Vol. 8, No. 6
Copyright © James B. Jordan 1996
by James B. Jordan
2. The Setting of the Book of Esther
(continued from previous issue)
Ezra 6:14 says that the Jews finished building "according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia." The problem with this verse is that the only decree of "Artaxerxes" mentioned in Ezra to this point is in 4:7-23, which was a decree to stop building the temple! Moreover, if the Artaxerxes of Ezra 6:14 is Longimanus, it is curious that he is mentioned here because the rest of Ezra says nothing about any decree of his to rebuild the temple. Of course, if Nehemiah is considered part of Ezra, then we can say that this is a decree to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, but then the question is: Why is this mentioned here in Ezra 6:14?
A far simpler solution is found in Hebrew grammar itself, which allows for "and" to mean "even" or "to wit." In that case, Ezra 6:14 would read, "according to . . . the decree of Cyrus and Darius, to wit: Artaxerxes." Here is Gesenius’s explanation of this use of the connective "and" in Hebrew: "Frequently vav copulativum [the connective `and’] is also explanatory (like isque, et – quidem, and the German und zwar, the English to wit), and is then called vav explicativum [the explicative `and’]. For instance, Isaiah 17:8 reads, "Nor will he look to that which his fingers have made, to wit: the Asherim and incense stands." Similarly, Nehemiah 8:13 reads, "the [people] gathered around Ezra the scribe, to wit: to give attention to the words of the Law." In Proverbs 3:12: "For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even [to wit] as a father the son in whom he delights." (See Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar, second English ed., Oxford U. Press, p. 484, note 1b.)
This reading of Ezra 6:14 is not new. John Gill, in his commentary (late 18th c.) writes, "I am most inclined to think, with Aben Ezra [noted Jewish commentator], that he [Artaxerxes] is Darius himself; and the words to be read, Darius, that is, Artaxerxes, king of Persia; Artaxerxes being, as he [Aben Ezra] observes, a common name [throne name] of the kings of Persia, as Pharaoh was of the kings of Egypt . . . and I find Dr. Lightfoot [eminent chronologist] was of the same mind."
Remembering that the Bible often uses names meaningfully, we can interpret Ezra and Nehemiah in terms of the meaning of the names Darius and Artaxerxes. Ezra 6 would use the name Darius to focus on the fact that the king was doing good: "Then King Do-good issued a decree" (Ezra 6:1). Ezra 7 would shift to the name Artaxerxes to focus on the justice and universality of the king’s reign. Notice the end of Darius’s letter in 6:12, "I Darius (the Doer) issue decree; let it be done diligently." Now compare the end of Artaxerxes’ letter in Ezra 7:25-26, "Set magistrates and judges who may judge . . . all such as know the laws of your God. . . . Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him." The emphasis on justice is in keeping with the meaning of the name Artaxerxes (King of Justice).
Similarly, the use of Ahasuerus (Chief of Rulers = Xerxes, Hero Among Kings) is appropriate for Esther, because of the emphasis on his rule over 127 other lands (Esth. 1:1). As we have seen, since Mordecai was active already in the days of Jeshua and Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2), it is very unlikely that Esther’s king was (the second) Xerxes. He almost certainly was Darius the Great.
Since the genealogical and name-list evidence strongly indicates a short chronology for Ezra and Nehemiah, there is every reason to assume that Darius and Artaxerxes are the same person.
We have seen that it is likely that the Artaxerxes of Ezra-Nehemiah is the same as Darius the Great. If this solution be correct, and I think it is, possibly there is another problem in Ezra that can be resolved by it. In Ezra 4:6 we are told that "in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem." Nothing more is ever said about this accusation. The next verse reads, "And in the days of Artaxerxes" they wrote a letter of accusation. A full discussion of this letter ensues in Ezra 4. There are several interpretations of these verses.
A. The current establishment interpretation says that Ahasuerus is Xerxes and Artaxerxes is Longimanus. It is held that the letters to these two later monarchs are mentioned here, out of chronological sequence, because the theme of this section of Ezra is opposition to God’s work. Thus, we are shown two later instances of opposition.
B. The classical interpretation is that Ahasuerus is Cambyses and Artaxerxes is Pseudo-Smerdis. We know that there are at least two Ahasueruses in the Bible (Dan. 9:1; Esth. 1:1), so why not a third? The value of the classical interpretation is that it does not wrench Ezra 4 out of chronological sequence, nor does it fall into the modern trap of assuming that the Jews called these monarchs by only one name each and that they used the same names the Greeks used. The problem with the classical interpretation is that Pseudo-Smerdis almost certainly did not reign long enough for a letter to have reached him and a reply to have been sent back.
