[b-hebrew] Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah

Lisbeth S. Fried lizfried at umich.edu
Fri Sep 15 20:57:30 EDT 2006

> Thanks, Yigal, this was quite helpful.
> In looking at the text of Nehemiah, however, there are further questions raised.
> Nehemiah 1:1 "in the month of Kislev of the 20th year" ... 20th year
> of what? When Nehemiah was 20 years old? The text does not say.
Dates in antiquity are always in terms of regnal years of the local king.
That is why this is the year 2006, it is supposed to be the 2006th regnal year of Jesus Christ.

> Then in Nehemiah 2:1 "the month of Nisan in the 20th year to
> Artaxerxes the king" ... if this is the 20th year of his reign, why
> does it not say "his reign" MLKWT  מלכות ? 
It's not necessary, this is how texts are written. If you look at letters, or transactions, they don't always say "his reign." It's not necessary.

The wording as it stands
> seems best to be translated as "When King Artaxerses was 20, in the
> month of Nisan, ..." i.e. written later, after he had become king but
> referring to an earlier time before he became king.
No, this is not the way Hebrew expresses a person's age.

> A similar use of the language is when Nebuchadnezzar first led an army
> against Jerusalem, he was not yet king, but the record written later
> called him king because he had become king before the record was
> written.
That is not the case here.
> I have seen several similar uses in English for titled people.
You'd have to show it for Hebrew tho.  
> The picture given in chapter two of Nehemiah gives an indication that
> there was a close relationship between Artaxerxes and Nehemiah,
> possibly one engendered of close friends growing up together. It looks
> closer than the standard boss - hireling relationship.
It is possible that Nehemiah grew up in the harem with the king. He could have been the son of a concubine. (This idea is taken from Gore Vidal's wonderful book Creation. It's about a fellow who grows up with Xerxes in the harem.)
> Finally, Artaxerxes II faced several rebellions early in his reign,
> the most famous the one immortalized by Xenephon, so it make sense
> that he would send a totally loyal Nehemiah to fortify and defend one
> corner of his realm. And if Rolf is correct, that reign started a
> decade earlier than listed in standard histories.
Nehemiah was cupbearer to Artaxerxes I. While the date of Ezra is disputed, the date of Nehemiah is not disputed due to the evidence from Elephantine.
Liz Fried

> Karl W. Randolph.
> On 9/15/06, Yigal Levin <leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il> wrote:
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> >
> > 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....
> >
> > 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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