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PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM

Book 3. Ezra & The Law

The Foundation of Judaism

(part II):

The Work of Nehemiah and Ezra


 

A Letter to Artaxerxes

 

The Aramaic passage Ezra 4:7-23 follows next. The mention of Xerxes in verse 6, Artaxerxes in verse 7 and Darius in verse 24 suggests that the Darius must be Darius II, but no biblical scholar seems to consider this nowadays, all of them assuming it must be an anachronistic reference to Darius I. If Darius II is meant then the “second temple” was built fully 100 years later than is imagined, about 417 BC.

The letter sent shows several misunderstandings that indicate it is not original, Aramaic or not, and had been composed or reconstructed by people who did not fully understand what it meant.

The difficulties of Ezra 4:7-11 concerning the names mentioned as authors of a letter to Artaxerxes have already been considered, and Garbini has given the explanation. The supposed names Bishlam and Mithridates are a misunderstanding of words that meant “on the folded wrapping” because a short summary of the contents were written on the outside of chancellery documents to facilitate the Persian bureaucracy. It shows that the Chronicler had fragments of an original document that he no longer understood.

The letter, apparently to Artaxerxes II, must have been written near the middle of the fifth century. The response somehow was the sending of Nehemiah as governor about 445 BC, after Artaxerxes had stopped the building. The complaint is against the “Jews” who “came up from you to us”. The Jews were not seen as “returning exiles” but people “sent”. They seem to have been ignoring the king’s order and restoring the temple, and refusing the assistance of the native worshippers of Yehouah. L E Browne in Peake’s Commentary says:

Exiles had been coming back from time to time in the course of nearly a century. There is no need to suppose they formed a distinct community in Jerusalem.

 

This typical Christian blindness or deceit flies in the face of all the evidence, even of the bible! The whole story of the “returners” is of a group coming into Judah as an elite.

Note that in Ezra 4:2, the Samaritans were deported under Esarhaddon, in Ezra 4:10, it is under Osnapper (Ashurbanipal) while in 2 Kings 17, it seems to have meant Shalmaneser.

Egypt Secedes: Megabyxos Rebels

Pericles the leader of Athens had a base at Dor about 468 BC. The Greeks were likely to have supported the Egyptians in rebellion, so the base was of concern to the Persians. In fact, Greek mercenaries helped the Egyptians when they actually did rebel. Just before the return of Nehemiah, the satrap of Abarnahara, the noble general Megabyxos, had to put down a severe Egyptian rebellion (460-456 BC), but then rebelled himself because his honour had been compromized (449 BC). He defeated the king’s armies twice, and because Artaxerxes could not defeat him, but knowing him to be an honourable man, he offered a pact, and the two men seem to have returned to friendship. From then until the middle of the reign of Darius, except for a year of regnal squabbles before Darius II took control of the throne in 424 BC, there was a long period of peace. Advantage was taken of it to fortify Jerusalem and build up a dependent colony in Judah in case the Egyptians should again cause trouble.

The broken up book of Ezra-Nehemiah now continues at Nehemiah 1. Nehemiah is contrite over an event that supposedly happened over a century before. If the disaster were contemporary as the news and prayer imply, the walls and gates of Jerusalem must have been restored after the Babylonian destruction to be damaged again in this conflict. To be honest, we have to assume the latter because Nehemiah 1:1-3 seems undoubtedly to suggest that the Jewish settlers had been punished with the implication that some had been sent into exile while some were allowed to remain behind but destitute. It is hard to see why an event that happened 140 years before should appear as if it were news, if the Babylonian exile were meant.

It is plain from Nehemiah 7:4 that the city had been deserted, so there was no reason to build walls to protect the citizenry. It was built as a fortress. The true reason for the derelict state of Jerusalem and its need for fortification will have been the UDI declared by Egypt. If Megabyxos had punished the colonists for siding with the Egyptians in the rebellion of Inarus, the situation could have been as it is shown here. The Persians had been trying to get a reliable people settled in Jerusalem, because it was nicely placed to guard the routes into Asia. It was not on the direct route, being rather inaccessible on its hilltop site, but that was an advantage for a fortress and a base of operations. The Egyptian rebellion had made the need urgent, because they had sacked the undefended town or it had joined them in rebellion.

Nehemiah’s prayer displays the sentiments of Deuteronomy 30:1-4, so in part might be a genuine fragment, but the rest looks like a pious composition to introduce Nehemiah 2:1. The restorer did not give a full and proper date to his restoration of Nehemiah 1 because the next fragment he had was dated. So he built a composition around a small fragment he had to show Nehemiah’s prayer, and the Jews coming in supplication, but he or another editor then added the wrong year—the same one as in chapter 2—making Nehemiah learn about the problem after he had responded to it. Christian commentators ask us to amend twentieth to nineteenth in Nehemiah 1:1—the Holy Ghost being slack again!

The chapter purports to explain how Nehemiah persuaded the king to change his mind about rebuilding the city. If the story is from the original, it is propaganda, otherwise it is a later romance. Nehemiah 5:14 declares Nehemiah to have been the governor of Judah for twelve years, so our conclusions about the propaganda, or romance, are justified—Nehemiah was a Persian official. Before he was sent on this tour of duty he had been cupbearer to the king, a position that declared him to have been a Zoroastrian, because the king would never accept his drinks from unclean hands, and a trustworthy man, because his duty was to ensure that the king’s drinks were not poisoned. If he was also a Jew, then Judaism was considered an acceptable variety of Zoroastrianism.

The Persian authorities seemed to realize that they had been pussyfooting in Yehud and now wanted decisive action. Nehemiah was sent out with a military escort (Neh 2:9) showing that the times were troubled. Ezra was given no escort. They used propaganda to get the colonists to do the work for them, adding gifts as sweeteners. Nehemiah 3:5 and 3:27 show that even the wealthy who initially objected to doing manual work eventually helped out. But Nehemiah 4:10 suggests the truth that the colonists were a ruling class unaccustomed to such work.

The fact that the workers had to be armed to protect themselves makes the resistance they were facing sound more serious than mere objections. It sounds incredible that the authorities, the Persians, could not keep order and tends to confirm that we are looking not at any peaceable resistance but a troubled period of rebellions when the Persians were far from in control, because the Persian military were busy elsewhere, but they were succeeding in regaining control.

The results of the rebellion of Megabyxos occasioned the complaint to Artaxerxes. Even if the colonists had had permission to restore the temple and the city walls, it would have looked rebellious to chose this time to start, and so Artaxerxes stopped it. The complaint might have been just Jewish propaganda or their assumption. Artaxerxes might have stopped it as a sensible precaution under the circumstances.

Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, is known from an Elephantine papyrus dated 407 BC, that refers to his sons as Dalaiah and Shelemiah. His name seems to have a reference to Baalath, who is Astarte, suggesting he worshipped the older gods of Canaan, but it might be Babylonian (Shunibel or Sanbassar), so he was perhaps a colonist himself, but his sons were plainly brought up as Jews. Perhaps the daughter that married the grandson of Eliashub was brought up in the old religion, but if not, Nehemiah refused even to accept converted local women as Jews, at least so far as the priesthood was concerned. Of his allies, Tobiah also apparently worshipped Yehouah, but is described as an Ammonite. The family of the Tobiads appear again in the Greek period, so they were plainly influential.

Nehemiah in 5 inserts a parenthesis that shows the wealthier of the colonists had been exploiting even the less successful “returners”. These were troubled times and normal economic relations must have been under strain. The hills around Jerusalem were not easy to make a living from, and grain, for example, mainly had to be procured by trade in the market of Jerusalem. In these troubles, the poor were getting poorer and doubtless the rich richer, by exploiting scarcity. People were having to mortgage their children, their plots and even having to sell their children into slavery to survive—and these were “returners!” It might well have been that these poor colonists found themselves cut off by the natives and exploited by their own wealthy classes and so were worse off than either. Nehemiah sought the agreement of the wealthy to end this exploitation. Zoroastrianism always required charitable treatment of the poor.

Charles E Carter is sure that Jews outside of Yehud maintained the economy of the temple state. The assumption always is that many Jews did not return from exile, and it was these millions of wealthy Jews in Babylonia who supported their fellow Jews that returned. The Jews were supposedly in exile for 70 years. The ruling ten percent of a population that left 11,000 behind are thought to have gone into exile—1000 people! They were removed as captives and must have started out as slaves or at least landless labourers, yet only 70 years later, they had multiplied into millions of successful businessmen, banking in the top banks! Even if it was 170 years because the return was at the time of Darius II not Darius I, it is an impossible achievement. They would have had to double in numbers every generation for ten generations. If such a growth rate is to be defended, it means the exiles were not hindered but rather were favoured by the Persian rulers, they were interbreeding and they were proselytising, so that those who returned were not ethnically the same as those who left. To accept it is to deny the Jews as an ethnic entity identifiable with the Israelites, and to deny them any ethnic connexion with Moses. The “Exile” is impossible, but Christians and Jews always insist upon it.