C. Another view is that Ahasuerus is Cambyses, and Artaxerxes is Darius. This initially makes a lot of sense, since as we have seen it is likely that in Ezra-Nehemiah, Darius and Artaxerxes are the same king. The scenario presented is that at the beginning of Cambyses’ reign, a letter of complaint was sent to him, which he ignored. Then again, at the beginning of Darius’s reign, when he was threatened with insurrection on all sides, more letters were sent complaining about the Jews. Darius-Artaxerxes ordered work on the Temple stopped. In the second year of his reign, having received more information, Darius ordered the work resumed (Ezra 6). The problem with this view is that there is good reason to believe that Cambyses was opposed to the Jews, so why would he ignore a letter complaining about them?
D. Another twist on this is to see both Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes as Cambyses, so that Ezra 4:7ff. is simply filling out 4:6. This means, however, that within Ezra’s book there are two Artaxerxeses (4:6 and 6:14), and that they are not distinguished by any indication an unlikely thing for a writer to do.
E. Finally there is the Jordan view. I suggest that the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6 and the Artaxerxes of 4:7 are both Darius, and that the "and" of 4:7 should be translated "to wit." This means that the phrase "at the beginning of his reign" applies to Darius-Artaxerxes, and that the letter sent to Artaxerxes in Ezra 4:7 is the same as the one sent to Ahasuerus in 4:6. It also means that Ezra 4:5-6 are in chronological order. To wit: "They hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius (Do-good) king of Persia. To wit, in the reign of Ahasuerus (Chief of Rulers, Darius-Artaxerxes), in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. To wit, in the days of Artaxerxes (King of Justice, Darius), Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his colleagues, wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic."
The letters Ezra 4 complain that the Jews were rebuilding not the temple but the wall. The long chronology says that under Darius the temple was rebuilt, but that when the Jews began to rebuild the wall, stiff opposition arose against them. In the days of Xerxes (son of Darius) and in the days of Artaxerxes Longimanus they were prevented from rebuilding the wall. Finally, Nehemiah obtained permission to rebuild the wall, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus.
I believe that there is internal Biblical evidence against this reconstruction. We have seen that it is most likely that the Artaxerxes of Ezra-Nehemiah is Darius. But if the wall was not rebuilt until Nehemiah came in Darius’s 20th year, why were letters sent complaining about the wall at the beginning of Darius’s reign? The answer is seen in Ezra 9:9, which says that the Jews had begun rebuilding the wall before Nehemiah, and indeed had erected some kind of a wall by the time Ezra arrived in Jerusalem.
Here is the historical scenario, as I see it: Jeshua and Zerubbabel and their associates returned to Jerusalem in the first year of Cyrus. They built the altar, and begin rebuilding the temple (Ezra 3). Soon, however, they encountered opposition, which "discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them from building" (Ezra 4:4). The people left off working on the temple and devoted themselves to building nice homes for themselves and working on the wall (Haggai 1). God in His mercy raised up adversaries who complained about this wall-building, and at the beginning of his reign King Darius forbad them to work on the wall and city (Ezra 4:21). They were not, however, forbidden to work on the temple. Thus, God raised up the prophet Haggai, who told them that they were in sin for not having finished the temple first (Haggai 1). No longer able to work on walls and houses, the people to devoted themselves to rebuilding the temple. This aroused more questions, and another letter was sent to Darius asking about the temple (Ezra 5). Darius gave permission to rebuild the temple, which was completed in the 6th year of Darius (Ezra 6). The next year Ezra arrived, and noted that both the temple and a rudimentary wall had been completed.
This scenario does better justice to the information contained in the texts of Ezra-Nehemiah and Haggai, and does not require that Ezra 4 be yanked out of historical context.
What we have established thus far is that the Artaxerxes of Ezra-Nehemiah is Darius. We have argued that the Ahasuerus of Ezra-Nehemiah is the same man, thus identifying Esther’s king as Darius-Artaxerxes. We note that Josephus, as mentioned above, calls the Ahasuerus of Esther "Artaxerxes." While Josephus is not always a reliable guide, his identification must still be given some weight. It indicates that he thought the same man could be given both names. Josephus, though, links Esther’s Ahasuerus with the later Artaxerxes Longimanus, while I am arguing in the opposite direction.
