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(3760 - 2080 BCE)
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(3282 AM - 479 BCE)
The festival of Purim
(3285 AM - 475 BCE)
Reign of Artaxerxes
(3295 AM - 465 BCE)
The dream of Mordechai
(3296 AM - 464 BCE)
Ezra the Scribe
(3302 AM - 458 BCE)
Nehemiah, Governor of Judah
(3315 AM - 445 BCE)
Compilation of the Tanakh
(3316 AM - 444 BCE)
Nehemiah settles in Jerusalem
(3326 AM - 434 BCE)
Death of Nehemiah
(3333 AM - 427 BCE)
Previous << Generation 28 >> Next
Hebrew years 3240 to 3360 (520-400 BCE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~
Esther was prepared for her concubine role in the royal palace and, after the return from the Greek war, was introduced to Xerxes/Ahasuerus towards the end of the year 479 BCE after his retreat from his disastrous second campaign in Greece where he lost battles on land (Thermopylae) and on sea (Salamis):
So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther's feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the bounty of the king. And when the virgins were gathered together the second time and Mordechai sat in the king's gate. Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people; as Mordechai had charged her; for Esther did the commandment of Mordechai, like as when she was brought up with him. --- Esther 2:16
Mordechai later discovered that two conspirers from the king’s palace wanted to assassinate him. Such conspiracy was not surprising because of the catastrophic result of the worst campaign against Greece. In these days, a king would win legitimacy by winning wars. Mordechai informed Esther who informed the king, and the conspirers were hanged. The circumstance was recorded in the annals of the reign but passed unnoticed at the time.
Esther in the harem - by Edwin Long, 1878
(National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)
Ahasuerus appointed a man called Haman to a rank above all other dignitaries. Haman was from the tribe of Agag, from the people of Amalek. Agag had been spared by King Saul against the divine orders:
And Saul smote the Amalekites, from Havilah as you go to Shur, which is in front of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, even the young of the second birth, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; but every thing that was of no account and feeble, that they destroyed utterly. --- I Samuel 15:7-9
Through the voice of Samuel the Prophet, God had commanded to Saul to kill all the Amalekites but Saul did not obey. In doing so, by a reverse of fortune, the survivors ended up years later at the service of the Persian Empire while cultivating hatred towards the Israelites.
Haman conspired to make genocide of the Israelites, using the tactics to raise awareness to the king that this people would not show respect to him nor prostrate:
And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus: 'There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore it profits not the king to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those that have the charge of the king's business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.’ --- Esther 3:8
Haman was given free hand by the king. So he sent a decree throughout the empire to order the execution of all Israelites in a single day, set for the 13th day of the month of Adar, which is the 12th month of the year, before a new year would start in Nisan. And to make the matter even more attractive to the executioners, he decreed that they could seize all the properties of the ones they would slain. He surely thought that greed would guarantee the job to be done with expediency. Consternation fell upon the Israelites and Mordechai called upon Esther for help. After fasting for three days, she came to the king to invite him and Haman to a banquet she intended to prepare for the next day in order to present to him her petition. The entire procedure intrigued the king:
On that night could not the king sleep; and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles, and they were read before the king. And it was found written, that Mordechai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's chamberlains, of those that kept the door, who had sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus. And the king said: 'What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordechai for this?' Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him: 'There is nothing done for him.' And the king said: 'Who is in the court?' -- Now Haman was come into the outer court of the king's house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordechai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. -- And the king's servants said unto him: 'Behold, Haman stands in the court.' And the king said: 'Let him come in.' So Haman came in. And the king said unto him: 'What shall be done unto the man whom the king delights to honour?' -- Now Haman said in his heart: 'Whom would the king delight to honour besides me?' -- And Haman said unto the king: 'For the man whom the king delights to honour, let royal apparel be brought which the king uses to wear, and the horse that the king rides upon, and on whose head a crown royal is set; and let the apparel and the horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man therewith whom the king delights to honour, and cause him to ride on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him: Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honour.' Then the king said to Haman: 'Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as you have said, and do even so to Mordechai the Jew, that sits at the king's gate; let nothing fail of all that you have spoken.' --- Esther 6:1-10
After executing this ultimate royal honour for Mordechai, not even knowing why it was due, Haman was in doubt that his plan to kill all the Israelites would succeed. But he was soon called to join the banquet arranged by Esther and could not have time to change the course of events. At the end of the banquet, she accused Haman to have ordered to kill all her people, which would de facto include her, as she was Israelite herself.