Yet, Carter is correct. The temple state was set up as the cult of the whole of Abarnahara. It is the people of Abarnahara who are the “peoples of the lands”, mentioned often in Ezra-Nehemiah and plainly different from the Am ha Eretz, who are the locals. The “peoples of the lands” are the Hebrews, and they it is who have to support the temple state. Yehud is like Washington DC, Canberra, Australia, or more accurately, the Vatican City. It was a religious state meant to gather the people for tithing. The three annual pilgrimages will have facilitated the collection of tithes and taxes from the Hebrews, and would bind them in unity. Carter writes:

The sacrifices were a form of taxation, designed to underwrite the priesthood and the temple officials.

 

And they were the tax men for the Persian state. Nehemiah 10:33-34 imposes a temple tax of 1/3 shekel, in addition to the sacrifices.

Nehemiah is keen to show that he is himself thrifty in the harsh conditions, not calling for the full resources he was entitled to for his diplomatic functions and feasts:

Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us. (Neh 5:17)

 

Where is the Jewish faddiness about table fellowship that they were famous for? Perhaps because the colonists were trained as a nation of priests of the Jerusalem temple, they later adopted the attitude of the Zoroastrian priests, who were particular about cleanliness and purity for the sake of their duties, and could be particular about eating alone, or only with those they knew to be clean.

Nehemiah is taken as a Jew, though he must have been a Zoroastrian, but what of the “rulers” and the “heathen?” Jews are distinguished from “rulers” and “those” of the heathen, presumably rulers of the “heathen” nations of Abarnahara not heathens themselves. The rulers, whether of the heathen or the Jews, were Persian officials and administrators, and therefore likely to have been Zoroastrian. If the Jews, as all this seems to suggest, were Zoroastrians too, or crypto-Zoroastrians acceptable as Zoroastrians, then this table fellowship would have been possible within the Zoroastrian laws of purity. Interestingly, the Septuagint omits “and rulers” from this passage. It was translated in Maccabaean times and the Maccabees did not wish to suggest that the Jews did not rule themselves.

Who Were the Prophets?

The next section is simply Nehemiah 6, but it contains an utterly crucial piece of information at Nehemiah 6:6-7. A letter comes to Nehemiah from Sanballat:

It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words. And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.

 

The crucial information is in the words, “thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah”. It is an irrefutable admission that prophets were instruments of propaganda. Sanballat says that Nehemiah was already preparing the people for a coup by having prophets prophesy that he would be the king. It is exactly what we know that Cyrus and other Persian kings did to prepare the ground for his moves against countries like Babylon and Ionia.

Prophets were effectively agents provocateur who would begin whispering campaigns then, when they judged the time right, would make bold prophecies on behalf of their employer to prepare the people and get their support for his takeover, or social changes.

To imagine that the prophets of ancient Israel were anything other than these, is pure deceit. The Persians used prophets to spread ideas that were favourable to them, or alarm. Here it is proved in the bible itself, so Jewish and Christian commentators have always been aware of it. Only their flocks have not, and just in case they wonder, the commentators assure them that these are not true prophets! Thus Browne writes:

It is interesting to note the political use to which prophets were put. We sometimes forget the proportion of prophets who were concerned with promoting true religion was small. The rest were not necessarily followers of false gods, but as mere politicians and flatterers of kings, they were rightly described as “false prophets”.

 

Outrageous but feeble special pleading? Correct! If it were possible to distinguish true prophets from false prophets, there could be no use for false prophets at all. All prophets would be true prophets. If it is not possible to distinguish them, then prophecy is useless anyway—no one can know beforehand whether a prophet is a fake or not, so none of them should be listened to. How would any Christian or Jew know now whether the biblical prophets were true ones or not? Because they helped set up Judaism? That was the purpose of them as political agents of the Persian kings, so, according to Browne, they are false prophets! The Persian kings made use of prophets or oracles (the later prophecies of Zechariah are described as “oracles” in the bible) to create expectation and doubts. They were propagandists who did just what we read the biblical prophets doing. There is no reason at all to believe that the Jewish prophets were not agents of the Persian king.

Since Ezra at this time introduced the law called Deuteronomy, it is not surprising to find warnings there about prophets trying to persuade people to follow other gods:

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee. (Deut 13:1-5)

 

Even the reference to bondage in the land of Egypt is not amiss here, since the Egyptians had rebelled and the Persians were keen to keep the people of the hill country on side. Indeed, references such as these will certainly have led to the later elaboration of them into the bogus history of slavery in Egypt in the Bronze Age. The importance of prophecy at this time as a propaganda tool both ways is also highlighted elsewhere in Deuteronomy:

I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

 

They Persian chancellery knew its own provocateurs, agents and spies, and promised to murder those of the other side, the normal risk of the profession still today, but there is no way an innocent bystander could know in advance true prophets from false prophets. One side or the other must come out on top and that is the only way of telling. The Persian kings were confident of having prophecy on their side—the prophets were their own agents. The earlier kings at least, like Cyrus and Darius, were certain they were battling the Evil Creation on behalf of God, Ahuramazda. They could use prophets as propaganda machines to help their victory, and when it came, it proved that they were doing right and God was on their side. Unless the Assyrians used prophets in the same way, as propaganda, which is possible, most of the biblical prophets are Persian, and their purpose was to get support for the colonists from the native Am ha Eretz.

The genealogy here is the same as the one in Ezra, and is unnecessary. Nehemiah is calling for a conference not a list of ancestors, and the results of the conference are announced in Nehemiah 11:1. The deserted city—it is latter half of the the fifth century BC and Jerusalem is still deserted after 150 years—has to be populated so the leaders are obliged to move in, along with one in ten drawn by lots, and some volunteers. The Jews were hardly dying to get in there, but a populated city is quickly created by these tough and unpopular measures.

When was the Dedication of the Walls?

The final episodes are the ceremony of inauguration of the walls and some incidents in a second period of office after Nehemiah had been away for an unspecified time period. Few people seem to notice that the dedication of the walls takes place in this second period of office, not the first twelve year period. In Nehemiah 13:4 Nehemiah writes, “Now before this”, referring to the dedication of the wall, and proceeds to describe an incident that occurred in his furlough between his periods of duty (Neh 13:6). The dedication must therefore have been on his return in his second period of duty. Building the walls cannot have been an easy task, despite God’s finger, and with a limited work force will have taken years not the two months of Zerubabel. Josephus says it took two years and eight months. It seems it took over twenty years, which is more credible, especially if the task was held up for a long period by royal command.

The incident was that the former opponent of the temple reconstruction, Tobiah, obtains a room within the temple, polluting it. Nehemiah once more solves the problem, and another—that various Levites had not been paid and so had returned to the fields to make a living. Nehemiah then prays to God using the sentence “wipe not out my good deeds”. The Zoroastrians believed that they were saved on the basis of their deeds, their good deeds and wicked deeds being accounted in the Book of Life for the Judge to consider when judgement of the soul was made.

Ezra the scribe led the procession in Nehemiah 12:36, so he was attending the ceremony too. Doubtless it was the sort of duty a man in his high office had to perform. If this dedication of the walls happened in a second period of office of Nehemiah beginning about 430 BC, it could have been in the reign of Darius II (424-404 BC). Nehemiah 13:1 says that the occasion of the dedication of the walls was the same occasion as the reading of the law and the introduction of the feast of Booths. Nehemiah 13:3 seems to correspond with Nehemiah 9:2 in saying that the Jews then separated themselves from foreigners, also tying the two events together. At about the same time (419 BC), a papyrus directs the Jews of Elephantine to keep the Passover, suggesting that the Persian Office of Religious affairs had decided to regulate Judaism everywhere.

The dating of Ezra might, therefore, be neither Artaxerxes I or Artaxerxes II but Darius II. The compiler, unable to distinguish between these Persian kings thought “year seven of Darius” meant Darius I, and was impossible, so rejected it in favour of Artaxerxes—who had already been mentioned in the context of Nehemiah—because the two men were contemporaries at the dedication. Ezra really came in year seven of Darius II (417 BC) specifically to dedicate the walls and to introduce the new law. It was an opportune time because the Egyptians were again rebelling, and a reliable fortress and loyal people in Jerusalem had become a necessity. He discovered the mixed mariages and had to deal also with the separating out of people, that Nehemiah’s had been unable to complete. Ezra was therefore never a “returner” and could not appear in lists of them, and was never a High Priest of the Jerusalem temple, though he was the senior priest in the Persian empire.

Darius I or Darius II?

