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Book 3. Ezra & The Law

Haggai and Zerubabel: 

Was Zerubabel Zoroaster?




Haggai and Zechariah are mentioned in Ezra 5:1 prophesying to the Jews and urging the temple to be rebuilt (Ezra 6:14). Haggai 2:6-9 “prophesies” the setting up of the temple state with gold and silver provided!

After Cyrus (Koresh), the founder of the Persian empire, had issued edicts that captives could be returned, and furnished the Jews with the necessaries for restoring the temple (2 Chr 36:23; Ezra 1:1; 2:2), Haggai supposedly “returned” under Zerubabel and Joshua, the high priest, in 536 BC. Peter Ross Bedford does not trust Ezra 1-6 because it is “tendentious, inconsistent and historically inaccurate”, a perfect description of most of the bible. He says the rededication of the temple’s altar and the re-laying of its foundations (Ezra 2:68-3:18; 5:16) should be dated to the time of Darius I even though it is made to seem to be in the reign of Cyrus. Indeed, many scholars think:

  1. no Jewish exiles returned in the time of Cyrus,
  2. no one tried to build the temple before 520 BC.


Why 520 BC? On the first day of the sixth month of the second year of Darius—the festival of a new moon—Haggai brought the word of the Lord (Hag 1:1), a command to build the temple. The date of Haggai is taken to be the second year of Darius, from its own dating. The Aramaic text of Ezra agrees with Haggai and Zechariah that the new temple was started in the second year of Darius, under the leadership of Joshua and Zerubabel. This Darius is always assumed to be the one surnamed “the Great”, Darius I, but it is because the later scribes who edited the works they compiled in Ezra and Nehemiah, had no idea there were different Persian kings with the same name. Darius I began to rule in 522 BC, and so the prophesy of Haggai, and the “return” was therefore 520 BC. Sixteen mysterious years seem to have passed since 536 BC with nothing happening.

The people left in the land, the Am ha Eretz, whom Ezekiel charges with idolatry, from the outset claimed a right to the land they had lived in since the Babylonian deportation, though many had avoided the ruined city of Jerusalem. They therefore resisted the plans of the Jews, the Persian colonials. Ezra says the “returners” were intimidated by the locals from building, and hired counsellors against them “all the days of Cyrus, even until the reign of Darius”. Again the story gets confused, for the authors of it knew only of the Great Darius, and did not realize that the temple was not actually completed until the reign of Darius II, a hundred years later. Not knowing this, the whole of the action before Haggai had to have happened in the reign of Cyrus, from 538 to 530 BC, the scriptures seemingly knowing nothing about Cambyses (530-522 BC). Darius II reigned from 423 to 405 BC, so there was plenty of time from the edict of Cyrus to the sixth year of Darius II for early returners to attempt some unsuccessful reconstruction and annoy the natives.

If Persian colonists had arrived earlier, they had not had the same brief as those who came with Ezra and Nehemiah. What seems to be hidden in the failure of the earlier “returners” to build the temple is that they knew nothing about building a single sanctuary—a temple. They seem to have built shrines in various places, if not to a variety of Canaanite gods. This might be the blurred meaning of them building luxurious homes with panels or roofs! They were not their own homes but the “houses” of a variety of gods.

Rebellions of Egypt occurred in 486-483 BC and 464-454 BC. A further rebellion in 405 BC led to a long secession from the Persian empire until it was recaptured in 342 BC, only a decade before the Persian empire collapsed to Alexander. If some of the locals had supported the Egyptians or Megabyxos in their rebellions in the middle of the fifth century BC, the purpose of fortifying Jerusalem after 150 years would have been to keep the rebels under control, and act as a watchtower against Egypt. It was the urgent reason why Nehemiah and Ezra were despatched.

Opposition by Samarians might have been exaggerated by the later chroniclers as an excuse why the temple had not been built sooner. They wrote that the locals claimed the project was illegal, and, in response to Samarian—Israelite!—complaints, it was stopped again. The Samarians who had worshipped Yehouah since the days of the Assyrian king, Esarhaddon, thought they had an equal, if not greater, right to the building of the temple to Yehouah. The Samarians, the native Canaanites that had remained in the northern Palestinian Hills—the Samaritans were a later religious sect formed out of their frustration—no doubt complained about the settlers coming in and acting superior, but since the Persian king had approved it, they were only going to hear consoling noises from Persian ministers. The project was obviously not forbidden and any apparent halts in response to Samarian pleas could only have been diplomatic gestures.

