[b-hebrew] Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Fri Sep 15 11:06:22 EDT 2006

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Peter Kirk" <peter at qaya.org>
> Thank you. So a combination of this evidence and that of Nehemiah 8:1 that 
> Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries seems to prove that Ezra was around 
> in the time of Artaxerxes I, not II, in the mid 5th century BCE, not the 
> early 4th century.
> Bryant seems to be confused, mentioning "the 20th to the 32nd year of 
> Artaxerxes II, 445 (444) - 433 (432) BCE" when in fact these seem to be 
> dates of Artaxerxes I.
If that's what Bryant wrote, I would assume that it's a typo.

As far as Ezra, that's more complicated. The "traditional" view, based on 
Ezra 7:7-8, is that Ezra arrived in the 7th year of the same Artaxerxes I, 
which would be 458, 13 years before Nehemiah.
There are, however, problems with this date. First of all, while the story 
of Ezra's deeds does not have additional dates, the "feeling" is that he was 
not active for a very long time. However, in Nehemiah 8:9, we find Nehemiah 
"the tirshata (governor)" participating in Ezra's "revival ceremony", which 
means that Ezra only got to the final act of his reforms at least 13 years 
after he began! We also find Ezra officiating at Nehemiah's wall dedication 
in 12:36 - this raises the question of why Ezra did not participate in the 
wall-building! And what about the wall? Nehemiah arrives in a small, 
defenseless city surrounded by enemies. This does not seem to be a problem 
for Ezra, so how could Ezra have arrived before the walls were built? And 
finally, if the two were more-or less contemporaries, concerned with many of 
the same issues, how come they don't seem to interact? In fact, does the 
fact that Nehemiah had to deal with some of the same issues that Ezra had 
dealt with only 17 years before make Ezra a huge failure?

One solution for all of this, is to assume that the final editor of 
Ezra-Nehemiah confused the order, and that Ezra actually arrived in the 7th 
year of  Artaxerxes II, which was 398. This would mean that Ezra and 
Nehemiah were not contemporaries at all, but rather were separated by almost 
half a century. This theory was suggested by German scholars in the late 
19th century. This would explain the non-interaction, the fact that Ezra 
seems to arrive in a bustling provincial capital, and even the fact that 
Ezra finds it necessary to re-do some of Nehemiah's reforms. It even fits 
the general trend that we see in other sources, about the priesthood 
gradually becoming the leadership group in Judah. But there are also 
problems. It means that Nehemiah 8:9 and 12:36, in which the two appear 
together are editorial additions, meant to make the two SEEM contemporary. 
Why would he do this? Especially assuming that he was writing during the 
same 4th century, and that many of his readers might remember Ezra and know 
that Nehemiah lived 50 years before.
Besides all of this, there are two additional figures, Meremoth the son of 
Uriah the priest (Ezra 8:33; Neh. 4, 21) and Malciah son of Harim (Ezra 
10:31 and Neh. 3:11), who are listed both as members of Ezra's group and as 
participating in Nehemiah's wall-building. Both are minor figures. For the 
editor to have "faked" their roles would have been very subtle in deed.
Despite all of this, there are still important scholars who accept this 

A less radical emendation, suggested by W.F. Albright and accepted mainly by 
his students, is to assume that the date "year seven of the king Artaxerxes" 
in Ezra 7:7-8 is defective, and should really be read "year 37", still of 
Artaxerxes I, that is 428, 17 years after Nehemiah's arrival. This seems to 
solve most of the problems with the "traditional" view: by the time Ezra has 
arrived, the walls had been built and the city populated. Meremoth and 
Malciah, young wall-builders during Nehemiah's first year, were now 
mid-level officials. And some of Nehemiah's reforms, 17 years later, needed 
re-doing. However, there are also problems. The first, is that Nehemiah 
ended his term as governor in the king's 32nd year (433) and went back to 
Persia. For him to still be "tirshata" in Ezra's time means that he got a 
second term as governor. And while this is accepted by many scholars, it is 
not really spelled out in Nehemiah, which is strange. Even more strange, is 
that it also means that the dedication ceremony of the walls was held off 
for at least 17 years!
But the most serious objection with Albright's reconstruction, IMO, is 
actually the text (which puts us back on topic!): While Ezra 7:7  could be a 
defective, originally "Shenat Sheva u-Sheloshim'" there is no way to make 
that king of error with verse 8, "shenat hashevi'it lammelekh".

A fourth theory, suggested by Aaron Demsky, it that the "seventh year" of 
Ezra refers to the sabbatical cycle. Nehemiah, as a Persian official, uses 
"official" dates throughout, including Mesopotamian month names. He would 
naturally refer to Persian regnal-years. Ezra, however, is a Jewish 
"scribe". He uses traditional ordinal numbers for months, and it makes sense 
that he would use "traditional" years as well (just like the author of 
Daniel!). Demsky calculated back from the known sabbatical years of the 
Hellenistic period, and found that 444 was a sabbatical year. This means 
that Ezra arrived in the summer after Nehemiah had finished building the 
wall - hence his absence from the building but presence at the dedication, 
and hence Nehemiah's presence at Ezra's revival. In fact Demsky claims that 
Nehemiah 8, 9 and 10 are a continuous story, all happening in the month of 
Tishrei of 444, right after the end of the sabbatical. The gathering of the 
people in the Temple courtyard at this date and the public reading of the 
Torah is in accordance with Deut. 31:10-12.
This theory is also not without its problems (such as, why didn't the editor 
of Ezra-Nehemiah know that "year seven" meant the sabbatical, and why did he 
fill in "of the king" and "of  Artaxerxes". But in my opinion, it's the 
least problematic.

I hope all this was useful.

Yigal Levin

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