It would have to be considered whether Zerubabel was another name for Ezra that has falsely been associated with Darius I when Darius II was correct. In other words, was the return under Darius I or under Darius II? Some clues are:
The word for a local governor used of Nehemiah, “Tirshatha”, is possibly anachronistic applied to a Zerubabel in the time of Darius the Great, but fine for one in the time of Darius II.
In the lists of Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7, Ezra does not appear, but Zerubabel does. Though Ezra was not a “returner”, the Chronicler thought he was, but seemed to know he was already listed as Zerubabel.
The mention of “Darics” in Ezra 2:69 is likely to be anachronistic if Zerubabel was coming in the second year of Darius I. Darius introduced them, but it is hard to imagine them in use at such an early date—the time of the later Darius seems more likely.
Much of chapter 3 anticipates the later reforms of Ezra, though the complier mistakenly includes some Priestly Code (burnt offerings).
The hostility of the Am ha Eretz in Ezra 3:3 suggests a later date, after their offer to assist had been rejected.
The whole of Ezra 5:1 to Ezra 6:18 is in Aramaic, presumably to give the impression it is official, but Elamite was the chancellery language until Artaxerxes I introduced Aramaic. If the record is based on a genuine document, therefore, it is more likely to have been from the time of Darius II.
The three references in Ezra 5 to Abernahara (“Beyond the River”) is anachronistic in the time of Cyrus or Darius I, but not in the time of Darius II, because the satrapy was introduced in the time of Xerxes.
Though Tatnai seems to have been an official of the first Darius, the lost edict must be a romance if the Darius is the first one, ruling only eight years after Cyrus, but would be credible if this Darius is a hundred years later.
The decree of Cyrus, according to Ezra 6:2, was found on a roll, presupposing the use of Aramaic, but it would have been on a tablet in cuneiform in the time of the early kings of Persia.
The statement of Ezra 6:14 mentioning the three kings Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes would not be anachronistic in the reign of Darius II.
In Ezra 10:16, the word translated “to examine” (l’drosh) actually says “Darius” (l’dryosh), as if it were part of the date—the year and name of the king, though the year is absent. If Darius II was intended, a scribe knowing only Darius the Great has garbled it to correct an apparent error.
Nehemiah served Artaxerxes I in Susa, but Ezra, an important minister, seemed to serve the king in Babylon. In the reign of Darius II, the palace at Susa burned down and the king, who was half Babylonian, spent more time with his court in Babylon than earlier kings.
It is unlikely that the Persian royal archives were kept at Babylon so soon after the Persian conquest, but is a valid assumption for the later Darius whose capital Babylon effectively was. The record was found at Egbatana, where the early archives would have been kept.
The Jewish scriptures confuse Persia with Babylon. Artaxerxes king of Babylon (Neh 13:6), Artaxerxes king of Persia (Ezra 7:1). Cyrus king of Babylon (Ezra 1:1f, 3:7), Cyrus king of Persia (Ezra 4:3). Jews coming from Babylon before the time of Darius II would not have made such an error.
If the temple were completed in the last month of the sixth year of Darius II (Ezra 6:15), the final dedication ceremony of the rebuilt city and the appearance again of Ezra to read the law would make sense in the following year.

 

The compiler has confused the reigns of the two kings, introducing certain anachronisms. The initial restoration of Jerusalem after the victory of Cyrus was a purely civil matter carried out by Sheshbazzar but, as a Persian administrator with no associations with Jewish affairs, and moreover assisted by the native inhabitants not any colonizing Jews, his role has been cut to the rump. This was the view of W H Kosters in his dispute with J Wellhausen, so long ago that everyone has now forgotten it. Kosters had also noticed that the dedication ceremony was in the second period of Nehemiah, but Wellhausen’s great personal prestige quashed Kosters’ correct hypothesis, which was too radical for biblicists.

The Chronicler had put in an early return under Zerubabel. Ezra had been mistakenly identified with the mythical apocalyptic Saoshyant Zerubabel (Babylonian Zarathustra), and thought to have been a governor. He has the title “Salvation of Yehouah”, Joshua, and has therefore been mistaken for two separate people within the one story—which one was the putative messiah? The implication of Nehemiah 12:32 is that Hoshaiah led the group that Nehemiah 12:36 says was led by Ezra. Hoshaiah is a variant of Joshua, also meaning “Salvation of Yehouah”.

Zerubabel and Joshua in this scheme begin to look more unlikely and more like the ciphers they actually are. Both are the same eschatological saviour (saoshyant) mistaken by later chroniclers as historical figures and falsely made to return on the example of Ezra and Nehemiah. They also had to be found places in the genealogies by those who compiled them later. The genealogies are of limited value. The list of High Priests in Nehemiah 12 is only partial, so how can anyone have faith in the extensive lists when a relatively short one is inadequate? Here they are anachronistic themselves, as is shown by the fact that Jaddua, the High Priest in the time of Alexander the Great finishes the list (unless there was another unknown Jaddua). However, just before then, in Nehemiah 12:22, Eliashib a priest contemporary with Nehemiah (Neh 13:4) is spoken of in the context of “Darius the Persian”. It cannot be Darius the Great, could be Darius III, since Jaddua is also mentioned here, but probably means Darius II, the Darius who saw all this happen.

The genealogies were all compiled years later because of the requirements of purity of stock that Ezra imposed. M Dandamaev has shown that the practice in Persian Babylonia was to link cult membership with citizenship by heredity. Not until this practice had been set up in Yehud would genealogies have been necessary or made sense. In Nehemiah 7:5, the “finding” of “the book of the genealogy of them which came up at the first” is attributed to Nehemiah in his own words, but such books are not simply “found” and the whole of this section with its genealogy is plainly a later insertion, doubtless by the priests.

The presence of mythological figures in these genealogies proves that they are inventions. They were used to establish the status quo, and who had different genealogies to contest whatever they said? The Persian rules linking citizenship and heredity made these genealogies into fictional title deeds like those forged in large numbers by medieval monks to allow the church to grab land to which it really had no entitlement. As anthropologist M Fortes points out, the lineage genealogy was not meant to be accurate but stood for the current class structure legitimized by being “projected backwards as pseudo-history”.

The Chronicler probably had no idea that there was more than one Darius and more than one Artaxerxes. He also could not imagine Jerusalem without the properly functioning temple he was used to, nor accept that for a hundred years after the edict of Cyrus, effectively no colonization had occurred, even though Yehud had been apparently designated a temple state and a formal foundation had been laid. He therefore decided that Zerubabel was a different man from Ezra, and had arrived in the reign of the great Darius, not the lesser one, and the myth of an early return thus began.

Population

K Hoylund has noted a change of Persian foreign policy in Palestine from the mid-fifth century, suggested by the construction of a chain of fortresses. More fortresses of the same period are much further south in the Negeb, indicating Egypt as the perceived danger. Under the Persians, the Phœnicians controlled the whole of the coastline into Philistia—Ashkelon was Phœnician—and the Plain of Sharon. Dor and Ashdod were the centres of their own districts, as was Lachish, which seemed to control the Shephelah. Lachish might have been a frontier town between Persia and Egypt when Egypt seceded from the empire, as it often did, so Yehud in the hills and the Negeb with its line of forts would have been essential to Persian defence. From this time, Jerusalem was repopulated and Yehud began to become important, and Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem with the mission to build up the walls of the city.

The bible tells us 800,000 (2 Sam 24:9) or perhaps 1,100,000 (1 Chr 21:5) men drew the sword in Israel, and 500,000 (2 Sam 24:9), or 470,000 (1 Chr 21:5) men drew the sword in Judah. It requires no genius to realize that the populations of these countries would have to be a minimum of four times bigger. Yet, Charles E Carter of Seton Hall University, NJ, using the most up-to-date surveys, finds the population of Yehud was 11,000 at the start of the Persian period and increased to 17,000 a hundred years later. Most of the sites in Yehud (67 percent) were small villages of less than 125 people. About 25 percent had a population from 125 to 300, and only 10 percent were bigger. Of these only four were bigger than 600 people, and the settled part of Jerusalem was about 1500. The total population of the Palestinian Hills was only about 60,000, according to M Broshi and I Finkelstein, over 100 times less than the bible claims.

The lists in Ezra and Nehemiah suggest about 40,000 returners. Comparison with these surveys show that the lists were not of contemporary returners, and earlier estimates of the population of Judah as 200,000 had been made to accomodate this spurious biblical data. If 17,000 was the maximum, it also includes the native people—supposedly the brethren of the “Exiles”—who were stripped of their land by the colonists to become labourers or slaves. Such a small population could not have supported a literary tradition such as that supposed that produced or treasured the works of the prophets and the ancient works of Moses. Indeed, it could not have built let alone supported a substantial temple. The traditions relating to Solomon having assistance from Hiram of Tyre will reflect the truth that the “second” temple was built by the people of the Persian Satrapy of Abarnahara, not just by its tax collectors and sacerdotal arm that were called Jews.

