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Book 3. Ezra & The Law

The Foundation of Judaism

(part I):

The Work of Nehemiah and Ezra


Ezra and Nehemiah I


In the modern bible, Ezra and Nehemiah are presented as two separate books. Quite why is anybody’s guess because they are only a single book as everyone interested knows. Doubtless clerics will tell us it is tradition, but it is more likely to be dishonesty intended to fool religious innocents, because this is the key to the foundation of Judaism, and the clerics prefer it to be confused to keep their flocks confused. To make sure it is thoroughly confused and that no one can understand what is happening, even if they can be bothered to read it, the book has also been mixed up!

These two books together with the two books of Chronicles—also just one book really—are an attempt at a complete history of the Jews from Adam to the time it was written, seemingly the fifth century BC. The original material comprising it was written in the Persian period, but it was edited after the end of the 200 years of Persian rule rather than near its beginning as it pretends. 2 Chronicles ends with the same verses as the beginning of Ezra seemingly showing that they were part of the same work. Yet Ezra and Nehemiah was admitted into the Jewish canon before Chronicles, which is the last book in it, having been accepted last. They certainly seem to have been redacted by people with a similar outlook, but the connexion by repeating verses seems an obvious trick, so there might be no link other than through a school of editors.

John C H How, who was a scholar of Trinity College Cambridge, tells us that Ezra-Nehemiah is of great importance because it covers the years 537 BC to almost 300 BC, when “the real foundation of Judaism with its rigid exclusivism and its intense devotion to the Law of Moses were laid”. The genealogies at the end take us to Jaddua who was a High Priest only a few decades before Alexander conquered Persia. In fact, the events in Ezra-Nehemiah mainly take place in a 30 year period in the reigns of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, but How is right that this is the foundation of Judaism.

L E Browne, in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, has no doubt that the work of the priestly school called “The Chronicler” that wrote these books displays the same outlook as that of the authors of the Priestly Code (P) of Genesis. Elements of P are found in Ezra-Nehemiah but they are interpolations. The law that the book is concerned with is Deuteronomy. The emphasis of the Priestly Code on the priesthood, temple worship and on the paraphernalia of it, that plainly took a good length of time to evolve after Ezra and Nehemiah founded Judaism, puts P late, in Ptolemaic or Maccabaean times. 2 Maccabees 2:17 says what the Maccabees were up to:

God… delivered all his people and gave them all an heritage, and the kingdom, and the priesthood and the sanctuary…


Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah are full of genealogies and this fondness for them, and more particularly the inclination to compile them and invent what was not known, was a habit of men of leisure—the temple priesthood of a much later time, again the time of the Ptolemies or the Maccabees—intent on giving an antiquity to their own profession and to the Jewish nation as a whole that had in reality just been founded. M E Meeker, studying Semitic tribes in Arabia, has shown that tribal genealogies reflected ideological beliefs not actual historical lines.

The early part of Chronicles is written as a genealogy to get the reader quickly to the time of David when the author wants to begin the tale proper. That is because the Hasmonaean scribes were intent on legitimizing the reign of the Hasmonaeans by showing that they were simply re-establishing the kingdom of David of old. There had been no kingdom of David, of course—they made it up as an ancient reflexion of the Hasmonaean kingdom!

Ezra-Nehemiah consists of three main parts based on content and style:

  1. Ezra 1-6, a history from the first year of Cyrus to the sixth year of Darius.
  2. Ezra 7-10, the story of Ezra told in a different style.
  3. Nehemiah, the story of Nehemiah.


1 Esdras

Unlike the Pentateuch that has to be analysed purely from its internal clues, Ezra-Nehemiah has an extra external source to help—1 Esdras, a book included in the Apocrypha. This Greek version of the combined Ezra-Nehemiah shows some of the redactional activity that has led to the two separate versions we now have. These revisions are from the mid-second century BC when the Jewish scriptures were compiled from what remained after the civil war, as 2 Maccabees 2:13-14 declares. It offers an acceptable explanation for the chronological mix up of the books, though it is hard to understand why those who were supposedly so familiar with them did not notice the blunders.

So, what we seem to have are two different attempts to put together the fragments of the works that remained or could be remembered. Neither is correct. The authors had forgotten the order of the Persian kings, just as the author of Daniel, writing at about the same time had. It shows that what we have today is not genuinely from the Persian period.

Curiously 1 Esdras does not mention Nehemiah. It might be a deliberate intention to ignore the Persian administrator in favour of the supposed Jewish priest, Ezra, but since 1 Esdras ends with the same Greek words as Nehemiah 8:13, words absent in the Hebrew texts, Nehemiah might have been meant to follow 1 Esdras, which is therefore itself incomplete. Whole sections of 1 Esdras can be seen in different parts of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The leader of the first “returners”, Zerubabel, was considered the messiah by Haggai and Zechariah who made him the grandson of Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) a man who went into captivity in 597 BC. Joshua, Zerubabel’s companion, is the son of Jehozadak, the High Priest in 587 BC who is also the son of Seraiah, the father of Ezra (Ezra 7:1-5, 1 Chr 6:14-15). Ezra then is the brother of the High Priest of 587 BC and the uncle of Joshua who returned about 520 BC, while he himself returned in 458 BC at the earliest. Doubtless Jews and Christians will see the hand of God in these miraculous relationships, but it really shows that whoever made up the chronologies had no clear idea of the times involved.

They had the idea that most of the people “returned” together just a few years after Cyrus issued his decree. The lists of “returners” in Ezra 2:1-67 and in Nehemiah 7:6-69 are essentially the same, but they purport to be the first “returners” under Sheshbazzar in Ezra and the contemporary “returners” in Nehemiah. They thought Seraiah and Jehozadak could have had children in captivity who returned about 536 BC, and had no idea that Ezra was returning much later still.

Bits of Ezra are in Aramaic (Ezra 5:1-6:18; Ezra 4:5; Ezra 4:6-23; Ezra 7:12-26) suggesting that an Aramaic book was a source of the original, or an attempt to imply that it was. All four bits of Aramaic refer to the actions of Persian kings in respect of the Jews, so seem to be a hint of genuine chancellery archive. Perhaps they were, but were destroyed when Nehemiah’s library was scattered, and all we have are later imperfect reconstructions. Or, perhaps, they were composed deliberately to give a false impression. Whether fraudulent or a sincere attempt at restoration of something lost, they are not genuine now.

Some scholars question the truth of these bits of Jewish history, and indeed, it is questionable whether the policy was implemented by Cyrus or by Darius. In the interest of creating a history for his colony, Darius might have applied the decree of Cyrus to the colonists who had no idea originally that it applied to them because, in truth, they were being deported. Evidence of this is that 1 Esdras has Darius where Ezra has Cyrus.

M Dandamaev and A Lukanin (The Culture and Social Institutions of Ancient Iran) state that there are “no grounds for speaking of a special benevolence toward Judaism on the part of the Persian king”. The supposed benevolence of the Persian kings to Judaism depends purely on the bible itself. The Persians have been considered as benevolent to the cults within the empire, the Cyrus Cylinder being an oft-cited example of this generosity. Yet what seems to be benevolence in these propagandist works actually was carefully calculated to give political advantage, as Amelie Kuhrt has shown for the Cyrus Cylinder itself.

Cyrus drew upon the form of Mesopotamian building texts to show himself as a pious monarch dedicated to restoring cults neglected and damaged by Nabonidus. He authorized the restoration of privileges to temples in Babylonia and Assyria. Kuhrt says he did it to restore the religious status quo ante to gain support from these areas and their priesthoods. The kings sought the favour of populations to give no basis for revolution, and they wanted a reliable and trusted organization for the collection of taxes. So whatever altruism the kings seemed to offer would be multiply repaid by a grateful people.

But the Persians destroyed the temples of people who resisted their power. Darius I destroyed the temple at Didyma involved in the Ionian revolt (Herodotus 6.18–20). The leaders of the temple in Elephantine claimed that by the power of Cambyses, “all the temples of the gods of Egypt were overthrown”.

