& CREATION OF JUDAISM
3. Ezra & The Law
Exiles or Persian Colonists?
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The composition of lamentations by the Israelites by the Rivers of
Babylon, and so on, gives the impression that the Israelites were again
enslaved in Babylon, just as they had been in Egypt in the Exodus myth.
They lived in concentration camps “under the malign eys of their
warders”, as G Garbini puts it. If the colonists had come from the
Rivers of Babylon, namely from the upper reaches of the Euphrates, in the
Land of the Rivers, as the biblical clues suggest, then they had lived
there as free people, and the lamentations originally must have been for
the loss of their native homeland there in Syria, a bountiful place.
Certainly, too, the Jews who had been deported to wherever they went,
in the policy of the time of transporting the elite class of troublesome
people, will have been made rulers of some other troublesome people, and
ordered to keep them in control or suffer the consequences. In short, they
were transported as rulers wherever they were, and had the support of the
state so long as they kept order. Since only the skilled and educated
upper classes were deported, it seems incredible that, just when kings
were beginning to realise the advantages of having empires organised to
maximise revenue, they would banish skilled people into unproductive
activities in concentration camps.
The Jewish royalty unquestionably were treated extremely well, accepted
and financed at the court of the Babylonian kings where they could be
observed, and had little incentive anyway to want to return to their
dessicated little country. Biblicists, hardly consistent, as ever, also
point to the success of the supposed Jewish banks of Egibi and Murushu.
Wealthy bankers could hardly run their businesses as slaves in
concentration camps. Nor would people like these want to return to the
hardships of scratching a living from parched limestone outcroppings. Jews
were supposed to have been in exile, at a time when a generation was
practically about 15 years, for a minimum of three generations even if we
are to believe the biblical myth that they returned immediately they had
the chance. They would have long ceased to have entertained any such
Ezra could not have expounded the law until around 420 BC, about
160 years after the exile, two long lifetimes or about ten generations. No
exiled Jew could have been still entertaining any yearning for their home
after this time. They will have spent the time as insecure but privileged
rulers of some Babylonian province, their insecurity being a guarantee of
their loyalty and their privilege rewarding them with wealth. They must
have been better off where they were than in their dusty homeland, and
they must have known that any hopes of a return, even if they first
entertained them, as they might have, were out of the question.
Biblicists like to claim that the success of the Jews in exile is
proved by the success of the Egibi bank, said by many to have been Jewish
from the names of some its staff being theophoric in some abbreviated form
of Yehouah, or otheriwse supposedly looking Jewish. Thus the name of the
bank, Egibi, is supposed to be the same as Jacob, and several of the names
are said to have been in the lists of Ezra’s “Returners”. Even so, A Ungnad
(1941), cited by Garbini (GG-HIAI), says most of the family names were
Babylonian, not Jewish.
Even more curious is that the Egibi bank had flourished in Babylon even
before Nebuchadrezzer had destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish ruling
elite. The biblicist excuse then becomes that these are not Jews but
remnants of the lost tribes of Israelites. What is overlooked is the
simple fact that the Israelites were not the only people who ever
worshipped Yehouah. Canaanites, Syrians and even Babylonians worshipped
the same god. In Babylon he was Ea, matching Egibi rather better than
In the time they were in exile, the Jews must have fully integrated
with the people they were set over. So, who did “return”? Using the
biblical clues, they came from the watered plains of Syria by the
mountains leading to Uratu, by the cities of Urfa and Harran. The word “Egibi”,
if it were a hybrid, looks to mean something like the House of the
Highlanders (E-Gibea) whch again would imply the north of Mesopotamia
where the plains of Syria meet the highlands of modern Turkey, only about
100 miles from Canaan, and not much further from places like Hamath known
to had names theophoric in Yehouah in contemporary times. This too is the
place whence came the Persian colonists to Yehud.
Doubtless the colonists were actually a mixed bunch, but all had to
believe and propagate the ethnic myth they had been provided with by their
Persian masters. The myth was that they had been sent into exile long ago
as God’s punishment, but having served their time, at the instigation of
God’s anointed one, Cyrus, the king of kings, acting upon the wishes of
their own God called Yehouah, they were being returned, and had now to
keep the restored religion of Yehouah free of pollution by idolatry. To
help them, Yehouah had provided them with a law, and the redeemer, the
shananshah, had sent his chief minister to read it out for them. He was
called Ezra, or some say, Zorobabel.
The Extent of God’s Wrath
Cyrus was happy for co-operative people to restore their traditional
beliefs, because the astonishingly rapid growth of the empire overtaxed
its human resources. There were not enough experienced Persian
administrators to administer such a huge territory. Persians were placed
in senior positions throughout the empire but locals had to be trusted at
lower levels, and in minor places. For an empire facing up to Egyptians,
Greeks, Syrians and Indians, Palestine at first was simply an eroded
hillside. The Persians made it important for defensive and treasury
The author of Ezra 1-6 wants to depict the return as a single
huge event urged by Cyrus himself, though it was not. Nor was the building
of the temple undertaken quickly but only a long time after Cyrus and even
Darius the Great had died. Biblical commentaries will happily tell us that
Josephus got confused among the Persian Dariuses, but the scholars are no
more enlightened. P Ackroyd notes that the arrival of Zerubabel,
Joshua and the large number of settlers has been placed by different
biblical authorities in the time of Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius I. It
shows that no one knows and they are all guessing—and they are all
wrong! The compilers of the bible themselves had gotten confused. It is
most likely that the date is the second year of Darius II, a hundred
years later than Darius I.
