The Seraiah Assumption: Wrapping Up Some Loose Ends
In this article I want to share some observations in the aftermath of publishing my study on the Seraiah Assumption (https://biblearchaeology.org/research/the-daniel-9-24-27-project/4369-the-seraiah-assumption-and-the-decree-of-daniel-9-25). That article was prompted by a six-point challenge issued by William Struse (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/category/artaxerxes-assumption-challenge/) to any who would defend what he calls the “Artaxerxes Assumption.” This he defines as the modern consensus that “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 4:7ff. and Ezra 6:14 refers to Artaxerxes I, known as Longimanus, a consensus which he insists misreads the Scriptures. I took up his challenge, put in many hours of research over a couple of months to weight the pros and cons on the subject, and presented what I felt was a carefully reasoned response to all six points, lest I be accused of deliberately ignoring the issues he and others of like mind have raised.
Evaluating Responses to the “Seraiah Assumption” Article
Mr. Struse has since issued a multi-part response to my article on his blog (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/). In defense of his thesis he levels the general criticism that I have misunderstood the biblical context of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. He renders this judgment wherever my conclusions, regardless of the reasons underlying them, disagree with those he has already embraced from his context-centered approach. It allows him to dismiss, as erroneous by definition, the findings of archaeology or biblical background studies whenever they conflict with his views about biblical context.
My impression is that positions like those held by Mr. Struse arise from a combination of lack of exposure to new discoveries (much of the most current information is in professional literature that is not readily available on the Internet), plus uncritical acceptance of information drawn from older, now-outdated commentaries and reference works in the public domain, easily found online at places like https://biblehub.com/topical/a/artaxerxes.htm, that do not reflect more recent discoveries. Those older works, such as Smith’s Bible Dictionary (published in the 1860s), the ATS Bible Dictionary (1859), and Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897), reflect historical knowledge from the nineteenth century that in many cases is now known to be incorrect or incomplete. In particular, the three mentioned Bible dictionaries accept an idea espoused in the 1800s by Heinrich Ewald, among others, that “Ahasuerus” referred to Cambyses II and “Artaxerxes” to Smerdis/Bardiya, the two Persian kings immediately following Cyrus the Great. In contrast we have more recent works, such as the original International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (though still rather dated, having been first published in 1915), which included the following entry written by renowned conservative Princeton theologian Robert Dick Wilson (if you’ve never heard of him, read about his impressive academic background and conservative credentials in “Life and Work of Robert Dick Wilson” on The Master’s Seminary website at tmsj19e.pdf):
Ar-taks-urk'-sez (Artaxerxes): Is the Greek and Latin form of one, and perhaps of two or three kings of Persia mentioned in the Old Testament.
(1) ALL ARE AGREED that the Artaxerxes at whose court Ezra and Nehemiah were officials is Artaxerxes I, the son of Xerxes, commonly called Longimanus, who reigned from 465 to 424 B.C. This Artaxerxes was the third son of Xerxes and was raised to the throne by Artabanus, the murderer of Xerxes….
(2) Ewald and others have thought that the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 was the pseudo-Smerdis. The principal objection against this view is that we have NO EVIDENCE that either the pseudo-Smerdis, or the real Smerdis, was ever called Artaxerxes. The real Smerdis is said to have been called Tanyoxares, or according to others Oropastes. Ewald would change the latter to Ortosastes, which closely resembles Artaxerxes, and it must be admitted that many of the Persian kings had two or more names. It seems more probable, however, that Artaxerxes I is the king referred to; and there is little doubt that the identification of the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 with the pseudo-Smerdis would never have been thought of had it not been for the difficulty of explaining the reference to him in this place [an explanation we now have, through the work of A. Philip Brown II and others].
(3) The Greek translation of the Septuagint renders the Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther by Artaxerxes, and is followed in this rendering by Josephus. There is no doubt that by this Artaxerxes Josephus meant the first of that name; for in the Antiquities, XI, vi, 1 he says that “after the death of Xerxes, the kingdom came to be transferred to his son Cyrus, whom the Greeks called Artaxerxes.” He then proceeds to show how he married a Jewish wife, who was herself of the royal family and who is related to have saved the nation of the Jews. In a long chapter, he then gives his account of the story of Vashti, Esther and Mordecai. In spite of this rendering of the Septuagint and Josephus, there is NO DOUBT that the Hebrew Achashwerosh is the same as the Greek Xerxes; and there is NO EVIDENCE that Artaxerxes I was ever called Xerxes by any of his contemporaries. The reason of the confusion of the names by the Septuagint and Josephus will probably remain forever a mystery (emphasis and brackets added).