Some say the story of the generosity of Cyrus was based on the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah. Yet no one knows anything about the domestic acts of these kings except what the bible tells us. The Deuteronomic history was written after Ezra and so the acts of the older kings were probably based on the acts of Artaxerxes, rather than the reverse. The objective of the history was to depict the Jews in the past as having been an apostate and ungrateful people who deserved God’s punishment because of their wickedness. This sort of propaganda suited the rulers, the Persians, rather than the Jews themselves, so their source ought to be evident.

The Book Restored

C C Torrey has, in careful research, that few would question, convincingly restored the correct order of the original work as:
Ezra 1. Edict of Cyrus; Sheshbazzar brings the temple treasure.
1 Esdras 4:47-56; 62-5:6. Darius approves Zerubabel to return.
Ezra 2:1-4:5. Zerubabel returns and begins the work opposed by adversaries.
Ezra 5-6. A letter is sent to Darius and the decree of Cyrus found; the temple is built and dedicated on the 3rd of the twelfth month in the sixth year of Darius.
Ezra 4:6. An objection is raised in the time of Xerxes.
Ezra 7-8. In the 7th year of Artaxerxes, Ezra comes to Jerusalem with a letter of authority from the king and men gathered on route.
Nehemiah 7:70-8. In the seventh month Ezra read the law and introduced the festival of booths.
Ezra 9-10. Ezra stops mixed marriages.
Nehemiah 9-10. Mixing ceases on the 24th; the author gives Ezra a long composed speech; a covenant is sealed by Nehemiah and others; spearation is again confirmed and a pledge to give a third of a shekel followed by an added justification of it.
Ezra 4:6-23. Adversaries demand a letter to Artaxerxes and he stops any further work on the walls until the time of Darius.
Nehemiah 1-7:69. In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah comes as governor and repairs the walls of Jerusalem against opposition; he implements social and economic reform.
Nehemiah 11-13. Lists of people are followed by a retrospective look by Nehemiah at his second tour of duty during which the walls were dedicated, apparently in the reign of Darius II.


The reordering assumes that the correct sequence of Persian kings was known in the original, but had been forgotten by the time attempts were made to reconstruct it by the Jewish priests after the war, but the logic of the unfolding story also confirms this order. A confusion is apparent immediately and that is that there seem to be two Dariuses in the unfolding tale. Usually the references to Darius II are assumed to be anachronistic references to Darius I. In fact the Darius referred to could be Darius II.

Sara Japhet of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, notes in Second Temple Studies II that the Persian emperors are mentioned in Ezra-Nehemiah, as it stands, in close to the right order, allowing for three Dariuses and two Artaxerxes who are not distinguished. The Darius of Ezra 4:5 is Darius I, that of Ezra 4:24 is Darius II while that of Nehemiah 12:22 is Darius III. The Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7ff is Artaxerxes I while that of Ezra 7:1 is Artaxerxes II. In Ezra 1-6, the order of kings is Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus (Xerxes), Artaxerxes, Darius, the latter being Darius II, and the story looks straightforward. This passage almost says it all:

And they built, and finished, according to the commandment of the God of Israel and according to the command of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes the king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
Ezra 6:14-15 Lit


Cyrus allows the temple to be rebuilt, some people return and begin (538 BC) but there is opposition and the work is interrupted for the reigns of Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, until it is resumed in the second year of Darius II and completed in his sixth year (418 BC). It suggests that the chronology and therefore the order of the books is correct.

Taking the order and chronology to continue true, the return of Ezra and Nehemiah are in the reign of Artaxerxes II, and the last king of Persia, Darius III is mentioned in Nehemiah 12:22. The greatest problem with such a simple and uncluttered scheme is that Nehemiah could hardly have been as late as the twentieth year of Artaxerxes II (384 BC) and fit in with the Elephantine papyri which are about thirty years earlier and already look to an established temple in Jerusalem.

The conventional idea that Nehemiah returned in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I looks hard to refute but, to minimize arbitrary changes in order, would mean that Ezra returned in year seven of the same king. The whole reconstructed composition is curious in the way that it puts Ezra ahead of Nehemiah when the internal clues are that Ezra’s reforms presuppose Nehemiah’s:
In Ezra 9:9, the walls of Jerusalem were already built, so Nehemiah went before Ezra to build them (or they must, as his story perhaps implies, have been knocked over again in the meantime).
Jerusalem is derelict in Nehemiah (Neh 7:4; 11:1-2) but is healthily populated in Ezra (Ezra 10:1,13). (Had it been sacked again by Megabyxos or the Egyptians, or were the two restorers in the wrong order?)


We take the two men to be discussed in the wrong order, the Chronicler not knowing what the order was and choosing to put Ezra, the most important, because the most senior, first. The two facts noted that might explain the biblical order does not stop the reverse. Jerusalem might have been restored to some degree and populated in the time of Darius the Great, but was later sacked in the troubled time at the start of the reign of Artaxerxes. Other evidence for the reversal of the biblical order is given in the section on Ezra.

By taking Ezra to return in the seventh year of Darius specifically to inaugurate the city walls and the temple, and to deliver the law, the problems of chronology are minimized with only the assumption that an editor tried to correct what he thought was an error—that year seven of Darius (I) was impossible and it must have meant year seven of Artaxerxes, because Nehemiah and Ezra were contemporaries.

Initial Considerations

Jeremiah (25:12; 29:10) said the exile would last seventy years—a lifetime—meaning that no one who returned would remember the country and its temple as it was. The exile would be longer than anyone could remember. No one could remember either, but that was because they had never been exiled in the first place—they were being deported to Yehud but the propaganda was they had no memory of being exiled initially because it was over a lifetime ago.

Cyrus had issued a general decree that people could return to their homes, but it was a cover for deporting colonists, just as the Assyrians and Babylonians had done. Cyrus was simply cleverer about it. There are few historians today, as opposed to theologians, who cannot see the declarations of Cyrus as propaganda. On the Babylonian cylinder seals Cyrus was the chosen king of Marduk, the Babylonian god. On the clay tablets of Nippur, Cyrus was the chosen king of the local god Sin. In the Jewish scriptures, Cyrus was the chosen king of the local god Yehouah. Cyrus proclaimed himself as the king chosen by the god of each nation. Curiously, ANET records that Cyrus ordered “as far as Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshunna, the towns Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der as well as the regions of the Gutians, I… established for me permanent sanctuaries”. Nothing is mentioned of a permanent sanctuary at Jerusalem.

The bible is clear that, despite any decree, no Jews did “return”. Haggai and Zechariah highlight the failure of Jews to return, but their purpose will have been to justify the forcible colonization that was to follow. W K Lowther Clarke, in the Concise Bible Commentary, admits that few took advantage of Cyrus’s edict, but the ones who did enforced their “policy on the apathetic ’people of the land.’” Racist? Since the “returners” were so few, these “apathetic” people must ultimately have provided the main body of the ancestry of modern Jews. As thick as two short planks, Lowther Clarke tells us:

There was no deliberate settlement of foreigners, as in North Israel after 721.


He has to say this because the integrity of the bible depends upon the ethnic group called in it the Israelites being continuous from Abraham to the time of Jesus. To admit that the people who “returned” were not the people who went rather spoils the picture.

In Ezra 8:36, “And they delivered the king’s commissions unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors on this side the river, and they furthered the people, and the house of God”. Ezra’s orders are delivered to the “satraps and governors of Abaranahara”, the correct translation. How many satraps were there in Yehud? The whole of Abarnahara was one satrapy. Perhaps this is a simple infelicity or an exaggeration to magnify Judah, but it gels better with Ezra being sent to inaugurate a temple for the whole of Abarnahara, not just to Judah itself.

The insertion from 1 Esdras makes it clear that the Jerusalem temple was meant to be the temple of the whole of Abarnahara not just a small part of it—it really was the temple of the Hebrews, the population of Abarnahara, not merely the Jews. Syrians, Phœnicians and Canaanites had to help financially in building and maintaining the temple in its period of inception. The sums required were substantial—20 talents a year for building, 10 talents a year for sacrifices and unspecified support for the colonists is commanded, proving that they were privileged. The privileged class of people called Jews were divided into several castes whose duty was to mind the temple, and who had been given a small state of their own, rather akin to the Vatican. This province, Yehud, was obviously carved out of the Arab state of Idumaea (Edom) leading to a long lasting hatred between Jews and Idumaeans.

