In “The Seraiah Assumption and the Decree of Daniel 9:25” (https://biblearchaeology.org/the-daniel-9-24-27-project-list/4369-the-seraiah-assumption-and-the-decree-of-daniel-9-25) evidence was presented, based mainly on Ezra 6:14, that the edict issued in the seventh regnal year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus was the final phase in the gradual unfolding of a single decree initiated by Cyrus.
In that article under “Reckoning the Regnal Years,” we saw that the book by Siegfried H. Horn and Lynn H. Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7 (1953, revised 1970), presented the case that the Tishri-based regnal year for Artaxerxes indicated by Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 has Ezra depart for Jerusalem in the spring of 457 BC.
This conclusion was based primarily on understanding that these Scriptures, accepted as written, require us to place the months of Kislev (Month 9 of the Jewish calendar) and Nisan (Month 1) in the same 20th regnal year of Artaxerxes I. This is analogous to a single fiscal year today spanning July 1–June 30, such that September precedes January in the fiscal year. A secondary—and in my opinion, less important than Scripture—reason for that conclusion was that Horn and Wood (hereafter H&W) discerned extrabiblical evidence to support that inference from Nehemiah in papyri from the Jewish colony at Elephantine, Egypt during the Achaemenid era.
After publishing that article, a friend sent me several articles that he believed invalidated my placement of Ezra’s trip in 457 BC, saying they proved the current scholarly consensus of 458 BC should be followed. I will take up that challenge here, first laying out H&W’s reasoning for their conclusions, then examining their critics’ points, together with recent discussions in the literature bearing on their work, and finally draw a conclusion about when Ezra’s trip took place.
What About Parker and Dubberstein’s Tables?
First, however, a general observation. On page 32 of Parker and Dubberstein’s Babylonian Chronology: 626 B.C.–A.D. 75, they peg the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes I as beginning on Nisan 1, 458 BC—the Julian date April 8 in the spring. Since this work is widely regarded as authoritative, the logic is that we must take that date to the bank, and all of the rest of our chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah must flow from it.
Does that not mean, for Ezra’s journey to have taken place in the seventh regnal year of Artaxerxes, that it had to have been in the spring of 458 BC? Not necessarily. We have to determine not simply when the calendar year began by Babylonian reckoning, but when a king’s regnal year commenced as viewed from several different nations’ perspectives. As we will see, the matter is much more complex than simply pulling a date out of Parker and Dubberstein’s tables. During the Achaemenid era the Egyptians, Babylonians/Persians, and Judeans not only started their years in different months—roughly our December (Thoth), March (Nisanu) and September (Tishri) respectively, in that chronological order—but all had their own ways of counting the years of their kings’ reigns as well. The matter was complicated even further because the Jews had a separate spring-to-spring religious calendar derived from Exodus 12:2, where the year began on Nisan 1 rather than Tishri 1. The following chart may help in following the discussion below.
Did the Postexilic Jews Adopt the Babylonian Calendar?
In a 1981 article in Ministry Magazine, online at https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1981/08/elephantine-papyri-and-daniel-814, Horn gave some background on a key presupposition many scholars bring to this question. He wrote:
But during the Exile, the Jews adopted the month names of the Babylonian calendar as is clearly seen from the fact that in all postexilic books of the Bible—Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Esther—the month names are Hebrew variants of the Babylonian ones: Nisan for Nisanu, Sivan for Simanu, Elul for Ululu, Chislev for Kislimu, Tebeth for Tebetu, Shebat for Shabatu and Adar for Addaru. Thus it is certain that the Jews adopted the month names of the Babylonian calendar during their stay in Babylon, but Biblical scholars have been divided in their view of whether the Jews also adopted the Babylonian calendar at that time and switched their civil New Year’s Day from the autumn to the spring. Most scholars believe that it is only logical to assume that the Jews took over not only the month names of the Babylonians but also their calendar, so that they had only one calendar after the Exile, namely the Babylonian, which served for both religious and civil purposes (bold emphasis added).
I believe that Horn rightly draws a distinction between Jewish adoption of Babylonian month-names versus their calendar. The assumption is that the use of modified Babylonian month-names indicates postexilic Jews followed a Babylonian/Persian Nisan-based calendar, which in turn governed Jewish views of the regnal years of Persian kings. This is at the root of scholarly resistance to the suggestion that the Jews may have followed a Tishri-based “civil” calendar in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, a calendar co-existing with a Nisan-based “religious” calendar that was distinctively Jewish and owed nothing to Babylonian practice.
The perspective adopted in this study is that Babylonian culture had far less impact on Jewish calendars than scholars generally acknowledge. This is reflected in both history and Scripture. Few would deny that the Jews have possessed a markedly insular culture no matter where they have been dispersed in the world, rigidly maintaining their national identity and cultural customs when they have lived in other countries at various times in their history. There is no reasonable doubt that they would have retained their primary calendar founded on the precepts God gave them in the Torah, rather than just adopting the calendar used by whatever foreign land they lived in. Going all the way back to Exodus 12:2 and the time of the first Passover, we find this recorded: “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” The “religious” calendar of the Jews was thus defined by the LORD as a calendar of numbered, not named, months that ran spring-to-spring. Moreover, the various required feasts and holy days which God ordained, an essential aspect of their national cultural identity, were defined in terms of these numbered months (cf. Lev 23). It follows that this numbered calendar, inextricably bound to their national identity, was not set aside in Jewish minds by the exile.
Yet at the same time we also have solid, Scripture-based evidence, corroborated by abundant historical records, that Babylonian names became associated with but did not entirely replace those month-numbers during the exile. This is seen in Esther 3:7: “In the first month, which is the month Nisan…until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar”; Esther 8:9, “the third month (that is, the month Sivan)…”; and Zechariah 1:7, “…the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat…” Note that the numbered form is given first and provides the essential identification of the month in the minds of the exiled Judeans, while the names Nisan, Sivan, Shebat and Adar are given as secondary identifiers influenced by the Babylonian captivity (cf. the list of month-names at https://www.livius.org/articles/concept/calendar-babylonian/). From this evidence it follows that the religious (God-ordained) calendar took priority in Jewish minds over the Babylonian civil calendar, and is more accurately described as first month-based rather than Nisan-based. It is rooted ultimately in what the LORD established long before the Babylonian captivity.
Although no longer applicable to daily affairs during the exile because it was displaced by the Babylonian calendar, a separate Jewish “civil” calendar coexisted with their “religious” calendar. This had been used for general government record-keeping since the time of Solomon in what later became the Southern Kingdom of Judah. It had defined the religious calendar’s Month 7, which during the Babylonian exile the Jews began to refer to as Tishri, as the first month of their civil year. Because it was keyed to points in the agricultural cycle shared with other nations, in the Southern Kingdom’s heyday it had been of general applicability for dating across cultures in the Near East. As Edwin Thiele demonstrated in Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, in the Southern Kingdom, with its capital at Jerusalem, a fall-to-fall civil calendar was followed for affairs of state. The exile was of these Southern Kingdom Judeans who carried their culture (and calendars) with them, and the return from that exile was likewise of a distinctively Judean group who reestablished their calendars in the Land once again, though now with variants of Babylonian month-names associated with the original month-numbers. The enduring power of the Jewish civil calendar is seen in the fact that the modern nation of Israel still, after all these centuries, celebrates New Year’s Day on Tishri 1.
All of these clues indicate the reality of a separate civil calendar tied to the Southern Kingdom of Judah which, just like the religious calendar of numbered months, survived as part of their cultural heritage after the exile. The exile, after all, lasted 70 years altogether—only 50 years for those not exiled until 587 BC. It was not long enough to have erased the deeply-rooted cultural traditions which had endured for centuries, despite the Judeans’ full participation in Babylonian life during their stay there. The coexisting month designations seen in Esther 3:7 demonstrate this.
In addition, positing an exclusively Babylon-style, Nisan-based calendar for postexilic Jews conflicts with the consensus understanding of the ancient Jewish rabbis reflected in Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1a. At http://www.emishnah.com/moed2/Rosh_HaShanah/1.pdf a version is given where clarifications of its meaning (Gemara comments) are incorporated with the Mishnah text in brackets:
On the first of Nissan is the [cut off date for the] New Year regarding [the count of the reigns of the Jewish] kings [which was used to date legal documents…] On the first of Tishrei is the New Year for [the counting of] years [of non-Jewish kings], for the shemittah and the Yoveil count [and from that date it is prohibited Biblically to plant and plow] (one missing bracket supplied).
(The shemittah is the sabbatical year, and the Yoveil count is the Jubilee, both intimately connected with the agricultural cycle.)
