The Postexilic History of Israel. IV. 1

By Professor Willis J Beecher, D.D.,

Auburn, N. Y.



The chronology.—The years for the period now to be considered are named after the Persian kings as follows:

B. C. 521-486 are the 36 years of Darius Hystaspes.

B. C. 485-465 are the 21 years of Xerxes.

B. C. 464-424 are the 41 years of Artaxerxes Longimanus.

The dated events.-5 I5 B. C. 7th of Darius. Passover following the completion of Zerubbabel's temple, Ezra 6:19-22.

  • 490 B. C. Defeat of the generals of Darius by the Greeks at Marathon.

  • 486 B. C. Last year of Darius. Revolt of Egypt from Persia, four years after the battle of Marathon. Accession of Xerxes. Herodotus Polymnia 1-4.

  • 485-484 B. C. 1st and 2nd years of Xerxes. He reconquers Egypt, Herodotus Polymnia 5-6.

  • 483 B C. 3rd year of Xerxes.2 His feast, and the deposing of Vashti, Esth. I, especially ver. 3, Herodotus Polymnia 7-19.

  • 480 B. C. 6th of Xerxes. He invades Greece, Herod. Polymnia 20 sq. In September he is defeated at Salamis, article on Persia in Encyc. Brit. A few weeks later (more than a year before some date in the 10th month of the 7th year of Xerxes, Esth. 2:16, 12), apparently, he remembers Vashti, and makes arrangements for providing her successor, Esth. 2.

  • 479 B. C. 7th year of Xerxes, 10th month (December-January). Esther taken to the house of Xerxes. In September, his general Mardonius had been defeated by the Greeks at Plataea.

  • 474 B. C. 12th of Xerxes. Haman casts lots for a day to destroy the Jews, first month, Esth. 3:7, 12. Third month, twenty-third day, Mordecai's letter sent out, Esth. 8:9.

  • 473 B. C. 12th of Xerxes, 12th month (February-March). The thirteenth day of the month appointed for destroying the Jews; that and the day following turned to days of vengeance for them, Esth. 3:13; 8:12; 9:1, 15-19.

  • 458 B. C. 7th of Artaxerxes. Ezra goes up to Jerusalem, Ezra 7:7.

  • 445 B. C. 20th of Artaxerxes. Nehemiah begins operations. Neh. 1:1.

The situation in the holy land.—For the interval of 57 years, from 515 to 458 B. C., we have not a scrap of direct information in regard to the settlers in Judea. We know nothing of the events that occurred there, save what we are entitled to infer by comparing the situation at the beginning of the interval with that at its close.

Ezra, and Nehemiah after him, on reaching Jerusalem, found the temple still standing, and, so far as appears, in good condition, Ezra 8:33-36, and Neh. throughout. The fortifications of the city, however, Nehemiah found in ruins, and the city itself thinly inhabited, Neh. 1:3 ; 2:3, 13, 17, 5, 8; 7:4. According to Ezra 4:12; I Esd. 4:53, 55; Jos. Ant. XI. ii. I, and all the probabilities in the case, the walls had been rebuilt; it follows that, either before or after the coming of Ezra, they had been overthrown by some local enemy. That  15
226 The Postexilic History of Israel. [Oct., the Jews had such enemies, who were not prevented by their common allegiance to the Persian sovereign from making war upon them, appears from Ezra 8:22, 31; Neh. 4:7-22. Ezra and Nehemiah found their Judaean countrymen in the possession of a political organization of their own. Jeshua probably served a very long term as high priest, and was succeeded by his son Joiakim, who apparently continued till Ezra's time, Neh. 12:1, 10, 26. They had their elders (Ezra 1o:8, 14), their captains (sarim, Ezra 9:1; 10:8, 14, and many other places in Ezra and Neh., the word being translated prince, ruler, chief), and their national assembly (qahal, Ezra 2:64; 10:I, 8, 12, 14; Neh. 5:13; 7:66; 8:2, 17; 13:1). No one but Zerubbabel, indeed, is called prince (nasi, Ezra 1:8); but Zerubbabel is called governor (pehah, Hag. 1:14; 2:2, 21; Ezra 5:14; 6:7), and apparently Tirshatha (Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65, 70), and Nehemiah had the same titles (Neh. 5:14; 12:26; 8:9; 10:2 [I]); whence it is probable that they had a succession of governors of their own race, from Zerubbabel to Nehemiah. This is confirmed by the mention of the habits of their governors, Neh. 5:15, 18. But this organization did not suffice for enforcing Jewish laws upon those who were amenable to them, for here was one of the defects that Ezra was to remedy, and he was to appoint judges and magistrates for that purpose, Ezra 7:25-216.

