Context, Chronology, & Daniel 9

The following article is a guest blog on this site by my friend and outstanding Bible scholar, William Struse. Over the past months, he and I have been in an extended conversation about Daniel 9, the 70 Weeks Prophecy, and the chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah; and how all these issues interrelate.

My initial article on Ezra was posted HERE two weeks ago. If you haven’t read that article, please click on the link and  read it first. It explains why I feel only reasonable doubt is necessary in determining the chronology of when Ezra ministered (which is a strange statement, isn’t it?)

This article is William’s response. We both pray the Holy Spirit guides you all into the truth of this matter.

Context, Chronology, & Daniel 9 by William Struse.

William Struse responds to Nelson Walter’s Reasonable Doubt

What if I told you that nearly everything you believe about the Bible’s future prophecies is somehow influenced by an assumption originating in the historical details of Ezra and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era?

What many don’t know is that there is a little known and less understood fact of Biblical history, that is the basis for much of what you and I believe about the 7 year tribulation, the rapture, the 2nd coming of Christ, the identity of the anti-Christ, and most of the events described in the book of Revelation. What I’m talking about is the chronological assumption regarding Ezra and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era as it relates to an unnamed Persian king who the Biblical record only identifies by the Persian title “Artaxerxes”.

You see, there are multiple “Artaxerxes” in the Bible and 99% of teachers and scholars who write about Daniel 9 and the 70 “Weeks” date the starting point of the prophecy from a “commandment to restore and build Jerusalem” which they believe was given during the reign of the Persian king “Artaxerxes” Longimanus. This assumption, in nearly every case, is given without a single Biblical chronological fact from which a reader might attempt to verify the claim.

This is important because nearly every event described in the book of Revelation is organized within a framework based at least in part on the 70 Weeks prophecy of Daniel 9. Every interpretation of Daniel 9 and the 70 “Weeks” in turn finds its basis in a “Commandment to restore and build Jerusalem” which is set during the era of Ezra, Nehemiah, and a Persian king who bares only the title “Artaxerxes”. Despite all the incredible theological weight resting upon this 2nd temple era chronology, it is one of the best kept secrets of Bible prophecy. And for good reason as you’ll soon understand.

Unfortunately, most of today’s scholars, teachers, and writers on the subject of Bible prophecy are either unaware of the subject, unwilling to deal with the implications, or they are simply depending upon the ignorance of their readers to give them a pass. Frankly, the few who are aware of the challenges this subject poses to our understanding of Bible prophecy are loath to publicly discuss it.

Because this is such a critical issue to rightly interpreting the prophetic truth of the Bible, Nelson Walters and I have decided to bring much needed attention to the subject. As Nelson has said in his recent article (here), we don’t share the same point of view, but we are hoping that by looking at this challenging subject from both our perspectives you might be better equipped to sift the evidence for yourself and do your Berean duty to see if these things be so.

Are you willing to take this Berean challenge? I hope so, because stewardship of Yahweh’s precious words requires it.

And so you don’t think I’m over dramatizing this subject, here are some of Nelson’s thoughts from his Accelerated Ezra Chronology – An Examination which we both have shared on our blogs a couple of weeks ago.

“If Ezra truly ministered during Darius the Great’s reign and not during the reign of Artaxerxes I as is considered by most traditional chronologies, my new hypothesis was meaningless because the starting point wouldn’t occur when I believed it did.”

Now lest you think Nelson’s statement is also a bit too dramatic, here is Dr. Floyd Nolan Jones, one of our generation’s most knowledgeable chronologists who nearly 25 years ago attempted to bring clarity to this important subject:

“The chronology of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah in use today by nearly all scholars, Christian or secular, is not tenable. The presence of an Ezra and a Nehemiah at the beginning and end of these books [the books that bear their names] has long created a problem as the history spans from the first year of Cyrus (536 BC) to at least the 32ndyear of a Persian monarch designated as “Artaxerxes.” (Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, p.241)

“Unless a solution is found, the time disparity between the Nehemiah 10 and 12 lists invalidates not only Sir Robert Anderson’s solution and that formerly detailed and offered by this author in which Artaxerxes I is seen to function as his dissipated father’s pro-regent beginning around 473-470 BC but all other accepted scenarios in use today as well. As a result of not having resolved this problem, all modern works dealing with the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah have chronologically misplaced all the material from Nehemiah 7:73b to 12:10-9” (Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, p.241 brackets added by WS)

Pretty profound implications, don’t you think? This is why Nelson and I have agreed to collaborate. We believe the body of Christ needs to better understand this subject and its implications. Although we have major difference in interpretation; we agree that it is imperative to establish our prophetic interpretation of Daniel 9 upon a solid Biblical foundation of truth, even if that truth challenges our own beliefs and assumptions. This is a subject that has been neglected for far too long. It is our hope, that by taking these first tentative steps to discuss this subject in a public setting with good will and Christian charity we might inspire our fellow believers and peers who care about the subject of Bible Prophecy to take a more serious and disciplined approach to Daniel 9 and its underlying foundational history.

The Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation
Before proceeding, I need to tell you a little bit about my interpretive method. This is important because how we filter Biblical facts plays a significant role in the conclusions we reach. In my studies, I try to adhere to the widely respected Golden Rule of Bible Interpretation as defined by Dr. David L. Cooper. That rule is as follows:

“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”

As we look at the 2nd temple era history, please keep this golden rule in mind. This rule is a valuable guide for any Berean who desires the truth of the Scripture to speak for itself.

My primary aim of this article is not to change your mind about Daniel 9 and the prophecy of 70 “Weeks”, but to strengthen your faith in the Biblical record as an accurate account of the events relating to Ezra and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era. When we are finished with our exploration of this subject, I hope you’ll have renewed confidence in the accuracy and clarity of what the Biblical record says about the 2nd temple era. That confidence then will give you a more contextual lens through which to view and interpret Daniel 9, the Bible’s most important Messianic prophecy.

So without further introduction let’s look at the history behind the Bible’s only prophecy which gives us a specific and datable timeline for the coming of Yeshua (Jesus). Let’s look at the chronology upon which the Bible’s countdown to the Messiah rests.

Please Note
As we explore this contextually based overview of the 2nd temple era we’ll look at and address some of the arguments and objections raised by Nelson in his article: Accelerated Ezra Chronology – An Examination posted two weeks ago at my blog – The 13th Enumeration and at Nelson’s blog – The Gospel in the End Times.