This differentiation of two calendars seen in the Mishnah conflicts with the supposedly “logical” assumption that after the exile the Jews “only had one calendar…for both religious and civil purposes.” Rather, it provides evidence for a Nisan-based calendar applied to religious festivals like Passover and the reigns of Judean kings, and a second, Tishri-based calendar applied to civil matters generally, including the reigns of kings of foreign countries like Babylon and Persia. At https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/tractate-rosh-hashana-chapter-1 the Gemara elaborates, with a special focus on our Nehemiah verses:
R. Hisda says: The rule of the Mishna—that the year of the kings begins with Nissan—refers to the kings of Israel only, but for the kings of other nations it commences from Tishri. As it is said [Neh. i. 1]: “The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hakhaliah. And it came to pass in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year,” etc. And it is written [ibid. ii. 1]: “And it came to pass in the month Nissan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king,” etc. Since Hanani stood before Nehemiah in Kislev, and the Bible speaks of it as the twentieth year, and since Nehemiah stood before the king in Nissan, and the Text calls it also the twentieth year, it is clear that the New Year (for the non-Jewish king, Artaxerxes) is not Nissan (or in the latter case he would have spoken of the twenty-first year) (emphasis added).
When it says the year for foreign kings commences from Tishri, we must remember that this was the Jews’ own way of looking at foreign kings’ reigns. As the above example of Artaxerxes demonstrates, being directly ruled by the kings of Babylon and Persia did not change the Jewish perception that they were still “foreign” kings. The clear implication is that their regnal years would be viewed through the lens of the Jews’ own longstanding customs, regardless of the official policies of those countries. As the rabbi noted, it was “the rule of the Mishnah”—the passed-down oral tradition which the rabbis compiled in written form. It had no connection with the Babylonian or Persian calendars, and therefore was independent of how those nations calculated the regnal years of their kings.
The Significance of Double-Dating
Returning now to Horn’s article, he goes on to discuss the conflict posed by the scholarly assumption of a single civil/religious calendar with the text of Nehemiah. He first echoes what Rabbi Hisda had said long ago:
Two passages in Nehemiah, however, are not in harmony with this majority opinion [of a single Babylonian calendar for the postexilic Jews]. In Nehemiah 1:1–3 an event is recorded that is said to have occurred in Chislev, the ninth month, of King Artaxerxes’ twentieth year, while a subsequent event is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1–8 as having taken place in Nisan, the first month, of that same twentieth year. Here the ninth month clearly precedes the first month in a given year. There are only two possible interpretations: (1) one of the Nehemiah passages contains an error, as some Biblical interpreters have suggested, or (2) the author of the book of Nehemiah counted the months of Artaxerxes’ regnal years not according to the Babylonian spring-to-spring calendar, but rather by the old, pre-exilic Jewish [Judean] civil calendar, according to which New Year’s Day fell in the autumn. [An accompanying footnote adds: “The Persians adopted the Babylonian calendar. This is attested by numerous dated cuneiform texts of the Persian period.”]
In order to ascertain which interpretation is correct, it is necessary to find ancient Jewish documents that carry double dates—one date expressed in a calendar the nature of which is not in question, such as the Egyptian solar calendar, and another date in which a foreign king’s regnal year is presented in the calendar of the Jews. Such documents exist in the Elephantine papyri, where several legal texts carry two dates, an Egyptian one that is fixed and unassailable and one that would agree either with the Babylonian-Persian spring-to-spring calendar or with an autumn-to-autumn Jewish calendar.
In the second paragraph, Horn seemingly acquiesces to the secular viewpoint that extrabiblical attestation must first confirm the biblical text before the latter can be accepted as factual. We who are people of faith, however, regard God-breathed Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) as sufficient to make truth-claims on its own merits, whether secular scholarship agrees with it or not. Be that as it may, Horn continues:
An example may show what is meant. The document, Sayce-Cowley J, contains the renunciation of a claim and comes from the year 416 B.C., as ascertained from the first line, which contains the date formula. The line reads: “On the third of Chislev, year eight, that is the twelfth day of Thoth, year nine of Darius the king.” The first of the two dates is expressed according to the Jewish calendar, as shown by the Chislev month name. The second date uses the Egyptian calendar with the Egyptian month name, Thoth. Evidently, the Elephantine Jews were required to use the official dating system of Egypt (in which they lived) in order to give legal force to their documents. However, they apparently felt a need also to add in many of the Elephantine papyri a date computed according to their own calendar and reckoning. Notice that in this example even the number of the king’s regnal year varies by one year according to the two computations.
Let us not miss the significance of what was just said. The expression “of Darius the king” is shared by both clauses of the date formula, making them both regnal year dates. Though an event is being described that took place at a single point in time, different starting points from which regnal years were counted yielded different results. In this particular case, the ninth regnal year of Darius was already underway under the Egyptian system while it was still his eighth year under the Jewish system. Continuing:
Unfortunately, the documents extant prior to 1947 carried double dates from that part of the year in which there was no divergence between the Babylonian spring-to-spring calendar and the Jewish autumn-to-autumn [civil] calendar [as was the case with the Chislev date in Sayce-Cowley J, where both Nisan and Tishri come before the following Chislev]. Thus it was not possible to ascertain whether the Elephantine Jews used a calendar that was different from the Babylonian.
However, the picture changed in 1953 when Emil G. Kraeling published the documents that had remained hidden from 1893 to 1947 in the bottom of Wilbour’s trunk. Among this latest treasure were additional double-dated documents. In one of them (Kraeling 6), the Egyptian and Jewish dates can be made to harmonize only if we assume either that the ancient scribe made a mistake [footnoting Parker, “Some Considerations,” p. 274, revealing Horn’s advance familiarity with that critique] or that he used a calendar that began in the autumn and that he counted the regnal years of the Persian kings according to this autumn-to-autumn calendar. We have here a similar situation as found in the two Nehemiah passages already discussed, where one of two views is possible—either Nehemiah made a mistake or he was using an autumn-to-autumn calendar (brackets added).
Horn then explains the impact of these two ways of looking at the question of when Ezra returned to Jerusalem:
These divergent views have their bearing on the date of Ezra’s return from Babylonia in the seventh regnal year of Artaxerxes I (Ezra 7:1–9). From ancient records, primarily dated cuneiform documents, it is established that Artaxerxes’ first regnal year began in the spring of 464 B.C. and ended in the spring of 463 B.C. according to the reckoning of the Persians. Consequently, his seventh year was the year 458–457 B.C., spring to spring. If Ezra counted the king’s regnal years in this way, he would have returned in the spring of 458 B.C., for it is said that he left Babylonia during the month of Nisan in the seventh year of Artaxerxes and arrived in Jerusalem four months later (see verse 9). Following this reasoning, many commentators date the events described in Ezra 7 to the year 458 B.C.
On the other hand, if Ezra used the Jewish autumn-to-autumn calendar, as was apparently the case with his contemporary Nehemiah and also with the Elephantine Jews, the first year of Artaxerxes would have been computed by the Jews as having begun in the autumn of 464 B.C. and ended in the autumn of 463 B.C. Thus his seventh year would have begun in the autumn of 458 B.C. and ended in the autumn of 457 B.C. The month Nisan, a spring month in which Ezra and his group departed from Babylonia, would accordingly have fallen in the spring of 457 B.C., and their arrival in Jerusalem would have occurred in the summer of 457 B.C. Hence, the Elephantine papyri give strong support to our conclusion that the decree of Artaxerxes was issued and carried out in the year 457 B.C.
Such is the background and logic H&W used to conclude Ezra’s trip to Jerusalem took place in 457 BC. The Scriptures from Nehemiah are primary, the Elephantine papyri secondary to that determination. Now let’s look at some of the arguments offered against it.
The Date of Xerxes’ Death
Instead of placing Xerxes’ death in November or December of 465 BC (after the civil New Year’s Day, Tishri 1, September 17, 465 BC) as H&W did, a common factor in the articles brought to my attention is their contention it should have been placed in August of that year (before Tishri 1), in which case Artaxerxes’ first regnal year was 465–464 BC by Jewish reckoning rather than H&W’s 464–463 BC. This follows information given by Matthew Stolper, “Some Ghost Facts from Achaemenid Babylonian Texts,” Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 108 (1988), pp. 196–98. With this opinion there is a good amount of scholarly assent. For example, the respected Livius website of Jona Lendering includes, at https://www.livius.org/articles/person/xerxes-i/, the observation that Xerxes was “murdered between 4 and 8 August 465.” Stolper and Lendering derive this date from a Hellenistic-era tablet designated LBART (Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts) No. *1419, which Stolper’s article refers to on page 196 as BM (British Museum) 32234. Because the conclusions I arrived at earlier were predicated not on the correctness of H&W’s analysis of the Aramaic papyri but on what they observed in Scripture, that analysis can still stand up apart from changing scholarly opinion about the date of Xerxes’ death. It now appears to me the August date for Xerxes’ death is most likely correct, and the 1953 work of H&W needs to be updated to reflect this.
Parker’s Perception of Scribal Error
Updated, but not completely overturned. Richard A. Parker, in “Some Considerations on the Nature of the Fifth-Century Jewish Calendar at Elephantine,” JNES 14 (1955), 271–274, questioned the validity of H&W’s conclusions as given in “The Fifth-Century Jewish Calendar at Elephantine,” JNES 13 (1954), 1–20, online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/543003. Parker is unwilling to allow the logical implications of Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 to settle the matter of whether Nehemiah, and by extension his contemporary Ezra, applied a Tishri-based regnal year to Artaxerxes I. He demands that the Scriptures must first be validated by extrabiblical evidence. Then, when H&W attempted to provide that via their detailed analysis of the Aramaic papyri, this failed to satisfy him (even before the LBART *1419 tablet came to light). In fact, he pressed his case with them before either their 1953 or 1954 works were ever published (cf. footnote 14 in “Fifth-Century”: “Parker expressed this conviction [that scribal error was involved] in a letter to S. H. Horn dated Nov. 19, 1952”). This implies he prejudged the idea before ever seeing the published evidence.
