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Ezra the Scribe Identified as Nehemiah the Governor

Ezra

by

Damien F. Mackey

 

 

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, combined with information from the Maccabees,

may necessitate a profound revision of Persian (and Greek) history.

 

 

 

Tracing His Career

 

Ezra 1-2

When Cyrus king of Persia issued his famous proclamation in his first year of rule (Ezra 1:1) – {in c. 539 BC, according to conventional dating} – then more than 42,000 exiles returned to Jerusalem (2:64), led by “Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah … Mordecai … (2:2).

No mention here of Ezra (qua Ezra).

Now, according to my biblico-historical revision series so far of the era of this king Cyrus:

Belshazzar’s Feast in the Book of Esther?

 

https://www.academia.edu/5365514/Belshazzars_Feast_in_the_Book_of_Esther

Is the Book of Esther a Real History?

https://www.academia.edu/5176235/Is_the_Book_of_Esther_a_Real_History

 

https://www.academia.edu/5176253/Is_the_Book_of_Esther_a_Real_History_Part_Two

 

https://www.academia.edu/5307063/Is_the_Book_of_Esther_a_Real_History_Part_Three

 

The Wicked Haman Un-Masked?

 

https://www.academia.edu/5791968/The_Wicked_Haman_Un-Masked

 

this Great King was also the “King Ahasuerus” (var. “Artaxerxes”) of the Book of Esther, whom Esther (“Hadassah”) married, and the “Darius the Mede” of the Book of Daniel. Moreover “Mordecai”, also named in Ezra 2:2, was Daniel himself.

{For further consideration: Nehemiah may be the “Mehuman” of Esther 1:10}.

Ezra 3

“The altar was set up on its old site” (v. 3).

And, afterwards, the foundations of the Temple of Yahweh were laid (v. 10).

Ezra 4

This chapter 4 provide us with an historical overview of the work, and the interruptions to it, from the reign of Cyrus until the Temple’s completion in the reign of Darius king of Persia.

The “Xerxes” referred to in v. 6 can still be Cyrus, as “Ahasuerus”, since the latter name is thought to equate very well with the name “Xerxes”. In “The Hadassah File”, Herb Storck has written regarding this (pp. 1-2):

The question as to which king is meant by the name Ahasuerus has been met with an impressive list of candidates over the centuries. Every King from Cyaxares I, ca. 600 B.C., to Artaxerxes III, ca. 350 B.C., has been advanced in solution to this dilemma. … [An assessment of these views can be found by L. B. Paton in the International Critical Commentary (ICC) “Esther”, p. 51-54].

The modern identification has fallen upon Xerxes, king of Persia from 486-465 B.C., this contention having been linguistically established. The name Ahasuerus has been demonstrated to be the equivalent of Xerxes …. [For a discussion in this connection I refer you to William H. Shea, “Esther and History”, Andrews University Seminary Studies 14 (1976) p. 227-46 and C. Moore, “Archaeology and the Book of Esther”, Biblical Archaeologist 38 (1975) p. 70]. …

[End of quote]

Some versions actually replace “Xerxes” with “Ahasuerus” in v. 6: “At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes [Ahasuerus], they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem”.

Moreover, since the “Ahasuerus” of the Esther story is also referred to as “Artaxerxes”, so the same king may still possibly be the “Artaxerxes” of vv. 7-8:

And in the days of Artaxerxes, 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. Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes, as follows–…

Rehum and his colleagues denounce the allegedly “rebellious” Jews to King Artaxerxes in terms highly reminiscent of Haman’s denunciation (decree) in Esther 3:3-15, which may be a contemporaneous action. Consequently, by order of the Great King, the work was “stopped … by force of arms” (v. 23).

Ezra 5-6

Now in the reign of Darius the Persian, the work resumes, and is finally brought to its completion. (6:15-16): “This Temple was finished on the twenty-third day of the month of Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of king Darius”.

Ezra 7

It is only now, in this chapter 7, that we are introduce to Ezra qua Ezra. It is (v. 8) “the seventh year of the reign of king Artaxerxes”.

Storck has argued forcibly that this particular “Artaxerxes” was Darius the Persian, and that the seventh year occurred directly after the completion of the Temple in the sixth year (History and Prophecy: A Study in the Post-Exilic Period, House of Nabu, 1989, p. 15):

This historical scenario seems to be fully appreciated by the author of Ezra chapter vii. There is an extraordinary preoccupation with continuity with the First Temple, and a connection with Aaron and Moses. This chapter is placed immediately after the completion of the Temple where it is both historically and logically expected. It moves from the sixth year of Darius to the seventh year of Artaxerxes without blinking. Everything is carried out with majesty, a sense of urgency and historical dynamism so reminiscent of the reign of Darius the Great. Yet the events are chronicled under a king called Artaxerxes. How is this to be explained? The best explanation is that Artaxerxes is a title for Darius ….

