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Ezra 7:7 mentions a Persian king Artaxerxes:

Some of the Israelites, including priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers and temple servants, also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.

However, two Persian kings went by this name and it seems that there is some split over which Artaxerxes is being referenced here by Ezra. What are the reasons for identifying Ezra's Artaxerxes as Artaxerxes I vs Artaxerxes II?

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What are the reasons for identifying Ezra's Artaxerxes as Artaxerxes I vs Artaxerxes II?

Why is there a problem?

In Ezra 7:7, reference is made to Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem in "the seventh year of King Artaxerxes" (= 458 BCE), as depicted earlier in the chapter:

7:1 Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra ... 7:6 ... went up from Babylon ... 7:7 ... to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king. 7:8 He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.

That this should be Artaxerxes I "Makrocheir" ("Long Hand") is "clear" from the sequence in Ezra 4:1-7 which moves from Xerxes (= Ahashuerus) to Artaxerxes.

The book of Nehemiah is closely related to Ezra, of course, and Nehemiah's own "mission" to Jerusalem dates from the the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I (c. 444 BCE):

Neh. 2:1 In the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, when wine was before him, I picked up the wine, and gave it to the king. ... 2:5 I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you would send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may build it.” ... 2:8b The king granted my requests, because of the good hand of my God on me. ... 2:11 So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. ...

According to this scenario, then, Ezra and Nehemiah were both contemporary reformers/restorers, active in Jerusalem at the same time, with Ezra arriving first, followed some years later by Nehemiah.

What's the problem? The problem is that on this simple reading, when Nehemiah arrives, there is no sign of Ezra's activity. There is, in fact, no sign of Ezra. This was the clue that set off scholarly alarm bells in the latter part of the 19th C.

One solution, proposed, elaborated, and defended over decades by Albin van Hoonacker was that this conundrum was most easily solved by positing Ezra's mission took place under the second "Artaxerxes" rather than the first, so there was no Ezra for Nehemiah to encounter. van Hoonacker's hypothesis would put Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem at 398 BCE, long enough after Nehemiah's mission to disentangle the two.

What reasons (OP's interest) can one put on either side to support/refute these identifications?

Artaxerxes II

Van Hoonacker's suggestion to reverse the order of the two missions (of Ezra and Nehemiah) found some supporters, and the view persists in some quarters. (See Yamauchi's survey in the "Further reading", below, for examples.)

The simple advantage it had was of making sense of the state of Jerusalem on Nehemiah's arrival, and accounting for the apparent non-reference of Nehemiah to Ezra (and vice-versa).

This view finds apparent support in the political situation in the time of Artaxerxes II, in which turmoil in Egypt would have created "space" for Ezra's work.

Corroboration was found, it was argued, in the succession of priestly names found scattered throughout the book of Nehemiah, and having extra-biblical evidence in the Elephantine papyri, especially the so-called "Passover Papyrus".

Artaxerxes I

It is safe to say that van Hoonacker's view, while it does not lack support, is most definitely a minority view today. According to H.G.M. Williamson,1

their arguments are not at all convincing and they have rightly been rejected by the overwhelming majority.

In his commentary (see "Further Reading", below), he lists the main reasons for opting for the 458 date associated with the reign of Artaxerxes I (beyond the simple fact that this is the most natural reading of Ezra 4-7, that is):

  • the sources underlying Ezra and Nehemiah were combined early, and without regard to strict chronological ordering (this is widely agreed);
  • the mutual non-mention of Ezra/Nehemiah is not unusual for contemporaries in the biblical record, and in any case they were interested in different things;
  • the character of various related reforms by Ezra and Nehemiah are best explained by the traditional ordering;

and to this Blenkinsopp's observation (dealt with elsewhere by Williamson) can be added:

  • when handling priestly names, great care is needed; the practice of naming boys after grandfathers in successive generations (which was the case here) can lead to real confusion.

There is a great deal of detail associated with each of these bullet points; see the literature cited below to see these details in all their complexity.

Summary

Caveat lector! The issues and arguments are complex, and rely on careful evaluation of the intersection of the inter-relationship of biblical texts, theories of composition, extra-biblical evidence, and wider cultural context in Yehud ("Judah") in the Persian period. While the consensus view on 458 seems sound, understanding why this might be the case requires more study than this "answer" can provide. See the resources in "Further Reading", below, to open out the discussion.


