Dating the Events of Ezra and Nehemiah

25 Aug

It has been said that Cyrus lived too early to be the king who gave the order to ‘restore and rebuild Jerusalem’, yet the book of Ezra records his command to build the Temple, and one would not build a Temple of worship and leave the city that surrounds it in ruins. God said it would be Cyrus who would give such a command that would not only include the rebuilding of the temple but the city as well (Isaiah 44:24-28). The fact is: the only reason one would not regard Cyrus as the person to whom Daniel 9:25 refers is the current chronology based upon the alleged observations of Claudius Ptolemy for the placement of the Persian kings, and the word of God does not fit the chronology laid out by the experts!

In his first year of rule over Babylon, Cyrus permitted all of the captive Israelites, who wished to do so, to return to their homeland, but it was not mandatory for all to return. Daniel had a vision in the 3rd year of Cyrus’ reign over Babylon, and it is found in Daniel 10 & 11. It is particularly important to understand two verses (Daniel 10:1 & Daniel 11:2) in order to recognize the timeframe of the first seven weeks of years of Daniel 9:24-25. “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel… Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all…” These four kings are Cyrus, his son Cambyses, Darius Hystaspes, and his son Xerxes.[1] It is during the reigns of these four kings that Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther take place, and all four monarchs are referred to in the book of Ezra. I believe that I can and will prove this beyond any reasonable doubt to anyone who receives God’s word as his prime and supreme source of knowledge of that era of Jewish history.

The reason that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah must take place in the reigns of these four particular kings is, first, that Cyrus is mentioned by name in both the Bible (Isaiah 44:24-28; Ezra 1:1-2) and secular history. Furthermore, the book of Ezra chronicles the return of the first Jews to their homeland and begins by mentioning Cyrus’ decree. It is only reasonable that the next three kings would follow in succession, otherwise Daniel 11:2 would be ambiguous without further explanation by the angel.

Secondly, the reason we cannot stray from the natural succession of these four kings is that the timeframe of both the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is fixed within the first three generations. This is noted in Nehemiah 12 in the lists of the generations of the priests. Jeshua is the name of the chief of all the priests who returned in the first party of Israelites with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:1-2,36). Jeshua, the chief of all the priests, led the returning remnant to rebuild the altar of God and began again the evening and morning sacrifices (Ezra 3:1-3). The generation of chief priests who worked with Jeshua is found in Nehemiah 12:1-7. The next generation of priest who worked in the ministry of Jeshua’s son, Joiakim, is found in Nehemiah 12:12-21. This second generation, however, though serving with Jeshua’s son, Joiakim, also served with his son Eliashib as well, and continued to the reign of Darius (Nehemiah 12:22). These same priests in verses 12-21 continue to the end of the Ezra-Nehemiah record which Scripture plainly points out:

“These (i.e. the Levites who served in the Temple) were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe” (Nehemiah 12:26).[2]

Therefore, the entirety of the two books are locked into the timeframe of the reigns of these four kings: from the last years of Cyrus to the first seven years of Xerxes the fourth king; a time span that Daniel refers to in Daniel 9:25 as “seven weeks…” of years or 49 years. During this short time the Temple was rebuilt and the walls of the city of Jerusalem were finished through some very troublesome times. There was trouble from without and betrayal from within, but God was faithful and assured the fulfillment of his word, which he spoke through Daniel.

One of the problems of dating the events of Ezra and Nehemiah is the fact that titles are confused with names. We would not confuse the titles of Pharaoh or Caesar by claiming that they are names of Egyptian kings or Roman Emperors, but we do confuse similar titles in identifying many of the Persian monarchs. Notice what Dr. E. W. Bullinger wrote:

“It must be noted that the confusion which has hitherto been experienced arises from the fact that appellatives have been mistaken for proper names; to say nothing of the confusion arising from their transliteration or translation into other languages.

“These appellatives are, like Pharaoh and Abimelech, the general titles of a line of kings, such as the modern Czar, Sultan, Shah etc. Hence:

“AHSUERUS means “the Mighty” and “is the name, or rather the title, of four Median and Persian monarchs” (Kitto, Bib. Encycl. I, p.91). “In every case the identificatioin of the person named is a matter of controversy”. See The Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th (Cambridge) edition, vol. I, p.429.

“ARTAXERXES means Great King, or Kingdom, and is synonymous with Artachashast (Arta = Great, and Kshaatza = Kingdom, preserved in the modern “Shah”)…

“DARIUS means the Restrainer (Her. VI. 98); or according to Professor Sayce, the Maintainer. DARIUS “appears to be originally an appellative meaning ‘king’, ‘ruler’”, (Herbelot, Biblioth. Orient., Article ‘Dara’); Herodotus (VI. 98) renders it Erxeies = Coercer. “It was assumed as his throne-name by Ochus (= Darius Nothus), son and successor of Artaxerxes Longimanus (Catesias, de Reb. Pers., 48, 57, Muller)”. See Kitto, Bib. Cycl., vol. I, p.625.

