Historian Michael Goldelman researches the chronology of ancient Jewish history from the Biblical period

Outlines for a New Chronology of Ancient Jewish History 1. Josephus Flavius and the Origin of the Traditional Chronology 2. A Challenge to the Traditional Chronology 3. Was there ever a United Jewish Monarchy? 4. Did the Kings of Judea - Saul, David, and Solomon - ever exist? 5. When did the Exile of the Israelites take place? 6. When was the Reign of Hezekiah, the King of Judea? 7. When were the Five Books of the Torah composed? 8. Who was King Nebuchadnezzar and when did the Babylonian Exile begin? 9. When did Nehemiah, the Governor of Judea, arrive in Jerusalem? 10. Who was Tobiah, Nehemiah's adversary? 11. What can Numismatics reveal about the Persian period in Judea? 12. The Feast of Nehemiah and the Origins of Hanukkah 13. When did the events of Purim happen? 14. When did Zerubbabel and Joshua arrive in Jerusalem? 15. Who was the Jewish King Shimon in the Samaritan chronicles? 16. When did Ezra arrive in Jerusalem? 17. Who was the Man of Falsehood in the Dead Sea Scrolls? 18. Who was King Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel? 19. Who were Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar in the Book of Daniel? 20. What about the archaeological evidence relating to the Jews’ return from the exile? 21. Conclusion

Outlines for a New Chronology of Ancient Jewish History

For many years’ attempts have been made to answer questions concerning the origin of the Bible, its authenticity and its value as historical source. The Traditional Chronology of Jewish history from the Biblical period has presented a serious conundrum for historians seeking to reconcile known Biblical information with the very rapidly growing archaeological database. The current paper attempts to address some of these issues with a radical approach of moving the traditional timeline forward by about 250 years. The New Chronology inevitably leads to a reconsideration of the validity of the events and historical figures described in the Bible.

1. Josephus Flavius and the Origin of the Traditional Chronology

Josephus Flavius

Josephus Flavius

The Traditional Chronology of ancient Jewish history that is generally accepted today was first postulated by Josephus Flavius in his book - The Jewish Antiquities. Josephus, a Jewish historian writing in the Roman period, during the late-1st century AD, sought to celebrate the characters mentioned in the Bible, and by dating the events as far back in history as possible, he was able to idealize Jewish history and present the Jews as an ancient nation. Although he had access to the books written by the Greek historians from the Classical period, with accounts about of the Persian kings and their wars with the Greeks, these sources did not contain any material relating to the history of the Jews from before c. 300 BC. Josephus was apparently totally unaware of any Persian historical sources and relied on limited access to the Greek literature of the Hellenistic period that did not pay much attention to the subject of the Jews.

Josephus Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews

A leaf from the "Jewish antiquities"

In response to his contemporary critics, Josephus acknowledged that when he wrote his book, he had relied primarily on the iblical Books of Kings as his primary source of information concerning Jewish history. He, therefore, described the historical events exactly as they were recorded in the Bible and presented their chronology according to his understanding of the sequence of events. Following Josephus's timeline, it has been widely accepted that the end of the Judean Kingdom and the exile of its population was caused by the military actions of the ruler of the Neo-Babylonian Kingdom, King Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC). Since the Bible states that the exiles occurred in his seventh and eighteenth years, with the destruction of the Temple happening in his nineteenth year, the dates of the exiles have been fixed at 598 and 587 BC and the destruction of the Temple at 586 BC.

Information relating to the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile and their subsequent rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem is contained in the Biblical Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The latter preserves the text of the Memoirs of Nehemiah, which was an original account of his building activities in Jerusalem, written in the first person by Nehemiah, himself. Nehemiah, who was appointed by the Persian king Artaxerxes I to be the Governor of Judea, arrived from Susa in Jerusalem in the twentieth year of his reign, accompanied by a small group of Jews. The Book of Ezra recounts that the first large group of returnees arrived with the new Persian governor of Judea, Zerubbabel, and the Priest Joshua, and that they started rebuilding the Temple under King Darius, in his second year. The last group returned later, with Ezra, under King Artaxerxes II, in his seventh year. Although the figures of Nehemiah and Ezra were placed in the same timeframe by the later editor of the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah, which of them came first remains a debatable issue.

Josephus located the return of the Jews in the early Achaemenid period placing Zerubbabel in the reign of the King Darius I (522-486 BC), and Ezra and Nehemiah in the reign of King Xerxes (486-465 BC). Incidentally, the name of Xerxes is not mentioned in the Biblical text, but he was certainly known to the readers of The Histories of Herodotus. Dating the Babylonian exile and the Temple's destruction to the beginning of the 6th century BC has been almost universally accepted by scholars but establishing a reliable date for the return of the Jews has proved more elusive, although many attempts have been made. Many scholars have chosen later dates, such as the reigns of King Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC) or King Darius II (423-404 BC). Accordingly, attempts have been made to fix the dates of Nehemiah's and Zerubbabel's arrivals in the years 445 BC and 422 BC respectively. More recently, however, other scholars have started to question the historicity of the return itself. By placing the characters and the events described in Ezra-Nehemiah in the early Achaemenid period, Josephus created a chronological gap between the middle of the 5th and the beginning of the 2nd centuries BC, not only in Jewish history but also in Jewish literature. This apparent dearth of information, from the return of the Jews right up until the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, creates an exceptionally lengthy period for the ancient Jewish "Dark Ages". It is hard to believe that no significant events occurred in Judea during this period; it is even more difficult to accept that the Jews stopped recording their own history for almost 250 years!

2. A Challenge to the Traditional Chronology

Immanuel Velikovsky

Photographer: Donna Foster Roizen. Copyright holder: Frederic Jueneman [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Immanuel Velikovsky

The chronology of ancient Jewish history that Josephus put forward was not universally accepted, even in ancient times. For example, in the 2nd century AD, a rabbinical chronicle, Seder Olam Rabbah, presented a different chronological order and stated that the Persian period only lasted for 34 years and that the Temple of Jerusalem had stood for 420 years. An Egyptian scholar, Apion, wrote a book that disagrees with Josephus’s chronology, and Josephus responded with his booklet Against Apion. In general, however, modern scholars of Jewish history continued to use Josephus’s chronology, thereby maintaining the traditional timeline.

This Traditional Chronology was initially challenged by the American scholar of Russian Jewish origin, Immanuel Velikovsky, in his long series of books entitled, Ages in Chaos, published from 1952 (36). He suggested an alternative approach for examining the chronology of the history of the Ancient Near East and proposed reviewing the entire history of the region using the concept of “ghost-doubles” or alter-egos. These were historical figures that appear with different identities in different sources and who were thought to have lived in different periods but who were, in fact, the same people with the accounts and events concerning them wrongly dated by previous generations of scholars. This approach allowed him to propose a "short" chronology of ancient Egyptian history, bringing forward the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt by about six hundred years and setting the timeframe of the Exodus in the 10th century BC, and the United Monarchy of David and Solomon in the 8th century BC. Hatshepsut, the Queen of Egypt from the Eighteenth Dynasty, would then become a contemporary of King Solomon, the famous Queen of Sheba.

More recently, the British Egyptologist, David Rohl, revisited all the available sources and created a New Chronology of Ancient Egypt; he attempted to match the chain of events described in the Bible with available archaeological data and to identify some of the Biblical characters with people whose names appear in archaeological finds (31; 32). He suggested removing the period of the "Dark Ages" of Egyptian history by re-dating the historical events and bringing them forward from the 13th century BC to the 10th century BC. He also re-dated the Egyptian kings of the 19th through the 25th Dynasties, bringing forward the conventional dating by about 300-350 years, and equating the Biblical figure of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak, who sacked Jerusalem after the death of King Solomon, with Ramesses II of the Nineteenth Dynasty.

Another theory was developed by the German scholar Gunnar Heinsohn who proposed re-dating the entire Neo-Assyrian period, the 9th-7th centuries BC (20). He based his conclusions on a positive identification of Neo-Assyrian rulers with the Persian kings of the Achaemenid period. Using observations of the stratigraphy of archaeological sites in North Mesopotamia, he noted that the "Achaemenid" stratum is entirely missing from these, and thus the "Neo-Assyrian" period should be equated with the "Achaemenid" period.

The British historian Emmett Sweeney continued with a similar theory arguing that all the rulers known in history as Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian kings were, in fact, the Great Kings of the Persians under the guise of Mesopotamians (35) (See Emmet Sweeney). He proposed that Tiglath-Pileser III should be identified with Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, and that the Neo-Assyrian and the Neo-Babylonian kings who followed him should be identified with the Achaemenid kings who succeeded Cyrus: thus Shalmaneser was equated to Cambyses; Sargon to Darius I; Sennacherib to Xerxes; Esarhaddon to Artaxerxes I; Ashurbanipal to Darius II; Nabopolassar to Artaxerxes II; Nebuchadnezzar to Artaxerxes III; and Nabonidus to Darius III. Assuming the timeline of Sweeney is correct and that the Jews were taken to Babylon by Artaxerxes III Ochus, shortly before the destruction of the Achaemenid Empire, when did they return from this exile and what were the real identities of the Persian kings mentioned in the Bible, Artaxerxes and Darius?

While Israeli historians have remained faithful to the traditional timeline, some archaeologists, including Israel Finkelstein from Tel Aviv University, are more sympathetic to re-evaluating the conventional chronology. Finkelstein claims that in fact, none of the ancient sites of Northern Israel preceded the 9th century BC and that the United Monarchy of David and Solomon that was traditionally dated to the 10th century BC, is a myth (12). More recently, Finkelstein published a series of important studies collected in his book, Hasmonean Realities Behind Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles (13), where he proposed a radical re-evaluation of the Biblical research by suggesting a 2th century BC archaeological for the historical realities that are revealed from an analysis of these Biblical books. While recognizing that large parts of these books are of Hellenistic origin, and were presumably inserted into the older texts, for some reason Finkelstein refrained from pursuing this argument further and admitting the possibility that the entire texts and also their heroes could have been of the Hellenistic period.

3. Was there ever a United Jewish Monarchy?

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser

The Books of Kings present the ancient period of Jewish political history as the history of two competing states – Israel and Judea. Both these entities emerged from the break-up of the Great Kingdom of the United Monarchy that was created by the two kings, David and Solomon, and the narrative suggests that this was a period of outstanding prosperity. Following the break-up of the United Monarchy, the Kingdom of Israel was established in the north and the Kingdom of Judea, which was in the south, was centred on Jerusalem; it is believed to have lasted for almost four hundred years. According to the Traditional Chronology, who relied on the Books of Kings, both Kingdoms came into being sometime in the 930s BC, but destruction of the Northern Kingdom which begun in 733 BC was completed in 722 BC, while the Southern Kingdom of Judea survived until 587/6 BC. These chronological calculations would put the timeframe of the United Monarchy in the 10th century BC, a date that cannot be corroborated by available archaeological evidence.

During the last decades, Israeli archaeologists have carried out extensive excavations of the ancient sites throughout Israel. One of the most fascinating observations is the total absence of layers that can be securely dated to the period of the 10th century BC, the traditionally accepted time for the United Monarchy. There is no trace of large government buildings that could possibly be associated with the supposed reigns of either David or Solomon, and the large public structures which have been excavated in the towns of Northern Israel only date from the early-9th to the mid-8th century BC and are examples of architecture of the "Kingdom of Israel". These structures are believed to have fallen out of use and to have become uninhabited as a result of the Assyrian invasion of Israel, although there is no definitive evidence to support this conclusion as the rulers of Israel left no records similar to the monumental inscriptions of the Assyrian kings. Excavations in Hebron (the early seat of King David) and in Jerusalem (the capital city of both kings and the site of the Temple), have shown that these two places were, effectively, small, sparsely populated villages until the last third of the 8th century BC. Moreover, as no seals and ostraca with Paleo-Hebrew inscriptions have survived prior to that time, there is no evidence of a Jewish presence either in Jerusalem, or in other Judean cities, during the previous period (12). Furthermore, the absence of mention of David and Solomon in any contemporary written sources has added even more weight to the sceptical voices denying the existence of the United Monarchy.

The Mesha Stele

Louvre Museum [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Mesha Stele

Assyrian cuneiform sources, however, do mention a political entity that is referred to as the House of Omri. According to the 1 Kings 16, King Omri was the sixth king of Israel; he extended the borders of his Kingdom and is credited with the construction of Samaria, which he apparently made his capital, although he was considered to have been an "evil" king. Clearly, for the Judean chronicler, the long-since destroyed Kingdom of Israel was no more than a "sinful kingdom". Whilst there is no reason to question the historicity of King Omri, the chronology of his reign and its relation to Samaria remains in doubt. It seems that the events recounted in the 1 Book of Kings relating to the history of Kingdom of Israel can only be regarded as of historical value if they can be confirmed by extra-Biblical sources. The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III proves that the Omrides fell under Assyrian power: it shows Jehu, the son of Omri, bringing tribute to the Assyrian king. The Mesha Stele, a monument set up by King Mesha of Moab (a kingdom located in Transjordan) c. 740 BC, bears the most extensive inscription ever recovered in the area that refers to the House of Omri as Israel. It recounts how Moab was oppressed by the King of Israel, the son of Omri, and describes Mesha's victories over him. While it makes no mention of Judea, 2 Kings 3 artificially brings King of Judea, Jehoshaphat, into the story and allies him with King Jehoram of Israel.