“All are agreed…no doubt…no evidence.” “No evidence” means no evidence, regardless of any proposals about biblical context. The emphasized quotations from Wilson make it unambiguously clear that, from his well-informed perspective, Ahasuerus referred to Xerxes, and the Artaxerxes of Ezra and Nehemiah referred to Longimanus. Given his qualifications, one should think it presumptuous to dismiss Dr. Wilson’s views as “misunderstanding the biblical context.”
Consistent with Wilson’s scholarship, I presented in my Seraiah Assumption article a chart where Dr. William Shea summarized the most recent ancient language studies. They indicate the name “Ahasuerus” in Ezra 4:6 was not a generic “title” for Persian kings, but a personal name. Shea showed how the original Old Persian form of the name mutated into Ahasuerus—the very name used throughout the book of Esther. I pointed this out in a private email to Mr. Struse, and he replied (5/30/2019, most typos as in the original):
Regarding William Shea’s ancient language studies I’m not sure why you believe that is some sort of conclusive proof. As I’m sure you know “Ahasuerus” is the Hebrew version of the Persian word Khshayarsha. The unpointed Hebrew word being “‘chshwrsh”. The Mesoretes [sic] added the vowel pointings which gave us “Ahasuerus”. In my opinion Esther 1:1 is sufficient evidence to prove that the Hebrew Ahasuerus is a title. The verse reads:
Esther 1:1 KJV Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces…)
The author of Esther opens with “in the days of Ahasuerus”. Then he goes on to clarify that this “Ahasuerus” was the “Ahasuerus” who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. If “Ahasuerus” was personal name of single king then the author of Esther would not have need to make the clarification that this Persian king was the one who rule over 127 Provinces. The only reasons to make such a distinction would be to make sure the reader understood which “Ahasuerus” was being mentioned.
The reasoning that this was a “single king whom the Greeks knew as Xerxes” further falls downs when we consider that in Greek history there were no other “Xerxes” before Xerxes son of Darius (Hystaspes). Yet the Bible clearly tells us that there was a Median king named “Ahasuerus” who was the father of Darius the Mede, the same Median who (under Cyrus) was made king of Babylon circa 538-536 BC. This was several generations before the Xerxes I of Greek fame. This also proves that Ahasuerus was at the very least, a title used by more than one Persian and most probably just a general title given to Persian kings, possibly to signify some connection to the Median side of the Medeo-Persian peoples.
Although calling “Khshayarsha” a “word” rather than a “name” seems to be an attempt to blunt the force of the historical evidence by redefining it, Mr. Struse did make a valid factual point above. He is correct that the name “Ahasuerus” was also applied to another king; Daniel 9:1 informs us that an earlier “Ahasuerus,” usually identified with Astyages, was the father of Darius the Mede. However, this man was a predecessor of Cyrus the Great and had nothing to do with the Persian Achaemenid period, my focus, so I did not discuss him. I agree that, in view of the existence of this earlier Ahasuerus, it makes sense that Esther 1:1 could be taken as a statement clarifying which Ahasuerus was being discussed in Esther—the one who was the son of Darius the Great, not the earlier one who was the father of Darius the Mede. My point was that there was only a single king in the Achaemenid Period under discussion who went by the name Ahasuerus. Bringing up the fact that there was a Median king by that name prior to Cyrus should not obscure the fact that there is no evidence for any Persian “Ahasuerus” after Cyrus, save for that king whom the Greeks knew as Xerxes. To cite well-meaning but inadequately informed commentators of yesteryear as evidence Cambyses II held the “title” of “Ahasuerus” is to shut one’s eyes to contemporary historical evidence.
Moreover, if “Ahasuerus” was just a common “title” for Persian kings generally, what would be the point of mentioning it if the intent of Esther 1:1 was to clarify exactly which king was being discussed? It does not help to identify the exact king if “Ahasuerus” was simply a generic title. If instead it was a personal name or perhaps a throne name, though, it has real value in narrowing down the options. Thus, I believe it makes better sense to view “Ahasuerus” as either a throne name taken by two Medo-Persian kings or as an example of papponymic name repetition. The further observation that the intended king was fabulously wealthy, because he inherited an expansive empire from his father Darius the Great—who is never called either Ahasuerus or Artaxerxes anywhere in any historical records—is used to narrow the options down to only one.
