Another major challenge has been to balance two competing ministry objectives: to reach out to both the person in the pew on one hand, and those Christians immersed in the world of scholarship on the other. ABR desires to minister to both groups, but there is a tension involved. Academics expect, and in many cases demand, that certain “industry standard” protocols be followed in how the study of Scripture and related areas are approached. The regular Christian, though, is more concerned with laying firm hold on the full revelation of God in language he or she can understand, as free from obfuscating theological jargon as possible, so long as the evidence is well-grounded in careful analysis that is faithful to the Scriptures.
I have been told by some that this research should rely exclusively on academic sources in this project, diligently footnoted and adhering to scholarly norms, to avoid having academics dismiss the work without giving it serious consideration. Yet, I want a general audience, especially millennials quite at home on the Internet but unfamiliar with technical theological terms such as “pericope” or “terminus a quo,” to be able to check my work using sources that are readily accessible. In trying to straddle both worlds, my approach has been to include Internet-based resources that have been vetted for scholarly soundness, resources that either include footnoted citations of their own or directly quote such sources in the body of their work. I am not interested in merely tossing out blog links which give little more than the undocumented opinions of their owners—opinions often delivered with a tone of finality that dares one to disagree with them.
The readers of the ABR website and Bible and Spade deserve the most careful and prayerful research we can give them. To those inclined to dismiss the research in The Daniel 9:24–27 Project because it is not presented in a scholarly journal or academic book, I ask you, check my references, and see if they hold up to scrutiny. Check the references given in cited Internet resources. Weigh my logic and biblical exegesis for validity. To the man in the pew and on the street I ask, check the links, and then dig a bit deeper. You may not agree with every point I make, but I trust you will see I do not arrive at the conclusions I share with you without first performing my own due diligence, and that with a prayerful attitude that the Holy Spirit would illuminate me.
The “Artaxerxes Assumption” Challenge
In this article we will discuss why the decree of Daniel 9:25 must be identified with one issued by the Persian king Artaxerxes I, known also as Longimanus, in his seventh regnal year. We will tackle this complex subject primarily by addressing critiques aimed at the so-called “Artaxerxes Assumption” by William Struse, an author and prolific blogger who has posted a considerable amount of material on this subject on his website, “The 13th Enumeration” (www.the13thenumeration.com).
Essential Background from Daniel
We set the stage for this study with the words of Daniel 9:25 (NASB):
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks…
This verse speaks of a “decree”—the Hebrew word dabar, which could also have been translated “word” or “command.” This decree is said to be “issued” (Heb. mowtsa', rendered by the KJV as “going forth”), indicating it was a declaration that could be publicly known through the edicts of the three kings given in Ezra 6:14. It would encompass the restoring and rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, not restricted only to the restoration of the Temple burned by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
The Hebrew term translated “weeks” by many Bible versions is the word shabuwa`, meaning “hebdomads” or “periods of seven.” In view are not literal weeks of seven days, but periods of seven years. The prophecy stipulates that, from the “going forth” of the correct decree, seven hebdomads—49 years—plus an additional 62 hebdomads—434 years—would pass before “an anointed one” (the literal rendering of the Hebrew text) would come to the Jews. The total elapsed time until the arrival of this anointed one would be 483 years after the key decree was issued.
An Overview of the Achaemenid Kings
Another necessary preliminary is to give an overview of the key Persian kings covered in this study, members of the Achaemenid dynasty who ruled from the end of the Babylonian exile into the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. The following dates were drawn largely from John Walton, Chronological Charts of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978, p. 72), with some dates modified in the light of more recent research reflected in the Ancient History Encyclopedia at https://www.ancient.eu/:
Cyrus the Great, 559**–530 BC (authorized return under Zerubbabel and Jeshua)
Cambyses II, 530–522 BC
Pseudo-Smerdis (Gaumata/Bardiya, seven month rule in 522 BC)
Darius I, 522–486 BC (Temple essentially completed under him, Ezra 5–6)
Xerxes l, 486–465 BC (the Ahasuerus of Esther 1–9)
Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), 465–423 BC
In this compilation the last year of one king’s reign overlaps with the first year of the next. The starting year for each king is his accession year—the portion of a year from when he began ruling until the beginning of the month from which his first regnal year was reckoned. This month varied among different countries, generally either the spring month of Nisan or the fall month of Tishri.
Reckoning the Regnal Years
Some dates in the chronology adopted here diverge slightly from those often encountered in the literature, in particular the date of Ezra’s return to Jerusalem after the exile. Many modern authorities agree with Jack Finegan, who in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology (rev. ed), §459, uses Babylonian/Persian spring-to-spring reckoning of regnal years to place the return of Ezra in the spring of 458 BC. However, more recent research by Horn and Wood, discussed below, strongly indicates that Ezra and Nehemiah used fall-to-fall reckoning for regnal years, placing his return in the spring of 457 BC. The Handbook’s failure to interact with that more recent scholarship is a major drawback in an otherwise exemplary standard reference work.
That a fall-to-fall regnal year was observed in Ezra and Nehemiah is indicated by Scripture itself. First, in Esther 3:7 we are told: “In the first month, which is the month Nisan…until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar.” This informs us that in the time of Esther, during the reign of the Achaemenid ruler Ahasuerus, Nisan was the first month of the Jewish civil calendar. We expect the same to hold true when Ezra and Nehemiah lived under another Achaemenid ruler, especially since God told the Jews in Exodus 12:2 that Nisan was to be the first month of the year for them.
A second biblical evidence for this is found by comparing two passages in Nehemiah:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol… (Neh 1:1)
And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes… (Neh 2:1)
The shared context of these two passages indicates both deal with events in the 20th regnal year of King Artaxerxes. The first reference speaks of Chislev, Month 9 of the Jewish civil year, while the second, later reference takes place in Nisan, Month 1. How can both Month 9 and Month 1 fall within Artaxerxes’ 20th regnal year? Let us think in terms of fiscal years. A fiscal year running from the beginning of July (Month 7), 2018 through June (Month 6), 2019 includes within it the intervening months of September (Month 9), 2018 and January (Month 1), 2019. Hence, the “later” month of September is included with the “earlier” month of January as part of the same fiscal year. What is happening in Nehemiah 1–2 is similar. We have a regnal year that runs from the start of Tishri (Month 7) of one year through Elul (Month 6) of the next. This regnal year thus encompasses both Month 9 of one year and Month 1 of the next. For both Month 9 and Month 1 to fall within a regnal year, that regnal year must span Month 7 (Tishri) through Month 6 (Elul)—a fall-to-fall calendar. If the reckoning of regnal years was spring-to-spring, it would instead have begun with Month 1, Nisan, of regnal year 20 and run until the end of Month 12, Adar, of the following year. In that case, Month 1 in Nehemiah 2:1 would have had to be in the 21st regnal year of Artaxerxes, not his 20th. The only way we can take Scripture at face value is if fall-to-fall regnal year reckoning was followed in Ezra and Nehemiah.
This conclusion is supported by many references. At the risk of overkill, because this issue is very important for precise dating, I will share several of them:
1. In an article at https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1953/06/research-the-seventh-year-of-artaxerxes-i from the June, 1953 issue of Ministry Magazine, Vol. XXVI, No. 6, Siegfried H. Horn showed how Artaxerxes' first regnal year must be set to start in Tishri, 464 BC, requiring Ezra’s journey to have taken place in the spring of 457 BC:
The establishment of the correct date hinges on two key problems. The first one was to prove that the Jews of Nehemiah's time reckoned the years of the Persian kings according to their own civil calendar, and that Nehemiah's use of a fall-to-fall civil calendar was not an error. The second problem was to find the exact time of Artaxerxes' accession.
A recently discovered Aramaic papyrus from Elephantine...proves thus the existence of a fall-to-fall calendar among the Jews in Egypt during the fifth century B.C. Since this was in complete agreement with the practice of Nehemiah in Palestine, it is only reasonable to conclude that Ezra, Nehemiah's contemporary and colaborer, counted the years of the Persian king according to a fall-to-fall calendar.
The solution for the second problem is given by a tablet from Ur, the first one that has ever been found giving us a date in the death year of Xerxes. This document reveals that in Ur on December 17, 465 B.C., Xerxes was still believed to be alive. However, two weeks later the news of his son's accession had already reached Egypt as we know from the above-mentioned Aramaic papyrus. These two documents allow us therefore to date the accession of Artaxerxes very accurately in December, 465.
The Jews, using the accession-year method, therefore dated all documents from December, 465 B.C., to the next fall in 464 B.C. in Artaxerxes' accession year, and began to reckon his first year from the fall of 464.
These two discoveries—the papyrus from Darius II's third year and the Ur Tablet—show us thus that the date reached by the early computations was correct, and that the Jews reckoned the seventh year of Artaxerxes I from the fall of 458 B.C. to the fall of 457. The four month journey of Ezra took place therefore from the spring to the early summer in 457 B.C., and the king's decree went into effect afterward.
2. The excellent “Dating the Journeys of Ezra and Nehemiah” web page at http://www.biblechronologytimeline.com/biblechronologytimeline6b.html offers an extremely detailed and thoroughly footnoted look at the issues. I give here one summary quote:
In the Jewish civil-calendar reckoning the 7th year of Artaxerxes was 458/57, fall to fall, according to the more exact evidence as we have it now from the Babylonian tablets and the Jewish papyri from Egypt. This places Ezra’s return in the summer of 457 B.C. and Nehemiah’s in the 20th year in 444.
The bibliography on this website cites nine scholarly works undergirding these conclusions, including Siegfried H. Horn and Lynn H. Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7, 2nd ed., rev. (Washington: Review and Herald, 1970). That work is described as “the most important reference work for the reader of this article who wishes a more thorough treatment of these points.” It constitutes an essential update to Finegan’s Handbook.
3. Lastly, well-respected scholar William Shea, in the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 2/1 (1991): 115–138 (excerpted online at https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/prophecy/when-did-seventy-weeks-daniel-924-begin), similarly concludes:
As the text stands, and this is the basis upon which scholars should draw their conclusions, these dates in Nehemiah 1, 2 present the strongest possible evidence that Nehemiah used a fall-to-fall calendar, and, that therefore, it is most reasonable to conclude that his contemporary colleague Ezra did too… This means that “the seventh year of Artaxerxes” in Ezra 7 is 457 B.C. rather than 458 B.C. as would be suggested if he had been using a spring calendar.
These references set forth the scholarly basis for using fall-to-fall dating for the regnal years in Ezra and Nehemiah that are adopted in this article, as well as in the further studies of Daniel 9 which will follow. They require us to place the first regnal year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus in 464/463 BC, his seventh year in 458/457 BC, and his twentieth year in 445/444 BC. Therefore, we have Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem in the summer of 457 BC set on a firmly established biblical foundation—assuming that the Artaxerxes Assumption is correct.
The Essence of the Artaxerxes Assumption
William Struse’s “Artaxerxes Assumption” critique, as originally formulated, claimed that modern dating of the decree of Daniel 9:25 is based on scripturally-uncorroborated assertions made by two very influential biblical scholars, Sir Robert Anderson and George Rawlinson. As Struse expresses it (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2013/03/16/the-artaxerxes-assumption/):
Around the turn of the twentieth century, a Scotland Yard investigator named Sir Robert Anderson (of Jack the Ripper fame) wrote a book on the prophecy of Daniel 9 called The Coming Prince… Anderson stretched the Biblical chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah by 58 years in order to fulfill his interpretation of the prophecy of 70 weeks… Anderson assumed the “Artaxerxes” of Nehemiah and Ezra was Artaxerxes Longimanus. Unfortunately, he did not base this assumption upon any Biblical evidence but instead upon a single unsubstantiated opinion of the Christian historian, Rawlinson, in his translation of Herodotus, vol. 4, p. 217. That quote as taken from Anderson’s The Coming Prince is as follows:
Artaxerxes I. reigned forty years, from 465 to 425 [sic]. He is mentioned by Herodotus once (6. 98), by Thucydides frequently. Both writers were his contemporaries. There is every reason to believe that he was the king who sent Ezra and Nehemiah to Jerusalem, and sanctioned the restoration of the fortifications”… (emphasis original).