The Chronological Succession of the Priests and Persians
In this article, we are going to explore the succession lines of the Jewish priesthood starting with Seraiah (the last high priest of Solomon’s temple) as well as the succession of secular Persian kings starting with Cyrus (the Great), the Persian king who allowed the Jewish people to return and build the temple.

These two lines of succession will allow us to synchronize the events of Biblical and secular history in a way which shows the accuracy of the Biblical account. I’d encourage you to take a moment to familiarize yourself with these lists of names because we will be seeing them quite often as we explore the Biblical accounts.

Keep in mind, our goal here is to determine to the best of our ability a reasonable Biblical context from which we can ascertain when the events in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah took place relative to Persian history and thereby establish a solid Scriptural foundation for the “Commandment to restore and build” of Daniel 9:25.

The Jewish People Return
In 536 BC after 70 years of exile in Babylon, Yahweh the living God of the Bible, reached down into the history of mankind and stirred the heart of the Persian king Cyrus to allow the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of YHWH by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, YHWH stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, YHWH God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (Ezra 1:1-2)

Jeshua (Joshua) the high priest (see above chart) and Zerubbabel let the first group of their Jewish brethren back to Jerusalem with the intent to rebuild the house of Yahweh. According to the account of Ezra chapters 1-4 the people didn’t get very far, before harassment by their hostile neighbors causes them to cease construction.

Ezra 4:5 tells us:

Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:4-5)

We know from Persian history, that there were only two Persian kings between the reign of Cyrus and Darius. As you see in the chart above, those kings where Cambyses (son of Cyrus) and Bardis the so called Magian imposter. What’s neat about Ezra’s account is that it confirms well established secular history. Or if you prefer, secular history confirms Ezra’s account.

Ezra 4:6 tells us, the enemies of the Jewish people petitioned a Persian “Ahasuerus” to stop construction on the temple with no results. We know from Persian history that Cambyses (i.e. Ahasuerus) mostly followed in his father’s (Cyrus) footsteps and promoted the rebuilding of the religious monuments in lands under his control. So this makes sense that he would not be supportive of those who challenged his father’s authority and were trying to stop construction of a religious monument in his kingdom.

In any case, the enemies of the Jewish people didn’t give up and when a new Persian king came along they were ready with their accusations once again. Ezra 4:7 tells us that this new Persian king titled “Artaxerxes” did indeed stop construction and this interruption lasted until the 2nd year of Darius king of Persia.

Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:24)

Yahweh Makes His Will Known
Like many times in life when all seems lost and the obstacles are overwhelming, Yahweh, the living God of the Bible, takes a hand in the affairs of mankind. For the Jewish people that intervention began with His divine word (Hebrew dabar) to restore and build Jerusalem. This dabar or commandment went forth in the 2nd year of Darius (520 BC) and it was carried to the Jewish people by the two confirming witnesses of Haggai and Zechariah, the prophets. (It is this author’s opinion that this divine “word” is the “commandment” (Hebrew dabar) of Daniel 9:25 which begins the 70 “Weeks” prophecy. For more on this, see my article: The Fifth Command)

Then came the word [dabar] of YHWH by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith YHWH of hosts…

Thus saith YHWH of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith YHWH. Haggai 1:3-8

In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word [dabar] of YHWH unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah…

Therefore thus saith YHWH; I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith YHWH of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. (Zechariah 1:1-16)

With this divine command as their impetus, the Jewish people ignored the harassment of their enemies and completed the temple in just 4 years. It’s important to note here, that after Yahweh’s divine command to return and build, enemies of the Jewish people also tried to stop construction by petitioning Darius to have the construction efforts stopped. Darius then looked into the matter and found Cyrus’ original decree which allowed the Jewish people to return and build. So Darius confirmed Cyrus’ decree and gave his royal blessings to the Jewish reconstruction efforts:

Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence: Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place. Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. (Ezra 6:6-8)

Keep in mind here that it had been nearly 16 years from Cyrus’ original decree until Darius confirmed and blessed it. The entire chain of events is summed up in Ezra 6:14-15 this way:

And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.

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

This brings us to one of Nelson’s objections of reasonable doubt which we need to discuss. From here on out when I quote Nelson’s article on the Accelerated Ezra Chronology, his quotes will be in brown.

Both Cooper and Struse present the argument that Darius the Great also went by the title Artaxerxes (meaning “Great King”), and he very well may have used this title. However, Cooper and Struse takes this one step further and suggests the Artaxerxes mentioned in Ezra 7-10 and the Artaxerxes of Nehemiah is Darius. This would be highly unusual. The language of the text found in Ezra 7 seems to prohibit this interpretation: (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

Let’s explore Nelson’s objections here. We’ve just established the Biblical chronology from the 1st year of Cyrus up to the 6th year of Darius and the completion of the temple. Please note, in Ezra 6:14-15 above that it clearly states that the temple was “builded and finished” according to the “commandment” of God, Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes.

Here is where context matters. According to the Biblical record, there were no “Artaxerxes” who gave “commandments” which helped build and finish the temple by the 6th year of Darius. Certainly the “Artaxerxes” of Ezra 4:7 didn’t help. He in fact stopped construction. Everyone else is clearly accounted for in the text. So who then is this Artaxerxes?

This is where Hebrew grammar comes to the rescue. If we apply the golden rule of Biblical interpretation to this passage we must consider this interpretational challenge within the context it was given, i.e. within the context of the 1st year of Cyrus to the 6th year of Darius the king of Persian

The English word “and” connecting the title “Artaxerxes” to Darius is Hebrew letter “waw”. This Hebrew letter is often used as a conjunction and indeed as the context shows it is correctly used to distinguish between Cyrus “and” Darius, who were the bookends of the chronology in question.

 

But the letter “waw” is also sometimes used as a subordination or hendiadys. What this means is that it does not necessary always refer to a different person, place, or thing, but rather as a subordination describing the previous noun. In this case, the writer of Ezra must be referring to Darius as “Artaxerxes” because we have no other contextual options.

In other words the passage in context should be read this way:

And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.

And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and [even] Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. (Ezra 6:14-15)

There is no other way to read this passage without breaking the golden rule of Biblical interpretation. The events of this passage are constrained by the 1st year of Cyrus until the 6th year of Darius (536-516 BC). Therefore Ezra was simply telling us that Darius was also known as “Artaxerxes”.

Nelson objects to this contextual reading of the text with the following statement:

The chronicler of Ezra began the book by referring to this king as Darius and consistently referred to him as Darius until the end of chapter six. If the Accelerated Ezra theory is correct, then at that point, the chronicler would have switched and begun to refer to him as Artaxerxes and consistently referred to him as Artaxerxes thereafter – with no explanation or reason for the change in names.