As for the point Mr. Struse made about the Masoretic vowel pointings, my previous article cited F.D. Nichol, who used the same information to arrive at the opposite conclusion from Mr. Struse, as emphasized below:
And from F.D. Nichol, in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (online at https://archive.org/stream/SdaBibleCommentary1980/SdaBc-3%20%2815%29%20Ezra_djvu.txt), we get this confirmation that “Ahasuerus” was a personal name that went through translation transformations:
The Ahasuerus of Esther (ch. 1:1; etc.) is generally identified with the king whom the Greeks called Xerxes. The Hebrew Achashwerosh is a much closer transliteration of the Persian Khshayârshâ or the Babylonian from Achshiyarshu than is the Greek Xerxes. It should not be forgotten that the vowels did not come into the Hebrew Bible manuscripts until about the 7th century AD. Hence, the Hebrew author of Esther reproduced only the consonants of Khshayârshâ and wrote ’Chshwrwsh…The spelling of the name Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 is the same as in Esther, and linguistically fits, of all known Persian kings, only the name of Xerxes (emphasis added).
Notice the words “of all known Persian kings.” It must not be overlooked that the Ahasuerus of Daniel 9:1 was not a Persian king, but a Median sovereign. Certainly, if the Median Ahasuerus had been discussed by the Greeks they would have rendered his name as “Xerxes” also, but he was never a ruler of Persia. We must not mix apples and oranges.
A. Philip Brown II, in “The Chronological Relation of Ezra and Nehemiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (Apr–Jun 2005) (https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-2-temporal-ordering-ezra-part-ii), added in the same vein:
Contrary to older commentators’ frequent citation of the “well-known fact” that Persian kings had multiple names, no extant archeological or inscriptional evidence equates Cambyses with Ahasuerus or Artaxerxes with Pseudo-Smerdis, or uses Artaxerxes as a general title for Persian monarchs. From a philological standpoint, H. H. Schaeder’s analysis of vwrwvja and vsvjtra establishes beyond reasonable doubt that Ahasuerus and Artachshashta are in fact the Aramaic names for Xerxes and Artaxerxes (emphasis added).
To my mind, these multiple recent citations conclusively show the claim that “Ahasuerus” must refer to Cambyses II has no factual basis. There is simply no evidence supporting it, the idea was devised out of thin air by people who could not see the thematic approach taken in Ezra 4. Without a solid historical foundation to rest on, it is little more than stubbornness to insist that the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6 must be understood as chronologically following immediately after Cyrus, in the person of Cambyses. Likewise, all of the recent studies I found indicate that “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 4:7 was not a general Persian title for a king, but the throne name taken by several specific kings of Persia.
The evidence drives us toward an indisputable conclusion: there is no known historical evidence that “Artaxerxes” was ever applied to either Darius or Smerdis/Bardiya. Given how much we now know about the Achaemenid dynasty—quite a lot more than the nineteenth-century Bible scholars—this is quite an inconvenient fact for the claim that “biblical context” requires changing the names as given by inerrant Scripture in Ezra 4 from Ahasuerus to Cambyses, and from Artaxerxes to Smerdis/Bardiya. For changing Scripture is what such claims do, for all practical purposes. It means mentally substituting the names given in the Bible with others drawn from secular history in order to maintain certain hermeneutical presuppositions. I fail to see how this is not reading one’s own private interpretation, one’s personal hermeneutical system, onto Scripture. If one claims to be taking the “plain sense” of Scripture as the only sense, how can one justify changing, even if only in one’s mind, the names of two kings given in its records, by the dubious expedient of labeling them “titles”? Since the root criticism leveled at my article is that it misreads the Scriptures, let us compare Ezra 4:6–7 in the KJV, favored by Mr. Struse, with the version that results after his interpretation is applied to the text:
KJV: “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia…”
Struse revised version: “And in the reign of Cambyses, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Bardiya wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Bardiya king of Persia…”
Which version allows the plain sense, not an interpreted sense, of the inspired text to speak to us?