The myth is that they went up on the first day of the year in the second year of Darius (or Cyrus), presumably meaning that the new state was declared on that day, making the Persian New Year a famous day to remember in Jewish history.

Ezra 2:1-67 gives the list of 42,000 returned exiles, pretending that they all returned at once.

From the first day of the seventh month, the altar was consecrated, but nothing else seems to have been done and the foundation, supposedly laid by Sheshbazzar, had to be laid again. Sheshbazzar is unlikely to be Zerubabel unless it is a title or nickname, but both names are not Jewish but Persian. 1 Esdras says the foundation was laid at the new moon of the second month of the second year of the new colony. This concern with lunar associations suggests that the colonists considered Yehouah as the god Sin. Some people were weeping. It was not from joy but because they realized they were being enslaved (the Jews called themselves “the Captivity”) by a new ruling class with a different god from their own, even if it had the same name. Not surprisingly we hear immediately (Ezra 4:1-5) that hatred between the Jews and the Samarians had begun.

Am ha Eretz

Ezra 3:3 already spoke of fear of the “People of the Land”, the Am ha Eretz or Dallal ha Eretz (Poor of the Land), the people already living in the Palestinian hills when the colonists moved in under Persian protection to settle. At the inception of the temple, while some were rejoicing and some were weeping, we hear that there were “adversaries”.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.


These were the natives who, according to the supporting mythology, had been left behind when their rulers were taken captive. If so, the rulers no longer wanted anything to do with them. Though they had lamented in the ruined temple for seventy years, and now were supposed to have been weeping with joy, the returners ignored them because they were “adversaries”. These people were themselves deportees from the Assyrian period and knew it. The ruling Samarians were deported from Bit Adini, the area around Harran in Syria, the Aramaean homeland, and, oddly, next to a small state called Yauda whose capital city seems to have been called Samal. Esarhaddon, the Syrian king had sent them to Israel from these small Aramaean states to worship the same god, Yehouah, as the colonists. They were utterly rejected:

Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.


Only the Yehudim, the people sent by the Persian kings as colonists had the right to build a temple and restore a religion, and it must have been to a particular and different specification from that already in situ. Had the “returners” been simply restoring the old temple, what possible objection could they have had against accepting the assistance offered by the native Yehouah worshippers? They could have had none. It is plain that the colonists were doing something that they knew would not be acceptable to the natives in any case, and so they refused assistance from the outset. Judaism was to be a new religion based on an ethical Yehouah of the Ahuramazda mould, not a fertility religion based on the mould of the Baalim of the natives.

The hostility between the Samarians and the Jews began and never ceased. The story has it that the Samarians were able to hold up the work for twenty years, but it seems most likely that Sheshbazzar could only make a formal beginning in the reign of Cyrus, and not enough colonists were sent until Zerubabel and Joshua came in the reign of Darius. The hostility of the natives obviously emerged when they were refused leave to help in the reconstruction, and that was when enough colonists had returned. Once there were enough colonists, protected by the Persian Satrap, the locals would have been unable to stop the work. Sabotage, however, was possible and the account suggests that measures had to be taken to prevent it.

The Temple Treasure

The vast treasure returned also must be queried. It all supposedly happened as soon as Cyrus captured Babylonia. The problem is that unless the kings of Babylon meticulously kept captured treasure in depositories, how could it have been gathered together so easily to return it? Captured treasure, like that captured by the conquistadores in America, was put to use, to pay soldiers and to build new buildings. It was not just stored, it was melted down, spent and otherwise dispersed. How then was it still hanging about fifty or seventy years after Jerusalem had been razed by Nebuchadrezzar?

The book of Ezra tries to explain that it was kept in a temple called “The Temple of Babylon!” Yet Babylon had many temples and, if one was called the Temple of Babylon, it must have been to Marduk, the Babylonian god. Why should priests of Marduk want ritual objects that were meaningless to them? They would have had them recast as objects suitable for their own religion. Furthermore, the Palestine hill country was never so wealthy that any pre-Babylonian temple in Jerusalem would have had a vast treasure, whatever the bible might say about the mythical Solomon. These hills were impoverished.

The only answer, if Ezra is correct, is that Nebuchadrezzer set up a temple to Yehouah somewhere in Babylon. It must have been a Canaanite temple like the one in Elephantine in Egypt, but might have been a centre for worship of the Baal Yehouah of the deported Canaanites. Commonly conquerors would carry off idols, images of gods, and set them up elsewhere for superstitious reasons—they hoped to have the favour of the god. If Canaanite Yehouah had an image—a bull, one would guess—then that might have been carried off and used to set up a Yehouah cult elsewhere.

Had Yehouah already been a Babylonian cult, even if not a major one, then it would explain the Jewish names in the accounts of the Babylonian bank of Murushu. It is falsely assumed that the Jews were taken into captivity to the city of Babylon. There they flourished and that explains the presence of Jewish names on Babylonian tablets. A few thousand deportees, or myriads, could hardly have had much impact from a condition of slavery in less than three generations.

The deduction is based on Semitic names incorporating “Yahu” or “Iah”, and “El”, considered to have been Israelite names for God. And so they were—but not only Israelites worshipped these gods. People other than those in the geographic place worshipped these gods, and, if it is maintained that any worshipper of El is an Israelite and any worshipper of Yehouah is a Jew, then it has to be recognized that Israelites and Jews always lived in places other than in Israel and Judah, and the manner in which they worshipped must have been different in these different places.

Yehouah and El were Canaanite gods not just Jewish and Israelite ones. Indeed, El was also worshipped for centuries in Mesopotamia. Added to that was the deportation of the Israelites by the Assyrians, and they must have had names in “Iah” and “El”. If they were allowed to keep their names then they would have been passed on, at least grandfather to grandson, a common preference in those times, presumably so that fathers and sons could not be confused. It seems the Persians decided to rationalize religions in an acceptable way, by unifying divers gods under a Mazda-like cloak as the God of Heaven. Iranians called those who followed these non-Zoroastrian religions Juddin.

When the Persians had decided to set up a Jewish colony in Jerusalem supported financially by the Hebrews of Abarnahara, they might indeed have taken some cult objects from a temple of Yehouah in Babylon to Jerusalem, but the image of a bull would not have been one of them, even though Persians revered bulls. They used no images themselves for their High God, Ahuramazda, other than a winged disc, and this is the most likely image used in the temple of Yehouah. The rest of the ritual paraphernalia mentioned, where it is not exaggerated for propaganda purposes, was donated out of the Persian treasury. The king aimed to get the money back with interest once the colony and its temple had been established.

A Letter to Darius

The report continues at Ezra 5:1, the Aramaic section having been wrongly inserted. The official mentioned is Tatnai (Tattenai, Tatannu), Satrap of Abarnahara, a man with an Assyrian name, and his sub-official has a Persian name. A T Olmstead reports, “Ta-at-t[an-ni] (Tattenai) governor (pahat) of Ebirnari (Abarnahara, in Persian times)” appears in a Babylonian document of 502 BC. Abarnahara was what was essentially to become the empire of David in mythology. It covered Cyprus, Phœnicia, Syria, Palestine and West Arabia, the places whose treasurers had to support the new temple.

The Samarians evidently complained to the governor and the Satrap about what was going on. The start of the reign of Darius was troubled and possibly the Satrap thought they had a point. Cyrus had issued his policy on thousands of cylinder seals and it is inconceivable that Tatnai did not know imperial policy, so that was not the issue. But he might have thought it a good idea to humour the Samarians for awhile, pretending to be sympathetic then coming back with the message that it was out of his hands. Persians were generally rather subtle rulers, a fact that is usually ignored. The search for the decree by Darius I looks unlikely and might have been the Satrap’s propaganda to allow the Samarians to save face.

Some complaint of the Canaanites presumably against the colonists was made in the time of Xerxes (Ahasuerus) but only a fragment remained for the editor and he could add nothing, so it appears alone in 4:6 testifying only to the fragmentary nature of much of the bible, and showing that it is a valient attempt at reconstruction. It also suggests that when long, more or less complete, stories appear like the sagas of Joseph, the Exodus, David and Solomon, they are late romances added to the fragments salvaged from the destruction of the civil war, and therefore inventions so late that they precede the time of Jesus by only about a century, not the millennium or two that biblicists think.