The host of people listed in Ezra and Nehemiah as “returners” cannot have arrived all at once as they claimed, or before all this happened, because such a crowd could have outfaced the complaining locals. Even at this stage, only a small number could have arrived, the few who had already come before Nehemiah and Ezra, and the few more who came with them. Haggai says nothing about the exile, nor do Haggai and Zechariah speak of a “return”. They do not call the builders of the temple “golah” or “bene haggolah”, “captivity” or “sons of the captivity”, the names that would be used by the Persian colonists of themselves. They are simply “this people”, or “remnant of the people”. Ezra refers to the “golah” not as captives in Babylon but captives in Yehud. Yehud is not a kingdom but a colony. The system was planned in Persian Babylon. The colonists came from Babylon to found not a kingdom but a theocracy—a church, to impose God’s will, meaning that of God’s earthly agent, the Shahanshah, on the people. Their life, for centuries, would be subject to priestly government and ideals. Righteousness was obedience to the law, an idea that Jews eventually passed on to the Moslems.

The dates of Haggai’s four distinct prophecies are given with apparent accuracy, though the style of them betrays that they are the addition of the same redacter as books like Ezra:

  1. On the first day of the sixth month of the second year of Darius (Hag 1:1-15), Haggai reproved the people for their apathy in allowing God’s house to be desolate, and reminded them of their ill success in everything because of their not honoring God as to His house. Twenty-four days afterwards they commenced building (Hag 1:12-15).
  2. On the twenty-first day of the seventh month (Hag 2:1-9), Haggai predicts that “the latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former”. The glory would be measured in gold and silver (Hag 2:8), the “desirable things”, properly “treasure”, of all nations (Hag 2:7). The reason for this assurance is that this house was (Hag 2:3) in their eyes “as nothing”. In short, nothing was there—there was nothing to see! Haggai’s question, “Who among you is left that saw this House in its former glory?”, implies that no one was left that had! The question implies there had been a formerly glorious temple, but no one knew, and nothing was left of it! None of the thousands of biblical commentators observe on this simple fact because they all are convinced that there are ruins of Solomon’s temple before their eyes. Haggai says there is nothing.
  3. On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (Hag 2:10-19), God promises His blessing, but to the priests not to “this nation before me”, which is unclean.
  4. On the same day as the preceding (Hag 2:20-23), Haggai addressed Zerubabel, the governor, and prophesied he would be the “chosen one” of God, apparently indicating a rebellion.


Haggai 2:15 says that “not one stone was set on another” when the construction began, certainly in the time of Darius II, showing that if any altar had earlier been sanctified, no structure had accompanied it. The Persians of the time of Cyrus worshipped in the open air and would not have seen any structure as useful. They believed that Ahuramazda inhabited the universe, not just a house! A temple open to the sky seemed to them most appropriate. A hundred years later, things were quite different. Artaxerxes and Darius were as much Babylonians as Persians, especially the latter whose mother was a Babylonian, and were comfortable about building enclosures as temples.

The name “Haggai” is said to be a shortening of Haggiah meaning a “festivity of Yehouah”, supposedly in anticipation of the joyous return from exile. Haggai did not seem a very joyful man, and this is folk etymology. Literally, it looks to mean “The Ravine”, which in the Zoroastrian eschatological context in which the book ends, reminds us of the Abyss of Judgement, over which is the Chinvat bridge for the passage of righteous souls to heaven (a place associated in later Judaism with the Qidron Valley, the Vale of Jehoshaphat).

Joshua means “Saviour of Yehouah” and is one of those titles conquerors gave to puppets they placed in charge of their conquests. The Assyrians and Persians presented themselves and their agents as saviours of the conquered people. The Persians evidently appointed Zerubabel (“son of Babylon” or “Might of Babylon”) and Joshua as High Priest to rule the temple colony. Joshua is the son of Jehozadak (Josedech) meaning the “Rightous One of Yehouah”, probably another title of Joshua rather than his father, but transmuted into his father by the compilers of the genealogies at a later date.

Zerubabel is described as the governor (pehah), using an Aramaic word derived from the Persian “basha”, (Turkish, Pasha). Here we will have the origin of the later preoccupation of apocalyptists in Judah—the trinity of the prophet, prince and priest, Haggai, Zerubabel and Joshua.

“Zeru” is the same word as the “Zoro” of Zoroaster, or the “Zara” of Zarathustra, and the same also as Ezra. Ezra came from Babylon with the authority of the Persian chancellery, so he looks suspiciously like Zerubabel, the “son” or “might of Babylon”. If Ezra is the son of Babylon, but the city’s name has been suppressed, he is simply “the son”. Curious then that Moses, in its Egyptian interpretation, is also just “the son”, the name of the father (as in Rameses) having been suppressed in this etymology. Both Moses and Ezra are therefore simply “the son” to the chroniclers, and they will have assumed both were “the son of Yehouah”, but at a time when it had become pious not to speak the holy name. So they will have assumed it had dropped from the proper name of these holy men to the scribes for purely pious reasons. In fact, the full theophoric name that is missing in these two cases appear often in the scriptures as Messiah, the apocalyptic son of God, Joezar and Azariah, the latter being unquestionably a priest’s name above all. More important is that both of these “sons” gave the Jews their law, but Moses did it, in the scriptural myth no less than a thousand years before Ezra did!