Parker took pains to emphasize that the case for H&W (1955) hinged on the
interpretation of one single date, that of Kraeling 6, where Pharmuthis 8 is equated with Tammuz 8 in year 3 of Darius II. Here the month dates cannot be reconciled if year 3 is according to either the Persian or the Egyptian calendar, but they can be reconciled on the basis of a Jewish calendar starting with Tishri (p. 273, italics original).
Kraeling 6 is one of the Elephantine Aramaic papyri which, taken as it reads, requires a Tishri-based Jewish civil calendar to explain the dates given there. Refusing to accept this possibility, he advocates scribal error as the only solution, as he has for many years:
At first glance, Horn and Wood seem to be justified. Only two of the five dates correctly have double years. But AP 6 and 10 are readily understandable in the light of the explanation [scribal error] I offered sometime ago . For a long period of months up to one or two weeks before, the scribe had been accustomed to writing dates with a common year. With Thoth 1 [the Egyptian New Year’s Day] he should have changed to double years [year 4 by Egyptian reckoning, year 3 by Jewish] but just as we frequently write the old year after January 1st so he thoughtlessly wrote in the old style [writing year 3 instead of year 4]. Then too he may have been confused in the case of AP 6 by the fact that an accession year was involved (p. 272, bold emphasis and bracketed notes added).
And yet, as Parker admits (p. 273), “All that is required to accept their [H&W’s] result is the absolute correctness of the [Kraeling 6] date as written” (brackets added). He does not find fault with their logical analysis, but with the very acceptance of the date as written. He faults their not accepting scribal error as the preferred solution, given that the papyrus corroborating its date, known as AP 6, is presented in an unusual double-reign fashion (in regnal year 21 of Xerxes, yet simultaneously in the beginning of the reign of Artaxerxes, as discussed by Neuffer below).
But surely the bolded words above must be regarded as conjectural opinions by Parker. In addition, Parker’s article was written before the LBART *1419 tablet came to light, which moves the date of Xerxes’ death from the older December 465 consensus (used by both Parker and H&W) to the preceding August. This makes it quite unlikely that, five months after the New Year had passed, the scribe “thoughtlessly wrote in the old style” (overlooked updating the Egyptian year number from 3 to 4 after Thoth 1) as Parker proposed. Fundamentally, it appears he does not approach the work of H&W with impartiality, for their conclusions directly challenged “the explanation I offered sometime ago,” his 1941 article “Persian and Egyptian Chronology,” AJSL LVIII, 298–310 (cf. “Some Considerations,” footnotes 2, 3 and 4, which all cite this work). His above comments have to be viewed in that light.
Finally, the logical force of H&W’s argument based on the plain sense of Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 is sidestepped by Parker; he cursorily acknowledges in the first paragraph that Jewish Tishri dating is “implied” by their work, then ignores that important implication for the remainder of the article. For these reasons Parker’s critique should be set aside, particularly in the light of the analysis by Julia Neuffer we will discuss later.
The Proposal of McFall
I will just briefly mention here a second article brought to my attention, Leslie McFall’s “Was Nehemiah Contemporary with Ezra in 458 BC?” (Westminster Theological Journal 53:2 [Fall 1991], 263–293). McFall accepts that Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 BC; indeed, in his survey of various opinions about when Ezra’s trip took place, he does not touch once on the possibility it was in 457 BC. He is primarily concerned with where to place events described in Nehemiah in relation to those reported by Ezra, apparently due to his difficulty in accepting that Ezra was unable to bring the people to the state of repentance portrayed in Nehemiah 8–10 until Nehemiah supposedly first arrived thirteen years later. McFall’s uniquely creative idea is to combine the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes into a “dynastic” unit. This allows him to propose an unusual view of the twentieth regnal year of Artaxerxes in Nehemiah 1:1 and 5:14, putting Nehemiah’s first visit to Jerusalem in 465 BC and thus overlapping with Ezra’s arrival. He does this in an effort to bridge the gap between conservative and critical views of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, this suggestion of dynastic reckoning appears to be without either precedent or subsequent among Persian rulers. Also, the close contextual connection of Nehemiah 1:1 with 2:1, where the twentieth year is said to be “of Artaxerxes,” naturally expects the twentieth year of 1:1 to be “of Artaxerxes” just as in 2:1. This is a self-evident conclusion to most commentators, seen as far back as Rabbi Hisda’s remarks in the Mishnah, giving the impression that his dynastic reckoning idea amounts to unjustified theological creativity—it has the feel of special pleading. McFall’s suggestion is rejected in this study as incompatible with a straightforward approach to the biblical context, reflected in the chronology of Nehemiah already developed earlier (see the chart in the Seraiah Assumption article, and note the reasoning given there for it). So we will pass over McFall’s creative idea and move on.
The Perspective of Depuydt
This brings us to a third scholarly work, a carefully-crafted paper by Leo Depuydt, “Evidence for Accession Dating under the Achaemenids” (Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 115, No. 2 [Apr.–Jun., 1995], pp. 193–204). I was very impressed with it. The Abstract summarizes his thesis:
This paper is an attempt to detect non-Babylonian accession dating in the Babylonian-dominated Persian postdating system. Possible evidence from Achaemenid sources in Greek, Hebrew, Persian, and Egyptian is adduced to suggest that, in the Persian homeland, regnal years may sometimes have been counted from one anniversary of a king’s accession to the next, beginning with the accession itself.
This follows the thesis of Elias Bickerman (see below) that we can reconcile the apparently different regnal year reckonings of Nehemiah 1:1 / 2:1 and Haggai 1:1 / 2:1 only if we propose that regnal years in the Achaemenid court, at least in the cases of Artaxerxes I and Darius II, began at their actual accession date rather than at the first Nisan after accession, per normal Persian (and Babylonian) postdating custom. By this approach the first regnal year starts immediately, and may vary in its starting month.
(“Postdating” means that the king’s first regnal year was not begun until some month after the king ascended to the throne. The norm for the Persians, following Babylonian custom, was to start counting regnal years from the first Nisan after the accession month. Jewish postdating, in contrast, began the count of regnal years for foreign kings with the first Tishri after the accession month.)
Depuydt agrees in principle with H&W that accession dating would explain the placement of Kislev and Nisan in a single regnal year by Nehemiah (footnote 3, p. 193):
Note that, in accession dating, a date in a later month may precede a date in an earlier month. For example, the regnal years of a ruler whose accession date is 1 September would last from 1 September to 31 August and 1 February would always fall after 1 November within the same regnal year.
He also observes there is a lack of certainty among scholars as to how the Achaemenid Persians counted regnal years (pp. 193–194):
…it cannot be affirmed that the Achaemenids used the Babylonian calendar to the exclusion of any other. Nor is it certain which regnal dating system the Persians used in the Persian homeland alongside the Babylonian calendar. It is generally assumed, apparently by default, that the regnal dating system was Babylonian as well. But this cannot be positively proven. In fact, five sources will be adduced in support of the claim that accession dating was used, if not at the exclusion of any other system, at least alongside Babylonian postdating. The five sources, or sets of sources, presented in order of importance, are Thucydides VIII 58, Neh. 1:1 and 2:1, the Behistun inscription, the Egyptian stelae Louvre IM.4133 and IM.4187 with the sarcophagus of Apis XLII in the Serapeum in Memphis, and a few passages in Herodotus.
Although one would wish he counted Scripture as more important than Thucydides, it is still refreshing that Depuydt accepts the two passages in Nehemiah as accurate history. He is reluctant, however, to embrace the possibility that they provide a basis for drawing definitive conclusions about when the accession year began:
Horn and Wood (1954, 20) considered Neh. 1:1 and 2:1 evidence for a fall-to-fall calendar in Achaemenid Judah. But the events reported in these verses occurred at the Persian court where Nehemiah was cupbearer of the Persian king and the month and day date in Neh. 2:1 is associated with a regnal year of Artaxerxes. Therefore, Neh. 1:1 and 2:1 may well constitute an isolated Biblical report of a regnal dating method in use at the Persian court, to be viewed independently from the much debated questions whether the year began in spring or fall in Judah and Israel, and when it began (p. 196).
Here is where Depuydt distances himself from the work of H&W. These comments tell us that the possible influence of the Persian court on how Nehemiah expressed his dates, not his Jewishness, is paramount to Depuydt’s views. Notice the expression “may well”—it is a conjecture, the view Depuydt prefers, not a settled fact.
Between this article and another, “Regnal Years and Civil Calendar in Achaemenid Egypt” (The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 81 , pp. 151–173, online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3821813), Depuydt covers Babylonian, Persian and Egyptian dating conventions during the Achaemenid era rather comprehensively. However, he gives little attention to what we are most concerned with—Jewish dating conventions of the time. The Jewishness of Nehemiah is not considered by Depuydt as a factor in how he counted the regnal years of Artaxerxes. He appears to assume, as most scholars do, that since the Jews were dominated by the Persians, the Achaemenid-era biblical records given in Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah must reflect Achaemenid dating conventions for determining regnal years.