It seems that the earliest colonists to come into the hill countries of
Palestine under the Persians did not build a temple at all! Their excuse
is given in the bible as that the time had not yet come. “The time has
not yet come”, uses the word “et” for “time”, a word used
elsewhere to mean a divinely appointed time. The inscriptions of
Esarhaddon testify to the king’s use of a divine schedule for restoring
the Babylonian temple to Marduk at Esagila destroyed by his father
Sennacherib. Destruction was a sign of divine wrath, and the people had to
be persuaded that the god was no longer angry. The Esarhaddon inscriptions
state that the period of wrath was for seventy years but the god had
reduced the sentence out of compassion to eleven years. The Assyrian king
had really decided to reverse his father’s policy because a grateful
population were easier to govern than a resentful one.
The change was presented easily because the sexagesimal numeric system
was a system of counting in units, 10s, 60s and 360s, rather as we count
in units, 10s, 100s, and so on. Seventy years was one sixty and one ten
(11) and eleven was one ten and one unit (11), so the adjustment from
seventy to eleven looked divinely rational to a Babylonian. It is worth
noting in passing that the 490 years which also pops up in prophecy is
(360 + 60) (11) added to (60 + 10) (11). The time, two times and half a
time is 3 x 11 (3 x [360 + 60]). The 210 years which turns up in Josephus
is 3 x 11 (3 x [60 + 10]). The years of David in Jerusalem is 3 x 11 (3 x
[10 + 1]). When the magic number of years of punishment had been
completed, then the “years were fulfilled and the appointed time had
arrived”. Many examples of this usage are known in Mesopotamian tablets.
The sign of a God’s change of heart was often a change of king, the
reason being that of Esarhaddon himself—a new king often persued a
different policy. To do so, he presented the U-turn as a divine decision.
The appointed time was fulfilled or the god repented of his wrath. The new
king had been placed on the throne by the god to carry out his new
commandments. The parallels with the bible do not need mentioning, and no
Christian will! It was the approach used by Cyrus according to the bible
and according to the cylinder seals in Babylonia. The new king signals the
god’s new pleasure, and honours his duty to restore the shrine.
So, Cyrus was making use of a standard convention, known to all senior
officials in all countries but not known by the gullible masses who
believed in their god! He was not being kind hearted to distressed
religions as biblicists have pretended since the bible was subject to
Christian exegesis. It was a standard administrative and diplomatic
policy, widely used. The kings knew that the ordinary people, alienated by
the punishments or incompetence of earlier kings, would see them as
In the Jewish scriptures, we read such statements as:
When the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon.
Jeremiah mentions the magic number of years again elsewhere (Jer
29:10-14). Isaiah has Yehouah punishing Tyre for 70 years (Isa
23:15). The choice of seventy is the recognized lifetime of any human
being, and so a punishmant of seventy years, in these ancient near eastern
theologies, meant the generation of people now living could have had no
responsibility for the crimes that had invited the god’s original wrath.
In administrative terms, it meant that the new ruler could “restore”
the religion into a form that better suited his policies, and no one would
be any the wiser. The priests, do not forget, were officials of the state.
This is precisely what the Persians did in Yehud. The Persians restored
the worship of Yehouah in a form that was utterly different from the
Canaanite worship of Yehouah as a Baal. Now he was a god of heaven who
acted through the Persian king.
The equivalent in Babylon was that the fall of the city was presented
as a divine act by Marduk. The city’s god had chosen Cyrus and charged
him to restore Marduk’s religion, neglected by the neo-Babylonian
rulers. There is no doubt at all that Cyrus recruited the assistance of
the priesthood of Marduk beforehand with the promise that he would indeed
restore their religion. Babylon offered little resistance to the Medes and
The seventy years are mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36:21, then
Ezra begins immediately talking about the first year of Cyrus. Zechariah
1:12 speaks of the anger of Yehouah Sabaoth for seventy years, but put in
the form of a question. While the seventy years seems a standard
punishment period for serious crimes against a god, the supplicants in Zechariah,
as in some of the psalms and elsewhere, seem exasperated that such an
excessively long time had passed. The first six verses of Zechariah
are an accusation that generations before the one living in the second
year of Darius had been directed to return to the true god from their evil
ways but had failed. This makes sense if the Darius spoken of is Darius II
and the time is about 420 BC.
Earlier colonists had failed to win over the local population and had
not set up the temple state, if that were indeed their task. Isaiah
40:2 says that Jerusalem had had double the punishment for all her crimes,
an implication, perhaps, that around 140 years had passed, not merely
seventy, suggesting that the period of redemption was in the fifth
century, about the time that Nehemiah was said to have returned.
In the next ten verses, Zechariah says that God’s extended wrath was
now ended. He uses the “How long?” formula and repeats the seventy
year formula. The “How long?” formula is common in the Psalms
and elsewhere in the scriptures, but is also found in Sumerian and
Akkadian laments and supplications as M E Cohen (The Canonical
Lamentations of Ancient Mesopotamia) has detailed.
The Persians use the prophet to put to the people their duty, now that
the divine wrath had ended. Both the local Canaanites and the press-ganged
colonists knew nothing at all about what had happened in Palestine 70 to
150 years before. They took their cues from the Persian
propagandists—the prophets. This explains the “How long?” formula in
Psalms, (eg Ps 70:10-11, 79:5, 80:4, 89:46) because the
conventional period had long been exceeded.
How long, Yehouah, wilt thou be angry? For ever?
The inquisitive “Forever?” implied that the period of punishment
had been excessive. No one lived who could remember what the world was
like before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the
prophet was preparing them for a surprise—God’s anger was soon to end.