Information on the possible identity of the author of the Books of Kings can be found in Josephus's booklet Against Apion I, 187-189, where he cited Hecateus of Abdera: he told the story of a respectable Jewish priest Hezekiah, who had emigrated to Ptolemaic Egypt in the Hellenistic Age; when there, Hezekiah publicly recounted the ancient history of Judea. Having access to some Assyrian sources and using two local chronicles – one concerning Israel and the other dealing with Judea – he tried to reconcile his sources and to bring events concerning the histories of two kingdoms together by matching the dates of the kings of Israel with those of the kings of Judea. This presents an obstacle for historians, who pointed towards many inconsistencies. For example, Omri’s accession to the throne of Israel in the 31st year of Asa of Judah (1 Kings 16:23) cannot follow the death of his predecessor Zimri in the 27th year of Asa (1 Kings 16:15). As the current state of archaeological research does not support the simultaneous existence of the two kingdoms competing with one another during the same period – questions arise as to the historicity of this concept which was promoted by the Kings. The current state of sources suggests that no United Monarchy ever existed and that the Kingdom of Judea flourished after the downfall of the Kingdom of Israel.

4. Did the Kings of Judea - Saul, David, and Solomon - ever exist?

Tel-Dan Stele

Oren Rozen [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tel-Dan Stele

The Judean historical tradition locates the seat of the first king, Saul, in Gibeah; he fell, along with three of his sons, in the battle at the Mountain of Gilboa when his forces were destroyed by the Philistines. His reign was traditionally placed somewhere in the 11th century BC, although the only surviving Biblical accounts of King Saul's life which are found in the 1 Book of Samuel, are commonly dated to the period of the 8th century BC. This book includes references that are thought to be clearly anachronistic, such as the mention of chariots that did not exist before the 8th century BC, therefore it was suggested that this book cannot be used to reconstruct the history of the Kingdom of Saul. According to the New Chronology, the Kingdom of Saul would have come into being in the mid-8th century BC, thereby allowing the 1 Book of Samuel to be a contemporary record of events that occurred during the time of Saul. He was referred to as Labaya in the Amarna Letters which are thought to have been dated to the 14th century BC but regarded by Velikovsky and Rohl to be from the time of Saul, during the middle of the 8th century BC. They contain a great deal of relevant information related to the situation in the region prior to the conquest of Jerusalem by King David, when several separate entities existed, that centred around different fortresses.

LMLK seal impression

LMLK seal impression

According to the 2 Book of Samuel, the reign of King Saul was followed by that of King David, his former favourite. At first David ruled from Hebron but, after he captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, he established his capital there. There is no firm archaeological evidence, however, to establish the precise dates for King David's reign, although the discovery of the Tel-Dan Stele which cannot date from after the Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist, might change this situation. It bears an Aramaic inscription telling of a victory of the king of Aram-Damascus over the King of Israel; it also occasionally mentions bytdwd - the House of David. Although some scholars remain sceptical about this identification, the majority have decided that it may be considered conclusive evidence of the existence of the historical figure of King David. Additionally, many fragments from large storage jars have been found in cities of Judea such as Lachish and Jerusalem dated from the last third of the 8th century BC, with handles that were stamped l'mlk ("belonging to the king") and bearing an image of a winged sun, a symbol of royalty in many ancient Near Eastern cultures. Among these was a group with inscriptions, where the handles were sealed l'mlk hbrn, “belonging to the king of Hebron" – and could be considered confirmation that David was the king of Hebron.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon

Edward Poynter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon

Is there a way to confirm the historicity of King Solomon and to verify the authenticity of the account in 1 Kings on his building of the Temple? Velikovsky claim that the Kingdom of Solomon could not have gone unnoticed by the Egyptians, and that the mysterious figure of the Queen of Sheba, the famous visitor to the court of King Solomon, should be identified as Hatshepsut, the Egyptian Queen of the Eighteenth Dynasty. According to Velikovsky, the trip of Hatshepsut/Queen of Sheba to the court of King Solomon, was recorded on reliefs depicted in her temple that portrays her travels to the mysterious Land of Punt located somewhere northeast of Egypt, a location he identified as Judea.

Tomb of King Hiram Of Tyre

Hussein Kefel [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of King Hiram Of Tyre

There is yet one more important historical personage whose existence has been ignored by the scholars – the Phoenician king of Tyre, Hiram. According to the accounts in 1 Kings 5: 1-11 and 9:10-14, Hiram became the main ally of King Solomon, sending him architects, workman, cedar wood, and gold for the construction of the Temple. Although there are no extra-biblical records supporting the existence of King Hiram in the 10th century BC, there was certainly a king of Tyre named Hiram who reigned in the 730s BC and was listed as a tributary of the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III in 738 BC; he was deposed from power by Mattan, in 729 BC. A letter of Qurdi-Aššur-lāmur to Tiglath-Pileser, quotes a report from the Assyrian functionary Nabū-šēzib in Tyre, where he claims to have prevented Hiram from seizing the sacred tree from Sidon (25, pp. 185-8). Is this story of the attempted felling of a tree related to King Hiram’s help in supplying King Solomon with cedar trees for building the Temple? Moreover, a single 8th century BC Phoenician inscription from Cyprus confirms King Hiram's control over the city of Kition (Larnaka) and his ownership of copper mines located on the coast. Can this information be a parallel to the Kings’ account of the joint ventures of the Judean and the Phoenician kings to explore these mines? The Paleo-Hebrew inscription on a pottery shard found in Tel Qasila (modern Tel Aviv) and dated to the 8th century BC noted goods sent from the Land of Ophir to Beit-Horon. Can this be considered a parallel to the account in 1 Kings 10:11-12 on the maritime expedition organized by Hiram, to the Land of Ophir, where gold, silver, stones, and algum wood would have come from? Since the expansion of the Phoenician trade cannot have pre-dated the 730s BC, it suggests that both kings, Hiram and Solomon, might have been active at this time, when the project of building the Temple begun. The earliest epigraphic evidences of Judea as an independent political entity are coming from the Assyrian inscriptions from the time of Tiglath-Pileser.

5. When did the Exile of the Israelites take place?

Tiglath-Pileser III

Tiglath-Pileser III

If, indeed, Judea only arose in the 730s BC after the destruction of Israel, what were the circumstances surrounding this? Two attacks by the Assyrians are described in 2 Kings and both resulted in the exile of Israelites. The first attack, carried out by King Tiglath-Pileser, resulted in the defeat and death of King Pekah from the House of Omri and the capture of a number of cities including Ijon, Abel-beth-Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, and Gilad and Galilee, including the "land of Naphtali"; most of the inhabitants were sent into exile in Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). These events are traditionally dated from the time of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC), in around 733 BC, but it is possible that they may have occurred already around 740 BC, when the Phoenician cities were subjected to his power. An interesting suggestion of Sweeney to identify Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III as the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, Cyrus the Great (35, pp. 108-123), would essentially move these events to the 6th century BC, however, it finds no support in the archaeological data related to the destruction of the cities of Northern Israel, and seems to be problematic.

What happened to the people who were not deported by the Assyrians? The best answer is that they went on to establish Samaria, which became a new hub in the central highlands; however, it is also possible that some were able to flee south, to the area that surrounded Jerusalem. It seems that the significant rise of the demographics of Jerusalem before the end of the 8th century BC might have occurred as a result of the migration of Israelites. The fact that not only the Samaritans, but also the Judeans continued to use the same Paleo-Hebrew script that was at first used in the North, can be considered as serious evidence of the ethno-cultural continuity between these people.

The account in 2 Kings does not end with the death of King Pekah but goes on to describe the rise to power of King Hoshea, the son of Elah, who was apparently unrelated to the Omrides dynasty (2 Kings 16:30). His reign was ended by a second Assyrian attack – this time on Samaria – said to have been launched by King Shalmaneser. Samaria was besieged after the Assyrians discovered that Hoshea had been sending gifts to the Egyptians and after its fall, Hoshea was imprisoned (2 Kings 17:1-5). The following verse adds that an Assyrian king sent the Samaritans into exile in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan and in the Median cities. These people, lost in captivity, became known as the Ten Lost Tribes. In addition, 2 Kings 17:24 claim that the new colonists were taken to Samaria from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim.

Fragment of a clay prism with Annals of Sargon II

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Fragment of a clay prism with Annals of Sargon II

The Traditional Chronology dates the deportation of the Samaritans to 722 BC, the last year of King Shalmaneser V (727-722 BC). However, as no mention of Samaria or Samaritan exile has been found in inscriptions from Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, from the time of Shalmaneser V, it seems possible that the suggestion in 2 Kings concerning Shalmaneser’s involvement in these events should be regarded as speculative. What then was the identity of the king who ordered the exile of the Samaritans?

The events relating to the fall of Samaria were recorded in eight sources authorized by the King Sargon. The Annals of Sargon recorded on a clay prism recounted that, in the beginning of his rule, after the conquest of Samarina (Samaria), some 27, 290 people were deported. The inscription from a stele found in the Dur-Sharrukin castle (Khorsabad) claimed that, in his seventh year, Sargon brought new settlers into Samaria who originated from different Arab tribes. This statement contradicts the ones in 2 Kings 17:24, and Ezra 4:2, which relate that the colonists were brought from Mesopotamia. Surprisingly, no mention of King Sargon has ever been found in Nineveh with the result that for a very long time he was unknown to Assyrologists. His name was, however, briefly mentioned by Isaiah 20:1-2 – a contemporary of the Judean king Hezekiah – in connection with his capture of Ashdod and an expected invasion to Judea. After the excavation of Khorsabad Castle, it was suggested that it had once belonged to King Sargon II (722-705 BC). Although there is no evidence in the Bible to connect the expulsion of the Samaritans with Sargon II, the information from the Sargon’s Annals has been accepted as proof that he, indeed, send the Samaritans into exile (40). It would, however, seem more likely that this data recorded by Sargon in fact relates to historical events that occurred in later period.

If the identification of Sargon with the Achaemenid King Darius I (522-486 BC), proposed by Sweeney (35, pp. 123-127), is accepted, then the end of Samaria would have to correspond to the beginning of his reign. However, it seems more likely that Sargon was the actual name of the King Xerxes (486 - 465 BC), which means that the events relating to the fall of Samaria occurred in the seventh year of his reign, 479 BC. Indeed, the name referred to in Sargon’s inscriptions, Samarina, is similar to Shmrn, appearing on the Achaemenid coins, and Shmryn, in the Wadi Daliye Papyri. It is possible that the narrative of 2 Kings combines the two different stories: one – the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel that occurred in the Assyrian period, and the other – the conquest of Samaria, which took place in the Achaemenid period, in c. 481-79 BC.

6. When was the Reign of Hezekiah, the King of Judea?

According to the Traditional Chronology, the two-hundred-year rule of the Persians in Judea, from c. 530 BC to 330 BC, was a period of total calm; this explains an almost complete lack of written records covering this entire period since nothing noteworthy occurred during these years. Despite this apparent dearth of information, the New Chronology does not raise any questions concerning the existence of the small Judean Kingdom in the area that surrounded Jerusalem during this period.

King Hezekiah was the 14th king of Judea but in fact its first ruler who actually became known from both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources. The earliest surviving epigraphic evidence of the existence of the Judean kings’ dates from the time of melekh Hezekiah, the son of Ahab (unless the authenticity of a unique bulla belonging to his father and inscribed Ahab is to be believed). During the past few decades several bullae of King Hezekiah have been found and published. They are inscribed in the Paleo-Hebrew script and depict an image of a winged sun, which was a symbol of royalty in many ancient cultures of the Near East; these bullae mention Hezekiah's name, and refer to him as melekh (king), which may be considered as decisive evidence of the independent power of this king. These, until now, were traditionally dated by scholars to around 700 BC, but the New Chronology dates the seals of King Hezekiah were used to the 480s-70s BC.

Lachish Relief

Private Collection, London

Assyrian Relief from Lachish, showing Jews taken into captivity.

2 Kings 18:9-10 brings the beginning of Hezekiah's reign to the period of the Assyrian destruction of Samaria. This is said to have begun in the fourth year of his reign and was concluded by his sixth year. The Traditional Chronology places these events in 722-720 BC; however, this contradicts the statement in 2 Kings 18:13 regarding the conquest led by Sennacherib in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, which is traditionally believed to have happened around the year 701 BC. The 2 Kings’ narrative of the Assyrian conquest of Lachish, the most important town of Judea, seems to be confirmed by the Lachish Reliefs set on the walls of Sennacherib's castle. Among Assyrian clay documents there are three hexagonal prisms that are inscribed with the same text recording Sennacherib’s military campaigns, the so-called Sennacherib's Annals. They all contain similar accounts but only one mentioned the Assyrian – Judean interactions; the Taylor Prism, now in the British Museum, recounts a successful campaign launched by Sennacherib against Judea. According to this, the Judean king was confined to the city “like a bird in a cage”, paid large tribute, and then 200,000 Judeans were sent into exile.