The question I would ask is this: Since we know from both Scripture and the Mishnah that the Jews for centuries had separate religious and civil calendars, the former (and chronologically earlier) with its New Year on Nisan 1 and the latter on Tishri 1, and since it is quite safe to say that the aforementioned biblical authors were observant Jews whose written material presumes a primarily Jewish audience, shouldn’t we be looking at the regnal years as the Jews did rather than the Achaemenid Persians?
With all due respect to the accomplished Dr. Depuydt, his immersion in the world of secular scholarship, focused as it is on using extrabiblical writings as the lens through which the Bible is viewed, seems to have caused him to overlook or minimize the implications within the book of Nehemiah that it was written for a Jewish rather than a Persian audience. After all, the book was written in Hebrew and the months as given in Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 bear Jewish, not Babylonian or Persian, month-names (Kislev and Nisan, not Kislimu and Nisanu), and instead of “Tishri” there are several mentions of “seventh month” (Neh 7:73, 8:2, 8:14), a distinctively Jewish identification that neither Babylonians nor Persians would identify with. This should predispose us to expect Nehemiah composed his account with a specifically Jewish understanding of Artaxerxes’ regnal years in mind. Rather than proposing unusual, varying Persian regnal year dating from the king’s accession month instead of the normal Nisan, such a straightforward understanding—that Nehemiah used a Jewish dating method—can neatly explain why Kislev and Nisan would be in the same regnal year to Nehemiah. We should not assume that Nehemiah’s service in the Persian court caused him to use a Persian calendar in what he wrote to fellow Jews. He would most likely have used the Tishri-based civil calendar the Jews of the exile were familiar with. This is true apart from anything that may or may not have influenced how the dates given in the Elephantine Aramaic papyri were presented. That situation in far-southern Egypt was quite independent from what was taking place in early postexilic Jerusalem.
One last point made by Depuydt deserves comment. In his footnote 15 he writes: “If anything, the Book of Nehemiah by itself rather leans in the direction of a spring-to-spring calendar, because 8:14 states that Sukkoth occurs in the seventh month.” That 8:14 assumes Nisan is Month 1 is true, but it does not follow that this was due to Persian influence. This example of a numbered, rather than named, month is simply consistent with the renewed observance by the returned exiles of the original religious calendar of the Jews (Ex 12/Lev 23) that used numbered months, a dating convention coexisting with the fall-to-fall civil calendar beginning with Tishri. This will be discussed further below.
To close our discussion of Depuydt, we can say that he has done some truly perceptive and detailed work on calendars of the Achaemenid era, and has been very fair to the biblical data. But at the same time he has apparently neglected to give proper weight to the fact that there were two distinct calendars of the Jews, one civil and the other religious, whose coexistence offers a solution to the regnal year problem posed by Nehemiah 1:1 / 2:1 that does not require searching for an alternative to normal Nisan-based Persian regnal year dating.
The Understanding of Bickerman
We now turn to the work of Elias Bickerman, who provided the foundation on which Depuydt’s concept of Achaemenid accession-month dating of regnal years was based. H.G.M. Williamson, in his Word Biblical Commentary volume on Ezra-Nehemiah (2002, vol. 16, p. 170), recognizes that placing Kislev and Nisan within a single regnal year makes sense, though he surprisingly has nary a word to say about the work of H&W. Instead, he focuses on the proposal put forth in 1981 by Bickerman in a French work, “En marge de l’Écriture I. —Le comput des années de règne des Achéménides...” ("The Computation of the Regnal Years of the Achaemenids (Nehemiah 1:2, 2:1 and Thucydides VIII, 58”), Revue Biblique 88 (1981): 19–23). Bickerman’s thesis is that the regnal year dating observed in Nehemiah is corroborated by Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. His argument was concisely summarized by Williamson:
[Bickerman] argues that in court circles, in which Nehemiah moved, it would not have been unusual to follow the regnal rather than the calendar year, and he cites an independent example from Thucydides (8:58) to support this claim...
I obtained a copy of Bickerman’s article and ran it through Google Translate, which generated the English rendering used below. Like H&W, he sees the conflict posed by the Nisan-based calendar of the Babylonians and Persians with the order of months in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes as given by Nehemiah:
In the report on his mission in Jerusalem, Nehemiah first recounts (Neh. 1:2) Hanani’s visit, in the month of Kislev, the twentieth year (of Artaxerxes I), and then relates (2:1) his conversation with the king, in the month of Nisan of the same year. It follows that for him Nisan followed Kislev. Now, in the Babylonian calendar, used by the Persian administration and also by the Jews under the Achaemenids, the year began the 1st Nisan in the spring, and Kislev was the ninth month of the civil year.
Embarrassed by this disagreement between Nehemiah and the calendar, the commentators seek in vain to correct the biblical text. We will rather ask the old readers, who, too, have noted this little problem of chronology. Thus R. Hisda (who died in 309) believed that “the kings (of nations) of the world” began their regnal years in the month of Tishri in the autumn. But R. Joseph (died in 333) objected that the order of the months in the book of Haggai (Hag. 1:1 and 2:1) proves the custom of inaugurating the Persian year in Nisan.
Bickerman rightly rejects the modern scholarly fascination with emending the biblical text (as well as tinkering with the text of other ancient records, as W.E. Filmer did with Josephus’ Antiquities; see The First Year of Herod the Great’s Reign), turning instead to how previous generations who respected the Scriptures as written attempted to deal with this. Though the opinion of Rabbi Hisda established the “rule of the Mishnah”—that years for foreign kings were reckoned from Tishri on the basis of Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1—yet R. Joseph (or Yosef) made a valid point from the book of Haggai as well. At https://www.sefaria.org/Rosh_Hashanah.3b.7?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en we read his argument more fully (original bold emphasis removed for readability):
Rav Yosef raised an objection against the rule established by Rav Ḥisda that the years of gentile kings are counted from Tishrei from the verse that states: “On the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king” (Haggai 1:15), and it is written immediately afterward: “In the seventh month, in the second year, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying” (Haggai 2:1). And if it were so that the years of gentile kings are counted from Tishrei, what the verse needed to state is: In the seventh month in the third year, as a new year had already started for him.
Although the words “in the second year” are not part of our text of Haggai 2:1, in 2:10 we have “on the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius,” so we will accept that the seventh month, Tishri, was likewise part of his second year without nit-picking over the text difference. Since the Mishnah informs us that the first of Tishri was New Year’s Day for reckoning the reigns of foreign kings like Darius, R. Joseph is correct that we would expect the third regnal year of Darius to have begun as of Tishri 1. Barring textual corruption, how do we resolve this issue?
To accommodate both the Nehemiah and Haggai passages, Bickerman’s solution is to posit that the Achaemenid court at Susa counted the start of a king’s regnal year from the date of his accession rather than from the first Nisan after his accession date, as normal Persian postdating custom would dictate. This way, in the case of Artaxerxes his reign would presumably have started right after Xerxes’ murder in August 465 BC (Month 5, Av), so that both Kislev (Month 9, Neh 1:1) and the following Nisan (Month 1, Neh 2:1) fell within the same regnal year. In the case of Darius II, since his father Artaxerxes died between December 24, 424 and January 10, 423 BC (cf. Livius), his regnal year would have started in either Tebet (Month 10) or on Sevat 1 (Month 11), both allowing Month 6 (Hag 1:1) through Month 9 (Hag 2:10) to fall within his second regnal year.
Such differences in starting dates for reigns would seem to create unwelcome complications for the Persian bureaucracy, making one wonder why they would have adopted it; cf. the Gemara of Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2a, which gives this rationale for counting regnal years from a fixed date rather than varying dates:
Why is it necessary to set a specific date to count the years of a king’s rule, rather than counting them from the day that he ascends to the throne? Rav Hisda said: It is for determining the validity of documents [promissory notes].
Nonetheless, Bickerman justifies his approach from his analysis of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, VIII, 58. He makes the case that, due to a treaty Thucydides says was made in the winter of the thirteenth regnal year of Darius II, the regnal year could not have been counted from Nisan (a spring month). If the treaty signed in 411 BC was in winter of his thirteenth regnal year, it would have had to be signed prior to Nisan 411, else it would have been in Darius’ fourteenth regnal year. Ergo, the regnal year of Darius II was reckoned from his accession date rather than from the typical Nisan 1.
Assuming Thucydides’ historical accuracy and that Bickerman is correct in generalizing from it to the reign of Artaxerxes—both of which have to be taken by faith, even as the record of Scripture is!—by this reasoning we have a possible solution to reconciling the passages in Nehemiah and Haggai. But it creates a new problem, in that shifting the date of Xerxes’ 465 BC death from December to August per LBART *1419, coupled with the presumption that Artaxerxes ascended to the throne immediately upon the death of Xerxes, results in Ezra’s trip to Jerusalem taking place in 458 BC. As will be discussed later, for the very precise sabbatical-year dating involved in the outworking of the prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27 to come together, Ezra’s trip must have taken place in 457 BC.