Struse regards as wholly inadequate Anderson’s justification that Artaxerxes I was a contemporary of Nehemiah and Ezra, namely, Rawlinson’s “there is every reason to believe.” He says, “how can a belief about Daniel’s 70 weeks be an established ‘fact’ when the ‘foundational resource’ is based upon an assumption with no reasonable basis in Biblical chronology?” He concludes, “In closing, I would like to encourage those of you interested in Bible prophecy to check out the Biblical chronological evidence, before you make your own unfounded ‘Artaxerxes Assumption’.” That is precisely what we are doing in this study.
Reformulating the Artaxerxes Assumption Critique
In a later posting, “Eliashib, Artaxerxes, & Sir Robert Anderson”
(http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2018/04/07/eliashib-artaxerxes-sir-robert-anderson/), Struse backtracked significantly from his original claims:
As many of you know, I’ve often claimed that the sum total of Sir Robert Anderson’s evidence for his Artaxerxes Assumption is a quote by Rawlinson regarding Artaxerxes’, Ezra’s, & Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era. Well, it turns out, due to sloppy research on my part, this is not an accurate statement.
He goes on to clarify why he issued this mea culpa:
The above statement is not entirely correct. Anderson does in fact provide some evidence to support his Artaxerxes Assumption. That evidence is found in Appendix 2 of his book, The Coming Prince.
Struse then quotes Anderson’s Appendix 2. Here is a key excerpt:
He [the “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14] must, therefore, be either Longimanus or Memnon [sic], for no other king after Darius Hystaspes reigned thirty-two years, and it is certain Nehemiah’s mission was not so late as the twentieth of Artaxerxes Mnemon, viz, B.C. 385. This appears…because Eliashib, who was high priest when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, was grandson of Jeshua, who was high priest in the first year of Cyrus (Nehemiah 3:1; 12:10; Ezra 2:2; 3:2); and from the first year of Cyrus (B.C. 536), to the twentieth of Artaxerxes Longimanus (B.C. 445), was ninety-one years, leaving room for precisely three generations.
By making this significant admission, Struse confesses that there was a biblical basis underlying Anderson’s views after all. His honesty in admitting this is downright refreshing; we wish all who had written books or articles, and then later found they had made an error, would follow his example. Too often, once an author has put a particular view of a subject into the public eye and become identified with it, there is no retreating from that position. So his willingness to issue this correction is truly praiseworthy.
Nevertheless, as of this writing it is apparently still a bridge too far for Mr. Struse to entirely give up on the idea that “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14 is another name for Darius the Great. Though initially admitting that the foundation on which he had built his case against the Artaxerxes Assumption was faulty, he then amends it to say it was just not “entirely” correct; in other words, it was still partly right. He still wishes to truncate the chronology of the start of Daniel’s 70th Week by about 58 years, but needs another basis for doing so rather than blaming Anderson for neglecting to cite Scripture. As discussed below, he believes he finds it in details connected with the high priest Eliashib.
Inspecting the Foundation
Let us now examine the foundation on which Struse has built his case against Artaxerxes I Longimanus. We will do this by first identifying key assumptions he makes, then look for principles based on surrounding context by which to evaluate them. I identified three foundational assumptions in his articles:
1. Name sequences in genealogies identify fathers and their immediate sons. On this basis it is claimed from Ezra 7:1 that Seraiah, the last high priest before the exile, was the father of Ezra and brother of Jehozadak. We can call this the Seraiah Assumption.
2. The reign of Darius I of Persia sets the historical context into which everything in Ezra 4 through 6 must be placed. Therefore, the “Artaxerxes” mentioned in 4:7 and 6:14, as well as the “Ahasuerus” of 4:6, must be contextually understood as titles for Darius. We can call this the Darius Assumption.
3. Identical names in different genealogy lists can be used to construct a reliable historical chronology. Finding the names of people who arrived in Judea with Zerubbabel and Jeshua repeated in the time of Nehemiah and Eliashib indicates they are the same individuals, requiring Eliashib to overlap with the reign of Darius rather than Artaxerxes. We can call this the Eliashib Assumption.
As those who have followed my studies for a while know, I approach Scripture from a plain-sense perspective: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense” (David L. Cooper, cf. https://www.bibletruths.org/the-golden-rule-of-interpretation/). This has apparently been laid to heart by Mr. Struse as well. However, there is a corollary to this principle: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text” (Donald A. Carson, cited at http://www.fallacyfiles.org/quotcont.html#Note2). The “plain sense” of the Word of God is the sense which takes into account the entire context in which it is found—not just the immediate context, but also the greater surrounding context, including other books of Scripture (the Bible is, after all, a single, unified, inspired Book whose Author is God, though He used many penmen with their own writing styles). As a practical example of special pertinence to this study, throughout the book of Esther the king is called Ahasuerus. Therefore, when that name is encountered in Ezra 4:6, we should default to understanding it as referring to the same king, and preferentially seek a context-driven way to accommodate that understanding.
Addressing the Seraiah Assumption
Since they influence the date we assign to the decree referred to in Daniel 9:25, we turn now to look in more detail at the three foundational assumptions on which Mr. Struse bases his case that Artaxerxes Longimanus could not have been a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. The apparent difficulties Struse and others see fall away when certain overarching contextual/interpretive principles are taken into account.
The Seraiah Assumption: Ezra the Son of Seraiah
The Seraiah Assumption is drawn from the genealogy given in Ezra 7:1–2, 6:
Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, there went up Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub…This Ezra went up from Babylon…(emphasis added).
This verse is the proof text for claiming that Ezra was a son of the last high priest before the exile, Seraiah. Struse states this plainly in his article at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2018/04/07/eliashib-artaxerxes-sir-robert-anderson/: “Seraiah the last high priest of Solomon’s temple was killed in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar (roughly 584 BC). He had at least two sons: Jehozadak and Ezra (priest and scribe)” (emphasis added).
We know Seraiah was a high priest and when he died from 2 Kings 25:18, 20–21 (cf. also Jer 52:24–27):
Then the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest, with the three officers of the temple… Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. Then the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath…
The genealogy of this Seraiah (there are others by that name in Scripture, it was not uncommon) is first given in 1 Chronicles 6:14–15:
Azariah became the father of Seraiah, and Seraiah became the father of Jehozadak; and Jehozadak went along when the LORD carried Judah and Jerusalem away into exile by Nebuchadnezzar (emphasis added).
These verses place Seraiah’s death just before the exile in 587 BC. (This date for the exile is supported by Rodger Young’s article, “When Did Jerusalem Fall?”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47/1 [March 2004], online at http://www.rcyoung.org/articles/jerusalem.pdf.) Taken together, 1 Chronicles 6:14–15 and Ezra 7:1 appear at first glance to indicate two things: (1), that Ezra’s father was Seraiah, the last pre-exilic high priest, making Ezra a younger brother of the exiled Jehozadak (also written as Jozadak, cf. Ezra 3:2, 3:8, 5:2, 10:18, and Neh 12:26); and (2), that Ezra traveled to Jerusalem when a Persian king called Artaxerxes was ruling. It is chronologically impossible for Ezra to have been born before the exile in 587 BC, yet still overlap in time with Artaxerxes Longimanus, who did not take the Persian throne until 464 BC, over 120 years after Seraiah died; therefore Struse and others feel obliged to understand “Artaxerxes” as someone other than Longimanus.
Genealogical Lists Can be Incomplete
However, it is essential to realize that genealogies in Scripture often do not include every name in a family tree. Names of certain individuals are sometimes left out when their mention does not further the writer’s purpose. The possibility of missing ancestors is demonstrated in Ezra 7, where we are presented with this genealogy:
1Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, there went up Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth…
A superficial comparison of 1 Chronicles 6:14–15 with Ezra 7:1 might lead some to think Ezra was one of the exiles taken to Babylon in 587 BC, but this does not take the full picture into account. By focusing on “Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah” in Ezra 7:1 to claim the existence of an Artaxerxes Assumption, another assumption is being made: that Seraiah ben- (“son of”) Azariah was the literal father of Ezra. This assumption is not nearly as firmly grounded as the English translation may make it seem, for the Hebrew prefix ben- (which the KJV archaically renders “begat”) encompasses not only direct father-son relationships but also ancestor-descendant relationships, where some intervening names between two significant people are left unmentioned.
We could illustrate this by many examples, but just a couple will make the point. One is clearly seen, though not discussed in any detail by him, in a chart created by Mr. Struse in his article, “Who is the Artaxerxes in Your Prophecy?” at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/08/who-is-the-artaxerxes-in-your-prophecy/. There he compares the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 6:3–15 and Ezra 7:
Note the six names left out of Ezra’s lineage in the right column. Ezra 7:3 says, “son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth…” The smooth transition from one name to the next would lead the casual reader to conclude there was a direct father-son relationship between Meraioth and Azariah, but as the old song says, “it ain’t necessarily so.” The comparison of the two genealogical lists makes it quite clear that the “begats” here must be understood as depicting an ancestor/descendant relationship, not father/son. It does not honor Scripture as the Word of God to insist the English translation of Ezra 7:1 mandates a father/son relationship, when other factors indicate otherwise…and in the relationship between Seraiah and Ezra, they do. As will be pointed out below, there are too many unlikely age-related issues associated with rigidly insisting Seraiah was Ezra’s father, which are much more gracefully handled by the missing-names theory than the Darius-is-Artaxerxes theory. Since Ezra—or perhaps a compiler, we can call him the Chronicler, who brought his records together with those of Nehemiah, since they form one book in the Hebrew version—has skipped over some names at 7:3, the many difficulties brought to light in this study should make us suspect he did the same in 7:1, leaving out an unknown number of people between Seraiah and Ezra because they were unimportant to his objective.
We also must not ignore the fact that in the chart, Ezra is not included in the genealogy given in 1 Chronicles 6:3–15. He was added in parenthesis at the top left column of the chart without biblical warrant for doing so. His addition reflects Struse’s personal confidence in his Seraiah Assumption-based interpretation of the data, not the data itself. We are obliged to draw a clear distinction between fact and interpretation if we are going to properly understand the implications of these Scriptures.
As an aside, we should note that the time between Seraiah and Ezra was a favorable one for a gap in Ezra’s genealogy, due to the impact of the exile itself. The resulting disruption of Jewish society, with the temporary cessation of Temple worship and dislocation of its central place in Jewish life, makes that period a reasonable one for individuals to “go missing” in the genealogies. The disruption of Temple-centered record-keeping bureaucracy may have played a role.
Furthermore, it is not as if Ezra 7:3 is the only example of missing names in genealogies around this time in history, a single textual aberration that can be glossed over and ignored. Another example of skipping at least a generation, yet still calling someone a “son,” can be seen in the case of “Zechariah the son of Iddo” (Ezra 5:1 and 6:14). In Zechariah 1:1 and 1:7 we get clarification that Iddo was the paternal grandfather of Zechariah, not his father: “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo...” Other examples could be given, but these should be sufficient to demonstrate that raising this matter of skipped names in biblical genealogies is not just a desperate ploy to rescue the Artaxerxes Assumption from its critics, but a true issue of biblical exegesis to which we must be sensitive.
In view of these examples, we should not be too quick to assume that Ezra the priest and scribe was the literal son of Seraiah the pre-exilic high priest. We must look at the entire picture painted by Scripture. That fuller picture indicates the very high likelihood of a gap in the genealogy presented in Ezra 7:1, just as in 7:3. There is no excuse for us to not consider missing names in the genealogy of Ezra as a valid, biblical explanation for the indications that a long period of time passed between the start of the exile and the arrival of Ezra in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. When we look at additional factors below—especially the evidence of unnamed governors between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, and the fact that three generations are spanned from the high priests Jeshua to Eliashib—it appears several ancestors between Seraiah and Ezra were skipped over. If the likelihood of this is accepted, the seeming problem of excessive ages when “Artaxerxes” is regarded as Artaxerxes I Longimanus vanishes. The objective of the compiler of Ezra-Nehemiah was apparently to trace the genealogy of Ezra to a significant ancestor to cement his priestly credentials, not give us a comprehensive family tree.