We must now take note of the genealogical notice in Esther 2:5-6, "There was a Jew in Susa the capital whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjaminite; who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been exiled with Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had exiled."
On the face of it, this statement says that Mordecai was taken into captivity with Jehoiachin in the 8th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (2 Ki. 24:12; 597 B.C.). If Mordecai was an infant at this time, he would be about 61 when Cyrus issued his decree, and when Mordecai made his initial return to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:2; 537 B.C.). At the beginning of Darius’s reign (521 B.C.), Mordecai would be 77, and he would be 89 in Darius’s 12th year, which is when Esther ends. But if we want to pull all this down to the reign of Xerxes, Mordecai would have to be about 111 at the beginning of that emperor’s reign!
Thus, most commentators argue that it is not Mordecai but Kish who was taken into captivity. This is, however, impossible grammatically. Moreover, it seems pretty clear that Shimei and Kish are Mordecai’s ancient ancestors, a relative and the father of Saul, the Benjaminite king of Israel. The conflict between
Saul and Agag (1 Samuel 15) is rejoined in Esther.
Esther was Mordecai’s niece, but Esther 2:7 indicates that she was much younger then he, so that she was like a daughter to him. In large families, it is not unusual for a man to be older then his uncle. Assuming that this is the scenario, Esther might be 40 years younger than Mordecai. This would make her 43 when she became queen. If she was 55 years younger than Mordecai, she would have been 28 when she became queen, assuming Ahasuerus is Darius. This is possible.
For this scenario to work, we can assume that Mordecai was the first son of his grandfather’s firstborn, while Esther’s father was the last son of Mordecai’s grandfather. Thus, while Mordecai’s father and Esther’s father were brothers, they were perhaps 25 years apart in age, and Mordecai was perhaps 5 years older than his uncle. (I am 40 and I have a cousin who is in his 80s. His children are 10-15 years older than I am. I had uncles and aunts who were over 60 years older then I)
Now, Esther’s father and mother are both dead. If we assume that they did not die violently, we can assume that Esther was one of their later children, born perhaps when her father was 50. This would make Esther 55 years younger than Mordecai, her cousin.
This scenario is not strained at all, and squares with the tightest reading of the Hebrew text; to wit: that Mordecai was brought into captivity with Jehoiachin, and that Mordecai was a leader of the Jewish community at the time of the return from Exile (Ezra 2:2).
We have established the following:
1. The book of Ezra & Nehemiah does not skip from Cyrus to Artaxerxes Longimanus, but uses "Artaxerxes" as a name for Darius.
2. The Mordecai mentioned in Ezra-Nehemiah must be the same as the Mordecai in Esther. It makes no sense to doubt this.
3. Mordecai was alive at the time of the captivity, and could not have lived until the reign of Xerxes.
4. The name "Xerxes" or Ahasuerus was held by more than one ruler, and is likely given to Darius in Ezra 4:6.
5. Nothing in the scenario of Esther contradicts identifying Ahasuerus as Darius the Great.
We must now consider two other alternative suggestions.
Herbert A. Storck has revived the suggestion that Ahasuerus might be Cambyses. Storck, History and Cosmology: Studies in the Book of Esther (Toronto: House of Nabu, 1990). He argues that for Esther to be as much younger than Mordecai as is required for the Darius interpretation puts a strain on the text, so moving the time back to Cambyses should be considered. He also argues that since Cambyses ruled as co-regent with Cyrus, his reign can be considered to have lasted 15 rather than 7 or so years. Finally, filling out the scenario, he argues that Mordecai might have been a prominent Jewish merchant, and that there was a rich banker in Babylon that had the name Itti Marduk balatu, who might have been Mordecai.
There are more problems with Storck’s suggestion than there are with the Darius view, however (and Storck only offers his view as a suggestion). First, Cambyses clearly did not reign over 127 provinces (Esther 1:1), and this information is given in Esther to help us identify which Ahasuerus is being referred to. Storck can only write that "it could also refer to Cambyses’ reign, retrospectively." More than that, however, it is a fact that Darius conquered India; Cambyses never ruled it. And Darius conquered the islands of the sea and levied tribute on them, something Cambyses did not do. Thus, if Storck is correct, Cambyses is being described as Darius!