Now Ezra appears on the scene—or did he? The seventh year of Artaxerxes I would have been 458 BC whereas the seventh year of Artaxerxes II was 397 BC. The editor does not know the sequence of Persian kings and makes no effort to distinguish one Artaxerxes from another, but seems to think Artaxerxes preceded Xerxes, who has little role in this story. Ezra was a contemporary of Johanan (Ezra 10:6) and Nehemiah was a contemporary of Eliashub (Neh 3:1) but Johanan was the son of Eliashub, so Ezra seems to have been a much younger man than Nehemiah and might have appeared a generation later in the reign of Artaxerxes II. What is more, the list of High Priests (Neh 11 and 22) shows that Johanan or Jonathan was actually a grandson of Eliashub, and the Elephantine papyri show he was High Priest in 408 BC. Ezra seems to have “returned” much later than Nehemiah. Note that he is not listed as a leader of the “returners” in Ezra 2:2 or 7:7.

Ezra is always considered to be a Jewish High Priest and concerned only with Jewish matters (though he is never called a High Priest or listed among them in the genealogies). David Janzen, in JBL (2000), goes all around the mountains to return to the point of departure. Ezra was a priest and scribe who served as administrative head of the temple community. The letter of Artaxerxes is spurious, merely a midrash which it is unhelpful to bother trying to understand, and Ezra’s work is simply as administrator, priest, and scribe working within the framework of the temple assembly in Yehud. Ezra functions simply as a temple official, albeit on a number of levels, and had no mission. The Ezra narrative admittedly seems to contradict itself:
while Ezra is not a high priest, he appears to act like one,
while he is not a satrap, he appears to wield satrap-like powers,
while he is sent to enforce the law in Yehud, it is the community that actually appears to exercise legal authority,
while he comes to restore the cult, supposedly it has long been functioning


His position was a peculiar one. But it will not do that Ezra was just a temple official! Artaxerxes informs Ezra that the royal treasuries are obligated to provide resources to the temple in Jerusalem and that they are not to tax the temple clergy (7:20–24). He also authorizes Ezra to appoint judicial officials throughout Abarnahara, the satrapy of which the province of Yehud was a part, and to teach the law of God there (7:25–26).

Joseph Blenkinsopp in his 1987 JBL paper argued that the biblical descriptions of the missions of Ezra and Nehemiah made sense because the actions that they took were not dissimilar from those of the Egyptian, Udjahorresnet. The inscription on his funerary statue says Udjahorresnet defected to the Persians when they invaded Egypt in 525 BC, became a local advisor to Cambyses, informing him of Egyptian customs and religion, and thereby won the king’s approval to restore the cult at Sais, expel foreigners from the temple, eliminate ritual impurities, and reestablish ritual observances.

Many scholars have found it significant that in the letter and elsewhere in the Ezra narrative, Ezra is called a “scribe” as well as a “priest”. The word scribe was used in two basic senses in the Persian period:

  1. someone who has the ability to read and write and who is called upon to transcribe legal documents;
  2. officials within the administration.


We use the word “secretary” in equivalent ways, as someone who transcribes letters and as a senior government official like a Secretary of State. Legal documents or letters from Persian officials mention the name of the scribe who wrote out the letter. An order from Arsames to his officials in Egypt states that “Nabuaqab wrote”, and that “Nabuaqab is the scribe”. In the same letter, Arsames writes that “Anani the scribe is chancellor” and since Anani is not the scribe who committed Arsames’ words to paper, here “scribe” means “chancellor”, the “overseer of the order”. Anani will see that the order is carried out.

This double description of someone as “scribe” and “chancellor” is known elsewhere from the Persian period. A cuneiform document from 486 BC. concerns an order given by a satrap to two men regarding a certain amount of barley, and both men are referred to as “sepiru” (“scribe”) and as “bel temi” (“chancellor”). These titles appear in the introduction to the letter of Ezra 4:11–16, part of the correspondence between “Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe” (4:8) and Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes orders that the building of Jerusalem come to a halt, and that Rehum and Shimshai enact the royal decree in Yehud. A cuneiform text also refers to “a scribe of the satrap of Egypt”, who worked at the royal court and who kept the satrap informed of what was going on there.

So, a scribe was an official position within the Persian administration, and the “Scribe of the God of Heaven” was an office of the Persian government. Scholars who accept the validity of Ezra’s mission look to the title of scribe to explain his position vis-à-vis the royal administration. Did scribes do the types of things Ezra was commissioned to do according to the letter—teach the people about the law and appoint legal officials? If scribes represented higher ranks in their absence, then Ezra could have received a commission from the shah to introduce Jewish law to Abarnahara and to appoint judicial officials who would act in accordance with it.

H H Schaeder has concluded that Ezra was a High Commissioner for Jewish Affairs but it is difficult to understand why an officer responsible for Jewish affairs should have been needed at the Persian court. To suggest that a tiny colony should require its own minister of religion in the chancellery is absurd. However, if Jewish here pertains not to Yehudim but to to “Juddin”, the Persian description of non-Zoroastrian religions, the title and position would make complete sense.

It seems Ezra was a senior minister responsible for religious affairs in the empire, and this can only add to the suspicion that Ezra is an abbreviation of Zoroaster. Zoroaster was a title of officials of the Zoroastrian religion at Rhages under the Medes and doubtless remained the same under the Persians, though officiating at the new capital. What could have brought such a senior religious authority, a man senior to the satrap, to Yehud?

Josephus tells us that it was that Johanan had murdered his own brother in the temple! If the colonists had been given the task of setting up an official religion—a religion of the Good Creation—then this was a serious matter. More so in reality because it will surely have been a symbol of the dissension between the Samarians and the Jews. The governor of Yehud, Bagoas (Bagoses, in the Elephantine papyri) had reported the murder to the Satrap of Abarnahara, and thence it reached the office of the minister of religious affairs at the king’s court. Ezra sought the permission of the king to go and sort it out in person:

Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellers, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand.
Ezra 7:14


Artaxerxes II came to the throne in 404 BC. From the dated letters of Elephantine, Bagoas was governor of Yehud in 410 and 407 BC. Egypt declared itself autonomous about this time, and remained semi-independent for sixty years, so suddenly Yehud became an important place as an outpost once more. In these conditions of uncertainty and change, Johanan seems to have decided to get rid of his troublesome brother. The fact that the satrap did not punish the High Priest suggests that Joshua was considered a trouble by the Persians. Instead sacrifices were taxed implying a more widespread dissension in the worshipping population and Ezra, the senior minister for religious affairs, was sent to sort it all out.

The Artaxerxes Letter

In 1944, Arvid Kapelrud stated, that “the rescript [of Artaxerxes] in its entire spirit and tone is Jewish and not Persian is agreed to by all”. It is not agreed today! Most English scholars accept it genuine as did Kellerman and Noth. The Jewishness of it might be the work of the editor casting it into a more understandable form, or an editor having to reconstruct a lost or largely damaged letter at a later time. There is not even any need to think that Artaxerxes wrote it. His chancellery officials will have done that and the king merely signed it. The officials might have couched the letter in suitable terms and shown familiarity with the procedures. The mention of the wrath of the Judaean god might have originally meant Ahuramazda, or been diplomatic or the addition of a Jewish editor.

H G M Williamson argues the letter’s use of Imperial Aramaic, its Persian loanwords, and the general agreement of its contents with known Achaemenid policy toward foreign peoples support its authenticity. Sara Japhet and Williamson have damaged the older scholarly consensus that the Chronicler was responsible for Ezra-Nehemiah, and particularly for the Ezra narrative. Williamson admits that the narrative has undergone editing, but its basis is a report that Ezra sent to the Persian court to describe his activity in Jerusalem.

Because most scholars accept the letter of Artaxerxes as authentic, they view Ezra’s work as a “mission”, actions given validation by a royal decree. From this point of view Artaxerxes sent Ezra to Yehud, to reform the temple cult. Artaxerxes may have been concerned about the stability of a region close to Egypt, an unstable and rebellious satrapy, and may have wanted Ezra to impose order in Yehud. By working for social cohesion in Jerusalem and Yehud, Ezra ensured that the province remained docile and accommodating to Persian rule.