Her belonging to Jewish faith had not been known to neither Ahasuerus nor Haman. He was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai. Then the king ordered to reverse the evil decree of Haman against the Israelites so that they could defend themselves and kill those who attempted evil against them and take their properties as a spoil. Killing their enemies they did, but taking their properties they did not. The Biblical text takes great length in emphasizing this detail (Esther 9:10, 9:15 and 9:17).
Haman, Ahasuerus and Esther - by Rembrandt, 1660
The Biblical text also mentions the death of the 10 sons of Haman. Many modern commentators have made a parallel between Haman and Hitler. The circumstances of the festival of Purim indeed share several details in common. For example, the execution of the 10 sons of Haman was similar to the one that took place after the Second World War against the Nazis: after the trial of Nuremberg, 10 ministers and high dignitaries of this regime that hated the Jews were condemned to death. Also the death was performed by hanging, in both cases. But, more importantly, both events occurred after a period of Jewish assimilation and ultimately resulted into fervour to return to the faith in Sion. After the Second World War, a mass exodus of Jews started to take place, as never witnessed before, and the State of Israel was ultimately created with Jerusalem as its historical and eternal capital.
The judges and the prophets had often repeated the divine voice: God will punish His people when they would deviate from His convenant, but He will not allow their complete annihilation. The past 2500 years of Jewish history seem to have proven this divine promise, because of the unlikely survival of the Jews despite the persecutions, the forced conversions, the evil decrees, and the rest that nations had in turn orchestrated against them.
The same divine protection applies to the Arabs too because both Israelites and Arabs are the legacy of Abraham. It is a tragedy that the two people are today in conflict one against the other which, surely, is against God and Allah’s will. Mutual acceptance and cooperation would transform a war zone into a true beacon for humanity, because this is where civilization and faith had started, and would restore world peace.
After these fateful events, Mordechai has decreed that the Israelite people should commemorate their saving every year on the 14th and 15th of the month of Adar, as this is when it took place in the Persian Empire: this became the Jewish festival of Purim. Strangely or not, the Book of Esther is the only book of the Bible where there is no mention of God, although God’s divine designs can be perceived throughout. This is to remind that the Israelites, by their own merit and actions, brought upon themselves salvation from their utter enemy. In this context, Purim is considered the most important festival as the Jews restored their faith by themselves, without being openly guided by any prophet to tell them God’s word.
Mordechai became a close advisor to the king:
And the king Ahasuerus laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea. And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the full account of the greatness of Mordechai, how the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordechai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed. --- Esther 10:1-3
Xerxes was ultimately assassinated by military conspirers who also killed one of his sons. His failure in Greece was probably the root cause of his demise. His eldest son, Artaxerxes, revenged his father and executed the conspirers. He then seized power.
Artaxerxes was the first son of Xerxes from his wife Amestris/Vashti. He however had profound respect for Esther and had married Damaspia who, according to sources, was Esther’s only daughter because Damaspia was known to follow the Hebrew faith. He adopted the title of “king of kings” instead of using one such as “king of Babylon”.