Taylor Prism

Taylor Prism

Following on the story of the fall of Lachish to the Assyrians, 2 Kings 18:17-37 gives an account of Hezekiah’s heroic resistance to the Assyrian invasion of Jerusalem. Hezekiah withstood the Assyrian invasion and protected Jerusalem with the reputed help of God's Angel, who managed to kill the entire Assyrian army besieging the city in one night (19:35). This detailed account concerning Hezekiah's heroic resistance to the Assyrian invasion might, however, be an attempt by the author of 2 Kings to glorify the period of his reign in ancient history. In his perception, the miraculous slaughter of the enemy and the withdrawal of the remaining Assyrian forces could be attributed, not only to the broad Judean acceptance of King Hezekiah’s authority, but also to his personal unprecedented commitment to Yahweh. Finally, the “sinful” Samaria was replaced by the “righteous” Judea; Jerusalem was saved; the promise of Isaiah was fulfilled; and Yahweh was recognized as the Only God. If the author of the 2 Kings was indeed Hezekiah, the Jewish chronicler of the early Hellenistic period, it would not be surprising that he chose to glorify the reign of the ancient king with the same name. It seems likely that he was familiar with Herodotus (II, 141), who described Sennacherib’s unsuccessful campaign against Egypt. He reported that, having reached Pelisium on the River Nile, Sennacherib suffered a disaster when field mice invaded the Assyrian camp and gnawed through the quivers, bow strings, and leather shield handles thereby disarming the military force, leading many soldiers to flee or be killed. The account of 2 Kings altered the one given by Herodotus by transposing his story of the failure of the Assyrians in Egypt to the time of their siege of Jerusalem concluding that the events occurred during the period of Hezekiah's heroic resistance to the “Assyrian” invasion. In fact, the conquest of Lachish by Assyrian king and the siege of Jerusalem by the Achaemenids, are two different events.

Sweeney proposed to identify the figure of Sennacherib with Xerxes (35, pp. 127-133), however it seems more likely that Xerxes’s double-name was actually Sargon; and the only reason that 2 Kings is mentioning siege of Jerusalem as happening during the days of Sennacherib is the story by Herodotus. Hezekiah's request for independence must be dated to the period of the failure of the first invasion of Xerxes into Egypt in 485 BC. The Achaemenid siege of Jerusalem could have occurred during his second attempt to re-conquer Egypt that was initiated in c. 471 BC. Considering that the 2 Kings states that the siege of Jerusalem took place in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah and that he continued to rule for another fifteen years, the time of his reign can be dated to 485- 456 BC.

7. When were the Five Books of the Torah composed?

The question of the origin and dating of the Torah remains one of the most problematic issues for establishing the historical value of the Bible. The traditional view on the existence of the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Torah, during the entire period of the Judean Kingdom, was recently challenged by Russell Gmirkin (15). He points to the fact that laws of the Torah were influenced by the Platonic School of thought, and that myths of the Torah were borrowed directly from the early Hellenistic chronicles written in the 280s BC by the Egyptian priest Manetho and the Babylonian historian Berossus. This, in his opinion, suggests that the Hebrew Torah, and its Greek version, the Septuagint, had only been written c. 270 BC, during the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, when the seventy Jewish sages of Egypt who, according to Josephus, authorized the Septuagint, had received access to the Greek libraries in Alexandria.

Bulla of Hanan, son of Hilkiah

Israel Antiquities Authority | Koren Miki

Bulla of Hanan, son of Hilkiah

The New Chronology, however, disagrees with this view, and places the final composition of the Torah in the beginning of the 4th century BC. According to 2 Kings 22-23, the Hebrew Torah was not incorporated into Judean religious practice until the reign of Hezekiah's grand-grandson, King Josiah, who is portrayed as having been responsible for destroying the altars to the pagan gods. 2 Kings 22:8 also claimed that in his eighteenth year, when Josiah was supervising the renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem, a lost copy of the Torah, The Book of the Law, was suddenly "discovered" by the High Priest Hilkiah, whose historicity is confirmed by his mention on a seal and on a bulla. This "find" is usually considered to be the first appearance of the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Torah, as it incorporated the unique "laws of the king", it confirming the rise in the importance and the power of Josiah, although it is possible that Hilkiah is responsible for the edition of the entire Torah.

Why did it take so long for the Judeans to accept the Torah and Yahwe? The 2 Kings relates that the reign of King Josiah was preceded by his grandfather King Manasseh (21:1-18) and then by his father King Amon (21:19-26), who were both regarded as "idolatrous kings".There is no specific evidence relating to military activities during the reigns of either Manasseh(who is said to have reigned for fifty-five years, the longest reign in the Judean history), or during the two-year reign of Amon. Moreover, no recognizable symbols of power such as bullae have been found relating, undisputedly, to either king. This is probably because during this period Judearemained under the control of the Achaemenids.

According to the picture presented in 2 Kings, during the final period of its existence, the Kingdom of Judea was situated between the two major super-powers – of Egypt and Assyria.In the New Chronology, the "Assyrian kings" are identified with the Achaemenid kings, and the "Egyptian Pharaohs" – with the rulers of the Thirtieth Dynasty, Nectanebo I (379-361 BC) and Nectanebo II (360-342 BC); they declared independence from Achaemenid rule and survived the two attacks – of King Artaxerxes II, in 373 BC, and of King Artaxerxes III, in 351 BC. Thus, the stories recounted in 2 Kings concerning the last Judean kings were based on information contained in Judean chronicles that refer to events from the first part of the 4th century BC. The small Kingdom of Judea with Jerusalem as its capital and ruled by a local dynasty, who consider themselves to be descendants of King David, flourished as a semi-independent principality, initially under the Achaemenids, from 470 to 380 BC, and then under the Egyptians, from 366 until 352 BC.

Pharaoh Nectanebo I

Louvre, Paris via livius.org

Pharaoh Nectanebo I

Judea briefly maintained independence under the reign of King Josiah, from c. 380 BC, and managed good relations with the Egyptians until the king of Judea apparently decided to challenge the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco. Following this, the situation of peaceful co-existence between the Egyptians and the Judeans quickly changed and ended dramatically: 2 Kings 23:29-30 relates that King Josiah was brutally killed in the Battle of Megiddo when Pharaoh Necho "went up to [the] Euphrates to fight [the] Assyrian king". This large-scale military campaign launched by the Egyptian king, can be compared to the military campaign of Pharaoh Nectanebo I, in 366 BC, in the days of Artaxerxes II, when many western satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire started to rebel, and the Egyptians that supported them advanced as far as the upper streams of Euphrates.

Considering that the name Neco is a shortened version of the name of Nectanebo, that Josiah was killed by the Pharaoh Neco/Nectanebo I in 366 BC, and that his reign lasted for a total period of thirty - one years, the timeframe of his reign should be dated from c. 397 - 366 BC. The Five Books of the Torah, which had been re-edited by the High Priest Hilkiah, were revealed in 379 BC, in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, when his declaration of independence from the Achaemenids was issued. This dating apparently fit with Gmirkin's theory concerning the influence of the Platonic School of thought on the process of the formulation of the Torah laws, as the Platonic Academy had been established in Athens around 387 BC. However, his contention that the first appearance of the Torah as the Septuagint occurred around 270 BC, seems to be farfetched.

8. Who was King Nebuchadnezzar and when did the Babylonian Exile begin?

Scholars generally agree on identifying the figure of the Biblical king Nebuchadnezzar with the ancient king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar II, who reigned from the late 7th – early 6th centuries BC. However, an early 6th century BC date for the final destruction of the Judean Kingdom seems to be contradicted by archaeological data. Archaeologists who have researched Judean settlements have found no traces of destruction in the layers dating from the early 6th century BC. In sharp contrast to the Biblical narrative claiming this was a time when the "land was desolated", it would appear that this was a period of active expansion of many rural settlements located in the territory of Judea. There is, however, evidence to suggest that sometime in the middle of the 4th century BC not only was there mass destruction of the cities, but there was also a significant decline in the economic situation in Judea, which was arguably caused by the mass exile of the majority of its population. Archaeological research clearly indicates that for the entire period from the mid-4th and until around the mid-3rd century BC, the country was largely uninhabited, but in the later period, a significant increase in the population brought about a remarkable renewal of economic and political activities in Judea that became visible during the Hasmonean period.

Artaxerxes III

Bruce Allardice [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Artaxerxes III

An alternative approach to establishing the late Achaemenid period as a reliable historical setting for the Babylonian Exile has been proposed by Sweeney. He suggested that the figure of King Nebuchadnezzar can be identified with the Achaemenid King Artaxerxes III Ochus (359-338 BC) and that this identification can be corroborated by data preserved in the Book of Judith, an early Hellenistic book that became an integral part of the Septuagint but is considered Apocrypha by the Jews (37, pp.151-155). It portrays Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Assyria, as a cruel conqueror of Judea and tells the story of the resistance of the Judean people, who were led by the High Priest Joakim (who probably corresponded to King Jechoiakim), against an invasion led by Nebuchadnezzar’s general, Holofernes, who was finally beheaded by a brave Jewish woman named Judith. He was identified as Orophernes, the brother of the Cappadocian ruler Ariarathes, one of the satraps of Artaxerxes III Ochus. Another historical figure known from the Book of Judith is general Bagoas, who discovered the dead body of Holofernes. Sweeney identified him as a eunuch of Artaxerxes III, who served as a general during his campaigns in Phoenicia and Egypt, before playing a role in the king's assassination.

At this point we might ask if there is any additional information available in the sources that can support the Biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Judea, the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews. In order to confirm the positive identification of Artaxerxes III with the Biblical figure of Nebuchadnezzar, the known data relating to the extensive military activities of this king must be compared to accounts contained in the Biblical texts. The primary sources for information concerning the final days of the Judean Kingdom are the two Biblical books: Jeremiah and 2 Kings. The Prophet Jeremiah was active during this period; he was imprisoned for his repeated prophecies concerning the inevitable submission of the Judeans to the rule of the Babylonian king. This would suggest that his rather tendentious account is still the more authentic one. Jeremiah provides first-hand insight into the atmosphere prevailing in Judea in the final period of its existence, and he shows that the Judean kings remained committed to the Egyptian kings and were not ready to accept Jeremiah’s warnings about the danger posed by Babylon.

According to Jeremiah and the 2 Kings, the death of Josiah brought an end to the short period of political independence of the Judean Kingdom. When his popular fourth son, Shallum, was chosen to succeed him, he took the name of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31-34) but his rule was very brief. After only 3 months, Jehoahaz was deposed by Pharaoh Nectanebo I and imprisoned, initially in Riblah before being taken to Egypt, where he died. Eliakim, another son of Josiah, was appointed king in his place by Nectanebo I and took the name of Jehoiakim; his reign lasted under the Egyptians for the period of eight years. 2 Kings 24:1 relates that when Nebuchadnezzar become involved in the politics in Judea, he allowed Jehoiakim to continue to rule for three extra years and then replaced him with his son, Jeconiah (Jehoiachin). This event, according to 2 Kings, marked the beginning of the “Babylonian” rule imposed in Judea. It seems that the story recorded in Judith of the brutal “Assyrian” invasion led by the Nebuchadnezzar’s general Holophernes, relates to these events.

The Babylonian attack on Judea is usually though to have been confirmed independently by the evidence of the Babylonian chronicle ABC 5 describing the repeated attacks by the King Nebuchadnezzar II on the Land of Hatti that occurred between his second and seventh years. This Babylonian chronicle does not, however, report the story of the exile of the Jews and, moreover, it is not at all clear if the Babylonian term Land of Hatti is actually relates to the land of Judea, as this term normally refers to the Hattian people living in the region of central Anatolia.

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem

David Roberts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem

In fact, Artaxerxes III Ochus' first major invasion into Judea probably occurred in 352 BC, in the seventh year of his reign, thus just before the destruction of his forces in the Egyptian campaign that started in 351 BC. This dating fully corresponds to the Biblical record of the attack on Judea and the siege of Jerusalem dated in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar. 2 Kings 24:8-17 tells how his army laid siege to Jerusalem and adds that after its capture, Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with his uncle, Zedekiah. The first deportation of the Judeans to Babylon took place in the seventh (Jeremiah 52:28) or the eighth year (2 Kings 24:10) of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, in 352/1 BC; at this time 3,023 Jews were "carried away" into exile, and the treasuries of the Temple were robbed. According to Jeremiah, at the time of this deportation, only the skilled artisan population was affected, which may suggest that this can be related to the king's policy for the resettlement and rebuilding of the city of Babylon. The Babylonian cuneiform inscriptions claimed that the city was rebuilt by Artaxerxes III and turned into his new capital. This is probably why he was considered by the Bible to be the King of Babylon.