Ezra’s journey might have been Artaxerxes’ idea and there was no original request on the part of the Judaean. It was a standard Persian courtesy to quote relevant bits of any original letter. Here there is no such citation but the letter writer has detailed knowledge of aspects of the Jerusalem cultus. The Palestinian vocabulary in the letter would be understandable if the letter’s author were quoting an original appeal from Judaeans. If there was an original letter, then it has been modified. Perhaps a request was sent to Artaxerxes from the Jewish community and the monarch composed a letter granting the petition that quoted the original piece of correspondence in the manner in which we would expect. Later on, this letter was edited in such a way thet the original petition was incorporated, and the whole inserted into its present position in the Ezra narrative.

The letter seems to quote an earlier bit of correspondence, albeit not one from Ezra or his colleagues. In 7:21–24, Artaxerxes apparently quotes a letter that he has sent to his treasurers, informing them that they are to supply the Jerusalem temple with provisions. Otherwise there is no reference back to an earlier letter or request. Every known piece of administrative correspondence sent in reply to an earlier query quotes from it. Their absence here makes Ezra’s journey and all of the letter’s particular references to the cult in Jerusalem entirely the initiative of Artaxerxes.

Even if the letter is edited, does 7:12–26 contain what actually happened? Was Ezra originally commissioned by the Persian king to conduct vessels and money to Jerusalem (7:15–16)? Was he really given the authority to appoint officials in Abarnahara to adjudicate on the basis of “the law of your God and the law of the king” (7:25)? Did the king really instruct his treasurers to supply the Jerusalem temple with provisions (7:21– 23)? Did he really order them to exempt the temple clergy from taxes (7:24)?

The letter as we have it makes Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem and the gifts to the temple there from the royal court appear not as Ezra’s initial suggestion to the king but simply as unprompted royal beneficence. A reader of Ezra-Nehemiah may be meant to assume that this continues the book’s equation of the royal and divine wills. The decree of Artaxerxes in Ezra addresses two main issues:

  1. the donation of money and goods from the crown and other sources to the Jerusalem cult (7:15–24),
  2. Ezra’s own appointment as some sort of official whom the king has assigned “to seek out concerning Yehud and Jerusalem by the law of your God” (7:14, 25–26).


Ezra had authority over all the Jews of Abarnahara, to judge with severe penalties including death. He had authority therefore over the satrap himself in these matters. It seems that after a hundred years the different colonists had not yet settled the new religion on the region. Ezra was provided with apparently huge resources (though doubtless exaggerated as propaganda) to settle it for good.

Ezra is portrayed as more than just a royal lackey. He is portrayed as a trusted servant of the king. Sara Japhet thinks the editor of Ezra 1–6 indeed equated the will of the Persian king with the will of God. Ezra 7:27–28 has the same attitude. Ezra is told at the beginning of the letter that an order has gone out that he is “to inquire about Yehud and Jerusalem with the law of your God that is in your hand” (7:14). Ezra 7:15–24 then discusses financial issues, and the thread of Ezra’s inquiry resumes in the last two verses of the letter. He is to appoint judges and magistrates “who are to adjudicate for all the people who are in Abarnahara, for all who know the laws of your God; and whoever does not know (them) you will teach”. The letter says that Ezra is to appoint these officials “for all the people who are in Abarnahara” (7:25). All the people in Abarnahara were to be subject to the law of the God of heaven. Finally, the letter concludes, “all who do not do the law of your God and the law of the king” will be subject to punishment. The Persian shahanshah in practice was God. That is why the shah wanted to apply the law of Ezra’s God to all of Abarnahara.

The appointing of legal officials in Abarnahara and teaching the law were the duties Ezra had, but the rest of the Ezra narrative records Ezra performing only the latter action. Appointment of officials of the law of God in other nations of Abarnahara can have been of no interest to the later Jewish editors, and have been omitted. Ezra teaches the law to the Jewish community in Nehemiah 8. The letter gives Ezra sweeping powers to enforce the law, but the community volunteers their infraction in the case of the divorce of the foreign women in Ezra 9–10, even though Ezra then acts strongly. There is no doubt of Ezra’s huge authority, but he exerts it through diplomacy and moral pressure.

Was the Persian government in the habit of sending out representatives to establish and codify local and royal law codes? Blenkinsopp claims that Ezra was sent by Artaxerxes I in 458 because Artaxerxes, like Darius, was intent on reorganizing his empire and instituting legal reforms. Janzen says there are two major difficulties with the parallel between Udjahorresnet and Ezra that Blenkinsopp attempts to draw:

  1. there is no good indication that Udjahorresnet carried out any legal reforms in Egypt by means of royal fiat;
  2. there is no indication that Artaxerxes I initiated any sweeping legal reforms within his empire as Blenkinsopp claims.


If Artaxerxes had actually begun such reforms, they would be the historical background for Ezra’s work. This objection needs revising if the emperor were Darius II, not Artaxerxes. Darius was half Babylonian and made significant changes in emphasizing Babylonian culture.

Ezra set off, again on the first day of the year, and arrived four months later exactly. Ezra picks up a fresh batch of colonists, evidently priests but not Levites at Casiphia by the river Ahava. There were no Levites because the caste of Levites only arose after the Persians had set up the temple. An editor thought the absence of any reference to Levites strange and has added an explanation. The confusion is like that of much of the scriptures—multiple redaction—anachronistic mentions of Levites have later been added.

Casiphia must be Ctesiphon and the river must be the Euphrates, or a nearby tributary. Who were these priests that were not Levites, and therefore apparently unsuitable? Yet others called Nethinim were found and were considered suitable. These Nethinim served the role for Ezra of priests and were admitted into the priestly caste being allowed to marry with them. It looks very much as though Ezra is using his authority to create a class of reliable people whom he would use to impose order on to the unreliable earlier colonists of Yehud.

Financial Matters!

The Persians were less generous than the Neo-Babylonian kings in financial policy toward temples. The Persians incorporated some of the established temples into the government-regulated system of land tenure. At Ur, the vast temple lands and holdings belonging to the god Sin were overseen by the same government officials who administered government land and waterways.

Some texts refer to the temple lands both as belonging to Sin and as “bow land”, a kind of fief distributed by the crown to vassals who were obligated to perform military service and pay taxes in exchange for the land. Other texts note that holders of temple land are charged the same kind of tax that was paid to the crown on the royal fiefs. So, some of the temples were integrated into the network of tax-gathering organizations. The temples were also obliged to make payments for public works.

In Egypt, Cambyses put an end to the royal donation of provisions to the temples there, allowing only three to continue to receive produce from the government, and even in those cases he drastically cut their income from the crown. Yet the Persians were also well aware of the importance of courting regional religious sensibilities to keep the peace in their vast empire.

Cambyses agreed to Udjahorresnet’s proposal and restored the cult, priests, and festivals of the temple of Neith at Sais, according to Blenkinsopp. Udjahorresnet also says that Cambyses came to Sais to prostrate himself before the goddess. In fact, one of Cambyses’ seals from Egypt was designed in traditional Egyptian style and claimed that he was the “beloved of Wadjet”, the goddess. In Egyptian reliefs he is pictured in local dress, kneeling before the gods.

The Babylonian Chronicles also suggest that Cambyses worshipped before Marduk at Esagil. Diodorus claims that because of Darius’s close association with the priests of Egypt and his study of their theology, he was addressed as a god by the Egyptians during his lifetime. There is political sense in a king presenting himself as a devotee of a god or goddess of a conquered region, since such actions are likely to garner support for the empire or at least reduce local animosity toward the ruling power.

The Persians would also cut off royal donations to temples and increase their payments to the administrative coffers, but a king could have authorized a donation to a particular cult, as we find in Artaxerxes’ letter in 7:15, 21–23. Udjahorresnet reports that Darius restored the various temple guilds at Sais, and “had commanded to give them every good thing”, presumably a royal donation to re-establish what had been destroyed in the earlier revolts in Egypt against Persian power. Artaxerxes evidently made a similar contribution to Jerusalem as a gesture of goodwill.

