Nehemiah and that ‘broken down wall’
Damien F. Mackey
Hence, in answer to my previous question: “Could this “Artaxerxes” have actually been a king of Babylon, but choosing Susa as, say, his (autumnal)-winter residence?”, I am inclined to answer, Yes. And the odds must now lie heavily in favour of Nehemiah’s “Artaxerxes king of Babylon” being Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’ himself.
Nehemiah is traditionally thought to have served under a Persian king named “Artaxerxes” – with some preferring Artaxerxes I (d. 424 BC, conventional dating), whilst others would opt for Artaxerxes II (d. 358 BC, conventional dating).
According to Nehemiah 1:1, the location was in Susa during this particular king’s 20th year: “In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa …”.
Why, then, is the king (and his location) referred to in this king’s 32nd year as “Babylon”?
Could this “Artaxerxes” have actually been a king of Babylon, but choosing Susa as, say, his (autumnal)-winter residence?
Prior to the tumultuous time of the Maccabees in their revolt against the Macedonian Greeks, the only recorded occasion of an enemy destroying the walls of Jerusalem was when the Chaldeans (Babylonians) did this in the 19th year of king Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’.
The incident is clearly spelled out, for instance, in Jeremiah 52:12-14:
On the tenth day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem.
The era of Maccabean troubles was, for its part, of course, far too late for Nehemiah still to have been acting in any official capacity to a king. Although I have left open the possibility that Nehemiah himself may still have been alive even in Maccabean times.
See e.g. my articles:
Nehemiah bridges Persia and Greece
Did governor Nehemiah die the death of Razis?
And regarding the plethora of kings “Artaxerxes”, see my cautioning series beginning with:
Medo-Persian History Archaeologically Light. Part One: Introductory
So, although, conventionally speaking, Nehemiah would have lived 200-300 years before the Maccabean era, my radical revision of neo-Assyrian/Babylonian history:
Ashurbanipal the Great
and of Persian history (see “Medo-Persian History” article above), would mean that Nehemiah’s lifetime can now be massively re-set historically.
Now, Fr. Robert North (S.J.) will immediately reflect back to the Chaldean destruction of Jerusalem when commenting upon Nehemiah 1:1-3, which reads:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire’.
Fr. North writes (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968, 24:102): “The walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchednezzar 150 years earlier. Surely Nehemiah knew all about that”.
Then why did Nehemiah make such a fuss (v. 4): “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven”?
This was obviously fresh news to Nehemiah. Otherwise, it would have been like a ridiculous situation of, say, a Frenchman in 1965 being told of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo 150 years earlier, and reacting similarly to Nehemiah.
The above scenario can only mean (I think) that Nehemiah was a young man serving a king even as early as during the Chaldean era, and that his “Artaxerxes”, in “Babylon”, was, not a Persian king, but a Babylonian one.
Hence, in answer to my previous question: “Could this “Artaxerxes” have actually been a king of Babylon, but choosing Susa as, say, his (autumnal)-winter residence?”, I am inclined to answer, Yes.
And the odds must now lie heavily in favour of Nehemiah’s “Artaxerxes king of Babylon” being Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’ himself.
“Artaxerxes” as king Nebuchednezzar
“Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?’ It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time”.
In Part One of this new series:
https://www.academia.edu/37223770/Governor_Nehemiahs_master_Artaxerxes_king_of_Babylon_._Part_One_Nehemiah_and_that_broken_down_wall_ a totally different-from-usual historical scenario was proposed for Nehemiah in his partnership with king “Artaxerxes”.
Instead of a late-ish Medo-Persian era – in which the drama has always conventionally been set – I suggested that it had occurred instead smack bang within the Chaldean era.
That was the only time that made sense to me for the Jew, Nehemiah, to have wept and fasted over news of the walls of Jerusalem having been destroyed.
The aggressor against Jerusalem is not actually named by Nehemiah.
That would presumably be tact (but also fear, see below: “I was very much afraid …”) on Nehemiah’s part when standing before so great and forbidding (not to mention, mad) a king.