Second, if Cambyses was co-regent, it is hard to see how he could have put on such a huge feast in Susa in the third year of his and his father’s reign. The feast of Esther 1 does not read like a festival put on by the mere son of a king.
Third, there is good evidence to believe that Cambyses was opposed to the Jews. At this point, I need to summarize some information that I presented in the studies in Daniel that were recently concluded in this newsletter.
The 79 verses of Daniel 10-12 are all one long vision and revelation. The setting is the third year of Cyrus. Daniel tells us that he had been mourning for three blocks of weeks, thus three full weeks, or 21 days. This period ended on the 24th day of the first month, and thus crossed the entire Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread season. During this time, Daniel ate no meat and drank no wine, thus not participating in any shadow observance of the feast in any way whatsoever. He did not eat "bread of desirability," which may mean choice bread, or might refer to unleavened bread. Finally, he used no ointment, which means he kept his body free from oils. Oil is used for anointing priests and kings in the Bible. By doing all of this, Daniel stressed that he was in exile from the bread and wine of God’s kingdom, the anointing of God’s work, the feasts of God’s calendar.
Since Cyrus had decreed that the Temple be restored in his first year, clearly something had gone awry. Clearly the Temple had not been restored, as we know from Ezra 1-5.
Moreover, Daniel sees a "man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with pure gold of Uphaz, whose body was like turquoise, whose face was light lightning, whose eyes were like flaming torches, whose arms and feet were like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of whose voice was like the sound of tumult." This "Man" was in the air above the river Tigris, at Babylon (12:7). Clearly this is Yahweh, and He is above the river just as He was above the River Chebar in Ezekiel 1. The meaning in Ezekiel was that God had departed from the Temple and had come to be with His people in exile. The meaning in Daniel 10-12 is that God is still in exile and has not returned to the Temple. He is, however, above the waters, like the Spirit in Genesis 1, and is preparing a new creation.
The problem is described in Ezra 4, to wit, that after the first year of return from exile, opposition to the Temple’s rebuilding arose among the people then living in the area, and they hired representatives to go to the
Persian court and put a stop to the project. We are told that they were successful throughout the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses (Ezra 4:5), and initially successful with Darius as well.
Since Cyrus was favorable to the Jews, it must have been Cambyses who was not. Cyrus was off conquering new lands, and Cambyses, the Prince of Persia, was basically in charge. In Daniel 11:1, the person who is speaking with Daniel says that "in the first year of Darius the Mede [Cyrus] I stood up to strengthen and protect him." Almost certainly this speaker is an angelic messenger. He says that there was some problem in the beginning of Cyrus’s reign, but that he had stood up to help Cyrus. We now know from ancient records that Cambyses was co-regent with Cyrus in Babylon initially, but was removed during Cyrus’s first year. Since it is clear that Cambyses opposed the Temple-rebuilding project, the "strengthening" of Cyrus would seem to be connected with the removal of Cambyses’ opposition. Thereafter, in Cyrus’s first year, the decree to rebuild the Temple was issued. See William H. Shea, "Darius the Mede in His Persian-Babylonian Setting," Andrews University Seminary Studies 29 (1991):235-257.
Shea has argued cogently that Cambyses became co-regent with Cyrus at the New Year Festival in the Spring of 535 bc, on the fourth day of the month. This was when Daniel went into mourning.
In Daniel 10:13 & 20, the angel tells Daniel that he had been fighting the Prince of Persia for the 21 days of Daniel’s mourning, but Michael, the Prince of Israel, had stood up to help him. Thus, he was able to gain a small victory. Soon he would be returning to oppose the Prince of Persia further. Often this Prince is said to be the angelic overlord of Persia, but Calvin identified him as the real prince, Cambyses. Shea has demonstrated that Calvin was almost certainly correct.
In fact, the real overlord of Persia is the godly angel who has been opposing Cambyses, and who has received help from the angelic overlord of Israel, the arch-angel (chief of angels) Michael, the preincarnate Christ. (That Michael is Christ follows from a comparison of Jude 9 with Zechariah 3:2.)
We don’t really know all that we would like to know about the reign of the Persian kings, but from what I have just presented, it seems that Cambyses is a long shot as far as being the Ahasuerus of Esther is concerned. If Mordecai is to be linked to a prominent Jewish banking concern, we can be sure that this concern would still be in operation in Darius’s day.
It remains to take up the eccentric view of the always-eccentric chronologer E. W. Faulstich.
(to be continued)