This is highly unlikely scenario! (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

Once again this is where the credibility of the Bibles account really shines. You see, there is a bit of Persian history that explains this change of title. According to Herodotus, after the death of Cyrus, Cambyses, his son, took the throne. During Cambyses conquest of Egypt, Darius was a member of his royal bodyguard.

On Cambyses’ return to Persia from Egypt, Cambyses mysteriously died in Syria and his brother Bardiya (a.k.a Smerdis) son of Cyrus took the throne. Darius in his Bisitun inscription claimed that this Bardiya was not really the son of Cyrus but an imposter and with the help of six Persian nobles he murdered Bardiya and assumed the throne himself. This didn’t go over very well in the rest of the Persian kingdom and there was revolts in many of the provinces.

It took Darius several years to clean up this mess and assume total control over the kingdom. So Ezra’s account just reflected the realities of what was taking place from the provincial perspective. Keep in mind that Ezra’s narrative of this aspect of Persian history began in the 2nd year of Darius when Darius was in the thick of trying to attain control over all the provinces of Persia.

If indeed Bardiya was the rightful heir and a legitimate son of Cyrus then he would have naturally assumed the title “Artaxerxes” at the death of Cambyses as described in Ezra 4:7. Even if he was an imposter and was impersonating Cambyses’ brother as Darius asserts, he still could have claimed the title “Artaxerxes” and most of his kingdom would not have known the difference. Whatever the case may be, it took Darius several years to gain complete control of the kingdom of Persia and its provinces and thus legitimately attain the title of “Artaxerxes”.

This is one of those example of a seemingly confusing passage made clear once we understand the context. This should give us a renewed appreciation for the accuracy of the Biblical record.

Ezra Returns To Jerusalem
This brings us to the history of Ezra, the priest and scribe. Our previous chronology ended in Ezra 6 with the completion of the temple in the 6th year of Darius who the Bible tells us by that time had attained the title of Artaxerxes.

Ezra 7 opens in the 7th year of “Artaxerxes” with Ezra on his way to Jerusalem to teach the people the Torah. Once again, if we take the Scripture at face value – in context – we are left with only one reasonable conclusion. Ezra left for Jerusalem in the 7th year of Darius a.k.a. Artaxerxes when the temple was completed. It’s simple, straight forward, and in context.

We really don’t need any additional information to claim that Ezra was a contemporary of Darius Artaxerxes. But let’s look for some confirmation.

The first place to look is at the lineage of Ezra. Ezra 7 opens with Ezra’s lineage as a “son of Seraiah”. Here take a look:

Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah,… (Ezra 7:1)

Again according to our interpretive method, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise we must assume the most plain sense ordinary reading of the text. Such a reading of this text unequivocally indicates that Seraiah was Ezra’s father. This creates an insurmountable problem for Nelson and those who believe Ezra was a contemporary of “Artaxerxes” Longimanus in 457 BC.

The reason this is a problem is because Ezra’s father Seraiah was the last high priest of Solomon’s temple and he was killed in Babylon in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18-20). By the 7th year of Darius Artaxerxes, Ezra would have been at his youngest 69 years old. By the 7th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, Ezra would have been at his youngest 126 years old. Which seems most reasonable? Keep in mind, that Ezra was still alive (and active) 13 years later when the wall of Jerusalem was finished and dedicated by Nehemiah.

Here is how Nelson describes the problem:

If Ezra truly was the biological “son of Seraiah,” this would make him impossibly old in 457 BC. In fact, he would have been 129 years old (at a minimum) at that time, as he would have had to have been conceived prior to Seraiah’s death. Both Cooper and Struse assume the text of Ezra 7:1-7 means that Ezra was the direct physical son of Seraiah. That is a possible interpretation of the text, but of course, that is not the only interpretation. (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

Nelson goes on to admit that Ezra could have been Seraiah’s son, but he theorizes that there also might have been some missing generations that were left out of Ezra 7. Although Nelson cannot provide any evidence for these missing generations he raises several objections which he believes provide enough “reasonable doubt” to disregard the most natural reading of Ezra’s lineage. Let’s look at a couple of those objections. Nelson asks:

When suggesting that Ezra was a physical son of Seraiah, one must also consider the age of Ezra when he emigrated to Israel and why he waited until the 7th year of Artaxerxes to make the move. First, if Ezra was born in 586 BC (or earlier), the youngest he could have been in the 7th year of Darius the Great would have been 71. Although it isn’t impossible for a man of that age to make the four-month journey from Persia to Jerusalem, it is highly doubtful.

Second, we must question why Ezra would have delayed and not returned with the first captives in 538 BC when he was a much younger man (48 years old according to Cooper and Struse) and much more capable of making such a difficult journey. Isn’t it more likely that he was several generations removed from those who were the first emigrants and emigrated during the prime of his life in 457 BC?(Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

To be sure, 71 years of age is very old to be making the 4 month journey from Persia to Jerusalem, but not impossible. Even if we arbitrarily add three generations between Seraiah and Ezra, making Ezra and Eliashib brothers, Nelson would be challenged by his own argument. By the 7th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, Ezra would have been at his youngest 70 years old! (See the chart here)

Second, Nelson questions why Ezra, (who would have been in the prime of life in 536 BC when Cyrus allowed the first captives to return) did not return with Joshua and Zerubbabel.

Interestingly, Ezra may in fact have returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel for a short period of time. In Nehemiah 12:1 a priest by the name of Ezra did in fact return to Jerusalem. The text does not tell us who this Ezra was, but we cannot say definitively that it was not our Ezra. And lest you think it unusual to find Ezra back in Persia by the 6th year of Darius, consider that the Scriptures tells us Nehemiah, as an officer of the king, traveled back and forth between Jerusalem and Shushan in Persia. If we are going to speculate here, we could assume a high likelihood that there was much traffic between the Jewish community in Judah and those still in Persia, including those Hebrew men who were officiating on king Darius Artaxerxes’ behalf.

Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch,… Nehemiah 12:1-2

Here is another objection Nelson raises to taking the lineage of Ezra in its most natural and plain sense context.