The second expulsion occurred in the seventeenth (2 Kings 25:1-3) or the eighteenth year (Jeremiah 52:29) of king's reign – in 342/1 BC. This happened soon after Jerusalem finally fell following a siege that lasted for two years, from the ninth until the eleventh year of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 52:11; 2 Kings 24:8-18). The Temple of Jerusalem was burned by the Nebuchadnezzar’s general Nebuzaradan, in the nineteenth year of his reign (2 Kings 25:8), in 340 BC. The beginning of the siege corresponds to the Achaemenid offensive against the Phoenician cities in 344 BC, and the exile – can be correlated with their campaign in Egypt in 342/1 BC. These events were prophesied by Prophet Ezekiel (26-28), who relates to the conquest of Tyre and Sidon, and the forthcoming invasion of Egypt.

James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners

James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners

As evidenced by many Greek and Latin authors (cf. the Byzantine author Syncellus L486.10ff.D, citing the text by Eusebius), the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon and to Hyrcania, an Achaemenid province located on the south-eastern shores of the Caspian Sea; the accounts of this exile can be paralleled with the one described in the Bible. Unlike Syncellus, who mentioned both exiles – the one to Babylon and the other to Hyrcania – Orosius, a Roman historian, was only familiar with the second, Hyrcanian captivity, which probably took place in 342/1 BC. Moreover, Josephus kept a citation of Hecateus of Abdera, the Greek author from the late 4th century BC, who related that “the Persians (sic!) carried away many thousands of Jews to Babylon" (Ag.Ap., I, 22).

9. When did Nehemiah, the Governor of Judea, arrive in Jerusalem?

Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls

According to the Bible, after many years in exile, the fate of the Jews started to improve when the Persian king Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah, a Jew from Susa, who was his "cupbearer”, to govern Judea. His deeds are described in Nehemiah's Memoirs, which were later incorporated into the Book of Nehemiah; it is an undoubtedly authentic source written in the first person and believed to have been composed by Nehemiah himself. In his Memoirs Nehemiah relates that he served under King Artaxerxes for twelve years, between the twentieth and thirty-second years of his reign (2:1; 13:6), after which he was recalled to the king's court although he did return briefly to Jerusalem afterwards. Nehemiah claimed that, upon his arrival, he found the city of Jerusalem in ruins and lacking any form of administration; he, therefore, decided that his main objective would be to rebuild the destroyed walls of the city. He recorded that he was supported in the execution of this project by the High Priest Elyashiv (3:1) and, indeed, Nehemiah’s role in building the walls was noted by Ben Sira (ch. 49:13). This project did not meet with unanimous approval and there are frequent references to several Nehemiah’s adversaries that strongly objected to it. These were all the local leaders: Geshem, the ruler of the Arabs; Sanballat from Horon, the ruler of Samaria; and Tobiah, the ruler of Ammon. The key questions to be answered are: firstly, when did these leaders live and secondly, which king sent Nehemiah on his mission?

Traditionally, scholars assumed that the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah should be dated to the Persian that is, the Achaemenid, period, in the 5th century BC. In view of the weak archaeological data that attest to Jerusalem as an urban centre during the Achaemenid period, Israel Finkelstein doubted that the small population of Jerusalem, estimated to be around five hundred people, could have produced anything of literary significance. Accordingly he proposed a radical re-evaluation of the Biblical research by suggesting the 2nd century BC as the correct setting for the historical events and figures that are mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah. In support of a Hellenistic date for these texts, he cites a number of examples: for instance, some of the Judean cities that the builders of Nehemiah's wall came from did not exist in the Persian period and were only built in Hellenistic times; moreover, there is no evidence of city walls built in Jerusalem between the Iron Age and the Hellenistic period, the 2nd century BC. Thus, Finkelstein maintains that the historical realities described in the Book of Nehemiah could only have existed in the late Hellenistic period (13, pp. 3-27; 71-82; 102-6).

Bulla mentioning Sanballat

via The Interactive Bible

Bulla mentioning Sanballat

Finkelstein also points out that it is highly problematic to set the figures of Nehemiah’s adversaries in the Achaemenid period. He noticed that the names of Geshem and Tobiah have never appeared in documents dated from before the Hellenistic period. Besides, there were probably several Samaritan governors named Sanballat and there were different Samaritan coins issued with this name, but, according to Josephus XI: 7, 2, Sanballat I was sent to govern Samaria by the Achaemenid King Darius III (336-1 BC). Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that yet another Sanballat could have served as governor earlier, sometime during the 5th century BC. The name of Sanballat I was also found on a bulla of his son, Yeshayahu, which was excavated alongside the Wadi Daliye Papyri. These Papyri represent a large collection of Samaritan legal documents, written in Aramaic and dated from the period before and after the Macedonian conquest. The figure of Sanballat from Horon, the main adversary of Nehemiah, who governed Samaria before his arrival, was probably identical to the grandson of Sanballat I.

Moreover, the thoughtful textual analysis offered by Jacob Wright supports the idea of a "process" of a gradual evolvement, in three major redactions, of the Book of Nehemiah that all took place during the Hellenistic period (40). In his opinion, it is developed from an original text on the encounters between Nehemiah and Artaxerxes, a brief report on the wall-building, and probably another polemic text, written by Nehemaih against his enemies. The last stage of the edition of the Book of Nehemiah probably took place at the end of the 2nd century BC, when it was combined with that of Ezra. This analysis seems convincing, but it appears that the key question as to the dating of the original Nehemiah’s Memoirs remains unanswered.

Dating the figure of Nehemiah to the 5th century BC and his book to the 3rd - 2nd centuries BC prevents from it being regarded as a contemporary record of historical events that may have occurred a few hundred years earlier. Although it is an idea that significantly diminishes the importance of the book as a reliable historical source, it can, of course, be suggested that Nehemiah himself was a legendary figure; this would infer that the entire book composed in his name was Hellenistic literary production. However, what if Nehemiah as well as his adversaries were real historical figures of the early Hellenistic period whose deeds were described in the Memoirs written by Nehemiah himself, but reedited in the later times? This would essentially move all the dates of these historical figures forward by at least two hundred years, thus allowing a reappraisal of the timing and the circumstances of the return of the Jews from the exile.

10. Who was Tobiah, Nehemiah's adversary?

Amongst Nehemiah's adversaries, the figure of Tobiah, the ruler of Ammon, is the most puzzling, since no historical figure with this name is known prior to the Hellenistic period. The Memoirs of Nehemiah stated that Tobiah was very close to the Samaritan governor, Sanballat, and supported him in his resistance to Nehemiah’s project of building the walls of Jerusalem (4:1-8). Nehemiah also wrote that upon his return to Jerusalem, he found that the High Priest Elyashib had become friendly with Tobiah and had given him a separate room in the Temple in which to keep his precious possessions. This angered Nehemiah who reacted by throwing out his belongings and ordering the room to be cleansed (13:9).

castle of Araq el-Emir

Makeandtoss [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Castle of Araq el-Emir

Josephus stated that Tobias (a Greek version of the Jewish name Tobiah) was the founder of the aristocratic, Jewish Hellenized family of the Tobiades (XII: 4). Using information preserved in an important Hellenistic source, the so-called Tobiades Roman, he told the story of the Tobiades dynasty, including an account of Joseph, the son of Tobias, who had a successful career under the Ptolemies. Josephus believed that Joseph rose to prominence after his uncle, the High Priest Onias, had stubbornly refused to pay the taxes demanded by Ptolemy, and Joseph was appointed a chief tax collector for the entire Syro-Palestine region and part of Transjordan by Ptolemy V Ephiphanes (210-181 BC), after the region was returned to him by Antiochus III as part of the dowry for the marriage of his daughter Cleopatra I to Ptolemy in 193 BC. Furthermore, Josephus recounts that much later, during the reign of King Seleucus IV (187-175 BC), the youngest son of Joseph, Hyrcanus, clashed with his brothers and proclaimed himself an independent ruler of an area in Transjordan; he controlled this for a period of seven years, fighting the local Arabic tribes, until he committed suicide (XII: 11). As the migration of nomadic tribes of Arabic origin into the southern areas of Transjordan and Negev had only started in the mid-3rd century BC, this dating is clearly coinciding with the period when Geshem the Arab, one of Nehemiah's adversaries, may have been active. Hyrcanus's splendid fortress in Tyros, described in detail by Josephus has been identified as the Hellenistic castle of Araq el-Emir, whose ruins stand in the valley of Wadi Seer, to the west of Amman. In addition, the historicity of the figure of Hyrcanus can be confirmed by the mention of Hyrcanus, the son of Tobias, in the story in 2 Maccabees of the raid carried out by Heliodorus, the legate of Seleucus IV', on the treasury of the Jerusalem's Temple, where Hyrcanus kept his precious possessions (2 Maccabees 3:11).

Zenon Papyrus

Zenon Papyrus via Center for online Judaic Studies

Zenon Papyrus

According to Lester Grabbe, "the general dating of the events in Josephus does not make sense", but "that Josephus’s mistakes in placing his sources into an overall framework does not damage the fact that the whole story is an original" (19). But what was the proper historical setting for the story of the rise to power of the Tobiades dynasty? The most probable timeframe is that of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (283-246 BC). Josephus’s portrayal of the Tobiades of Ammon as a very influential family coming to prominence in the Ptolemaic period is confirmed by a collection of documents found in the large archive of Zenon Papyri discovered in Philadelphia, in Egypt. Zenon was an agent of Apollonius, the finance minister of Ptolemy II; he was sent in 259 BC to Syro-Palestine to establish trading contacts. Upon his return, he continued to maintain a connection with his partners there and communicated several times with Apollonius himself on different matters. A number of the documents connected with Zenon’s tour found their way into his archives, including a bill of sale for a slave from the year 27 of Ptolemy (256 BC) that briefly mentioned Tobias, and a personal letter of Tobias from the year 29 (254 BC) that records his gift of slaves to Apollonius. In the former document Tobias is noted as overseeing the birta, a fortress located in the Ammonite region that was probably the same place used later by his grandson, Hyrcanus (19, p. 134). This information confirms that Tobiah had already occupied a prominent position in Transjordan in the mid-3rd century BC, in the latter days of Ptolemaic rule. This was the main reason that he retained his power when the region occasionally came under Persian rule. In a letter from the Zenon archive, dated from 256 BC, there is mention of a Jewish leader Jeddous (Jaddua), who is known from Nehemiah 12:11, 22, as a member of the Elyashiv’s family.

Additional information about the socio-economic situation in Judea during the period of Ptolemaic rule can be obtained from a decree issued by Ptolemy II around his twenty-fourth year (260 BC). This dealt with regulations relating to the social and economic life of the population of the region of "Syria and Phoenicia" and is preserved among the so-called Rainer Papyri in Vienna (19, p. 135-6). Although the surviving part of this decree does not make specific reference to Judea, it offers a wide perspective on many legal issues that arose in the territories of Syro-Palestine subjected to Ptolemaic rule. In general, the period of the first part of the 3rd century BC can be considered as a time of serious economic decline in the territory of Judea that corresponds to the Biblical statement of devastation, when the "land of Judah was desolated".

11. What can Numismatics reveal about the Persian period in Judea?

An important question that needs to be answered relates to the identity and dating of the King Artaxerxes, who sent Nehemiah on his mission. It is traditionally claimed that Judea remained under Persian rule until the Macedonian conquest of the Achaemenid Empire in 332 BC, and that in the Hellenistic period it lay between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires, with the control of Judea passing to the Seleucids upon the conquest of Syro-Palestine by Antiochus III; thus, Ptolemaic rule is traditionally said to have been lasted from c. 312 BC until around 200 BC. This theory, however, cannot be supported by the numismatic data, as the obols and the hemi-obols, small Ptolemaic coins minted in the province of Yehud with portraits of the kings and the image of an eagle on the reverse were only produced during the reigns of Ptolemy I, his wife Berenika, and their son, Ptolemy II, from 312 to 246 BC, and no Ptolemaic coins, whatsoever, have been found in Judea, that postdate Ptolemy II.