Isaiah expresses the same delay:
Be not wrath very sore, Yehouah, neither remember iniquity for ever:
behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.
The prophet urges that God should not be angry “indefinitely” or
think of the people’s sin “for ever”. Lamentations has the same
Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
…But thou hast utterly rejected us, thou art very wrath against us.
It is preparatory propaganda of the sort that would be naturally
disbelieved after such a long period and so would look like a miracle when
it came true. Its purpose was really to remind the people, after such a
long time, that they still had a god rather than that his period of anger
was up. Gods were the monarchs of the ancient near east and Isaiah is not
called the “Salvation of Yehouah” for nothing—His message is that
the divine king, Yehouah, was returning.
After the colonization of Israel, the nation started to be called
“Exiled Israel”, in the books now called the scriptures. Why should
they have wanted to call themselves exiled when they had returned? If the
Persian kings had allowed them to return to their former homeland after
they had been abducted by the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, they ought
to have been willing to show some gratitude to their new rulers and called
themselves “Restored Israel”, or some similar name.
What also of the Judahites and the Israelites who were not taken away
to the rivers of Babylon? Why would they have been willing to be called
“Exiled Israel” when they had struggled for over seventy years to
maintain a desolate country. The local people doubtless began to feel like
exiles in their own land when the “returners” arrived and took over
with the agreement of the Persian officials.
The author of Chronicles (2 Chr 36:20-21) wants us
to believe that every last person in the Palestinian Hills had been
removed to Babylonia and to Medea, leaving the country empty of people
except for a few passing Arabs. No one remained behind, so the whole
population were “returners” and had been “exiled”. The
Deuteronomic Historian gives the same idea with the last Israelites
leaving after the murder of Gedaliah, and the narrative petering out with
the fate of the exiled royalty in Babylonia. The author of Jeremiah
leaves the narrative at this same point. It is not likely or feasible and
other parts of the scriptures contradict it. P R Bedford writes:
The tendentious view of the Hebrew narratives of Ezra is that the
land was devoid of Judaeans after 587 BC, thus whoever the
repatriats found there could not have been legitimate Judaeans.
Even after 70 years in exile, people who could preserve such careful
histories and were obsessively concerned with genealogies ought to have
been willing and delighted to trace their relatives among those who had
been left behind. Yet the “returners” treat those they found still in
the land as foreigners, arguing that no one had been left behind.
The people who returned were confident they had no relatives in Yehud
because their ancestors were not from there. They had no relatives among
the Am ha Eretz because they were different people deported in as
colonists by the Persian government.
Yet the colonists themselves were exiles! They had been
deported from some distant country to be the colonists of Yehud. Now, with
the authority of the Persian government, they—the colonists—could
assert that they were the only legitimate Jews! Those that had remained in
Judaea when the skilled classes were taken off were not legitimate Jews
even if they were legitimate Judaeans. So, both groups of people had cause
to describe themselves as exiles in what was ordained as their own
country! The locals would only have a chance of becoming Jews by accepting
the rulership of the colonists and collaborating with them in every
respect as agents of the Persian conquerors. That is what the Persians
understood by a Jew wherever they lived in their empire and they were
happy to allow them the privileges of a local ruling class subject only to
the Persians themselves as long as they remained loyal. Mainly they did.
The return of Ezra 1-2 has been considered by the scholars to
have been written to mimic the occupation of the land originally by
Joshua, but the truth is Hegelian—the myth of the “Exodus” and
Joshua was an allegory of the colonization of Yehud! It was not a return
but an occupation of an alien land, just as the tribes under Joshua were
considered to have done. The colonists were not expatriot Israelites but
people from “eber niri”, “across the river”, Hebrews, the generic
expression for anyone across the river in either direction, but which was
predominantly applied to the lands to the west of the Euphrates, by the
Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians in the east. The natives were the
Canaanites just as they were in the conquest stories. The new people were
sent by the shah as “saviours”, to restore the old neglected ways of
the Israelites. The word for saviour keeps appearing from then on in the
stories invented to justify the colonisation—Hosea, Joshua, Isaiah,
Elisha, and ultimately in Jesus!
The ordinary people will not have been intended to have any rational
account of the colonization. It was presented to them as allegory set in
the distant past to give the new country being forged a sense of
antiquity. The Persian propagandists were remarkably successful! It is
likely that the accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah were for the eyes only of
the topmost priests, and only emerged into the open through the
destruction of texts in the Jewish civil war, and even then in a confused
state, so they were reconstructed by the successful Maccabees and became
part of the scriptures contrary to the intentions of the Persians. But
this was after the victories of Alexander, in Greek times!
In Ezra and Nehemiah only the colonists are
“returners” and are called Israel and even “All Israel”. The
allegory of the exodus is mentioned showing it was familiar to the people
by the time that Ezra was compiled about 200 years later. Jeremiah
and Ezekiel both say the land is empty or has some inhabitants who do not
matter because they are not of the House of Israel. Contradicting this,
Ezekiel says there was indeed a body of people still living in the land
who were descendants of Abraham (Ezek 33:24-29), but Yehouah would
Say thou thus unto them, Thus saith Yehouah Elohim; As I live, surely
they that are in the wastes shall fall by the sword, and him that is in
the open field will I give to the beasts to be devoured, and they that
be in the forts and in the caves shall die of the pestilence. For I will
lay the land most desolate, and the pomp of her strength shall cease;
and the mountains of Israel shall be desolate, that none shall pass
They were, of course, wicked and so deserved it! Jeremiah has the same
(Jer 24:1-10). For Jeremiah, the exiles are only those taken with
Jehoiakim to Babylon.