Is there an alternative? Bickerman concentrated, as scholars typically do, with finding a solution in extrabiblical literature. Perhaps we can find one rooted in the known history of the Jews instead.
A Tale of Two Calendars
Whereas Bickerman looks for two calendars of the Persians—a fixed, Nisan-based one of the Persian “administration,” and a variable one of the Achaemenid “court” based on differing accession dates of kings—we will look instead at the two primary calendars of the Jews, the religious calendar beginning with Nisan and the civil calendar starting with Tishri. We will particularly note the implications of the dominant culture where the biblical authors lived.
First, consider that Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries in the Land who both prophesied during the second year of Darius I. We can expect they used identical calendars. If we put Haggai 1:1, 2:1, 2:10 together with Zechariah 1:1 (“In the eighth month of the second year of Darius”) and 1:7 (“On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat [Sevet], in the second year of Darius”), altogether we find that Jewish month-numbers 6 through 11 are included within this second regnal year. Since this range of months includes Month 7 (Tishri), the dates in Haggai could not be in a regnal year based on the Jewish civil calendar, else the year would increment to the third year of Darius I as of Tishri 1, as Rabbi Joseph observed in the Mishnah.
To accommodate what we see in Haggai, Darius I’s regnal year would therefore have to be reckoned in one of three ways to agree with Scripture: (1) according to a Babylonian/Persian calendar starting in Nisanu; (2) a Jewish religious calendar commencing with Month 1 in the spring (i.e., Nisan); or (3) using a variable accession year specific to the Achaemenid court, as Bickerman suggested. Since we are discussing Jewish dating conventions here, we will ignore the Achaemenid court theory. Then, since the Babylonian system used named rather than numbered months, and Jerusalem-based Haggai and Zechariah consistently use month-numbers alone in their records rather than month-names (Sevet in Zec 1:7 and Kislev in Zec 7:1 being the exceptions, where the month-names are given as explanatory asides to the month-numbers, as in Esther 3:7), this indicates Haggai and Zechariah, living in Judea, primarily used the Jewish month-numbered religious calendar, not the Babylonian month-named civil calendar. It is also quite significant that Jeremiah, from a priestly family and therefore expected to use the religious calendar, who remained in the Land during the exile, never once uses a Babylon-connected month-name in his book, only month-numbers.
Furthermore, once the Babylonians expelled the vast majority of the Jews from the Land, there was no longer any reason for the few who remained to use the Tishri-based civil calendar to keep track of sabbatical years or deal with secular record-keeping; there was no longer a Jewish government minding civil/administrative affairs. The only calendar the Judean remnant needed was their religious calendar, which Jeremiah, from a priestly family, would preferentially have followed. The use of civil-calendar Tishri reckoning was thus not required until years after the return, only becoming useful after sabbatical year observance and limited self-governance were reestablished.
From these considerations we may conclude the use of month-numbers by Haggai and Zechariah indicated their use of the religious calendar, which remained the norm within Judea during and immediately after the exile (cf. 1:3; 2:24; 28:1, 17; 36:9, 22; 39:1, 2; 41:1; 52:4, 6, 12, 31). The Hebrew historical records should be considered on at least a level playing field with Thucydides, and we know the Jews had both Tishri- and Nisan-based calendars, whereas Bickerman must make educated guesses about a uniquely Achaemenid method of regnal year reckoning based on a single possible extrabiblical analogy. Therefore, we conclude that Haggai and Zechariah are both using a Jewish religious, first month (that is, Nisan)-based calendar in dating events in their books to the second regnal year of Darius. Rabbi Hisda was therefore mistaken in his “rule of the Mishnah” that all foreign kings, at all times in Jewish history, had their reigns dated from Tishri. R. Joseph was correct, an exception exists: a Nisan—or better, first month—based religious calendar was used by Haggai and Zechariah in describing the second regnal year of Darius I.
Next, we turn to the situation with Nehemiah. We have observed that the scholarly world wishes to always find extrabiblical justification before accepting the plain sense of Scripture. For our part, we set aside such bias against the Bible and consider Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 as authentic and authoritative Hebrew historical records. From their plain sense we conclude that Nehemiah used a Tishri-based calendar. Then, how do we reconcile that with the apparent first month-based calendar used by Haggai and Zechariah? The key is to recognize that prior to going to Jerusalem, Nehemiah lived in a foreign country where there was a single civil calendar (with theoretical variations in how it was used to count kings’ regnal years), and his close connection with the royal family made him accustomed to Achaemenid Persian ways of doing things. Therefore, Nehemiah likewise used a civil calendar. However, he self-identified first and foremost as a Jew, the only way we can explain the deep grief he expressed when he received Hanani’s bad report from Jerusalem (Neh 1). He was not simply “a consummate courtier, a man of great weight at the royal court” (Bickerman) who self-identified as a Persian; he was a religious Jew who happened to be on the royal Persian staff. Neither is Bickerman’s apparent attempt to divorce Nehemiah’s writing from a Jewish audience, claiming it was addressed primarily to God, believable. Though Nehemiah in places addresses his God directly, his petitions to the LORD to “remember me for good” and similar must be regarded as personal prayers interspersed within what was primarily a historical record intended for a Jewish audience. His record was an essential part of his people’s history in getting re-established in the Land after the exile, just as the records of Ezra were. Why else would he have written in Nehemiah 1:11, “Now I was cupbearer to the king,” were it not for human readers of his memoir to understand his insider’s perspective? He would certainly not need to remind God of this detail if his record was a journal intended only for the LORD’s eyes. Likewise, the sometimes tedious detailing of the names of people, as in Nehemiah chapter 11, would only be valuable as a historical record for a Jewish audience.
Then there is the very important additional clue provided by Nehemiah’s default use of Babylon-derived month-names without mentioning their associated month-numbers in the beginning of the book. To my knowledge other commentators have failed to note this. In 1:1 he identifies the month as only “Kislev,” with no accompanying mention of “ninth month”; in 2:1 it is “Nisan” without “first month”; and in 6:3 it is “Elul” without “sixth month.” In each case the month-names are given without the associated month-number tied to the Jewish religious calendar. This indicates Nehemiah was accustomed to using a Babylon-derived civil calendar while on the king’s staff in Persia. His only use of month-numbers is in reference to the seventh month in the latter part of his book (Neh 7:73, 8:2, 8:14), after he had resided in Jerusalem for some time and doubtless had been influenced by the widespread use of the religious calendar there, which used God’s numbered-month terminology as given in Leviticus 23. From these considerations we can conclude that Nehemiah the Jew, writing for his Jewish countrymen, yet approaching the regnal year question from a civil rather than religious perspective influenced by his time in the Persian court, dated the regnal year of Artaxerxes using the Jewish Tishri-based civil calendar.
Therefore, rather than depending on an analogy with Thucydides and a somewhat hypothetical departure from normal Persian regnal year reckoning as Bickerman (and Depuydt) did, we can reconcile the regnal years given in Nehemiah and Haggai by using the Scriptures and our settled knowledge of dual Jewish calendars. Each biblical author during the Achaemenid era adopted a distinctly Jewish perspective, with a Jewish audience in view, of the regnal years of Persian kings. It appears that Nehemiah, influenced by being part of the secular Persian court, viewed the reign of Artaxerxes I from the perspective of a Jewish civil, Tishri-based calendar, while Haggai and Zechariah, being prophets and living in the Land, looked at the reign of Darius I through the lens of the Jewish religious, first month-based calendar followed by Jeremiah.
When Did Artaxerxes Take the Throne?
What we have done above is provide a way to biblically justify the different regnal dating methods seen in Nehemiah and Haggai for Persian kings, tying them to Jewish rather than Persian/Babylonian calendars. However, we still have not resolved the issue of how the LBART *1419 Hellenistic-era tablet impacts where we set the accession date of Artaxerxes I. If Xerxes died between August 4–8, 465 BC as that tablet indicates, and Tishri 1 (September 17) was the New Year used by Nehemiah for his determination of Artaxerxes’ regnal years, it makes his first regnal year 465–464 BC. His seventh regnal year, counted inclusively, would then be 459–458 BC, making Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem take place in the spring of 458 rather than 457 BC. For 457 BC to be valid, the accession of Artaxerxes must be placed on or after September 17, 465 BC. This would require something delaying his recognized accession date to a point six weeks or more after Xerxes’ death per LBART *1419. Does such an interregnum exist?
Artabanus’ Impact on Artaxerxes’ Accession Date
In a very complex analysis we will examine below that seeks to account for the AP 6 papyrus from Elephantine, the Babylonian LBART *1419 tablet, and the various Egyptian, Persian and Jewish calendars that come into play, Julia Neuffer concludes that the key to reconciling all of the data is to recognize the existence of a short interregnum after the death of Xerxes. Such a situation would reasonably have resulted in an artificial—but not unprecedented, as she demonstrates with examples—lengthening of the period reckoned as belonging to the 21st regnal year of Xerxes so it overlapped with the beginning of Artaxerxes’ reign, exactly as AP 6 represents it. In essence, there needs to be some explanation for why the crown prince Darius, eldest son of Xerxes and his heir, did not take the throne rather than Artaxerxes. The answer is inextricably tied in with palace intrigues instigated by Xerxes’ captain of the guard or vizier, Artabanus (also spelled Artapanus).
