[b-hebrew] Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah

Lisbeth S. Fried lizfried at umich.edu
Fri Sep 15 20:49:22 EDT 2006

Dear Yigal,
> 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
> not active for a very long time. However, in Nehemiah 8:9, we find
> "the tirshata (governor)" participating in Ezra's "revival ceremony",
> 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
> 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
> 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?

Yes, I agree with this.
> 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
> year of  Artaxerxes II, which was 398. This would mean that Ezra and
> Nehemiah were not contemporaries at all, but rather were separated by
> 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
> that Nehemiah lived 50 years before.

I have concluded that the author of Ezra-Nehemiah lived at the end of the
fourth century, after the conquest of Alexander. It seems to me that we have
a complete list of high priests in Neh. 12:10-11 (where Jonathan must
corrected to John, Yohanan, as in 12:22). This is a complete
list of Persian period priests from the period of the return to the time of
Alexander. Darius the Persian in 12:23 is Darius III. Therefore the author
of Ezra-Nehemiah must have lived after Alexander. That could put a century
between the writing and the historical Ezra of 398.

> 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
> participating in Nehemiah's wall-building. 
Meremoth worked on the wall as a husky fifteen-year old in 445, then in 398
he was a 62-year old  man, a respected priest, with enough stature to
receive Ezra's vessels. 
The same thing with Malkiah. He works on the wall as a teenager, then 47
years later, he agrees to divorce his wife of 40 years -- the jerk!
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
> theory.
I for one, why do the roles have to be faked???
> A less radical emendation, suggested by W.F. Albright and accepted mainly
> his students, is to assume that the date "year seven of the king
> 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
> solve most of the problems with the "traditional" view: by the time Ezra
> 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.
I'd say Meremoth is a high-level official when Ezra arrived.

 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.
Arsames left Egypt for three years to be with the king, and then returned. I
assume the same for Nehemiah.

 And while this is accepted by many scholars, it is
> not really spelled out in Nehemiah, which is strange. 
Why does it need to be spelled out, it was probably normal.
Arsames had holdings in both Egypt and Susa. We know of a governor of Byblos
who held lands in both Byblos and Babylon. He too must have gone back and

Even more strange, is
> that it also means that the dedication ceremony of the walls was held off
> for at least 17 years!
Right, that's strange. A straightforward reading of the text implies a
dedication in the same year it was finished.

> 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
> defective, originally "Shenat Sheva u-Sheloshim'" there is no way to make
> that kind 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".
Ezra is also a Persian official. He was appointed by the king to appoint
judges for the satrapy Beyond the River. This is also argued by R. Steiner
(JBL 201).

 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. 
I 've argued that it may have even been a jubilee year (Fried and Freedman,

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,
I don't follow you here. When does anyone ever date anything to Sabbatical
Name one text anywhere where anything is dated this way. People give the
regular dates, in terms of regnal years, and then may had that it was a
sabbatical year, but they can't date in terms of sabbatical years. A
sabbatical year can't provide a date, you don't know which sabbatical cycle
it is. So you're the seventh year, but the seventh year occurs every seven
years, it doesn't provide a date.

> and hence Nehemiah's presence at Ezra's revival. In fact Demsky claims
> 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
> people in the Temple courtyard at this date and the public reading of the
> Torah is in accordance with Deut. 31:10-12.
These chapters have been shown not to be a literary unit. If they are not a
literary unit, they cannot be an historical unit. I discuss Neh. 10 (and
8-10) in Transeuphratene 30, 2005. These chapters don't describe an
historical event.

> This theory is also not without its problems (such as, why didn't the
> of Ezra-Nehemiah know that "year seven" meant the sabbatical, and why did
> fill in "of the king" and "of  Artaxerxes". But in my opinion, it's the
> least problematic.
It's the most problematic. The least problematic is that Ezra arrived in
398, which is when he did arrive. He arrived during the reign of the high
priest Yohanan, who was high priest from 410-370. This Yohanan is
well-attested archaeologically.
Liz Fried
> I hope all this was useful.
me too.
> Yigal Levin
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