Isaiah 40-55 gives the allegory of the “return” and the
“exodus”. In the exodus allusions in Ezra and Isaiah,
the audience are led to identify with those brought “out of Egypt”.
Egypt is the enemy and the changes being brought about were meant to
dispose the audience of the Persian prophets against Egypt. Isaiah
52:11-12 suggests that the “return” from “exile” is greater than
the exodus from Egypt. These parallels identify Ezra with Moses and Egypt
Really, the exodus was psychological. It was a propaganda exodus in
which the people of the Levant, long in the cultural shadow of Egypt and
in many cases her actual colonies, were to be led away to an ostensible
influence but practical dependence on the east—Persia. The divine law of
the Jews, in the Pentateuchal saga, was given to a people who had no land,
and the people already living in the land they were to occupy in the myth
knew nothing about this law. The invaders are shown as having the law when
they enter the “Promised Land”, and forced it upon those there on pain
of death. The patriarchal narratives and the Pentateuch show Israel
as outsiders in opposition to the inhabitants of the land they had moved
to. We are reading an allegory of the “return” not any actual history.
The law given to the confused mass of former Egyptian slaves was that
of a settled and civilized society, not anything that wandering slaves
could devise. Doubtless gods and fairy-godmothers can produce out of their
conjuring bag whatever they like, but reality demands that experience
should lie behind historical events. An unsettled people could not have
invented or even had need for the law of a settled and civilized people.
If, then, the Israelites had the law before they had a land, it must have
been given to them by some civilized country and not by God, and it must
have been imposed, for otherwise no one would have taken any notice of it.
In fact, psalms such as Psalms 126 and Psalms 137 are
propaganda aimed at persuading the Canaanites (the Am ha Eretz and the
Samarians) to put their interests with the colonists.
An Empty Land?
Yet Chronicles emphasises the emptiness of the land, which
therefore needed no conquest, and scarcely mentions one, or even an
exodus. For this author, Judaism began with those who “returned”, not
those who mythically came out of Egypt conquering. If the land was empty,
at the “return”, then all of the people must have been
carried off, and none of them could have returned prematurely by
finding their way back on their own initiative in the intervening decades.
Jeremiah 52:16 admits that poor people were left behind in the
hill country when the leading families were banished. Nehemiah
9:6-37 reviews Israel’s past without mentioning an exile. Isaiah
6:11-13 speaks of a remnant left in the land with no context of an exile
or a return. The word “Israel” is surprisingly uncommon in some
biblical books, such as Haggai, and the biblical concept if it as
the exiled people of God might have been largely a product of
post-colonial mythologizing to legitimize colonial rule.
The myth that only “exiled Israel” was Israel excluded everyone
except the colonists who were almost certainly not Israel! Local people,
whether Judahites (Am ha Eretz) or Samarians were excluded, and indeed so
were all of those who worshipped the Canaanite Yehouah instead of the
version brought by the Persian colonists. We know this from the
That the Babylonians exiled most of the inhabitants of Judah is
historically unlikely, contradicted by clear archaeological evidence,
and undermined by several biblical texts.
Ehud Ben Zvi
Nothing in the archaeology suggests a disruption of occupation
sufficient to produce the signs that a long period of desolation would
entail. Jeremiah and Ezekiel contradict the hypothesis of a total
abduction of the population because people are mentioned as still living
in Judah. What is more, Jeremiah tells us that Neburazadan exiled another
745 Judahites even though the land was already “empty”. The
explanation is that the biblical authors paid no regard to the peasantry.
If the land was empty of nobility and craftsmen, then it was empty. Such
an emptiness could produce another 745 people for exile if the authorities
decided they might provoke trouble!
Similar contradictions occur in the tales about the total exile of the
so-called ten northern tribes. The Assyrians abducted the entire
population of Israel and brought in foreign colonists to replace them (2 Kg
17:24-33). Thus the people of Samaria could not have been of the same
ethnos as the people in Judah. Supposedly, this is why the Samaritans and
the Jews hate each other until this day. Yet, read on in 2 Kings
and the northerners are treated as Israelites and Yehouah is their true
god (2 Kg 17:34-41)!
The scriptures describe Samaria as vanquished by the Assyrians (Mic
1:6-7; Ezek 16:44-52; 23:31-34; 2 Kg 17:5-23; 21:10-14)
and a similar fate is offered as a warning to Jerusalem, yet Samaria was
not destroyed, and nor were all of its people banished. The destruction
was of Samaria as an independent political entity and not in the sense of
physical destruction and decimation of the people as biblicists always
read it. Samaria became a regional capital of Assyria and Israelites
remained in the province.
the Great cylinder, one of many in which the Persian king tells the
Babylonians that he is the choice of their god, Marduk as his regent on
earth to restore him to his rightful glory. The bible has Yehouah saying
the same about Cyrus to the Jews.
Babylon is described in similar exeggerrated terms. It is razed and its
gods humbled (Isa 13:1-22; 461-2; Jer 50:1-51:64) yet Cyrus
did nothing of the kind. He won Babylon with hardly a fight and with
little damage and he praised its god, Marduk, saying he had succeeded
because it was the god’s will, and to prove it he undertook to restore
his temples and purify his priesthood. Too many copies of the Cyrus
cylinder say this even for Christians to deny it. Yet Babylon was
destroyed as Samaria was because it ceased to exist as a political entity
in its own right, even though it became one of the capitals of the Persian
empire. People of 2,500 years ago were more sophisticated than modern day
theologians. They knew that when this was read out, it was political
propaganda—warnings to the listeners not to trifle with the political
might of god’s agent on earth.
