6

Ezra 4:4-24:

4. Thereupon the people of the land undermined the resolve of the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build.

5. They bribed ministers in order to thwart their plans all the years of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia.

6. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the start of his reign, they drew up an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

7. And in the time of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their colleagues wrote to King Artaxerxes of Persia, a letter written in Aramaic and translated ...

(there follows the text of the letter)

23. When the text of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their colleagues, they hurried to Jerusalem, to the Jews, and stopped them by main force.

24. At that time, work on the House of God in Jerusalem stopped and remained in abeyance until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.

This passage describes a number of instances in which the local inhabitants attempted to thwart the building of the Temple and of Jerusalem, by slandering the Judeans to the Persian emperor.

The Rishonim on these verses that I've seen (Rashi, Ralbag, Ibn Ezra) identify Artaxerxes in verse 7 as one of the other kings mentioned (Cyrus, Darius or Ahasuerus) in the preceding verses.

I'm wondering if there is any support (among Torah authorities or from academic sources) for reading this list of kings following the conventional chronology: Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great, Ahasuerus=Xerxes I and then Artaxerxes I.

The problem with this reading (aside from disregarding the traditional position of Seder Olam) is that the chronology then skips backwards in time between verses 23 and 24, from Artaxerxes back to the rebuilding of the temple during the time of Darius.

Is it possible to read the whole 'Letter to Artaxerxes' narrative (along with the brief mention of a letter to Xerxes) in verses 6-23 as an interlude, skipping forward in time to discuss thematically similar episodes, before jumping back to where the narrative left off, after the Temple building was suspended under Cyrus, and left in abeyance until Darius' reign? Are there any sources that support such a reading?

  • I have the same confusion. Not sure if Achashverosh is Artaxerxes I or Cerxes I. I’ve been debating this for years – KapinKrunch May 18 at 6:02
  • Perhaps the answer to your question can be learned from Rav Shimon Schwab's essay on comparative Jewish chronology. web.stevens.edu/golem/llevine/rsrh/… – Joshua Pearl May 19 at 10:59
  • @JoshuaPearl It's not completetly clear to me, but I think R Schwab believes that this Artachshasta is the same as Cyrus, following Rashi – Joel K May 19 at 11:52
  • In the timeline, he says that Artachshasta is Xerzes (see year 3444 [PDF page 26]) – Joshua Pearl May 24 at 8:28
  • @JoshuaPearl I think there he is referring to Artachshasta of Ezra 7. I think he believes this Artachshasta (from Ezra 4) is another name for Cyrus. See year 3395 - "Cyrus (now called Artashashta or Emperor) revokes his proclamation". – Joel K May 24 at 8:42
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If I've understood your question correctly, there's one source which almost supports your reading:

Rabbi Ahron Marcus brings in Barzilai, ch. 20 this table:

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(Nebonassar...Nevuchadnezzar, Avil Mardoch, Nergal Sharazzar, Nevonaid (Belshazzar), Cyrus (Koresh), Cambyses (Kanbuzi), Darius I, Achashverosh (in ch. 19 he identifies him with Xerxes I), Artaxerxes I "the Long-Arm", Darius II "Notos", Artaxerxes II "Mnemon", Darius "Ochus", Arsham, Darius III "Kodomanos")

and writes:

"כעת עלינו לקבוע את זמנם של עזרא ונחמיה ואת זמן חתימת התנ"ך, מול כל המגמות האנטישמיות הערמומיות...הנביא זכריה אומר בפרק ז, שעברו שבעים שנה בין חורבן הבית ובניינו מחדש בשנת ארבע לדריויש הראשון. את הנאמר בחגי וזכריה על התקופה בה הופרע בניין הבית, משלים עזרא (ד, 4-5): "ויהי עם הארץ מרפים ידי עם יהודה ומבהלים אותם לבנות וסוכרים עליהם יועצים להפר עצתם כל ימי כורש מלך פרס ועד מלכות דריויש מלך פרסם." והוא ממשיך (שם שם, 6): "ובמלכות אחשורוש בתחלת מלכותו כתבו שטנה על ישבי יהודה וירושלים". עזרא מסכם בקיצור את כל אותן המזימות שלא היתה להן הצלחה רצינית, ומתאר בפרוטרוט את הקורות בימי ארתחששתא (שם שם 7), שהוא בוודאי המלך כנבוזי. ארתחששתא אינו אלא תואר, ופירושו "השליט האדיר". זה היה תוארם של רוב האחמנידים...בניגוד לאביו, היה כנבוזי אויבם האכזר של כל הדתות הלא פרסיות. לכן מצאו אויבי היהודים, שרצו להפריע את בניין בית המקדש, בוודאי אוזן קשבת אצלו..."