Ezra and Nehemiah found priests and Levites at the temple, and worship maintained there, Ezra 8:33-36. 9:1; etc. But it appears that there were great deficiencies in these matters, for Ezra was under the necessity of importing additional temple ministers, and even delayed his journey in order to obtain suitably qualified Levites and Nethinim, Ezra 8:15-20. In this incident, it is noteworthy that he sends to an institution in Babylonia, "the place Casiphia," for properly trained men for the service of the temple in Jerusalem.

Ezra and Nehemiah found their countrymen in Judaea becoming rapidly denationalized, both in their institutions and in blood. In the times of Zerubbabel they had kept stoutly aloof from their Samaritan neighbors, but now they were both intermingling and intermarrying both with these, and with the other neighboring peoples, especially with the Ammonites, Moabites, Ashdodites, and Arabians, Ezra 9 and 10, especially 9:1; Neh. throughout, especially 2:10, 19; 4:7; 6:1; 13:1, 23-24, etc. In consequence, the distinctive Israelitish institutions (very prominently the Sabbath, Neh. 10:31 and 13 throughout) were in peril. Meanwhile, extortion and poverty prevailed, Neh. 5.

In fine, whether we look at the matter from the point of view of religious orthodoxy, or from that of worldly prosperity, the Palestinian Jews had made little or no progress since the small beginnings in Zerubbabel's time, and in many particulars had degenerated.

The condition of the Jews out of the holy land.—If we may trust the representations of the book of Esther, they were in great prosperity. They were living in all the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the Persian empire, from India to Ethiopia, among people of different races and languages, Esth. 3:8, 12, 14; 8:9; 9:30. They were so numerous that in Shushan alone they slew 8oo of their enemies, in the two days of retribution, 9:6, 15, and 75,000 in the whole empire, 9:16. They were immensely rich and influential. The city of Shushan rejoiced when matters turned in their favor, 8:15. The indemnity which Haman proposed to pay to the royal treasury was 10,000 talents, 3:9. Especially after Mordecai came to the ascendant, their prosperity increased. Haman testifies to their fidelity to their own laws, 3:8. Influenced by their good fortune and their fidelity,* numerous proselytes joined them, 8:17.

But can these representations be depended upon? In other words, is the book of Esther history or romance? If religious people should come generally to regard the book as a romance, that would not change their estimate of the religious lessons taught in it; and there is no particular reason why we might not expect to find a romance, as well as poems and addresses and histories, among our inspired writings. But who can prove that the book is a romance? Esther 2:6 does not necessarily imply that Mordecai was personally one of the captives of Jehoiachin's time, and hence this verse cannot be fairly used to impeach the historical character of the book. The Xerxes of the Book of Esther is really magnificent, but at the same time pretentious and ill balanced, like the Xerxes of the Greek historians. The gathering of Esth. 1:3 and that of Herodotus VII. 7 sq. may be identical. It strikes me as a mark of probability in the story that Xerxes is very high and mighty about Vashti when he had just conquered Egypt (see the dated events), and is raising the largest army the world ever saw, for the conquest of Greece, but on returning from Greece, defeated and humiliated, he shows himself to be sorry and lonesome, and remembers Vashti. The Jewish feast of Purim is a fact, and that gives to this account of its origin some claim to be counted as a record of facts.

Even if it were conceded that the book is a romance, that would not necessarily destroy its testimony to the historical situation. And in general terms, at least, its testimony to the situation is confirmed by all that we know of the preceding and subsequent history. What it says of the fidelity of the Babylonian Jews to their national laws agrees with the fact that Ezra exported orthodoxy from Babylonia to Palestine, and with the other facts in regard to Ezra. The record of Ezra and Nehemiah and their standing with the Persian monarch show that the career attributed to Mordecai is at least not monstrous in its incredibility. In fine, whether the book of Esther be regarded as romance or as history, its presentation of the condition of the Jews of the time must be regarded either as generally true, or else as minutely true.

One especially significant process was going on in Babylonia, and very likely elsewhere, during this interval, a process which afterward proved to be the salvation of the Jews from the denationalization with which they were being threatened in Palestine: men like Ezra were studying the laws and institutions of Israel. Such a community as " the place Casiphia," Ezra 8:17, was in existence. We have no detailed information concerning this movement, but ultimately, under Ezra and Nehemiah, it became able to command the support of the Persian emperors, and to infuse new vigor into the Palestinian colony.