The Babylonians deported the ruling class from among the people of the
Palestinian hills leaving the country with a slightly depleted population,
but without any or many knowledgeable and skilled people to run the
economy. Economic hardship will have been likely to have taken the
population further down in succeeding years. No evidence has emerged that
the Babylonians deported anyone into Judah from elsewhere, and the country
was scarcely an attraction to economic migrants, despite the biblical
stories. Ehud Ben Zvi writes:
The only circumstances that could have led to an ethno-demographic
change of significant proportions… are those associated with imperial
policies of forced population movements.
The people of neo-Babylonian Judah were therefore the same people that
had lived there before the Babylonian conquest. They were Canaanites who
became inhabitants of a minor Babylonian province, then of a minor
Achaemenid province, which however, was later to be promoted to a temple
state of international importance.
Some biblical texts admit the poor remained in the land and took
possession of it (2 Kg 25:12; Jer 39:10; 52:16, 28-30; Ezek
33:24-29) and only the elite were deported (2 Kg 24:14). Yet,
even transportation of the elite was not total. Some of the Judahite
nobility can have been relied upon to have supported the conqueror, and
would not have been deported with the rest, but left behind as safe hands
loyal to the conqueror, yet commanding a degree of support among the
people, and rewarded with local power, like Gedaliah (2 Kg
The supposition is that the descendants of exiled nobility returned to
claim their erstwhile possessions, after at least three generations in a
distant land. In those generations abroad, according to the interpretation
of the biblicists, the exiled Jews had become wealthy bankers and
merchants, influential at the center of a great commercial empire, yet had
an ancestral urge to return to trimming vines and herding sheep on
limestone crags. We have to suppose that, despite this astonishing
success, the exiles were still interested in, and could still remember,
what was theirs, and wanted to return from sophisticated living in a
center of civilization to a bucolic life in rocky and dessicated hills.
It is not as though their return could have been simple, whether other
people lived there or not. The ownership of confiscated land went to the
Babylonian king, and income from renting it to the poor Judahites who
remained behind went into his coffers via local administrators. With the
Persian conquest of Babylonia, the land went to the Persian king, and
evidently was parcelled out on his orders. If we accept the biblical
implication that the Persian kings made a grant of their Judahite estates
to the exiled nobility, we have to consider how they would make a legal
claim. The exiled nobles must be presumed to have taken with them some
form of legal entitlement, or lesser relatives and retainers in Judah must
have kept the claims. The bible certainly implies that ideas of such
repossession were held, but they were easier to write into a myth than to
preserve in documentary form for seventy years at a time when documents
were written on tablets of clay, and not in personal organizers.
Nor would the neo-Babylonian administration have looked favourably upon
servants of banned nobles causing trouble any more than they would have
looked favourably upon banned nobles themselves doing the same. Laying
claim to confiscated land whether locally or from exile could only have
been considered a nuisance, if not foolish and dangerous because it was a
criticism of the king. The same is true of scribes, if any were left in
such a derelict country. Local Babylonian administrators would hardly let
them make written claims for confiscated land without retort. The examples
which appear in the bible are simply part of the later claim to ownership
and legitimacy made by the Persian colonists, who were de facto the
new nobility whether the old nobility liked it or not.
While 2 Kings says 10,000 were taken captive, to judge from
Jeremiah (Jer 52:28-30), the number was 4,600, of an estimated
original population of 65,000. Approaching ten percent of the population
is a large nobility, if that is what the 4,600 represents, but some of
those carried of must have been craftsmen, and the scriptures admit that
not all were nobles (2 Kg 24:14-16). After successfully
grubbing in commercial ventures in a distant land, it is doubtlful whether
they would seventy years later have considered themselves still nobles of
a backward country. If they still had the stamp of nobility after that
time, it remains doubtful that any wise monarch would let them return
unsupervised and claim land in a part of his realm causing dissension and
disruption in a country that had been pacified enough to have remained
peaceful for three genrations.
The whole idea of people simply deciding to up-and-out of Babylonian
slavery to journey to Palestine there to claim a patch of land that the
king had been letting peacefully to another tenant for decades is absurd.
The whole process can only be rationalized as being a government organized
These expatriot nobles would have been returning to wrench from the
descendants of people rewarded by previous kings for loyalty. Loyalty is
what all kings wanted and only foolish kings would risk stirring up
dissension unless they had utter control over what went on. The Persian
kings were mainly not foolish. So, the return could only have happened
officially, not as piecemeal expeditions like the wagon trains of the wild
west, and the only official ventures of this kind made by ancient near
eastern monarchs were mass deportations, not assisted passages for
voluntary repatriation of displaced families. Ben Zvi writes:
It is impossible to assess whether the new settlers—all or most of
them—were descendants of the Judahites exiled by Nebuchadnezzar or
included different people…
Whether some were descendants of Judahites or not, they were
“Israel” because those who were deported into Yehud were so defined.
The Babylonian conquest in Nehemiah 9:21-30 is just a severe
instance in a series of defeats and setbacks suffered by Israel. The exile
is not mentioned among them. There was no exile!
The identification of the colonists as being Israel, and only them,
plainly laid out their rights. They were not rights they could have simply
taken at the expense of other people living on the land, as if there were
no law, or as if the returners were bandits who could ignore it. They had
to have had the approval of the government and the government must have
conferred on to the settlers whatever rights they had. Any transfer of
lands must have been done under the rule of law, and it would not have
been feasible for many small groups of “returners” to have claimed
land rights over a long period. That is why the claims of Ezra and
Nehemiah that all of the “exiles” returned at once cannot be far
wrong. The impression is that there were more than one such expedition
under different kings but only one or two of them seemed to succeed—that
is achieve tha objectives that the administration had set them as
colonists. Military organization would have been needed for the peaceful
transportation of such large numbers of people.