Zechariah 1-8

Haggai apparently preceded Zechariah by two months (“the eighth month”, Zech 1:1).

Zechariah makes almost no reference to building a temple, and none of the visions are concerned with it. Allusions are to Yehouah being in the city, but the temple is unrecognized. The purpose seems to be to encourage people as colonists, and the book is concerned with them and how they will behave when they are placed in their new home. The verses at the beginning of Zechariah give the basis of the myth of a “return” from “exile”. The “return” is repeatedly referred to as a “return to God”. The word “return” appears three times, one of them being a promise that God would return to them in exchange for their return to him.

Peter Marinkovic has noted that “house” can mean descendants or a building, and allusions to the building of a community were always intended where “the House of God” was read as the temple. In 2 Samuel 7 (1 Chr 17), the two meanings are used in teasing interplay. God does not want a house (temple) but will build a house (dynasty) for David. The author of Mark has Jesus doing the same (Mk 3:20f), punning on “house” in the title of the Philistine God (Baalzebub, “Lord of the House”). The Essenes and Jesus at a much later date saw their respective communities (“yahad”) as being the proper temple. We use the word “church” in an identically ambiguous way. It can be a building for worship or the community that uses the building, or just a community of worshippers in general.

Most of the people deported to the hills of Palestine will have known that they were not “exiles” “returning” as the Persian propaganda made out. But they had no choice and would be at least the ruling class of the colony. They will have known that their task was to build up a temple state for the province of Abarnahara and that they would therefore be wealthy if they did their job well. So all the metaphorical “returning”, they will have known, was to be their own angle on the local populations.

In the Palestinian hills the people were worshippers of the Canaanite high god, El—they were the seed or the sons of El, the Israelites. Among El’s court was one of his sons, a god called Yehou (Yehouah), so the local people had no need to return to him, he had always been available to them as one of their Baals or Lords. The colonists were instructed to teach the natives that they had not been worshipping properly. They, the “captives”, the “remnant”, had kept the correct worship and the natives had to return to it to get any economic benefits.


Zechariah offers them some visions rather like those of Daniel and Revelation at later dates, though both are in the tradition of the Enoch literature that might have its origins in the early disputes of the temple state of Yehud. The horses and horsemen in the first vision (Zech 1:7-17) suggest the habit of Persian kings later than Cyrus and Darius. From Artaxerxes I, the Persian kings reintroduced Mithras and Anahita, so instead of leading their armies with an empty chariot standing for Ahuramazda, there were three chariots for the gods as well as that of the king.

In the first vision, the “Angel of the Lord” is distinct from the other three, but the three stand for the three Persian Gods that have spread peace (“rest”). The Angel of the Lord is the visible face of the Jewish God, whose archetype is Ahuramazda, so appears twice, once in each role. Those who patrol the earth in Persian religion are the attributes of God, the six (or seven) Amesha Spentas, but here seem to have been identified with the three great gods of the Persians, unless the four who appear in the eighth vision are meant to complete the seven. Seven is the magic number that divides into the heavenly three and the earthly four.

If the earth was “at rest”, the rebellions of the start of the reign of Darius I are over. Since the Darius used for dating purposes is always taken to be Darius I, this seems sensible, but almost every new Persian king was greeted by rebellions. The uncertainty of a change of king was the ideal time for dissatisfied subject nations to try to assert themselves, and they did—most notably the Egyptians. Darius II had trouble at the start of his reign too, so the apparent agreement here with the better known troubles of Darius I might easily be spurious. In either case, the promise is that Jerusalem would be restored. The prophet is urging the people not to join any rebellions, and be rewarded.

A red horse, or a chariot decorated with red livery was the colour of Anahita, who was the goddess of warfare among other things. Ahuramazda and Mithras had white horses. One would imagine the “Angel of the Lord” ought to be on a white horse, but the Jewish imagery seems to have been of peace imposed after war, and so God mounted on a red horse, as a God of war, was more appropriate. Bribery and threat appear again in the prophecy, the threat that God would be angry with nations that perpetuated the disaster, that being the current rebellion, while the praise is prosperity for the city.