Coins

private collection M. Shick, Israel

Coin of Yehud with portrait of Ptolemy II and Persian bird of prey

There are two groups of silver coins of Yehud dating from the Persian period. The first group shows the crowned and bearded head of a Persian king, with the image of a rising bird of prey representing xvarnah,”divine glory”, on the reverse; and the second, representing the so-called “Patriotic” group of coins, depicts a lily, an ear, or a shofar, together with an image of the Persian bird of prey, xvarnah, on the reverse (3; 27, pp. 278-9). The Traditional Chronology that places all the Persian coins of Yehud in the 4th century BC, before the Ptolemaic period, leaves a question as to the finances of Judea between 246 and 200 BC. According to the New Chronology, only the other, previous group of coins of Yehud minted under the strong Greek influence, with the head of Athena and an Athenian owl on the reverse, can be dated from the period after the Macedonian invasion of the 332 BC, while both groups of the Persian coins of Yehud were minted during the second part of the 3rd century BC: the first, - during the reign of Artaxerxes; and the second, “Patriotic” group with the symbols of liberation of the Jewish nation, - during the reign of Darius. Although these coins are traditionally placed in the 4th century BC, their style, and the fact that their weight relates to the system of Persian Hellenistic coinage points to the fact that the Persian coins of Yehud most likely postdate the Ptolemaic coins. On one of the coins from the transitional period, there is a portrait of Ptolemy II shown on the front, and the image of a bird of prey appears on the reverse; this proves that the Persian coins of Yehud were issued after the time of Ptolemy II.(See Menorah coin project)

Besides, two different types of coins of Yehud belonging to Hezekiah are known – one shows his face on the front and a winged lynx on the reverse; and the other bears a stylized head and an image of an owl, on which Hezekiah is called pehah (27, p. 279). It was suggested that the coins of Hezekiah pehah relates to the beginning of the Hellenistic period, before and after the Macedonian invasion in 332 BC (14). Moreover, the metrological study of these coins produced by Yigal Ronen also dates them to the period following the Macedonian conquest because their weight corresponds precisely to the system of Attic coinage. If this dating is correct, it would be very tempting to identify the figure of Hezekiah pehah with the first Jewish historian, Priest Hezekiah, who emigrated to the Ptolemaic Egypt and was mentioned by Josephus in Against Apion. But why would the title of the Persian governor, pehah, appears on coins minted sometime after the Macedonian invasion?

In addition, the name of the Priest Johanan is found on a unique coin with the stylized head, similar to that shown on the coins of Hezekiah pehah. If this was the same person who is known as the descendant of Elyashiv, the High Priest in the time of Nehemiah (12:22), this coin would have to be dated to the late-3rd century BC period. As the image of a winged lynx, which appears on different types of coins with the name, Hezekiah, are otherwise found on coins dated from much later time, from the Seleucid period, it suggests that these coins were minted in the time of the transition of control of Judea from the Persians to the Seleucids. Since the Seleucids claims to the lands of Syro-Palestine come true soon when they conquered Persia and Parthia in c. 209 BC (which coincides with the Persians losing control on Judea), Hezekiah's coins with the image of a winged lynx can be dated to the transitional period of c. 210 - 200 BC.

Jar handle with Aramaic inscription Yehud

Israel Antiquities Authority

Jar handle with Aramaic inscription Yehud

There is no reason to believe that the Aramaic name Yehud corresponded to the name of the Achaemenid province of Judea, as is usually claimed. The name Yehud found on the seals and bullae from the post-exile archive published by Avigad, is identical to the impressions that were sealed in the Paleo-Hebrew script on hundreds of jar-handles excavated in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, Bethany and, especially, in Ramat Rachel, where was the seat of the Persian governor of Judea (1). These are dated, by both ceramics and palaeography, to the Hellenistic period, more precisely, to the third quarter of the 3rd century BC; on some examples the name of Yehoezer pehah is mentioned. A group of Aramaic bullae from Ramat Rahel includes one that mentioned Elnathan pehah, a Persian governor of Judea whose name remains otherwise unknown (40).

The main reason that historians rejected the possibility that the Persian coins of Yehud could possibly be dated later then the 4th century BC is that they did not believe that the Persian Kingdom existed as a strong political entity beyond the Macedonian conquest. However, in the light of recent research on the history of the Kingdom of Persis, this idea now needs to be reconsidered. Around 295 BC, Persia was released from Seleucid rule, and, at first, the capital of the kings of Persis was located in Persepolis, the ceremonial seat of the Achaemenid kings; later it was relocated to Susa. The suggestion of the revival of the Persian power in early Hellenistic times is supported by numismatic evidence (6, 7, 8, 10). The first independent rulers of Persis, Bagadad and Vadfradat, overstruck the Seleucid coins (21) and then started minting coins with their own names, were they shown wearing the satrap headdress and the Hellenistic diadem, making devotions to a fire altar, or with their image enthroned; these coins are described with their names in Aramaic and title frataraka.

Coin of Artaxerxes frataraka

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Coin of Artaxerxes frataraka

Coin of Persian King with bird on his head

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Coin of Persian King with bird on his hat

The issue of the coins of the next frataraka, Artxashastra (Artaxerxes), found in a hoard in 1986 and published by Brian Kritt in 1997, record a pivotal moment in the rise of the Kingdom of Persis’s independence (7). Exploiting at first the turmoil that followed the deaths of Ptolemy II and Antiochus II, in 246 BC, Artaxerxes not only exerted his authority over the lands of Iran but attempted to reclaim previously held Achaemenid lands and regain control of the areas of Syro-Palestine and Lower Egypt. The collection of Aramaic Elephantine Papyri dated from the time of Artaxerxes is traditionally thought by scholars to date from the late 5th century BC. It is, however, possible to argue that they date from the second part of the 3rd century BC since, in the Elephantine Papyri, the Persian ruler is referred to as frataraka, a title that was used by the Hellenistic kings of Persis, but never by the Achaemenids. If it is accepted that the King Artaxerxes referred to by Nehemiah was none other than frataraka Artaxerxes and considering that Nehemiah ruled as pehah (governor) of Yehud from his 20th until his 32nd year, the general time of Nehemiah’s rule as governor might be established as 245-233 BC. According to the Elephantine Papyri (29: B10, B39), however, the total period of King Artaxerxes' reign lasted for thirty-eight years, that is from c. 265 until 227 BC, after which power passed to his son, King Darius. The image of a bird of prey, xvarnah, “divine glory”, that is known from the coins of Yehud, is unknown in the coinage of the Achaemenid period, although it often appears on Hellenistic drachms and tetradrachms from Persis, including those where it is shown perched on King Darius's hat.

12. The Feast of Nehemiah and the Origins of Hanukkah

Nehemiah rekindling the sacrificial altar. Woodcut from the Cologne Bible

via Amazon

Nehemiah rekindling the sacrificial altar. Woodcut from the Cologne Bible

Coins

private collection M. Shick, Israel

Coin of Yehud with burning altar

It is often overlooked by scholars that Nehemiah himself appears to be the main character in an event recounted in 2 Maccabees 1:20-36 that has no parallel in the Bible's text. The story was described in detail in a chapter of the book that comprises an Epistle sent by Judah the Maccabee sometime between 164 to 160 BC, most probably around 163 BC (37); it was sent on behalf of the Jews of Jerusalem to Aristobulus, the representative of the Jews in Egypt. This letter described how, during the purification of the sacrificial altar in Jerusalem in the Festival of Booths (Sukkot), the altar was miraculously restored by Nehemiah, using a special substance called nephthar (“oil”) to kindle the sacred fire hidden by Jewish priests before they were sent into exile. Theodor Bergren has argued that this narrative seeks to demonstrate that there was continuity between the First and the Second Temples cults, and that there was an historical precedent for Judah’s purification of the sanctuary (2). However, the historicity of this narrative can be confirmed by the coins of Yehud and also by the Aramaic seals showing an altar with a burning fire.

2 Book of Maccabees. Expulsion of Heliodorus

fragment of Raphael's fresco in Apostolic Palace

2 Book of Maccabees. Expulsion of Heliodorus

When Paul Kosmin analysed the context of this narrative, he realized that its themes resonate remarkably well with those of the Nanaya narrative in 2 Maccabees 1:11-17. The opening passage of this letter relates to the failed attempt in 164 BC of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV to rob the Zoroastrian Temple of Nanaya, which was located in the city of Susa. Furthermore, he noticed that another story with a similar theme became an integral part of 2 Maccabees 3:21-28; this concerned an attempt by the Seleucus V's legate, Heliodorus, to rob the treasury of the Temple of Jerusalem. Both narratives open in the same manner, with the sudden arrival of a representative of the Seleucid state – Antiochus in Persia and Heliodorus in Jerusalem; both sanctuaries were successfully defended by priests and divine beings, and both ended with the failure and the death of the Seleucid officials (23, p. 35). In Kosmin's opinion, this unprecedented paralleling of events in Judea and Persia, is evidence of the "symbolism of linked destiny between Judea and Persia", which must be viewed not only as a historical reflection but also as the present. He concluded that the people’s opposition to Antiochus IV in Persis, which was described in 2 Maccabees, was a response to a contemporary situation that can be independently confirmed by a number of cuneiform and classical sources. Indeed, 2 Maccabees deliberately presents the interactions between Antiochus and the people of Persis as a typological and chronological parallel to Seleucid aggression and to the Maccabean uprising in Judea.

In 2 Maccabees 1:18 Nehemiah was also credited with attempting to rebuild not only the sacrificial alter, but the Temple itself, although it remains unclear if he ever completed the task. This information corresponds to Ezra 4:7-24, who describes an appeal made by the Samaritans to King Artaxerxes, requesting him to order that building of the Temple in Jerusalem be stopped. It seems that the Temple could not have been erected during the time of Nehemiah, as its building was initiated by Zerubbabel. The narrative of 2 Maccabees 1:23 relating to the restoration of the altar stressed the importance of the figure of Jonathan, who served as a High Priest under Nehemiah. According to Nehemiah 12:11, Jonathan was the son of Joiada and the grandson of Elyashiv, the High Priest during Nehemiah's rule as governor.

Nehemiah was highlighted in 2 Maccabees mainly due to the fact that he was seen as a representative of the Persians, who was sent to Jerusalem by the Persian king, thereby allowing the figure of Nehemiah, to be viewed as exemplifying the notion of a common Persian and Jewish fate. Judah is described as continuing Nehemiah's project to establish a Library for the purpose of assembling together all the "books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings"; it also relates that "in the same way (as Nehemiah) Judas collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war" (2:13-14). The main significance of this story is that Nehemiah is portrayed as a predecessor of Judah, not as a figure from the remote historical past.

Judah the Maccabee commanding rededication of the Temple

From: Die Bibel in Bildern

Judah the Maccabee commanding rededication of the Temple

It is important to know the reason why the author of the Epistle of Judah decided to remind the Jews of Egypt about the circumstances of the miraculous restoration of the sacrificial altar carried out under Nehemiah. The text of 2 Maccabees 1:18 includes the suggestion that the Jews of Egypt, as well as the Jews of Jerusalem, should combine the celebration of the recent purification of the Temple by Judah the Maccabee and his brothers, which took place on the 25th of Kislev in 148 of the Seleucid Era (in December 164 BC), with the festival of the sacred fire that was miraculously rekindled by Nehemiah during the restoration of the altar. This suggestion was obviously accepted by the Jews of Egypt, as this new Jewish holiday became known as the Holiday of Fire, or the Festival of Lights, and is indeed still celebrated on the 25th of Kislev, at Hanukkah. Over the centuries, however, its relation to Nehemiah and the events of the restoration of the altar were forgotten, and the lighting of fire during the festival of Hanukkah received a new meaning related to the sacred oil discovered by Judah at the time of the rededication of the Temple.

13. When did the events of Purim happen?

Esther Scroll

Israel Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Esther Scroll

According to the Book of Esther, Haman, the royal vizier to the King Ahasuerus, planned to kill all the Jews in the country but his plans were foiled by the Jew Mordechai, one of the Babylonian exiles living in Susa. His niece, Esther, who had become Queen of Persia in the seventh year of King Ahasuerus's reign, afterwards managed, with the help of her uncle, to convince the king to take the side of her people, the Jews, resulting in the deaths of many of their enemies. These events happened in Susa, on the 15th of Adar, in the twelve year of the king's reign (Esther 3:7) and are celebrated each year during the Jewish holiday of Purim.

It is widely accepted that, while the events of Purim could have occurred during the Achaemenid period, the holiday of Purim, which is first referred to as the "feast of Mordechai" in 2 Maccabees, was only known and celebrated from the 2nd century BC. Scholars, therefore, maintained that the Book of Esther was a Hellenistic work of fiction that was written many centuries after the supposed events. The authenticity of the Book of Esther has been criticized on the basis that there is no Achaemenid king known with the name Ahasueros, nor is there any evidence of any ancient Persian king marrying a Jewish girl; additionally, it was realized that the description in the Book of Esther regarding the court of the king shows some clear Hellenistic features (34). In the light of the current proposed re-dating of the reigns of the kings of Persis, however, the Book of Esther can be viewed not as a mere work of fiction but as a novel based upon historical records of important events occurring in the Hellenistic period.

The name of King Ahasuerus is mentioned briefly in Ezra 4:6 in the verse directly preceding the account mentioning the name of King Artaxerxes. The fact that the editor of Ezra used two different names might be explained by the fact that the sentence dedicated to King Ahasueros continues on from the part that was written in Aramaic; which was followed by the other part that was written in Hebrew, where the deeds of Artaxerxes were described. It could be argued therefore that the name Ahasuerus was the Aramaic version of the name of King Artaxerxes. If we accept that Artaxerxes and Ahasueros are the same person, this Persian king would have begun his reign in 265 BC, twenty years before the appointment of Nehemiah; Esther would have become the Queen of Persis in 258 BC; and the events of Purim would have occurred in 253 BC, in the twelfth year of King Artaxerxes I's reign. The influence of his Jewish wife and her uncle might have ensured his pro-Jewish policies.