Further Reading


Notes

  1. H.G.M. Williamson, Ezra and Nehemiah (OT Guides; Continuum, 1987), p. 55.
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  • An anonymous editor attempted to add the the following: "There may be no mention of Ezra's movements to restore the temple because many years had passed by. By the time Nehemiah entered the scene it was already the 20th year of Artaxerxes longimanus. Ezra is mentioned in the book of Nehemiah in chapter 8:1 vice versa Nehemiah is mentioned in Ezra 2:2. The fact that it only took Nehemiah 52 to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem show Ezra's activity and zerubabel. In Ezra you read that the foundations of the walls were laid; yet the walls still remained mostly broken until Nehemiah's work." – ThaddeusB Oct 6 '15 at 3:16
  • Rejected as an edit, but perhaps useful as a comment. – ThaddeusB Oct 6 '15 at 3:17
  • Of all the kings called (Arta)xerxes, only a few reigned for two or more decades. Of these, the only one whose twentieth year of reign (Nehemiah 2:1) marks an important event is Xerxes I the Great, whose death occurred at that time. He was followed by a king of similar name, Artaxerxes I. It is not uncommon for court officials to either resign or be revoked when a new king is installed. – Lucian Sep 1 '18 at 8:16
  • Expanding on my previous comment, for a period of 62 years, from 486 to 424 BC, the (First) Persian Empire is ruled by two kings, father and son, with extremely similar or almost identical names. The father dies after twenty years of reign (Nehemiah 2:1), and the midpoint of their joint rule is 31 years after the father's coronation, or eleven years into his son's reign (Nehemiah 5:14, 13:6). – Lucian Sep 1 '18 at 9:16
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This question has stymied Bible historians for years; if the following ages of the Kings of Persia had been as they have been historically listed(Darius Hystaspis-Ezra 6:15) and (Artaxerxes-Ezra 7:1), there would be a 49 year gap, which would have put Ezra at the age of 121 when he left Babylon, hardly a thought worth considering. This also 'adds' Daniel's 70 week prophecy by 83 years.

For the record: Darius I(522-486BCE)

            Xerxes I(485-473BCE)

        Artaxerxes I(473-424BCE)

If the Temple is finished the 6th year of Darius(518BCE), yet he doesn't arrive UNTIL the 7th year of Artaxerxes(458BCE), 49 years have lapsed.

This issue has delayed the 70 week prophecy of Daniel by 83 years also.

One solution that has been proposed is by David Austin, and can be found here. It proposes that Darius I(Ezra 6:15) and Artaxerxes I(Ezra 7:1) are one in the same person; meaning that instead of 49 years, 27 days elapsed. This makes Ezra 71 years, and 84 years old at the 20th year of Artaxerxes, in Neh. 8:1. The author of this argument uses numerous examples; perhaps the best one is the 70 weeks where the 'city' is rebuilt in troubled times. Instead of an 83 year delay, the city is rebuilt in 49 years with Darius as "Artaxerxes".

There has been some exhaustive scholarly intent in reconciling these issues, especially concerning the 70 weeks of Daniel. Darius as Artaxerxes sounds the most feasible scripturally, given a lack of other credible sources to corroborate

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  • 1
    Why can't Darius of Ezra 4:24 be the second Darius? This must be the case anyways (except if you go with Austin's theory of course) since there is no Artaxerxes before Darius I but there is one before Darius 2 and another Artaxerxes after him. This fits perfectly the chronology in Ezra chapters 4-7, from Artaxerxes I to Darius II to Artaxerxes II 404 - 358 BC. – Bach Jan 9 '18 at 16:01
  • Furthermore, i do not think that Ezra was son of Seraiah but his descendant! This would easily solve the problem of Ezra's old age. – Bach Jan 9 '18 at 19:38
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Introduction :

  • In the history of the First Persian Empire, there are three kings called The Great : Cyrus, Xerxes, and Darius. Their almost consecutive rules spanned for 65 of the 75 years ranging from about 540 to 465 BC, save for a small period of less than a decade (roughly 530–520 BC), ruled by two minor kings.

  • The Book of Ezra mentions four names of Persian kings: Cyrus, (Arta)Xerxes, and Darius. (Could the two groups, by any chance, be one and the same ?)

  • As their common Ancient Greek transliterations of Xerxes and Artaxerxes suggest, the two are relatively similar names in the original Old Persian, being derived from the common particle -xsha-, meaning to rule, as can still be glimpsed from the common -ach(a)sh- in Biblical Hebrew (Achashverosh & Artachshashta), and, to a far lesser extent, from the common -as- in Koine Greek (Asoueros & Arthasastha).


Vital Detour : Nehemiah

  • In both Masoretic and Septuagintal reckoning, Ezra and Nehemiah form a single book, hence this (not so) little “detour”.

  • Nehemiah mentions partaking of a royal banquet held in the twentieth year of (Arta)Xerxes (2:1). Now, of all kings called (Arta)Xerxes, only a few reigned for two or more decades, and of these few, only one had a major event happen in his twentieth regnal year : Xerxes I the Great, whose death occurred at about that time. He was succeeded by his son, Artaxerxes I Longimanus. What better occasion for holding a royal feast than the coronation of a new king ? And what better occasion for court officials to either resign or be revoked than the installment of a new ruler ? (2:4-5).