Jewish literary production in the Persian period before Ezra.—This was a time of wonderful literary activity among the Greeks. Of distinguished Greek philosophers and authors who had some part of their literary career between B. C. 538 and B. C. 458, not less than forty names are now known, and among these the names of such men as Anacreon and Pindar, Pythagoras, and Eschylus and Sophocles. Herodotus and Euripides were young men when Ezra came up to Jerusalem, and Thucydides and Socrates were then boys. Any one can make these facts quite full and vivid to himself, if he will take the names as they appear in the chronological tables of Greek history, at the close of Smith's Classical Dictionary, and will look up, under the name of each author, the salient facts concerning him.

What interchange of influence there may have been, at this time, between the Israelite and the Greek literatures, is a question that cannot be here discussed. But it would not-be correct altogether to ignore the probability that there was such an interchange; for the Jews, as we have seen, were scattered through the Persian empire; and the Persians were in very prominent contact with the Greeks, in Asia Minor, Egypt and elsewhere.

The Israelite writings that claim to date from the times of Zerubbabel are the book of Haggai, Zechariah chaps. 1-8, the papers copied into the text of the first six chapters of Ezra, and certain psalms.

Haggai.—Our book of Haggai is made up of five brief sketches of discourses uttered by this prophet: 1:1-12; 13-15; 2:1-9; 10-19; 20-23. They are all dated between August and December, 520 B. C., and all have for their immediate purpose to urge on the building of the temple. If any one will read them in connection with the table of dated events given in the third of these "Studies," he will find that the history connected with them throws great light on their meaning.

Zechariah, Chaps. 1-8.—We have here three prophecies. The first, Zech. 1:1-6, is dated the eighth month of the second year of Darius, October-November of B. C. 520. The second, 1:7-6:15, is a description of a series of eight visions and a message that followed them, and is dated the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month of the same year, say February of B. C. 519. The third prophecy (possibly it is a series of sketches, including more than one prophecy) is dated the ninth month of the fourth year, that is late in B. C. 518, and occupies chaps. 7 and 8. These prophecies, like those of Haggai have a direct application to the times then existing.

Zechariah 9-14.—Here are two prophecies: "The Burden of the Word of Jehovah in the case of the Land of Hadrach," chaps. 9-I1, and " The Burden of the Word of Jehovah upon Israel," chaps. 12-14. What have these to do with the times
230 The Postexilic History of Israel. [Oct., of Zerubbabel? They present a historical situation of the times when Assyria and northern Israel were still in existence, Zech. 10:10, 11; 9:13, etc. . It is held by some that these prophecies deal with the times of Zerubbabel, and by others that they belong several generations later, the apparent marks of earlier times being regarded as figures of speech, or matters of literary form; both these opinions seem to me untenable. The existing phenomena would be accounted for if we suppose that we have here two prophecies by an earlier Zechariah, say the one of Isa. 8; 2, or of 2 Chron. 26:5; or two prophecies that were handed down from earlier times, but edited by the Zechariah of Zerubbabel's time; or that the prophecies were written by him, for the sake of the Messianic doctrine they contain, but from the point of view of the earlier time.

Malachi.—In the Seder Olam Rabba, chap. 20, we are told that " Mordecai the Jew and Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all became prophets in the second year to Darius." If this statement is intended to give the date of our book of Malachi, it is contradicted by the indications of a later date, found in the book itself.

The papers incorporated into the first six chapters of Ezra and the parallel accounts.—These are the following:

1. State papers of Cyrus.

a. The proclamation, Ezra I:2-4; I Esdr. 2:3-7.

b. The decree, Ezra 6:3-5; I Esdr. 6:24 sq.; Jos. Ant. XI. iv. 6. The decree of Cyrus is here given as cited in a decree of Darius. Evidently the passage cited from Cyrus ends with the fifth verse in Ezra, though in I Esdras and Josephus what follows is also attributed to Cyrus.

z. The different proclamation of Cyrus, Jos. Ant. XI. i. 1.

y. The letter of Cyrus to Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai, Jos. Ant. XI. i. 3.

2. State papers of Artaxerxes (Gomates).

c. Letter to the king, accusing the Jews, Ezra 4; 11b-16; I Esd. 2:16-24; Jos. Ant. XI. ii. 1.

d. The king's decree in reply, Ezra 4:17-22; I Esdr. 2:25-29; Jos. Ant. XI. ii. 2.

3. State papers of Darius.

x. Letters from Darius for Zerubbabel, some statements from which are given, I Esd. 4:47-55, 61; Jos. Ant. XI. iii. 8.

e. Report of Tattenai to Darius, Ezra 5:6-17; I Esd. 6:8-22; Jos. Ant. XI. iv. 4, 5.

f. Reply of Darius, Ezra 6:1-12; I Esd. 6:23-34; Jos. Ant. XI. iv. 6, 7.

w. Decree of Darius, in favor of the Jews, when they accused their enemies, Jos. Ant. XI. iv. 9.