Once again, in the absence of any historical foundation for claiming Darius or Smerdis/Bardiya was also known as “Artaxerxes,” we must say that such claims are not fact-based, but opinions based on a reading of the context of Ezra 4:7 and 6:14 that is unnecessarily locked into viewing these passages as purely chronological. To instead adopt the thematic view discussed in the last article is not “misunderstanding biblical context,” but allowing recently uncovered historical facts to be taken into account in determining what a fully informed view of context involves. Though there is a superficial appearance from Ezra 4 that Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes could possibly be attributed to Cambyses and Smerdis/Bardiya respectively, that is all it is—superficial. Historical facts that are now confidently known render this idea untenable.
The Meaning of ’Edayin
One of Mr. Struse’s most recent posts, “Cyrus to Darius: The 2nd Temple Context of Ezra 4” (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2019/05/04/cyrus-to-darius-the-2nd-temple-context-of-ezra-4/), spends considerable time discussing his understanding of the Hebrew term ’edayin and its exegetical significance. He claims that in every single case where the Aramaic word ’edayin is used, it carries a chronological/temporal significance:
But verse 23 presents a problem for Mr. Lanser’s interpretation. The Aramaic word ‘edayin’ is used 57 times in the Old Testament. 56 of those occurrences, including the “now” of Ezra 4:23, clearly refer to successive events which take place in chronological order. In most cases the events described by the word ‘edayin’ transpire directly after previously described events of the text. The only other occurrence of the world ‘edayin’ found in the Bible is Ezra 4:24 and is represented by the English word “then”.
If we use a consistent Hermeneutics we must translate ‘edayin’ in Ezra 4:24 in the same manner we translated it in verse 23 – as well as the other 55 other occurrences of the word found in the Old Testament. There is simply no other reasonable way to see ‘edayin’ other than a chronological synchronism which connects successive events. By placing ‘edayin’ at the beginning of both verse 23 & verse 24 the author of Ezra wanted to ensure there was no confusion about the chronological order of events.
My response was to “be a Berean” and check his information. I went to the online copy of Strong’s at http://www.blbclassic.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H116&t=NASB and looked up the Aramaic term 'edayin (אֱדַיִן). Near the beginning of that entry it notes, “i.q. Heb. אָז,” meaning it was the same as the Hebrew word אָז ('az). I then checked my copy of the Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon to look up that word. I found that EBDB on page 23 observes the word does not always have a strictly temporal significance; point 2 on that page shows it is also used for expressing logical sequence, i.e., “since A, then B.” Then I went to the Biblical Aramaic appendix to EBDB and checked the entry for ʼedayin. It referred me in turn to Gleason Archer’s standard reference book, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT). Entry 2558 in that work states that the Aramaic term generally takes a temporal sense as Struse insists, but with one exception: “Used also with prepositions bĕ [בּ] or min meaning ‘since.’” If we go to the Aramaic text of Ezra 4:24, what do we find? The word used there is בֵּאדַיִן—ʼedayin with the preposition bĕ prefixed to it! This indicates logical sequence is intended, not temporal sequence. Ezra 4:23 does not include the prefix, so in that case a temporal meaning applies. The meanings are not identical.
The “then” of Ezra 4:24 therefore must be understood, based on rules of grammar, not as an action following consecutively in time after Ezra 4:23, but as completing the thought paused after Ezra 4:5, when the author, following a thematic rather than chronological contextual approach, went on a sidetrack about similar Samaritan problems which would take place in the future. Mr. Struse was honest in reporting that his source treats the ʼedayin of Ezra 4:24 differently from its other instances, but refused to accept this because he regards it as an unreasonable, purely subjective opinion. It is not, it is grammar-based, and I think the grammar rules should carry the argument. Mr. Struse’s statement, “There is simply no other reasonable way to see ‘edayin’ other than a chronological synchronism which connects successive events,” does not match up with the objective grammar-based evidence.
Sanballat in the Elephantine Papyri
Lastly, I would point out the mention of Sanballat, the local leader Nehemiah contended with, in Elephantine papyri that place him alive in 407 BC. As described at https://theosophical.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/biblical-archaeology-31-the-elephantine-papyri/:
One letter is of particular note. The “Petition to Bagoas” is a letter written by Yedaniah bar-Gemariah on November 25, 407 BC (the 17th year of King Darius) to Bagoas, the Persian governor of Judea, asking for assistance in the rebuilding of a Jewish temple in Elephantine that had been damaged by Egyptian priests in the community. On the reverse side at the very end it mentions another letter that had been sent to the sons of Sanballat, governor of Samaria: “We have also set forth the whole matter in a letter in our name to Delaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. Furthermore, Arsames (the Persian satrap) knew nothing of all that was perpetrated on us. On the twentieth of Marheshwan, the seventeenth year of Darius the King.”