According to Encyclopaedia Iranica at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/artabanus-achaemenid, Artabanus was
a Hyrcanian by birth, favorite of Xerxes, and the commander of his guard. In the last years of his reign Xerxes was under his strong influence. In August, 465 B.C., with the help of the eunuch chamberlain Aspamitres, he assassinated Xerxes. According to Ctesias, he killed Xerxes and then accused the crown prince Darius (Xerxes’ eldest son) of the murder; he instigated Artaxerxes, one of the sons of the king, to avenge the parricide. According to Aristotle, Artabanus killed Darius first and then the king himself. When Artaxerxes I became king, the real power was in Artabanus’s hand, and the chronographers even reckoned him as a king who ruled for seven months [referring to Julius Africanus and Eusebius, who both cited the Egyptian priest Manetho; cf. Fragment 70 of Manetho at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Manetho/History_of_Egypt/3*.html]. He decided to remove Artaxerxes from the throne and seize the royal power, but was discovered and killed together with his sons (Aristotle, Politics 5.1311b; Ctesias, Persica 20; Diodorus 11.69; Plutarch, Themistocles 27) (emphasis and link added).
This agrees with the August 465 date for Xerxes’ death reported by Stolper from LBART *1419 (BM 32234), yet raises the issue of reports that Artabanus reigned as king for a seven-month period. The brief information summarized on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artabanus_of_Persia appears to corroborate the above report that Artabanus, if not king, was effectively in charge for seven months:
Artabanus of Persia (or Artabanus the Hyrcanian; Ancient Greek: Ἀρτάβανος) was a Persian political figure during the Achaemenid dynasty who was reportedly Regent of Persia for a few months (465 BC–464 BC)… According to Aristotle, Artabanus was responsible for the death of Crown Prince Darius. He then became afraid that Xerxes would seek revenge and proceeded to assassinate the King. On the other hand, Junianus Justinus reported that Artabanus had personal ambitions for the throne. He first secretly murdered Xerxes and then accused Darius of parricide, resulting in his execution. The order of events remains uncertain but Xerxes and Darius certainly left the throne vacant. Artabanus’ course of action is also uncertain. Some accounts have him usurping the throne for himself. Others consider him to have named young Artaxerxes I as King and to have acted as Regent and power behind the throne. This state of affairs would not last more than a few months. Artaxerxes reportedly slew him with his own sword, either in battle or by surprise. Artabanus is occasionally listed among the Kings of the Achaemenid dynasty though he was not related to them (emphasis added).
It is difficult to resolve the issues involved, since the ancient sources give conflicting reports and the experts are not unanimous in their conclusions. We are left to make up our own minds as to which account is most believable. The Wikipedia article lists several classical sources it drew from: Aristotle, Politics 5.131Ib (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Aristot. Pol. 5.1311b&lang=original); Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 11.69 (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Diod.+11.69.1); Justin, Epitome of Philipic Histories of Pompeius Trogus III (http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/justinus_03_books01to10.htm); Photius, Epitome of Persica of Ctesias 20 (https://www.livius.org/sources/content/ctesias-overview-of-the-works/photius-excerpt-of-ctesias-persica/); and Plutarch, Life of Themistocles 27 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Themistocles*.html). Let us compare three of these accounts, beginning with that of Aristotle:
for instance Artapanes killed Xerxes fearing the charge about Darius, because he had hanged him when Xerxes had ordered him not to but he had thought that he would forgive him because he would forget, as he had been at dinner.
The combination of this excerpt’s brevity, its lack of corroboration by any other histories, and the rather hard-to-believe suggestion that someone would forget the circumstances surrounding the murder of his own son, leaves me giving little credence to what Aristotle recorded.
Second, here is the pertinent excerpt from Photius’ Epitome (selective abridgement) of Persica of Ctesias 20:
Artapanus and Aspamitres the eunuch, the confidential advisers of Xerxes, resolved to kill their master. Having done so, they persuaded Artoxerxes that his brother Dariaeus had murdered him. Dariaeus was taken to the palace of Artoxerxes, and, although he vehemently denied the accusation, he was put to death. Thus Artoxerxes became king, thanks to Artapanus, who entered into a conspiracy against him with Megabyzus (who was bitterly aggrieved at the suspicion of adultery against his wife), each taking an oath to remain loyal to the other. Nevertheless, Megabyzus revealed the plot, the guilty conduct of Artapanus came to light, and he met the death which he had intended for Artoxerxes.
This account has the crown prince Darius alive after his father’s death and a prime suspect in his murder. Since this was a most serious charge and against the next in line for the throne, there is a chance some sort of official investigation took place before Darius was put to death, although the next account makes it sound like Artaxerxes wasted no time in taking matters into his own hands. Likewise unclear is how long it took before Artabanus drew Megabyzus into the conspiracy, or how long the latter sat on his incriminating knowledge of Artabanus’ role before exposing him. It seems fair to allow for the passing of several weeks, at least, for these matters to shake out, particularly in view of Manetho’s record that presents Artabanus as being in charge for seven months.
Lastly, here is the record as presented by Justin, derived in turn from Trogus, as given at the Tertullian.org link:
Xerxes, king of Persia, once the terror of the nations around him, became, after his unsuccessful conduct of the war against Greece, an object of contempt even to his own subjects. Artabanus, his chief officer, conceiving hopes of usurping the throne, as the king’s authority was every day declining, entered one evening into the palace (which from his intimacy with Xerxes was always open to him), accompanied by his seven stout sons, and, having put the king to death, proceeded to remove by stratagem such of the king’s sons as opposed his wishes. Entertaining little apprehension from Artaxerxes, who was but a boy, he pretended that the king had been slain by Darius, who was of full age, that he might have possession of the throne the sooner, and instigated Artaxerxes to revenge parricide by fratricide. When they came to Darius’s house, he was found asleep, and killed as if he merely counterfeited sleep. But seeing that one of the king’s sons was still uninjured by his villany, and fearing a struggle for the throne on the part of the nobles, he took into his councils a certain Bacabasus [i.e., Megabyzus], who, content that the government should remain in the present family, disclosed the whole matter to Artaxerxes, acquainting him “by what means his father had been killed, and how his brother had been murdered on a false suspicion of parricide; and, finally, how a plot was laid for himself.” On this information, Artaxerxes, fearing the number of Artabanus’s sons, gave orders for the troops to be ready under arms on the following day, as if he meant to ascertain their strength, and their respective efficiency for the field. Artabanus, accordingly, presenting himself under arms among the rest, the king, pretending that his corslet was too short for him, desired Artabanus to make an exchange with him, and, while he was disarming himself, and defenceless, ran him through with his sword, ordering his sons, at the same time, to be apprehended. Thus this excellent youth at once took revenge for his father’s murder, and saved himself from the machinations of Artabanus (emphasis and brackets added).
Though it reflects a definite pro-Artaxerxes slant (“this excellent youth”!), this strikes me as the most complete and believable of the three accounts. Note especially the reference to the concern about “a struggle for the throne on the part of the nobles,” clearly implying an unsettled political situation. At http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/darius-vi it observes that the accounts of Ctesias, Diodorus and Justin differ only slightly, and represent contemporary opinion of what took place, so it appears we are on safe ground in dismissing the much later and briefer version of Aristotle. We therefore place first the murder of Xerxes from a conspiracy instigated by Artabanus; secondly, the killing of Darius the crown prince, after Artabanus sought to conceal his crime by implicating him; and finally, after a delay in which the truth finally outed, Artabanus was put to death. How much of a delay before Artabanus died and the cloud over Artaxerxes’ accession was removed is a fair question. The Encyclopaedia Britannica summarizes at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Artabanus:
Artabanus, also called Ardaban, (died 465/464 BC), minister of the Achaemenid king Xerxes I of Persia, whom he murdered in 465. According to one Greek source, Artabanus had previously killed Xerxes’ son Darius and feared that the father would avenge him; other sources relate that he killed Xerxes first and then, pretending that Darius had done so, induced Darius’ brother Artaxerxes I to avenge the “parricide.” Artabanus was in control of the Achaemenid state for seven months and was recognized as king by Egypt [per Manetho] Finally, however, he was betrayed by his fellow conspirator Megabyzus and was killed by Artaxerxes (emphasis and brackets added).
From these references it appears we cannot confidently say that the rule of Artaxerxes I followed immediately upon the death of Xerxes. If Xerxes died in August, 465 BC but the intrigues of Artabanus postponed Artaxerxes’ official recognition as king at least six weeks, until after Tishri 1, 465 BC, then according to Jewish regnal year reckoning his first regnal year began as of Tishri 1, 464 BC. This in turn would require placing Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem in the spring of 457 BC.
Note that this possibility has nothing to do with Seventh-day Adventist theologians trying to place Ezra’s journey in 457 BC to defend their 2300-day/year doctrine. It is based solely on the classical histories that have survived. We must exercise care not to allow our opinion of SDA doctrinal distinctives, pro or con, to color our view of the raw data they report.