There is a third piece of textual evidence in Ezra 7:1-7 that a new era had begun and that this was not the reign of Darius the Great. A rather uncommon Hebrew phrase translated “after these things” opens the verse. This Hebrew phrase is used in only two other places in the Old Testament and in both places, it implies a longer period of time. In combination with the mention of the “reign of Artaxerxes, King of Persia,” it is unlikely — highly unlikely — that only one year of time had elapsed since the previous verse in Ezra 6. (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

In my own research of Nelson’s claim above I found at least 15 occurrences of the Hebrew phrase “after these things”. Here is one example that challenges Nelson’s claim:

And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place. And he said, I will do as thou hast said. And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.

And it came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. (Genesis 47:29 – 48:1)

As you can see “after these things” was used in a context that likely took place within a short period of time of Israel’s death. So clearly the 7th year of the Darius Artaxerxes mentioned in Ezra 7 could have taken place only a year “after these things” described in the 6th year of Darius (Ezra 6).

Ezra In the Historical Records
Ezra really is important to fixing the chronology of the 2nd temple period. I’ve given you several reasonable pieces of Biblical evidence that show Ezra was a contemporary of Darius “Artaxerxes”. Now let me give you several historical references which also indicate Ezra was the literal son of Seraiah just as the Bible describes. These sources are not scriptural, but represent Jewish oral and written traditions as well as two reference from the apocryphal books of Esdras. At the very least these references show that Ezra’s contemporaneous relationship to Darius “Artaxerxes” was well understood by the Jewish people.

  • Daniel now received the Divine charge to urge Cyrus to rebuild the Temple. To this end he was to introduce Ezra and Zerubbabel to the king. Ezra then went from place to place and called upon the people to return to Palestine. Sad to say, only a tribe and a half obeyed his summons. Indeed, the majority of the people were so wroth against Ezra that they sought to slay him. He escaped the peril to his life only by a Divine miracle. (LOUIS GINZBERG. THE LEGENDS OF THE JEWS VOL. I – IV (Kindle Locations 18416-18420). Kindle Edition.)
  • The complete resettlement of Palestine took place under the direction of Ezra, or, as the Scriptures sometimes call him, Malachi. He had not been present at the earlier attempts to restore the sanctuary, because he could not leave his old teacher Baruch, who was too advanced in years to venture upon the difficult journey to the Holy Land. …. (LOUIS GINZBERG. THE LEGENDS OF THE JEWS VOL. I – IV (Kindle Locations 18523-18530). Kindle Edition.)
  • … for it is written [Ezra, vi. 15]: “And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the King.” And we have learned in a Boraitha: At the same time in the following year Ezra and the children of the captivity went up from Babylon, and the Bible says about this [Ezra, vii. 8]:(The Babylonian Talmud Kindle Edition)
  • The second book of the prophet Esdras, the son of Saraias….which was captive in the land of the Medes, in the reign of Artexerxes king of the Persians.(4 Esdras 1:1-3)
  • In the thirtieth year after the ruin of the city I was in Babylon [554 BC], and lay troubled upon my bed, and my thoughts came up over my heart:(4 Esdras 3:1)
  • Jewish Encyclopedia —– The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years. Ezra sanctified Palestine in the seventh year of the second entrance, after the sixth year of Darius, when the Temple was dedicated (Ezra vi. 15, 16; vii. 7). The first cycle of shemiṭṭah began with the sanctification of Ezra. The Second Temple stood 420 years, and was destroyed, like the First, in the 421st year, on the closing of the shemiṭṭah (‘Ar. 13a).

In conclusion I’ve given you several vectors of contextual Biblical evidence which all show that Ezra was the son of Seraiah and that he was a contemporary of Darius Artaxerxes. We’ve also looked at some historical records with the same conclusion. This evidence poses serious problems for anyone who believes that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of Artaxerxes Longimanus.

Context Matters
It is important to stress here that no interpretation of prophecy, no matter how well-meaning or seemingly conclusive from our human perspective, can stand in the face of a single Biblical contextual fact that contradicts it. Ezra’s age is an obstacle to any theory of Daniel 9 which begins its countdown during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus. The only way around this obstacle is to ignore the plain sense – ordinary meaning of the words and the context from which they spring. Such an interpretive method must rely on doubt to fill the evidentiary void.

The Sons of Sanballat
Nelson raised another objection to Ezra and Nehemiah as a contemporary of Darius “Artaxerxes” in his article. He explains his doubt about Ezra as a contemporary of Darius Artaxerxes this way:

Further support for a ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah during the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus can be found in the Elephantine papyri. The “Petition to Bagoas” is a letter from 407 BC and mentions the “Sons of Sanballat.” Sanballat was one of the opponents of Nehemiah and is mentioned in Neh. 2:17. If Sanballat opposed Nehemiah in the 20th year of Darius the Great (502 BC) as the Accelerated Ezra Chronology suggests, nearly a hundred years would have passed before this reference to his sons appears. It is so unlikely as to be considered impossible. (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

As the ISBE Bible dictionary explains Sanballat is a name that appears quite frequently in the contract tables from the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar to Darius Artaxerxes, the son of Hystaspes. So seeing him mentioned in Nehemiah 2:17 as a contemporary of Darius Artaxerxes (son of Hystapes) is neither unlikely nor impossible.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
The 20th of Marcheshvan in the 17th year of Darius the king.” Sanballat is the Babylonian Sin-uballit, “may Sin give him life,” a name occurring a number of times in the contract tablets from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, and Darius Hystaspis.(See Tallquist, NeubabylonischesNamenbuch, 183. Emphasis added by WS)

The Chronology of the Gatekeepers, Priests, and Levites
Let’s move on to a subject that seems rather complex at first glance, but with a bit of effort can be grasped with a reasonable degree of understanding. I’ll let Nelson explain the importance of this subject and some of his objections before providing you with a reasonable solution that allows you to have complete confidence in the Bible’s plain sense account of these events:

Both Cooper and Struse have suggested that the complex chronology of priests and Levites in Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah suggest a ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah during the reign of Darius the Great, not during the reign of Artaxerxes I. Both men have compared the names of those who returned in 538 BC with lists of names found in relation to events in the 7th and 20th Years of Artaxerxes. What they found were that numerous names coincided. Because the number of years between 538 BC and 445 BC were so extensive, the conclusion was reached that it was impossible that these men could have all had a lifespan that long. The deduction was that “Artaxerxes” must have been an earlier king, Darius the Great.

At first glance this theory seems insurmountable — and this was the proof that initially made me think that the Accelerated Ezra Chronology was correct. However, these lists of names are complex. First, the names of numerous priests and Levites were common and shared by multiple individuals. Names like Jeremiah, Ezra, Daniel, Zechariah, and Nehemiah as found in these chronologies belong to lesser known persons than the famous Bible characters bearing these names. Can we really be sure of any of the names in these chronologies? Frankly, I believe we need to question each name.