Who were Jews?

Mark Hamilton asks, “What defines a Jew?” For Jews, the distinction is circumcision. Discussing circumcision (Histories 2:104), Herodotus says Colchians, Cappadocians, Egyptians and Ethiopians were all circumcised and the habit came from the Egyptians or the Ethiopians originally. The Syrians he distinguished in name from the Phœnicians but says that both are circumcised. Noting elsewhere (Histories 7:89) that the Phœnicians and Syrians of Palestine furnished triremes to the Persian navy, Herodotus seems to regard the Syrians of Palestine as being, in practice, the same as Phœnicians. The “Syrians of Palestine” must be the Jews.

It was under the Persians that “Jew” became a religious term. The Danish anthropologist, Fredrik Barth, has pointed out that ethnicity expresses itself most clearly at the boundaries. One can spot a Jew when they are dealing with non-Jews.

The Elephantine papyri portrayed a Jewish military colony, but the Jews there were not like those portrayed in the bible. Their religion was not solely devoted to Yehouah, confirming that the homogeneity of biblical monotheism misrepresented a polytheistic religion in Israel. The Elephantine community was part of a larger Aramaic-speaking garrison stationed at the First Cataract (Syene) to guard the frontier with Nubia. This had been the border of Egypt since the Old Kingdom, and, according to Herodotus (Histories 2:30), there had been an Egyptian garrison here from the time of Psammetichus (mid-seventh century BC), though he does not call them Jews, observing that the garrison were Persians. In the Roman era, it was the base of Legio I.

The Elephantine papyri show the boundaries of Jewishness at Elephantine did not concern:

  1. the family—intermarriage was possible, whether frequent or not,
  2. business—interethnic business was common,
  3. law—the business papyri are like other Aramaic and even Mesopotamian legal texts of the same time period,
  4. settlement patterns—Jews and non-Jews lived as immediate neighbours in Elephantine,
  5. proscribed ideas—Jewish reading material included the wisdom tale of Ahiqar, which referred to non-Jewish deities.

 

In several legal papyri the party involved is identified as a “Jew of Elephantine” or an “Aramaean of Syene” (Syene being a town on the east bank of the Nile opposite Elephantine Island). “Aramaean of Elephantine” appears occasionally and “Jew of Syene” once. This naming occurs only in the introductions of a legal contract, never in the list of witnesses, even when the names in the list are of different linguistic origins. Equivalent distinction are not made elsewhere such as in the Samaria Papyri. But Masheiah bar Jedaniah was called an Aramaean of Syene in 471 BC, a Jew of Elephantine in the 460s and 450s, and an Aramaean of Syene again in the 440s. Similarly, Meshullam bar Zaccur was an Aramaean of Syene and a Jew of Elephantine. Anani bar Haggai was an Aramaean of Elephantine and a Jew of Syene.

The Jewish temple was the center of community activities. A list of names (and patronymics) and their contributions to “Yehouah the God” is dated to “year 5”, presumably of Darius II. So, the tally was made in 419 BC. The names are arranged by century, followed by the name of a commander. The commanders have Babylonian names, Siniddin, Nabuaqad. These centuries seem to be the equivalent of the Roman military units, subunits of the “daglin” referred to throughout the papyri. Some of the contributors’ names in the list are Persian, Hori, Bagaphernes and Vashi. The money was divided among Yehouah, Eshembethel, and Anathbethel.

How are these peculiarities to be explained? The simple explanation is that Jew and Aramaean meant the same. The whole district seems to have been called Syene, not just the town of that name, so included Elephantine. To judge by names, worship of Yehouah signified a Jew. Some Aramaeans were called Jews because they worshipped Yehouah, rather than because they came from Judah, but these Jews had a temple which Yehouah shared with other deities. Yehouism at Elephantine did not exclude worship of other deities, and the Jews worshipped Eshembethel and Anathbethel with other Aramaeans. Outsiders could enter the group, perhaps through intermarriage, as long as they participated in this worship. What is important is that the community’s definition of its religion was different from the biblical norm.

Judea and Samaria were at the center of the Jewish community. Hamilton agrees that the bible was put together at this time, and it portrays Jerusalem as the center of Judaism. Too little is known about Samaria, but the Persians were obviously setting up a temple state in Yehud.

Eight of the papyrus letters show a steady escalation of tension during the last decade of the fifth century between the Jewish community and the Egyptian Khnum priesthood on Elephantine island. The Yehouah priests Jedaniah and Uriah are said to know that “Khnum, he has been against us from the time Jedaniah was in Egypt until now”. Eventually, the Jewish temple was destroyed.

Why would Egyptians have felt threatened by the Jewish temple? The likely reason was that temple served an army of mercenaries. At a time of Egyptian nationalism, the temple seemed an insult to Egypt itself. Nominally the garrison was to guard against Nubia, but in practice it was an occupation army, or was seen that way. One could understand destroying the temple as an episode in the mounting unrest which led to Egyptian independence c 403 BC. The Jews may have been disliked by the Egyptians, but, for the Persians, they were keepers of the peace.

Curiously, a Persian commander helped to destroy the temple. Vidranga, the Persian commander or frataraka, connived with the Egyptian troops to demolish it. Had Vidranga attacked the temple without any motivation? The revised draft of a letter, appealing to the governors of Judea and Samaria, for assistance, suggests he was bribed but not the first draft. A later note observed that the Persian government had always protected the Jewish temple, even when Cambyses had destroyed Egyptian temples in the same area. The most likely answer to the plot is that Persian policy was to destroy all Jewish centers except the one being sponsored by the Persians in Jerusalem.

The “Passover Letter”, dating from 419 BC is by one Hananiah, an emissary of Darius II who orders the Jewish garrison to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread—keeping the feast was apparently a mark of proper Jewish behavior. Mark Hamilton confirms that “support of religious unity within ethnic groups was an important part of Persian domestic policy, as the careers of Ezra and the Egyptian scribe and reformer Udjahorressnet indicate”, but here the existence of the letter suggests that there was disunity over the celebration. Some scholars assume that the Elephantine Jews had not observed the feast before, but the “Passover Letter” gives only the briefest instructions as to keeping the feast (no leaven in houses) and it seems the Elephantine priests must have known what the ritual was. The Passover was a Canaanite seasonal celebration that the priests were celebrationg in a traditional way that differed from the a new interpretation being placed upon it by the Persian colonists in Jerusalem.

In the correspondence between Elephantine and Judea, the worship of Aramaean deities never arises. A E Cowley, implies Judean approval for the rebuilding of the Elephantine temple and the resumption of the grain and incense offerings. Since the Judeans cannot have approved of the worship of Aramaean deities, this approval means either that they were unaware of the other deities of Elephantine, or that a condition was the removal of them. Nothing is known about any rebuilding ever taking place and it seems unlikely.

A shocking episode in Ezra-Nehemiah is Ezra’s enforcement of the ban on intermarriage. With a few exceptions everyone agreed with Ezra that intermarriage was certain to provoke divine wrath. Ezra persuades his audience by a prayer, which seems to reflect Deuteronomic theology, depicting intermarriage as revolt against Yehouah. Foreign husbands (Ezra 9:15; cf Neh 10:31) were included as well as wives, so the rule against intermarriage does not assume that a Jew is the offspring of a Jewish woman, but two Jewish parents. Ezra 10:18-44 lists the men who had married foreign women. The whole proceeding seems irregular in terms of Near Eastern law, but matches Zoroastrianism. His concern is with the purity of the community and the maintenance of its boundaries.

Ezra-Nehemiah often refers to the Persian government. The central authority is behind the reconstruction of the temple, the legal reforms of Ezra, and the fortification of Jerusalem. According to Ezra 4:1-5, the local inhabitants of Judea sought to help the colonists rebuild the temple because they too worshipped Yehouah. Zerubbabel declared their claim invalid. Zerubbabel says:

For we alone will build for Yehouah the God of Israel just as King Cyrus, king of Persia commanded us…

 

The exiles were claiming to be the true Jews because the Persians said they were. The imperial letters, considered to be based on genuine ones, show that the Persian government favored a pro-Jewish policy in Palestine. Jewishness was first of all displayed in religion. The community cooperated to build a temple, and then a wall which, whatever its significance as a defence in the increasingly unstable region, Nehemiah depicted as a testament to piety. Ethnicity was a matter of descent. Nehemiah 10:28-39 is a requirement for Jews of Jerusalem to collect tithes and taxes for the Persians and store them in a treasury. They also agree to avoid miscegenation, keep the Sabbath, holidays, and the Sabbath Year.