K G Hoglund reports that the archaeology of this period supports
an increase in rural settlements in Persian Yehud compared with
neo-Babylonian Judah. However, the archaeology does not suggest that the
new settlers occupied ancestral lands, but that they opened up new
uncultivated plots on the kings estates or re-opened land which had fallen
into disuse. Perhaps, these settlers had been displaced by the returners
who reclaimed old holdings, but the king had obviously provided for the
displaced tenants elsewhere on his own property. Though this might seem
equitable in some measure, it must have still cause discontent because
then the displaced tenants must have been displaced on to more marginal
land, while the colonists had the fertile plots.
Once the colonists had settled and started propagandizing, the
apparently rigid refusal to accept anyone as Israel except the colonists
would melt at the edges. The Persians knew that their colonists had to be
in control, and that was the point of the restriction, but their intention
was to forge an ultimate unity. It had, though, to be on colonial terms,
whence the rigidity of the admission procedure. Everyone who wanted to
join Israel had to accept the terms and conditions. Anthropologists have
shown that ethnic boundaries can never be kept distinct. A formerly
undesirable family becomes rich or influential, then everyone wants to
know them. Modern Jews know this as well as anyone. It was true then.
Samarians and Am ha Eretz were admitted into Israel once they were ready
to accept the new cult. That it was a prestigious government project
Ezra 6:22 and Nehemiah 10:29 clearly say that the local
Canaanites would be accepted into the congregation of the returners
provided that they accepted the new cult, and the provisions for it
watched over by the colonists.
Genealogies to us are fixed—they represent history—but
anthropologists have shown repeatedly that for most people they are
flexible, varying according to present day circumstances, not what once
was. “Invented tradition” is well studied but has made no impact on
what clergy teach their congregations. E Hobsbawm and T Ranger
edited The Invention of Tradition as long ago as 1983, so biblical
scholars have had plenty of time to consider its implications for biblical
veracity. Indeed, R R Wilson in Genealogy and History in the
Biblical World concentrates on just this specific issue. Few have
bothered because scholarhip is not the true aim of the devoutly religious.
Written tradition is scarcely less malleable than oral. When necessary,
genealogies were altered. Their purpose was not to permanently exclude
fellow countrymen but to exclude strangers, so even strangers were
admitted into the fellowship when they became seen as countrymen.
We have no lists of those who were excluded from Israel to compare with
those who were admitted according to the genealogies. When a genealogy
says that such a family returned with Ezra, who later was in a position to
contradict? Acceptable local families were written into the genealogies
probably from their creation, surely after. Scholars know this and can
make good guesses about some of the families who never returned because
they were associated quite plainly with local towns.
The Second Temple
In 1 Kings 6:2, the first temple is given as 60 cubits
long, 20 wide and 30 high, about 90 x 30 x 45, in feet. Cyrus apparently
declared that the temple would be 60 cubits wide and 60 cubits high, but
he forgot to say how long it was. If its length was the same as the first
temple then the building was a 90 foot cube—quite a striking structure,
one might think, but not striking enough for anyone in the scriptures to
remark upon. It looks suspicious.
The most complete description of the second temple, also suspiciously,
occurs in the supposed edict of Cyrus (Ezra 6:3-4), inclining the
critical reader to think that the edict has been recast at a later date to
highlight the temple. Persians at the time of Cyrus had no temples, other
than possibly a few for keeping the sacred fire, and most worship was
outdoors on grassy plains or bare hill tops. There is a largely hidden
struggle in the scriptures between people who worshipped in “high
places” and those who wanted a sanctuary. Those who worshipped in high
places were identified as worshippers of Baal, but underlying this
rationalization (or slander) might have been a dispute between those in
the hill country who wanted al fresco Persian style worship and
those who preferred enclosed Canaanite style worship—in a temple. The
Even if there had been a Solomon’s temple, it is quite likely that
the site was not merely ruined but cleared. If there had never been a
Solomon’s temple, but instead a high place (bamah) then no ruins would
have been present merely a parched and well trodden hilltop, with an
altar. The word translated “waste” and “ruins” (Hag 1:4,9)
strictly means “dry” or “desolate” or “desert”. By extension
it is read as “ruins”. The punning reference to the temple site in Haggai
1:10-11, is to barrenness from dryness and drought. The mountain upon
which the temple was built was called “Horeb”, meaning “a dry
place” but translated as ruins from the expectation of the translators
that a previous temple had stood there. By one of those curiosities that
God has chosen to dot all over his sacred works, the Akkadian for
“dry” is “shalmu”, a word cognate with Solomon! Moreover, the
mention of “ceiled” houses (Hag 1:4) might mean that God’s
original “house” had no ceiling because it was an al fresco
Though there is supposed to be no temple in Haggai, priests and
Levites are being supported by tithes, sacrifices being offered and
prayers said. If there was no built temple, all of this must have been
done outdoors in the Persian fashion, at an altar under the sky. The story
that the initial returners at the time of Cyrus set up an altar, with no
mention of a temple (Ezra 3:2-3), suggests that here was a Persian
style of temple—simply an altar open to the elements. This Persian
“high place” type of sanctuary seems to have lasted for a hundred
years. The acceptance of a demand for an enclosed temple points to the
second Babylonian Darius, not the Persian one, as king. The second Darius,
much more influenced by Babylonian practice than Persian, is more likely
to have agreed to a built temple.