14. When did Zerubbabel and Joshua arrive in Jerusalem?

Cyrus Cylinder

Prioryman [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cyrus Cylinder

The Book of Ezra provides further insight into the Persian perspective of ancient Jewish history. It opens with the apparent “discovery”, made by the Jews of Ecbatana during the reign of King Darius, of King Cyrus’s decree allowing the Jews to return home and rebuild their Temple. Traditionally, this decree is thought to be similar to the one recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder, now in the British Museum, which is often regarded as the first “Declaration of Human Rights”. The historicity of the decree of Cyrus as relates to the Jews was questioned by Grabbe, who pointed out that the Cylinder does not contain any specific reference to the Jews and actually this decree could be interpreted as a general policy allowing various groups of deportees to return to their places of origin (18). On the other hand, the story recounted by Ezra concerning a decree that was apparently "found" should not be dismissed as a literary fantasy of its author. Indeed, this story was probably based on the actual events that occurred in the time of the Persian King Darius, when a fabricated document that was allegedly preserved from the time of Cyrus was produced by the Jews. Such a document, when presented to the king, allowed the Jews of Persia to appeal to Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, as a supreme authority of their fate. This in turn might have helped them to justify their request to be allowed to return to Judea and for permission to rebuild the Temple.

Rebuilding the Temple

via My Jewish Learning

Rebuilding the Temple

The first large group of exiles, comprising over 40,000 people was led by Zerubbabel, the newly appointed Persian governor of Judea. With the help of the Priest Joshua and inspired by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, he began the construction of the Temple that lasted from the second until the sixth year of Persian King Darius (Ezra 3:8-13; 4:1-24). To establish the precise timing for the construction of the Temple, the dates of Darius's reign must be established. Considering that he assumed power after the death of his father, Artaxerxes, in c. 227 BC, and reigned until 210 BC, the dating of this process can be established as 226-1 BC.

Coin of Persian King Darius

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Coin of Persian King Darius

Darius

via parthia.com

Coin of King Darius minted in Susa

The issue of the silver drachms of Persis with a bearded and crowned portrait of a D'ryw m-l-k - King Darev (Darius), related to this period, provides solid proof that Darius was the first independent ruler of Persis to abandon the title frataraka and to declare himself "king". In addition, King Darius is also named Basileous Dareioy on coins issued in Susa which were modelled on the coins of King Antiochus III the Great (222-187 BC), and bear the stylized portrait of the Seleucid king on one side with a figure of god Apollo seated on omphalos, shown on the reverse. The name on the coins minted by Darius in Susa, Basileous Dareioy, appears to be similar to the name of the Persian king in the Elephantine Papyri, Drywš, and also to the Biblical name, Dariuš, which is a shortened Aramaic form of the name Darayavahuš that is found on cuneiform inscriptions dated from the Achaemenid period. He was referred to as hšyty wzrk – "the great king" on an Aramaic inscription dated from the Seleucid period; it was discovered near the tomb of Darayavahuš I in the royal Achaemenid necropolis of Naqsh-e Rustam.

The coins of Basileous Dareioy were probably minted to commemorate the events that occurred after the Persians came under Seleucid’s power. Evidence that the Seleucids established control in Persia during the days of Antiochus III, is demonstrated by the fact that when he sent his satraps – Alexander to Susa and Molon to Media – they soon rebelled and the Seleucid army was sent to suppress the uprising. Although the traditional date of these events is 220 BC, Wiesehӧfer argued in favour of a later date, c. 205 BC (38). It can be suggested that, the Persian lands came under the control of the Seleucid Empire as a result of the Antiochus III’s invasion in 210 BC, before his conquest of Parthia in 209 BC. They were only released from the Seleucid rule following the death of Antiochus III in 187 BC during an attempted assault on the Temple of Nanaya in Susa.

Passover Papyrus

Letter by Jedaniah; [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Passover Papyrus

The pro-Jewish attitude of King Darius is revealed in an Aramaic letter from Elephantine, often referred to as the Passover Papyrus (29: B13). In this document, dating from the fifth year of King Darius, Hananiah informed the Jewish officer Jedaniah, about the extremely strict regulations for Passover observance that had been approved by King Darius for the Jewish soldiers garrisoned in Elephantine. The very fact that a Persian king should take an interest in Jewish religious matters is surprising and indicates the special feelings this king had towards his Jewish subjects. The reference to King Darius as a supreme authority in Elephantine would essentially mean that Lower Egypt remained under Persian rule during his time, and that the Jewish soldiers were entrusted to protect Persian interests in this region. The name of Hananiah appears on bullae found in the post-exile archive published by Avigad (1, p. 5). These present him as a high ranking officer in charge of fiscal matters; he is most probably identical to Hananiah, who was referred to by Nehemiah 7:2 as "the governor of the castle" of Jerusalem. It would be interesting to investigate his connection to the figure of Hananiah, the author of the letters composed in Paleo-Hebrew and found amongst the Arad Ostraca that contained his demands to Elyashiv, who was the head of the soldiers stationed in Arad, for the supply of goods, such as wine and flour.

Proof of the power exerted by the Persians over Judea is revealed in another Elephantine Papyri, referred to as the Petition to Bagavahya, Governor of Judah and dated from the seventeenth year of Darius (29: B 19, 20). The Petition, which was composed by Jewish soldiers who were guarding the Persian interests in Egypt and were led by Jedaniah, was written to the Persian governor Bagavahya and requested help in rebuilding the Temple in Elephantine that had been demolished by the Egyptians in the fourteenth year of Darius. It related that the High Priest of Jerusalem, Johanan, wasn't particularly interested in helping to rebuild this Temple and, probably fearing that it might compete with the one of Jerusalem, he had denied a previous request; it also mentioned that another petition was being made to Delaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat. This name, which is identical to that of Sanballat from Horon, the main enemy of Nehemiah, provides an additional argument for relating the Petition to the next generation of the Samaritan leadership.

Josephus XII:7,1 recounted a story of the interference of a Persian general named Bagoses in the appointment of the High Priest: he had supported Joshua, a candidate who was killed by Johanan in a fight for the office. To show his anger at Joshua’s murder, Bagoses ignored the sanctity of the Temple and walked into its inner court. He also persecuted the Jews and invented a tax for introducing animal sacrifices. According to Josephus, Bagoses ruled Judea for seven years, but as the construction of the Temple had been completed in the 6th year of Darius, and he was still in power in Darius’s 17th year, it follows that he remained in charge for a period of eleventh years. Although Josephus placed this account in the time of Artaxerxes III, there is nothing else to confirm this, and the figure of a High Priest called Johanan is not known in this period. There is every reason to believe that the source of the Josephus’s story dates to 220 BC, and the general Bagoses noticed by Josephus is identical to Bagavahya, the addressee of the Petition. The name Bagoses, which was used by Josephus, appears to be the Jewish form of the Persian name Bagavahya. The identification of Joshua in Josephus’s story with Joshua the Priest, the colleague of Zerubbabel, explains why Joshua is not mentioned in connection with the ceremony for the completion of the Temple, as by that time, Joshua had already been killed. It also explains why Ezra, who recognized Joshua’s role in the building of the Temple, never referred to him as High Priest although his importance was prominently stressed in Zechariah 3, when he prophesied that Joshua would stand as a High Priest in front of God's Angel next to the Prince of Israel, Zerubbabel.

15. Who was the Jewish King Shimon in the Samaritan chronicles?

Abu-l-Fath Samaritan chronicle

Abu-l-Fath Samaritan chronicle

Additional information on Jewish-Persian relations comes from the often neglected Samaritan sources. A medieval Samaritan chronicler Abu-l'-Fath, who borrowed from ancient Samaritan chronicles, claimed that the Temple's construction was initiated in the Hellenistic period under King Darius. He also relates that the Persian king supported the Jewish King Shimon in his conflict with the Samaritans. It is told that Darius’s daughter was married to a Samaritan High Priest and, following her murder at the hands of Samaritans, the king entrusted control of the Samaritans to the Jews. This decision sparked a military conflict between them, and it is recorded that during an invasion by the Samaritans, the Temple in Jerusalem suffered damage (5, pp. 122-3). Apparently, the Samaritans regarded the Temple in Jerusalem as a threat to their own Temple on the Gerizim Mount. This story provides additional support for the observation made by scholars that, in the beginning of the Persian period Judea was subject to Samaria in administrative matters. This can be reaffirmed not only by the Elephantine Petition, where the Jews were requesting assistance from the Samaritans, but also by many finds of Samaritan bullae in the territory of Judea. If the story of the Samaritan chronicle is to be believed, the decision of the king to side with the Jews led to a conflict which marked the beginning of the Samaritan schism. Later, the ideological opposition to the Samaritans and the denial that they were Jews became one of the main issues in Ezra and the Chronicles. The Jewish-Samaritan confrontation lasted for a century only ending with the destruction of the Samaritan Temple by Johanan Hyrcanus c. 108 BC.

The figure of King Shimon in the Samaritan chronicle can be equated with Shimon, son of Onias (Johanan), the last High Priest of Judea during the Persian period; his role in fortifying the Temple Mount was glorified by Ben Sira (ch.50). In the beginning of the Persian period, secular power in Judea was separated from religious authority. When Judea became a Persian pahwa, it was governed at first by pehah Nehemiah and then by Elnathan and Yehoezer; Under Darius, Zerubbabel occupied the position of pehah; he was later replaced by Bagavahya. Nehemiah 12:22 lists Elyashiv, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua as having held the position of High Priest during the reign of Artaxerxes and continuing into the reign of King Darius. Since Jaddua was named as the last High Priest under Darius, he has to be identified as Shimon in the Samaritan chronicles. The story of King Shimon as well as the coins of Priest Johanan points to the rise in the power of the High Priest towards the end of the Persian period.

16. When did Ezra arrive in Jerusalem?

Ezra Reads the Law to the People

Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ezra Reads the Law to the People

The historicity of the figure of Ezra, the true creator of the ancient Jewish religion, as we know it, has recently been questioned by many scholars. Although the Book of Ezra proudly describes how Ezra brought the remaining Jewish exiles with him from Babylon and sealed the process of the Bible's editing, he was not mentioned in any of the Hellenistic texts. In the Book of Ben Sira, written shortly before the Seleucid invasion, which includes a Praise of the Ancestors that emphasizes the roles of Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and Shimon in rebuilding Jerusalem, there is no reference to Ezra whatsoever. Moreover, there is no mention of Ezra in either of the Books of Maccabees, which end with the story of the rise to power of Johanan in 135 BC. This implies that Ezra wasn't present in Judea before 135 BC, but if this is the case, when did he arrive? Moreover, the use of a Babylonian Aramaic dialect, which was integrated into the chapters of Ezra and Daniel, endorses a late Hellenistic date for these books, as this language did not become widespread until the 2nd century BC. As a wide scholarly consensus has been reached on the Hellenistic origin of Daniel, might it not be possible to reach the same conclusion regarding Ezra? How could Ezra, who is traditionally assumed to have lived in the 5th century BC, have had access to the Book of Daniel that is now thought to have been written in the mid-2nd century BC?

The account of Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem, accompanied by four thousand Jews from Babylon, which is described in the Book of Ezra 7: 6-8, coincided with the final decree issued by King Artaxerxes (7:11-28). This allowed the Jews of Babylon to return to their homeland and provided them with generous material support. The Book of Ezra 7:1-9 reports that Ezra arrived from Babylon to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes but if this were the same king who was mentioned by Nehemiah, it would mean that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem before Nehemiah, who apparently came in the twentieth year of the king. Other parts of the text, however, clearly imply that Ezra must have arrived in Jerusalem after Nehemiah and Zerubbabel, as, by the time Ezra initiated his religious reforms, the Temple was already standing. When Nehemiah first assumed charge of Jerusalem he began the project of re-building the city's walls but there was no Temple, and it apparently was rebuilt later, in the reign of Darius. Ezra is only mentioned once in Nehemiah 8-9 in a section that relates to a description, by a third party, of an event during the last years of Nehemiah’s tenure as governor, when the two figures are brought together in a dramatic scene when the Law of God is given to the people.

The Book of Ezra 10:6 reports that when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem he stayed in the Temple, in the room belonging to the High Priest Johanan, the son of Elyashiv, whose lineage is also mentioned by Nehemiah 12:23. It is perhaps interesting that the figure of Johanan, the son of Elyashiv, is the only person in the story of Ezra deliberately mentioned by his full name and he quite possibly was brought into the story in order to support the idea that Nehemiah and Ezra were contemporaries. As there is no independent evidence to corroborate this, it is more likely that they were separated by some years of history and were incorrectly brought together in the same timeframe by the later editor of Ezra-Nehemiah (9, pp.115-7).