The Analysis of Julia Neuffer
Now we turn to an article written by Julia Neuffer, “The Accession of Artaxerxes I,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 6 (1968): 60–87, online at http://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1081&context=auss. She has much to say about the significance of Artabanus to our deliberations about when Ezra left for Jerusalem. In footnote 8 on page 63 she directs our attention to the same important primary historical reference Depuydt uses:
Late Babylonian Astronomical and Related Texts, A. J . Sachs, ed. (Providence, R. I., 1955), No. *1419. This tablet, hereinafter designated LBART No. *1419, is merely described briefly, in this volume of Hellenistic texts, as listing certain eclipse dates; for the incidental mention of a date for the death of Xerxes (not mentioned in LBART), see PDBC [Parker and Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology] (1956), p. 17, citing Sachs. Since this tablet was described in a book issued twelve years ago [as of 1968] but still remains unpublished, there is no point in awaiting its publication in order to use it at least tentatively, though it can hardly be evaluated since details of its contents, date, provenience, and general accuracy are not yet available (brackets added).
As mentioned earlier, the LBART *1419 tablet is also identified as BM 32234 (cf. Christopher Walker, “Achaemenid Chronology and the Babylonian Sources,” excerpted online at http://www.caeno.org/pdf/Walker_Grand%20Saros_Eclipse%20historical%20date.pdf). She goes on to provide the following background, fully footnoted (p. 71):
Modern historians tell the story by piecing together bits of the various ancient accounts. W. W. Tarn, in the Cambridge Ancient History (1927), says that Artabanus reigned seven months and was recognized in Egypt (based apparently on Manetho) and that he defeated Artaxerxes’ brother Hystaspes (a recombination of elements from Ctesias and Diodorus?) before Artaxerxes killed him. A. T. Olmstead presents Artaxerxes as eighteen years old (a guess from Trogus); Megabyzus as involved in the original conspiracy; and Hystaspes, Xerxes’ other son, as heading the Bactrian revolt and being defeated by Artaxerxes after Artaxerxes killed Artabanus (Diodorus?).
Most historians disregard Artabanus, largely because the absence of tablets dated to his reign would indicate that he was not recognized in Babylonia. Indeed, when it was believed [as by H&W in their 1953 edition] that the nearest contemporary documents (papyrus AP 6 and the Ur tablet UET IV, 193) meant that Xerxes was living until near the end of 465, there could be no room for Artabanus as a factor in the chronology. The ancient writers are against his recognition in Persia, though he could have been recognized in Egypt. Yet AP 6, written in Egypt—possibly during the period when he was in de facto control—ignores him. (However, its dating formula does imply that the transfer of power to Artaxerxes was not immediate and normal, and implies the sort of confused situation pictured in the other ancient sources) (emphasis and bracketed comment added).
She lays out the essence of her case (p. 64):
Thus we are left with two dated documents: (1) the contemporary papyrus AP6, which has been taken to indicate that the accession [of Artaxerxes I] was still recent in January [464 BC]; (2) the Hellenistic tablet LBART No. *1419, which dates the death of Xerxes five months earlier [August 4–8, 465 BC]. Can they be reconciled? An examination of the papyrus and of the historical accounts relating or mentioning the death of Xerxes furnishes clues to a harmonious interpretation (bracketed comments added).
She goes on to analyze multiple histories of the period, including the following details (p. 68):
But since [Ptolemy’s] Canon is dated beyond doubt by nineteen eclipses and other astronomical synchronisms, it is certain that in the official Egyptian reckoning Xerxes’ year 21 (the year 283 in Ptolemy’s Nabonassar Era) began on Thoth I, December 18, 466 B.C., and that Artaxerxes’ year I was the Egyptian calendar year beginning with Thoth I, December 17, 465, and ending with December 16, 464 (emphasis added).
Since corresponding regnal year numbers in 466–465 BC by Egyptian, Babylonian and Jewish reckoning were triggered in the order Egyptian (Thoth 1, December during the Achaemenid era), then Babylonian (Nisanu 1, the following March), finally Jewish (Tishri 1, September), Ptolemy’s Canon would thus put Artaxerxes’ accession to the throne sometime after Tishri 1, 465 BC but before Tishri 1, 464 BC on the Jewish calendar. This makes his first regnal year by Jewish reckoning 464–463 BC, and places Ezra’s seventh-year journey to Jerusalem in the spring of 457 BC. She continues:
Among the Christian chronographers, Julius Africanus (3d century A.D.) and Eusebius (4th century) used Manetho’s chronology. They both included Artabanus with a seven-month reign between Xerxes and Artaxerxes, i.e., in the 4th year of the 78th Olympiad (465/4). They also dated Artaxerxes’ year 20 in the 4th year of the 83d Olympiad (which makes his year I fall in 464/3) (p. 68, emphasis added).
Although Africanus and Eusebius were centuries removed from Artaxerxes’ reign, they drew information from Manetho, an Egyptian priest who lived in the early third century BC, not far removed from the Achaemenid era. Notwithstanding that aspects of Manetho’s history of Egypt are problematic, the fact that his date for Artaxerxes’ 20th regnal year matches up with that in Ptolemy’s Canon corroborates its accuracy in this regard at least.
It should be observed that in Depuydt’s “Regnal Years in Achaemenid Egypt” article, in his tables on pp. 169–170, he agrees with Neuffer in starting Xerxes’ year 21 on Thoth 1, December 18, 466 BC. Using what he describes as a “predating of postdating” strategy by which the Egyptians, while under Achaemenid rule, related their ancient Thothic calendar to that of Babylon, he subdivides the following Egyptian year into a “beginning of year” period of Artaxerxes that commenced from an unclear accession date overlapping with Xerxes’ year 21 until the day before Nisanu 1, 464 BC. Then his first regnal year proper (from an Egyptian/Babylonian, NOT Jewish, perspective), began on Nisanu 1, 464 BC. He places Artaxerxes’ accession sometime between August 5, 465 BC and January 2, 464 BC. In his footnote 27, p. 159, he explains this range of possibilities:
The first date is the first day after the earliest possible date for the murder of Xerxes (BabChr, 17). It might be assumed that Artaxerxes I came to the throne in the days or weeks after that, but this is not absolutely certain, as there may have been an interregnum (emphasis added).
The second date, 2 January 464, is the earliest known date for Artaxerxes I. It is found, not in a cuneiform text, but in an Aramaic document (AP 6), and will be discussed below. The Egyptian new year fell sixteen days earlier on 17 December 465. If the news of Artaxerxes’ accession had reached Elephantine at the southern border of Egypt from Babylon or from another capital of the empire by 2 January 465, then surely the accession must have occurred before the Egyptian new year of 17 December 465.
We see that Depuydt acknowledges the possibility of an interregnum period between the death of Xerxes and the “official” accession of Artaxerxes to the throne. This is what Neuffer’s study focuses on.
Now we turn our attention again to the political intrigues surrounding the death of Xerxes and their impact on the date of Artaxerxes’ accession to the throne. Neuffer gives evidence for an “exceptional but normal” double dating formula in AP 6 related to uncertainties regarding the line of succession after the death of Xerxes. She cites historical precedents where the reign of a king was “artificially extended into another year” in unusual circumstances, and proposes that this is demonstrated in AP 6. Uncertainty over who would inherit Xerxes’ throne after his murder—what with Artaxerxes’ elder brother, Darius, being the crown prince, and Artabanus being involved in schemes aimed to secure the kingship for himself—caused an unusual yet not unprecedented artificial prolonging of Xerxes’ regnal year 21 in official records, resulting in a delayed start of Artaxerxes’ accession year. She first lays out the groundwork (p. 72–73):
The dateline of AP 6 reads: “On the 18th of Kislev, that is the [17th] day of Thoth, in year 21, the beginning of the reign when King Artaxerxes sat on his throne.” Like many other papyri from this Jewish colony in Egypt, it is double-dated in two reckonings, the Egyptian solar calendar and the Semitic (either Persian or Jewish) lunar calendar.
It has already been explained that the first part of this dateline, with its synchronism between a solar [Egyptian] and a lunar [Semitic] month date, leaves no uncertainty that this represents January 2/3, 464 (brackets added). The remainder of this article will examine the last part of the dateline—the regnal year formula: the year 21 (of Xerxes, obviously), and the accession year of Artaxerxes. Does this double dating of the year represent the difference between the Egyptian and Jewish reckonings?
Then on page 73 she elaborates:
But AP 6 not only has two regnal year numbers; the two are in two different reigns. It does not represent a coregency of Artaxerxes with his father. The historical accounts of Xerxes’ death show that Artaxerxes was not even the crown prince, and did not become king until after the death of his father and his older brother (emphasis original).