The Elephantine papyri dating to 407 BC that mentions Sanballat I, governor of Samaria while Nehemiah was governor of Judea. Public domain.
The precise dating of this letter, in the seventeenth year of the reign of Darius II Nothus who succeeded Artaxerxes I Longimanus, together with the explicit naming of Sanballat alongside his two sons who were old enough to be the primary recipients of a second official letter, should make it clear that Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem must be placed in the twentieth year of an “Artaxerxes” compatible with that date. Only Artaxerxes I Longimanus meets the dating requirements; placing Nehemiah’s arrival in the twentieth year of Darius I (502/501 BC) is far too early for Sanballat to have been a middle-aged man at that time. When I pointed this out to Mr. Struse in a private email, he replied:
The fact that a Sanballat was mentioned in the Elephantine papyri is not proof that this was the Sanballat of Nehemiah’s day. In fact Sanballat was a very common name especially during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has this to say about Sanballat:
Sanballat is the Babylonian Sin-uballit, “may Sin give him life,” a name occurring a number of times in the contract tablets from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, and Darius Hystaspis. (See Tallquist, Neubabylonisches Namenbuch, 183) (emphasis added by Struse).
The problem here is that Mr. Struse has jumped to a conclusion that overlooks a key point made by Robert Dick Wilson in the aforementioned ISBE article, online at https://biblehub.com/topical/s/sanballat.htm. It is this: the Sanballat in question was clearly not only a governor of Samaria, he was also the father of two sons named Delaiah and Shelemiah. These are men who were rulers of the Samaritans and are known from the Elephantine papyri to have lived in the late fifth century BC. These further identifiers make this Sanballat a very specific person that stands out from any others who may have borne that name, and only this particular Sanballat matters to us. Certainly, the name may have been found at other times and in other contexts, just like the multiple examples of papponymy given in the previous article. But how many of them were governors who also fathered sons named Delaiah and Shelemiah?
The root problem I see is the use of citations of older information which have since been shown to be outdated and in error. Tallquist’s work came out way back in 1905, and has been superseded by numerous studies that demonstrate the Sanballat of the Elephantine papyri of 407 BC could only have been Sanballat I, “the Horonite” (Neh 2:10, 19, 13:28). For example, the more recent revised edition of the ISBE, edited by G.W. Bromiley in 1988, leaves out the Wilson quotation and states instead:
Sanballat I was contemporary with Nehemiah, ca. 444, and was succeeded by his son Delaiah (Elephantine Papyri Nos. 30, 32). The son of Jehoiada married Sanballat’s daughter (Neh. 13:28). Bagohi succeeded Nehemiah as governor of Judah prior to 407.
Sanballat II, son of Delaiah, was succeeded by his sons Yeshua and Hananiah; the latter was governor by 354 (Samaria Papyri 5, 8). Sanballat II therefore held the office between Delaiah (407) and Hananiah (354).
Sanballat III, son of Hananiah, was appointed by Darius III (335–330). He gave his daughter Nikaso to Manasseh, who was a brother of Jaddua the high priest (Josephus, Ant. xi.7.2, §303).
So we see that the ISBE, rather than enshrining the original edition as the unchanging standard, was modified over time to reflect advances in historical knowledge. The two editions did share the common understanding, however, that Sanballat I was Nehemiah’s contemporary, father of Delaiah, and father-in-law to the son of the high priest Jehoiada. And as of today, further scholarly analysis of the Samaria papyri has even called into question whether there were indeed three different governors named Sanballat, though all acknowledge Sanballat “the Horonite” was the first. At https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/50-people-in-the-bible-confirmed-archaeologically/, Biblical Archaeology Review published online an article, “53 People in the [Hebrew] Bible Confirmed Archaeologically” by Lawrence J. Mykytiuk (updated 4-12-2017). The work is introduced with background at https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/lib_fsdocs/182/. This introduction includes the following from its Abstract:
This is a list, with end-note documentation, of 53 people in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament who are strongly identified in published inscriptions of known authenticity, in most instances from during or quite close to their lifetimes. It includes people from ancient Egypt, Moab, Aram-Damascus, the northern kingdom of Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia.
The intent is to include only well-grounded, strong identifications that can be trusted.