An easier solution to solve the problem of Ezra’s chronology would be to suggest that the original text referred to the same King Artaxerxes who sent Nehemiah on his mission and should have read *twenty seventh year of Artaxerxes and not the seventh year. In this case, the time of Ezra would have immediately followed that of Nehemiah but would still have predated the building of the Temple by Zerubbabel in the days of Darius. This idea, however, contradicts both the statement in Nehemiah 12:22, who relate that Johanan occupied the office of the High Priest during the reign of Darius, as well as the information contained in the Elephantine Petition, which also names Johanan as the High Priest during the reign of Darius. Regardless, it seems highly unlikely that the Seleucids would permit the mass return of the Jews while Babylon was under their control.

Mithridates coin

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Mithridates coin

There is, however, a more radical approach to the problem. Taking into account that the figure of King Artaxerxes, who sent Ezra on his mission, was connected not to Persia, but to Babylon (Ezra 7:6, 9, 16; 8:8); it seems possible that the events described in the Book of Ezra related to the period of the Parthian invasion of the Seleucid lands that culminated with the Parthian king Mithridates I (171 - 132 BC) gaining control of Babylon in 141 BC. The frequent mention of Arthštrkn (Artaxerxes) on ostraca found in the Parthian capital Nisa, suggests that, after the conquest of Babylon, Mithridates I took a Persian regnal name, Artaxerxes, as his throne name, enabling him to use the Achaemenid title King of Kings. The Greek historian Arrius, writing in the early Roman period, maintained that Mithridates I created his own genealogy that related him to the Achaemenid king Artaxerxes II, an observation that lends support to the idea that he reigned under the name of Artaxerxes. As the reign of Mithridates I/Artaxerxes was calculated by the Jews of Babylon from his conquest in 141 BC, it is possible that Ezra was able to leave Babylon, as early as 134 BC, in the seventh year of Mithridates I' reign over Babylon.

17. Who was the Man of Falsehood in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Dead Sea Scrolls

Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Dead Sea Scrolls

It seems probable that the figure of Ezra was portrayed in a negative light by the Jews who left Jerusalem in the 130s BC and who kept their books in the Caves of Qumran. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Caves of Qumran revealed, along with the Biblical manuscripts, many of their original books dating from the last third of the 2nd century BC. These books were composed by the leaders of the sectarian group who adhered to the Zadokite version of the Jewish religion and who were harshly opposed to the Pharisaic laws that Ezra had attempted to introduce into Judean religious practice. The Zadokites took their name from Zadok, the High Priest in Solomon's Temple, and his adherents saw themselves as the Sons of Zadok supporting the political claims of the Priests who were descended from Zadok. The Zadokites were led by the mysterious figure named the “Teacher of Righteousness”. According to the Pesharim, their commentaries on the Prophets, he was regarded as the "legitimate priest", but was killed by the “Wicked Priest”, who then proceeded to take his place despite strong opposition. Most of the scholars agree that the “Wicked Priest” was probably no other then Johanan Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean High Priest (11). According to the Bible, Joshua bin Nun had laid a curse on the rebuilding of Jericho saying that if anyone tried, it would result in the death of both his firstborn child and then also his youngest child (Joshua 6:26). The Zadokites interpreted this curse in a Pesher on Joshua as having fallen upon their chief enemy, the High Priest Johanan Hyrcanus. He indeed had begun to rebuild the city of Jericho and was effectively left without an heir after the violent deaths of his two sons, Aristobulus and Antigonus, in 103 BC.

According to Josephus XIII: 7-8, after the murder of Shimon Thassi and his two sons by his son-in-law Ptolemy in February 135 BC, the position of the new leader of the Maccabees was taken by his fourth son, Johanan. However, there is an inconsistency in his claim. On one hand, Josephus insist that Johanan rose to power immediately after the death of his father, and on the other, he states that the siege of Jerusalem launched by the Seleucid king Antiochus VII Sidetes, in 132 BC, is in fact occurred in his “first year”, - this implies that he only attained the position of the High Priest in 132 BC. The disparity in the dates offered by Josephus leads to the question of what happened in Jerusalem in between 135 to 132 BC? It is possible that during this period, there was a fight between the supporters of Johanan and the supporters of the Teacher of Righteousness for the position of a High Priest that resulted with the exile of the latter.

Josephus relates that Johanan withstood the year-long siege under the Seleucids, but in the autumn of 131 BC, the city’s fortress walls were brought down and the very harsh terms of surrender were accepted. Johanan agreed to pay a high tribute and had to rob the treasury of the tomb of King David in order to avoid the destruction of the city; he was also forced to accompany Antiochus VII on his eastern campaign against the Parthians in 130 BC, which resulted in the total destruction of the Seleucid forces and the death of Antiochus VII in the Battle of Ecbatana in 129 BC. These events were reviewed by the Pesharim of Qumran, which relates to the invasion of the Kittim (Greeks) to Judea, their appropriation of the “wealth of the Wicked Priest” and his forceful expulsion to a “remote foreign country” (11).

Pesher Habakkuk from the Dead Sea Scrolls

via Wikimedia Commons

Pesher Habakkuk from the Dead Sea Scrolls

While the Zadokites harshly opposed Johanan’s rise to power, they referred to Ezra by the name of ish ha-kazzav, the “Man of Falsehood”. He is accused by the author of Pesher Habakkuk of attempting to discredit the Teacher of Righteousness as well as his Torah. The Zadokites carefully preserved the main body of the Biblical texts, but ignored both Ezra-Nehemiah, and the Chronicles, and opposed the Laws issued by Ezra, who they considered to be the main inspiration behind Johanan's activities, and also the leader of their main enemies, the Pharisees – the “Seekers of the Smooth Things”. On the other hand, the edition of the Jewish Bible issued by Ezra does not preserve any of the important Zadokite literature, including the Books of Enoch, and the Book of Jubilees. These books reveal that the main reason for the schism was related to the calendar – the Zadokites follow the solar 365-days calendar as oppose to the lunar-solar calendar introduced by the Pharisees.

Johanan Hyrcanus coin

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Johanan Hyrcanus coin

Today, it is almost universally accepted that the last edition of the Jewish Bible was issued in the early Hasmonean period (24). Dating the Books of Chronicles, the last book of the Bible, traditionally thought to have been written by Ezra, always presents a serious problem for scholars, especially because the writing and the expressions used in Chronicles are almost identical in style to those used in the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah. As the expansion of Judea described in 2 Chronicles reflects the expansion of the Hasmonean borders in the time of Johanan Hyrcanus, Finkelstein suggested that this book was composed under Hyrcanus (13, pp. 129-58). This, of course, explains the inclusion of information needed to provide legitimacy for these conquests. It makes Ezra, the founder of the Pharisees movement, responsible for creating ideological support for the territorial claims and the military activities launched by Hyrcanus. Assuming the revised timeline to be correct, this New Chronology enables Ezra to be confirmed as the chief editor of the Jewish Bible.

18. Who was King Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel?

The proposed dating of the mass return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile in c. 134 BC requires an explanation as to the historical context behind the unexpectedly positive attitude of the Parthian kings towards their Jewish subjects. This information is revealed in the Book of Daniel, which was written just before the liberation of the Jewish nation. Traditionally, it was assumed that Daniel was a child when taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar II in 596 BC, and that he lived in Babylon in the 6th century BC, until dying at the very end of the Babylonian Empire, in 539 BC. It has become clear, however, that the story of Daniel contains a great deal of carefully selected information relating to the activities of different Seleucid kings dated from the first half of the 2nd century BC. For example, the story told by Daniel 11:20 relates to the attempted theft of the Temple’s treasury by Seleucus IV’s legate, Heliodorus. Likewise, the description of the deeds of the "evil king" can only relate to the attempt by Antiochus IV Epiphanes to Hellenize the Judean religious life; and the account of an attack by the Roman navy on the Seleucids lands could correspond to the events of 168 BC. These examples suggest that a part of the Book of Daniel was certainly written in the first part of the 2nd century BC. It has, therefore, been proposed that there were two figures called Daniel – one living in the 6th century BC, and the other living in the 2nd century BC – and that they were combined by a later editor of Daniel. What if, however, all the chapters in the Book of Daniel relating to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius are from the 2nd century BC?

Belshazzar’s feast, by Rembrandt

Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Belshazzar’s feast, by Rembrandt

The story of Daniel contains an account of an episode, when Daniel, while attending a banquet of the Babylonian King Belshazzar, was invited to read a strange inscription that appeared on the wall. Based on his interpretation of it, Daniel prophesied the imminent failure of the king and the conquest of his Kingdom by an invasion of Medians and Persians (8:3). He also reports that the prophecy was indeed fulfilled, Babylon was conquered by King Darius the Mede and Belshazzar was killed (5:28). Following Daniel’s miraculous escape from the lion's den, Darius, filled with awe at what had happened, issued a decree that everyone should worship "The God of Daniel" (6:26). Daniel was held in high esteem and rewarded with important positions, including the governor of Babylon. If the historicity of the events described by Daniel can be proven, it may be argued that the Jewish-oriented policies of King Darius the Mede might have been executed due to the influence that Daniel exerted over him.

When previous generations of scholars were attempting to set the story of Daniel into the historical reality of the 6th century BC, they noticed that, according to all the available reliable historical sources, the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great in 539 BC, and the last king of the Babylonian Empire was named Nabonides. This raises the question of the historicity of the figures of Belshazzar and Darius the Mede. However, what if the events retold by Daniel are not fictional but are based on historical facts, and they actually occurred not in the middle of the 6th century BC but in the mid-2nd century BC, at the end of the Seleucid kings' rule over Babylon, at the time of the invasion by the Persians and Medians (Parthians) which was "foreseen" by Daniel?

coin of Darius of Media

via Parthia.com

coin of Darius of Media

In 141 BC, following the Parthian conquest of Babylon, King Mithridates I the Great (168-132 BC), began to mint his coins there. Babylonian cuneiform chronicles relate that the Parthians then retreated to Hyrcania, leaving the city under the protection of general Antiochus, who was forced to withdraw his troops under pressure from the Elymaeans, the key allies of the Seleucids. Shortly afterwards, on 13 May 138 BC, the Parthian army led by Prince Bagayasha took Babylon, expelled the Elymaeans tribes, and then departed to the cities of Media, where in July/August 138 BC it destroyed the Seleucids and captured Demetrius II (40). From this point onwards, Bagayasha was considered the rightful ruler of Babylon, and the local population started bringing sacrifices in his honour (28). The figure of Darius the Mede in Daniel appears to be identical to the figure of Prince Bagayasha, the ruler of Media who conquered Babylon in 138 BC. (See Livius) According to information provided by the Roman historian, Justin (41:6.7), after he had conquered Media in 147 BC, Mithridates I appointed his brother Bacasis to be the praefectus, governor of Media; he was no other than Bagayasha of the Babylonian chronicles. This individual was appointed ruler of Media under the authority of the Parthians when it was taken in 147 BC; after the Parthian conquest of Babylon in 138 BC, he was appointed a king of Babylon under the throne name of Darius, and effectively became the supreme ruler of the entire western part of the great Parthian Empire. In the 130s BC, Darius had coins minted in Ecbatana, in Media. His importance continued to increase from October 135 BC, when Mithridates I suffered a serious stroke and he became regent of the empire. This is probably when he was able to take his important decision relating to the fate of the Jews of Babylon, which allowed them to leave Babylon with Ezra in the following year.

19. Who were Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar in the Book of Daniel?

A question remains, however, as to the identity of the King Belshazzar, who, according to Daniel, was the last king of Babylon of the dynasty of Nebuchadnezzar. One possible suggestion is that he should be identified as the King Demetrius II Nicator (145 – 138 BC; 129 – 126 BC), the last ruler of Babylon of the Seleucid dynasty, who attempted to bring Babylon back under Seleucid control in 139 BC, but who was defeated and imprisoned by the Parthians in 138 BC. But why would a Seleucid king be identified as the descendant of Nebuchadnezzar?

Borsippa Cylinder of Antiochus I

Bert van der Spek [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Borsippa Cylinder of Antiochus I

It has been noted by scholars that the political legacy of the ancient king Nebuchadnezzar survived throughout the Seleucid period. According to Berossus, the famous Babylonian historian of the early Seleucid period, Nebuchadnezzar was regarded as a "perfect ruler" by the Seleucid kings, which is probably why all future rulers wished to be identified with him. King Antiochus I presented himself as his successor, and the famous cuneiform document, the Borsippa Cylinder of Antiochus I, dated to 268 BC, contains deliberate references to Nebuchadnezzar's inscriptions, which is why when it was first published it was identified as having belonged to Nebuchadnezzar (22). More precisely, the Seleucid king who purposely identified himself as Nebuchadnezzar was Antiochus III the Great. The Astronomic Diaries from 187 BC report that Antiochus III wore the purple robe of Nebuchadnezzar during the ceremonies of animal sacrifices that were held in Babylon. This was interpreted by Irene Madreiter as evidence of the Seleucid revival of an old Babylonian tradition, where the wearing of a robe had a sacral meaning. Being a very successful ruler, Antiochus III considered himself to be the restitutor imperii, and had ambitions of re-conquering the lands of the Babylonian Empire (26). Josephus XII: 3:4 mentioned that this king continued the policy of the forceful resettlement of the population, although he relates that his decision to resettle two thousand Jewish families from Babylon in the Phrygian and Lydian towns of Minor Asia was taken because he regarded the Jews as his most loyal citizens. Moreover, Josephus also brings a citation from a special edict of Antiochus III relieving all the priests of the Jerusalem Temple of their taxes. This corresponds to Daniel’s unexpected description of Nebuchadnezzar’s positive attitude towards the Jewish religion. It may be suggested that dating Daniel to the first half of the 2nd century BC allows the figure of Nebuchadnezzar, in the story of Daniel, to be identified as Antiochus III the Great.