The list of provisions in 7:22 donated to the temple is presented just as Persian lists of the period were presented. The item is listed, then the unit of measurement, then the number of units to be provided. Provisions are listed in this way in a letter from Arsames regarding rations to be given to one of his officials travelling from Babylon to Egypt, as well as many ostraca from southern Palestine regarding items from royal stores. Artaxerxes’ claim to his treasurers in 7:23 that he wishes through these donations to avoid the wrath of the God of Heaven, though always assumed to be the Judaean god, could have meant his own God Ahuramazda who wore the heavens as his “massy cloke”.

As for the text’s claim that the king authorized his treasurers not to tax the clergy of the temple (7:24), a parallel exists in the Gadatas letter, a Greek inscription from the second century AD that presents itself as a copy of a letter sent from Darius to an official by the name of Gadatas in the Ionian province of Magnesia. In it, Darius warns Gadatas to cease taxing the sacred gardeners of Apollo. This is the only document besides the Artaxerxes letter of Ezra that witnesses to a Persian-period clergy with a tax-exempt status, and, as with the letter in Ezra, the authenticity and historical reliability of the Gadatas letter are disputed. Some think it was an opportunistic late forgery but J Wiesehöfer (1987) thinks the author has enough knowledge of administrative practices of the Persian period. The inscription also introduces matters that have nothing to do with the cult at Magnesia, an unlikely dilution if the inscription was composed long after the Persian period merely to support the clergy’s wish for tax-free status.

When a new temple was established in the Persian province of Lycia in the fourth century BC, the priest received immunity from local taxes but not from those of the central Persian authority. The establishment of this cult is recorded on a trilingual stele. The Greek and Lycian versions on the stele end with an appeal for the satrap to recognize this new cult, while the Aramaic ends with the Persian satrap’s response. Whereas the Greek has “May Pixodoros establish (the cult) as lawful”, the Aramaic version ends with “He [Pixodoros] wrote this law for enforcement”. The three versions, but especially the Greek and Aramaic, parallel each other so closely that A Dupont-Sommer seems correct that the Greek and Lycian were the original appeal to the Persian authorities for the establishment of the cult, and the Aramaic version was the positive response to the appeal from Pixodoros. The Aramaic has quoted the Greek verbatim, just as the Persians habitually did. The Greek version states that the cities establishing the cult “gave to them [the priests] immunity [of taxes] of goods”. Yet the Aramaic, which follows the Greek so scrupulously, omits this issue entirely. The satrap did not want the clergy to believe that the Persian government would also abrogate taxation as the cities had. This stele cannot be used to argue that the Persians exempted priests from taxes.

The biblical account continues at Nehemiah 7:70, where large amounts of money were collected from people as offerings. Gilbert J P McEwan, (Priest and Temple in Hellenistic Babylon 1981) shows that in Babylonia, the larger temples at least were involved in tax collection and government land ownership. Large temples owned large amounts of land and other holdings that they would rent out. The Eanna shrine at Uruk owned 150 storage facilities, large plots of land and farms. The temple had a governing board that would oversee the holdings. It received rent, tithes, and offerings as income and paid out salaries through its various prebends, which included members of the priesthood but also many different groups of artisans. Lower levels of temple personnel simply received rations. All temple holdings were considered to be the property of the god, and so temple property at Uruk was called “the property of Anu”.

While some of the land remained under direct control of the temple administration, other parts were leased out. The prebendary rights were as much temple property as the land and so were the temple slaves. Administrative policy concerning temple function, personnel, fines, assigning vacant temple land, and so on was made by the “puhru” as a whole, which was presided over by the chief administrative officer, the “shatammu”. The assembly included the cultic professionals among its members, and membership within the assembly qualified one for membership in the city. The assembly would even consider such matters as marriages, petitions, and grievance. At Uruk, the prebendary system was controlled by the “bit abim” (“clans”). All the higher civil and temple officials were members of one of the temple clans, and assembly membership was likely restricted to those who were clan members, although it is possible that the clan system was not introduced until the Hellenistic period.

Throughout the Persian period, established Babylonian temples existed not just as cult centers but “as social units with dependent populations and extensive administrative staffs, as economic units with widespread real property, diverse sources of income and facilities for accumulating and redistributing their wealth”, according to M Stolper. In this social setting the “shatammu” as chief administrator of the temple did not act by himself but always within the context of the head of the assembly. It is all remarkably Jewish.

In Neo-Babylonian texts from the Ebabbar shrine at Sippar, the temple administrator appears in connection with the questioning of assembly members involved in lawsuits, and in some texts appears even with royal judges. At Sippar he was involved not only with managing matters such as land, cattle, and temple personnel, but also acted as judge in a few cases dealing strictly with matters internal to the temple assembly. As an administrator, then, a “shatammu” could not force an assembly to act but could only lead it as it made its decisions. Insofar as such an administrator could apparently act as a judge, his authority was limited to matters within the world of the assembly.

Scribes appear within the Babylonian temple assemblies, both the “sepiru”, the Aramaic scribe who wrote on parchment, and the “tupsharru”, the cuneiform scribe who wrote on clay. The “tupsharru” was considered a priest, while the “sepiru” was considered an administrator. So beyond referring to members of the Persian bureaucracy, the term “scribe” could also refer to functionaries within the temple organizations, and in Babylon to people who were considered both priests and administrators. Janzen tries to maintain that Ezra was simply a temple scribe, a “tupsharru”, but that is untenable unless Ezra-Nehemiah is abandoned as a pointless work.

The actions that Ezra performs in the Ezra narrative have contemporary parallels. Joel Weinberg has given convincing parallels between the Jerusalem temple community and those of Babylonia, between the Babylonian “puhru” and the “qahal” of Ezra-Nehemiah. Both terms refer to a temple assembly, and the “qahal” of Persian-period Yehud appears to have functioned much like its Babylonian counterpart. The Jerusalem temple assembly was structured by the clans that were the equivalent of the Babylonian “bit abim”.

Ezra acts like a “shatammu”, an administrator who can guide the assembly but who cannot mandate decisions, yet the Artaxerxes letter gave him that authority. Janzen thinks Ezra was just the head of the assembly and declares the letter spurious denying that Ezra had the authority to legislate a decision in the way that Nehemiah did. In Nehemiah 5, the poor complain about the burden of taxes, and the governor handles it. This, though, was a matter beyond the bounds of the assembly. Ezra was not sent to replace the governor, although as a more senior official, he had more power. The governor still acted as governor, and had to shift the attention away from the royal taxes that had caused the problem.

Janzen says Nehemiah can act in a way that Ezra cannot, an obviously unwarranted assumption that he has to deny the shah’s letter to uphold. Janzen goes on to say that Ezra had no power to act outside of the assembly, because he did not use it, but a senior statesman and diplomat would have sought to lead rather than drive, especially in delicate matters, and especially because that was how the leading priests, the “shatammu”, in fact, behaved. When, in Ezra 9–10, he works within the assembly on a matter wholly internal to it, he works as “shatammu”, not as royal official because it is more effective, but there is no doubt in the whole work that the assembly knew who had the power. Ezra’s authority shines through.

Reading the Law

A most important passage follows in Nehemiah 8 where Ezra reads the law to people who already putatively had the most comprehensive law since Hammurabi—the law of Moses. They are supposed to have had it for a thousand years, and the Second Law, or Deuteronomy, they are supposed to have had for about 200 years. “They had forgotten them!” the “scholars” of the Jewish and Christian persuasions tell us. S Mowinckel (1965) lists the hypotheses and their proponents about “The Book of the Law of Moses” which Ezra read (Neh 8:2-15):

  1. Deuteronomic Laws—Laurence Browne, Raymond Bowman, M F Scott, Ulrich Kellermann;
  2. A collection of legal materials—Rudolph Kittel, Gerhard von Rad, Martin Noth;
  3. The Priestly Code—Abraham Kuenen, Bernhard Stade, W H Koster, Eduard Meyer, W O E Oesterly, Adolphe Lods, Hans-J Kraus;
  4. The Pentateuch—Julius Wellhausen, Ernest Sellin, Hans Schaeder, Otto Eissfeldt, Wilhelm Rudolph, Kurt Galling, Sigmund Mowinckel, William F Albright, John Bright, Frank Cross and James Sanders, but C Houtman objects that legal citations in Ezra-Nehemiah do not come from the Pentateuch, nor are supposed Pentateuchal citations quoted verbatim.


