Bible Chronology Timeline

Chronologies of the Mysteries of God

Genesis 5:1
“This is the book of the generations of
Adam. In the day that God created man,
in the likeness of God made he him”
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V. The Jews in Exile

After the Jews had been deported by Nebuchadnezzar in smaller and larger groups over a period of about a quarter of a century (Daniel 1:1-3; 2 Kings 24:16; 25:11; Jeremiah 52:28-30) the majority of the citizens of the former kingdom of Judah lived in exile in Babylonia. The nobility, intelligentsia, military, professionals, and many of the farmers had been taken captive and moved to Mesopotamia. They lived in cities and towns of which some are mentioned in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther (Babylon, Shushan, Tel-abib, Addon [Addan], Cherub, Immer, Casiphia, Tel-harsa, and Tel-melah), and also probably in rural districts.

During the early years of their exile a large number of the Jews may have been slaves and some may have had a hard life. Yet, the Babylonian laws made provision for a slave to earn his liberty in various ways, and the progressive Jews must have taken advantage of every opportunity that offered itself to regain their individual freedom. Ezekiel, who had been taken captive in 597 B.C., could speak six years later of “mine house” (Ezekiel 8:1), and the admonition of Jeremiah to the deported Jews to build houses and plant gardens in Babylonia (Jeremiah 29:5-7) would not have made sense if such had not been possible.

In the 37th year of the captivity of Jehoiachin (561 B.C.), he was released from prison by Amel-Marduk, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, and apparently received honorable treatment from then on (2 Kings 25:27-30; Jeremiah 52:31-34). The very fact the Babylonians released Jehoiachin without fear of any unrest or anti-Babylonian agitation, reveals that the Jews must have gained the respect of their masters and been considered decent and respectable citizens. In the course of time some of the Jews came to honor and office in the government, and others gained a place in the business and professional world. The books of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther reveal how exiles penetrated every branch of government, and even occupied the highest offices in the life of the state. Jews were royal doorkeepers, cupbearers, provincial governors, and royal counselors (Esther 2:19; 10:3; Nehemiah 2:1; 5:14; etc.). Their rapid ascent in the social life of the empire may have caused the hatred they encountered in the time of Xerxes (described in Esther).

But the Bible is not the only source from which we learn of the social and material rise of the Jews in the land of their captivity. Documents discovered during the excavations of Nippur by the expedition of the University of Pennsylvania also provide light. The archives of a great banking firm in the city of Nippur, “Murashu Sons,” which consist of many thousands of clay tablets, allow us to look into the business life of this important city. Although these documents come from the time of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, hence actually from a period after the Exile, they provide valuable information from which conclusions in regard to earlier periods can be drawn. We find that among the clients of “Murashu Sons” were many Jews, who formed a wealthy and influential minority in Nippur and the surrounding country. They appear in these documents as tenants, as creditors with large sums of money, even as inspectors in the office of revenue, and administrative heads of districts. These documents from Nippur support data in Daniel or Ezra, where we read of Jews occupying important offices in Babylonia and Persia.

The Jews not only were progressive in a material way, but experienced also a spiritual change during the years of the Exile. The common misery, the national disaster, the loss of homeland, Temple, and freedom, caused the exiles to seek spiritual values, and to listen to religious leaders more than they had done in the old homeland. For example, the Jews abandoned idolatry after the Exile, a sin into which their fathers had periodically fallen, and which had been one of the main causes for the great catastrophes that struck them in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. Men like Daniel and Ezekiel must have played influential roles as spiritual educators of the people. To them the Jewish leaders came for instruction from the Word of God (Ezekiel 8, 14, 20).

Many Jews undoubtedly studied the venerated books of their prophets, which they had brought to Babylonia from their homeland, and compared the inspired words of Isaiah and Jeremiah with the signs of the times. That this statement is true can be gathered from Daniel, who had learned “by books the number of the years” of the captivity of his people, mentioning as his source “Jeremiah” (Daniel 9:2). This text shows also that the faithful Bible-reading Jews believed in the fulfillment of these prophecies. They had witnessed the literal fulfillment of prophecies pronounced against tyrannical nations like Assyria, and had also seen incredible predictions about the doom of Jerusalem come true. Now, the faithful ones among the Jews waited to see the fulfillment of prophecies in regard to Babylon, in regard to the rise of a man by the name of Cyrus, and in regard to the restoration of their own nation. They read that their prophet Isaiah had predicted the rise of the Aryans more than a century before they played any role in history:

“Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them [the Babylonians], who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold” (Isaiah 13:17, RSV). Because of the weakness of Babylonia after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, the prophecies uttered by Isaiah (chapters 13, 14 and 21) and Jeremiah (chapter 50:2, 3, 10, 11) against Babylon must have gained a new meaning. During the early years of their captivity no one may have known from where the liberator described in Isaiah 44 and 45 might come, but when the reports reached the exiled Jews toward the middle of the 6th century B.C. that Cyrus, the hitherto unknown prince of the Persian tribes of Iran, had overthrown the Median Empire, the Jews must have become keenly interested. Did not the Scriptures mention a man by the name of Cyrus?

“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,

whose right hand I have grasped,

to subdue nations before him

and ungird the loins of kings,

to open doors before him

that gates may not be closed:

‘I will go before you

and level the mountains,

I will break in pieces the doors of bronze

and cut asunder the bars of iron,

I will give you the treasures of darkness

and the hoards in secret places,

that you may know that it is I, the Lord,

the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

For the sake of my servant Jacob,

and Israel my chosen,

I call you by your name,

I surname you, though you do not know me’”(Isaiah 45:1-4, RSV).

These words could not be misunderstood. They clearly revealed from whom the Jews could expect their liberation, and named the man who would permit them to return to their homeland after the expiration of the 70-year captivity prophesied by Jeremiah (chs.25:11, 12; 29:10; see also Isaiah 44:28).

It is therefore not surprising that the people watched Cyrus’ comet like rise to power with bated breath. It must have been an exhilarating time for the enslaved and exiled nation, a time of tension, great hopes, and far-reaching expectations. It was also a time in which serious men like Daniel prayed more earnestly and searched themselves more thoroughly to remove every hidden sin from their lives, so God’s plans for His people might succeed (see Daniel 9).

Babylon fell to Cyrus’ forces without a pitched battle, and a man of the Jewish nation, Daniel, whose unselfish service under the Babylonians was known to the new rulers, received a highly influential position in the new administration (Daniel 6:3). Although many of his colleagues hated him, Daniel was able to hold his own, and succeeded in gaining Cyrus’ ear in regard to his people’s aspirations. When he made the new monarch acquainted with the prophecies of Isaiah, and Cyrus saw how clearly he had been described by an inspired pen more than a century before his birth, he must have come under the spell of such divine utterances. He willingly granted the request of Daniel to allow the Jews to return to their homeland and to rebuild their Temple, prefacing his decree with the significant admission, “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house” (Ezra 1:2). This decree marked the end of the Jewish captivity.

VI. The Restoration of the Jews

The Return and Temple Building Under Cyrus and Cambyses.—The decree of Cyrus, which marked the beginning of a new period in the history of Jewry, was issued at Ecbatana in his first regnal year (Ezra 1:1). This, if reckoned from the fall of the Babylonian Empire according to the Jewish method, from autumn to autumn, could be in the summer of 537 B.C.