Second, and much more important, a number of the names appearing in the lists of priests and Levites were “houses” or lineages not individuals. Although it is unlikely a single individual would live more than a hundred years, it is possible or even likely that a “house” or lineage would maintain the same name for decades or even centuries.

In combination, these two factors undermine the Accelerated Ezra theory as we will see. (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

First of all, Nelson is correct, there are multiple names and many duplicate names and each name must be considered in its context before any conclusions can be drawn. Nelson is also correct that some of the lists of names may represent “houses” or the heads of houses such as those listed in Ezra 2.

(One key to remember here when exploring these names, is that more often than not the names listed are grouped according to “priests”, “Levites”, “singers”, “porters”, etc. by keeping these designations in mind it helps remove much of the confusion related to the multiple use of the same name by different people)

Even though some of the names may represent the leaders or heads of houses, it doesn’t necessary follow that these listed heads of the houses were not actual men who lived during the period of time in question. I don’t have the space here to answer every example of “reasonable doubt” Nelson raised about this subject but what I can do here is provide you with several clear examples that provide sufficient context for you to have confidence in the plain sense meaning of the text.

Let’s start with Nehemiah 12 and the list of priests and Levites that came up with Joshua and Zerubbabel in the 1st year of Cyrus (536 BC). As you read this passage keep in mind the author clearly states that these men were contemporaries of Jeshua (Joshua) the high priest.

Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shechaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnetho, Abijah, Miamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah, and Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah. These were the chief of the priests and of their brethren in the days of Jeshua.

Moreover the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, which was over the thanksgiving, he and his brethren. Also Bakbukiah and Unni, their brethren, were over against them in the watches. (Nehemiah 12:1-9 )

Now because we are following the golden rule of Bible interpretation, we must first assume the most plain sense reading of the text unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. So in this case we take the passage at face value. Just as Zerubbabel and Jeshua were leaders and real people (see Ezra 10:18 for example) so too we must consider the priests and Levites listed here as real people. As of yet, we don’t have any conclusive context that clearly indicates otherwise.

Notice verse 7 does tells us, that the priests mentioned were “chief of the priests and chief of their brethren”. Again this statement does not have to be taken figuratively. The men listed can be real people who came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel and still be the leading men of their age. In order to assume these were figure head names and not real people we must have clear context that indicates this is the case.

Let’s explore more of the text to see if we can find some clear context which would indicate we are to assume these were not actual real living and breathing priests and Levites who came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel.

An important clue to the author’s intent is found in verses 10-11. Following the list of priests and Levites who came up with Jeshua, the author interjects Jeshua’s descendants (succession of high priests) so that the reader will have a clear understanding of the chronological context between the priests and Levites and how their service related to the chronological succession of the high priesthood.

And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib, and Eliashib begat Joiada, And Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua. (Nehemiah 12:10-11)

Now this may seem a bit odd to have the priestly succession interjected here until you read the next nine verses. What follows is a list of the descendants of the priests previously mentioned in verses 1-9. The author of Nehemiah 12 not only implies these men were the offspring of the previously mentioned priests, but he clearly states they were also contemporaries of Jeshua’s son, Joiakim. In other words, just as Joiakim was the 2nd generation after Jeshua the high priest, so too these men were the sons of the priests (the 2nd generation) who came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel.

This disproves the theory that Nehemiah 12:1-7 represents figurative heads of houses. It makes no sense for the author of Nehemiah 12:11-7 to list figurative ‘heads of households’ during Jeshua’s priesthood only to change all those ‘heads of households’ one generation later during the priesthood of Jeshua’s son Joiakim. What purpose would such a listing serve? It certainly does not bring any continuity or clarity to the text or context. It only introduces added complexity and confusion. The most ordinary plain sense reading of the text indicates that the author is synchronizing the priests who led Israel during the priesthood of Jeshua with those who served during priesthood of his son Joiakim. Here take a look:

And in the days of Joiakim were priests, the chief of the fathers: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; Of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; Of Melicu, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; Of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; Of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; Of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; 18 Of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; And of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; Of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; Of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethaneel. (Nehemiah 12:12-21)

Let’s look at a few of the names to get a clearer sense of what’s going on here. Nehemiah 12:1 tells us that Seraiah, Jeremiah, and Ezra came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel and further that they were the chief of priests (leaders) during the high priesthood of Jeshua.

Nehemiah 12:12-13 tells us that Meraiah was the descendant of Seraiah, that Hananiah was of Jeremiah, and Meshullam was of Ezra. Although the text does not say “son of” that is the most “plain sense” reading of the text. Remember here, these fathers were listed as priests who came up with Joiakim’s father Jeshua one generation previous. They were contemporaries.

Let’s look at one more name for those of you who still have some doubt. Nehemiah 12:6 tells us that Shemaiah was one of the priests who came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel. Nehemiah 12:18 tells us that Jonathan was the descendant of Shemaiah during the days of Jeshua’s son Joiakim. Now take a look at Nehemiah 12:35:

And certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets; namely, Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph: (Nehemiah 12:35)

In Nehemiah 12: 26-47 it tells us that Nehemiah brought the leading people of Jerusalem up upon the wall to give thanks. Among those singled out for special mention was one of the priest’s sons named Zechariah who played the trumpet. This real living man, the text tells us was the “son of” Jonathan, “the son of” Shemaiah,…

This is confirming evidence that in fact the men listed in Nehemiah 12:1-21 were real 1st& 2nd generation repatriated human beings not figurative heads of houses. Jonathan was a contemporary of Joiakim, and Shemaiah, his father, was a contemporary of Jeshua.

With this context we have no other reasonable options but to conclude that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of Jeshua and Joiakim. And since Jeshua was a contemporary of Darius Artaxerxes this then makes Ezra and Nehemiah his contemporary as well. This confirms that the Bible should be taken literally when it describes Ezra as the son of Seraiah. The following chart provides a visual chronological representation of the information in Nehemiah 12.

(For a higher resolution image click (here).

(For a higher resolution image click (here).

 

Chief of the Levites
But let’s back up a moment. Nehemiah 12:8 lists the chief “Levites” who came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel. Among those were Jeshua, Kadmiel, and Sherebiah. Nehemiah 12:24 tells us that Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua (son of Kadmiel) were the chief “Levites” who gave praise and thanks after the manner set out by king David. In that same context the text goes on to tell us that Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were porters keeping the gates. Then verse 25 sums it all up by telling us that all these men were contemporaries of Joiakim (son of Jeshua)

These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe.(Nehemiah 12:26)

Taking this verse in context, we find that it confirms what the Bible says about the context of the 2nd temple, i.e. that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of Joiakim and by chronological association Joiakim’s father, Jeshua. The “and” in this passage does not indicate separate periods of time as Nelson suggests but simply indicates that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of Joiakim, a 2nd generation repatriate.

