36:8), "The Book of the Kings of Israel" (II Chron. 20:34), and a source titled "The Midrash of the Book of Kings" (II Chron. 24:27). He used prophetic material now lost to us but attributed to Samuel (I Chron, 29:29), Gad (I Chron. 29:29), Nathan (II Chron. 9:29), Iddo (II Chron. 9:29; 12:15; 13:22) and an unknown prophet (II Chron. 33:19). He was fascinated by what he could demonstrate by genealogical tables (cf. I Chron. 1-9). These varied traditions were woven into a connected narrative covering history from Adam to Ezra.” <=>

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860 except Jews return from exile, Bible Resources Book

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.