The decree was issued in two forms. One was to be publicly proclaimed (2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2-4). The second one was rather a document of directives for official use only. The public decree provided for (1) the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem, (2) the return of all captive Hebrews to Judea on a voluntary basis, and (3) the contribution of financial assistance to the returning Jews by their compatriots who chose to remain behind, as well as by their Gentile friends. The official decree, on the other hand, (1) contained directives and exact specifications concerning the planned new Temple, (2) made provisions for the covering of the building expenses by royal funds, and (3) gave a command to return to the Jews the available vessels of the former Temple (Ezra 6:3-5). There was a reason why the contents of the decree that was not publicly announced were not included in the public one. Some of the provisions were not important for the public; also, an announcement of the fact that the king was willing to bear the expenses might have discouraged the making of financial offerings by the Jews and their friends.

Cyrus also appointed a Jew of royal blood, named Sheshbazzar or Zerubbabel, to be the governor of the province of Judea, which was part of the satrapy “Beyond the River,” that great division of the empire that comprised all lands lying between the river Euphrates and Egypt. To this new governor were given all the vessels of the old Jerusalem Temple that were found in Babylon. In conjunction with Jeshua (or Joshua), a descendant of the last officiating high priest of the Solomonic Temple, and 9 or 10 other leading men (Ezra 2:2; Nehemiah 7:7), Zerubbabel made all preparations for the return to the old homeland. More than 42,000 exiles entered in the official list gave answer to the call of Cyrus and were willing to return to Judea.

The detailed list given in Ezra 2 reveals that most Jews had been able to save their genealogical documents throughout their captivity and thus could prove their rights and titles in their homeland. The returning non-ecclesiastical exiles are classified in 17 family units numbering from about 100 to almost 3,000 men each, and 15 groups were listed according to town units, of which the smallest numbered 42 men and the largest 1,254. Besides these there was one group called “the children of Senaah,” 3,630 men, which may have consisted of poor people (see on Ezra 2:35), and 652 men who had lost all their documents by which they could have proved their rights in the Jewish congregation. Of the ecclesiastical exiles more than 4,000 priests belonging to 4 families joined Zerubbabel, and also an unknown number of priests belonging to 3 families who could not prove their rights to the priesthood. In contrast to the great number of priests (4,389) it is significant that only a small number of lower Temple personnel (733) were willing to return. The reason for this reluctance may have lain in the fact that Ezekiel had predicted that the Levites would be degraded in the future Temple service to comparatively low manual work because of their apostasy in the pre-exilic period (Ezekiel 44:9-16). Furthermore, we find the returning Jews accompanied by about 7,500 servants and singers (Ezra 2:64, 65).

If the decree of Cyrus was issued in the summer or autumn of 537 B.C., the journey was probably started in the spring of the following year, 536 B.C., since this was the usual season for traveling. The Mesopotamian armies had customarily left their homeland for foreign campaigns in the spring. Ezra started his return journey, some 80 years later, in the spring, arriving at Jerusalem about 31/2 months after his departure from Babylonia. The large caravan of Zerubbabel’s followers, about 50,000 individuals who had some 8,000 beasts of burden carrying their possessions, must have needed at least as much time as Ezra to reach Jerusalem, and probably arrived in their homeland during the summer. Like all large armies they either followed the course of the Euphrates until they reached approximately the 36th parallel, or went through the former homeland of Assyria to Arbela and followed the approximate course of the present Syro-Turkish border. From there they must have crossed the north Syrian desert for almost 100 miles to the river Orontes, with the oasis of Aleppo lying in the midst of this thirsty land. After they reached the Orontes, they could have used either the inland road or that which followed the coast of Phoenicia and Palestine. If they used the first they followed the Orontes River to its source, then continuing in a southerly direction through the highland lying between the Lebanon mountain range and the Antilebanon (including Mt. Hermon and Mt. Amana), finally crossing Galilee and Samaria before they reached their destination.

After reaching Jerusalem they first had a service of gratitude in which a large offering was made by the leading men of the congregation. The returned exiles then dispersed to reoccupy the lands of their ancestors. At the beginning of the New Year, they gathered at Jerusalem for the dedication of a newly erected altar of burnt offering, the commencement of the daily sacrificial service, and the celebration of the feasts of the 7th month. At that time plans were also laid for the rebuilding of the Temple and contracts were concluded with the Sidonians and Tyrians for the necessary lumber, and with masons and carpenters for the planned work (Ezra 2:68 to 3:7).

The actual work of rebuilding the Temple was not begun until the following year. For the laying of the foundation stone the same month was chosen in which Solomon had started to build the first Temple (Ezra 3:8; 1 Kings 6:1). This was an occasion of great joy for the faithful Jews who had waited many years for this day. However, the plans showed that the new Temple with its auxiliary buildings would not match in size and splendor those that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed, for which reason some of the older men who in their youth had seen Solomon’s Temple, wept (Ezra 3:8-13).

After the work on the Temple had started, trouble began with the Samaritans. They were a fusion of several nationalities that were brought into the country of the former kingdom of Israel at various times by different Assyrian kings from several conquered areas of the former Assyrian Empire. They served their own pagan gods, together with Jehovah, whose worship they had added to their pagan worship when they came to Palestine (see 2 Kings 17:24-33). They were doubtless already hostile, for when the Jews returned from Babylon they reclaimed their ancestral possessions, some of which probably had been occupied by the Samaritans during the years of Judah’s captivity. The Samaritans were not only expelled from those lands, but were denied any participation in the rebuilding of the Temple or any rights in the service at Jerusalem. The returning Jews had learned the hard lesson that close association with those who worship idols leads to idolatry, and it was idolatry that caused the catastrophe of 586 B.C. When the zealous Jews thus showed that they had learned their lesson during the years of captivity in Babylon and firmly announced to their northern neighbors that they would have nothing to do with them, a break came that was never healed (Ezra 4:1-3).

The result of this decision was an active hostility on the part of the Samaritans. They “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (Ezra 4:4). Another reason for the slackening of the building activity at the Temple was that the Samaritans hired “counsellors against them” (Ezra 4:5), who apparently succeeded in preventing the payments of the promised royal funds. After the death of Daniel, there may have been no Jewish sponsor at the court to further their cause and defend their interests in hours of crisis. The threats that Darius connected with the renewal of Cyrus’ decree and its financial provisions in case it was not carried out, seem to indicate that he had discovered that Cyrus’ decree had been thwarted (Ezra 6:8-12).

The Jews, on the other hand, had not shown enough faith to meet their disappointments with fortitude. Instead of offering to the enemy a united and determined front, they tried individually to defend themselves as well as they could, built solid houses for themselves, and left the work at Jerusalem undone. This lack of faith in God’s cause resulted in divine punishments such as inflation, drought, and bad harvests (Haggai 1:6, 11). Some work, however, seems to have been done at the Temple site throughout the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses, as we learn from the words of the Jews who declared, during Darius’ reign, that since the “time [of Cyrus] even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished” (Ezra 5:16).