Reconciling the Ages
Let’s examine the age-related problems raised by the Seraiah Assumption. It assumes Ezra was born to the high priest Seraiah ben-Azariah before the exile began. If true, how old might Ezra have been at the exile? Think for a moment about Seraiah’s son Jehozadak, one of the 587 BC exiles. When Scripture discusses the first group of returnees to Jerusalem during the days of Cyrus, we find that Zerubbabel, the governor, is consistently portrayed as accompanied in leadership by the high priest Jeshua/Joshua, cf. Ezra 3:2, 3:8, 4:3, 5:2, Neh 12:1 (there were no vowels in the original Hebrew, so these names refer to the same person). In the books of Haggai and Zechariah (Hag 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 4; Zec 6:11) we further learn that this Jeshua was the son—or possibly descendant—of Jehozadak. For Jeshua to have served as high priest when he entered Jerusalem in 536 BC he likely would have been at least age 30, the minimum age for Levitical service in the tent of meeting given in Numbers 4:2–3:
Take a census of the descendants of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their families, by their fathers' households, from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tent of meeting.
Jeshua would thus have been born not later than 566 BC. Supposing further that he was the first-born son of Jehozadak (a requirement for inheriting the position of high priest passed down from his grandfather Seraiah), he was likely born when Jehozadak was about 30. This supposition would have Jehozadak born around 596 BC. The exile having taken place in 587 BC, this would have made Jehozadak a 9-year-old boy at that time. Since according to the Seraiah Assumption Ezra was a brother of Jehozadak, we can imagine he was about 5 years old when he was deported to Babylon in 587 BC. By the time the first returnees under Zerubbabel (not including Ezra) arrived in Jerusalem in 536 BC, Ezra would have been about 56 years old. Then to fit the Artaxerxes Assumption chronology he would have had to wait about 80 years, until 457 BC, before finally traveling to Judea. Let’s calculate…he would have been about 136 years old! And this if he was only 5 when he was exiled—he might have been older.
To get around this obvious problem, Struse proposed the Darius Assumption to truncate the timeline by 58 years and get Ezra serving at what he considers a reasonable age. In contrast, under the Artaxerxes Assumption, once the demand that Ezra was a son of Seraiah is set aside, no timeline truncation or second-guessing the meaning of “Artaxerxes” is required. Ezra was not born until late in the reign of Darius (522–486 BC) or early in the reign of Xerxes, so he would have been at least 25 (Num 8:24) when he went to Jerusalem in 457 BC. In all events he must have been a fairly young man, for Ezra 7:10 tells us: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” He was a man with a God-ordained mission who wanted to get started ASAP.
What do the Scholars Say?
But before we continue…what do the scholars say? I have not been able to find any unambiguous support for Struse’s three foundational assumptions in the scholarly literature. One I reviewed was the material on 1 Chronicles by Roddy Braun in Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 14 (Dallas: Word, Inc., 1986). In his discussion about 1 Chronicles 5:27, Braun observes:
The Jehozadak who stands at the end of the genealogy [in 1 Chr 6:14] as the son of Seraiah would then be identical with the Jehozadak named as the father of Joshua [Jeshua], the high priest of the return, whose career is coupled with that of Zerubbabel (cf. Hag 1:1; Ezra 3:2, etc.) and who obviously did not meet the fate of his father upon the fall of Jerusalem. Ezra would then need to be understood either as a (younger?) brother of Jehozadak, although of course the usual chronologies of the period would not permit this, or a later descendant of the same Seraiah, or a descendant of a later Seraiah of the same line (bracketed comments added).
In this way Braun evenhandedly lays out all the options. The comment that “the usual chronologies of the period would not permit this” seems to be referring to listing a son other than the first-born who would inherit the high priesthood. Braun then goes on:
Finally, the Ezra 7 list begins with Ezra, whose relationship to the priestly line is secured through attachment directly to Seraiah, without intervening generations. Such a construction would appear to make Ezra the priest of the return!...
Braun thus sees the mention of Seraiah as only for the purpose of connecting Ezra to the priestly line. The exclamation mark clearly implies he thinks it incredulous for Ezra to have been the priest of the return, and expects that unspecified “intervening generations” stand between him and Seraiah.
A second scholar of note is Jacob M. Myers. In his Anchor Yale Bible volume, Ezra-Nehemiah: Introduction, translation and notes (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), in the section covering Ezra 7:1–28, he writes in the “Comment”:
“After these things” marks the connecting link between events taking place at the time of the building of the second temple and those related here, which center about Ezra and his work. Though references are doubtless hidden elsewhere, we are in the dark about what took place during the interval. It all depends on the date assigned to the coming of Ezra. If he arrived in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus (ca. 458 B.C.) this would be the first dated material after 515 B.C. (emphasis added).
Myers is thus intimating two linked ideas: first, that Ezra was not the direct son of Seraiah—indeed, he may not even have been born by the time of the first return in 536 BC; and second, that an unspecified yet significant period of time elapsed between the time of Darius I covered in Ezra 5–6, and the arrival of Ezra in chapter 7. Then, under the heading “Ezra and his mission, 7:1–10,” he goes on:
These verses constitute, in reality, an introduction to what follows. The pedigree of Ezra is given along with other details connected with his mission. It was during the reign of Artaxerxes—but which Artaxerxes is not specified, though it has been assumed frequently that it was the first king bearing that name (465–424 B.C.). However, that is by no means certain as indicated in the Introduction.
This is the issue foremost in the mind of Struse: the seeming lack of certainty about the identity of this “Artaxerxes,” and the sense that nothing more than some vacuous “assumption” undergirds it. However, in the section headed The Period of Ezra in his Introduction, Myers elaborates:
It is, of course, certain that Ezra did his work in the reign of Artaxerxes but which Artaxerxes? There were three kings of Persia bearing that name (Longimanus, 465–425 B.C., Mnemon, 405–359, and Ochus, 359–339). As the text now stands, it simply says that Ezra came to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:7, 8). If Artaxerxes I is intended the date would be 458 B.C….
Notice that Myers does not include Darius I as a possible “Artaxerxes” candidate. He then writes plainly:
Ezra was both a priest and a scribe. As such he was reckoned with the Aaron-Zadokite line (cf. 7:2) as related in 1 Chron 6:3–15 (5:29–41H). Ezra’s father could not have been the Seraiah who was the father of Jehozadak, though he could have borne that name. Seraiah could have been a direct ancestor of Ezra, which appears more likely…(emphasis added).
We thus see that both Braun and Myers reject the idea that Seraiah was the literal father of Ezra. He is viewed as an ancestor of Ezra, with intervening, unspecified individuals (and time!) standing between the two.
One more scholarly resource is a transcript of a 1947 Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research lecture by Rev. John Stafford Wright, “The Date of Ezra’s Coming to Jerusalem” (https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_ezra_wright.html). On pp. 5–6 he notes:
There were three kings with the name of Artaxerxes [Darius not included], but external evidence indicates which of the three was Nehemiah's patron. For the Elephantine papyri show that in 408 B.C. Sanballat was an old man, whose work as governor of Samaria was to all intents and purposes in the hands of his two sons (Sachau, Pap. i. 29). This means that the Artaxerxes in whose reign Nehemiah lived must have been Artaxerxes 1 (464–424 B.C.), since Sanballat was then obviously in the prime of life. It would be impossible to identify the reigning king with Artaxerxes II or III [or Darius, either]. Therefore, in making Ezra overlap Nehemiah, the Chronicler intended to place Ezra also in the same reign. Thus Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. [457 Horn and Wood], i.e. the seventh year of Artaxerxes I (Ezr. vii. 7) and Nehemiah in 445 B.C. [444 Horn and Wood], i.e. the twentieth year of the same reign (Ne. ii. 1) (brackets and emphasis added).
The above citation of Sachau’s work on the Elephantine Papyri brought to my attention The Aramaic Papyri of Elephantine in English, online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3155527?seq=8#metadata_info_tab_contents. On p. 435 it affirms Wright’s observations where it says:
Since his [Johanan’s] grandfather, Eliashib, was high priest in Nehemiah’s day, this enables us to date Nehemiah’s activity with almost perfect certainty in the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus (465–424) (brackets added).
Returning to Wright, he also points out (pp. 6–7):
The only other reference to Ezra in the narrative of Nehemiah is in xii. 36, where, in a record of the dedication of the wall that is ostensibly from the memoirs of Nehemiah, it is said of a part of the procession, “Ezra the scribe was before them.” This single reference, meager though it is, would be sufficient to establish the fact that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries, if it were not for the suspicion that here the Chronicler has himself composed the account or added this clause. The most that we can say of this reference for the moment is that it confirms the fact still further that the author or compiler of the Book believed that Ezra was the contemporary of Nehemiah, and that therefore he, like Nehemiah, came to Jerusalem during the reign of Artaxerxes I (emphasis added).
He concludes on page 28: “And since the Chronicler's order can be shown to be consistent both with itself and with external history, it is only reasonable to take the view that Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 B.C.  and Nehemiah in 445 B.C. ” (emphasis and brackets added). This conclusion is a powerful counterpoint to the view that Ezra arrived in the seventh regnal year of Darius I, the summer of 514 BC.
The bottom line is that, so far as these three scholars are concerned, Seraiah was an ancestor of Ezra, but not his father. Unspecified generations have been left out of the Ezra 7:1 genealogy for Ezra to have been young enough to have journeyed to Judea during the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. This is a major strike against the Seraiah Assumption, though perhaps not a fatal one on its own. Let’s evaluate the rest of the assumptions.
Dealing with the Darius Assumption
We saw above that, given the Seraiah Assumption parameters we used, if Ezra had stayed behind in Babylon until the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus’ reign—458/457 BC—he would have been about 136 years old. Frankly, this is ridiculous. Even imagining God working a miracle to stretch out Ezra’s lifespan that long, for a 136-year-old man taking a rigorous overland journey lasting four full months (Ezra 7:9), followed by a multi-year ministry filled with stressful challenges, stretches credulity to the breaking point. (And are we to imagine he led a procession around the completed wall of Jerusalem while leaning on a staff?) Faced with this incomprehensible situation, one of two things must be done to get around it: we can propose there are names missing between Seraiah and Ezra in the Ezra 7:1 genealogy as discussed above, or we can bring Ezra to Jerusalem much sooner than the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. The latter is the choice Struse adopted, which brings us to consider the Darius Assumption.
“Artaxerxes” and “Ahasuerus” are Titles for Darius I
The Darius Assumption is inextricably linked with the Seraiah Assumption, entering into how Ezra 4 and 6:1, 7b, 14b, 15 are interpreted. In his various articles Struse typically refers to Darius I as “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes,” a label reflecting his personal opinion on how to understand Ezra 6:14. It ultimately boils down to his being unable to reconcile Ezra, when reckoned as the son of Seraiah, with a ministry in the time of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. He resolves the conundrum by requiring “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 4:7 and 6:14 to be a title for Darius. He also views the “Ahasuerus” in Ezra 4:6 as another title for this king.
“Artaxerxes” a Throne Name, not a Title
The gist of the Darius Assumption is that Darius I, known also as Darius the Great, could be referred to by the title “Artaxerxes.” This idea arises mainly from a particular interpretation of Ezra 6:14 which will be looked at later, but its roots lie earlier, in Ezra 4. In an article posted at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/08/who-is-the-artaxerxes-in-your-prophecy/, Struse writes:
It is important to understand that the term Artaxerxes is not a name; it is merely a title given to Persian kings, much like “Caesar” in Rome centuries later. In Ezra 4:7, the Persian Artaxerxes who ordered construction of the temple to stop was likely Smerdis, the Magian usurper, with his decree given at some point between the first year of Cyrus and the second year of Darius. But he is not necessarily the only Artaxerxes named in Scripture. As we will explore more fully in the coming articles, Darius ‘the Great’ was also known historically as Artaxerxes. For the present, just keep in mind that Artaxerxes is a title. We must allow the Bible’s chronological context to identify him.