  • The compounded rule of these two consecutive kings of similar names lasted for 62 years, spanning from 486 to 424 BC, putting its midpoint between the 31st and 32nd year of Xerxes I the Great (were he to have still been alive), or between the 11th and 12th year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus, twelve years after the former's demise (5:14; 13:6).


Ezra

  • The erudite sage of priestly extraction begins his sacred mission in the seventh year of king (Arta)Xerxes (7:7-8), which, as we saw earlier, refers to Xerxes I the Great, and his son and successor, Artaxerxes I Longimanus.

    • Were we, on one hand, to interpret this as the seventh year of the former, we'd get 13 years from the beginning of Ezra's mission to the death of Xerxes I, which coincides with the beginning of Nehemiah's 12-year mission; in other words, a round number of 25 years, split evenly between the two.

    • Were we, on the other hand, to interpret this as the seventh year of the latter, this would set the beginning of Ezra's mission right in the middle of Nehemiah's 12-year mission, just as the end of the latter is itself set right in the middle of the compounded rule of the two consecutive kings of similar names, as we saw earlier.

    • Though both options sound equally tempting, the textual overlap of Ezra's second chapter with Nehemiah's seventh chapter inclines the proverbial scales in favor of the latter rather than the former, explaining the scholarly consensus on 458 BC, mentioned by David in his accepted answer on this thread.

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The Bible is consistent with archaeology:

Not Cyrus the Great but his grandson Xerxes, intro:

In the the books of Daniel + Ezra Koresh uses the title initiated by Xerxes. Furthermore in the book of Daniel king Darius still uses the title in use until Darius I (king of the Chaldeans = Babylonians). Therefore you find this turning point of the king's title within the book of Daniel, identifying both kings mentioned there.

It is strange however in the books Daniel and Esther the kings reign over an empire 100 areas greater than what is known from archaeological finds, namely 120 and 127 against 20 and 27 (Daniel 6:29, Esther 1:1). Gesenius' lexicon explains this however: the word 100 also can be translated as tax. Thus Daniel 6:29 states how Darius I organized his empire: with 20 tax owing satrapies.

The Elephantine papyri mention the high priest of Ezra also was high priest during the last years of the reign of Darius II, identifying the Darius of the book of Ezra.

Persian kings in the book of Daniel:

The king's title changed with Xerxes as noted by Roman Ghirshman in his book Iran (page 191) from "king of the Babylonians/Chaldeans" to "king of the Persians and the Medes" (2), which change also is visible in the book of Daniel.

This identifies the Persian kings in the book of Daniel as follows:

Darius = Darius I

  • Darius I did not build in Babylon or the old Persian capital Pasargadae (the centers of power of Cyrus the Great), he did build however in the old Median capital Ecbatana.(3)

  • The 120 satraps in Daniel 6:2 also can be translated as 20 tribute owing satraps (alternatively 100 means tax) (4) (similar to how Darius I divided his kingdom).

  • The "about 62 years" mentioned in Daniel 6:1 instead of Darius' age refer to the distance to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (a point of reference also used on Jewish grave stones (5) and similar to the distance at Darius I's first year).

Koresh = Xerxes (the grandson of Cyrus the Great and probably his namesake)

The later editor of the book of Daniel considered Daniel the prophet (Daniel 1-5) and Daniel the ruler (Daniel 6) the same person. However Daniel 6:29 as well as the above identifications indicate they were two distinct individuals living after each-other.

Persian kings in the book of Ezra:

The Elyphantine papyri mention the high priest Johanan, also mentioned in the book of Ezra, as a contemporary of Darius II.(1)

Thus making it possible to identify the kings in the book of Ezra as follows:

Koresh = Xerxes.

Ahasuerus, the Hebrew version of Artachshashta (Aramaic) in Ezra 4 and Nehemiah = Artaxerxes I

Darius in Ezra = Darius II

Confirmed by Ezra 9:9 which notes when Ezra arrived the walls Nehemiah built already were there:

Artachshashta in the book of Ezra during Ezra's appearance = Artaxerxes II

Persian king in the book of Esther:

The ancient historian Herodotus notes in his "Histories" that Xerxes' first wife Amestris also in the later years remained his first wife. She was the daughter of one of Darius I's fellows in arms with whom he conquered the empire. This rules out Xerxes as the king Ahasuerus of the book of Esther.

The only kings ruling from India to Ethiopia as mentioned in the book of Esther following Xerxes are Artaxerxes I and III.