When Cambyses crossed Palestine on his way to Egypt in 525 B.C., representatives of the Jews may have met him somewhere in one of the coastal towns to assure him of their continued loyalty. There is no evidence, but the Jewish documents of Elephantine in Egypt indicate that Cambyses was more favorably disposed toward the Jews than to the Egyptians, as can be learned from the fact that he destroyed the Egyptian temple on Elephantine, but left the neighboring Jewish temple on the same island unmolested. Hence, we are justified in concluding that he did nothing hostile to the Jews in their homeland. Any frustration they experienced in their work must have come from lower officials, and their Palestinian neighbors, who may have felt that the hostile activity against the Jews would remain unpunished, since the king was far away engaged in military campaigns. These enemies of the Jews were also aware of the great unpopularity of Cambyses throughout the empire and knew how to use these antiroyal feelings to their advantage, as we shall see in discussing the next phase of history, the interruption of all Jewish building under the usurper, Smerdis.

The Interruption of the Temple Building Under Smerdis.—Cambyses’ unpopularity was so great that when the Median Gaumata, on March 11, 522 B.C., proclaimed himself king, on the claim that he was Bardiya, or Smerdis, the brother of Cambyses, he was immediately accepted by the inhabitants of a great part of the empire. The proof of this is found in Babylonian documents dated before the death of Cambyses in the reign of Bardiya, as the false Smerdis was called in Babylonia. Until his death on September 29 of the same year the false Bardiya, a follower of the old pre-Zoroastrian religion, evidently made vigorous attempts to stamp out the new religion. He had temples destroyed (presumably Zoroastrian), as Darius charged in his long Behistun inscription.

It is not difficult to understand how elements hostile toward the Jews could easily secure from the impostor a decree prohibiting the continuation of the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, and perhaps even permitting the destruction of what had already been built. Such a decree would be in harmony with Smerdis’ policy of destroying temples, probably with the purpose of stamping out all religions that were a threat to the religion he advocated. His action against the Jews may also have been motivated by the fact that they had received favors from the preceding Persian kings whose work he wished to wreck.

The enemies of the Jews would undoubtedly be delighted with such a decree, and would use it as their authority for an attack upon what had already been built. This can be concluded from the fact that it was necessary to lay a new foundation (Haggai 2:18, 19) when the rebuilding of the Temple was begun again two years later. The official archives seem to have been destroyed during the attack on Jerusalem, for the Jews were not able to produce any documentary evidence to justify their building activity when Tatnai, the governor of “Across the River,” a few years later made an investigation. Reference had to be made to the royal files in Babylonia for corroboration of their verbal claims (Ezra 5:13 to 6:2).

The six months of the reign of Smerdis and the succeeding months in which Darius had to fight for the throne against several pretenders, until stable political conditions returned to the empire, must have been anxious times for the Jews. The conditions described by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah allow us to understand some of the calamities that preceded the ministry of those men, whose work started in the second year of Darius (520/19 B.C.). For the Jews it must have been a great relief when they saw that Darius, a Zoroastrian who could be expected to be their friend as Cyrus and Cambyses had been, became master of the difficult political situation and was firmly settled on the throne of the Achaemenid empire.

Resumption and Completion of the Temple Building Under Darius I.—When orderly conditions had returned to the empire, two men, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, were raised up by God to initiate a new drive for a resumption of the interrupted work on the Temple. The first chapter of Haggai begins with a prophetic message to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the secular and spiritual leaders of the people, on the 1st of the 6th month (Elul) of the 2nd year of Darius. Haggai appealed for a new start in building the Temple, rebuking the people at the same time for their lack of faith and zeal, and pointing out that calamities they experienced were the result of their slackness Haggai 1:2-11. Several weeks later (on the 24th of the same month) the leaders and the people decided to heed the admonition (Haggai 1:12-15). These two dates of Haggai are generally considered to be August 29 and September 21, 520 B.C., by a spring-to-spring reckoning of the year. Haggai addressed the people and their leaders on the 21st of the 7th month, toward the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, approximately October 17, 520 B.C. This time he had no words of rebuke, but told them to be of good courage. He assured them that the glory of this new Temple, which seemed insignificant in comparison with Solomon’s, would actually surpass it (Haggai 2:3-9). He thus prophesied of the work of Jesus Christ that would be accomplished in this Temple. Several weeks later, in the 8th month, Zechariah, a prophet of apocalyptic visions, joined Haggai (Zechariah 1:1 ff.)

On December 18, 520 B.C., sufficient preliminary work on the site had been done so that a new foundation stone could be laid. Such a day was always connected with special festivities, and Haggai used this opportunity to deliver two speeches, one probably in the morning, the other in the afternoon. In his first address he assured the people that God would bless them from this day on as a reward for their renewed zeal. He challenged them to mark this date of the laying of the foundation stone and to see whether God would keep His promises and bring a change in their distressing political and economic situation (Haggai 2:15-19). The second speech contained further promises of what god was planning to do for His people. These promises were conditional (Haggai 2:20-23).

There was apparently no more interference from enemies, who would not dare now to enforce any hostile decree that the false Smerdis might have issued. Darius would interpret such an act as being directed against his administration.

Suddenly came “Tatnai, governor on this side of the river” (the province called “Beyond the River” from the Mesopotamian point of view), with his whole staff of officers, to Jerusalem (Ezra 5:3), probably on a routine tour of inspection. Since it had been known for a long time that the satrap of the territories of “Beyond the River” and “Babylonia” during the early years of Darius was Ushtani, it was thought that Tatnai must have been an Aramaic form of his Persian name. However, a recently published cuneiform tablet from Babylon has revealed that this interpretation is incorrect, and that Tatnai was Ushtani’s subordinate in the administration of “Beyond the River,” since Ushtani could not effectively administer two large provinces personally.

Tatnai showed himself to be an impartial and conscientious official in the best Persian tradition. Seeing the industrious building activities at the Temple site, he naturally asked for the royal permit. The elders of the Jews replied—while Zerubbabel as governor wisely kept himself in the background, since he could not know the attitude of the new official. They told the story of the destruction of the first Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, their long captivity in Babylonia, and their return under Cyrus, mentioning also that he had given back to them the Temple treasures, and issued a decree permitting the rebuilding of the Temple. Tatnai was favorably impressed by the sincerity of the Jews and evidently believed their story, for he allowed them to continue their work for the time being. However, since they had been unable to produce an official written permit as proof of their claims—the permit had probably been destroyed or stolen by the Samaritans—he sent to the king a report of the whole case. To this he appended the names of the Jewish leaders, requesting an investigation in the archives of Babylon, and a royal decision concerning his attitude toward the Jews (Ezra 5:3-17).

After the receipt of Tatnai’s report the government files of Babylon were searched. Once more the Persian conscientiousness became apparent when the officials charged with the investigation extended their search to Ecbatana after the archives of Babylon failed to produce any documents on the case. Finally the official copy of Cyrus’ decree was found and taken to the king. The question must then have arisen as to how much money had been spent on the Jerusalem Temple since the issuance of the decree, for it provided for payment of the building expenses from royal funds. When an investigation revealed that little or nothing had ever been paid, Darius must have been angry, for such failure showed how certain royal decrees were sidetracked and their provisions not carried out. This must have been the reason that his reply to Tatnai was composed in an unusually sharp tone, and that it contained threats of terrible punishments if his new decree were not carried out. This new edict demanded, first, that Tatnai refrain from any interference with the work of the Jews; second, that the expenses promised by Cyrus be now paid from the revenue of the province of “Beyond the River”; and third, that the Jews, in their religious services, should pray for the well-being of the king and his sons (Ezra 6:1-12).