The vision of the horns (Zech 1:18-21) makes little sense in the supposed context. The horns purport to be the kings or nations that have oppressed Jerusalem in the past, but only two spring to mind, the Assyrians who were happy to extract tribute, and the Babylonians who sacked the city. At a later date the Persians and Greeks could have been added, so this might be a pseudepigraph interpolated at a later date, or a result of later redaction to make the work seem prophetic. Then the date of composition, or editing, would be most suitably in the Hasmonaean period, when all four horns had been “cut down” (Zech 1:21), and by “smiths” if the nickname of Hasmonaeans as the Maccabees—hammers—is to be understood that way. There were six Maccabees in the generations that fought for independence, the father and five sons, but only four of them ruled—Mattathias, Judas, Jonathan and Simon.

The third vision (Zech 2:1-5) suggests Jerusalem will not need walls, so is hardly an inducement to build them. In the sense that the nation would become independent and defend itself militarily rather than passively as a walled city, this also came true at the time of the Maccabees. Then follows a song (Zech 2:6-12) urging people to return from the land of the north—Babylon because the “return” to the Judaean hills is from the north. It sounds appropriate, but is certainly an addition at the time the Maccabees declared UDI and wanted Jews to return to help their struggle.

Zerubabel and Joshua

Zechariah 3 and 4 are concerned with the two leaders, one assumed to be a priest, and the other the king, though the texts do not say this. Joshua is the High Priest, but later on seems to be crowned as a king, but otherwise Zerubabel, who is the Persian governor, is supposed to be the prospective king. The Persians would not have tolerated a king, but they might have been willing for their propagandists to give the impression to the colonists that a kingdom would have been the outcome in time.

The fourth vision (Zech 3:1-10) is of a coronation ceremony involving Joshua, the High Priest. The purpose of the ceremony seems to be to stand for the removal of the iniquity of the land. Joshua, the salvation of the colonists, is shown as accused of some wrong and dressed in filthy old garments seeming to represent this. It is an adaptation of the renewal ceremony of the Persian king at the New Year festival. The king dresses down as the Old Year, now in tatters, but in the course of the ceremony his rags are removed and replaced by bright finery as the New Year, a ritual that also stood for the Creation because God turned Chaos into Order. In Persian religion, every new year was a new creation, and the king had to be crowned anew. In the ceremony, Joshua is crowned, not with a “turban” but with a “mitre”, the Mithraitic head dress still worn by Christian bishops.

Joshua is mentioned five times, twice as the High Priest, but essentially he is symbolic in this vision. Joshua is mentioned only once more in the whole book (Zech 6:11), where suddenly he has become the eschatological symbol the “Branch!” Yet here, God’s servant “the Branch” is promised to Joshua and his companions. A brand is also spoken of as plucked from the fire signifying the possibility of redemption for God’s people from the consuming fire of the End, providing that they are obedient.

Joshua seems to be taking an eschatological role suggesting that a later editor might have done the same as he did to the figure of Zerubabel in Haggai—turned a mythical figure (Zoroaster, the Saoshyant or Saviour) into a historic one, this time Joshua, which means Yehouah’s Saviour. The mention of courts before the temple had even been built, suggests a later addition. Many scholars think the coronation of Joshua is an interpolation, but perhaps a redacter has simply substituted the name Joshua for Zerubabel along with a few minor enhancements. Enoch has been identified as the personification of the New Year, and so possibly Joshua has been substituted here for Enoch, but Enoch is the Jewish Zoroaster, so we link once again to Zerubabel.

Star of David, a symbol of duality, and Ahuramazda with his six Amesha Spentas

The stone with seven facets inscribed with some name sounds like the Star of David, or Solomon’s Seal, but this symbol was not to be associated with Judaism specifically for many centuries. It was a symbol used in the Near East, and it is a perfect symbol of Ahuramazda, with his six Amesha Spentas, the seventh being the Holy Spirit, representing the god himself. The eschatological content in it once more implies that the colonists would be instrumental in defeating wickedness and honoured their salvation.

The fifth vision (Zech 4:1-14) is of a lampstand with a bowl, seven lamps, seven wicks and two olive trees. The prophet asks what these are in Zechariah 4:4 but does not get an answer until Zechariah 4:10. The interpolated six verses are the only ones in the whole of Zechariah that mention Zerubabel, and in them he is mentioned four times! It looks suspicious. They look like two or three fragments inserted or rather misplaced, because some of the references to Zerubabel seem to mean Zoroaster.