It seems a local governor allowed the local people to raise an altar on
the dry hilltop overlooking Jerusalem, apparently a traditional Canaanite
High Place. Thereafter nothing further significant happened for a hundred
years, although groups of colonists were sent in by the Persians. If
raising a temple was a part of their brief, it was not an important part,
because they did not do it. In the mid-fifth century, the local people
possibly showed too much favour to the Egyptians in a revolt, or perhaps
it was Megabyxos that they favoured.
The Persian kings therefore decided to set up a temple state run by
more determined or more pressurized colonists deported into the country
and charged with the duty of raising revenue from Abarnahara for the
shahansha, and defending a line of fortresses set up against Egypt. To do
this they had to use the local Canaanites as labour and therefore had to
persuade them that it was in their own interest to give support—support
in the donkey work, but no input in the designing and building. The
colonists were elements of the ruling classes of some other conquered and
troublesome people, and were able but precarious in their elite situation.
The only identifiable references to the “second” temple in the
scriptures are those of Zechariah and Haggai. There are detailed accounts
in the scriptures of the Mosaic holy dwelling place of God, the temple of
Solomon and the visionary temple of Ezekiel, but there is no description
of the second temple, other than scraps that can be found by diligent
reading, and these, unsurprisingly, are not too revealing. No mention of
Solomon in Haggai, nor in Zechariah nor in Ezra,
except in the genealogies that were added later, even suggest this was a
second temple, and the solitary mention in Nehemiah, other than in
genealogies, looks interpolated. Christians commentators talk without a
blush about the second temple, and never seem to wonder about the
peculiarity of its uncommonness in the text.
Elsewhere in the prophets, Yehouah lives in his “Holy Mountain” (Obad
16; Zeph 3:11; Joel 3:17; Isa 65:11,75). Isaiah
mentions the “courts of my sanctuary” (Isa 62:9). The vision of
Isaiah 6 is typical of romanticized visions of God in his abode,
but might be based on sight of the interior of a temple. Jeremiah
mentions the “chambers” of the house of Yehouah (Jer 35:2), and
Baruch reads the scroll to the people in a temple “chamber”. Not a lot
of information to work on about the second temple.
The local Israelites were utterly sullen and unco-operative, indeed
disruptive and distraught when the temple was opened. Zechariah
4:6-10 describes a foundation laying ritual closely similar to the
Mesopotamian Kalu festival, but, in Haggai 2:3 and Ezra
3:12, there are plenty of people who are not happy at the building of the
foundation, excused as the tears of joy of those who could still remember
the temple before it was destroyed.
But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were
ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this
house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many
shouted aloud for joy.
Remember this is a minimum of 70 years after the temple was destroyed,
even by the bible’s own sequence of things, so these weeping old men
were indeed ancient. In fact, it was another 100 years after that and the
people were not weeping out of joy. It was despair that the future was
more oppression for the native people of Yehud.
The locals had shown some interest in the new project at first, since
the god to be honoured was, on the face of it, one of their own gods, but
they had not seemed inclined to build much for him themselves, until the
new Persian endeavour began. If they had really been waiting for a sign
that Yehouah’s wrath was over, then the defeat of the Babylonians and
Cyrus’s apparently liberal edicts ought to have been sufficient. They
did not jump at the opportunity until someone else—the colonists sent in
by the administration—began to build. Then they took their cue.
It will have needed all the prophetic propaganda that the Persian
colonists could muster. The building of the temple was an eschatological
act, it was to be accompanied by the submission of the nations to the king
Yehouah, meaning the other nations of Abarnahara—the Hebrew nations.
Yehouah was the “king” of these nations as well as the Jews. If the
Canaanites were waiting for Yehouah to first announce himself as king
before they built any temple to Him, then the propaganda of Haggai and
Zechariah was to disillusion them. The building of the temple had to
precede any kingship of Yehouah!
The accounts of the building of the first temple and the ceremonies
associated with them have to be seen in the reverse way of convention.
Conventionally, the bible is a true chronology. It is not. The
similarities of the descriptions of the building and dedication of the
second temple are seen as deliberate literary reflexions of the ancient
original events in the ancient history of the Israelites in the United
Monarchy. If there never was a united monarchy, all of this history is
false. In fact, the mythical histories of the Deuteronomic Historian and
the Chronicler are retrojected elaborations of the dedication of the
so-called “second” temple. The second temple is the first temple of
Yehouah, and the so-called first temple is a mythologized excuse for the
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Yehouah, they
set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons
of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Yehouah, after the ordinance of David
king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving
thanks unto Yehouah; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever
toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they
praised Yehouah, because the foundation of the house of Yehouah was
And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place:
(for all the priests that were present were sanctified, and did not then
wait by course: Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of
Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being
arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood
at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty
priests sounding with trumpets). It came even to pass, as the trumpeters
and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and
thanking Yehouah; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets
and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised Yehouah, saying, For
he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was
filled with a cloud, even the house of Yehouah; So that the priests
could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of
Yehouah had filled the house of God.
2 Chr 5:11-14
These descriptions purport to be of different events 500 years apart in
time! The authors can only have known the regalia and ceremonial of the
temple of the time when they lived—the “second” temple!
There is widespread agreement that the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt
under Achaemenid auspices, and some would even say it was mandated by
Ehud Ben Zvi
Among the “some” is J Blenkinsopp whose belief is that the
Persians were responsible for the foundation of the temple. They were
therefore responsible for founding Judaism. There should be no doubt about
this. The project could not have been undertaken without Persian
preparation and planning, even transporting in a large numbner of
colonists to undertake and complete it. The bible makes no bones about it,
although biblicists, enchanted by Moses or Jesus never get as far as
reading Ezra and Nehemiah. Although the Achaemenids were known to have
restored temples in other countries they had conquered, it had the
political purpose of strengthening the local nobility, and ensured that
local rulers were dependant, obedient and loyal to the shahanshah in
return. Bill Gates gives free PCs to the schools. He does not give them a
donation in cash to spend on Apple Macs! Altruistic acts are rarely as
selfless as they look, and the Persian kings did not restore temples for
charity’s sake. The god worshipped in the temple and his priests
acknowledged the Persian king as his Khalif on earth—no less than the
god himself acting through his appointed or his anointed human being.