With the material support of the government and the spiritual support of their leaders and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the people seem to have worked with great zeal and joy. The whole project was finished by the 3rd of Adar in the 6th year of Darius, when the dedication ceremonies were held (Ezra 6:13-15). This was, by either spring or fall reckoning, March 12, 515 B.C. The actual interval from the laying of the second foundation in December, 520 B.C., was 4 years and 3 months. This was 2 years and 3 months less than Solomon had needed to complete the building of his Temple compound. The reason for the shorter building period lay undoubtedly in the fact that part of the tremendous substructures that Solomon had built to provide a wide platform on the uneven terrain of the north eastern hill of Jerusalem were still usable, and that much building material, procured under the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses, was available.

After the description of the festivities connected with the dedication of the new Temple and the celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the following month (Ezra 6:16-22,), the Biblical records become silent until the time of Xerxes. Yet, it can be taken for granted that the Jews prospered during the reign of Darius, whose rule was beneficial for all parts of the empire, as we know from the extant records of several countries.

Critical Times in Xerxes’ Reign.—The book of Esther describes a crisis that developed in the 12th year of Xerxes. A brief summary here is sufficient. The personal hatred of Haman, a high counselor of the king, against Mordecai, a Jewish gate official employed in the palace at Susa (Biblical Shushan), resulted in the plan to destroy the whole Jewish nation. The king, whose unstable and undisciplined character is well known from the descriptions of ancient secular historians, granted Haman’s request as a personal favor to him without investigating the reasons for it. Providence, however, had already made provision for the Jews’ deliverance by having allowed the beautiful Jewish girl Esther to become Xerxes’ wife in 479/78 B.C. Through the prayers of the entire Jewish nation, and Esther’s personal intervention with the king, the previously given decree to kill all Jews on a certain day in March, 473 B.C., was not carried out. Although the decree could not be revoked, owing to a peculiar Persian custom, an additional royal edict allowed the Jews to defend themselves, and the day on which they would have been massacred became a day of great deliverance. Mordecai, who had received Haman’s office after the latter’s execution for his treachery, is credited with having done much to benefit his people (Esther 10:3). A cuneiform tablet in the Berlin Museum mentions Mordecai as an influential official at Susa in the time of Xerxes. Thus the story of Esther, frequently considered as fiction, receives valuable archeological support.

Interesting light is shed on the events described in the book of Esther by the cuneiform documents of the business house of Murashu Sons at Nippur, which come from the next two reigns after Xerxes—those of Artaxerxes I and Darius II. They reveal that the Jews formed an influential and wealthy minority in the city of Nippur and the rural areas belonging to it. Jews appear as partners in transactions in which large sums of money are involved, as administrators of districts, and as rich money lenders. All this evidence reveals that the Jews had gone through a period in which they had enjoyed certain favors, as happened under Mordecai’s leadership.

When this man had become “great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren” in the Persian Empire (Esther 10:3), his name became a household word in Jewish circles, and many parents gave their children the name Mordecai. The documents of Murashu Sons from Artaxerxes I’s time contain 61 personal names of Jews. It is extremely interesting to see that although 60 different persons are represented by these 61 name references, 6 different Jews bore the name Mordecai. All of them, apparently, were born shortly after the events recorded in the book of Esther had taken place. A little later the name fell into disuse again, as is seen from the fact that among the 46 names of Jews mentioned in the documents of the same firm from the time of Darius II the name Mordecai does not appear.

Return Under Artaxerxes I and the Work of Ezra.—Between the last dated events of the book of Esther (spring, 473 B.C.) and the next recorded happening of the book of Ezra (spring, 457 B.C.) lay 16 years, concerning which there are no known records that can throw any direct light on the history of the Jewish nation. Xerxes had in the meantime been murdered, and his son Artaxerxes had come to the throne. The empire lived under the cloud of the grave defeat at the Eurymedon, to which soon was added the loss of Egypt through the rebellion of Inarus in 463 or 462 B.C. Since it was important that Judea, lying on the road to Egypt, remain loyal and friendly toward the Persian administration, especially when the campaign against Egypt would get under way (in 456 B.C.), Artaxerxes lent a willing ear to the petitions of Ezra (chapter 7:28), whose title indicates that he was “referee of Jewish affairs” in the chancellery (see on Ezra 7:12). He petitioned the king to grant the Jews a greater measure of self-government than they had possessed hitherto, and to allow the reintroduction of the Mosaic law as the law of the land in the province of Judea.

By royal decree Artaxerxes appointed Ezra to return to Judea with far-reaching authority, and called on all Jews who desired to return to their old homeland to do so. The decree further commissioned Ezra to reorganize the whole judicial system in Judea, and to install judges and magistrates with power over life and death, who should use “the law of the God of heaven” as the basis of their work (Ezra 7:11-26). The historicity of this decree has frequently been attacked, since it seemed incredible to many modern scholars that the Persian king or his counselors should have concerned themselves with details of Jewish ceremonial as the decree in Ezra 7 claims. Yet, one of the Elephantine papyri, to be discussed in Section VII, the so-called “Passover Letter” of Darius II, gives such a close parallel that the opposition to the genuineness of the decree of Artaxerxes I has lately become silent. The “Passover Letter” of Darius shows clearly that the Persian chancellery probably had a department in which experts in Jewish law and customs advised the king in legislative matters. These experts were doubtless Jews.

The chance discovery of the Phoenician Eshmunazar inscription shows that Artaxerxes appreciated the help he received from Sidon in his campaign against the rebellious Egyptians, and rewarded the Sidonians by giving them certain fertile grain lands in the region of Dor on the Palestinian coast. This historical parallel strongly suggests that the important decree by which exceptional privileges were granted to the Jews one year before Megabyzos began his expedition against Egypt was given to create good will among the Jews, and to ensure their continued loyalty in this time of political crisis. To the Jews this decree meant much, because it gave them virtually a semi-independent status. All civil and judicial powers were now returned to the local leadership, and the law of Moses became once more the law of the land. The only matter reserved by the Persians for themselves was the department of revenues. Generous royal gifts and grants from the tribute of the province for the support of the Jewish religious service were probably designed to reconcile the Jews to the fact that foreign tax collectors would remain in their country for an indefinite time.

After seeing his requests granted, Ezra made an appeal to Babylonian Jewry to accompany him to Judea. On the 1st day of Nisan all those who were willing to follow Ezra met “at the river of Ahava.” When the census was taken it became apparent that no Levites were present. After a special effort was made to secure some Levites, the congregation of probably more than 5,000, including women and children, fasted and prayed for divine protection during their long and dangerous journey. Ezra had not dared to request an escort for fear of revealing to the Persian authorities that he lacked faith in the protective power of his God (Ezra 8:1-23).

The caravan set out Nisan 12, on or about April 7, 457 B.C., and after some 4 months arrived at Jerusalem about July 23. There they rested for 3 days. Then they handed over all the royal gifts for the Temple and the official decree to the proper authorities, and celebrated their safe arrival by a great thank offering (Ezra 8:24-36). The actual work of reconstruction authorized by the decree began some weeks later, in the autumn of the year.

Little is recorded about Ezra’s activity in Judea during the next 13 years until Nehemiah arrived at Jerusalem as newly appointed governor. Ezra must have carried out all provisions of the decree, but no record is left of his work, with the exception of one describing his reform work with regard to mixed marriages. The report of this affair covers almost one fourth of the entire book of Ezra (chs.9, 10), thus showing the importance of this reform.

