"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Dates of Principal Biblical Characters …

January 22, 2012

in Judaism:,Noahide - The Ancient Path,Prof. Mordochai ben Tziyyon


by Prof. Mordochai ben-Tziyyon, Universitah Ha’ivrit, Y’rushalayim

All Biblical dates given in this article are taken from my book Shanah b’shanah bat’nach (A Year-by-Year Chronology of the Hebrew Bible) which gives a detailed explanation of how they are derived—the book is a very large Adobe® Acrobat® PDF file (more than 12Mb) and I recommend that you download it onto your hard drive by right-clicking the link and choosing “Save File As…”, rather than trying to open it directly by simply clicking the link.

This article is in two parts. The first part comprises a summary of the dates of the principal characters occurring in the Bible according to the chronology of the historical record contained in the Scriptural narratives, and the second part is a comparison of the chronology derived from the Bible with the results obtained by secular historians, with particular attention to those individuals who are stated in the Bible to have been contemporaries.

Before the Patriarchs |   The Patriarchs |   MoshehY’hoshua & the Shoftim (“Judges”)
The three kings of all Yisraél |   The two parallel kingdoms

Comparison with secular historical sources — EgyptianAssyrianBabylonianAchæmenid (Persian)

Addendum 1: Who was “Aḥashvérosh” in the book of Estér?
Addendum 2: The problems raised by the book of Daniyyél

 

 

Before the Patriarchs
Adam 3924-2994BCE Shem 2366-1766BCE
Shet 3794-2882BCE Arpach’shad 2266-1828BCE
Enosh 3689-2784BCE Shelaḥ 2231-1798BCE
Keinan 3599-2689BCE Éver 2201-1737BCE
Mahalal’él 3529-2634BCE Peleg 2167-1928BCE
Yered 3464-2502BCE R’u 2137-1898BCE
Ḥanoch 3302-2937BCE S’rug 2105-1875BCE
M’tushelaḥ 3237-2268BCE Naḥor 2075-1927BCE
Lemech 3050-2273BCE Teraḥ 2046-1841BCE
No’aḥ 2868-1918BCE

 

Back to top

 

The Patriarchs
Avram/Avraham 1976-1801BCE
Yitz’ḥak 1876-1696BCE
Ya’akov/Yisraél 1816-1669BCE
R’uven, 1st son of Ya’akovLéah b.1731BCE
Shim’on, 2nd son of Ya’akovLéah b.1730BCE
Lévi, 3rd son of Ya’akovLéah 1729-1592BCE
Dan, 1st son of son of Ya’akovBilhah b.1729BCE
Y’hudah, 4th son of Ya’akovLéah b.1728BCE
Naftali, 2nd son of Ya’akovBilhah b.1728BCE
Yissachar, 5th son of Ya’akovLéah b.1727BCE
Gad, 1st son of Ya’akovZilpah b.1727BCE
Z’vulun, 6th son of Ya’akovLéah b.1726BCE
Asher, 2nd son of Ya’akovZilpah b.1726BCE
Dinah, daughter of Ya’akovLéah b.1725BCE
Yoséf, 1st son of Ya’akovRaḥél 1725-1615BCE
Binyamin, 2nd son of Ya’akovRaḥél b.1717BCE

 

Back to top

 

MoshehY’hoshua & the Shoftim (“Judges”)
Mosheh, b. 1556BCE 1476-1437BCE
Y’hoshua, b. 1519BCE 1436-1409BCE
Judge Otniyel ben K’naz 1408-1369BCE
Judge Éhud ben Géra 1368-1289BCE
Judge Shamgar ben Anat 1288BCE
Judge D’vorah 1288-1249BCE
Midianite domination (no Yisr’élite ruler) 1248-1242BCE
Judge Gid’on ben Yo’ash 1241-1202BCE
“King” Avimelech ben Gid’on 1201-1199BCE
Judge Tola ben Pu’ah 1198-1176BCE
Judge Ya’ir haGil’adi 1175-1154BCE
Philistine-Ammonite domination (no Yisr’élite ruler) 1154-1137BCE
Judge Yiftaḥ ben Gil’ad 1137-1132BCE
Judge Iv’tzan [Bo’az] mi-Beit Leḥem 1132-1126BCE
Judge Eilon haZ’vuloni 1126-1117BCE
Judge Avdon ben Hillel ha-Pir’atoni 1117-1110BCE
Judge Shimshon ben Mano’aḥ 1110-1091BCE
Judge Éli haKohen 1091-1052BCE
Judge Sh’muel haRamati 1052-1042BCE