Eliashib’s Age and the Building of the Wall
Another one of Nelson’s examples of reasonable doubt relates to intergenerational ages of the high priests as implied in Ezra and Nehemiah and explained in my recent blog article Eliashib, Artaxerxes, & Sir Robert Anderson. Nelson explains:

In regard to Struse’s calculation of the ages of the Chief Priests, he calculates Eliashib’s age in 445 BC as a minimum of 83 years old based on generational times of 20 to 30 years. Although 83 is a reasonable age for an elderly Chief Priest, Struse considers this an unlikely age for Eliashib because according to Neh. 3:1, Eliashib and his relatives built the Sheep Gate in that year. This logic fails for two reasons.

First, generational time, especially over a short number of generations (Seraiah to Eliashib) can be highly variable. Men frequently have children after 30 years of age. If only one of these men was born to a father in his fifties, Eliashib’s age at the time of construction of the Sheep Gate becomes even more reasonable.

Second, Scripture does not say that Eliashib participated in the construction. He may have simply overseen the construction (which was likely for a Chief Priest of any age). Even a man who was 83 years old could supervise a construction project.

Conclusion: REASONABLE DOUBT that the number of Chief Priests or the age of Eliashib precludes the 7th year of Artaxerxes being 457 BC. (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

Regarding Nelson first objection, I agree the ages likely varied but not just on one side of the timeline. That is the reason my article sought to provide an average age of 20-30 years. Nelson’s scenario becomes problematic if just one of the generations preceding Eliashib were shorter than 30 years.

Second regarding Eliashib’s participation in the construction of the wall, the Hebrew form of the word “rose up” (quwm) as used in Nehemiah 3:1 is found in five other places in the book of Ezra and Nehemiah. Each time it is used, the person mentioned was also involved in the action or work described. (Ezra 3:2; 10:5f, 10; Neh 3:1; 9:4; Job 1:20; 16:8; 22:28; Ps 40:3; 78:5; Jer 41:2; Jonah 1:3; 3:3, 6)

Nehemiah 10: Sealed in the 20th Year of “Artaxerxes”
This brings us to those men sealed with Nehemiah (Neh. 10) in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. Nelson quotes Nehemiah 10:1-8 and states the following:

Again, this list represents 22 priestly lines with only slight differences from the names of the priestly lines that formed in 538 BC. This slight difference in the corporate names of the priestly houses would be expected after the passing of 80-plus years. By listing the names of the courses of the priests, was Nehemiah indicating that representatives of these households signed the document on behalf of their entire household? Perhaps. (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

There is quite a bit of conjecture here in Nelson’s statement and we just don’t have enough information from the text to verify it. He could be correct about the 22 priestly lines, but frankly, it is entirely speculative.

What we do know is that the final “priest” listed in Nehemiah 10:8 is Shemaiah, the same Shemaiah who came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel in 536 BC under the decree of Cyrus as listed in Nehemiah 12:6. This Shemaiah as Nehemiah 12:35 tells us was father of Jonathan a contemporary of Jeshua’s son Joiakim. Shemaiah was indeed the head of his people, but he was also a real living person who was actively involved in the resettlement of Jerusalem along with his son and grandson.

But that is not all. Amongst the Levites in this list of Nehemiah 10 are men who Nelson acknowledges were actual real individuals who stood next to Ezra as described in Nehemiah 8 (see also Neh. 9). I quote Nelson:

The Men Who Stood Beside Ezra
There are several references to priests in the Book of Nehemiah that we know are individuals, not “houses.” One reference is found in Neh. 8 where 13 men stood next to Ezra when he read from the scroll of the Law. (Nelson Walters, Accelerated Ezra Chronology)

Here is the passage in question:

And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed YHWH, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped YHWH with their faces to the ground.

Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto YHWH your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Nehemiah 8:4-9

As you look at these charts, keep the “priests” and “Levites” designations in mind. These designations often help eliminate the confusion surrounding the use of multiple names in these different lists. This is important because if any of the “priests” and “Levites” who stood next to Ezra in Nehemiah 8 & 9 are real individuals who are listed in Nehemiah 10, then it provides reasonable context to show that the lists of Nehemiah 10 and 12 showed real people not the “heads of houses” as Nelson theorizes.

Also worth noting is that many times the men listed in the book of Nehemiah, do not have “son of” or any other designation preceding or following their names. It seems incongruent to assume these men in Nehemiah 8 & 9 were real people (without the “son of” prefix) but those listed in Nehemiah 10 & 12 were not.

(Click here for higher resolution image)

Click on Image to Enlarge

As you can see from the above charts there were indeed “Levites” standing with Ezra who were also listed leaders of the people in Nehemiah 9 & 10. This provides contextual evidence showing that these lists of Nehemiah 12, 10, 9, & 8 included real people who participated in the events described, thus it shows that those priests and Levites alive in the 1st year of Cyrus (536 BC) were also alive by the 20th year of a Persian king “Artaxerxes”. The only reasonable conclusion then is that the “Artaxerxes” of Nehemiah is in fact Darius ‘the great’ whom Ezra 6:14 identifies as Darius “even” Artaxerxes.

All this provides reasonable context to show that the priests and Levites who came up with Jeshua and Zerubbabel in 536 BC under the decree of Cyrus were still alive in the 20th year of “Artaxerxes”. As Nelson has stated in his article if these priests and Levites were real people then it is an insurmountable obstacle to his interpretation of Daniel 9 and the 70 Weeks prophecy. Not just Nelson’s interpretation, by the way, but every single interpretation of the prophecy which places Ezra and Nehemiah as a contemporaries of Artaxerxes Longimanus. That is 99% of today’s books on the subject. Much is at stake here.

The Queen of Persia
Although not mentioned in Nelson’s article, there is a fascinating bit of 2nd temple era history that brings important context to these events and helps clarify the profound influence Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes had on the affairs of the Jewish people.