Ezra must have been aware of the presence of pagan or semi-pagan women in some families, since one was found in the family of the high priest. But he worked in quietness for a while, waiting for an opportunity to deal with this matter effectively. This opportunity came on a certain day when some of the leaders officially notified him of the existence of this evil. Ezra responded at once. He began with a public prayer that was at the same time a great sermon and a call for repentance. The result was that the leaders of the country made a spontaneous decision to cleanse the nation from the pagan influence.

A public meeting was then held in the ninth month (approximately December). If this was soon after Ezra’s arrival, it was in 457 B.C. The gathered congregation, shivering from the cold and rain, and anxious to return home, gave Ezra full powers to carry out the proposed reform. Little opposition was voiced against this popular decision, because only a small percentage of the people—112 men out of the tens of thousands of Jews who inhabited Judea—were involved in this affair. A committee worked then from December, 457, to April, 456 B.C., and decided every case. A list of all transgressors involved was appended as part of the permanent record of the event. It shows that 27 ecclesiastical workers, among whom were 13 priests and 4 members of the high-priestly family, besides 86 laymen, had foreign wives. The evil had not yet spread far among the people, which explains why the measures taken were so strongly supported by the people, and so easily carried out.

It is generally held that Ezra continued on in Jerusalem into the time of Nehemiah. Hence he faced, at some time preceding Nehemiah’s coming (in 444 B.C.), the destructive opposition of enemies who broke down “the wall of Jerusalem” and “burned with fire” its gates (Nehemiah 1:3).

Scholars who equate the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 with Artaxerxes I see in the narrative of verses 7-23 a reference to this attack upon the walls and gates. They thus find in the narrative a Biblical account of the reason for the damaging of the wall as reported to Nehemiah. This view of verses 7-23 requires a temporary reversal of Artaxerxes’ favorable attitude toward the Jews as shown in his dealings with Ezra a few years before.

However, the attack referred to in Nehemiah 1:3 can be accounted for historically without Ezra 4, or any specific Biblical narrative. It is a fact that about the year 450 or 449 B.C., Megabyzos, governor of the province of “Beyond the River,” which included Judea, rebelled for a period of years against the king of Persia. During this rebellion, either the Jews were loyal to their benefactor Artaxerxes, and were attacked by Samaritan partisans of Megabyzos, or the Samaritans were loyal and took the opportunity of accusing the Jews of siding with Megabyzos. In either case the rebellion of Megabyzos would furnish a plausible setting for the event mentioned in Nehemiah 1:3.

Nehemiah’s Governorship.—Nehemiah, although a faithful Jew, had advanced in the Persian court until he held the trusted and responsible position of royal cupbearer. Some historians have concluded that he was a eunuch, as he seems to have served the king in the women’s quarters (see on Nehemiah 2:6). He was well educated, and later proved himself a good organizer.

In December, 445 B.C., Nehemiah’s brother Hanani and some other Jews arrived at Susa for a visit. They may have been the first Jews from Jerusalem whom Nehemiah had seen since Megabyzos’ rebellion, which had probably resulted in the breakdown of ordinary communication with Judea. Rumors of troubles with the Samaritans may have reached Nehemiah’s ears, but since nothing certain was known, he was anxious to obtain some exact word about the conditions in Judea. Hence, his first question was “concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 1:2). The news that he received was bad, worse than he had expected to receive. He learned to his dismay that the walls were “broken down, and the gates thereof … burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). The shock of this news was so great that Nehemiah, like Daniel (Daniel 9:3), fasted and prayed for days on end.

Nehemiah developed an effective plan during the following four months and also made certain preparations in anticipation of the course of action he proposed to follow. Then he used a favorable situation, when serving the king, to request that he send him to Jerusalem to complete the interrupted work of rebuilding the city’s walls. Some have thought that Nehemiah, knowing Artaxerxes’ unstable character, and how easily he was influenced by women, had chosen an opportune occasion when “the queen” was present; also that she may have been favorably disposed toward Nehemiah and may have assured him beforehand of her support. Although Nehemiah had prayed earnestly about this situation he was sore afraid that he might lose his life if he moved unwisely in relation to the temperamental king (Nehemiah 2:2, 6). But the king not only granted the request, he also appointed his cupbearer to be the new governor of Judea.

Furnished with official credentials and accompanied by an armed escort, Nehemiah lost no time, but set out as soon as he could secure release from his court duties. He arrived in Jerusalem presumably in the early summer of 444 B.C. For the first few days he kept the true purpose of his arrival secret, so that he could make moves that would assure the greatest possible success for his plans. He also wished to avoid playing into the hands of his enemies, whose work and hatred he well knew. After three days he had sized up the situation and also had probably seen the condition of the wall, with the exception of its southern sections. In order to gain firsthand knowledge of the condition of those wall sections, made an inspection tour at night, accompanied only by some trusted friends (Nehemiah 2:11-16).

He then laid his plans before the people’s leaders, probably on the fourth day after his arrival. He told them of the royal commission, probably assuring them also that they had nothing to fear from their enemies any more. His call to build, “that we be no more a reproach” (Nehemiah 2:17), was an eloquent appeal to the national conscience and dignity. Some were enthusiastic about the prospects of finally having a fortified capital whose wall could offer protection in times of danger, while others seemed to show no interest. The people of cities like Jericho, Mizpah, and Gibeon willingly offered their help in building the wall of Jerusalem, but there is no mention of help from Bethlehem, Netophah, Bethel, and various other cities that had been repopulated since Zerubbabel’s time. Among the leaders the same situation was noticeable. Some supported Nehemiah enthusiastically, while others, like the nobles of Tekoa, “put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (Nehemiah 3:5).

Immediately after the purpose of Nehemiah’s arrival had become known, the enemies of the Jews, especially the political leaders of surrounding nations, made plans to foil Nehemiah’s aims. Of these enemies three are repeatedly mentioned as working against Nehemiah: Sanballat, who was the governor of Samaria, as we now know from the Elephantine papyri; Tobiah, a high official or nobleman of Ammon; and Geshem, the governor of the Arab Lihyanites of Dedan. These three ridiculed the Jews and their leader, accused them of making active preparations for a rebellion, made preparations to attack them by force, arranged to have Nehemiah assassinated, and made numerous attempts to sow discord among the Jews themselves. This work against Nehemiah and his activities was unceasingly carried on as long as the work of rebuilding the city’s wall was in progress, and seems to have ceased only after its completion.

Nehemiah proved to be a man of fearless determination and a good organizer. Neither did he belittle the danger that the efforts of his enemies posed, nor was he unduly disturbed about them. Those willing to assist him in his work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall he organized into 42 groups, and spread them over as many wall sections. In the list found in chapter 3 of his book, Nehemiah has left us an excellent source for the study of the topography of Jerusalem’s city wall, and has also provided information concerning many other important items. He tells us, for example, who took part in the work, where it was done, and also what kind of work was required. We learn in this way that some sections of the wall, as well as some gates, had been almost completed in the previous rebuilding activities, and had suffered little during the recent attack, whereas others had to be practically rebuilt. This must be concluded from the observation that the term “builded” is used for the activity of some, but the work of others is described as “repaired” in the list of Nehemiah 3. The same conclusion can be reached by reading, for example, that one group, Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah, could repair the Valley Gate and about 550 yards of wall (Nehemiah 3:13), while another group could repair only a very small section extending from the door of Eliashib’s house, which apparently stood near the wall, to the end of that same building (Nehemiah 3:21). In some instances, of course, the number of participants may have been responsible for the great differences in the size of wall sections allotted to the various groups. A few gates, as, for example, the Ephraim Gate, mentioned later in connection with the wall’s dedication, seem to have been intact and therefore are left out in the list of sectors on which work was done.