[End of quote]

In conventional history, of course, Ezra’s Artaxerxes is well separated from Darius the Great (c. 522-486 BC) if the former is Artaxerxes I (c. 464-424 BC) – or by considerably more years if he is Artaxerxes II (c. 404-358 BC). The uncertainty about Ezra is noted in the following

(http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/ezra.htm):

When Ezra went to Jerusalem is the subject of great controversy. …. Ezra might have gone to Jerusalem about 458 BC, during the reign of Artaxerxes I, or he might have gone about 398 BC, during the reign of Artaxerxes II.

No such controversy exists for dating Nehemiah … there is enough information in the text to make it clear that it was during the reign of Artaxerxes I that Nehemiah came to Jerusalem — therefore Nehemiah was appointed governor in 445 BC.

[End of quote],

Biblical scholar, A. van Hoonacker, had strongly argued for Nehemiah’s having actually preceded Ezra, as we learn in the following quotation from Fr. North again (op. cit., 24:82):

In his lectures at Louvain from 1880, and especially in a series of publications since 1890 (RB 33 [1924] 33-64), A. van Hoonacker dropped a bombshell into the staid fixity of exegetical preconceptions by claiming that Ezra first appeared under Artaxerxes II in 398. His arguments are reduced to eight points: 1) The wall for which Nehemiah is chiefly renowned already exists when Ezra reaches Jerusalem (9:9; qãdêr). 2) Ezra (10:1) finds Jerusalem already repopulated (by Nehemiah, 11:1). 3) Nehemiah is put before Ezra in Nehemiah 12:26; 8:1. 4) Eliashib, contemporary of Nehemiah (13:4), is (grand-?)father of Jehohanan, Ezra’s contemporary (Ezr 10:6 = Neh 12:23?). 5) The silence of Nehemiah’s memoir about Ezra’s allegedly earlier Torah promulgation is inexplicable. 6) Nehemiah (11:3) enumerates repatriates led by Sheshbazzar and/or Zerubbabel, but not those led by Ezra (8:2). 7) Ezra (8:33) makes use of a committee of four resembling that instituted by Nehemiah (13:13). 8) Nehemiah’s handling of mixed marriages, delayed until his second tour of duty (13:23), could not suppose Ezra (9:14) to have preceded.

[End of quote]

However, if Ezra were Nehemiah as I am suggesting, then the matter of precedence becomes a non issue.

Ezra is grandly introduced in chapter 7 as follows (vv. 1-6):

… during the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest— this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given.

We go on to read of this most learned man as highly favoured by the Great King, whose support he had won owing to the grace of God. It is very reminiscent of what Tobit 1:13-14 had recorded about himself in relation to king Shalmaneser of Assyria. Thus Ezra (v. 6): “The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (cf. v. 25, 27-28).

In most similarly terms will Nehemiah record (Nehemiah 2:8): “And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests”.

So, at this point, we can now begin our task of merging Ezra with Nehemiah.

 

Name

(Nehemiah 1:1): “The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah”.

Whilst Nehemiah is a Hebrew name, I have already suggested that Nehemiah may appear in Esther as “Mehuman”. That would leave open the possibility that, if Nehemiah were Ezra, then the name “Nehemiah” may have been a Hebraïsed version of his Persian name. In Ezra 7:14 we read of “the king and his seven counsellors”, which may be another connection with the Book of Esther in which the king’s seven are actually named (Esther 1:14): “ … Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, Memucan, seven heads of Persia and Media seeing the face of the king, who are sitting first in the kingdom”.

Again, “the queen” referred to in Nehemiah 2:6: “Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him …”, may be – as some have surmised – Queen Esther herself.

“Hacaliah” and other versions of the name of Nehemiah’s father’s name (e.g. “Helcias”) are, as we read in The Jerome Biblical Commentary’s article on “Nehemiah”, highly problematical. Fr. R. North tells of the situation in “Nehemiah” (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 24:101):

Both Hacaliah (MT) and Halakiah [var. Helcias] (supposed by LXX) defy known Hebr. patterns. The MT reading is defended by H. Gotthard (Text des Buches Nehemia [Wiesbaden, 1958] 1, 19) along with the eunuch hypothesis. H. Ginsberg (BASOR 80 [1940] 12) doubts that Hakal-yâ is the correct reading of the Lachish letter 20. I.

[End of quote]

In my revised context, “Hacaliah” would find its resolution in “[Ezra … ] son of Hilkiah”.

Administration

 

Ezra, like Nehemiah, will administer, command and appoint, by command of the Great King, in the province of Trans-Euphrates (vv. 21-26):

And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, Unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.

Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?

Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.

And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river [var. “the province of Trans-Euphrates”], all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not.

And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.