The Lord of Hosts says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, seeming to refer to the meaning of Zerubabel (“Might of Babylon”) and substituting the Holy Spirit instead. The Holy Spirit in Iranian religion was Spenta Mainyu, effectively the god Ahuramazda in his active role, just as the Holy Ghost of Yehouah was. The Saoshyant in the form of an incarnation of Zoroaster, the perfect man, still depended upon the spirit of God for his power. He is still a man, part of God’s creation. Nevertheless at the Zoroastrian eschaton, the world would be levelled to a great plain, and here (Zech 4:7) in perhaps another fragment is an apparent reference to it, possibly edited in a pointed way to refer to an empire (the Seleucids?). Then Zerubabel is shown as the builder of the temple, complete with plumb line, in a new fragment introduced at verse 4:8. The intention of some editor, perhaps through ignorance, is to show an originally eschatological Zerubabel as the builder of the temple, but these verses are all we get from him about Zerubabel.

The angel’s explanation of the lampstand is that the seven lamps are the eyes of God that “run to and fro” through the whole earth. In Zoroastrianism, the seven Amesha Spentas, the spirits of God acted on the world and so ran to and fro through it, but the veiled meaning is that the Persian monarch knows everything through his system of spies, prophets and informers.

The two olive trees might be a hint of ancient tree worship that still existed in Iranian religion at this time. The trees are apparently feeding oil to the lamp and are described as “sons of oil” (not “anointed ones”, Zech 4:14). The two trees are conventionally identified with Zerubabel and Joshua, but these two are not connected at all by the author of Zechariah, the few references to each of them being so highly localized that they cannot be thought of as the subject of the work as a whole. They “stand by the Lord of the whole earth”, many will imagine meaning God, but “Lord” here is not “Yehouah” but “Adon”, and earth is “Eretz” which equally means “land.” The “Lord of the whole earth” was the Persian king, but the “Lord of the Land” might have meant his local agent, the governor or prince. The two sons of oil are therefore his chief assistants, the priest and prophet. Both priests (Lev 16:32) and prophets (Ps 105:15; Chr 16:22) came to be considered as God’s anointed, and this imagery might have been the start of it.

The sixth vision is of a gigantic scroll flying over the land representing a curse against thieves and liars—deception and deceit—truth being the primary concern of the Zoroastrian religion. The scroll suggests the Book of Life full of the account of everyone’s good and bad deeds that are balanced at the End of Limited Time. Plainly it would therefore be a curse against all of those with an adverse balance. It is apparently a warning that the colonists were expected to be honest.

Immediately we get an image (usually counted as a separate seventh vision) of a woman standing for iniquity, trapped in a grain pot. Two women would return her to Babylon to be placed in her own temple. Here is an attack on the goddess evidently still worshipped by the Canaanites when the colonists were being obliged to “return.” The demon of the Lie in Zoroastrian religion was female, and here she is identified with the goddess and carried by women back to a place that suited her. Anahita, the Persian version of Ishtar, was worshipped in Babylon by the time of Darius II.

The eighth image is of chariots with different coloured horses, surely again based on the Persian habit of having ceremonial chariots with distinctive livery for their gods. As in the first vision they are patrolling the earth as the Amesha Spentas did. Those heading towards the north country quieten a spirit there. These chariots had been standing not before God but before the “Lord of the Land”, so the impression given is that a favourable message had been sent to Persia thus tempering the Persian king’s spirit. The chariot of red horses, representing warfare, seems not to have been loosed, unless they were the ones that went south, but for a scribal error. It is all abstruse but might suggest that the colonists had been cleared of a suspicion of supporting an Egyptian rebellion.

Leaving visions the author seems to recount some history, but the crowning of Joshua (Zech 6:9-14) is shown to be a prophecy (“this shall come to pass”, Zech 6:15) for those who come to build the temple. Furthermore, the allusions to the growing of a sprout or a branch (Zech 6:12) seem to be to a pun on the meaning of Zerubabel, taking it to mean “seed of Babylon”, and not Joshua, it being a seed that sprouts. The Masoretic bible has “crown” in the plural showing perhaps that later Jews expected a double crowning, presumably Zerubabel and Joshua, but Zerubabel has dropped out. If Zerubabel was Ezra, a Persian minister of religion, he would not have remained in Yehud after the dedication, but would have returned to his broader duties in Babylon. He would therefore have dropped out of the story. The later scribes seem then to have mistaken him, because of the great authority he had, that of the king, as a governor when he was a minister. In Zechariah 6:13, Joshua, who is himself supposed to be a priest, will have a priest standing by his throne, implying that he is not. It suggests that some other name has been altered to Joshua. An editor has realized that Zerubabel, already mistaken as the governor, could not have been a king of the Jews and has dropped him in favour of Joshua. The single crown was probably correct but meant Zerubabel, the eschatological saviour. Joshua and Zerubabel might all along have been simply different titles for the Saoshyant.

The remaining two chapters simply urge the lamenting people to regard the feasts as joyful not seasons of lamentation. They are of quite a different tone and, though usually taken as part of the original Zechariah, might not have been. The rest of the book is undoubtedly later, from the Greek period and perhaps the time of the civil war.