Hence we must conclude that the work of Nehemiah was not the entire rebuilding of the whole wall and its many gates, but the repairing and completing of the interrupted activity of his predecessors. If the wall had been as it was after Nebuchadnezzar’s forces destroyed it, Nehemiah would not have been able to complete the work in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). That he could finish the work in such an exceptionally short period shows clearly that a long time of building activity must have preceded his arrival.

Although the work on the wall proceeded rapidly, it was beset with many difficulties. Nehemiah encountered lack of interest in certain circles of his people, and real opposition from others of them (Nehemiah 4:10; 16:10-12). Worse, there was the constant danger of a disastrous attack on the half-completed city wall by his foreign enemies who were led by Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Hence, he armed all workmen, had the wall guarded day and night, and devised a system of alarm in order to be ready at all times to defend Jerusalem. His determination and personal bravery discouraged his enemies and saved the day. They never went further than making threats; no real attack materialized.

On the 25th of Elul (September 21 in 444 B.C.) the work was finished (Nehemiah 6:15). The wall was dedicated by an impressive ceremony. Two processions were formed, one led by Ezra, the other by Nehemiah. Starting at the Valley Gate, both companies went on top of the walls in opposite directions until they met near the north eastern corner of the city, and jointly entered the Temple to give praises to God for the help received in their work, and to celebrate the day with sacrifices (Nehemiah 12:27-43).

After Nehemiah had completed his main task and given Jerusalem a fortified wall, he settled down to a fruitful and peaceful work of governorship. For 12 years he served his people during his first term of office (Nehemiah 5:14). Although Nehemiah was the secular head of Judea in the first place, and worked in the social interests of the nation, he was also deeply interested in the spiritual welfare of his people. We find him abolishing a number of abuses of power and wealth by forcing the usurers to make proper restitution and to promise not to take advantage of their poor fellow citizens, by buying and liberating Jewish slaves, by refusing to accept any payments for himself, and by defraying from his own means his official expenses (Nehemiah 5:1-19). No governor, Nehemiah tells us, had ever been so unselfish and socially minded as he, and he expected to receive a divine reward for his acts of kindness (Nehemiah 5:15, 19).

He also took measures to repopulate Jerusalem, when after the completion of the wall he saw that the capital was an almost empty city. A census was taken, and it was decided to bring one out of every ten of the rural population of Judea to Jerusalem. Many others also were encouraged to move to the capital (Nehemiah 7:4, 5; 11:1, 2).

The religious needs of the people were met by great mass meetings. The first series of these is described in Nehemiah 8-10. Ezra and other leaders read and explained the law to the people. The result was a real spiritual revival, eventuating in a covenant signed by laity and ministers. All promised to follow the law of Moses, to keep themselves free of mixed marriages with pagans, to keep the Sabbath, to meet the expenses of the Temple upkeep and other religious services, and to care for other necessary matters.

All these events seem to have taken place during the first few months of Nehemiah’s governorship. As to the remainder of his 12-year period we are left in the dark, and the only further word, found in Nehemiah 13, deals with some measures he was forced to take after his return to Jerusalem at the beginning of his second term of office. Unfortunately, we do not know the date of Nehemiah’s second arrival, nor the length of his second term as governor of Judea.

Some time must have elapsed after his departure at the expiration of his first term before he came back, since he found certain unfortunate conditions and practices in Judea, which must have taken some time to develop. His arch-enemy, Tobiah, had been given living quarters in one of the buildings of the Temple compound, the Levites were engaged in agricultural pursuits to make a living because no tithe had been paid by the people for some time. Merchandise was being sold in Jerusalem by foreigners on the Sabbath, and pagan wives were once more found in Jewish families.

These conditions are also severely rebuked by the prophet Malachi, whose prophecies must have been delivered about this time. Immediately after his arrival, Nehemiah vigorously went to work to change this situation. He threw Tobiah’s furniture out of the Temple, and gathered the Levites, putting them back to work in the Temple and guaranteeing them their income from the tithe. He induced the people to pay their tithes regularly, took strong measures to prevent any further transgression of the Sabbath commandment, and caused the foreign wives to be expelled (Nehemiah 13:1-31).

With the description of the measures the historical records of the book of Nehemiah and of the Old Testament come to an end. But before leaving this last period for which an inspired record is available, one further incident should be mentioned, the unfortunate affair involving Johanan, the high priest, who is mentioned in Ezra (chapter 10:6) and Nehemiah (chapter 12:22). Josephus (Antiquities xi. 7.1) informs us that Johanan’s brother Jesus (Joshua) was a friend of Bagoas (Persian, Bigvai), the commander of Artaxerxes. Because Bagoas promised to make Joshua high priest, Joshua got into a quarrel with his brother Johanan in the Temple and was killed by him. As a result of this heinous crime, Bagoas entered the Temple, declaring, “Am I not purer than he who was slain (See NOTE) in the temple?” and punished the Jews by exacting for seven years a tax of 50 drachmas for every lamb in the daily sacrifice.

NOTE: A variant reading gives “he who slew,” making Bargoas refer to the murderer.

The story was formerly considered fiction by many historians, because Josephus spoke of Bagoas, the mighty commander of Artaxerxes III, well known from later Persian history, whereas Johanan was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, who lived several generations earlier. The Jewish papyri of Elephantine, however, attest that Johanan was high priest in 410 B.C. and that a governor by the name of Bigvai (Greek, Bagoas) ruled over Judea in 407 B.C. Hence both Bagoas and Johanan were contemporaries of Darius II. They may still have been in office a few years later when Artaxerxes II came to the throne in 405 or 404 B.C., and the crime Josephus relates may have taken place at that time. That one of the Elephantine papyri was jointly sent by Bagoas, the governor of Judea, and Delaiah, the son of Sanballat of Samaria, shows a strange combination of individuals. Bagoas may have been an enemy of Johanan already at that time.

With this high priest the last figure mentioned in the Old Testament leaves our historical horizon, and the Intertestament Period of Jewish history begins, so called because no sacred records are available for this period.

VII. The Jews in Egypt During the 5th Century B.C.

Besides the meager and incidental notes that we find in the Old Testament concerning the Jews in Egypt, some of a prophetic and others of a historical nature (Isaiah 19:18, 19; Jeremiah 43:7; 44:1, 15-28), rich source material exists concerning one Jewish colony. This material consists of a large number of Aramaic papyri found at Elephantine, a Nile island at the southern border of ancient Egypt, about 600 miles south of Cairo. These Elephantine papyri throw much light on contemporary historical events, particularly on the Jewish history of this period.

The History of the Discovery of the Elephantine Papyri.—The first group of these documents was bought by C. E. Wilbour in 1893, but did not come to the notice of scholars until 1947. Since Mr. Wilbour had died in Paris in 1896, the papyri remained in his trunk in a New York warehouse for years. It finally came into the Brooklyn Museum, where the precious documents within it were rediscovered. Hence, the first known papyri from Elephantine were those bought from natives in 1904 by Sir Robert Mond and Lady William Cecil, which were published by Sayce and Cowley in 1906. A German excavation on the island of Elephantine in 1906 and 1907 brought to light more such documents. Their publication in 1911 by Eduard Sachau, together with those published by Sayce and Cowley in 1906, gave to the scholarly world a wealth of material in Aramaic from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah that has furthered study of the postexilic period and of Biblical Aramaic.