The following appears to identify the king Ahasuerus in the book of Esther as Artaxerxes I:

Originally Artaxerxes I halted the building of the Jerusalem Temple (Ezra 4:21). But later on Nehemiah got a major position within his court. Furthermore his queen influenced him to order resuming the building of the Jerusalem Temple (Nehemiah 2:6).

An uninterrupted chain of Persian kings:

Darius I = Darius in Daniel 6:1

Xerxes = Koresh in Daniel 6:29 + Ezra 1:1 (Xerxes' first year actually is 480 BC instead of 486 BC since the BC dating is about 6 years early)

Artaxerxes I = Ahasuerus (Hebrew) in Ezra 4:6, Artaxerxes a translation of Artachsasta (Aramaic) in Ezra 4:7 - 23 and Nehemia 2:1 - 13:6 and Ahasuerus in Esther 1:1

Darius II = Darius in Ezra 4:24

Artaxerxes II = Artaxerxes a translation of Artachsasta in Ezra 6:14 - 8.1

The duration of the Babylonian exile:

From the first exiles (including Daniel) -> the first year of Xerxes = 120 years

From the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple -> the first year of Xerxes = 100 years

Jesus' birth:

The above indicates Jesus was born 480 years after the return to Israel (1 Kings 6:1, Ezra 3:1-4, John 2:19-21).

References:

(1) James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton University Press, third edition with supplement (1969), p. 492.

(1) Bezalel Porten (Author), J. J. Farber (Author), C. J. F. Martin (Author), G. Vittmann (Author), The Elephantine Papyri in English (Documenta Et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui, book 22), Koninklijke Brill NV, The Netherlands, 1996, p 125-153.

(2) Roman Ghirshman, Iran (1954), Penguin Books, p 191.

(3) Karl Julius Ploetz, A Handbook of Universal History from the Dawn of Civilization to the Outbreak of the Great War of 1914.

(4) Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebräisches und Aramäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament, 17. Auflage (1962), Springer-Verlag, p 392.

(5) https://www.academia.edu/2232770/Two_Jewish_Tombstones_from_Zoar

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  • Welcome to BHSX. Many thanks for this detailed answer. Do not forget to take the tour below. You should also provide some very good references for this minority view. – user25930 Jan 15 '19 at 9:40
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Wrong way in your problem. In Nehemiah's book we found more references at Ezra and it's work. Ezra's mission is to restore the temple. So Ezra restored the temple under Zorobabel. Nehemia had mission to restore the Jerusalem city: Walls and gates (Nehemiah chapter 1 and 2).

Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee.
-- Nehemiah 6:10 KJV

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.
-- Nehemiah 8:2 KJV

#that…: Heb. that understood in hearing

And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.
-- Nehemiah 8:2 KJV

#from…: Heb. from the light

And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchijah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
-- Nehemiah 8:4 KJV

Ezra was priest and Nehemiah was in Nehemiah 5:14 KJV:

Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor.

So I think there is same king Artaxerxes in Ezra and Nehemiah and for a while they work together.

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  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. I have formatted your quotes so they stand out from your own words ('>' first character in a new paragraph; a new paragraph needs the [Enter Key] pressed twice.) – enegue Jun 25 '17 at 9:26
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Firstly, as previous said Ezra and Nehemiah refer to the same Artaxerexes. Ezra was a chronicler - he reviewed history and how God viewed the successes of obedient kings and the failures of disobedient kings. Whereas Nehemiah decribes the events from a more conservative point of view of what he comes across in his lifetime.

You have to also consider that rather than Artaxerxes I & Artaxerxess II - Darius I was the Artaxerxes in Ezra and Nehemaiah:

  • Less complex narrative
  • Dates of Araxerxes dovetail with the building of the temple in the reign of Darius I
  • No gaps in Ezra's genealogy
  • Makes for a clear understanding of the place of the Persian empire in scripture
  • Xerxes (‘king of kings’) & Artaxerxes ('he who reigns in truth') are throne names - other titles Darius I was called, illustrated in Ezra 4-7:
    • Ezra 4:5 Opposition during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius
    • Ezra 4:8-Ezra 6:18 memoed Aramiac script with correspondence with Artaxerxes and Darius recorded in Trans-Euphrates (ends with Ezra 6:14 'Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes' that has been alternatively translated as 'Cyrus, Darius, who is even, Artaxerxes')
    • Ezra 6:22 Darius as 'king of Assyria' an allusion to the battle to be 'king of kings', where Darius is seen seen as bringing in justice, a precursor to the Jesus (Revelation 19:16) - see my answer to 'Why would Darius be called king of Assyria?'
  • Picks up on contextual clues such as the famine in Haggai, Zechariah and Nehemiah.

I've expanded on these points here Division of History - Return

As said by other users this is a complex topic and one that has knock on effects (for instance on Daniel's Sevens - Daniel 9). The reader should form their own opinion from the different views.

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