Mykytiuk’s publications firmly reject the haphazard, “flying by the seat of the pants” approach of numerous online lists which are created without explicit criteria or by suspect use of ad hoc criteria, all of which easily produce results that are desired but often questionable at best, or in some instances based on forgeries, rather than winnowed by rigorous critique (emphasis added).
The detailed endnotes, available by direct download from https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1190&context=lib_fsdocs, include this information:
20. Sanballat “I”, governor of Samaria under Persian rule, ca. mid-fifth century, Nehemiah 2:10, etc., in a letter among the papyri from the Jewish community at Elephantine in Egypt (A. E. Cowley, ed., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923; reprinted Osnabrück, Germany: Zeller, 1967), p. 114 English translation of line 29, and p. 118 note regarding line 29; ANET, p. 492. Also, the reference to “[ ]ballat,” most likely Sanballat, in Wadi Daliyeh bulla WD 22 appears to refer to the biblical Sanballat as the father of a governor of Samaria who succeeded him in the first half of the fourth century. As Jan Dušek shows, it cannot be demonstrated that any Sanballat II and III existed, which is the reason for the present article’s quotation marks around the “I” in Sanballat “I”; see Jan Dušek, “Archaeology and Texts in the Persian Period: Focus on Sanballat,” in Martti Nissinen, ed., Congress Volume: Helsinki 2010 (Boston: Brill, 2012), pp. 117–132 (emphasis added).
The above-cited article by Dušek can be found online at https://www.academia.edu/attachments/35990126/download_file?st=MTU1OTY4OTE1MCwyMDguMTAxLjE2MS42LDEyODk4NjA1&s=profile. In it he reviews past attempts to answer the question of how many “Sanballats” are referred to in the historical records, both before and since the discovery in 1963 of the Samaria Papyri from Wadi Daliyeh, first published by Frank Moore Cross in 1974. Dušek draws our attention to the influence of secondary literature on how we view historical data—works applying a particular interpretation to the data, rather than presenting the data as bald facts. Such secondary works—and this includes my articles and those of Struse—aim to encourage viewing the data from a certain perspective, through glasses colored by a certain theological/hermeneutical tint. Dušek argues that this is what has happened in the scholarly world, for prior to the publication of the Samaria Papyri the debate was whether there were one or two Sanballats; in the aftermath of the influential Cross’s interpretation of the Samaria Papyri, the question changed to whether there were two or three. Dušek challenges us to view the data through a more neutral lens than Cross’s advocacy, because “we can observe that, in some sense, the literary tradition precedes the archaeology in these cases” (Congress Volume, p. 117). We need to take fresh stock of the literary tradition promoted in the secondary literature after our archaeological or historical knowledge has advanced. In the case of Sanballat, he argues, such a re-evaluation results in dropping the three Sanballats proposed by Cross down to only one:
In the introduction of this article, we posited that the knowledge of literary sources, in some sense, precedes interpretation of the data coming from archaeology. Now we must add that the uncritical reading of modern secondary literature occasionally precedes the interpretation of data emerging from archaeology as well. This seems to be precisely the case in the multiplication of Sanballats, all purported governors of Samaria (p. 125).
He summarizes on page 126: “All primary sources actually available are witnesses to the existence of only one Sanballat, active in approximately the second half of the fifth century BCE [i.e., the Sanballat who interacted with Nehemiah]. The existence of more than one Sanballat cannot be based on any reliable source” (emphasis and bracketed note added). If Dušek is correct, then the only Sanballat we need concern ourselves with is the one all modern scholarship is unanimous about, who was a contemporary of Nehemiah and was mentioned in the Elephantine papyri, the father of Delaiah and still referred to as governor in 407 BC. This is a point of unanimity which the possibility of other Sanballats known to history does not affect. It does not matter if there were others. What does matter is that the particular Sanballat who contended with Nehemiah was still alive in 407 BC. Therefore, the known historical facts drive us to this conclusion: Nehemiah cannot be made out to be a contemporary of Darius the Great, who died in 486 BC. One cannot claim to be following “plain sense” interpretive principles while at the same time ignoring well-attested historical facts. The two things must be considered together; neither stands alone.
Allowing for Advances in Biblical Knowledge
In pointing out these things, I am in no way claiming that new ideas in biblical studies are always more correct than older information. My views of Scripture are quite conservative, some might say to a fault, and I reject many modernist scholars’ ideas that seek to water down the authority of Scripture. I make no apologies for that, since it naturally flows from my respect for Scripture as the Word of God. But at the same time, it is necessary to embrace a balanced view of scholarship that allows for the possibility of breakthrough insights on the past. This is my approach.