Nehemiah the Fire Priest
According to 2 Maccabees 1:18, Nehemiah was a more
influential man than even Nehemiah’s own book says he was. He rebuilt
the temple, the altar and offered sacrifices, and even brought the fire,
that the priests had secretly preserved from Solomon’s temple, back from
its hiding place in the captivity! If this seems remarkable to you, it is.
The worship of fire is a characteristic of Persian religion and when a
sacred flame was brought back from Persia, supposedly preserved from an
earlier Israelite flame, then there is good reason to smell a rat. Aryan
herdsmen on the steppes preferred to keep their flames permanently lit
because it was a tedious business lighting one afresh. The “thick
water” that allowed the sacred flame to be ignited by a miracle (2 Macc
1:20-22) is obviously oil, of which there is no small amount around
Babylon, and the story gave us words like naphthalene.
Nehemiah prays to God, calling him the “only and gracious king”. He
thanks God for saving Israel from all trouble and for choosing the fathers
and sanctifying them. The references are all to the acts of the Persian
king in sending the colonists to Israel. All Jews and Christians will
doubtless read “the fathers” as Abraham and his sons but they are
obviously the colonists who were literally—like the men on the
Mayflower—the founding fathers of Judaism.
The story in 2 Maccabees finshes with a common biblical
trick, which is to attribute the holiness of something backward in time to
the thing revered in Judaism. It is an aetiological explanation of a holy
place in Persia where the sacred flame of the Jerusalem temple had been
secretly kept. In fact, of course, the sacred flame of the Jerusalem altar
was brought from a more original sacred flame kept burning somewhere in
Persia. Thus was Jerusalem made the center of the world. The first temple
for this flame, at least, was some temple in Persia.
It is the Achaemenid king who is the true founder of the temple not
David. Ezra lists four of them (Ezra 6:14-15), Cyrus, Darius,
Artaxerxes and Darius again, but scarcely a single commentator has deduced
from this sequence that the second Darius cannot have been the first one,
as they all assume. The sixth year of Darius II is meant. If David
founded the temple, then David is a clumsy approximation for the name of
the Persian king, Daryavahu.
The Samarians were the Canaanites of the northern hills. They had not
been deported by the Babylonians and so could not have “returned”.
They were not Israel even though Israel is the place where they lived.
They had not been allowed any say in how the temple project was
undertaken, but they could join Israel by accepting the colonists’ way
of doing things. Many actually did and proof occurs in the Apocryphal
books. Tobit is about an exiled Samarian of the tribe of Naphthali
who attended Jerusalem for all its festivals and sent the appropriate
tithes. Judith also describes a Samarian Jew. Coins, bullae and
papyri show that in Persian times many Samarians worshipped Yehouah, and
the Elephantine priests saw Samaria as just as important a place to seek
help as Jerusalem. Curiously, the iconography of the bullae and coins,
comprehensively described in the 90s, are Hellenized, even at such an
early date, as they are too in Yehud, suggesting the possibility that
there were Greeks among the colonists sent by the Persians into Abarnahara.
The Samaritan Pentateuch seemed not to differ from the Jewish
one at this time, perhaps because they were little more than Deuteronomy.
The scriptures of Samaritans and Jews seemed not to vary until the time of
Hyrcanus who oppressed the Samaritans. They had chosen Gerizim as the site
of their own temple, appraently being more orthodox than the Jerusalem
Yehouists (Dt 11:29; 27:12; Josh 8:33).
These are fossils of the first colonists in Yehud who had not been
directed to centralize worship in Jerusalem, and possibly did not even
agree on whether El of Yehouah should have been designated as Ahuramazda.
By the time Greek influence was pushing out the original Persian from the
temple, it was the Samarians who had become defensive of the Persian
traditions, aided apparently by the Essenes. Both rejected the Hellenized
By this stage the Samarians decided to reject the polemic against them
in the scriptures and so rejected the Prophets and the Writings
which were too propagandistic. Samarian coins bearing the name Jeroboam
are found from the fourth century BC. It is a hint of when the
fiction of the early Samarian king, Jeroboam, might have been written. It
also suggests that some of this history might have begun as parady and
been written up as serious history by someone without a sense of humour,
or too far later on for them to understand the satirical allusions.
Ben Zvi points out that:
Even the most drastic reforms were presented as supported by tradition,
and—because reforms break the actual continuity with the past—as a
restoration of the “traditional” (often invented by the reformer’s
So, breaking the continuity with the past to pursue imperial aims was
presented to the people as a “restoration” of abandoned tradition.
|The Persian kings transported Babylonian immigrants into Yehud to
set up the temple and community in Jerusalem.
|The temple and community was based on Babylonian models showing it
was not early in the lifetime of the Persian empire, but when it had
transferred its capital to Babylon.
|Other worshippers, even of Yehouah were not admitted unless they
accepted the leadership of the temple community.
|The temple community provided administrative, social, economic, and
political leadership as well as religious leadership to the nations of
the region it served—called “Beyond the River” (Abarnahara),
subject to imperial commands.
|The temple community collected revenue and acted as a treasury for
the Persian exchequer.|