Now, it was not until about four months after Nehemiah had received the devastating news about Jerusalem that “Artaxerxes” noticed his servant’s uncharacteristic sadness (2:1-3):
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, ‘Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart’.
If this “Artaxerxes” were Nebuchednezzar himself, as I now believe he must be, then it was a most awkward situation for Nehemiah. Had not Nebuchednezzar been the very perpetrator of the destruction of Jerusalem – even though he was not personally present at Jerusalem when the city was destroyed, but was represented there (as we read previously) by Nebuzaradan?
Hence Nehemiah confesses (v. 2): “I was very much afraid …”.
But Nehemiah, who had been praying and fasting for months about this situation, then felt emboldened to add (v. 3): “… but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’
Notice that Nehemiah addresses the king in the same type of language as was customarily addressed to king Nebuchednezzar (e.g. Daniel 2:4): “O king, live forever”.
The chronology fits well, too.
Nehemiah learned of the destruction of Jerusalem – which had been perpetrated by the Chaldeans in the 19th year of Nebuchednezzar – in the king’s 20th year.
The news had to travel all the way from Jerusalem to Susa (at that stage), some 850 miles.
A note on “the queen” of Nehemiah 2:6
With the possibility – according to the conventional Medo-Persian setting – of Nehemiah’s “Artaxerxes” being a Medo-Persian king, then the suggestion is not infrequently made that “the queen” said to have been seated next to the king could be the biblical Queen Esther herself.
That pleasant thought would now disintegrate, though, according to my new Chaldean setting.
For the Chaldean era would be far too early by my estimation for the drama of Queen Esther and her king, “Ahasuerus”.
But it may yet be possible to give a name to this “queen” of Nehemiah 2:6.
Given my identification of Nebuchednezzar II with Ashurbanipal, refer back to Part One:
https://www.academia.edu/37223770/Governor_Nehemiahs_master_Artaxerxes_king_of_Babylon_._Part_One_Nehemiah_and_that_broken_down_wall_ then I think that we may be on the right track if identifying “the queen” as Libbali-sharrat, Ashurbanipal’s queen, who, as we see in the “Garden Scene” bas-relief, is indeed seated beside the king.
The “Garden Scene” is a relief slab thought to have fallen from the upper level of Room S in the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. It was evidently the centerpiece of a larger composition, the main theme of which was the Assyrian victory against the Elamites.6 The series is known only partially with the help of drawings by William Boutcher.7 Arranged in three registers and covering at least five slabs, it may have decorated a long wall of the room above Room S.8 The subject of the centerpiece is the king’s celebratory banquet with his consort, apparently associated with the defeat of Elam. The exact historical instance represented and its location are not entirely clear, but the setting is often thought to be the private gardens of Ashurbanipal’s queen, Libbali-sharrat, primarily on the basis of the presence of an all-female body of attendants and musicians surrounding the royal couple ….
Does this mean Nehemiah is Daniel?
“[Nebuchednezzar] advanced Daniel to a high post, gave him many generous presents, made him ruler of the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon”.
I think that the startling conclusion now has to be drawn that Nehemiah, chief Cup-bearer to the Great King now identified as Nebuchednezzar, during the mid-phase of that king’s reign, and apparently indispensable to the Great King (Nehemiah 2:6): ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?’, is the same as the wise Jewish sage and prophet, Daniel.
I have tentatively identified Nehemiah as a priest, as:
Ezra the Scribe Identified as Nehemiah the Governor
and, in the Septuagint version of Bel and the Dragon, Daniel is called a priest, the son of Habal.
Habal is not far at all from the name of Nehemiah’s father, Hakal-iah (Nehemiah 1:1).
Daniel and Nehemiah are compatible chronologically (now revised), and also with regard to high official position.
Daniel and Nehemiah, we find, customarily pray and fast – praying every time, for instance, before confronting the Great King.
Admittedly, it is never ideal to have a multiplicity of names for the one proposed character.
In this case: (i) Daniel, (ii) Nehemiah (= (iii) Ezra), three names, plus the given Chaldean name, Belteshazzar (Daniel 1:7).