In the several instances, except x, the document as given in I Esd. is a translation, with variations, from the canonical text; while Josephus gives a restatement, with changes and additions, of what he found in I Esdras. It is easy to explain y, as a make-up by Josephus from the facts of the history, and z, as a make-up by him from his own opinions. The letters marked x, stand or fall with the story of Zerubbabel and the discussion as to wine, kings, women, and truth; and common opinion is doubtless correct in counting these unhistorical. No objection stands against w, save that it rests solely on the testimony of Josephus. Doubtless, the six papers a, b, c, d, e, f, are to be regarded as either copies or abstracts of genuine state documents.

4. Two documents of Jewish origin.

g. The Aramaic narrative, Ezra 4:8-6:18, including within itself the papers c, d, e, f. The narrative connecting these four papers is written in Aramaic, as well as the papers themselves; and this narrative begins, 4:8, by repeating the statement just made in the Hebrew. These and other circumstances show that we have here an older narrative, incorporated by the Hebrew narrator into his account, without even translating it. The use of the first person in 5:4 seems to show that the author of this Aramaic narrative was either Zerubbabel or some associate of his, who participated in the transactions recorded.

h. The genealogical paper, Ezra 2:1-67. This, with the verses that follow, including the sentence in which the narrative is resumed, 3:"1, is duplicated in Neh. 7:6-8:I.

The first six chapters of Ezra consist of these several papers, connected and supplemented by a few narrative statements.

The psalms that are attributed in the Septuagint to the times of Zerubbabel.—Ps. 96 is anonymous in the Hebrew. The different copies of the Septuagint and Vulgate give it, with some variations, the following title: "A song to David, when the house was built after the captivity." In some copies of the Septuagint (not always in the same copy) the name of Haggai, or of Zechariah, or more commonly both names, may be found in the titles of the following: Pss. 112, 138, 139, 146, 147, 147:12, 148, 149, 150. Of these, Ps. 96 has the name of David in its title in the Greek and Latin, and Pss. 138 and 139 have the name of David in the title in the Hebrew, as well as in the Greek. Evidently those who gave these inscriptions to these psalms saw no incongruity in coupling the name of David, in a psalm title, with postexilic names or events. Perhaps they intended to, convey the idea that these psalms were taken from a collection made by Haggai and Zechariah, including some psalms that had been written by David. As to the validity of these inscriptions, and also as to their meaning there is great diversity of opinion; but there can be no doubt that here is an early tradition which attributes to these prophets active work in connection with psalms and music. This is quite in keeping with such representations as that in Ezra 3:9-11.


Auburn Theol. Seminary, Auburn, N. Y.


1) Dr. H. V. Hilprecht, in a note on page 548 of the S. S. Times of Aug. 31, 1889, makes some valuable corrections and additions to my note on the Nebuchadnezzar Inscriptions in the Student for July, page 34.

I supposed I was following trustworthy information when I said that the view which attributes the Boundary Stone Inscription and some others to an earlier Nebuchadnezzar had been abandoned; but Dr. Hilprecht says that I am incorrect in this, and his opportunities for knowing are certainly better than mine.

I mentioned "at least one" inscription on the rocks of the Nahr-el-kalb. Dr. Hilprecht adds, from personal observations made in 1888, that there is but one.

I used the word " perhaps" in connection with the inscriptions in the Wady Brissa. Dr. Hilprecht's article in the Times is a particularly interesting account of his own visit to this locality, in 1888; and he calls attention to the fact that all doubt in regard to the inscriptions had already been removed by the publication of Mr. H. Pognon's book, Inscriptions Babyloniennes du Wadi Brissa, Paris, 1887.

2) Josephus and the Septuagint make Artaxerxes, and not Xerxes, to have been the monarch of the book of Esther. Josephus, against the canonical books and I Esdras, undertakes to reconcile this with the rest of the history by regarding Xerxes, instead of Artaxerxes, as the monarch of Ezra's time. No one disputes, however, that verbally the names Ahasuerus and Xerxes are identical, and few if any scholars now hesitate to follow the canonical Ezra and the Hebrew of Esther, in opposition to Josephus. Earlier eminent scholars, however, like Prideaux and Whiston, took the other view. The result of all this is that many of the current statements in regard to these times are very confused. It is here peculiarly unsafe to accept statements in regard to dates or the order of events, without first verifying them by the primary sources of information.

Herodotus tells us that in the third year of Xerxes, he held a great assembly, to debate on his plans for conquering Greece.