All this material, with some stray finds made in the meantime, was republished by A. Cowley in 1923 in a handy edition. In 1953 the 17 rediscovered Wilbour papyri, now in the Brooklyn Museum, were published by Emil G. Kraeling. The number of published Aramaic papyri from Elephantine now stands at more than 100. In this connection a related find should be mentioned, although it does not come from Elephantine: 13 official Aramaic letters written on leather, which, like the Elephantine papyri, come from the 5th century B.C. They mention the same Persian governor of Egypt as the Elephantine documents and contain certain material that sheds light on the record in Nehemiah. Bought from an Egyptian dealer by L. Borchardt sometime before 1933, when the find was first announced, these documents were subsequently published by G. R. Driver (1954), and together with the new Brooklyn papyri are now arousing a keen interest among Oriental and Biblical scholars.

The Importance of the Elephantine Papyri for Biblical studies.—In several respects the Elephantine papyri have been of the utmost importance for Biblical studies. They have furnished rich material in Aramaic from the same period in which the Aramaic sections of Ezra were written, and from a slightly later time than the book of Daniel, which also contains six chapters in Aramaic. These texts have clarified the meaning of obscure Biblical words, supported the meaning of others not well known before the discovery of these texts, and enriched our Aramaic vocabulary. They have also provided much comparative material by which the similarity of the Biblical Aramaic with that of the Elephantine documents can be established. This, in turn, proves the great antiquity of the Aramaic parts of the Bible.

The official documents found among the Elephantine papyri corroborate the genuineness of the similar documents of Ezra and prove that skepticism often expressed about their authenticity was, after all, unfounded. They have, furthermore, shown that the Persian kings issued decrees that concerned themselves with details of religious matters. For example, a decree of Darius II, found in Elephantine, directed the Elephantine Jews to celebrate the Passover with a strict observance of the Mosaic regulations.

These papyri have furnished sufficient evidence to settle the old question of whether the Artaxerxes of the book of Nehemiah was the first king by that name or the second. The evidence they provide proves that Nehemiah could have been governor only under Artaxerxes I. These papyri reveal that the Johanan of Nehemiah 12:22 was high priest in 410 B.C. Since Johanan was the grandson of Eliashib, the high priest of Nehemiah’s days, Nehemiah’s governorship must have preceded the high priesthood of Johanan. Also the fact that Sanballat was governor of Samaria, as attested in the Elephantine papyri, has clarified a number of historical problems in connection with Nehemiah’s story. Although Sanballat was apparently still alive in 407 B.C. when he was mentioned in a letter from Elephantine, he was now an old man whose responsibilities were borne by his sons. This supports the conclusion that the work of Nehemiah, when Sanballat was his vigorous enemy—probably in the prime of life—was a thing of the past in 407 B.C.

The Elephantine papyri are also very important because of the fact that many of them are dated, and that some bear double dates, the Egyptian legal date and its Jewish equivalent. The double-dated documents have made it possible to reconstruct the Jewish calendar in use by the Elephantine Jews of the 5th century. This proves to have been a lunar calendar, with the New Year beginning in the autumn.

The Jewish Colony at Elephantine During the 5th Century B.C.—The island of Elephantine (Egyptian, Yeb) lies below the first Nile cataract and forms a natural barrier toward the south. It was an important border fortress at different times in Egypt’s history and was called “the Gate of the South.” Under the reign of Psamtik I (663-610 B.C.) this island housed a strong garrison of mercenary forces, but it is not certain whether Jews were already living there. However, Jews belonged to the forces of Psamtik II (595- 589 B.C.), who, as Herodotus states, carried out a campaign against Nubia, in which, according to the Jewish Aristeas letter, he was accompanied by Jewish mercenary troops.

It is well known that the kings of the Twenty-sixth Egyptian Dynasty leaned heavily on foreign soldiers. Inscriptions testify to the presence of Ionian, Carian, and Phoenician mercenaries in the garrisons of southern Egypt. Although Jews are not mentioned by name, one text speaks of soldiers from Palestine. It is possible that Jews of Elephantine had found their way to Egypt before the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah addresses, along with other Jewish residents of Egypt, those of Pathros (Jeremiah 44:1), an Egyptian geographical name meaning literally “The South Land,” in which the area of Elephantine is usually included.

Although the origin of the Jewish colony on Elephantine is not yet definitely known, these people must have lived on the island for some time before 525 B.C., for when Cambyses conquered Egypt, they already formed a well-settled colony in the possession of a temple where they worshiped Yahu (an abbreviated form of the name Yahweh, or Jehovah). They were taken over by the Persian administration into its military system and continued to constitute the garrison of the fortress Elephantine. They called themselves “the Jewish army,” which army was divided into standards or companies, under Persian and Babylonian commanders, and centuries, with officers bearing Jewish and Babylonian names. No Egyptian names appear among the army personnel. We therefore conclude that the Egyptians were kept out of the army, since their loyalty to the Persian king could be questioned.

All judicial power was in the hands of the Persian commanding officer of the fortress, but internal affairs of the Jewish colony were controlled by the chief of the “congregation.” The Jews were in possession of houses and other hereditary property and some of them seem to have been well-to-do people.

Being Jews they were, in the first place, worshipers of Yahu. To Him they had built a temple with five entrances of stone, and pillars of stone, but the walls were probably of brick. The roof was of cedarwood, and the wooden doors swung on bronze hinges. Gold and silver vessels belonged to the equipment of the temple, and on its altar the Jews offered burnt sacrifices, meal offerings and incense. Every Jew paid 2 shekels for the upkeep of the temple in contrast to 1/3 shekel in Judea (see Nehemiah 10:32). The Jews who built this temple had not been influenced by the reform of Josiah, who had reorganized Judea’s religious practices according to the laws of Moses that clearly prohibited any separatist sanctuaries (Deuteronomy 12:13, 14; 2 Kings 23:8). Furthermore, they served not only Yahu but also several other deities besides Him, among them Ashim-Bethel and ‘Anath-Bethel. While Ashim (for a similar name, see on 2 Kings 17:30) is not well known from other sources, we are well acquainted with the Canaanite goddess Anath, a bloodthirsty, immoral deity. Hence, we find the Jews of Elephantine standing in some respects on the religious level of the time of King Manasseh, with a separatist temple, and serving, besides their national God, certain deities of pagan nations, especially those that promoted fertility. Of the religious reform of Josiah nothing can be traced in Elephantine. And nothing is felt of the work of a Jeremiah, Daniel, or Ezekiel, whose influence is clearly discernible among the returned exiles then settled in Jerusalem and the province of Judea.