But I would suggest that the name Nehemiah is a Hebrew version of the official’s Persian name, Mehuman (var. Nehuman = Nehemiah), who seems to occupy the same position as Nehemiah as chief wine server (Esther 1:10): “On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Nehuman …”.
This was “in the third year” of the reign of king Ahasuerus (1:3), whom I have identified with king Cyrus.
And this accords well with Daniel’s still receiving revelations in the 3rd year of king Cyrus (Daniel 10:1): “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar; and the thing was true, but the time appointed was long: and he understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision”.
Part Four: Did Sirach omit Daniel, Ezra from his list of “famous men”?
“… Ecclesiasticus … ends with a rhapsody in praise of “famous men.”
This panegyric … omits the name of Daniel. …. Sirach ignores also not only such worthies as Abel, and Melchisedec, and Job, and Gideon, and Samson, but also Ezra … who also gave his name to one of the books of the Canon”.
Sir Robert Anderson
The prophet Ezekiel challenged the proud king of Tyre with this (28:3): “Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you?” Daniel, as we know, not only interpreted the king’s Dream, but was able to reveal it without the king telling him what the Dream was (chapter 2).
It goes without saying that I do not accept the fanciful view that Ezekiel’s Daniel was a pagan figure, Dan’el, of Ugaritic literature:
Identity of the ‘Daniel’ in Ezekiel 14 and 28
The references to Daniel in Ezekiel occur in 14:14,20 and 28:3. The theme of Ezekiel 14 is the inescapability of God’s judgment upon the unrighteous, including the residents of Jerusalem. In both verses 14 and 20, the word of the LORD informs Ezekiel that if He should find a country so sinful as to justify the extermination of its inhabitants, even if Noah, Daniel, and Job should happen to be dwelling there, these men would be able to save only themselves by their righteousness. At the conclusion of the chapter, however (v.21-23), the prophet indicates that through God’s grace, not their own merit, a remnant of Jews would be spared.
Ezekiel 28 contains a prophecy against the king and city of Tyre. After denouncing the king for claiming to possess godlike qualities, including great wisdom, Ezekiel rhetori-cally asks in verse 3 “Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you?” (NIV, italics added). The prophet then issues a denunciation of both the king and his city that closes with the famous prophecy (v.18-19) that Tyre would be reduced to ashes “and will be no more.”
The prophet Daniel was an absolute legend amongst the Jews.
For a massive and comprehensive list of the many NT references to Daniel, or texts in which a NT writer probably had Daniel in mind, see pp. 3-28 of Frank W. Hardy’s “New Testament References to Daniel”: http://www.historicism.org/Documents/Jrnl/DanNT.pdf
However, it is generally assumed that Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) failed even to mention Daniel, but also Ezra, amongst his “famous men”. Thus Sir Robert Anderson writes about this in “The Coming Prince”: http://www.historicism.org/Documents/Jrnl/DanNT.pdf
… Ecclesiasticus … ends with a rhapsody in praise of “famous men.” This panegyric, it is true, omits the name of Daniel. But in what connection would his name be included? Daniel was exiled to Babylon in early youth, and never spent a single day of his long life among his people, never was openly associated with them in their struggles or their sorrows. The critic, moreover, fails to notice that the Son of Sirach ignores also not only such worthies as Abel, and Melchisedec, and Job, and Gideon, and Samson, but also Ezra, who, unlike Daniel, played a most prominent part in the national life, and who also gave his name to one of the books of the Canon. ….
Frank W. Hardy, again, has advanced the unique theory that Sirach omitted Daniel because Daniel was a dreamer, with which suggestion I have had cause to disagree in:
Daniel’s ‘dreaming’ not a good reason for Sirach to omit him
Now, at the conclusion of this article I had hinted at what I have since presented in this new series: “Clever though all this may be, I shall be looking amongst Sirach’s ‘praises of famous men’ for a worthy alter ego for the great and famous prophet Daniel, who had miraculously told the King’s Dream”.
And that is what I have done in this series, identified Daniel, as Ezra, as Nehemiah, who was certainly praised by Sirach (49:13):
Nehemiah’s memory is lasting;
he who raised our fallen walls,
set up gates and bars,
and rebuilt our buildings.