Calling Artaxerxes a title like “Caesar,” however, is incorrect. It is actually a throne name, which has a different significance. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/throne%20name), a throne name is defined as “the official name taken by a ruler and especially an ancient Egyptian pharaoh on ascending the throne.” Specifically about Artaxerxes, the Encyclopaedia Iranica (http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/artaxerxes-throne-name-of-several-persian-kings-of-the-achaemenid-dynasty) observes: “ARTAXERXES, throne name of several Persian kings of the Achaemenid dynasty.” The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Artaxerxes) notes: “[Artaxerxes] was borne by three kings of the Achaemenian dynasty of ancient Persia; though, so long as its meaning was understood, it can have been adopted by the kings only after their accession to the throne” [i.e., it was a throne name] (brackets and emphasis added). Recall also that Jacob Myers informed us that the three kings of Persia bearing that name were Longimanus, Mnemon and Ochus. I am unaware of a single authority who claims that Darius should be included. The point to take away is that “Artaxerxes” was a name replacement adopted by a king when he took the throne, not a title. A throne name is like the way Popes take on a new name when elected to that office. Newly elected Popes set aside their birth names and are henceforth known by the new one. A throne name is not the same thing as a title for their position, which is “Pope.” The very fact that the Scriptures refer to “King Artaxerxes” also illustrates this distinction between title and throne name, for if “Artaxerxes” was just a Persian term for “king,” he was in effect being called “King King.” That makes no sense.
The “Ahasuerus” of Ezra 4
Let’s now carefully read a condensed version of the NASB translation of Ezra 4:
1Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel… 4Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, 5and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
We are told in verses 4–5 that the people of the land sought to hinder the rebuilding of the Temple by hiring “counselors” against them—influential people like lawyers and politicians—“all the days of Cyrus…until the reign of Darius.” This gives us an apparent chronological context for the passage, but we must keep on reading…
6Now in the reign of Ahasuerus [the ESV Study Bible notes this is Xerxes I, 486–464 BC], in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem (brackets and emphasis added).
Now we abruptly encounter the name “Ahasuerus.” William Shea, in “Esther and History” (https://www.andrews.edu/library/car/cardigital/Periodicals/AUSS/1976-1/1976-1-27.pdf), note 4, p. 228, gives us the following information:
On linguistic grounds, it is no longer possible to maintain that Ahasuerus of Esther could have been Artaxerxes instead of Xerxes. The names of these two kings are now attested in seven languages from the ancient world, and it is unlikely they could have been confused, as is evident from the following table:
Sources: Greek, Herodotus, The Histories (cf. 6:98 for Artaxerxes); Old Persian, R. G. Kent, Old Persian (New Haven, 1953), pp. 171, 182; Elamite, R. T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets (Chicago, 1969), pp. 701, 704; Aramaic, A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (London, 1923), Nos. 2, 6, and passim; Hebrew, Ezra 4:6, 7:l f.; Akkadian, G. G. Cameron, “Darius and Xerxes in Babylonia,” AJSL 58 (1941): 322; Egyptian, G. Posener, La première domination perse en Égypte (Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire, Bibliothèque d’Étude, 11, 1936), p. 163.
We conclude therefore that Artaxerxes and Ahasuerus were different people. 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.
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), whose excellent work we will look further at below, adds:
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).
Thus, we must conclude that Ahasuerus was a personal name that was modified by passing through different languages. Ahasuerus was neither a throne name nor a title. But despite the seemingly solid identification of Ahasuerus with Xerxes, doesn’t the context restrict itself to events between Cyrus and Darius? If we look at the list of Achaemenid rulers given near the beginning of this article, we see Xerxes did not rule until after Darius I. This break from chronological order tempts some to abandon plain-sense interpretation principles, and look instead for other ways to understand the passage. One is by overlooking or dismissing the etymology behind the name, instead suggesting “Ahasuerus” was not the personal name for Xerxes resulting after some translational gymnastics, but a title for some other king who lived between Cyrus and Darius, perhaps Cambyses or Smerdis. The problem shared by both of these suggestions is that they ignore a patently obvious fact: all through the book of Esther we encounter the name “Ahasuerus” where it refers to Xerxes. Shouldn’t the Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 likewise be Xerxes? To hold this view is simply recognizing that Scripture really has one Author, God, who we rightly expect to be self-consistent. Since He inspired the writers of Scripture, shouldn’t we be looking for a way to accommodate the plain-sense implication of this—that the Ahasuerus of Esther was also the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6—rather than arguing against it?
To maintain the revised, shortened chronology he has constructed around the Seraiah Assumption, Mr. Struse must restrict Nehemiah and Ezra to the reign of Darius the Great. He attempts to accommodate Ahasuerus by focusing on a very brief parenthetical remark in Nehemiah 2:6, “the queen sitting beside him.” He says, in agreement with the old Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary, that this was probably Queen Esther, otherwise why would this detail have been mentioned? But the flip side of this is, since Esther was famous, if she was the queen in question in Nehemiah 2:6, why is she not explicitly named? As far as I am aware, there is neither manuscript evidence of past attempts by scribes to supply her name here, at least as a marginal gloss, nor anything in apocryphal literature supporting this identification. If one surveys the several commentaries at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/nehemiah/2-6.htm, the majority identify this queen with Damaspia, the wife of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. Nehemiah 2:6 is a very tenuous basis indeed for applying the name “Ahasuerus” in Esther as a title for Darius I.
At http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/03/19/queen-of-127-provinces/, Struse also attempts to find support for his thesis by tying the extensive empire of this Ahasuerus, said to have “reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces,” specifically to Darius rather than Xerxes. But his case is insufficient for two reasons. First, as the son of Darius we would expect that, barring any rebellions and military setbacks, the extent of Xerxes’ empire—at least near the beginning of his reign—would have been as extensive as that of his father. But moreover, the Daiva Inscription, translated at https://www.livius.org/sources/content/achaemenid-royal-inscriptions/xph/, confirms from archaeology the extent of the empire under Xerxes, given in his own words:
King Xerxes says: By the grace of Ahuramazda these are the countries of which I was king apart from Persia. I had lordship over them. They bore me tribute. What was said to them by me, that they did. My law, that held them: Media, Elam…India…and the Nubians [Ethiopia].
To summarize this point, there are excellent reasons why “Ahasuerus” in Ezra 4:6 must be understood not as a title applicable to multiple kings, but as the personal name of the one king we find in the book of Esther—Xerxes. The only issue is the perception of some that the surrounding chronological context appears to clash with that identification. We will see later that this erroneous perception is cleared up by a more thorough examination of the surrounding context.
For now, let’s return to the text of Ezra 4 and look at verse 7. Here we have a similar situation to that in verse 6, with another king seemingly named outside of his proper chronological context:
7And in the days of Artaxerxes [identified in the ESV Study Bible as Artaxerxes I Longimanus, 464–423 BC], Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his colleagues wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic. 12“…let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings (brackets and emphasis added).
Just as in the case of Ahasuerus in verse 6, it is alleged that Artaxerxes in verse 7 is a title for Darius the Great. But why would the same king bear two different titles? That this is Struse’s understanding is clear from this statement in his “Queen of 127 Provinces” article: “The common thread of all the above references is that Darius ‘the Great’, also known as Artaxerxes or Ahasuerus…” (emphasis added). Why would Ezra 4:6–7 mention the same king twice, by different names, in back-to-back verses that bear every indication of talking about different people? I cannot follow this logic, and feel constrained to search for a better solution. By suggesting that both Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes are titles for Darius I, Struse has expanded the identifying terms as necessary to maintain his theory. But a theory that cannot be falsified is one that cannot be proven, either.
Continuing Ezra 4, we jump ahead to the response of King Artaxerxes to the Samaritans’ complaints:
17Then the king sent an answer to Rehum the commander, to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and in the rest of the provinces beyond the River: “Peace. And now 18the document which you sent to us has been translated and read before me. 19A decree has been issued by me, and a search has been made and it has been discovered that that city has risen up against the kings in past days, that rebellion and revolt have been perpetrated in it, 20that mighty kings have ruled over Jerusalem, governing all the provinces beyond the River, and that tribute, custom and toll were paid to them. 21So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me...” 24Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased… (emphasis added).
Notice the response of Artaxerxes is first to check out the facts of this allegation. He tracks down the history of past dealings with the Jews in his archives. Contrary to the bald accusation of the Samaritans that allowing the rebuilding of the city must necessarily cause his income to suffer, Artaxerxes confirms that “tribute, custom and toll were paid” to “mighty kings” of the past, so their smear was not quite true. Artaxerxes thus gives a balanced reply, instructing the Samaritan leaders to put a stop to any construction of Jerusalem “until a decree is issued by me.” He seems to have wanted to carefully manage things to avoid mistakes made by some of his predecessors. Hence, city construction is forbidden (not Temple construction, which had been explicitly authorized), pending a forthcoming decree allowing it to move forward. But nevertheless, since the Samaritans used armed force to bring the work on city building to a temporary halt, continued supplemental work on the Temple complex ceased as well.
[Addendum, 5/4/19: The above interpretation of "mighty kings" as referring to previous Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian kings rather than Jewish kings is my own, but is not without precedent. Charles Fensham, in his volume on The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 1982), in the section on Ezra 4:17-22, approvingly cites K. Galling, Die Bücher der Chronik, Esra, Nehemia in ATD 12 (Göttingen: 1954) to the same effect.]
The Thematic Context of Ezra 4:6–23
Now we come to the conclusion of Ezra 4:24b: “…and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” These words are the contextual key to the chapter. They directly connect verse 24 with verse 5, “all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” The intervening verses 6 through 23 of Ezra 4 therefore constitute a parenthetical sidebar set between verses 5 and 24, continuing the theme of Samaritan-led opposition but now expressing it in their efforts to stymie the Jews in rebuilding the city instead of the Temple. The word “now” which leads off 4:6 has almost the sense of our expression “by the way…”—it introduces a jump to a tangential topic, which nevertheless has some relationship to what had already been discussed.
At http://www.cogwriter.com/jesus-ministry-dates.htm, Paul Kroll agrees that Ezra 4:6–23 functions as an expansion on the theme of problems faced by the Jews with the people of the land, a theme Ezra extends beyond the time of Darius (ALL CAPS and brackets original, other emphasis added):
In Ezra 4:6–23, THE SUMMARY of all the problems the Jews had is recorded. However, this is an inset in the chain of events. The account of the problems with building the temple during the reign of Darius I ENDS at verse five and resumes in verse 24!
“And hired counsellors against them...all the days of Cyrus [538–529] king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius [the first] king of Persia [521–485]: …Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius [the first] king of Persia” (verses 5, 24).
It was at this time—around 520 B.C. that the books of Haggai and Zechariah were written (Ezra 5:1). The matter finally came to Darius I concerning the temple—and he ordered the construction to continue (Ezra 6:11–12). Again, this decree was to build the house of God—not Jerusalem. It is the restoration of the temple.
“And the elders of the Jews…builded, and finished it [the temple], according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus [538–529], and Darius [the first, 521–485], and Artaxerxes [the first, 464–423] king of Persia.
“And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius [the first, 516–515] the king.”
The Jews began to build the temple during the reign of Cyrus but accomplished nothing until the beginning of the second year of Darius I [520–519]; Four years later in his sixth year, in 515 B.C.—the temple was finished.
Later, after the temple was completed, Artaxerxes I (464–423) included as part of his decree to rebuild Jerusalem a clause to procure any further materials necessary to beautify the temple (Ezra 7:16).
Now we must retrace our steps to pick up the account of Ezra 4:6–23. This gave the summary of problems the Jews encountered.
We saw that the temple—except for finishing touches—was completed in the sixth year of Darius I.
Now the account continues. It takes us past the completion of the temple.
“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” (Ezra 4:6).
This is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. He is generally regarded as the Xerxes of Greek history (485–464).
The narrative then continues:
“And in the days of Artaxerxes [the first, 464–423] wrote Bishlam, Mithredath,... Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, BUILDING THE REBELLIOUS AND THE BAD CITY, and have set up the walls thereof,... Then sent the king an answer... Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this CITY be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me” (Ezra 4:7, 12, 17, 21).