Some chapters of the Book of Esther were included in the future Septuagint, the first translation of the Bible in Greek, but are not part of the Jewish Torah. One of these texts concerns a dream that Mordechai had in these times:
In the second year of the reign of Artaxerxes the great, in the first day of the month Nisan, Mardochai the son of Jair, the son of Semei, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Jew who dwelt in the city of Susa, a great man and among the first of the king's court, had it dream. --- Apocrypha, Esther, chapter 11, 2-3
This detail confirms that Mordechai became advisor to Artaxerxes and that, by consequence, the Ahasuerus of the Bible was indeed Xerxes, the father of Artaxerxes. As of his dream, Mordechai had not been able to understand it and it is still unexplained as it probably relates to future times.
It is not known when Esther and Mordechai died, but they seem to have both been buried in Hamadan, Iran, because this is where a mausoleum still stands today to shelter their tombs.
Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan, Iran
(photography: Nick Taylor, Wikipedia)
In the 7th year of Artaxerxes’ reign, Ezra, a Levite who had the high priest Zadok as ancestor, was granted to arrange for the return to Sion of a number of Israelites from Babylon. They left the city on the 1st day of the 1st month (Nisan) and arrived to Jerusalem on the 1st day of the 5th month. His goal was to revive the faith among his brethen as the text suggests it:
For Ezra had set his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances. --- Ezra 7:10
Artaxerxes had sent his approval with a strong worded decree which shows the level of respect he had for the “God of heaven”:
Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, and so forth. And now I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and their priests and the Levites, in my realm, that are minded of their own free will to go with you to Jerusalem, go. Forasmuch as you are sent of the king and his seven counsellors, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of your God which is in your hand; and to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem, and all the silver and gold that you shall find in all the province of Babylon, with the freewill-offering of the people, and of the priests, offering willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem; therefore you shall with all diligence buy with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meal-offerings and their drink-offerings, and shall offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. And whatsoever shall seem good to you and to your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold that do you after the will of your God. And the vessels that are given you for the service of the house of your God, deliver you before the God of Jerusalem. And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of your God, which you shall have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure-house. And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers that are beyond the River, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done with all diligence, unto a hundred talents of silver, and to a hundred measures of wheat, and to a hundred baths of wine, and to a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven let it be done exactly for the house of the God of heaven; for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? Also we announce to you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, the singers, porters, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, impost, or toll, upon them. And you, Ezra, after the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges, who may judge all the people that are beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach you him that knows them not. And whosoever will not do the law of your God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon him with all diligence, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment. --- Ezra 7:12-26
As a first step of doing the law of God, Ezra endeavoured to remove from the Israelite congregation all foreign spouses. Inter-marriage had been the norm among the Israelites who returned from exile, even among the Levites. It was agreed that separation would need to be done, however painful it might be:
And Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them: 'You have broken faith, and have married foreign women, to increase the guilt of Israel. Now therefore make confession unto the Lord, the God of your fathers, and do His pleasure; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the foreign women.' Then the entire congregation answered and said with a loud voice: 'As you have said, so it is for us to do.’ --- Ezra 10:10-12
It is from the time of Ezra that the Jews stopped being proselyte and generally refrained from marrying outside their community, thus keeping one of God’s main commandments. Ezra also established several reforms of the Jewish life in order to increase participation of the people in the religious service and thus strenghen the faith. For example he established weekly readings of the Torah: in his times, the sections of the Torah were smaller so the complete cycle of reading took about 5 and a half years, as compared as one year today. Also, with Ezra started the learning of the Torah for the masses, while before him only the priests were involved in reading and learning the Torah.
In the 20th year of Artaxerxes’ reign, Nehemiah, who was Cupbearer in the castle of Artaxerxes in Susa, received the visit of an Israelite who came from Jerusalem. The visitor told him about the affliction of their brethren, and about the fact that the city was no longer protected by walls. Nehemiah was deeply moved by what he heard, and prayed to God that He would keep His convenant if His people would repent, as those in Jerusalem did.