One very important document coming from the year 419 B.C., shows that the Persian king (Darius II) issued directives concerning the religious life of the Jews. This particular document is, unfortunately, poorly preserved, but this much is clearly ascertainable, that Darius had given an order that the Feast of Unleavened Bread be kept from Nisan 15 to 21, that the Jews should cleanse themselves for this occasion, and that they should not drink (intoxicating beverages) or eat anything that contained leaven. We do not know the reason for the issuance of the decree. But this much can be concluded with certainty, that the king had counselors versed in Jewish law able to compose such a decree, and who were also interested in having the king sign, such a directive. It is possible that this decree went to all Jews in the empire, although the only proof of its existence comes from Elephantine. The decree shows that the Persian kings supported the religious life of the Jews and the laws of Moses. This fact provides corroboration of the genuineness of the record of similar decrees found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Because of the extreme importance of the decree a translation of the poorly preserved letter containing it is offered herewith. The sections enclosed in brackets [ ] are reconstructed. The translation follows principally that of A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (1923), pp. 62, 63, but has also profited by the suggestions of Emil G. Kraeling, made in The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri (1953), pp. 92–95. It varies, however, in some details in which the present translator disagrees with the previous translations.

1. [To my brethr]en

2. [Yedo]niah and his colleagues (and) the Jewish ga[rrison], your brother Hanan[iah]. The peace of my brethren may God desire.

3. And now this year, the year 5 of Darius the king, from the king there was sent to Arsh[am saying],

4. [In the month of Nisan let there be a Passover for the Jewish garrison]. Now thus ye shall count: four[teen days]

5. [of the month Nisan and ke]ep [the Passover], and from the 15th day to the 21st day of Ni[san]

6. [are seven days of Unleavened Bread]. Be ye clean and take heed. Work no[t]

7. [on the 15th day and on the 21st day. Beer no]t shall ye drink and anything [in] which [there is] leaven

8. [do not eat, from the 15th day from] sunset till the 21st day of Nis[an, seven]

9. [days, let it not be seen among you; do not br]ing it into your chambers, but seal it up during [those] day[s].

10. [Let this be done as Darius] the k[ing commanded].Address: To my brethren Yedoniah and his colleagues the Jewish garrison, your brother Hanani[ah] …

These foreign Jews serving the Persian ruler as soldiers were disliked by the native Egyptians. This hatred was certainly increased when Cambyses, at the time of his conquest of Egypt, destroyed the Egyptian temple on Elephantine dedicated to the ram-headed god Khnum, but left the Jews and their temple unmolested. Because the Jews made proselytes among the Egyptians as the documents attest, and because they fared well financially, and treated the native Egyptians with contempt, calling their priests by a contemptuous name, and the mutual aversion increased until it produced an eruption.

When Arsham, or Arsames, the Persian satrap of Egypt, was absent from Egypt in 410 B.C. the priests of Khnum bribed the Persian commander Widrang, or Hydarnes, of Elephantine to let his son Nephayan, the commander of Syene (Aswân), come over with his non-Jewish troops to Elephantine and spoil the Jewish temple and destroy it thoroughly. When Arsames returned to Egypt the Jews had the satisfaction of seeing Hydarnes and Nephayan punished—possibly executed—for their crime. However, they did not succeed in obtaining from him a permit to rebuild their temple, since the satrap seems to have been fearful of a new outbreak. By making his permit dependent on one to be obtained from the authorities at Jerusalem, Arsames thought to shift to other shoulders the responsibility for rejecting the request. He may previously have known Nehemiah or other leaders of Judea, and probably expected that they would not give a permit for the rebuilding of a separatist temple.

The Jews of Elephantine wrote a letter to the high priest Johanan of Jerusalem placing their request before him. The Jerusalem authorities ignored this request completely and failed to send any reply. Hence, the Elephantine Jews, after having waited in vain for more than two years, wrote again in 407 B.C., this time placing their request before Bagoas, the Persian governor of Judea, and at the same time before the two sons of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, who apparently carried on the administration for their old father, Bagoas, who did not live on good terms with Johanan, conferred with Delaiah of Samaria and decided to allow the Jews of Elephantine to rebuild their temple. However, bloody sacrifices were not to be offered in the new temple. Receiving this permit, Arsames seems to have endorsed the grant, and the temple was rebuilt, as can be seen from the fact that in 402 B.C. the temple is again referred to, in an Aramaic document, as existing on the island.

Very soon after this time a successful rebellion of the Egyptians against the Persian rule once more brought independence to Egypt, and probably marked the end of the Jewish colony on Elephantine. The last known dated Jewish document from that island was written on June 19, 400 B.C. Then a curtain of silence fell over this interesting community. The temple was probably again destroyed, and the Jews either killed or driven out. Nothing further is known of their fate.


The following additional books deal with certain phases of the period discussed in this article. The appearance of certain works in this Bibliography does not necessarily mean that the views of the authors are endorsed in this commentary.

The Cambridge Ancient History. Edited by J. B. Bury, S. A. Cook, F. E. Adcock. 12 vols. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926–39. Volume 3, The Assyrian Empire, presents in chapters X and XI (written by R. Campbell Thompson) the history of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and a discussion of the influence of Babylon on the ancient world. Volume 4, The Persian Empire and the West, deals more with Greek history during the Persian wars than with Persia itself.

Cowley, A.Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923. 319 pp. A collection of all Aramaic papyri from Elephantine known in 1923. The texts are given with translations, and a commentary.

Dougherty, Raymond Philip.Nabonidus and Belshazzar. A Study of the Closing Events of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. “Yale Oriental Series, Researches, Volume XV.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 1929. 216 pp. The author has collected all source material that sheds light on Belshazzar and attempts to put him in the correct historical setting of his time.

Driver, G. R.Aramaic Documents of the Fifth Century B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954. 50 pp., and facsimiles. The publication of the Aramaic leather manuscripts from Egypt that shed much light on the Persian administration of Egypt during the reigns of Artaxerxes I and Darius II.

Koldewey, Robert.The Excavations at Babylon. Translated by Agnes S. Johns. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1914. 335 pp. A popularly written but thoroughly reliable account of ancient Babylon as found by the modern excavator, after almost 15 years of uninterrupted work on the ruins.

Kraeling, Emil G.The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri. New Documents of the Fifth Century B.C. From the Jewish Colony at Elephantine. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953. 319 pp., and facsimiles. The publication of the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine “discovered” after 54 years in storage. The introductory chapters deal with the history of the Elephantine Jews, their religion, and social affairs as revealed by the papyri. It is the first thorough treatment of this important subject in English.

Olmstead, A. T.History of the Persian Empire. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948. 576 pp. This history attempts to take into account all evidence that can throw any light on Persian history, including Greek, Aramaic, Persian, and Babylonian sources.

Rogers, Robert William.A History of Ancient Persia, From Its Earliest Beginnings to the Death of Alexander the Great. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929. 393 pp.

Smith, Sidney.Isaiah XL–LV, Literary Criticism and History. “The Schweich Lectures of the British Academy, 1940.” London: Oxford University Press, 1944. 204 pp. Lecture II contains a good survey of the history of Babylonia from 556 to 539 B.C. and offers in its notes a rich collection of source material. The remainder of the book is a defense of the writer’s higher critical view that the second part of Isaiah contains a history of the last phase of the Babylonian Empire written in the form of a prophecy after the events described had taken place.

Wiseman, D. J.Chronicles of Chaldean Kings (626-556 B.C.) in the British Museum. London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1961. 99 pp., plates. A series of tablets long owned by the museum but not published (except one, in 1923) until 1956, with text, translation, and historical introduction. In recounting the annual military campaigns these chronicles give exact dates for the accession of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar, and for the capture of Jerusalem and its king (Jehoiachin) in 597; they also settle the question of the year of Josiah’s death.

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