20. What about the archaeological evidence relating to the Jews’ return from the exile?

So far, no clear archaeological evidence of epigraphic origin has been presented by archaeologists looking to prove the concept of the mass return of the Jews to Judea during the early Achaemenid period. Moreover, there is no evidence of the square Hebrew script before the late 2nd century BC, but it was widely used in Judea in later times, with many examples being found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ossuary. Clearly, the square Hebrew script had its origins during the period of exile and must have been brought by the Jews who returned from exile to Judea. If indeed the return had occurred under the Achaemenids, as has been previously claimed by scholars, why have no artefacts, bearing the square Hebrew script, been found in excavations of the Achaemenid strata in the territory of Judea? The New Chronology that enables Ezra to be confirmed as the main editor of the Bible and the leader of the Babylonian returnees in the late-Hellenistic period provides an explanation for the use of the square script from at least the 130s BC.

Tomb of Zechariah

Remi Jouan [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of Zechariah

The dating of objects bearing the Paleo-Hebrew script presents an even bigger problem for historians of ancient Judea. In excavations in the land of Judea, many objects bearing the Paleo-Hebrew script have been found. These include ostraca as well as the seals and bullae mentioning different people, including those having the status of the "king's servants". All these were a priori dated to the period of the 8th – to 7th century BC, in accordance with the traditional dating of the Judean Kingdom, which was thought to have been destroyed by 586 BC. It has been universally agreed by historians that during the Achaemenid period no such inscriptions were found, and that the revival of the Paleo-Hebrew script only occurred in the Hasmonean period. Clearly, the entire Jewish population did not become illiterate during this period, so one solution lies in recognizing some of the Aramaic inscriptions as belonging to the Achaemenid period, but that would mean that for this entire period, of two hundred years, the knowledge of Hebrew was forgotten. It seems more logical that the inscriptions bearing the Paleo-Hebrew script that originated from the Phoenician script sometime in the 9th century BC, continued to be widely used both in Judea and Samaria throughout the entire Iron Age period as well as the Ptolemaic and the Persian periods. It was only in the Hasmonean period, when the Jews from Babylon arrived in the region of Judea that the Hebrew square script came into usage, although mainly for sacral and ritual purposes; it was used alongside the Paleo-Hebrew script.

Tomb of Abba, son of Eliezer

[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Ancient Origins

Tomb of Abba, son of Eliezer

The proposed New Chronology for the return of the Jews is validated by much of the archaeological evidence from Judea that indicates there was a very significant rise in the population of Judea at this time as well as increased economic activity in its territory during the Hasmonean period. Moreover, the New Chronology provides the opportunity to reconsider the validity of some well-known ancient Jewish monuments in Jerusalem. The most striking example are the tombs of the Biblical prophets Zechariah, Malachi and Haggai who were part of the first large group of returnees and encouraged Zerubbabel and Joshua to rebuild the Temple. Their tombs are rock-cut burial graves made on the slopes of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. These burial constructions were built for Hellenistic nobility and can be found throughout the entire Near East during the Hellenistic period. Why would the Jewish prophets who were supposed to have lived in Achaemenid times have been buried in Hellenistic graves? Another case concerns an epitaph from around 100 BC found in Giv'at ha-Mivtar, in Jerusalem. The inscription, written in the Aramaic language but in a Paleo-Hebrew script states: "I, Abba, son of the priest Eliezer… was born in Jerusalem, and went into exile in Babylon and brought (back to Jerusalem) Mattathi(ah), son of Jud(ah), and I buried him in the cave…" Is it likely that a person, who considered himself a Babylonian returnee and lived in the 2nd century BC, could have arrived in Judea in the 5th century BC?

Stone ossuary

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Stone ossuary

It is also worth mentioning that the use of ossuary with Hebrew inscriptions only became widespread in the area of Jerusalem during the period of the late-2nd century BC until the late-1st century AD. This tradition of secondary burial, when the bones of the dead were at first placed on stones, then carefully collected and placed back into a terracotta sarcophagus, ossuary, was also in use in Hyrcania, the homeland of the Parthians located to the south-east of the Caspian Sea. As the Achaemenid King Artaxerxes III Ochus exiled the Jews in this region in 341 BC, this is where they would first have come in touch with the burial rites of the Parthian culture. How else could the Jews who were expelled in the 6th century BC and returned in the 5th century BC, have been familiar with these Parthian traditions if they had only encountered them sometime in the middle of the 4th century BC? The logic of cultural interactions would certainly imply that the Jewish burial rite using ossuary is of Parthian, Hyrcanian origin, which in turn means that many Jews, who came back from the exile at the end of the 2nd century BC, were returning from Hyrcania, where they had been sent in 341 BC.

21. Conclusion

The New Chronology of the ancient Jewish history relates to a general concept proposing an alignment of the ancient Near Eastern history, first suggested by Velikovsky, and supported by Sweeney, Heinsohn and Rohl. It suggests a new timeline for the history of the Judean Kingdom that can be corroborated by the archaeological data given by Finkelstein. Working with the new timeline, which moves all the traditionally accepted dates forward by about 250 years, the Kingdom of David and Solomon centred in Jerusalem would have been established in the 730s BC, soon after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Judea continued to exist throughout the Achaemenid period as a semi-independent kingdom and survived the destruction of Samaria; it enjoyed brief periods of political independence, first, under King Hezekiah, in 485-471 BC, and later, under King Josiah, in 379-366 BC. Under Josiah, in 379 BC, the Books of Torah were issued by the High Priest Hilkiah. After the death of King Josiah, Judea continued to be ruled as a semi-independent kingdom, as a protectorate under the Egyptians. It ceased to exist as a result of attacks by the Achaemenid King Artaxerxes III Ochus, who became known as Nebuchadnezzar; at this time, in 352 and 341 BC, the Jews were sent into exile in Babylon and Hyrcania, and later, in 340 BC, the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by his general, Nebuzaradan.

The Achaemenid Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great by 332 BC, and the territory of his Kingdom was divided between the Ptolemaic and the Seleucid empires, with Judea coming under the Ptolemaic rule. But, exploiting the turmoil following the death of Ptolemy II and Antiochus II, in 246 BC, Artaxerxes I, the ruler of the Kingdom of Persis, frataraka, managed to restore Persian control over Judea. Around 245 BC his "cupbearer" Nehemiah was appointed as pehah, governor of Judea, and later, in c. 226 BC, Artaxerxes’s son, King Darius, sent Zerubbabel and Joshua on their mission with the goal of restoring the Temple of Jerusalem. When the Parthians invaded the eastern lands of the Seleucid Empire and Babylon was captured in 141 BC, the Jews of Babylon came under the power of the Parthian King Mithridates I and, in 134 BC Ezra brought the remaining exiles back to their homeland. This sequence of events makes it possible to date the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile to the early Hasmonean period. As a result of the mass return of the Jews, the demographics of Judea changed, and the ensuing period of large-scale conquests under Johanan Hyrcanus led to the greatest expansion of the Judean Kingdom in recorded history.

Selected Literature

  1. 1. N. Avigad: Bullae and Seals from a Post-Exilic Judean Archive, in: Qedem, vol. 4, 1976, pp. 1-36.
  2. 2. Th. Bergren: Nehemiah in 2 Maccabees 1:10 – 2.18, in: Journal for the Study of Judaism 28, 1997, pp. 249-70.
  3. 3. J. W. Betlyon: The Provincial Government of Persian Period Judea and the Yehud Coins, in: Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 105, no. 4, 1986, pp. 633-642.
  4. 4. T. Boiy: Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic Babylon. Leuven-Paris-Dudley, 2004.
  5. 5. J. Bowman, trans., ed.: Samaritan Documents. Eugene, Oregon, 1977.
  6. 6. V. Curtis: The Iranian Revival in the Parthian Age, in: The Age of the Parthians, eds. S. Stewart and V. Curtis. London, 2010, pp. 1-25.
  7. 7. Ibid: The Frataraka Coins of Persis: Bridging the Gap between Achaemenid and Sasanian Persia, in: World of Achaemenid Persia. London, 2010, pp. 379-394.
  8. 8. Ibid: Religious Iconography on Ancient Iranian Coins, in: After Alexander: Central Asia before Islam, eds. J. Cribb and G. Herrmann, Oxford, 2007, pp. 413-434.
  9. 9. Ph. Davies: Memories of Ancient Israel. Louisville and Kentucky, 2008.
  10. 10. D. Engels: A New Frataraka Chronology, in: Latomus, 72, 2013, pp. 28-82.
  11. 11. H. Eshel: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State. Jerusalem, 2008.
  12. 12. I. Finkelstein: The Forgotten Kingdom. The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel. Atlanta, 2013.
  13. 13. Ibid: Hasmonean Realities behind Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. Atlanta, 2018.
  14. 14. H. Gitler and C. Lorber: A New Chronology for the Yehizkiyahu coins of Judah, in: Swiss Numismatic Revue, 87, 2008, pp. 61-82.
  15. 15. Ibidem: A New Chronology for the Ptolemaic Coins of Judah, in American Journal of Numismatics, vol. 18, 2006, pp. 1-41.
  16. 16. E. Gmirkin: Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. Copenhagen, 2017.
  17. 17. L. Grabbe: A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, vol.1, Yehud: A History of the Persian Province of Judah. London and New York, 2004.
  18. 18. Ibid: Reconstructing History from the Book of Ezra, in: Second Temple Studies. 1. Persian Period, ed. P.R. Davies. Sheffield, 1992, pp. 98-106.
  19. 19. Ibid: Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Period, in: Did Moses Speak Attic? Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Period, ed. by L. Grabbe. Sheffield, 2001, pp. 129-155.
  20. 20. G. Heinsohn: Empires Lost and Found: Stratigraphy and Today's Search for the Powers of the Past. University of Bremen, 2006.
  21. 21. O. Hoover: Overstruck Seleucid Coins, in: Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue, part II, vol. 2. New York, 2008, pp. 209-30.
  22. 22. P. Kosmin: Seeing Double in Seleucid Babylonia. Re-reading the Borsippa Cylinder of Antiochus I, in: Patterns of the Past. Oxford, 2014, pp. 173-198.
  23. 23. Ibid: Indigenous Revolts in 2 Maccabees: The Persian version, in: Classical Philology, 111, 2016, pp. 32-53.
  24. 24. N. Lemche: The Old Testament: A Hellenistic Book? In: Did Moses Speak Attic? Sheffield, 2001, pp. 287- 319.
  25. 25. E. Lipinski: On the Skirts of Canaan in the Iron Age: Historical and Topographic Researchers. Leuven, 2006.
  26. 26. I. Madreiter: Antiochus the Great and the Robe of Nebuchadnezzar, in: Cross-Cultural Studies in Near Eastern History and Literature, Munster, 2016, pp. 111-136.
  27. 27. Y. Meshorer: A Treasury of Jewish Coins. Jerusalem, 2001.
  28. 28. Y. Mitsuma: Offering for the Well-being of Bagayasha in the Astronomical Diary -132D2, in: NABU, no. 4, 2013, pp. 154-155.
  29. 29. B. Porten: The Elephantine Papyri in English. Atlanta, 2011.
  30. 30. D. T. Potts: The Archaeology of Elam. Cambridge, 1999.
  31. 31. D. Rohl: The Bible – from Myth to History. 1999.
  32. 32. Ibid: Exodus: Myth or History? St Louis, 2015.
  33. 33. D. Schwartz: 2 Maccabees. Berlin and New York, 2008.
  34. 34. S. Shaked: Book of Esther, The, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 8, 1998.
  35. 35. E. Sweeney: The Ramessides, Medes and Persians. New York, 2008.
  36. 36. I. Velikovsky: Ages in Chaos, vol. 1-5. New York, 1952.
  37. 37. B. Z. Wacholder: The Letter from Judah Maccabee to Aristobulus. Is 2 Maccabees 1:10b - 2:18 Authentic? In: Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. 49, 1978, pp. 89-133.
  38. 38. J. Wiesehöfer: Fars under Seleucid and Parthian rule, in The Age of the Parthians, eds. V. S. Curtis and S. Stewart. London, 2009, pp. 37-49.
  39. 39. H. G. M. Williamson: The Governors of Judah under the Persians, in: Tyndale Bulletin, vol. 40, 1988, pp. 59-82.
  40. 40. J. Wright: Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoirs and Its Earliest Readers. Berlin, 2004.
  41. 41. K. L. Younger: The Fall of Samaria in Light of Recent Research, in: Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 61, no.3, 1999, pp. 461-482.