[b-hebrew] Dates of Ezra and Nehemiah

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Sun Sep 17 16:43:45 EDT 2006

On 17/09/2006 01:26, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
> On 9/16/06, K Randolph wrote:
>> 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
> By comparison of Neh 1:1 to Neh 2:1 it becomes very likely if not obvious
> that "20th year" refers to Artaxerxes and not Nehemiah. ...

I have seen a rather convincing argument that the "30th year" of Ezekiel 
1:1, and various other dates in Ezekiel, refer to the jubilee year 
cycle. This is in a paper 
from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (so not from a 
crackpot). The author, Rodger Young, argues (from the Talmud, more 
details in a companion article 
http://www.etsjets.org/jets/journal/46/46-4/46-4-pp589-603_JETS.pdf ) 
that a jubilee cycle started in 623 BCE, and so this date in Ezekiel is 
594 BCE.

So, could the 20th year of Nehemiah 1:1 also refer to a jubilee cycle? 
Young's date for the next jubilee cycle is 574, the next would be 525, 
then 476. The 20th year of that cycle would be 457, which might be a 
possible date for Nehemiah's departure to Jerusalem. The date I have for 
Ezra's departure is 458, so one year earlier, but there is often at 
least one year's flexibility in these datings, so it could be that Ezra 
travelled in the same year as Nehemiah, or perhaps the year after.

In fact, could Ezra and Nehemiah have travelled together? Ezra left 
Babylon on the first day of the first month (7:9), but didn't leave the 
Ahava Canal until the 12th day (8:31), and arrived in Jerusalem on the 
first day of the fifth month (7:8); he then rested for three days 
(8:32). Nehemiah is still in Susa in the 1st month, Nisan (2:1), but if 
this was the beginning of the month (and maybe he already knew about 
Ezra's plans, cf. 2:6) he could probably have made it to the Ahava Canal 
by the 12th (but then we don't know where the Ahava Canal was). His date 
of arrival is not specified, but after three days of inspection (= 
rest?) (2:11) and 52 days of building (6:15) it is complete on the 25th 
of the 6th month, Elul (6:15); subtracting 55 days takes us precisely 
back to the first day of the fifth month. This precise but disguised 
synchrony is unlikely to be accidental. So perhaps Nehemiah attached 
himself to Ezra's party. So, why no mention of Nehemiah in the book of 
Ezra, and little vice versa? Perhaps there was rivalry between the two 
men for leadership of the party and in Jerusalem when they arrived.

But this reconstruction does require an emendation to Nehemiah 2:1. And 
it does require that jubilee cycles were still being recognised in this 
post-exilic period.

Anyway, what is the evidence that the wall had been rebuilt when Ezra 
arrived? If it is simply 9:9, this assumes that this chapter is to be 
dated immediately after Ezra's arrival. Indeed 10:9 suggests that the 
events of Ezra chapters 9 and 10 took place in the 9th month, and not 
necessarily of the same year.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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