Translation: "Now we must determine the time of Ezra and Nechemiah and the time of the closing of the Tanach in face of all of the sneaky antimsemitic tendencies...the prophet Zechariah says in ch. 7 that seventy years passed from the destruction of the Temple and its rebuilding during the fourth year of King Darius I. That which is said in Zechariah and Chaggai on the period in which the building of the Temple was disturbed, completes Ezra (4, 4-5): "Thereupon the people of the land undermined the resolve of the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build. They bribed ministers in order to thwart their plans all the years of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia." and he continues (" " 6): "And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the start of his reign, they drew up an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem." Ezra summarizes in short all those plots that weren't particularly successful, and describes in detail the happenings at the time of Artaxerxes (" " 7) who is most assuredly Cambyses the king. Artaxerxes is nothing but a title, and its meaning is "the mighty ruler". This was the title of most of the Achaemenids...in contrast to his father, Cambyses was the cruel enemy of all of the non-Persian religions. Because of this, the enemies of the Jews, who wanted to disturb the building of the Temple, likely found an attentive ear..."

In short, Rabbi Marcus explained Ezra 4 as follows: Verses 4-5 summarize the entire period of attempting to build the Temple from the time of Cyrus (Koresh) to the time of Darius I. In-between there was one other king: Cambyses (Kanbuzi), aka "Artaxerxes". Next, verse 6 skips forward and describes a post-Temple attempt to cause trouble for the Jews during the time of Achashverosh (Xerxes I) (and, as he writes in a footnote, prior to the Greco-Persian War and the story of Ester and subsequent rise of Mordechai) but is only mentioned shortly for not being too successful. Then verse 7 goes way back to Cambyses/"Artaxerxes" to describe the big disturbance in his time. Then verse 24 summarizes the remainder of Cambyses' reign until the fourth year of Darius I.

Per this understanding, the Artaxerxes in these verses isn't Artaxerxes I 1, who still lived after Achashverosh/Xerxes I, but Kanbuzi/Cambyses, son of Koresh/Cyrus. So the Artaxerxes of this chapter isn't any of the other kings previously mentioned, but there's still some time-jumping going about.

Rabbi Zerachiah Halevi similarly wrote (Hamaor Hakatan, Rosh Hashanah 3b):

"אבל הפירוש הנכון לפי הפשט זה שכתוב "ומטעם כורש ודריוש וארתחששתא מלך פרס" (עזרא ו', י"ד) שלושה מלכים היו, והרי הוא כמו שאמר מלכי פרס. והשנים הראשונים הוזכרו לעניין בניין הבית, שכורש היה המתחיל, ודריוש היה המשלים, וסמוך להם ארתחשסתא, הלך האחרון, שאף הוא בנה חומות ירושלים, כמו שמפורש בדברי נחמיה. ובכולן נתקיימה נבואת ישעיה, שכתוב: "ובנו בני נכר חמתיך ומלכיהם ישרתונך" (ישעיהו ס', י'). ואין זה ארתחשסתא הראשון, שציווה לבטל מלאכת בית המקדש. לפיכך סמכן הכתוב לשלושה מלכים הללו, ומזכירן בזה אחר זה, להכזיר שבחן וזכותן."

Translation: "But the correct explanation according to the simple understanding is what is written "and by the order of Cyrus and Darius and King Artaxerxes of Persia." (Ezra 6:14), three kings there were, and so it is as is said kings of Persia. And the first two were mentioned in relation to the building of the Temple, for Cyrus was the one who started, and Darius was the one who finished, and adjacent to them was Artaxerxes, the last king, who too built the walls of Jerusalem, as stated explicitly in the words of Nechemiah, and in all of these came true the prophecy of Yeshayah. as it is said: "Aliens shall rebuild your walls, Their kings shall wait upon you". And this wasn't Artaxerxes the First, who commanded to stop the building of the Temple, so for this the text placed them close to one another these three kings, and mentioned them one after the next, to proclaim their greatness and merit.


1 According to Prof. Yaakov Liwer and Prof. Yehoshua Meir Grintz, it was during his reign that Ezra and Nechemiah came to Judea. According to Rabbi Marcus, it was during the reign of Artaxerxes II "Mnemon". Either way, it was many decades after the completion of the Temple.

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  • 1
    Nice find. Thank you – Joel K Sep 30 at 6:52

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