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Ezra 6 begins with a letter from King Darius concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem that whatever materials or resources are needed for its completion be given, even if it means being paid out of the royal treasury. The rest of the chapter records the completion of that temple and the celebration of it, with verse 22 stating:

For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel. (NIV empahsis mine)

This is confusing to me since I thought Darius was king of Persia (as in 4:5). Why then call him king of Assyria here in 6:22? Am I mistaken in thinking this verse refers to Darius? Was there some other king who also helped? Or is there a theological point being made on the basis that presumably Persia extended over formerly Assyrian territories? Or some other reason?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

A bit a historical perspective on this. According to the this article by Fleishman (1998) or Bar-Ilan University who concludes with (emphasis mine):

Therefore, one can say that the metonymic phrase “King of Assyria” in Ezra 6:22 is a coded term. It is a literary didactic ploy by which the narrator wished to make the reader think and contemplate the history of Israel from the days of the kings of Assyria until the days of their heir, Darius I, as well as to examine the contrary policy of the rulers of the Persian Empire and, even more, the Lord God of Israel who motivated these kings.

and according to the web article Ezra 6:22, Darius King of Assyria? Error or Typological Biblical Theology? (2010), that the reason could be

It’s possible that calling Darius the king of Assyria in 6:22 is merely an incidental way of referring to the territory or realm that was first ruled by Assyria, then Babylon, then Persia.

or that it

represents a profound, yet subtle, biblical theological move that reflects the typological identification of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. The enemies of God and his people are distinguished from one another, but at the same time they are identified with one another because they are, in a sense, all the same.

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1  
"Snap!" :) Nicely done - good to have another Fleishman article, and Hamilton's thoughts. –  Davïd Feb 22 at 21:45
1  
@Amaterasu-I have to agree w/your conclusio-+1 –  user2479 Feb 23 at 2:33
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+1 Good info here. –  Mark Edward Feb 23 at 2:35

H.G.M. Williamson once wrote of this problem:1

No fully satisfactory explanation has been offered as to why [Darius] is called 'the king of Assyria'.

That hasn't stopped people trying, of course.2 Certain possibilities come to the fore:

  • It's fairly clear that the succession of empires that is so clear to us had its hazy edges in antiquity.3
  • There is another instance of this kind of error in Judith 2:1 of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar:4

...there was talk in the house of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, that he should be avenged on all the land...

Joseph Blenkinsopp has a brief but helpful summary of other suggestions:5

  • scribal error [although the textual evidence for this is lacking];
  • the supposition that "the Persian kings were, in a certain sense, the successors of the Assyrians";
  • or "perhaps 'Assyria' could simply stand for Mesopotamia";
  • or this was a function of later usage [like the "historical confusion" noted above].

To these Blenkinsopp adds his own suggestion -- which may count in some sense as "theological" -- that the account here is echoing "the account of Hezekiah's passover":

the allusion in the latter to the remnant which has escaped from the ahnd of the king of Assyria (2 Chron. 30:6) may well have been in the writer's mind as he brought his story of the return and restoration to a close.

Blenkinsopp doesn't note here that this little passage (Ezra 6:19-22) comes at the very point at which the book of Ezra switches back to Hebrew after a lengthy stretch in Aramaic (runs from 4:7 to 6:18). Fleishman (see note 2) does note this, and develops Blenkinsopp's view.

Summary - there's no certain explanation, then, but some very good educated guesses.


Notes

  1. In his article, "The Composition of Ezra i-vi", Journal of Theological Studies 34 (1983): 1-30 (quote from p. 22 n. 54).
  2. There's a nice little catalogue of earlier solutions listed by Joseph Fleishman, "An Echo of Optimism in Ezra 6:19-22", Hebrew Union College Annual 69 (1998): 15-20 (see pp. 21-22).
  3. Nicely illustrated by L.L. Grabbe, "Josephus and the Reconstruction of the Judean Restoration", Journal of Biblical Literature 106 (1987): 231-246.
  4. This reference, along with some less striking but related ones, is noted by L.W. Batten, A critical and exegetical commentary on the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1913), pp. 153-4.
  5. In his Ezra-Nehemiah: A Commentary (Westminster/John Knox, 1988), pp. 133
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