This was probably near the beginning of the reign of Artaxerxes I. Notice that this concerned the building of the city—Jerusalem! Artaxerxes commanded that the city and wall should not be built—until he sent another commandment. How clear that this “other commandment” he sent is the one we read about in Ezra 7—the one sent by Artaxerxes in his seventh year! How clear that the Artaxerxes of Ezra 7 is the one who reigned from 464–423 B.C.
We see that, although the overall context is chronologically arranged, the parenthetical inset includes details that extend beyond the Cyrus/Darius “bookends”; yet from the perspective of the Chronicler who brought together the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and who knows the end of the matter before he ever sets quill to parchment, the later problems have enough in common with the Temple-building difficulties to warrant their mention here. He begins in 4:1–5 by laying out the problems caused by the Samaritans in getting the Temple completed, then in effect adds in 4:6, “By the way, these guys also caused problems later on...” From his historian’s after-the-events perspective, he knows that the policies of Xerxes and, at the start of his reign, Artaxerxes I Longimanus did nothing to solve the problem of Samaritan obstructionism. An exclusive focus on Cyrus and Darius as chronological delimiters overlooks this contextually harmonious solution.
To summarize this point, to understand Ezra 4:6–23 “contextually” does not require a strictly chronological approach. The mentions of Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes are deliberate anachronisms introduced by the Spirit-inspired compiler of the records of Ezra-Nehemiah that would have been self-evident to his history-informed audience. There is no need to reinterpret the translated name of Ahasuerus or the throne name of Artaxerxes as forced references to Darius the Great. These names can be understood just as given elsewhere in Scripture, where they refer to Xerxes I and his son Artaxerxes Longimanus respectively. The plain sense is the right sense, and supports our contention that the Seraiah Assumption is the wrong way to approach the genealogy of Ezra in Ezra 7:1.
Ezra 6:14 and the Waw Explicativum
Ezra 6:14 is another verse where the desire to avoid anachronistically introducing Artaxerxes I Longimanus into the narrative has given rise to creative ways of getting around it. One is a particular grammatical argument centered on the Hebrew letter waw. Prefixed to another word, waw is generally translated as a simple connective, “and.” There are places, however, where it can be used as what grammarians term a waw explicativum, where it equates the two items it joins and takes the translation “even.” Applying this understanding to Ezra 6:14b yields:
And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, even Artaxerxes king of Persia (KJV, emphasis added).
By this understanding, Darius is equated with “Artaxerxes.” Mr. Struse is quite insistent that this is the way this waw must be understood; in one place (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/08/who-is-the-artaxerxes-in-your-prophecy/) he writes,
The error [of translating Ezra 6:14b as “and Artaxerxes”] is actually found in the English translation of the passage. It stems from presuppositional bias and the erroneous use of the Hebrew letter waw. In order to show that Ezra lived during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus, as they presupposed, the translators used the letter waw to form a conjunction instead of a hendiadys (two words with one meaning), as the context would dictate.
With all due respect to Mr. Struse, it is fair to say that 99% of people without any skin in the game would expect the well-trained professional scholars and translators of the various English versions of the Bible, particularly those who uphold it as the Word of God and take their responsibility to handle it carefully with utmost seriousness, to be in a good position to tell us what “the context would dictate.” To assert “presuppositional bias” and “erroneous use of the Hebrew letter” carries little weight when coming from someone without specialized training. He then goes on:
Since there is no reasonable contextual basis to assume that the Artaxerxes of Ezra 6:14 was another Persian king who helped finish the temple by the sixth year of Darius—especially a future one!—the translators should have used waw to form a hendiadys, not to denote two different people. Their decision to use the waw in this way was premised upon the necessity to show that Ezra was a contemporary of Artaxerxes Longimanus so that their messianic expectations concerning Daniel 9 could be satisfied. There is simply no other reason to add another Persian king to the chronology of Ezra 6:14–15, especially one who lived nearly sixty years after the events described were completed (emphasis added).
Unless he has actually been in touch with some English Bible translators, I doubt Mr. Struse is in a position to know about any premises or messianic expectations which may have influenced their work. Since we have just seen in our detailed examination of Ezra 4 that there is a “reasonable contextual basis” for the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 being Longimanus, there is reason to add a third king to the chronology of Ezra 6:14–15: it is in keeping with a thematic approach to the passage, like we saw in Ezra 4. How this applies to Ezra 6:14 is discussed by Dr. A. Philip Brown II, whose work we will examine later.
Concluding from the Seraiah Assumption that Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem must have taken place in the seventh year of “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes of Persia,” Struse insists that his view is the only “reasonable” way of looking at the biblical data, and one who disagrees with it “hopelessly tortures the text” and “creates numerous interpretational inconsistencies”:
In summary, by every reasonable measure of biblical interpretation, Ezra was a contemporary of Darius ‘the Great’, and in fact the most reasonable reading of Ezra 6:13–15 supports this. Trying to stretch Ezra’s chronology to the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus hopelessly tortures the text and creates numerous interpretational inconsistencies which cannot be overcome with any reasonable rendering of the Bible’s chronological record (emphasis added).
Yet, in marked contrast to the certainty expressed above, the translation “even” is not part of any generally accepted English translation of the Bible (cf. the discussion of Anstey below), nor is it given as an alternative translation in the margin notes of any of 15 different English Bibles I checked. Rather, it reflects one individual’s grammar judgment call that hinges on the doubtful validity of the Seraiah Assumption. If the matter was so certain, we would think at least a single English translation would have made a marginal comment about the possibility, but we search for such in vain. This single word change of “and” to “even” is used to justify placing the journey of Ezra to Jerusalem not in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus, but in the seventh regnal year of Darius the Great, i.e., 515/514 BC. Taking this approach would make Ezra, accepting via the Seraiah Assumption that he was 56 at the time of the first return under Zerubbabel in the summer of 536 BC, 78 years old when he arrived in Jerusalem in the summer of 514 BC. Though by this assumption Ezra was no spring chicken at his arrival, it sounds possible when contrasted with the alternative, so it is easy to see why this “what if” scenario might be an attractive idea.
But there is a major difficulty in reconciling this proposal with the biblical text, apart from both its statistical unlikelihood and its unwarranted assumption that Ezra was the literal son of Seraiah. One is obliged to ask why the writer of the book of Ezra would have even bothered to introduce the name “Artaxerxes” into the narrative at Ezra 6:14, when this king had been uniformly referred to as “Darius” several times earlier in the book (4:5, 4:24, 5:5, 5:6, 5:7, 6:1, and 6:12). If “Darius” and “Artaxerxes” were indeed one and the same person, waiting until this late point in the narrative to introduce an additional designation for Darius does nothing but confuse the reader. Once one comes to terms with the fact there is nothing unbiblical about Seraiah being just an ancestor of Ezra, there is nothing to justify introducing a new label for him. Were it not for the genealogy in Ezra 7:1 seemingly implying that Seraiah ben-Azariah might have been Ezra’s father, one would normally expect “Artaxerxes the king of Persia” in Ezra 6:14 to refer to an entirely different man than Darius on a purely context-driven basis. This is a significant issue which the waw explicativum proposal above fails to address.
David Austin’s Perspective on the Waw Explicativum
Another writer, David Austin, has taken a similar approach to that of Struse on Ezra 6:14. (Others besides Austin and Struse have adopted this perspective as well; as far back as 1913 Martin Anstey, in The Romance of Bible Chronology, online at https://archive.org/stream/romanceofbiblech01anst/romanceofbiblech01anst_djvu.txt p. 269, asserted that “Darius Hystaspes = Artaxerxes of Ezra 7 and Nehemiah.”) Austin likewise treats the final waw in Ezra 6:14 as an explicative use translated “even,” thereby making “Darius” and “Artaxerxes” synonymous. In an article in the Journal of Creation 22(2): 46–52, August 2008 (online at https://creation.com/darius-is-artaxerxes), Austin uses this approach to rule out Artaxerxes I Longimanus as “Artaxerxes king of Persia”:
Only two kings, therefore, up to the completion of the house of God (Cyrus and Darius Hystaspis), could and did receive the commendation of Ezra 6:14. They “builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel”. Yet three kings are seemingly found in Ezra 6:14. This apparent discrepancy is quite simply explained by translating “and Artaxerxes King of Persia” as “even Artaxerxes King of Persia”.
This is precisely the point made by Struse above. Austin then justifies this choice:
Is it correct to translate “and” as “even”? [Floyd Nolen] Jones does not think so and states that [Martin] Anstey “altered” the verse. Moreover, he says that “having pursued the matter further by consulting over twenty versions at Ezra 6:14, it is noted that not one translator or team of translators rendered the ‘waw’ (vav) beginning the Hebrew word for Artaxerxes as ‘even’” (brackets and emphasis added).
This observation about how the waw is treated in English translations is undeniably true, but Austin basically shrugs and responds, “So what?” He continues:
The answer to this statement is that if it is impossible for three kings to receive “commendation”, then we must find a meaning of “waw” that agrees with the biblical historical record. We must interpret according to context and the type of “waw” involved and not to the number of translations.
I agree that simply going by numbers of translations that take a certain approach is not a slam-dunk answer (although it must be admitted that the odds are on the side of the overwhelming majority!). The real problem I see with Austin’s statement is that it focuses full attention upon only a single way to deal with Ezra 6:14, to the exclusion of any other possible solutions. He cannot prove that his chosen “type of ‘waw’” is the correct one, it is merely theoretically possible. He justifies his choice, as Struse does, by claiming to be interpreting the passage “according to context.” But as illustrated by our examination of Ezra 4 above, his context is too limited. It needs to be expanded beyond the immediate chronological context of Ezra 6:14, to include proper regard for the writer’s thematic context. When this is done, it provides the third “commended” king of Persia—Artaxerxes I Longimanus—that Austin could not find under the constraints of his purely chronological approach.
To conclude the case made by Austin, he cites a lexicon to propose the same use of waw as Struse, though labeled differently as “explanatory”:
In Bagster’s Analytical Hebrew and Chaldean Lexicon “and” as a connective particle has eight principal uses. No. 8 says: “… exegetical (i.e. explanatory, interpretive) = even, where properly the relative may be expressed instead. See Gen. 49:25—from the God of Thy father, even He, or who will help Thee.” On the basis of the “explanatory” use of No. 8, a correct translation of Ezra 6:14b would then be: Cyrus and Darius, even (or who is) Artaxerxes, King of Persia.
Bagster, however, did not specifically cite Ezra 6:14b as an example of such an “explanatory” use. It is Austin’s personal opinion, not that of the professional lexicographers. So again, Austin has offered no proof for his thesis, he merely raises a possibility and runs with it.
Philip Brown’s Solution to the Waw Explicativum
Now we turn to discuss the argument that has most influenced by own perceptions on this issue. In “Chronological Anomalies in Ezra,” an extremely insightful article published in Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (Jan–Mar 2005), pp. 68–84, posted online at https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-1-temporal-ordering-ezra-part-i#P972_100126, A. Philip Brown II showed how the writer of Ezra-Nehemiah took a thematic approach to his subject in Ezra 6 rather than a chronological one. Just as in Ezra 4:6–23, he brings up Artaxerxes out of chronological order, in an anachronistic way. This theme-centric approach is the one we should bring to Ezra 6:14 as well, as Brown explains:
The unexpected and anachronistic appearance of Artaxerxes’ name in 6:14 momentarily jolts the reader back into the time of Ezra, immediately raising two questions: why is Artaxerxes mentioned in conjunction with Cyrus and Darius when they had both died before he was born; and why does the narrator imply that Artaxerxes was a co-contributor to the building of the temple when he had nothing to do with the actual building of the temple? The complete homogeneity of the textual evidence for this verse renders speculations about editorial activity needless. Instead, recognition that Ezra purposely relates things out of order should prompt a search for his purpose for including this reference at this point in the narrative (emphasis added).