She then proceeds to work through the several options for explaining how this unusual simultaneous dating to two different reigns could have happened: scribal error, or the difference in reckoning between different calendars, or a double year designation in one calendar. Obviously with Parker’s 1955 critique in mind, she immediately sets aside scribal error as an option:
Some have thought that this unusual double-reign dating formula was an absent-minded error of the scribe who wrote it. This was plausible when it was believed that Xerxes had only recently died, in late December [465 BC], for the scribe could have begun with “year 21” as he had been doing for some time, and on remembering that Artaxerxes was now king, merely added the accession-year formula without correcting the initial error. But this was an official document written by a professional scribe; he would be expected to begin over rather than merely to add the correct dating to the erroneous phrase, especially since “in the year 21” stood in the first line of the document. And forgetfulness is not an easy explanation if, as the Hellenistic tablet (LBART No. *1419) indicates, the change of kings had not been recent but some five months earlier (p. 74, brackets added).
Neuffer concludes, “it is not necessary to suppose a mistake, since there are other examples of this unusual type of year formula.” On page 75 she begins presenting historical precedents for what she sees reflected in the AP 6 documents. The examples she uses are several, but for brevity we will only mention the reign of Kandalanu, who ruled Babylonia under the Assyrian empire. Years are given “after Kandalanu,” after his death, rather than immediately segueing into the accession year of his successor Nabopolassar, who had to contend with others for the throne and thus left the succession in doubt for awhile. A fictitious “year 22 after Kandalanu, in the accession year of Nabopolassar” is referred to. Thus we see an artificial prolonging of the previous king’s reign, though he had been dead for some time, into the accession year of the next king:
Except for the distinction made by the term “after Kandalanu,” this reckoning of a year 22, although he had died in year 21, furnishes an exact parallel to the other examples of dating in the name of a king after his death, and after a new king was recognized as ruling.
Since the extension of one king’s regnal reckoning beyond his lifetime, into the reign of another king, is attested both before and after the time of papyrus AP 6, then its double dateline in the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes is not necessarily a scribal error.
In the final analysis, Neuffer demonstrates that, even if we set aside the December 465 BC date H&W used for the start of Artaxerxes’ accession and instead adopt the August 465 date indicated by LBART *1419, we have not thereby eliminated the possibility that Artaxerxes’ first regnal year was 464–463 BC by Jewish reckoning, nor Ezra’s travel to Jerusalem in the spring of 457 BC. This is so because we have evidence for an interregnum of several months between Xerxes’s death and the “official” start of Artaxerxes’ accession to the throne, thus accommodating the same first regnal year H&W argued for from a different angle.
Shea’s Thoughts on the Crown Prince Darius
There is one last matter to consider, that the principle reason for an interregnum after Xerxes’ death was because Artaxerxes was not the designated heir to the throne. In “Who Succeeded Xerxes on the Throne of Persia?” (JATS 12/1 (Spring 2001), pp. 83–88, online at http://archive.atsjats.org/JATS12.1-08Shea.pdf) and published six years after Depuydt’s work, William Shea accepts what Neuffer and Depuydt earlier took as a given, that the death of Xerxes must be placed at the beginning of August 465 BC: “Since there is a late Hellenistic astronomical text which dates the murder of Xerxes in the fifth Persian-Babylonian month, or August, the transition between these two kings has been dated in the summer of 465 B.C.” (p. 83). He elaborates in “Supplementary Evidence in Support of 457 B.C. as the Starting Date for the 2300 Day-Years of Daniel 8:14,” JATS 12/1 (Spring 2001), pp. 89–96:
According to a late and still unpublished astronomical text [LBART No. *1419], Xerxes was murdered in August of a year in which two eclipses of the moon occurred. This unusual circumstance dates that year firmly to 465 B.C. The succession of Artaxerxes was delayed because of palace intrigue, especially by a leading official [Artabanus] who wanted to make himself king. This delayed his accession until after 1 Tishri of that year. This means the balance of that year and 464 until the fall New Year of 1 Tishri constituted his accession year, according to the Jewish fall-to-fall calendar. Thus, his first year began in the fall of 464 B.C. That dates his seventh year from the fall of 458 B.C. to the fall of 457 B.C. (p. 90, brackets added).
From the title of the article this quote was drawn from, it is clear that Shea’s objective is to justify the SDA doctrine of 2300 day-years in Daniel 8:14, which a spring 457 BC journey by Ezra is tied in with. But in the face of the historical evidence in favor of an interregnum, acknowledged by such a neutral party as Depuydt and defended without reference to SDA doctrine by Neuffer, it would be a mistake to dismiss his analysis out of hand. Like Depuydt, Shea does not uncritically adopt the assumption that Artaxerxes’s accession year began immediately upon Xerxes’ death. Noting that an August 465 date for it is problematic for the H&W thesis, he first analyzes the situation presented by the chronological sources, and summarizes them thus (“Who Succeeded Xerxes,” p. 84):
From this survey of Egyptian, Persian, and Babylonian sources, it is evident that there are no dated texts to the accession of Artaxerxes from the last half of 465 B.C., after the murder of Xerxes. The earliest dated texts from these three areas come from Egypt, where his accession year is mentioned in January of 464 B.C. This first regnal year is then mentioned in Persia in the summer of 464, and his first year is also mentioned in the fall of 464 in Babylonia.
There are two possible explanations for this phenomenon. First it may simply be an accident of preservation (or non-preservation). After Xerxes’ suppression of the revolt in Babylon, texts from that region become less frequent.
On the other hand, this absence may have stemmed from the course of political events in the Persian Empire after the murder of Xerxes. Those events require a more detailed explanation.
Turning to examine ancient sources for the events of late 465 BC, Shea emphasizes that the historical evidence, particularly as given by Ctesias, indicates that the proper heir to the throne of Xerxes was the crown prince Darius, not Artaxerxes:
The three sources agree that Artabanus murdered Xerxes. That set in motion the events described above. The question then is who took the throne after the death of Xerxes? The answer is obvious: it was the older son Darius who was crown prince and heir to the throne. Artaxerxes was the younger son and not in line for the throne…Darius, not Artaxerxes, was the legitimate king who came to the throne after Xerxes.
Shea then suggests the impact of this fact:
…but if his [Darius] brief reign took up only as little as six weeks in August or September, that would have put the accession of Artaxerxes after 1 Tishri according to the Jewish fall-to-fall calendar. According to this kind of reckoning, that means that his first full regnal year would have extended from the fall of 464 to the fall of 463, and his seventh year from the fall of 458 to the fall of 457. Whatever the precise course of events that occurred during this troubled time, it is reasonable to estimate the chronological course described here. The lack of documentation during the latter months of 465 B.C. may not be just an accident of (non-)discovery, but could have occurred because of a royal cover-up by Artaxerxes. That was the point of view from which Ctesius and the other classical writers received their stories.
What are we to think of Shea’s suggestion? It is consistent with Neuffer’s analysis that there was a good possibility of an interregnum in the immediate aftermath of Xerxes’ murder, a likelihood that Depuydt also acknowledges. But in my opinion it seems to be reading between the lines a bit overmuch, as far as the classical information we have is concerned, to attribute a reign of Darius of up to six weeks. The data we have would allow for that, of course, so this is just my subjective impression. I think it is safest to simply say that the ancient records indicate the machinations of Artabanus probably resulted in a delay in the start of Artaxerxes’ accession year until after Tishri 1, 465 BC, making his first regnal year begin as of Tishri 1, 464 BC.
Putting It All Together
The above information provides the historical rationale for a delay in the start of Artaxerxes’ regnal year beyond the August 465 date of Xerxes’ death indicated by LBART *1419. It does not have to be a long delay, just sufficient so that, according to Jewish reckoning, his accession to the Persian throne was not recognized as official until after Tishri 1, 465 BC. Coupled with the biblical data from Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah, we have good reasons to say that all three viewed the reign of the Persian king with a Jewish calendar in mind, but that calendar varied according to whether they were influenced by immersion in a secular or religious environment.
We will close with these comments from an independent source, Dr. Ed Rickard on his The Moorings website (https://www.themoorings.org/Jesus/Messianic_prophecy/69_weeks/Artaxerxes_20th_year.html):
If Nehemiah is not using Persian reckoning, he must be using Jewish reckoning. Internal evidence (Neh. 13:6–7, for instance) suggests that the book was written in Jerusalem. Moreover, his choice of language (Hebrew), his careful recording of facts that he did not need to record for himself, and the actual survival of his book—all indicate that his purpose was to set down a history that would be read by Jewish posterity. Therefore, he computed the dates at the outset of his memoirs in terms of a regnal year beginning in Tishri. Many scholars have endorsed this conclusion.
For these reasons I am not persuaded that a Persian regnal year, either Nisan-based or tied to variable accession months, should be assumed in understanding the dating of Nehemiah. Yet in the case of Haggai we cannot assume Tishri dating by the Jewish civil calendar either. The best, and Scripture-based, explanation appears to be that two different Jewish calendars—one civil and indicated by the use of Babylon-derived month-names, the other religious and indicated by the use of month-numbers typical of the calendar God gave the Jews at the first Passover—were behind the thinking of the different writers. From this, coupled with the likelihood that an interregnum meant Artaxerxes did not begin his accession year until after Tishri 1, 465 BC, I am driven to the conclusion that Ezra’s trip to Jerusalem took place in the spring of 457 BC. In this way we can accommodate what seems to be a biblical requirement to understand the Seventy Weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27 as based on sabbatical years. If the Lord is willing, that is the next topic we will look at in this series.