 

Back to top

 

The three kings of all Yisraél
Sha’ul ben Kish 1042-1040BCE
David ben Yishai, b. 1070BCE 1040-1001BCE
Shlomoh ben David 1000-961BCE

 

Back to top

 

The two parallel kingdoms
Southern Kingdom (Y’hudah) Northern Kingdom (Yisraél)
R’ḥav’am ben Sh’lomoh, b. 1001BCE 960-944BCE Yarov’amben N’vat 960-939BCE
Aviyyam/Aviyyah ben R’ḥav’am 943-941BCE
Asa ben Aviyyam/Aviyyah 940-900BCE
Nadav ben Yarov’am 939-938BCE
Ba’asha ben Aḥiyyah 938-915BCE
Élah ben Ba’asha 915-914BCE
Zimri—reigned only 7 days 914BCE
Omri 914-903BCE
Aḥ’av ben Omri 903-882BCE
Y’hoshafat ben Asa, b. 934BCE 899-875BCE
Aḥazyahu ben Aḥ’av 882-881BCE
Y’horam ben Aḥ’av 881-870BCE
Y’horam ben Y’hoshafat, b. 909BCE 877-870BCE
Aḥazyahu ben Y’horam, b. 893BCE 870BCE
“Queen”Atalyah 869-864BCE Yéhu ben Y’hoshafat ben Nimshi 869-842BCE
Y’ho’ash ben Aḥazyahu, b. 871BCE 863-825BCE
Y’hoaḥaz ben Yéhu 842-826BCE
Y’hoash ben Y’hoaḥaz 825-812BCE
Amatz’yahu ben Y’hoash, b. 849BCE 824-796BCE
Yarov’am II ben Y’hoash 812-772BCE
Azar’yah/Uzziyahu ben Amatz’yahu, b. 826BCE 810-759BCE
Z’charyah ben Yarov’am (II) 772-771BCE
Shallum ben Yavésh 771BCE
M’naḥém ben Gadi 770-761BCE
P’kaḥyah ben M’naḥém 760-759BCE
Yotam ben Azar’yah/Uzziyahu, b. 808BCE
[Regent from 783BCE]
758-743BCE Pekaḥ ben R’malyahu 758-739BCE
Aḥaz ben Yotam, b. 762BCE 742-727BCE
Hoshé’a ben Élah 738-721BCE
Ḥizkiyyahu ben Aḥaz, b. 751BCE 726-698BCE
M’nasheh ben Ḥizkiyyahu, b. 709BCE 697-643BCE
Amon ben M’nasheh, b. 664BCE 642-641BCE
Yoshiyyahu ben Amon, b. 648BCE 640-610BCE
Y’ho’aḥaz ben Yoshiyyahu, b. 632BCE 609BCE
Elyakim/Y’hoyakim ben Yoshiyyahu, b. 633BCE 608-598BCE
Y’hoyachin ben Elyakim/Y’hoyakim, b. 616BCE
(but 606BCE according to the Chronicler)
597BCE
Mattanyah/Tzidkiyyahu ben Yoshiyyahu,
b. 618BCE
597-587BCE

 

Back to top

 

Comparison with secular historical sources
Egyptian |   Assyrian |   Babylonian |   Achæmenid (Persian)

 