Ezra-Nehemiah contains genealogical lists purporting to be a census of the returning exiles. In Ezra 2:61-63 (Neh 7:63-65), the priestly genealogy did not include the descendants of Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai, people who believed themselves to be, and were believed by others to be, priests. Yet since their names were not in the authoritative genealogy, they could not function in the role. The genealogy did not indicate Jewishness, but priestly status. Focusing attention on the lineages apparently enjoyed Persian encouragement. The policy of the community allowed them to view themselves as recreating pre-exilic Judah. Core ethnic behavior meant a reassertion of what was believed by the ethnos to be its true historical identity.

Ethnicity

Commentators talk incessantly of ethnicity being the distinction between the “returners” and the Am ha Eretz, and the source of the mixed-marriage problem in Ezra-Nehemiah that is now such an embarrassment to Christians, if not Jews. They forget that the people returning were supposed to have been of the same ethnic stock as those left behind to become the Am ha Eretz. Harold C Washington of Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, notes that the land was left to “the vinedressers and the husbandmen” (2 Kg 25:12) when the landowning classes were carried off by Nebuchadrezzar. Ezekiel would have none of this in his role as an official propagandist and declared to the colonists that God had given them the land “as a possession” (Ezek 11:15), so they had God’s sanction to dispossess the natives of the land:

Thus saith the Lord God, I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. (Ezek 11:17)

 

Any ethnic mixing that occurred must have happened to those in exile. The problem of mixed marriage, if it is interpreted as ethnic in origin, is proof that the people being returned were not the descendents of those who left. They were colonists who thought nothing about the locals or their religion because they had a clear mission to introduce a new form of worship based on Zoroastrianism. Washingtom says:

The returning exiles responded to local opposition by conceiving themselves typologically as the generation of a new conquest.

 

The truth is that this was the conquest! The myth built later was probably begun as an allegory of the taking of the land by the “captives” sent by the Persians to colonize this part of Palestine. Judges tells the story, the first administrators of the country being magistrates appointed by the Persian officials. The various tribes and the opponents they meet are groups of colonists and the local Canaanites that they had to displace. In Joshua, the whole thing was multiplied even further, the conqueror of the land, Joshua, doubtless being based on the legendary High Priest of Haggai, and then the tribes moving into the land of milk and honey had to have an origin, whence the Exodus myth.

The colonial elite had to be supported by the peasantry of agrarian natives, but how were the peasants made to give up part of their wealth for the layabouts in the city? The peasantry can only resent coercion by military might. Better is to get the peasant to agree willingly. That is why gods were invented. As soon as the peasant can be persuaded that ill-fortune will come of them failing to please the gods, the elite is secure. The purpose of the temple was to support the local elite of temple functionaries supposedly serving God but really serving the Persian king. In Nehemiah 10:37, a function of the levites is to collect the “levy”, the taxes.

Ezra 6:21 admits that there were people from among “the filthiness of the heathen of the land” that were admitted into the community of “returners”. How did they differ from the other who remained filthy and were rejected? The verse shows it was on the basis of acceptance of the new cult. Plainly the filthy people wanted to stick to their filthy practices—their age old religion, one god at least of which (Yehouah) was the same as that of the cult being imposed.

At first, the conversion index must have been slight. Why should the local people be persuaded to convert to a cult being brought in by the upstarts? Later, though, the benefits would have been clearer and the propaganda of the prophets must have taken its toll. The Jewish caste system plainly reflects the situation: Priests, Levites, Israelites and Proselytes. Priests and Levites were “the captivity”, the colonists sent in by the Persians to rule the temple state. The Israelites were converts from among the Am ha Eretz and ordinary proselytes were converts from among other people.

What then was the problem over exogamous marriages? It was obviously that the marriage partner would not give up their affection for the older religion. Ezra-Nehemiah suggests a long period of investigation—too long to have been necessary. Everyone must have known who the culprits were. Women were allowed into the assemblies to which Ezra read the law (Neh 8:2-3), which took an oath of allegiance to it (Neh 10:28-29) and that demanded the cases of expulsion (Ezra 10:1). They could also own property. What took the time was the effort trying to persuade some of the marriage partners to convert to the new cult. In the end only about 100 refused! They might have had other reasons for being happy to allow the marriage to be annulled, especially if there was any settlement with the divorcement.

All great empires seek homogeneity of race and religion—except perhaps among an exclusive ruling class—to reduce tensions and the potential for rebellion. The Persians were no different. The Persian kings knew of the importance of religion and, arguably, the later kings deliberately yielded the strictest Zoroastrianism to the expediency of having the friendly, honest accessibility of a Mithras and the womanly understanding of a goddess Anahita because they were popular. Catholic Christianity was expedient in the same way. The Persians themselves seemed like the Normans in England or the pioneers in the USA—they were not keen to mix with the native stock and tended to keep themselves aloof in their own estates guarded by armed attendants who would rally to the call of their neighbours if they were attacked by local mobs. In Yehud, the colonists despised the Israelites, considering themselves superior and entitled to carve out their own estates from the land held by the Am ha Eretz. They themselves were certainly mixed, with little in common except their joint religion imposed by the Persians and their duty as colonists to obey Persian orders or have their protection withdrawn.

Culture

 

The destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC was widespread if not complete.
Charles E Carter

 

Jerusalem was not the administrative centre of the Babylonian district or province. It was Mizpah. The temple and perhaps the city, if the bible is right about when the first temple was destroyed, were in ruins for 168 years from 586 BC to 418 BC, and after the initial work nothing was done for 110 years. When Jerusalem was repopulated, Kenyon’s excavations showed it to have been smaller than the Iron II city, its walls being within the earlier ones, but good signs of Persian period occupation were found outside those walls. Nevertheless, the city was small, confined to the south eastern spur and temple mount with little occupation of the western hill. Since Nehemiah 6:10-11 suggests that a temple did already exist, it might not have been a built temple but an open space on a high place.

Thomas Willi of Greifswald University in Germany notices a cultural change from the mid-fifth century. En Gedi reached its peak of prosperity late in the fifth century. Excavations there are unusual in showing a full range of Persian pottery together with some Greek pots (Attic ware), Yehud Persian seal impressions, substantial building remains and even signs of industrial activity. From then to the end of the Persian period, the site seemed to decline. Through the fifth century, the use of seals increased as did the use of coins, though they were not common until the beginning of the fourth century. Beth Zur, one of the few Persian sites excavated, has yielded a quantity of coins all dating from the early fourth century. Carter coyly notes that “more than a few” sites were settled only in the late fifth and early fourth centuries! Bethel was only resettled late in the Persian period. Most biblical “scholars” think the post-Exilic settlement of the country was a century earlier.

These sites show a mixture of Persian and Hellenistic pottery that Carter describes as “problematic”, though the “problem” would presumably be immediately solved if Greeks, or peoples from countries occupied or colonized by Greeks, were among the people being settled in Yehud. The Hellenistic period begins mysteriously early in Palestine, so that the Persian occupation seems hardly testified to in the ground, or is invisible. What better explanation could there be than that many colonists were Greeks brought from Ionia, Caria or even Egypt?

The incident of the Greeks ordered by the Persian queen to be killed, though Megabyxos had promised them lenience for their surrender, might suggest that Greek footsoldiers who surrendered with them were placed as colonists in Yehud to guard against their former allies. Spartan volunteers might have been among them. The Spartans, who were often allied with the Persians against Athens, about this time were fighting the Athenians in the Peloponnesian war funded by Persian gold. The Spartans intrigued with the Satraps of the West against Athens. The attachment of Ionia to Persia was the price. This was achieved a few decades later under the treaty called the King’s Peace of 386 BC. Perhaps loyal Spartans were rewarded with estates and privileged duties in the temple colony of Yehud with captured Ionian nobles as slaves. According to the Anabasis, Xenophon’s Ten Thousand seemed to escape around 400 BC, but perhaps not all did. Alexander later settled Macedonian veterans near here in Samaria. Was it because the Hellenistic milieu made them feel at home? Later, in Maccabaean times, the Jews peculiarly claimed kinship with the Lacedaemonians—the Spartans! This has always seemed bizarre, but the explanation could be as simple as this given here, once it is accepted that the “returners” were not Israelites but colonists, the leaders of whom were Greeks. Was the Hebrew bible originally Greek?

Commentators speak about a Jewish aristocracy among the people who had just returned from a minimum of three generations of slavery in exile (presumably a great leveller), were all aristocrats before they were exiled, and could hardly have established a new aristocracy among themselves in the short time they had been back. Nehemiah 6:17 uses the word “horim”, translated as nobles, but it looks to be nothing less than an Hebraized plural of the Iranian word “ahura”. Literally, then it meant “lords”, and suggests that some of the “returners” were “lords” by virtue of their authority through the Persian administration.