Temple or Treasury?

Was there a second temple in the fifth century? What archaeological remains have been found of it? None! The absence of evidence of it either textually or in the ground suggests it never existed, at least in the form and perhaps the place usually imagined. Joel Weinberg, from the accounts of Haggai and Zechariah, has suggested it was the treasury and commercial centre of a temple community (Bürger-Tempel-Gemeinde). Commercial centres in those times were commonly based on temples that acted like modern banks. In Haggai 2:15-19, the temple sounds like more like a depository for the collected tithes of Abarnahara! It would provide a new economic base for an otherwise poor area. The fact that the administrators wanted a temple as a treasury did not impress the people until Haggai explained its economic advantages. Robert P Carroll of Glasgow University observes:

It looks more like an imperial taxing centre than a holy house.


The temple was built to function as a treasury and an exchange as well as being a temple. Indeed the temple was really a cover for the main activity of collecting and storing the taxes of the nations of Abarnahara. Since the priests of the temple of Yehouah were really privileged imperial taxation officials they could hardly be expected to be loved, and nor were they. Carroll again notes:

The temple represented in Ezra-Nehemiah is the ideological property and private concern of a pressure group determined to be as exclusive as possible.


This nation of priests collected produce that had to be flawless (without a blemish) for easy sale. Some animals were sacrificed but many were sold to merchants, and the coin used for payments into the imperial treasury. Over 400 years later Jesus chased the merchants out of the temple—but only with with a pair of thongs! Zechariah 14:21 gives the reason why he did it, the relationship between the clearing out of the merchants and the Day of God’s Vengeance.

Haggai 2:7 says that Yehouah will “shake” all the nations to bring “riches” into the temple. Yehouah grasps all the gold and silver in the satrapy in verse 2:8 because these riches are to be the real glory of the temple. The “nations” are not all the nations of the world but the nations that constitute the satrapy of Abarnahara, and these verses make it utterly clear that the Jerusalem temple was to be where the gold and silver of the people of that province—the Hebrews—would be collected. Haggai never speaks of the temple being for sacrifice but it is unambiguously to be a local Fort Knox. The prophet is also urgent about the need to build. Abarnahara was not a satrapy when Darius the Great took the throne of Persia—it was part of the satrapy of Babylon—but it was under Darius II. It is unlikely that a temple community would have been set up to collect taxes for Abaranahara until after Abarnahara became a satrapy in its own right.

Uncleanness and Holiness

A curiosity is that the people have to build the temple (Hag 1:8;2:4) but are not fit for the job—they are unclean (Hag 2:10-14). How can a nation of priests be unclean, and why would unclean people be allowed to build a sacred temple? David J A Clines has noted that a social conflict is lurking barely disguised in the text. It is between the priests and the people. Haggai is addressing two sets of people in his “prophecies” but the extant edition of his utterances has confused the differences.

Haggai, Zerubabel and Joshua represent the Jews, the colonists, although they were hardly of one mind. Those who had been self-indulgent in building themselves luxurious buildings with ceilings or panelled walls were the colonists, of whom there were few, but they were privileged as agents of the Persians. In Haggai 1:12 and 2:2, the “remnant” is spoken of, but later in 2:4, “all the people of the land.” The colonists are the “remnant” while the bulk of the people native to the hill country plainly cannot have been thought of as a “remnant.” The people are the native inhabitants, the Am ha Eretz. Naturally these people were not priests and not even practitioners of the proper brand of Yehouism, so were unclean. “Remnant” implies a small number and these were the colonists supposed to be righteous and therefore rewarded for their goodness. They are a parasitic class imposed on to the local people and the prophet urges them to be less lavishs in their self-indulgence and to involve the Am ha Eretz to do their duty and complete the temple.

Clines asks how a people could be unclean. Zoroastrianism, long before Judaism, had a system of clean and unclean animals, and Zoroastrianism could explain this distinction. Judaism never could. Clean animals were of God’s Good Creation whereas unclean animals were of the Evil Creation. People were made by God and so were part of the Good Creation, but Zoroastrianism recognizes that some people were beguiled by the Evil Spirits into evil ways, and those foreign people that followed Gods considered “daevas” by the Iranians were such people. They had succumbed to temptation by evil spirits. So far as we can discern from the attitude of Persians to foreigners who worshipped false gods, the Iranians accepted that they could be won back from their error. They were, after all, human and created by the Good Spirit. Persian policy over religion is the expression of this belief in practice. They allowed the worshippers of the “daevas” to repent their error and become one of the Juddin, worshippers of acceptable gods but not Zoroastrians. If they rebelled however—rebellion being contrary to Arta or good order—they proved they were still controlled by evil spirits and were punished.