The bottom line is that even if one’s hermeneutical approach to the text makes one think I misunderstood the biblical context of Ezra and Nehemiah, the above and other points made in my article are independent of contextual considerations. They have to be evaluated on their own merits and determined to be historically factual or not. If Ahasuerus was a personal name that cannot be historically applied to Cambyses; and Artaxerxes was a throne name that cannot be historically applied to Smerdis/Bardiya or Darius I; and the Sanballat of the Elephantine papyri was a contemporary of Nehemiah who lived until 407 BC; then it follows that the supposedly context-based arguments against the “Artaxerxes Assumption” must themselves be dismissed as misinterpretations of the biblical context.
Narrowly Defining “Plain Sense” Interpretation
Reading over his several recent posts, it appears that, apart from repeating and vigorously emphasizing his already-established views based on his concept of biblical context and readily accessible but unfortunately no longer current sources of information, Mr. Struse has not, as of this writing, put forth any truly substantive objections based on historical or archaeological data to my Seraiah article. I suspect he has little desire to address our differences of opinion on that basis, but wants to keep the debate narrowly defined by his understanding of what “plain sense” interpretation means. On his blog page at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2018/07/07/context-chronology-daniel-9/ Mr. Struse describes his interpretive framework:
I try to adhere to the widely respected Golden Rule of Bible Interpretation as defined by Dr. David L. Cooper. That rule is as follows: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”
I have no real difficulty agreeing with this definition, and in fact have quoted it myself in the past. But I think Mr. Struse has understood Cooper unnecessarily narrowly. To arrive at the “plain sense” of the text, one must assimilate and take into account factual data that has been uncovered by studies in history and archaeology over time. This is a dynamic area where new discoveries are continually being made, not a static one where a “snapshot” of biblical knowledge taken from the late-nineteenth through mid-twentieth century will suffice for all time as entirely true. “Plain sense” must allow for new information to be discovered and evaluated for possible insights to allow us to more accurately interpret Scripture, particularly its historical passages. After all, the Bible was not written in a void, in an insular, purely literary world of English users disconnected from the external world of historical records and archaeological inscriptions written in foreign languages by the ancients. Therefore, as our knowledge of the ancient world expands, so also must our understanding of “plain sense” when applied to historical passages in the Scriptures. We cannot be said to be exercising sanctified common sense if we shut our eyes to those factors external to the text of Scripture, yet intimately connected with them.
My “Biblical Challenges to the Seraiah Assumption”
I must now move on to other subjects to further the case I have been developing concerning Daniel 9:24–27. Mr. Struse’s six “Biblical Challenges to the Artaxerxes Assumption” were beneficial to me in prompting a closer examination of the issues they raised. Although in the end I am unable to agree with his timeline for the Achaemenid rulers or his placement of Ezra and Nehemiah in it, the several months of study required on this facet has given me confidence in my approach that only comes from impartially examining the evidence, pro and con, for myself, rather than taking someone else’s word for it. As a result, it cannot be said that I have simply uncritically parroted the views espoused by Sir Robert Anderson; rather, I have looked at them in detail and concluded from that examination there is enough evidence to uphold his conclusions, though not necessarily for the reasons Anderson himself used to arrive at them. From this point forward in the ongoing study of Daniel 9:24–27, therefore, we will take it as a given that the key decree mentioned in Daniel 9:25 was one issued during the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus.
In closing, it is my hope that Mr. Struse, a sincere brother in Christ, will eventually wrestle with several issues that, in my considered opinion, a truly complete view of the intersection of Scripture, history and archaeology must address:
1. It is necessary to prove that “Ahasuerus” and “Artaxerxes” are nothing more than words that served as Persian titles for kings. Simply asserting that “biblical context” demonstrates they are titles, or citing older works which, ignorant of newer historical evidence, had to rely on subjective suppositions based only on the text unsupported by insights from history on how to interpret it, is not proof. Actual historical evidence is necessary to counter the modern consensus that these are personal names or throne names. In reducing by some 58 years the accepted Achaemenid timeline Mr. Struse has made some extraordinary claims, and they require extraordinary evidence to support them beyond his context-based arguments.