Only the first or second can be right. The Priestly Code has to be much later, being the elaborate rules of a well established sacerdotsl centre. Ezra leads the group of Levites in teaching the law, obviously working in a senior capacity. Here he is called both “priest” and “scribe”. In fact, Ezra reads to the colonists and the Am ha Eretz a covenant, an enforceable treaty in the form of a statute like the one the biblicists tell us they had had since the time of Josiah. The law read out by Ezra was a law that had to be kept. Ezra imposed it firmly under threat, and the people wept! Some say they wept in joy but they were commanded not to mourn! David A Smith, in the Lutterworth Dictionary of the Bible concedes that the response was grief, but it soon turned to joy! It was the law of Mazas, Ahuramazda, called Mazas by the Assyrians, Moses by the Jews, or perhaps Misa, the name of Mithras in the Persian dialect. Jewish sages have thought of Ezra as the second Moses. He was the first Moses, unless Ahuramazda or Mithras is considered the first. It also begins to look like more than a coincidence that his brother is Aaron, in Hebrew letter equivalents, Ahrwn. Besides the final “nun” the word looks to be a mishearing of Ahura (Aura), and the “nun” is easily explained from its assimilation into Hebrew as meaning “his brother”.

Ezra read out Deuteronomy! Deuteronomy, charges the priests (Dt 17:18 and 31:9–13) with a public reading of the law to Israel. Ezra teaches Torah to the community, acting the way a priest would. The name Deuteronomy does not imply that some law went before it except in the minds of scholars who cannot think. Deuteronomy is a name given to a biblical book by Christians because they thought there already was a first law—the law of Moses. The truth is that Deuteronomy was the law until the priests of a later date, when the temple was up and running, wanted to add as many layers of sacrificing, tithing and taxing as they could to extract the maximum revenue from the population. John How is sure Ezra’s law is Deuteronomy. The parts reminiscent of the Priestly Code (Neh 10:38-39; 12:47) were additions by the Chroniclers—priests.

The form of the law is exactly the form of ancient near eastern treaties. Christians want us to believe that God chose a legal form for his covenant with the people that the Semites of the fertile crescent knew well. If this pathetic lunacy were not so ingrained and prevalent among biblical scholars it would be risable. Indeed it is, but there is no historian who has the nerve to tell the religious dogmatists to do something useful like sweeping roads or digging out cesspits, leaving scholarship to professionals who do not need to call upon the hypothesis of God’s finger at every juncture in Palestinian history.

David C Deuel calls Ezra “an Old Testament pattern for expository preaching”, when he means that Ezra is the Old Testament pattern of expository teaching.

If Judaism followed the pattern established by Ezra and if the church took many of its first practices from Judaism, is it possible that expository preaching has enjoyed an unbroken succession of “pulpiteers” from this early period?


Need he ask. He points out that Larsen had already said:

Preachers today stand in this awesome succession. We are the descendants of those incendiary spokesmen for God in all their variety and diversity.
David L Larsen, The Anatomy of Preaching (1989)


The shape of the ceremony when it was read out became the traditional shape of Jewish and Christian services which centre on readings from the legally binding books and an exhortation to obey. Psalms and suitable prayers reinforced the message: “Obey the law and you are saved. Do not obey and you are doomed”.

The people could not understand what was being said, though Ezra was a Jew reading out the law of Moses, we are assured. A large number of assistants were needed to “interpret” Ezra’s words for the crowd and to explain precisely what they meant—the “sense”. Biblicists know that Ezra 4:18 refers to “translation” not to “explanation”, and sometimes they will admit it in a footnote while going on then to treat the meaning as explanation. “Translation” here means “interpretation” or “explanation”, they say. It means “translation” because Ezra is a Persian and he is reading in Persian. His assistants translate the Persian words and explain them to the assembled throng.

In the ritual the people call out, “Amen, Amen!” This now means “quite so” or “truly”, repeated twice, as Jesus did in John’s gospel, but oddly enough Artaxerxes was called “The Mindful”, in Greek, Mnemon, so the people are actually calling out Artaxerxes’s name in Greek! Whether this is a bizarre coincidence or whether for some reason Ezra was reading the law in Greek, inviting the crowd to respond by repeating the Shahanshah’s name in Greek, will never be known. It seems doubtful, except that the same law might already have been used in the Greek colonies in Asia, so Ezra had it to hand in a readily usable form—but in Greek! In any event, the calling out of “Amen” to acknowledge a religious statement has never ceased since, in Judaism and Christianity.

The Festival of Booths

Ezra in the passage next entered has the colonists celebrating the festival of Booths. The Chronicler tells us that the Jews had not been celebrating the Feast of Booths since the time of Joshua. For you scholars at the back there, this means it had never been celebrated. It was supposed to have commemorated the time God spent with the Israelites in their tents in the desert. They had to have settled down for it to make sense, so it could only have been celebrated in the time of Judges, according to biblical chronology. It would not occur to a Christian or Jew that the Chronicler is actually leaving clues to take the rise out of the gullible believers. These people in reality had never spent any time in the desert in booths, so what was the point? The people who had lived in booths in the desert, or Eurasian steppes, were Iranians.

Zoroastrians had a harvest festival in the autumn dedicated to Mithras, and we have to conclude that Ezra was really introducing a festival to match that of Mithras. Booths is held from 15 to 22 of Tishri which corresponds to the end of September and beginning of October (sometime in the interval 20 September to 19 October) in our calendar. Mithras became the Jewish archangel Michael, and Michaelmas Day is still, to this day, 29 September in the Christian calendar. Also significant is that Booths required the sacrifice of seventy bulls over the whole period of the festival, and Mithras is associated with bull sacrifice.

A bundle of twigs called the “Four Species” are ritually waved throughout this festival, a habit that has no scriptural explanation except that the booths were to be made of twigs:

Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths. (Neh 8:15)


Zoroastrian priests always carried a bundle of twigs called the “Baresman”, and we can deduce that the “Four Species” being waved are a memory of the Zoroastrian origins of the ceremony of booths.

The purpose of the festival for Ezra was that the new law had to be ceremonially taught for a week every year. But the original period of the ceremony did not match that adopted later—it was not set on the fifteenth day of the month as it now is. This first one was held on the second day of the seventh month. It shows that the traditional date set in the Mosaic law did not precede this law of Ezra. Ezra, in short, was founding the tradition, and later it was moved by the priests to make way for the Day of Atonement that was comemorated on 10 Tishri (Lev 23:26-32).

The Chronicler mentions the Festival of Booths elsewhere in his long history (2 Chr 5:3; 7:8; Ezra 3:4) but these simply show that the editor called the Chronicler was writing at a later period, when the feast had become traditional, and it had been customary to retroject it into the past, much of which was a mythical justication for the priestly extortions. A Guillaume explains to us, in a commentary on Chronicles:

The doctors of Islam shaped the laws of millions of Moslems by reading back into the origins of their religion the conditions and ideas of their own age: how customs and laws introduced by Mohammed became de rigueur by the simple expedient of claiming for them his precept or example.


It is remarkable that Christians like Guillaume could write this without a hint that they had noticed the same could have happened in Christianity and Judaism. Guillaume wrote in about 1920, but there is little evidence that many Christian scholars, or anyone with influence, have noticed it until this day. To make it utterly clear—the whole bible is built on the same principle. Guillaume might have been a genuine Christian idiot savant because he asks in wonder or deceit:

Why was it that Israel’s great saints had lived as though the law had never been given?


Despite what he said about the Moslems, it never seemed to occur to him that much Jewish scripture is fabricated at a much later date and retrojected into the past. Later laws concocted by the priesthood not more than about 200 years BC are retrojected into a distant antiquity to give them a caché that they could never otherwise have had. They invented a character to explain why their law was called the law of Moses, a name that they came not to understand because their god was called Yehouah not Moses.