Haggai and the priests were Zoroastrians as Haggai 2:12-13 shows when they discuss cleanliness and holiness. Using Socratean dialectic before Socrates was born, Haggai has the priests admitting that holiness is not contagious like pollution. It has to be worked for, so the prophet urges the people to get on with building the temple. This is supposedly less than twenty years after the Persian conquest but Zoroastrian ideas of cleanliness are being used as criteria. Protestors that these were Jewish rules set by Moses forget that Moses is a myth for whom there is not a whit of historical evidence, unless he stands for Mazas (Ahuramasda), the Persian God, written in the Semitic way.

If Haggai was a Zoroastrian then he was an official Persian prophet, a man who declared what should happen, to prepare the ground for government policy decisions—an ancient spin doctor. Haggai (Hag 1:13) is the “messenger of the Lord.” He, and his fellow prophets are, in fact, the messengers of the king. A Oppenheim sees the imagery of Zechariah’s “eyes of the Lord” (Zech 4:10) as reflecting the Persian spying system of “informers, accusers, internal spies, censors, secret agents”, and one can add prophets!”

The “Lord” is the traditional translation of “Yehouah”, which otherwise is the proper name of God, “Adonai” being the name that actually means “Lord.” One wonders to what extent this is a later Greek convention. “Yehouah” is tantalising close in pronunciation to “Ahura”, the Persian word for Lord, when the “r” is not rolled, a common mispronunciation when foreigners try to copy the sound of unfamilar words.

“Yehouah Elohim” must mean “Yehouah of the Gods”, which would offer an explanation, if “Yehouah” always meant “Lord” from the Persian, why Yehouah a son of El took his place as the chief god in the Jewish religion. The original Canaanite god was “Yehu”, “YW” in the Ugaritic tablets, and possibly “Yehu ha Elohim” has been heard by the colonists as “Ahura Elohim”, and the latter was heard by the Am ha Eretz as “Yehouah Elohim.” In any event, the Persian word for Lord was possibly misheard as the Canaanite name of a god.

“Yehouah of Hosts” is Haggai’s preferred name for God—Yehouah Sabaoth, God of Hosts, a title that prophets were fond of but which is not so popular elsewhere in the scriptures. It does not appear in the Pentateuch. Sabaoth occurs 285 times, most often in Isaiah (62), Jeremiah (77), Haggai (14), Zechariah (53) and Malachi (24). Sabaoth, hosts, meant the heavenly bodies (Dt 4:19)—but came to mean angels and armies—so it indicates the God of Heaven. The Babylonian god, Nabu (Persian, Tishri), was titled the “marshaller of the hosts of heaven and earth”, and Sin, the Moon God, was the “Prince of the Gods”, implying a position of authority among them.

As a nation of priests tha colonists had to keep themselves aloof from the unclean natives. Even if the natives converted to the pseudo-Zoroastrian Yehouah worship, they would still not be priests, so the colonists always would be aloof from the people. Haggai sought to shame the colonists, who were plainly in a small minority interested only in themselves, to get to work on building the temple, but they were too few to do all the work themselves, so he had to get the assistance of the Am ha Eretz, who were somehow making their own offerings somewhere (Hag 2:14), presumably on the “high place.” The prospects of economic prosperity was hung out as a carrot.

The colonists must have had Zoroastrian ideas of ritual purity, having been taught by Zoroastrian priests such as Haggai. Haggai seems not to have taught the priests, or told the Am ha Eretz, that the natives were unclean, and could have no part in sacerdotal matters when the work was finished, until three months after they started work (Hag 1:15;2:10-14)! We know from Ezra that they were refused leave to help the project of the new temple, and here in Haggai it appears again in a different and clearer form.

The unclean people would have built the bulk of the temple, and perhaps any city walls that went along with it, while the clean Jews would have had to build the Holy Place. Having made their contribution the locals were discarded (perhaps unless they converted to the new Yehouah, which few at first were ready to do).

In Haggai 2:5 seems to be a reference to the Exodus, but few scholars will not admit that it is an obvious interpolation by a later editor. The law of Moses was brought to the colonists at this very time by Ezra as the bible explains, but every clergyman ignores.

A Rebellion against Persia?

The final four verses (Hag 2:20-23) eulogize Zerubabel as the universal eschatological ruler. Yehouah will overthrow the “throne of kingdoms”, the chariot and its riders and the strength of the nations. It sounds like a call to rebellion, but Zerubabel might mean Zoroaster. Is there here Zoroastrian mythology about the eschaton misunderstood and written into history? Have we an edited version of what was originally the expression of the Saoshyant, a descendent of Zoroaster, appearing when God shook the earth at the End Time?