Likewise, when we turn to 2 Maccabees, we learn that Nehemiah was in charge of the priests (1:20-21, 30):

But after many years had passed, when it pleased God, Nehemiah, having been commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to get it. And when they reported to us that they had not found fire but only a thick liquid, he ordered them to dip it out and bring it. When the materials for the sacrifices were presented, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and on the things laid upon it.

…. Then the priests sang the hymns.

Ezra 8

Continuing in this same vein, of priestly and liturgical administration, Ezra tells (vv. 15-17):

When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there. So I summoned Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, who were leaders, and Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of learning, and I ordered them to go to Iddo, the leader in Kasiphia. I told them what to say to Iddo and his fellow Levites, the temple servants in Kasiphia, so that they might bring attendants to us for the house of our God.

Some thirteen years later, now in the 20th year of this same Persian king (Nehemiah 1:1), Nehemiah (my Ezra) will again take royal instructions to the governors of Trans-Euphrates. But, whereas he formerly (as Ezra) had not been accompanied by any of the king’s cavalry (Ezra 8:21-22):

Then, there at the Ahava River, I proclaimed a fast; so that we could humble ourselves before our God and ask a safe journey of him for ourselves, our little ones and all our possessions. For I would have been ashamed to ask the king for a detachment of soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies along the road, since we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is on all who seek him, for good; but his power and fury is against all who abandon him.”,

he now, as Nehemiah, did have a military escort (Nehemiah 2:9): “So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me”.

Fasting

 

And, just as Ezra had proclaimed a fast at the outset “before our God” (above), so would Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4): “For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven”. (Cf. Nehemiah 9:1)

 

Three days

 

Upon their arrival at Jerusalem, Ezra and his party (v. 32) “rested for three days”.

Likewise Nehemiah (2:11) “went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days …”.

Everything Recorded

Ezra (8:33, 34): “… we weighed out the silver and gold and the sacred articles …. Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time”.

Nehemiah 10 is a detailed record of the promises made by the community. And it, in turn, reflects Ezra 10.

Ezra 9

Ezra, shamefaced and overcome at the news that the people had been marrying foreign wives (vv. 1-7):

… the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.

Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed:

“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today. …”.

He, as Nehemiah, will later “in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon” (13:6) face the same problem again. And this time he – still calling it ‘sin’ – will react most angrily (13:23-27):

… in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”

Part of Ezra’s prayer on the above occasion, Ezra 9:6-15, mirrors both that of Nehemiah 9 and that which is attributed to Nehemiah in 2 Maccabees 1:24-30:

And the prayer was after this manner; O Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, who art fearful and strong, and righteous, and merciful, and the only and gracious King,

The only giver of all things, the only just, almighty, and everlasting, thou that deliverest Israel from all trouble, and didst choose the fathers, and sanctify them:

Receive the sacrifice for thy whole people Israel, and preserve thine own portion, and sanctify it.

Gather those together that are scattered from us, deliver them that serve among the heathen, look upon them that are despised and abhorred, and let the heathen know that thou art our God.

Punish them that oppress us, and with pride do us wrong.

Plant thy people again in thy holy place, as Moses hath spoken.

And the priests sang psalms of thanksgiving.

Nehemiah and Ezra Named Separately?

In Nehemiah 8:9, one reads a verse that could distinguish Ezra from Nehemiah. The NIV renders it as: “Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites …”. However, in The Jerusalem Bible that I have been chiefly following in this case because it had seemed to present a coherent overview, the reference to Nehemiah is given in brackets, as follows: “Then (Nehemiah – His Excellency – and) Ezra, priest and scribe … said to all the people …”. With the brackets removed, this becomes: “Then Ezra, priest and scribe … said …”.

Given the Hebrew use of waw consecutive, with “and” to be replaced by “even” in translation, then the sense of Nehemiah 8:9 might actually be: “Then Nehemiah … even Ezra …”.

The same comment may apply to Nehemiah 12:26: “They served … in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law”.

Concluding Note

 

My argument for Ezra and Nehemiah as just the one person, if legitimate, would add weight to the early view that the two separate books, Ezra and Nehemiah, were actually a unity.

 

Postscript

My revision of Ezra and Nehemiah re-locates the terminus ad quem for these events in the 32nd year of Darius the Great (in c. 490 BC conventional dating). The problem is that, according to 2 Maccabees, Nehemiah appears to have been communicating with priests who were actually contemporaneous with the Maccabean period. Thus 1:20:

Years later, when it pleased God, the Persian emperor sent Nehemiah back to Jerusalem, and Nehemiah told the descendants of those priests to find the fire. They reported to us that they had found no fire but only some oily liquid. Nehemiah then told them to scoop some up and bring it to him.

In conventional terms, 2 Maccabees is supposed to begin in c. 180 BC. That is a long, long way from 490 BC! What, then, is the extent of the revision required for properly co-ordinating the Persian period and the early Greek (Macedonian) period?

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