Ezra repeatedly calls the colonists “captives”, yet they were supposedly now free, and indeed they were free to be so extremely successful in Babylonia that many did not want to return, or so we are told. It does not seem to stir the minds of commentators convinced they are reading the “word of the Lord” that the “returners” were indeed “captives”. In fact, most were not free! They were captives and had been sent as captives by the Persians specifically to colonize this poor country—a hard task, but one which offered riches once they accomplished the task successfully of setting up a temple and a treasury for their masters. They were exiles not because their ancestors had once been exiled from their home in the Palestinian hills but because they themselves were exiled to the Palestinian hills from their original homes elsewhere!

The Founder of Judaism

Whether Zerubabel is Ezra or not, the whole of Ezra-Nehemiah is vital to understanding the historical origins of Judaism. Even though the judicious mixing up of the text and the confusion of characters make it hard to understandand, it is usually ignored by Christian teachers and sunday schools. The truth is that Ezra laid the foundation of Judaism from a ministry of the Persian empire, apparently in the reign of Darius II. The rest of it was built backwards in time from then, firstly perhaps by bilocating Ezra himself, then using the Assyrian king lists, and lastly using fiction.

For centuries, biblical scholars have noted the absence of references to Moses in large swathes of the scriptures, and explain him as “presupposed” by the writers! It is as preposterous as explaining the absence of Christ in the New Testament because he was presupposed. He might have been presupposed but was not absent. The absence from the scriptures of Moses—the founder of the Jewish nation and the founder of their religion, the giver of their laws and, for a Jew, the greatest Jew that has ever lived—except in Exodus and Numbers is so profound that it has huge significance. It means that he is an afterthought in the Jewish bible, and Exodus and Numbers are among the last of the Jewish canon. These books were written long after the law and long after Yehud had been set up—to justify and explain them!

R F Person has attributed the work of the Deuteronomist to the Persian period. Moses is a variant of Mazda, and therefore a name of God, from the beginning when Ezra read out Deuteronomy—the law of Mazda. Moses was not a title of God and so the law of Moses looked incongruous to later Jews who puzzled about it or sought to cover up its true meaning. Moses was therefore mortalized as the man to whom God had given his law for presentation to the people. Later still, a myth was invented to explain this and the right of the Jews to be in the hills of Palestine. Genesis was added before the end of the Persian empire.

The Chronicler, if he was not as late as the Maccabees, wrote in the time of Ptolemy II Philadephus or Ptolemy III Euergetes, from 285 to 222 BC. Both were keen supporters of Judaism and its temple. This will be when the Priestly Code was written. Ptolemy Philadephus undertook to add the Torah to his new library in Greek translation, so the priests were inspired to codify their laws in Leviticus, and polish up the Pentateuch. Added myths justifying the ambitions of the Maccabees gave Jews the right to what had been the whole of Abarnahara—the united empire of David and Solomon.

Ezra is the true founder of Judaism.
Rev J H Box Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible

 

The later tendency, under the Greeks and Maccabees, was to eliminate Ezra from the bible. Ben Sira mentions Nehemiah but not Ezra. People influenced by the Greeks would have wanted to reduce the dependence of their myths on the Persians, and once the mythological saga of Moses had been elaborated, presumably under the Ptolemies, Ezra rather gave the game away. In 2 Maccabees 1:18-36, Nehemiah was the founder of the second temple and Ezra was no longer in view. That Ezra appears today in the Jewish scriptures is undoubtedly an oversight, probably caused by the disruption of the Jewish War and the Bar Kosiba revolt (66 and 132 AD).

Was Ezra a Fiction?

There is another hypothesis to explain the absence of Ezra, and it is put by Giovanni Garbini, a firm disbeliever in the Persian idea of Jewish origins. He denies that Ezra and Nehemiah in the Jewish scriptures tell real history. Ezra therefore never did come from Persia with the law. He argues that Ezra is pure fiction. The character, Ezra, came out of a second century dispute between Jewish factions over a trellis-like wall in the courts of the temple that separated the holy priests from the profane Israelites. He says that:

No Jewish work whether in the bible or not shows knowledge of the great Ezra before Flavius Josephus.

 

He is speaking of the specific form “Ezra” of the name but there are other expressions of it, including very probably in the bible, Zerubabel. Criticisms of the sequence of Persian kings in the biblical Ezra, do show that the account was far from contemporary, but what biblical books are? The only problems in the sequence are that the author does not know of Cambyses, who only reigned a short time, and he does not realise there are two Dariuses. He refers in fact to the reign of Darius II, but he thinks that this is the Great Darius.

Why was the account then not contemporary? It stands to reason that neither the Persians nor the Jewish priesthood wanted to advertise the fact that the religion had been set up by the Persians. The Persians said that they were merely “restoring” the Jewish religion and applying the proper law that Josiah had already discovered and applied 200 years before. Moreover, in the years intervening from the fifth century to the second century, the Jewish priests in cahoots with the Ptolemaic priests and royalty of Egypt had been remoulding the religion to put Jewish origins in Egypt. Even if there had been some document explaining Ezra’s mission, it would have been suppressed. Moses had been invented as the Egyptian Ezra. RIP, Ezra!

Garbini’s hypothesis about Ezra is that he is the personification of the word “azarah” meaning, in identifiably late biblical books and the writings of the Rabbis, the inner court of the temple. Such explanations suffer from the “chicken and egg syndrome”. The wall under consideration could well have represented the original Persian religion which was neurotic about keeping apart the good creation and the wicked creation, in their fight against Ahriman. Thus the wall to separate the priesthood might have been associated with Ezra from the outset, because Persian priests had to take scrupulous care to remain “clean”, and therefore to avoid contact with anything potentially unclean like people. The Essenes, who derived from the Hasids, kept up this extreme of separation right into the time of Jesus.

Another chicken and egg problem is Garbini’s observation from the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Qamma 82a) that Ezra made ten ordinances. Garbini sees this as copying Moses, but who is to positively deny that the original ten commandments were not Ezra’s, and copied by the Egyptian priests who devised Moses and the exodus? The association of Ezra with the law has to be simply dismissed on Garbini’s theory. It was a mistake for his prescribing a canon of religious books! In evidence, Garbini cites the Apocalypse of Ezra dated to about 100 AD!

There is no denying that the Ezra of Garbini’s hypothesis followed the myth of Moses by about 100 years. Why then would any Jews be inventing a man who had to read out the law because Jews had forgotten it? It is far fetched to imagine that another Moses could have been invented only a hundred years after the original and set in competition with him. Unlikely stories, ones that seem to run contrary to the trend of history, have to be taken seriously, so it seems more likely, considering all the evidence that Judaism is Persian, that Ezra is a historical character, even though his memory has been tried to be expunged.

Bearing this in mind, Garbini is quite possibly correct in his theory abnout factionalism, but it was a factionalism that involved the Puritans of the Persian form of the religion, many of whom still lived in Babylon and Syria and called themselves Hasids (Kasdim, Chaldaeans), and the establishment of Graeco-Egyptian Hellenized priests, who eventually became Sadducees. It was all about the time of the Maccabees, when the rebels promised a return to pure ways of worship, inviting the support of the Hasids, but in fact sought the practical support of the Egyptians and the Romans against the Seleucid Greek kings of Syria.

The original Ezra is 1 Esdras, the mythical basis for the second century reform. Ezra was never known as a Jewish name before the composition of 1 Esdras, according to Garbini. It is rationalised as “He is help”, “He” being God, a bit demeaning to the old finger stirrer for a Jew, one might think. When God is written in explicitly, the outcome is Azariah or Jehoazar and Joazar.

The reform was to allow the priests to mingle with the Israelites—even women—in the court before the temple where they had always previously been separated. This reform was advocated by a faction called the “sons of Aaron” and opposed by the “sons of Zadok”. The “sons of Aaron” were Pharisees, or supported by them, and the “sons of Zadok” were Sadducees and Essenes, in Garbini’s view.

One wonders whether Garbini has identified the factions correctly. Pharisee is thought by some to mean Persian (cf Parsi), and some see the Hasidim as later splitting into the factions of Pharisees and Essenes. There is no doubt though that Essenes considered themselves Zadokites, and that seems to be the meaning of Sadducees. The whole period is obscure in respect of these factions.

The Persians, it seems, set up the temple state of Jerusalem as a nation of priests, and assuming that the whole nation could not literally have been priests, the reference must have been to the colonists, who formed the ruling class of priests. The locals who were the Am ha Eretz were excluded. By the second century, 300 years on, one could imagine that some of the people objected that the nation as a whole were not priests, and indeed were separated from them. This must have seemed like a gross injustice, and violation of what seemed to have been the Persian intention. Perhaps, at this point the left wing faction formed itself into Pharisees, who believed they were defending the spirit of the Persian reform of Ezra by desegregating priests and people in the temple court. The factions that still defended the segragation were actually upholding what the Persians had instituted, so Pharisee was a misnomer, but it explains why the Pharisees became the people’s party. The priestly party were the traditionalists who called themselves Zadokites, imagining that the Zadokite priesthood were the proper priesthood of the temple, and embodying that in their text called Ezekiel. Plainly these Zadokites themselves eventually split, over proper sacerdotal practice in the temple, into Sadducees and Essenes.

