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After reading this question - I am now more confused!

The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 3b writes that Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes were all the same person:

All three names are referring to the same person: He is Cyrus; he is Darius; and he is also Artaxerxes. He was called Cyrus [Koresh] because he was a virtuous [kasher] king; he was called Artaxerxes after his kingdom, i.e., this was his royal title; and what was his real name? Darius was his name. (Sefaria Transaltion & Notation)

Cyrus is largely praised as being a righteous king (as stated above that he was named Cyrus because he was 'kasher' king). Indeed we know that he gave permission for the Temple to be rebuilt (See Ezra 6:3) and then we see in Seder Eliyahu Rabbah 19 that he wept over the Temple's destruction.

The continuation of the above cited Gemarah says that he became corrupt. So something happened that made him turn and it would seem that he went from one extreme to another.

Esther Rabbah 1:3 tells us that Artaxerxes was in fact Achashveirosh! and He was called Artaxerxes as he would flit between seething with rage and then relative calm. There are several sources that point to the fact that Achashveirosh was real 'rashah' (wicked man). In Esther Rabbah 7:20 we're told that he hated the Jews more than Haman! And the Gemarah (Megillah 12a) tells us that he had no problem wearing the priestly vestments.

So my question is two-fold:

  1. What happened to make him switch from being a friend of the Jews to such a virulent hater?
  2. And do we know a timeline as to when this all played out?
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    If you try and make all midrashim historically consistent with each other, you're bound to end up confused – Double AA Aug 20 '20 at 22:09
  • Haha fair point! – Dov Aug 20 '20 at 22:12
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    Note that the Gemara you quoted says that the name Artachshasta/Artaxerxes was the royal title. In that case, when the Midrash identifies Achashverosh with Artachshasta, all that has to mean is that he and Koresh/Daryavesh shared the same title (and that in his case it was particularly apt because מרתיח ותש). – Meir Aug 20 '20 at 22:30
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    As far as timeline, that gemara says it was sometime between the 2nd and 6th years of his reign that he went bad – H. Eugene Walters Aug 20 '20 at 23:36
  • Before we belittle, disparage, and denigrate Cyrus, let's just remember that without Cyrus, or somebody like him, there would be no Judaism and there would be no Jews. You would check this essay here. – Turk Hill Oct 14 '20 at 4:57
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As a starting point, it’s worth getting the chronology clear.

Seder Olam Rabbah (with which the Rishonim assume the gemara in Rosh Hashanah accords) assumes that the Persian period began 52 years after the destruction of the First Temple. Cyrus reigned for three years, Ahasuerus for 14, and then the Second Temple was built in the second year of Darius, 70 years after the First Temple was destroyed.

The passage in Rosh Hashanah which you quote is dealing with the king I referred to above as Darius. This is assumed by Rashi (3b s.v. hu koresh), Tosafot (3b s.v. ve-artachshast and 4a s.v. venidbach) and is stated explicitly by Ba’al HaMaor.

So your questions from Cyrus and Ahasuerus are somewhat tangential here. The gemara is not discussing the Cyrus of Ezra 6:3, the first Persian king who granted permission to build the Second Temple.

The fact that a Medrash identifies Artaxerxes with Ahasuerus is also not so relevant. After all, the gemara here says that Artaxerxes was a generic name for Persian kings, so it’s not surprising that Ahasuerus could be called Artaxerxes.

Moving back to your question regarding the character of Darius and when and why it changed, the implication of the gemara is that Darius was righteous in his second year, but had become wicked by his seventh.

However, it’s worth noting that Tosafot on 4a (s.v. venidbach) suggest that Darius was actually already wicked in his second year, but his true character has not yet become clear.

This point is amplified by Ritva on 4a (s.v. amar lei): when Darius allowed the temple to be built in his second year, the Jews thought him to be a righteous monarch. However, his later behavior (as detailed in the gemara) showed that he was actually never a righteous king in the first place.

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  • +1 - Thank you that's really a lot clearer! – Dov Aug 21 '20 at 9:42
  • Which Cyrus is the Gemara discussing? – Dov Aug 21 '20 at 9:45
  • At which stage of the Gemara? – Joel K Aug 21 '20 at 10:05
  • "The gemara is not discussing the Cyrus of Ezra 6:3, the first Persian king who granted permission to build the Second Temple" – Dov Aug 21 '20 at 10:29
  • It’s discussing Darius, the final Persian king, who had the additional name Cyrus. – Joel K Aug 21 '20 at 10:39

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