We are to understand that the writer presents the commandment of God in Ezra 6:14 as a single overarching decree, yet manifested through the individual edicts issued by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes. This one decree of God—the word is a singular noun—is not completely unfolded until Artaxerxes contributes his part, notwithstanding that it is somewhat removed in time from the earlier contributions of Cyrus and Darius. Brown again explains:
Ezra’s use of anachrony signals that thematic development is again overriding chronological presentation. The inclusion of Artaxerxes’ name in 6:14 brings into one compass all the Persian kings who contributed to the temple—from initial rebuilding to final beautification—and unites the entire preceding narrative around one of the narrative’s theological centerpoints: Yahweh’s sovereign control of history. Again, Ezra’s thematic treatment serves both narrative development and his theological purpose. In terms of narrative development, this verse summarizes all that has transpired in the process of rebuilding the temple and anticipates, by mentioning Artaxerxes, what is yet to come. Theologically, the syntax of 6:14 is significant. Ezra explicitly attributes the successful completion of the temple project to the command of God first and then to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. This order of presentation forges a causal-chronological link between the decree of God and the separate decrees of these three kings. God’s command effects Cyrus’s, Darius’s, and Artaxerxes’ commands. The singular form [<u@f=] subsumes the three commands into one,86 implying that the Persian decrees were merely extensions of the sovereign will of God. His was the command, and they were its publishers (emphasis added).
Whereas Struse and Austin, by what ultimately boils down to a subjective choice, view the final waw of Ezra 6:14 as indicating “Artaxerxes” refers to Darius, Brown offers an objective basis: the grammatically-significant singular noun encompassing the work of all three kings. In his footnote #86 he explains that it is the first waw in the verse, not the last, which is a waw explicativum:
If one regards the waw on <ufmw [“command”] as a waw explicativum, this would strengthen this conclusion: in other words, “from the command of God, even the command [of] Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, king of Persia” (6:14) (emphasis added).
Doing this equates the command of God with the three-fold human command (singular!) of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes. That Brown’s view of the waw explicativum is possible does not necessarily make it so, of course, but it does show that Struse and Austin are not being equitable in the way they evaluate the translation possibilities. Fair-mindedness towards the data requires that they not insist their preferred view of this grammar question is the only one possible.
Before moving on, one more point can be made: since Ezra 6:14 tells us the one command of God had three kings involved in its outworking, we cannot say the decree of Daniel 9:25 had fully “gone forth” until Artaxerxes Longimanus added his contribution. We have to wait until Artaxerxes’ reign to find Daniel’s prophesied decree.
“After These Things”
Having discussed the chronological anomaly above, Brown moves on to another which shows that the author of Ezra-Nehemiah displays a penchant for first telling where he is going, then explaining how he gets there. He thus diverges from a strictly chronological approach, as already seen in Ezra 4. The phrase leading off Ezra 7:1, “after these things,” alerts us that Ezra’s arrival was sometime after the Temple-completion events described at the close of Ezra 6—but it does not tell us how long after those events it took place. An unspecified period of time is in view. Struse, seeing in the “Artaxerxes” of Ezra 6:14 a reference to Darius the Great, is inclined to have Ezra travel to Jerusalem the very next year after the Temple was finished, such that he arrived in “the seventh year of king Artaxerxes” (Ezra 7:7–8), which he equates with the seventh year of Darius I. But this is by no means upheld by the text—and it begs the question of why, if Ezra was 56 when Zerubbabel’s group left for Jerusalem, he did not join them at that time, but waited until he was in his late 70s to make the trip. Brown takes up this subject:
The magnitude of the chronological challenges associated with “after these things” in 7:1 has so overshadowed Ezra’s rearrangement of the dates associated with his own return that most scholars and commentators have given it no notice. Contrary to normal history-telling practice, Ezra’s temporal notations mark his journey’s end before they mark its beginning. Ezra begins with the ending date. “That Ezra went up from Babel…and he entered Jerusalem in the fifth month—it was the seventh year of the king” (7:6, 8). The next verse then specifies when he began: “For on the first day of the first month was the beginning of the going up from Babel…” (7:9). This end-before-beginning arrangement holds true for the entire second return episode. The reader knows the day, month, and year that Ezra and the people arrive in Jerusalem before he is told anything of the journey’s background, preparations, or the potential hazards that may intervene.
This shows us a style quirk of the author, in that he deals with matters not from a strictly chronological approach, but a thematic one. He first gives a big chronological picture—an overview that takes his final destination into account ahead of time—then proceeds to fill in the details:
Having given the ending and beginning dates, Ezra spends most of his time narrating the antecedents to the journey: Artaxerxes’ grant (7:12–26), the gathering of the people (8:1–14), the search for Levites (8:15–20), the prayer for protection (8:21–23), and the care of the temple vessels (8:24–30). The events of the nearly four-month-long journey are entirely omitted, except for one comment to reinforce his theological point: “And the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the palm of the enemy and ambusher along the road” (8:31). Interestingly, Ezra does not return again to the dates with which he began. Having said when the exiles arrived (7:8–9), he merely states that they arrive and how long they rest after the arrival (8:32).
When we take this writing style into account, it undermines the whole basis for insisting that context demands keeping every single thing Ezra writes in strictly chronological order. Thus, there is no need to view the final waw of 6:14 as a waw explicativum that equates Darius with “Artaxerxes king of Persia.” The writer is simply displaying a distinctive theme-centered writing style which prompts him to bring Artaxerxes I Longimanus into the picture, because what he contributed was part-and-parcel with the actions of Cyrus and Darius in the human outworking of God’s command.
We must be very careful not to allow a favored theory to unduly influence how we interpret “after these things.” Consider: Darius is not mentioned once in the book of Ezra following “after these things” in 7:1. This is a bit strange when we realize he reigned for another 29 years after his sixth regnal year, until 486 BC. After the frequent earlier mentions of Darius up to the end of chapter 6, if Ezra indeed arrived in Jerusalem during Darius’ seventh year as Struse maintains, and Darius had 28 more years as king of Persia still ahead of him, why don’t we hear anything more about Ezra in conjunction with “Darius” in the rest of the book? As pointed out earlier, what possible reason would there have been to change what had been the consistent approach of referring to him as “Darius” up to this time? Why introduce the name “Artaxerxes” into the narrative at Ezra 6:14, when “Darius” had been unvaryingly used since Ezra 4:5? After 6:14 we have several verses where Ezra and “Artaxerxes” are mentioned together (Ezra 7:1, 7:11, 7:12, 7:21), but not once do we find Ezra mentioned alongside “Darius.” Combine that observation with the likelihood that “Ezra ben-Seraiah” should be understood as “Ezra the descendant of Seraiah,” and it appears the phrase “after these things” serves as the transition point where two separate historical records—those of Darius I and Artaxerxes I Longimanus—were brought together by the compiler of Ezra-Nehemiah. Combining the material this way resulted in the reign of Xerxes/Ahasuerus, the period of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai, being entirely skipped over after Ezra 6. That material was covered instead in the book of Esther, except for the isolated mention of Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6.
The obvious context-based conclusion from the discontinued mentions of “Darius” after Ezra 6:14 is that Darius died before Ezra arrived. If the Lord meant for us to understand “after these things” to refer to the seventh regnal year of Darius, why would He not have said so plainly? After all, elsewhere in the nearby context He already had the compiler of Ezra-Nehemiah unambiguously refer to the second and sixth years “of Darius,” so writing “in the seventh year of Darius” would perfectly fit that style. There is no discernible reason why the inspired writer would not have been equally plain-spoken about the seventh year of Darius, if that is indeed what was meant. By having him pen the ambiguous words “after these things” in Ezra 7:1, God has led the writer of this Scripture to veil its precise timing, yet simultaneously imply rather strongly that more than a single year had passed since the closing events of Ezra 6. We are told that Ezra’s arrival was during the reign of “Artaxerxes king of Persia”—the exact same expression used at the end of Ezra 6:14, after which we hear no more about Darius. This intimates that verse was not merely looking at events in chronological order (during Darius’ sixth year), but was anachronistically looking forward to a more distant future event because it fit the theme of what he was relating: a recounting of all the Persian kings who played a positive role in fulfilling “the command of the God of Israel” in Ezra 6:14.
One can also draw from Ezra 6:16, 20 a corroborating inference that significant time passed between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7: “And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy…For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure.” At the time of the dedication of the Temple prior to Ezra’s arrival, all of the priests and Levites were “pure,” and able to minister without reproach. Contrast that statement with what we learn in Ezra 9:1:
Now when these things [setting up for Temple worship right after Ezra’s arrival] had been completed, the princes approached me [Ezra], saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites.”
This alerts us that at some point between the completion of the Temple in Darius’ sixth year and Ezra’s arrival, the priests and Levites no longer met the standard of purity portrayed in Ezra 6:16, 20. The implication is that in the intervening time intermarriage with the local pagans had begun. The problem of taking foreign wives was a development that must have taken some years to unfold—a gradual secularism crept in as the passion for holiness seen in the pioneering returnees was diminished as succeeding generations were born in Judea. This was not something that could reasonably have taken place in a single year, between the sixth and seventh years of Darius. It implies that “after these things” required the passing of sufficient time for corruption to take root and begin spreading like leaven, even amongst those who should have been the leaders in resisting it—the priests and Levites.
Examining the Eliashib Assumption
Do Chronology Lists Make Eliashib a Contemporary of Darius?
Now we move on to examine the Eliashib Assumption. It arises from Struse’s attempt to replace his broken original foundation, the supposed Artaxerxes Assumption made by Anderson, with a new one that will still support the case he had already built earlier. Again in ultimate dependence on the Seraiah Assumption, at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2018/04/07/eliashib-artaxerxes-sir-robert-anderson/ he presents a “Sudoku puzzle” model to make the case that the high priest Eliashib was a contemporary of “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes.” Key to this approach is that some names found in lists of the early arrivals under Zerubbabel and Jeshua are also found in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and from this he concludes that in at least some cases, these are the exact same individuals. This assumption provides another rationale for truncating the timeline from Zerubbabel to Nehemiah by 58 years so Eliashib fits into it, again necessitating understanding “Artaxerxes” as someone other than Longimanus.
The Problem of Name Repetition: The Phenomenon of Papponymy
However, this reasoning overlooks the demonstrable fact that many names in Scripture are used repeatedly, so reliable chronologies cannot be constructed on that basis alone. Struse attempts to use the repetition of certain names of priests, Levites and gatekeepers (KJV: porters) seen in the different genealogies as evidence that the same individuals lived during the times of both Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, and concludes that these two governors were much closer in time to each other than the Artaxerxes Assumption allows. So close, in fact, that Struse typically calls Darius I “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes,” taking “Artaxerxes” not as a throne name but as a title that could be applied to multiple Persian kings, and drastically shortening the timeline between the high priests Jeshua and Eliashib (an acknowledged contemporary of Nehemiah and Ezra) so the latter served during the reign of Darius I rather than Artaxerxes I.
However, this approach fails to take into account the likelihood of multi-generational repetition of various common Jewish names. Some—notably Jeshua, Seraiah, Azariah, Meshullam and Shallum—demonstrate the phenomenon of papponymy, where a man’s name skips a generation and shows up again in a grandson. This phenomenon means keying on name repetitions alone is not a reliable way to construct a chronology. There is also the ambiguity raised by the repeated use of culturally common names among unrelated people. Anyone who has paid any attention to genealogies in Scripture has noticed that the same names are used for many different individuals. One such is Shallum. Struse makes an equivalence between the gatekeeper Shallum mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:17 with another gatekeeper of the same name in Ezra 10:24. In his article at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/22/who-was-sir-robert-andersons-artaxerxes/, he uses that observation as the basis for the following claim:
Notice that in 1 Chronicles above, we are told that Shallum was the chief porter. In Ezra 10 we learn that Shallum the porter was one of the men of Jerusalem who had taken a non-Hebrew wife from among the inhabitants of the land. Shallum, along with the rest of the inhabitants of the land, agreed to put away their strange wives at the prompting of Ezra. According to the text, this all took place in the seventh and eighth years of Artaxerxes… What this means chronologically is that the same Shallum the chief porter, Akkub, and Talmon who came up to Jerusalem in 536 BC were still alive in the seventh year of a Persian Artaxerxes… the above verses show that Shallum, Akkub, and Talmon most reasonably fit in the chronological context of the Second Temple as contemporaries of Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes. By no reasonable biblical criteria could they have been alive by the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus…
This supposed name equivalence is one of Struse’s reasons for excising 58 years from Anderson’s timeline and linking the throne name “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14 with Darius I. But this strategy for maintaining the Seraiah Assumption fails on closer inspection. While in 1 Chronicles 9:17 the Shallum of the first post-exile generation is matched up with fellow gatekeepers Akkub, Talmon and Ahiman, in Ezra 10:24 (during the third post-exile generation by the Artaxerxes Assumption) the other gatekeepers are given as Telem and Uri. If Akkub, Talmon and Ahiman were indeed still alive with Shallum in the seventh year of “Artaxerxes,” why don’t they get mentioned in Ezra 10:24? This difference in the lists should make us question whether this Shallum in the same man in both places. Papponymy is a more likely explanation.