2. Modern evidence backed up by history or archaeology needs to be put forth to support the specific assertions that “Ahasuerus” can be applied to Cambyses II, and that “Artaxerxes” can be applied to Smerdis/Bardiya and Darius the Great. Struse asserts all of these identifications, but actual evidence is nowhere presented apart from his claim that “biblical context” supports them. This is insufficient. Professor Cooper’s “Golden Rule of Interpretation” opinion about the use of a plain-sense hermeneutic is valuable, but in my estimate has been misused when it is taken as an excuse to ignore historical facts that cannot be reconciled with a shortened Achaemenid timeline.
3. On another of his websites, at http://www.danielsseventyweeks.com/daniels-70-weeks-nehemiah-the-governor/, Mr. Struse says,
This passage [Nehemiah 12:27] makes much more sense if we see Zerubbabel and Nehemiah as consecutive governors of Jerusalem from the days of Cyrus through to the days of Darius ‘the Great’, rather than inserting a gap of sixty-plus years between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah to account for the reign of Longimanus.
However, Nehemiah 5:15 reads: “But the former governors who were before me [Nehemiah] laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God” (emphasis added). The plural “governors” grammatically requires us to posit at least two governors of Judea prior to Nehemiah’s arrival. The Scriptures make it clear that Zerubbabel, the first Judean governor after the exile, did not “lord it over” the people in the manner described, so he can be eliminated from consideration. We must therefore allow for at least two governors between the end of Zerubbabel’s term and the start of Nehemiah’s in 444, a period surely spanning several decades. Since this point comes down to a question of unambiguous grammar, “biblical context” cannot be cited against it.
4. An additional problem arises from considering the list of consecutive high priests after the exile given in Nehemiah 12:10–11: “Jeshua became the father of Joiakim, and Joiakim became the father of Eliashib…” Elsewhere, Mr. Struse emphasizes the importance of what he calls the “normal reading” of the text to insist that Seraiah was Ezra’s father, “Ahasuerus” corresponds to Cambyses, and “Artaxerxes” corresponds to both Smerdis/Bardiya and Darius I. Applying that principle consistently, this verse requires the high priest Eliashib to be part of the third generation after the exile, but the Struse thesis requires Nehemiah, whom all know from Scripture was a wall-building contemporary of Eliashib, to show up in the second generation right after Zerubbabel. Both concepts cannot be simultaneously true.
5. The mention of Sanballat, the local Samaritan leader Nehemiah contended with, in the Elephantine papyri that indicate he was alive in 407 BC, must be explained. From the discussion above I cannot see any way that deals honestly with the data to make the Sanballat of the Elephantine papyri out to be someone other than “the Horonite” who was Nehemiah’s enemy. This piece of historical evidence requires us to place Nehemiah late enough in the Achaemenid timeline that removing 58 years from it no longer corresponds to real history.
For Further Study
It is suggested that the article “53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically” by Lawrence Mykytiuk on the Biblical Archaeology Review website (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/50-people-in-the-bible-confirmed-archaeologically/), last updated April 12, 2017 and therefore quite current, be referred to as a starting point for getting a sense of the state of scholarship today. Note in particular entries 48–53 that deal with the Persian Period from Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) through Darius II Nothus, especially the identification of Ahasuerus with Xerxes I and the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 with Longimanus. The Encyclopaedia Iranica (http://www.iranicaonline.org/), “a comprehensive research tool dedicated to the study of Iranian civilization in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent,” is another valuable online resource of reputable information. It draws on the considerable academic resources of Columbia University in New York, and the entry on “Artaxerxes” at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/artaxerxes-throne-name-of-several-persian-kings-of-the-achaemenid-dynasty observes that it was the “throne name [not "title"] of several Persian kings of the Achaemenid dynasty.” Finally, the Livius website includes a good overview of the Achaemenid kings of Persia at https://www.livius.org/articles/dynasty/achaemenids/, including a listing of all known kings who went by the throne name “Artaxerxes”—Makrocheir (Longimanus), Mnemon, Ochus and Arses. This must be emphasized: neither Smerdis/Bardiya nor Darius are included. I do not think this historical information can be dismissed by simply arguing that “biblical context” overrules it.
In closing, one might wonder why I spent so much time on this subject. It is because the accurate interpretation of Daniel 9:24–27 requires being able to reconcile the sabbatical year cycles of the Jews with it, and by my reckoning such synchronizing can only be done when Ezra and Nehemiah are placed in the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus. We plan to examine these matters in the next article of The Daniel 9:24–27 Project.