The sons of Zadok of Ezekiel 40-48, Garbini considers to be the traditional pro-separation party, and the sons of Aaron the desegregationist party of the people, spoken for briefly in Chronicles. The Aaronites expelled the Zadokites from power in this view, and started a polemic against their opponents, who complained in return in the Damascus Document:

They justified the wicked and condemned the just, and transgressed the Covenant, and violated the Precept. They banded together against the life of the righteous and loathed all who walked in perfection.
QD 1:19-20

 

More explicitly, they set about…

…abolishing the ways of righteousness and removing the boundary with which our forefathers had marked out their inheritance.
QD 1:16; 5:20; 19:15
Moreover, they profane the temple because they do not observe the distinction in accordance with the law.
QD 5:6-7
They have not kept apart from the people and their sin.
QD 8:8, 19-20

 

Unfortunately, the same polemic reiterates Ezekiel 13:10 to denote false prophets who have deluded the people—“builders of the wall” (QD 4:19; 19:31) and “builders of the wall and daubers of whitewash” (QD 8:12; 19:24-25). So, says Garbini, though this seems a perverse use of an expression what could have been precisely used of their own stance, Ezekiel says false prophets build walls, but the Zadokites believed in walls, not their opponents. We have to convince ourselves here that false prophets are building metaphorical walls not real ones despite the daubing of them with mortar. The general belief is that these metaphorical walls are walls built to prevent inadvertant violation of the law. It is the Pharisaic oral law.

Notwithstanding this problem, breaking the wall offended those priests who called themselves Zadokites causing them to abandon the now desecrated temple, and even Jerusalem, to go live in the wilderness of Judaea, apparently at Qumran. They were called, by Josephus, Essenes. B Z Wacholder, using Ya’aqub al Qirgisani, identifies Zadok, the disciple of Antigonus of Socoh, as the founder of the Essenes, though Qirgisani actually says he founded the Sadducees, along with Boethus, the Egyptian. This Zadok died about 170 BC, but the open differences only started with the act of the High Priest Alcimus (1 Macc 9:54-56; 159 BC).

Garbini identifies the reform with this action of Alcimus, who actually pulled down the dividing wall, and when Herod rebuilt the temple another hundred years later, there was no wall here in the temple forecourt. Even so, Rabbinic sources speak of the “entrance” to the court of the priests marked by a dais. There was only a single court, but the ditinction was retained by the priestly court being paved whereas the court of the people was not. The Rabbis have a direct record of the wall being pulled down:

On the twenty third of Marheshwan, the dividing wall of the inner court was broken down.
Megillat Taanit

 

This marked the beginning of the Essenes Qumran community, matching the archaeological evidence. When Demetrius was summoned to Jerusalem by the “men of lies” (Garbini thinks a summary of 1 Macc 7:1-25), Alcimus is identified as the “man of lies” who opposed the teacher of righteousness, and he is associated with “the assembly of those who persue lies and are at Jerusalem”, and “the assembly of the arrogant who stand at Jerusalem”.

The Maccabees also opposed the demolition of the wall but later the sons of Zadok fell out with them when they did not resort to the Zadokites but kept the priesthood for themselves. Thus the common belief that Jonathan Maccabee was the wicked priest might also be true. Because the Zadokites fell out with the Maccabees, there is no copy of the Hebrew original of 1 Maccabees at Qumran. Interestiungly, Garbini notes that no copies of Ezra or Chronicles were found either and that reports that they had have never been substantiated.

Despite all this, Garbini says the Temple Scroll is the law read out by the supposedly fictional Ezra. The account of Ezra is all myth but not the law he read out! Even so, the Temple Scroll does provide for the separation of Israel from its priests. Nor does it use “azarah” for court. Garbini is not convincing enough overall but he seems to be on to something.

The Root ZR (SR)

A glance at a list of the names of Hebrew monarchs shows no occurrences of ZR or SR except that Uzziah was sometimes also called Azariah. (Remember that written Hebrew had no vowels.) Look though at a list of Assyrian kings and ZR and SR appear often, a reflexion of the name of the national god, SR (Assur). It also appears often in the Babylonian king lists, presumably through Assyrian influence. Yet, the root ZR occurs surprisingly often in certain books of scripture. The Hebrew meaning is given as “help” but this merely justifies it being applied to the priestly class of God’s “helpers”, notably those helping to set up the temple and its new god.

Azur, Ashur or Assur appears (1 Chr 2:24;4:5; Jer 28:1; Ezek 11:1; Neh 10:17), and Sara (Sarah, Sarai) was the wife of Abraham, the mythical first “returner”, Asshur was the grandson of Noah (Gen 10:11,22) but the Asshurim are the descendants of Dedan, Abraham’s grandson (Gen 25:3).

Asher was the eighth son of Jacob by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid (Gen 30:13). Asher was thus the father of one of the tribes, but little more is said about it in the scriptures, except that it was a large tribe at one time and that they dwelt in prosperity among the Phœnicians (Num 1:22-41). Yet supposedly at the time of David, it had become too insignificant to list. The tribe of Asher meant, to judge by this description, the Assyrians. Asher offered no heroes for Israel. Anna in the New Testament was supposed to have been of the tribe of Aser, proving that she is a fiction for gentile consumption (Lk 2:36-38).

The central example is the name Ezra—“the priest and ready scribe in the law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). Ezra was the son of Seraiah (2 Kings 25:18-21) itself an example of ZR but modified into SR, and grandson of Azariah, another example. Also in his genealogy were another Azariah, a Zerahiah and an Eleazar. Lord Arthur C Hervey, the Rector of Ickworth with Horringer, long ago wrote in William Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible that Azariah, a common name of Hebrew priests is “often confounded with Ezra as well as Zerahiah and Seraiah”, but he offers no further comment or explanation. The sounds of Z, TZ, S and SH were either not clearly distinguished in writing, or they varied from place to place, as they still do.

One or other of the Persian kings called Artaxerxes (the X is pronounced KSH) commissioned Ezra to “return” to Yehud with material and money to build a temple. The Persian edict is given in Ezra 7. On arrival he found that previous “returners” had not followed the law of the “God of Heaven” and the “law of the king” and had married out of the religion—forbidden in Zoroastrianism. Ezra made them reject Canaanite wives—wives who were not worshippers of Yehouah. Thirteen years later Ezra again returned to read the full book of Moses to the people at the Feast of Booths. This was the start of Judaism, and ZR featured symbolically when Moses caught his distant sight of the Promised Land.

Now beside this famous Ezra, another Ezra apparently “returned” with the first “returners”, Zerubabel and Joshua (Neh 12:1), and another appears briefly in 1 Chronicles 4:17.

Another form of Ezra is Ezer which appears in names like Ebenezer, and is common in Assyrian names, suggesting that the returners came from Assyria. In the scriptures, Sharezer is an Assyrian prince who murdered his father, Sennacherib, the Assyrian king (2 Kings 19:37; Isa 37:38). (Another Sharezer appears in Zechariah 7:2.) The Assyrians had already profoundly influenced the Persians in the several hundred years they were migrating from the Caucusus to Fars. In this time they were on or within the eastern boundaries of Assyria, and probably served as soldiers in the Assyrian armies. The Persian god, Ahuramazda, came to be depicted much as the Assyrian God, Assur, had been. Ahura seems to be a word related to Ashur via the word “asura”, an Indo-European word for a sun god, perhaps transmitted by the Indo-European Mitanni. The fact that ZR has connotations of fertility also shows it is related to the sun.

That ZR was the name of a god is shown by the appearance of a place in the scriptures called Beth-Zur (Josh 15:58) whose inhabitants helped Nehemiah build the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 3:16)! Beth means “house” but in place names, the only house worthy of mention is that of the local god. So Beth-Zur is “the House of the God Assur”.

Ezer appears twice in Nehemiah, as a priest (Neh 12:42) and as a son of Jeshua (Neh 3:19). Three more instances appear in 1 Chronicles (1 Chr 4:4;7:21;12:9) and one in Genesis (36:21). An Ezri pops up in 1 Chronicles 27:26. The “Chronicler”, of course, stands for the school that wrote the two books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Ezrahites (also called the Zarathites, Zarhites and Izrahites), were a whole family of Ezras whose founding father was Zara (Zarah, Zerah) of the tribe of Yehudim (1 Chr 2:6). Zara was the younger of the twin sons of Judah and Tamar, the other being Perez (Pharez). Judah was born in Haran. The linking of Zara with Perez is plainly not coincidental, because Perez obviously stands for Persian in this context, as does Parosh. Peres means Persian in Daniel 5:28 where it means the Persian empire as successor to the Babylonian empire.