This part of Nehemiah shows the foundation of the feast of Booths and indeed of the central elements of Judaism, in the time of Ezra. No one can seriously believe that the native people had forgotten these traditions from their inception until the time of Ezra, or that an official of the Persian king should turn up with records of a detailed law that the people for whom it was intended had forgotten for a long time. Ezra instituted the feast and the readings of the law that became the basis of our modern patriarchal religions.

Separating Husband from Wife

Now we come to Ezra’s most offensive act, the case of the foreign women in Ezra 9–10, when the members of the assembly brought the matter of intermarriage to Ezra. Ezra deplores the situation, claiming that it will provoke God to anger and cause God to destroy the community, but it is the assembly or part of it that confesses the “sin”. Shecaniah, not Ezra, suggests that the assembly cause those of its members who have married foreign women to divorce them (10:2–4).

Ezra made the whole of Israel swear to do as he wanted, and obliged the Jewish men to divorce their wives and cast off them and their children, or have all their property and rights removed. We have to return to Ezra 9 to follow the proper sequence of events. The mention of the ninth month in Ezra 10:9 confirms the correctness of the restored order of the work. The chronology is right.

Some colonists had married wives of the native people—people who were supposed mythically to have been ethnic Jews, even if they had strayed from proper practice, as Jews and Christian pretend. The complaint is against the uncleanness of the men of the land, the native inhabitants of the hill country who were the same people as the “exiles”, but the Chronicler picked out Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. There is only one reason why ethnic mixing should have been forbidden, since there is not a shread of evidence that the Israelites were ethnically different from Canaanites. It is that the real complaint was against Egyptian women, because Egypt had declared UDI. So, the problem sounds ethnic—but it is really religious. The basis of it is the Zoroastrian one that marriage should be within the religion. The people who are called to Jerusalem are the “children of the captivity”—the colonists.

Josephus says Bagoas had offered to make Joshua the High Priest in a tendentious account which accuses Bagoas of polluting the temple, entering it in his capacity as governor to investigate the crime. Answering protestors, Bagoas, whose very name includes the Persian word for God, and who must have been a Zoroastrian, declared, “Am I not purer than he that was slain in the temple?” He was! Nothing was more impure than a corpse and no corpse worse than that of a dead priest. Bagoas was accusing the colonists of hypocrisy, and imposed an additional tax on their sacrifices for seven years.

What the basis of the quarrel was between the brothers is not stated, but the fact that Bagoas did not punish Johanan personally for a heinous murder shows that he was not plotting against him as Josephus says. Ezra (Ezra 10:6) spends the night with the murderous priest, Johanan, apparently condoning his action. Ezra must have considered the murder justified, and he had the power of life and death, so had the same view as Bagoas. Persian interests must have been served by the murder which, to judge from the subsequent actions of Ezra might have been connected with mixed marriages of temple officials and priests with women of a different religion, most probably Egyptian women being the main concern, as offering both religious and loyalty problems.

Ezra speaks of the transgressions of the colonists, “those that had been carried away”. He means not the ones that had just returned with him, but the previous colonists who had made a bit of a pig’s ear out of their duty. Down to the Dead Sea Scrolls words like “the Captivity” (the Golah) or “Captives” was a word of honour for the colonists. It is taken to refer to their captivity in Babylon, but the Babylonian Jews were obviously not captives and some, to judge by their names, did extremely well. Ezra is supposed to have been a Jew who became a Persian official. Nehemiah is the same, according to the bible. How are these people captives? The truth is the “Returners” were captives of Persia. The name The Golah became a name of pride for the colonists and used to distinguish them from the colonized. Ezra speaks of the “remnant”, a way of denoting the colonists as special as the Righteous Few while the Am ha Eretz and the apostatizing “returners” were unrighteous. He states clearly (Ezra 9:9) that they are still in bondage:

For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.


It is powerful propaganda. Ezra all the time speaks of “our God”, implying, if he was a Zoroastrian, that the gods were the same one, yet, if he really were Jewish, he continues the propaganda of Cyrus that the Persian kings were the agents of the Jewish God on earth. In the next but one verse he declares with utmost clarity that this is the time when the Jews possessed the land:

The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness.


This is just tha attitude of the Persians to the “daevas”, the false gods of the Evil Creation that had to be destroyed and not compromized with. Plainly, Yehouah was a Yazata not a daeva, but the Baals were daevas. There is no recognition here at all that the people of the land were themselves Israelites that had been left behind, there was no interest in them at all while they remained attached to their Baals, and there could be no intermarriage. At least in its concept of a good and an evil creation, Zoroastrianism has a theological basis for separation, but Judaism has none except an assumed superiority. Doubtless the women that the earlier “returners” had married had also been worshippers of Yehouah, but in the native Canaanite style. This is what the remnant had to stamp out and the reason why those of the restored faith had to divorce them. The apparent quotation from Deuteronomy (Ezra 10:11) seems to have been edited in the law itself (Deut 7:1-3) to get rid of Ezra’s statement that the land was unclean.

Like a good statesman and diplomat, Ezra gets the cooperation of some senior men, and examined the cases of mixed marriage over a two month period. The outcome is a list of those found guilty—only 111. It shows that the number of colonists must have been small.

The Law is Deuteronomy

The action now moves back to Nehemiah chapters 9 and 10. In Nehemiah 9:6, God is described in relation to the heavens and the “heaven of heavens”, perhaps a suggestion of a heaven behind the heavens, a Zoroastrian idea because Ahuramazda is often described as wearing the “massy heavens” as his cloak. The nations in verse 9:8 are most of the nations already mentioned in connexion with the mixed marriages, yet it is supposedly referring to Abram, 1500 years before. And the covenant that the writer has just shown being introduced by Ezra in now cast back into the mythological past, showing that this, to the end of the speech, is all later composition. Its situation is manifestly false being a joint speech by eight Levites, and a long one for them to keep in synchronization, though modern versions attribute it to Ezra, as is likely to be correct.

The end reverts to the law and suggests that the law brought by Ezra was Deuteronomy. The feast of Booths was celebrated on the second of the seventh month. In JED of Genesis no date is given and in P it appears as the 15th day of the seventh month. P was evidently the final modification of the law. The reading of the law in Nehemiah 8:2-18 corresponds with Deuteronomy 31:11 but does not appear in P. The rejoicing and the paradoxical command not to mourn matches Deuteronomy 16:14-15. Gifts for the poor in Nehemiah 8:10 matches Deuteronomy. Women and children are introduced in Nehemiah 8:2 and also in Deuteronomy. Only the Holiness Texts (Lev 23:43) identify the Festival of Booths as a memorial of the Exodus.

Most significantly, P specifies the tenth of Tishri as the Day of Atonement, yet in this account it is not mentioned. Even though a solemn assembly is called on the eighth, nothing is said about the famous fast of the tenth, showing it was a later invention, yet is prescribed in P. This account makes a use of a law and events that back it up that precede the writing of P, the Priestly Code, and the Holiness Code of Leviticus. Indeed it implies that the Chronicler might not have known it, suggesting that it was later even than the historian.

Moreover, the introduction of the covenant in Ezra 10 has no hints that there had supposedly been a history of Israelite covenants. Whatever seems possibly to reflect them turns out to be common to all of the covenants, therefore giving no indication of priority, while what seems particular to this one does not look genuine—it is probably interpolated. Thus Nehemiah 10:33 begins an excerpt from P to explain the use to which the temple tax is put. The explanation would have been superfluous in context, so seems to have been added for non-Jewish readers! Nehemiah 10:36b-39 is an addition that echoes P but also echoes unnecessarily what has been said in the previous two verses. Otherwise, Nehemiah 10:20 on mixed marriages is Deuteronomy 7:3 and has no parallel in P. Forgiving debts in the sabbath year (Neh 10:31) is Deuteronomy 15:2. The temple tax of Nehemiah 10:32 is only a third of a shekel, a sum that appears nowhwere else. In P it is half a shekel, which puts P later on the grounds that taxes increased with the complexity and extent of the temple organization. The conclusion is that Deuteronomy and its source, Ezra-Nehemiah, preceded.




The Foundation of Judaism (part I): The Work of Nehemiah and Ezra





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