There is a tradition that this visitor from Jerusalem was Ezra himself, who came to Susa to plead to the king for help in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He would have found in Nehemiah the right person to address himself as a royal intermediary. And on his way back to Jerusalem, Ezra died in that year. A tomb which was known to be his since the Middle Age has been a site of pilgrimage, for both Jews and Muslims.
Ezra’s Tomb, Iraq
(Bell Gertrude Archive, Newcastle University Library)
A few months later, when Nehemiah was serving the king with wine, he asked his authorization to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls and the gates of the city. Artaxerxes granted his approval and even made him Governor of the province of Yehud (the Persian Judea) to have authority about this mission (Nehemiah 5:14).
In his endeavour to “teach” the Israelites their history and the laws and ordinances given by God, Ezra and the assembly of the Elders had compiled most of the contents of the Tanakh, otherwise called the Bible then the Old Testament . And Nehemiah wrote the last book, concerning Ezra’s and his deeds:
And who wrote all the books? Moses wrote his book and a portion of Bil'am [Numbers, xxii.], and Job. Jehoshua wrote his book and the last eight verses of the Pentateuch beginning: "And Moses, the servant of the Lord, died." Samuel wrote his book, Judges, and Ruth. David wrote Psalms, with the assistance of ten elders, viz.: Adam the First, Malachi Zedek, Abraham, Moses, Hyman, Jeduthun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korach. Jeremiah wrote his book, Kings, and Lamentations. King Hezekiah and his company wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Songs, and Ecclesiastes. The men of the great assembly wrote Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets, Daniel, and the Book of Esther. Ezra wrote his book, and Chronicles--the order of all generations down to himself. [This may be a support to Rabh's theory, as to which, R. Jehudah said in his name, that Ezra had not ascended from Babylon to Palestine until he wrote his genealogy.] And who finished Ezra's book? Nehemiah ben Chachalyah. --- Talmud, Baba Bathra 14b-15a
Before Nehemiah endeavoured to build the physical walls to protect Jerusalem, he felt compelled to first complete the "spiritual walls" surrounding the Written Law, the Tanakh. This was done in order to complete the great work started by Ezra and to provide the needed spiritual protection to future generations. Nothing has altered the content, nor of course text, of the Tanakh since these days. It is about these walls and gates that a Psalm says:
The Lord loves the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. --- Psalms 87:2
This verse may also be interpreted as the return to Sion should be more important for a Jew than the [comfort of his] dwellings in Diaspora.
The Tanakh (or "Hebrew Bible") is composed of 39 books:
- the 5 books of the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
- the 21 books of the Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel I & II, Kings I & II, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi
- the 13 books of Writtings (or Hagiographa): Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra & Nehemiah, Chronicles I & II
Once he came to Jerusalem, he had to survey the walls of the city by night (at the time, it was the City of David), because of the suspicion and the enmity of the foreign people who ruled over the Jews in these times. He followed a path descending along the creek on the Western side and then going uphill along the Kidron river on the Eastern side:
And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God put into my heart to do for Jerusalem; neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night by the creek gate [of the Tyropeon], even toward the dragon's well, and to the dung gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. Then I went on to the fountain gate and to the king's pool [the Shiloah]; but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. Then went I up in the night in the valley [of the Kidron river], and viewed the wall; and I turned back, and entered by the creek gate, and so returned. And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.--- Nehemiah 2:12-16
Nehemiah then engaged each important Jewish family to repair the walls and gates of the city. This caused anger to the foreigners who conspired against the Israelites and threatened to attack the city of Jerusalem. The coalition against the renewed Jewish independance was composed of 5 nations:
But it came to pass that, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem went forward, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth, and they conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to cause confusion therein.--- Nehemiah 4:1-2
Nehemiah organised the method of defence while keeping the work to go on despite the threat:
And it came to pass from that time forth, that half of my servants wrought in the work, and half of them held the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the coats of mail; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They that builded the wall and they that bore burdens laded themselves, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held his weapon; and the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the horn was by me. And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers and to the rest of the people: 'The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another; in what place soever you hear the sound of the horn, resort you thither unto us; our God will fight for us.’ --- Nehemiah 4:10-14
Nehemiah's night walk around the City of David
The works were completed swiftly:
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. --- Nehemiah 6:15
Obviously a work in 52 days could not be to rebuild the walls completely but rather to repair what was broken or in bad state. Multiple families worked in parallel in all parts of the walls, so that all could be finished in a short time.
