[b-hebrew] Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah
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
I hope all this was useful.
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