In the ninth month of the fourth year of Darius, when the temple was approaching completion, there was apparently a contest between the civil and religious heads of the community for the control of the temple. Zerubabel, the civil governor, claimed authority, but Zechariah decided in favour of the high priest. Thereafter, Zerubabel disappears from the account. In the last stages of the building of the temple, no Persian governor is mentioned, unless Nehemiah was serving that role, and Zerubabel was really Ezra.

The builders of the temple completed their work in March, the last month of the sixth year of Darius II, not the Great! It was the third day of Adar, the last of the Babylonian year, according to the Aramaic document in Ezra (Ezra 6:15), but 23 Adar, according to 1 Esdras. The rebuilding under Darius was started from the foundation, before a stone was laid on a stone, and it took four and a half years to accomplish—more than enough time.

Leroy Waterman believes that Haggai, Zerubabel and Joshua plotted against Darius the Great during the period of revolutions that he met when he murdered Bardiya. The Empire of Cyrus and Cambyses was in turmoil, with rebellions breaking out everywhere, but Darius and his generals painstakingly put them all down until Darius resumed absolute control over his vast kingdom. That could not have been the situation if the Darius was Darius II, but the event might have been a garbled cautionary warning to the Jews in which an earlier rebellion against the Persians was highlighted.

The apparent announcement of Joshua or Zerubabel as the king of Judah by Haggai could look as though the Jews were themselves rebelling against Darius. Evidence is taken to be that the three principle plotters were never heard of again, as though Darius had had them killed for their presumption.

Outside the canon of the Hebrew bible are numerous books that do not recognize any cessation of the so-called “exile.” For them there was no return with Ezra or rebuilding of the legitimate temple.
Robert P Carroll


Enough Jews must have “returned” in only about 16 years in the biblical chronology to have made a rebellion against Darius the Great possible, and that seems most unlikely, unless the rebels were the native people of the hill country and not “returners.” If this had been the case, the failed rebellion would have appeared in the scriptures as a further punishment by God for the apostasy of the inhabitants that had not gone into exile. Haggai does not make this out, but that the “returners” had been backsliding, in failing to build the temple.

If Haggai really were advocating a secession of the country from the Persian empire led by Zerubabel and Joshua, then he was foolish to have written it down, thereby incriminating himself when the project failed, as it must have done. Why also would the words of a rebel be preserved by the later priesthood, who were presumably acceptable to the Persian kings, and indeed became models of loyalty?

Zerubabel is called by God “my servant” and he is also considered a signet, or more properly a seal, of God. A signet was not necessarily a finger ring, though it could be. It was often a ring worn around the neck, or a cylinder that could be used to impress wax or clay. Seals were used to prove ownership of any valuable item, but also to authenticate important items notably decrees of kings and covenants. It was proof that “God had chosen him.” In Persian and Assyrian reliefs, a god is often shown handing a ring to the king. It is a sign of a bond or covenant. In Ezekiel 28:12, a king is a signet (seal) of perfection.

Zerubabel must be the final Saoshyant—the perfect man, Zoroaster incarnated—who appears in Zoroastrianism at the End of Time when the world would be restored to its pristine form of the creation. The propaganda of Haggai was that the completion of the temple would be a substantial step toward the coming of the Saoshyant, Zerubabel (Zoroaster), and the victory of the Good Creation, which he described at the end of his message. A later editor in ignorance of Zoroastrian mythology and its relevance to the origins of Judaism thought Zerubabel was a historical participant in the drama, and, as such a senior figure chosen by God, must have been the governor, Joshua being the priest. He therefore added Zerubabel to Joshua at what he thought were appropriate points earlier in the story where he though he must have been omitted. Only in these last four verses does Zerubabel appear not linked with Joshua.

Note that Zerubabel is given as the son of Salathiel, which means “The Branch of El”, a messianic title, supposing El to be identified at a later date with Yehouah. Jesus was called “The Branch.” Zerubabel was properly “The Branch of El”, not the son of a man of this name, a later rationalization. 1 Chronicles 3:17,19 makes Pedaiah his father, and Pedaiah means “Yehouah’s Redeemer”, a messianic title that equals “the Branch.” Biblical commentators explain the two different fathers as being because Zerubabel was adopted!

If Zerubabel had been mistakenly associated with an earlier period, then he could have been thought to have participated in an uprising, and this used as an excuse for excluding from the history. Moreover, an earlier new temple built by earlier “returners” was then destroyed by the enraged Persians:

For a little while Your holy people possessed it. Our enemies have trampled Your sanctuary.
Isaiah 63:18
Your holy cities are a wilderness; Zion is a wilderness; Jerusalem is a desolation. The house of our holiness and our beauty where our fathers praised You has become a burning of fire, and all our pleasant things have become a ruin.
Isa 64:10





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