Let’s now look at a statement in the book of Nehemiah that has raised all sorts of questions and speculations. Here I’ll let you read if for yourselves:

And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time. (Nehemiah 2:6)

Scholars have long wondered why the author of Nehemiah thought it important or relevant to mention this queen of Persia who was sitting beside king “Artaxerxes” when Nehemiah made his petition to return to Jerusalem. Why would a Hebrew audience care about a Persian queen? The answer to this question is another example of the chronological congruency of the Biblical record if we just allow it to speak in the natural contextual way it was meant to.

I don’t know why, but most scholars today base their chronological assumption about Queen Esther and her Persian king in large part upon the theories of secular chronologists and ancient historians. They place Esther as the queen of Persian in the reign of Xerxes I who was the son of our Darius Artaxerxes because “historically” Xerxes I makes the most sense to them based upon what is written in the secular record regarding this Persian king.

For the moment, let’s set aside secular Persian history and just see what Scripture has to say. Bear with me here, because I promise this information will help us synchronize Ezra and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era as well as provide you with a fascinating insight into the dynamics at play during this most important era in Biblical history.

First some context:

In Esther 2:5-6 Mordecai’s lineage is given relative to the Babylonian captivity.

Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. (Esther 2:5–6)

Keep in mind here that Esther 2:15 tells us that Esther (Hadassah) was the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai. This makes Mordecai and Esther of roughly the same age as you can see from the following chart. (Even if there was as great an age difference of 20 years, it won’t really matter to our working theory here)

Since Esther and Mordecai are of the same generation, if we can determine a secular contemporaneous relationship of one of them we can also get a good idea of the other. To ascertain the timeframe of the events described in the book of Esther we have basically two choices based upon the information provided in Esther 2:5-6 (see above).

What we need to know is which person was taken captive with Jeconiah king of Judah. Was it Kish the great grandfather of Mordecai or Mordecai himself? What we know from secular and Biblical history is that king Jeconiah of Judah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzer in roughly 595 BC. This pretty much eliminates Mordecai as the person taken captive for the following reasons.

Esther 2:4, 9, and13 tells us that Esther was among the “maidens” chosen to go in before king Ahasuerus. Maiden comes from the Hebrew word na’arah and describes a damsel, maid or young woman. This makes sense because if King Ahasuerus (a.k.a Artaxerxes) was looking for a new wife, it is unlikely that he was looking for an older woman.

In any case, if Esther and Mordecai were of the same generation and Esther was a young woman when these events took place, then Mordecai was definitely not an ancient man when this Persian king began his search for a new queen.

So clearly Mordecai’s captivity in 595 is not in view here because he would have been far too old to be the Esther’s uncle or an active participant in the events described. It’s important to note here that between the captivity of Kish in 595 BC and the 6th year of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I – scholars most favored historical candidate for Esther’s king), there are 114 years.

The bottom line is that if you run the generational numbers you find that Esther was most likely a young woman in reign of Darius Artaxerxes. She would have not been old enough before this time and far too old after.

This then would mean that Mordecai was one of the leading men of Persia during the reign of Darius Artaxerxes. If the chronology we’ve developed in this article is correct then you’d might expect to find Mordecai as one of those men who helped resettle Judah and Jerusalem. In fact, that is exactly what we find in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7.

Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city; 2 Which came with Zerubbabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel: Ezra 2:1-2

Fascinating, isn’t it? The only two places where we find the name Mordecai mentioned outside of the book of Esther is in the lists of men who helped resettle Jerusalem and build the temple with Jeshua and Zerubbabel during the reign of Darius Artaxerxes (Ezra 2:2, Neh. 7:7) . Indeed we find a Mordecai mentioned just as might be expected.

Also keep in mind, that typically, when listing Hebrew men and women in the Bible their given Hebrew names are used, unless the names given to them by their captors are part of a Biblical tradition that stands alone in its own right. For example Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were given the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and those Babylonian names were used when retelling the stories about them in Daniel 2 & 3.

Mordecai (worshipper of Mars) is clearly not a Hebrew name. It is of foreign derivation honoring a false god. Such a name would have been prohibited and an abomination to any Torah observant Jewish person. The only reasonable explanation for its use here in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 is because it identifies a well-known (Jewish) Biblical hero associated with other events in the Bible. In other words, it is likely that Mordecai was mentioned In Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 to bring chronological clarity to the text.

And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth. (Exodus 23:13)

So when Nehemiah approached king Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes of Persia in his 20th year and we find the queen “sitting beside him” we now understand that this is none other than Hadassah or Esther, the Jewish queen of Persia. This is just one more example which shows that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries of Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

Shushan the Palace
The Persian palace at Shushan is mentioned in only three books of the Bible. Once as a location in a vision of Daniel chapter 8. A second time during the 20th year of “Artaxerxes” in the days of Nehemiah (Neh. 1:1) and the rest of the references to this place are found in the book of Esther.

According to Persian history Darius ‘the great’ Artaxerxes rebuilt Susa (Shushan) and made it his winter capital. The entire palace complex was not fully developed until the reign of Darius’ son Xerxes. Interestingly inscriptions (A2Sa & D2Sb) found on column bases at Susa indicate that the palace complex was destroyed by fire during the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. The inscriptions indicate that Artaxerxes nearly completed the reconstruction efforts but it was not until the reign of Darius II (Nothus) that it was fully restored.

We don’t know when the fire took place but if the reconstruction efforts were almost completed by the end of Artaxerxes Longimanus’ rule then it is likely that the fire took place earlier rather than later in his reign. (This would completely eliminate the possibility that Artaxerxes Longimanus was Nehemiah’s “Artaxerxes”.)

Based upon the contextual evidence we’ve developed in this article, Darius ‘the great’ Artaxerxes was Esther’s king and the events related to her rise to this position as queen, took place in Shushan (Susa) the palace that secular history tells us Darius ‘the great’ built as the winter capital of Persia. Nehemiah 1:1 open’s with Nehemiah present at Susa in the winter month of Chisleu (Dec/Jan) in the 20th year of “Artaxerxes” a Pesian king whom the book of Ezra also identifies as Darius “and” Artaxerxes.

Once again the Bible paints a very congruent and accurate picture of the events that transpired during the 2nd temple era as they related to Persian history.

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace,… (Nehemiah 1:1)

A Generational Comparative
To give you a visual sense of how all of the individual’s we’ve talked about in this article relate to each other. Here is a chart showing the contemporaneous relationships between the Egyptian, Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Israelite kings as well as the Judean captives and Priests. The chart is based in part upon the work of Richard Edmund Tyrwhitt from his exhaustive two volume work entitled: Esther and Ahasuerus (1868). The chart has been modified by this author.