XERXES, in his inscription at Persepolis, actually calls himself “Darius”; one paragraph beginning “Xerxes the great king, “ and the next beginning ‘Darius the king.’” [Dr. E.W. Bullinger The Companion Bible: Appendix 57].

With this in mind, we can see that perhaps the identities traditionally assumed in Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, Haggai and Zechariah would apply better to other monarchs than what history and religious tradition assumes.

As I said above, all four of the Persian kings are mentioned in the book of Ezra.[3] Remembering that these names should more accurately be termed titles, it will be easier to identify who they are and where they fall in the chronicle of Ezra and Nehemiah. The first, of course, was Cyrus, and he is mentioned by name in the very beginning of the book of Ezra, because it is he who was used by God to release exiled Jews from Babylonian captivity to return to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple (cp. Ezra 1:1-8; Isaiah 44:24-28).

Cyrus’ son is called Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 but known in history as Cambyses. Josephus says that he stopped the building of the city and the Temple.[4] It stands to reason, therefore, if Cambyses stopped the Jews from building Jerusalem and the Temple, construction had begun according to the decree of Cyrus.

The third king mentioned is Artaxerxes in Ezra 4:7. This is the same Artaxerxes of whom Nehemiah speaks in his own chronicle (see Nehemiah chapter 2). This Artaxerxes is called ‘Darius Hystaspes’ in secular history and should not be confused with the Darius mentioned in Ezra 4:24.

The fourth king is called Darius in Ezra 4:24, and in chapters 5 & 6; but in Ezra 7:7 and the rest of this chapter, he is called Artaxerxes; and this same monarch is known as Ahasuerus throughout the book of Esther. In secular history he is known as Xerxes, the son of Darius Hystaspes. This will give a timeframe for the Biblical works that concern the return of the Jews from captivity and represents a kind of outline upon which I hope build my case (Daniel 10:1 & 11:2.)

[1] Note that the angel does not tell Daniel that Persia will fall after the fourth king, only that there would be four kings important to the prophecy. Daniel 10:20 says that the angel fights with or strengthens Persia, but when the angel stops doing so, Greece would come and conquer Persia. The angel is not saying that Greece will conquer Persia immediately after the fourth Persian king, only that the first four kings would be important to Daniel’s Seventy Weeks Prophecy.

[2] See List of the Priests.

[3] See Four Kings of Persia

[4] Josephus – “Antiquities of the Jews:” Book XI, Chap.2:2. “…When this epistle (from Cambyses) was read, Rathumus, and Semellius the scribe, and their associates, got suddenly on horseback, and made haste to Jerusalem; they also brought a great company with them, and forbade the Jews to build the city and the temple.”


Posted by on August 25, 2010 in Old Testament History, Prophecy, Religion


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7 responses to “Dating the Events of Ezra and Nehemiah

  1. librarygeek

    June 2, 2016 at 12:12

    Kings works, priests still not found. Thanks!

    • Eddie

      June 3, 2016 at 07:19

      Hi Shari, and thank you for sticking with me on this so I could get it resolved.

      The links should work now, but if they don’t I provided another way to get to them. If the links still don’t work please tell me. The second way you can get to the pages is to hover over the “Prophecy” Tab on the top of the page. Then hover over “The Book of Daniel” and six different pages will jut out from the right of “The Book of Daniel.” Two of those pages will be the pages I refer to in “Dating the Events of Ezra and Nehemiah.

      Please tell me what works and if something does not work. Thanks in advance for your help. Lord bless you.

    • Eddie

      June 3, 2016 at 11:56

      If you don’t mind, try once more please. How about the pages accessible by hovering over “The Book of Daniel” under the “Prophecy” Tab at the top of the page?

  2. librarygeek

    June 1, 2016 at 23:58

    Do you think then that Darius mentioned in Daniel 9:1, 5:31, 10:1 are all throne names for Cyrus? I know there are several theories about this as both Cyrus the Persian (6:28) and Darius the Mede (5:31 and 9:1) are mentioned.

    In any case, Daniel’s Darius is earlier than the Darius of Ezra 5:24 – 6:12 , Haggai 1:1, and Zechariah 1:1, in whose reign the Temple was completed. So the idea of Darius being a throne name clears up some matters. But if Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, and Ahaseurus are all just titles, it sure doesn’t help to identify any of them. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    • Eddie

      June 2, 2016 at 07:57

      It has been quite some time that I studied the histories of this period. I can’t remember if I concluded that Darius the Mede was Cyrus, but it appears this is true in the Scriptures with just a surface reading.

  3. librarygeek

    June 1, 2016 at 23:05

    Fyi – your 2nd and 3rd footnotes have dead links. We’re they links to your blog or outside links?

    • Eddie

      June 2, 2016 at 07:48

      Thanks Shari for the info. Try them now and let me know if they work.


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