Zarathites are among the “returners” (Neh 11:24), and so are the descendants of Parosh (Ezra 2:3; Neh 7:8) and another such man (Ezra 8:3). A Parosh helped to build the wall (Neh 3:25) and the Paroshes were a family that sealed the covenant with Nehemiah (Neh 10:14). The family Perez proved to be an important group in Judah, being also called the Pharez, linking it directly with the appropriate pronunciation (Fars).

Zerah as it normally appears with its derivatives appears in the story of Esther, a manifestly Persian story that identifies the normal cases of ZR to be from the Persian Period. Zerah is the wife of Haman who advized him to set up a cross to crucify Mordecai but realized, when Mordecai was revealed as a Jew, that Haman would suffer that fate himself.

Zerubabel (Zorobabel in Matthew), conventionally, was the first Persian administrator to return, supposedly in the first year of Cyrus. Nehemiah is declared as Tirshatha (Neh 8:9;10:10), a governor below the rank of Satrap, and the priest is Ezra. Zerubabel must have had this title (Ezra 2:63; Neh 7:65,70) because he was not the priest, who was Jeshua, and yet was plainly in charge, so he was a Persian official and not simply a Jewish volunteer. Jeshua means “saviour” and Cyrus presented himself as the saviour of his conquered peoples, freely giving important appointees among his subjects this title as a reminder to them.

In this story, Zerubabel was not a success because the building work ceased for 16 years, presumably through opposition from the Am ha-Eretz, the native Israelites who were not allowed to participate in setting up the temple—not surprisingly because it was a temple to a god unfamiliar to the natives. Following the criticisms of Haggai and Zechariah the work was resumed and supposedly finished in the sixth year of Darius, about twenty years after the original edict.

 

There are other Zaras, Zeruahs, Zeruiahs, Zorahs or Zohars as it sometimes becomes (Gen 36:13,17;45:10; 1 Chr 1:37; 4:7,34; 6:31; 25:3,11; Neh 11:29; 1 Sam 9:1;26:6; 1 Kings 11:26). Zorah or Zoreah was the home of the hero Samson, an old sun god demoted to the level of a Jewish hero. It is still called Surah and is near the wadi Surar.

Curiously the word “zar” appears in Hebrew meaning an outsider. To the Am ha-Eretz, that is exactly what the “returners” were. Perhaps they used the “returners” own distinct word as a pejorative reference to them meaning foreigners, but by the time the two opposed groups had integrated a hundred years later, it simply meant a stranger in general.

ZR as a Priestly Title

The place where the Israelites entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan river was Zaretan (Josh 3:16), apparently the same place as Zartanah (1 Kg 4:12), Zarthan (1 Kg 7:46), Zaredah or Zeredathah (2 Chr 4:17) and Zerarah (Jg 7:22). Another Persian sounding place was Zereth-Shaher (Josh 3:19), a place near the Dead Sea. Nearby, if it was not the same place, was Zoar where Lot’s family took shelter. It was also noted as the place seen by Moses from Pisgah as a landmark in the Promised Land (Gen 13:10;19:22-23,30; Dt 34:3; Isa 15:5; Jer 48:34). Before it was given this new religious name, it had a previous religious name under the Canaanites, Bela (Baal) or Bel-el. It must have been a Canaanite shrine taken over by the “returners”.

The root ZR is combined in many names with El or Iah (Yeho) as in Azarael (Neh 12:36), a Levite musician, Azareel or Azarel (Ezra 10:41), a son of Bani who rejected his Canaanite wife as Ezra demanded, and the father of a “returner” who was another priest (Neh 11:13). Three others had the same name in Chronicles (1 Chr 12:6;25:18;27:22). Azarael is the same name as Eleazar with the two parts reversed. Azariah is a popular name in the descendants of Eleazar, showing that the original name favoured for the god of the “returners” was El, then it became Yehouah.

Azariah means “Our God is Yehouah”, taking ZR to mean god, from the Assyrian—or more directly, “Assur is Yehouah!” Interestingly, the very name, Israel, can be read in the same way as “Assur is El” or as “Our god is El”. Azariah was a favourite name for priests suggesting it was a priestly title or dynasty. The High Priest, Azariah was the grandson of Zadok. He supposedly officiated at the consecration of Solomon’s temple and was the first High Priest to serve in it. Zadok was the mythical founder priest of Jewish temple worship, and supposed founder of the dynasty of priests.

Azariah was the name of High Priests in the reigns of Abijah and Asa (1 Chr 6:10,11) and Uzziah (2 Chr 26:17-20). Azariah resisted the priestly ambitions of Uzziah (also called Azariah) who was blighted with leprosy for his presumption, a warning by the Persians against any ambitious local princes. An Azariah was High Priest in the time of Hezekiah (2 Chr 31:10-13). His concern was to find room in the temple to store the tithes and offerings made to the priests and Levites. Without them to support their comfortable lifestyle, the implication is that the House of God would be forsaken (Neh 10:35-39).

An Azariah actually accompanied Zerubabel from Mesopotamia (Neh 7:7), but in Ezra 2:2, the same man is called Seraiah, showing the equivalence of these names and Z with S, just as they are in the Babylonian king lists. Another Azariah was a priest who restored part of the wall (Neh 3:23-24), and another was a Levite who, with Ezra, taught the people the law of Moses (Neh 8:7).

Yet more priests were called Azariah. One sealed the covenant with Nehemiah (Neh 10:2) and helped in the dedication of the city wall (Neh 12:33), unless this was yet another one. Another was an Officer of Solomon, (1 Kg 4:5), another a son of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 21:2), another a captain of Judah in the time of Ataliah (2 Chr 23:1), another a captain of Ephraim in the days of Ahaz who sent back the captives and spoil taken by Pekah in the invasion of Judah.

Abednego in Daniel 1, who refused to countenance idolatry and was thrown into the fiery furnace, was first called Azariah. Another Azariah was a prophet in the time of king Asa. He too was opposed to idolatry and persuaded the people of Judah and Benjamin to reject it and set up an altar to Yehouah before the porch of the temple, perhaps the occasion when the change was made from El to Yehouah because many of the converts were Israelites not apostatizing Jews, and the scale of the festivities was immense (2 Chr 15).

Azriel appears twice as the head of families (1 Chr 5:24;27:19) and also as the father of Seraiah, an officer of Jehoakim (Jer 36:26), showing once more Yehouah supplanting El. Asarael or Asarel and Asharelah or Jesharelah are other variants (1 Chr 4:16; 25:2,14). Several Azrikams appear mainly in Chronicles (1 Chr 3:23;8:38;9:14; 2 Chr 28:7; Neh 11:5). Izri, also called Zeri, is a Levite in the temple (1 Chr 25:11).

Seraiah is a scribe (2 Sam 8:17), a chief priest at Jerusalem (2 Kg 25:18; 1 Chr 6:14; Ezra 7:1; Jer 52:24), a priest who “returned” with Zerubabel (Ezra 2:2; Neh 10:2;12:1,12), also called Azariah (Neh 7:7), the “ruler of the House of God” after the “return” (Neh 11:11), a messenger of Jeremiah (Jer 51:59-61), and lesser known ones appear often (2 Kg 25:23; Jer 36:26;40:8; 1 Chr 4:13-14; 4:35). Sered also occurs (Gen 46:14; Num 26:26).

Baal-Perazim was supposedly named by David when he defeated the Philistines and burnt their idols. So, here the true god is called Baal. Perazim means Persians so the rededicated shrine is to the “Lord of the Persians”! The Lord of the Persians in heaven was the God of Heaven, Ahuramazda, and the Lord of the Persians on earth was the Shahanshah, the King of Kings. Angels are considered to be a Persian idea originally and the name of one of the types of angels is Seraphim!

Sherai and Shashai were sons of Bani in Ezra 10:40, and Bani is another Assyrian name, appearing in the king lists. Sherebiah was another Levite among the “returners” with Ezra who taught the new law to the people and sealed the covenant (Ezra 8:18,24; Neh 8:7;9:4-5;10:12;12:8,24).

Sur was the name of a gate in Jerusalem called “the Gate of the Foundation” suggesting it was associated with the beginnings of the temple and its cult by the “returners” (2 Kg 11:6; 2 Chr 23:5)

Several words appear like Jezreel, often taken as an alternative form of Israel, and Joash, a name that cannot be interpreted, is probably an abbreviated form of Joasher (“Yehouah is Assur”).

A case of ZR that seems not to come from the same immediate source as the others is the Zerah whose army of a million(!) men was defeated by king Asa. Zirrah is a known title of the Sabaean Arab princes and this prince seems likely to have been an Arab.

 

Continue:

Haggai and Zerubabel: Was Zerubabel Zoroaster?

 

 

 

 

 

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