The yellow band in the chart shows the contemporaneous generational relationship between Darius “Artaxerxes”, Hadassah, Mordecai, Nehemiah, Joiakim and Ezra. (click here or on the Image to enlarge)

Click on Image to Enlarge

Darius – Artaxerxes – Ahasuerus in the Historical Record
And now to wrap it all up, please take a moment to read the following historical quotes. There are several but I assure you it will be worth the effort. What you’ll find is that Darius ‘the Great’ son of Hystaspes builder of Shushan was also known by the interchangeable titles of Artaxerxes/Ahasuerus and that it was during his reign that the events described in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther took place.

  • Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces) . . . (Esther 1:1 LXE, emphasis mine)
  • Now when Darius reigned, he made a great feast unto all his subjects, and unto all his household, and unto all the princes of Media and Persia, and to all the governors and captains and lieutenants that were under him, from India unto Ethiopia, of an hundred twenty and seven provinces. (1 Esdras 3:1 KJA, emphasis mine)
  • The great king Artexerxes unto the princes and governors of an hundred and seven and twenty provinces from India unto Ethiopia, and unto all our faithful subjects, greeting. (Ester 16:1 KJA (Greek), emphasis mine)
  • In the second year of the reign of Artaxerxes the great king, on the first day of Nisan, Mardochaeus the son of Jairus, the son of Semeias, the son of Chisaeus, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Jew dwelling in the city Susa, a grat [sic] man, serving in the king’s palace, saw a vision. Now he was of the captivity which Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon had carried captive from Jerusalem, with Jechonias the king of Judea. (Esther 1:1 LXE, emphasis mine)
  • In the fourth year of the reign of Ptolemeus and Cleopatra, Dositheus, who said he was a priest and Levite, and Ptolemeus his son, brought this epistle of Phurim, which they said was the same, and that Lysimachus the son of Ptolemeus, that was in Jerusalem, had interpreted it. In the second year of the reign of Artexerxes the great, in the first day of the month Nisan, Mardocheus the son of Jairus, the son of Semei, the son of Cisai, of the tribe of Benjamin, had a dream. (Ester 1:1–2 KJA (Greek), emphasis mine)
  • And the king levied a tax upon his kingdom both by land and sea. And as for his strength and valour, and the wealth and glory of his kingdom, behold they are written in the book of the Persians and Medes, for a memorial. And Mardochaeus was vicery to king Artaxerxes and was a great man in the kingdom, and honored by the Jews, and passed his life beloved of his nation. (Esther 10:1 LXE , emphasis mine)
  • Now, in the first year of the king’s reign, Darius feasted those who were about him, and those born in his house, with the rulers of the Medes, and princes of the Persians, and the toparches of India and Ethiopia, and the generals of the armies, of his hundred and twenty-seven provinces(Antiquities of the Jews 11:33, emphasis mine)
  • Mordecai, the Jew, in the Greek edition of Esther {Apc Est 11:1-12}, is said to have had a dream on the first day of the month of Nisan, in the second year of the reign of Artaxerxes the Great (or Ahasuerus or Darius, the son of Hystaspes), concerning a river signifying Esther and two dragons portending himself and Haman. 3484c AM, 4194 JP, 520 BC (Ussher, Annals of the World, p. 126 , section 1015, emphasis mine)
  • The first part of the celebration was given over to the hundred and twenty seven rulers of the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of his empire. (Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, XII “Esther—The Feast for the Grandees”)
  • And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and [even] Artaxerxes king of Persia. (Ezra 6:14, emphasis and strikethrough mine)
  • Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah . . . This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which YHWH God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of YHWH his God upon him. (Ezra 7:1–6, emphasis mine)

Darius Benefactor of the Jewish People
Think about what a profoundly important period of time this was for the Jewish people. Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes was used by Yahweh to preserve the Jewish people, restore them to their land, and rebuild His holy temple. As you think about the implications I leave you with one final chart so you can grasp the context of these events as they relate to the reign of Darius Artaxerxes.

Some Closing Thoughts on Nelson Walters and Reasonable Doubt
As you think about the information I’ve shared in this article over the coming days and weeks. I hope you will ask yourselves if doubt is really the material you want to use in building a foundation for your interpretation of the Bible’s greatest Messianic prophecy. The 70 “Week” countdown to the Messiah begins with a dabar (word) to “restore and build Jerusalem”. Any prophetic interpretation of this important prophecy that does not clearly and contextual define this starting point relative to Ezra, Nehemiah, and the several Persian “Artaxerxes” must be taken with a Berean’s skepticism. Set aside your doubts for a moment and consider what real Biblical chronological evidence have you built your understanding of Ezra and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era upon? What is your evidence?

I hope I’ve made it clear here that I have great respect for Nelson Walters. He is a talented writer with many great insights about Bible prophecy and the gospel in these end times. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the subject of the 2nd temple era chronology and Daniel 9 with some of today’s most well-known prophecy teachers and scholars. Did you know that Nelson, after learning about this challenging subject, is the first one to take the subject seriously enough to discuss it publicly? To be sure, I disagree with Nelson’s interpretive method which sees reasonable doubt as a good enough evidentiary threshold upon which to build his understanding of Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era. I also disagree with the conclusions that this (what I believe to be) flawed interpretive method has resulted in.

Having said that, Nelson is to be commended for the courage and conscience he has shown in his willingness to discuss this subject openly. Nelson could have remained silent like many of his better known peers, but he cares enough about the truth and his responsibility to you, his readers, to make sure you understand the challenges this subject poses to all of our understandings of the Bible’s most important Messianic prophecy. I hope you will honor Nelson’s efforts by also being faithful stewards of this subject and searching out this evidence for yourselves. Please don’t take just my word or Nelson’s word for these issues, but follow the example of those noble Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things be so.

I also encourage you to get your friends, pastors, and favorite prophecy teachers involved in this effort. Kindly ask them how they’ve resolved these important issues in their own study of the subject. Remember if they can’t provide a Scripturally based answer for their understanding of Ezra and Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era then all they really have is a well-meaning but unproven (private) interpretation of Daniel 9.

If any of you would like to know more about how I’ve reconcile Daniel 9 and the 70 Weeks prophecy with Ezra and Nehemiah during the 2nd temple era you might appreciate my recent blog article as an introduction to this magnificent prophecy: Seven, 70, & Sevens: Daniel 9 & the Bible’s Messianic Symbolism. If you’d like, you can also download my book Daniel’s 70 Weeks: The Keystone of Bible Prophecy – free of charge at my blog here: Free Book Download

I look forward to continuing this adventure with you.

Maranatha!

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