After completion of the works, Nehemiah also set an annual for the Jews to pay towards the Temple service. The amount as of one third of a shekel:
Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; for the showbread, and for the continual meal-offering, and for the continual burnt-offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the appointed seasons, and for the holy things, and for the sin-offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.---Nehemiah 10:33-34This annual fee will later be increased to half a shekel by the Hasmoneans and, after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans made it a duty to be paid to the Emperor.
Nehemiah also drew cast for each family to be responsible to bring the necessary wood to burn the eternal flame of the Temple during one year. In short, while Era had restored the spiritual duties of the Jewish people, by means of faith and study, Nehemiah focused on the practial actions of the people to demonstrate their adherence to the faith. This reform tied each family to the duties in Jerusalem and, although some lied far from the Temple, they always maintained a son or a member of their family to represent them there. The city of Jerusalem thus became holy and Nehemiah imposed to shut its gates every Friday before Shabbat would start. The holiness of Jerusalem and the maintenance of the Temple service became a duty for all the people together. Jerusalem was restored as the central point of Judaism in the time of Nehemiah. As a consequence, a Jew could not fully be Jewish (as performing his duties) outside Jerusalem.
Nehemiah continued in his role for 12 years, until the 32nd year of the reign of Artaxerxes, when he returned to Susa. He returned to Persia to ask formal permission from Artaxerxes to return definitively to Jerusalem, which was granted.
When he returned, he could only see that evil ways were already coming back to the community:
But in all this time I was not at Jerusalem; for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went unto the king, and after certain days asked I leave of the king; and I came to Jerusalem, and understood the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore; therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers; and thither I brought again the vessels of the house of God, with the meal-offerings and the frankincense. --- Nehemiah 13:6-9
The lessons taught by Ezra the Scribe were also quickly forgotten:
In those days also saw I the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab; and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God: 'You shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations was there no king like him, and he was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless even him did the foreign women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to break faith with our God in marrying foreign women?' And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I chased him from me. --- Nehemiah 13:23-28
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah bring to a close the books that compose Jewish Bible, or Old Testament, the Torah. There are additional books that the New Testament has added to the Christian Bible.
Conveniently, it is at this same time that History made its appearance in human investigation because it is at this period, around 440 BCE, that the first ever historical work was created: The Histories by the Greek Herodotus considered being the “Father of History”.
Nehemiah died when Joiada was still officing as the High Priest, but when both his son Johanan and grandson Jaddua were already born, because they were the only descendants of the High Priest mentioned in Nehemiah's chronology in chapter 12 of his book. We can suppose that Nehemiah died about the Hebrew year 3333, just about when Jaddua was born and was thus mentioned in the chronology. The Hebrew year "3333" is composed entirely of the number "3" which denotes a "completion" or totalness in Hebrew scriptures (see other mentions of the number 3 in the index).
The years that followed Nehemiah’s death were plagued by dissensions between the Israelites and their neighbours, especially the Samaritans who opposed the return of the Jewish faith in the region. The Samaritans would intrigue and petition the local or regional rulers to stop the Israelites from practising their faith and even to destroy the Temple of Jerusalem.
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One of the sons of the High Priest Joiada was married to a Canaanite woman, and was thus excluded from the Temple service by Nehemiah (see entry for year 434 BCE); this exclusion was in line with the commandments about maintaining the priesthood
 There is however some difference between the Jewish/Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament
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