Besides, if we do a search through Scripture for the name Shallum, we find it is the name of many individuals from obviously different genealogical lines: Shallum the son of Tikvah (2 Kgs 22:14), Shallum the son of Sismai (1 Chr 2:41), Shallum the son of Josiah (1 Chr 3:15), Shallum the son of Shaul (1 Chr 4:25), Shallum the son of Zadok (1 Chr 6:12), Shallum the son of Naphtali (1 Chr 7:13), Shallum the son of Kore (1 Chr 9:19), Shallum the son of Tokhath (2 Chr 34:22), Shallum the son of Bani (Ezra 10:42), Shallum the son of Hallohesh (Neh 3:12), and Shallum the son of Col-hozeh (Neh 3:15). All of these different “Shallums” demonstrate that name, like “William” and “Robert” in our day, was a favored boy’s name. The point is clear: since “Shallum” was so common, it is impossible to use name matching alone to claim that a man living in the days of Zerubbabel was still alive when Nehemiah was governor, requiring a drastic truncating of Anderson’s timeline that forces Ezra and Nehemiah to overlap with Darius I.
For good measure, here is another particularly telling example of the name-matching problem, where we find names repeating multiple times in a single family line in 1 Chronicles 6:
7Meraioth became the father of Amariah ,
and Amariah  became the father of Ahitub , 8and Ahitub  became the father of Zadok , and Zadok  became the father of Ahimaaz,
9and Ahimaaz became the father of Azariah , and Azariah  became the father of Johanan, 10and Johanan became the father of Azariah  (it was he who served as the priest in the house which Solomon built in Jerusalem), 11and Azariah  became the father of Amariah ,
and Amariah  became the father of Ahitub , 12and Ahitub  became the father of Zadok , and Zadok  became the father of Shallum,
13and Shallum became the father of Hilkiah, and Hilkiah became the father of Azariah , 14and Azariah  became the father of Seraiah, and Seraiah became the father of Jehozadak; 15and Jehozadak went along when the LORD carried Judah and Jerusalem away into exile by Nebuchadnezzar.
Here we have three different Azariahs, two Amariahs, two Ahitubs, and two Zadoks. Even more potentially confusing is the sequence Amariah > Ahitub > Zadok repeats twice (indented above), in different generations! This family really loved those names! The only way to tell those two three-name sequences were different individuals is by noticing the different names of the sons of the two Zadoks, or the different names of the fathers of the two Amariahs. If Ahimaaz and Shallum had not been listed as sons of two different Zadoks, or Meraioth and Azariah as the fathers of two different Amariahs, there would have been no way of knowing that entirely different individuals were involved in those three-name sequences.
With such examples before us, how can we possibly use name matching alone to claim that Sir Robert Anderson erred in understanding “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14 as Artaxerxes I Longimanus? Confronted with biblical evidence that using the same names in multiple generations was a common thing, we cannot simply find the same names in different lists of priests, Levites or gatekeepers, and claim that this repetition proves they were the same person. The only way to tell if a given name refers to the same person is by context and tying in at least some other names in an ancestral line.
A Framework of the High Priests
These problems forced me to conclude the best way to take genealogical evidence from Scripture into account would be to place individuals into a framework built around the tenures of the high priests. We can set up that general framework from the information given in Nehemiah 12:10–11:
Jeshua became the father of Joiakim, and Joiakim became the father of Eliashib, and Eliashib became the father of Joiada, and Joiada became the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan became the father of Jaddua.
With no evidence of missing names, this list gives us six generations of direct father-to-son relationships, all of whom were high priests, making Eliashib the grandson of Jeshua. Eliashib can be securely placed as a contemporary with Nehemiah by his involvement in rebuilding the city wall:
Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel (Neh 3:1).
What are the timeline implications of Eliashib as the grandson of Jeshua and wall-building contemporary of Nehemiah? Following is an idealized guesstimate based on a generation of 30 years and an average lifespan of 75, with high priests serving until their deaths, when their first-born sons inherited the high priesthood:
- Seraiah, the last pre-exilic high priest, fathered Jehozadak at age 30
- Seraiah was put to death by Nebuchadnezzar at age 40, and Jehozadak exiled at age 10, in 587 BC (1 Chr 6:14–15, 2 Kgs 25:18, 21)
- Jehozadak fathered Jeshua in exile at age 30 in 567 BC
- Jeshua fathered Joiakim in exile at age 30 in 537 BC
- Jeshua and his family went to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel in 536 BC
- Joiakim fathered Eliashib at age 30 in 507 BC
- Jeshua died at age 75 and Joiakim became high priest in 492 BC
- Eliashib fathered Joiada at age 30 in 477 BC
- Joiakim died at age 75 and Eliashib became high priest in 462 BC
- Joiada fathered Jonathan at age 30 in 447 BC
- Eliashib died at age 75 and Joiada became high priest in 432 BC
Since under the Artaxerxes Assumption Nehemiah’s arrival in the 20th year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus would have taken place in 444 BC, the above guesstimate fits pretty well with it—Eliashib would have been Nehemiah’s contemporary, in the 18th year of his high priesthood. If we try to place Nehemiah’s arrival instead into the 20th year of Darius I, though (assuming “Artaxerxes” was a title for Darius, following Struse and Austin), he gets there in 501 BC. This will definitely not work—Eliashib would only have been about six years old by the time Nehemiah arrived! So on the basis of this minimal analysis, the Artaxerxes Assumption is upheld while the Seraiah Assumption fails the test.
The Known Knowns
Let us see whether this theoretical guesstimate can be sustained by information derived from Scripture. We will begin by setting forth some “known knowns” and reasonable inferences, not unlike Struse’s “Sudoku puzzle” model.
a. Zerubbabel was the governor who came to Jerusalem in 536 BC—Ezra 2:2, 3:8, etc. He served until at least the sixth year (515 BC) of Darius I (522–486 BC) (Zec 4:9, Ezra 6:15), when the temple was completed. He was probably a mature man of proven leadership ability to have been made governor, so we may expect him to have been in the prime of life, perhaps his mid-40s, when he immigrated to Judea.
b. Jeshua was a descendant of the last pre-exile high priest, Seraiah, through the latter’s son Jehozadak. Scripture tells us priests began to serve as young as age 25 (Num 8:24–26), so he was probably younger than Zerubbabel and lived beyond the latter’s death, or at least his term as governor. Jeshua was a contemporary of Zerubbabel, Cyrus and Cambyses, with some overlap into the reign of Darius.
c. There were other governors (plural) between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah: “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” (Neh 5:15). When the context is taken into account, it is clear that Nehemiah is referring to governors who were his immediate predecessors sometime since the return in 536 BC. Moreover, since it seems quite unlikely that Zerubbabel—so instrumental in getting the Temple completed, and so praised by God in Haggai 2:21–23 and Zechariah 4:6–10—would have leveraged his position for personal gain, the plural “governors” means there were at least two unspecified governors of Judea between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. (In “The Governors of Judah under the Persians,” Tyndale Bulletin 39 , pp. 59–82, online at https://legacy.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/Library/TynBull_1988_39_03_Williamson_GovernorsOfJudahPersian.pdf, H.G.M. Williamson suggests that one was named Elnathan, but this is unclear.) Accommodating two or more governors between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah would require the passage of an unknown period of time. The rise of the “nobles and rulers” (Neh 5:7) who took advantage of the people, prompting their outcry in Nehemiah 5:1–6, is consistent with this. We thus should understand that Zerubbabel either died or was replaced not long after the Temple was completed, when a new and less scrupulous series of governors arose and took advantage of their position until Nehemiah came along to put a stop to it.
d. How Nehemiah, a Jewish foreigner, could have risen to the greatly trusted position of cupbearer to the king of Persia needs to be explained by placing it in an historical context. There is nothing known to history that could explain how he came to this position if it was during the reign of Darius. Under Cyrus and Darius, the Jews were recipients of mercy extended by a benevolent sovereign to a subjugated people, but neither more nor less than other peoples previously conquered and deported by the Babylonians. What could have changed things to allow Nehemiah to rise to such a high position? The events portrayed in the book of Esther. They resulted not only in a Jewish queen over the Persians, but in Ahasuerus (Xerxes) making Mordecai “great in the king's house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for the man Mordecai became greater and greater” (Est 9:4). “The full account of the greatness of Mordecai” was recorded in “the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia,” and “Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus” (Est 10:2–3). This is arguably the key reason Nehemiah had an open door to become the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, and means Nehemiah’s elevation to a high position did not take place until after the death of Darius. Finally, since Ezra 4:6–7 contrasts Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and Artaxerxes as different people, we are obliged to place Nehemiah as a contemporary with the latter, so he does not become governor until sometime after Xerxes’ death in 465 BC.
e. Since we find the high priest Eliashib helping to build the Jerusalem wall (Neh 3:1, 20), we know without doubt that Eliashib was a contemporary of Nehemiah and Ezra. Since we are also told Joiakim was high priest between Jeshua and Eliashib (Neh 12:10–11), Joiakim was a contemporary of the unknown governors between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. And since we hear no more about Zerubbabel after the sixth year of Darius, yet know Darius reigned for another 29 years after that, it is safe to say the unnamed governors overlapped with the latter part of Darius’ rule and through most of the reign of Xerxes. Hence, we conclude that Joiakim was a contemporary of Xerxes with possible overlap with the latter years of Darius, therefore Eliashib was a contemporary of Artaxerxes I Longimanus with possible overlap with the latter years of Xerxes.
Putting the above clues together and reckoning on high priests serving an average of 35–40 years, Jeshua was high priest from Cyrus into roughly the first third of Darius’ reign. Then Joiakim was high priest spanning the rest of Darius’ rule through the bulk of the reign of Xerxes. Finally, Eliashib, grandson of Jeshua, was high priest from the closing years of Xerxes through most of the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus.
f. Ezra was a priest at the same time Nehemiah and Eliashib served (he went before the celebratory procession around the completed city wall, Neh 12:36). We see him arriving in Jerusalem in 457 BC when he was at his earliest serving age of 25 years old. With mandatory retirement at age 50 (Num 8:24–26), we estimate he was a priest for about 25 years, most of it during the tenure of Eliashib and Nehemiah, to ca. 432 BC. This means it was impossible for Ezra to have been in Jerusalem during the time of Darius (died 486 BC), and highly unlikely for him to have arrived during the reign of Xerxes (when Joiakim was high priest) either.
g. “Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me” (Neh 13:28). Sanballat and his cronies Tobiah and Geshem led the Samaritan opposition to Nehemiah. We saw above that the Elephantine Papyri mention Sanballat alive but obviously an older man in 408 BC, and we must place Nehemiah on a timeline appropriately in reference to him. Putting Nehemiah into the days of Darius will not work. This event corresponds with Nehemiah’s second journey to Jerusalem, when he had to deal with various compromises with the native Samaritans that crept back in after his return to Artaxerxes in 432 BC. These included Nehemiah’s adversary Tobiah being given living quarters within the Temple compound.
These observations are summarized in the following timeline. Each red dot marks ten years. We know Zerubbabel led the first returnees to Jerusalem in 536 BC, and the Elephantine Aramaic Papyri report that Sanballat, a chief adversary of Nehemiah at his arrival, was still living in 408 BC. These provide endpoints and approximate overlaps of contemporary kings, governors, high priests and leaders of the Samaritan opposition.
Artaxerxes’ Seventh Year Decree Covered Both City and Temple
We began this article with the quotation from Daniel 9:25 that a particular decree was key in dating the coming of the Messiah. Here it is again:
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks… (emphasis added)
We have also seen that the outworking of God’s command in Ezra 6:14 is finished by a decree issued by Artaxerxes I Longimanus:
And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
Having constructed a strong case above that the “Artaxerxes” who completed the fulfillment of God’s decree was Artaxerxes I Longimanus, we are looking for some decree during his reign (465–423 BC) that includes rebuilding Jerusalem. If we do a search in the NASB, we find Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes all issued various decrees which were aspects of the outworking of God’s command.
Cyrus: Cyrus made the first decree, which was restricted to rebuilding the Temple: “However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God” (Ezra 5:13; cf. 2 Chron 36:22–23, Ezra 1:1–4). Practically from the outset of its issuance, however, the Samaritan opposition materialized, as described in Ezra 4:1–5: “Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel…Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”
Darius: Whereas Cyrus, Cambyses and Smerdis apparently ignored what was going on in the far-off Province Beyond the River, Darius did not. First he issued a decree to locate in the official archives the earlier one by Cyrus authorizing rebuilding of the Temple: “Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found…” (Ezra 6:1–2). On finding it, Darius issued a warning against any who would interfere with the completion of Cyrus’ earlier decree (“Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site,” Ezra 6:7). Then he followed up by issuing a second decree to promote the Temple’s completion (“Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God…” Ezra 6:8–10). Finally, he issued a third decree authorizing dire consequences on any who would attempt to disrupt the Temple rebuilding efforts (Ezra 6:11–12). The effect of these three decrees was the functional completion of the Temple in Darius’ sixth year (“This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius,” Ezra 6:15).
Artaxerxes: After the Temple was functionally completed, the Samaritans, seeing that Darius was not sympathetic to their aims and any further interference with ongoing Temple supplemental construction carried a death penalty, instead focused their opposition on the Jews’ efforts to get the city rebuilt—essentially anything not specifically Temple-related. Apparently not trusting the Jew-friendly Darius to put a stop to ongoing yet never-authorized city rebuilding efforts (wall and foundation repairs in particular, Ezra 4:12) after the Temple was essentially done, they seem to have bided their time until Darius died. Then, as Ezra 4:6 relates, “in the reign of Ahasuerus [Xerxes], in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” There is no indication Xerxes gave any heed to this missive. After Xerxes’ murder in 465 BC and the ascension of Artaxerxes I to the throne, they tried again: “…let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations” (Ezra 4:12, emphasis added). Artaxerxes seems to have taken his governing responsibilities more seriously than his predecessor, for Ezra 4:19–21 informs us this letter spurred him to issue a decree authorizing a record search, which confirmed the Samaritans’ allegations of past rebellious behavior by the Jews in Jerusalem. He concludes in verse 21, “So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me” (emphasis added). Notice it is city construction that is expressly forbidden; possible ongoing supplemental Temple-related construction (expansion, ornamental, etc.) was not affected, having been explicitly authorized previously. The possibility is also raised that city construction permission would be forthcoming later.* So, the first decree of Artaxerxes did not fulfill Daniel 9:25, it basically just maintained the status quo as far as the Persians were concerned, though in Jewish eyes it was seen as a setback.
What about Artaxerxes’ second decree, issued in his seventh year to Ezra? In Ezra 7:11, 17–18 we read:
Now this is the copy of the decree which King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe… “with this money, therefore, you shall diligently buy bulls, rams and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings and offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. Whatever seems good to you and to your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do according to the will of your God” (emphasis added).
The first stipulation has specific reference to Temple supplies, but the second is basically a carte blanche gift—use the money however your God wants! Of the several decrees issued by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, this is the only decree which provided resources not specifically restricted to Temple-related matters, but could be used at Ezra’s discretion. Moreover, it follows on the heels of what Artaxerxes had written earlier, that there would be no city construction “until a decree is issued by me.” It provided funds in gold and silver which were not earmarked exclusively for the Temple, and could thus be used for city construction projects. Moreover, Ezra 7:25–26 authorizes the setting up of civil magistrates and judges, with the outlay of funds necessary to accomplish this. Surely this included constructing a place for them to do their work. Appointing such magistrates also effectively establishes municipal government, surely something that can be categorized as a city development expense.
To make it yet more clear that the decree of the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus was the fulfillment of Daniel 9:25, consider Nehemiah in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. He is portrayed in Nehemiah 1–2 as despondent that the city had no defensive walls or gates to protect it. Why did he care? A city wall is only needed if there is first a city to protect. In Nehemiah 1:2 he asks his brother Hanani not about the Temple, but about the city of Jerusalem. This indicates he had good reason to believe the rebuilding of the city had progressed by that time. That expectation, as well as the depth of his emotional response to the bad news, is best attributed to his understanding that such rebuilding had already been permitted by some royal decree subsequent to that issued for Temple rebuilding in Darius’ second year. The only possibility is the decree of Artaxerxes’ seventh year. As a member of the royal court, Nehemiah must have been aware that Artaxerxes had forbidden city construction earlier in his reign until he issued a decree specifically authorizing it (Ezra 4:21). Nehemiah’s response to Hanani’s news must be predicated on that promised decree having already been issued. The permission—not a “decree,” see below—in Artaxerxes’ 20th year, which allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the walls and repair the city gates, cannot be the fulfillment of Daniel 9:25, since it offers no explanation for Nehemiah’s question of Hanani or extreme response to his bad report.
In the interest of completeness, it must be pointed out that some have proposed the prophecy of Daniel 9:25 finds fulfillment in a “decree” made by Artaxerxes in his 20th year, when Nehemiah was sent to effect the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. One example is presented at https://www.preceptaustin.org/daniel_925. But if we read through Nehemiah 1 and 2, these chapters actually only tell us that Nehemiah was given a leave of absence from his service as cupbearer to the king, and empowered with letters (Heb. 'iggereth) to pass borders and requisition construction materials (Neh 2:6–8). Nothing resembling the official policy-making decrees (Heb. ta'am) of Cyrus’ first year, Darius’ second, and Artaxerxes’ seventh was issued in connection with this journey. It is most accurate to say that Artaxerxes merely gave Nehemiah leave to make sure that the decree already issued in his seventh year was followed up on. There was no new decree (ta'am), only letters ('iggereth) written to help Nehemiah implement the already-existing seventh year decree. It is unrealistic to believe no further building/development efforts were made by the Jews from the completion of the Temple in Darius’ sixth year in 515 BC until Nehemiah arrived 70 years later in 444 BC. They must have been attempted, but were stymied by the Samaritan opposition until Nehemiah’s arrival.
This examination of the decrees issued by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes makes it clear that only one can be regarded as fulfilling the requirements of Daniel 9:25, namely, that of the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. With his first regnal year beginning Tishri 1, 464 BC, his seventh year began in the fall of 458 BC. Since we know that Ezra departed for Judea on the first of Nisan in the spring of 457 BC (Ezra 7:9) and his journey took a full four months, he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, Av, the summer of 457 BC. We will discuss the ramifications of this for the date of the coming of the Messiah in a future article.
Answering Struse’s Six Biblical Challenges
With these persuasive indications that significant time passed between the finishing of the Temple and Ezra’s arrival, we close with answers to the six “Biblical Challenges to the Artaxerxes Assumption” (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/category/artaxerxes-assumption-challenge/) that Mr. Struse says any truly biblical solution must answer. They are:
1. The statement of Ezra 6:13–15 and the identity of “Artaxerxes”
2. The identities of the “Artaxerxes” of Ezra 4:7, 8:1; Nehemiah 2:1
3. The age of Ezra whose father died in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar
4. The age of the priests and Levites of Nehemiah 10 and 12
5. Nehemiah 12:26 and the age of the second temple porters of Neh 11:19 and 12:25–27
6. The chronological flow of Ezra 6 and 7
In the light of the above research, I offer these answers built on the good work of others:
1. In Ezra 6:13–15 the phrase should be best translated, “the command of the God of Israel, even the decree of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes.” This verse lumps together the various edicts of the three kings into a single, multi-phased event that constitutes the command of God, where the word translated “even” is a waw explicativum that describes the human outworking of that command. This translation takes into account that the “decree” of the three kings is a singular noun, explicitly connecting it with the singular command of God. Xerxes, the king between Darius and Artaxerxes, is skipped over in this passage because the writer of Ezra-Nehemiah adopts a thematic approach to writing here that focuses only on the kings involved in the fulfillment of God’s command.
2. Ezra 4:6–23 constitutes a sidebar that elaborates on how the “people of the land” continued to frustrate the Jews’ efforts to build the city beyond the second year of Darius the Great, just as they hindered the Temple rebuilding efforts earlier. It further develops the theme of Samaritan opposition between the time of Cyrus and the second year of Darius, described in Ezra 4:1–5 and returned to in 4:24. The “Ahasuerus” of 4:6 was Xerxes, and the “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 4:7, 8:1 and Nehemiah 2:1 were all Artaxerxes I Longimanus.
3. Seraiah, the high priest who was put to death by Nebuchadnezzar at the start of the exile, was not the father of Ezra the priest and scribe, but his ancestor. Ezra was actually not born until near the end of the reign of Darius or start of Xerxes’ rule, making him a young priest when he traveled to Jerusalem in 457 BC. There are names missing between Seraiah and Ezra in the genealogy given in Ezra 7:1, just as in Ezra 7:3 between Meraioth and Azariah. Such missing names are also indicated by the passing of three generations of high priests (Jeshua, Joiakim and Eliashib) between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, the plural “governors” before Nehemiah’s arrival in Nehemiah 5:15, and the gradual development of the foreign wives problem described in Ezra 9:1–2 between the Temple’s completion and Ezra’s arrival.
4. The priests and Levites of Nehemiah 10 are from the third post-exilic generation, when Ezra read the Law to the people when Nehemiah was governor and Eliashib was high priest, while those listed in Nehemiah 12:1–9 were from the original post-exilic generation under Zerubbabel and Jeshua. The name repetitions must be attributed to papponymy and the use of culturally common names—identical names, but not identical individuals.
5. Nehemiah 12:26 is a summary statement that looks back as far as the Joiakim-era priests listed in 12:12–21 and Levites in 12:22, but also includes in its scope people who served in the time of Eliashib. Verse 12:26 does not just refer to the gatekeepers mentioned in 12:25b; it brings together two separate “days of” periods, one referring to those registered during the days of the second-generation high priest Joiakim, the other to those registered in the days of the third-generation high priest Eliashib (Neh 12:22) when Nehemiah and Ezra were serving. The priests registered in “the days of Darius the Persian” in 12:22b corresponds with those who served during the time of Joiakim referred to in 12:26, since Joiakim overlapped somewhat with Darius after the death of Jeshua. Nehemiah and Ezra could not have served during the days of Joiakim, since we know that their contemporary Eliashib served as a wall builder with Nehemiah (Neh 3:1), while Ezra led the celebratory procession around the wall when it was completed (Neh 12:36). As for the Second Temple gatekeepers (KJV porters), their names are subject to papponymy and the use of culturally common names like the previous point, so we cannot rely on them for chronology.
6. Ezra 6 and 7 are disconnected in time. The phrase “after these things” in Ezra 7:1 is a transition point, where records from the time the Second Temple was completed in the sixth year of Darius are joined together with records dealing with Ezra during the reign of Artaxerxes. About 58 years covered by the reigns of Darius and Ahasuerus/Xerxes are skipped over in silence.
Addendum, 6/15/19: In the next article in this series, "The Seraiah Assumption: Wrapping Up Some Loose Ends," I follow up on this article with some additional closing observations.
* 9/5/21: Slight edit for clarity added.
** 12/13/21: Corrected date typo.
Appreciation is expressed to Dr. Dennis Wright (Dallas, TX) for reviewing this article. Any errors or oversights, of course, are my own.