(1) Egyptian history

The Exodus occurred in 1476BCE, at which time Mosheh was 80 years old (Sh’mot 7:7); he was therefore born in 1556BCE. The narrative in Sh’mot doesn’t name the Pharaoh who was reigning at that time or his daughter who found the Hebrew infant hidden among the reeds that grew along the banks of the Nile, adopted him and named him Mosheh, although it appears from Divrei Hayamim Alef 4:18 that her name was Bit’yah, and that she later joined the escaping Hebrews and married a guy named Mered, who was related to Kalévben Y’funneh” (“the Turner”, so-called because he “turned away” from the advice of the Ten Spies) ben Ḥetzron.

It is a common mistake to think that the same “Pharaoh” is being referred to all the way through Sh’mot; this cannot be the case, however, because (as just mentioned) Mosheh was 80 years old when he first appeared before the “Exodus” Pharaoh (Sh’mot 7:7), and none of the Pharaohs in that period of Egyptian history is known to have reigned as long as this. In any case, it is stated explicitly in Sh’mot 2:23 that “many years passed and then the king of Egypt died. Thus, the “Pharaoh” who was reigning at the time of the Exodus couldn’t have been the same as the one at the time of Mosheh‘s birth who ordered that all the male Hebrew babies were to be drowned in the Nile.

The names of the Pharaohs who were reigning during the time of Mosheh (1556-1437BCE), and the lengths of their reigns, are known with considerable certainty, but their actual datescan only be established within about ten years either way. Thus, although it can be stated with confidence that Neb-pehty-ra Ah-mosheh I, the founder of the 18th dynasty, reigned for 25 years (conventionally given as 1550-1525BCE), we do not know the exact dates and the best that the Egyptologists can tell us is that his reign could have begun as early as 1560BCE, and have ended as late as 1515BCE.

By sheer “coincidence”, the period of Egyptian history that starts with the reign of Neb-pehty-ra Ah-mosheh I at the beginning of the 18th dynasty is called the New Kingdom by Egyptologists, and it is interesting to speculate whether the Torah is alluding to this when it records that a new king[dom] arose over Egypt (Sh’mot 1:8).

 

The Biblical narrative describes how a Hebrew infant was found and adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who gave him the name Mosheh. The ancient Egyptian word mosheh means “born of…” (i.e. son of) and thus Ahmosheh means son of Ah (the moon-god). [In fact, the earliest occurrences in heiroglyphic writings of the name Ah—sometimes spelt LahYah orYa’eh—seem to refer to the physical moon rather than to a deity, and the resemblence between Ya’eh and the Hebrew word yaré’aḥ (the moon) is striking.] It isn’t at all surprising that an Egyptian princess should name her adopted son after her own father, the reigning Pharaoh. What is surprising is that an Egyptian princess should exclaim in Hebrew “I pulled him out of the water!” (min hamayim mishitihu) and derive a name for her adopted son from that remark, or that she should even have spoken Hebrew at all; it seems much more likely that she made this remark years later, after she had become a Yisr’élite (see above).

Neb-pehty-ra Ah-mosheh I died ca.1525BCE and was succeeded by his son Djeser-ka-ra Amun-hotep I, who reigned until his death in about 1504BCE; he was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Aa-kheper-ka-ra Thoth-mosheh I, who reigned until ca.1492BCE, and he was succeeded by his son Aa-kheper-en-ra Thoth-mosheh II who reigned until ca.1479BCE. Thoth-mosheh II’s principal wife was his half-sister Ma-at-ka-ra Hat-shep-sut, but they do not seem to have had any children and, at the time of his death in ca.1479BCE, his only heir seems to have been the son of a concubine, Men-kheper-ra Thoth-mosheh III, who was still a child.

Queen Hat-shep-sut dominated Thoth-mosheh III for nearly half of his long reign (he reigned for over 50 years in all). Initially acting as regent, in 1473BCE she declared herself Pharaoh and ruled alone for 16 years. But in 1457BCE, Thoth-mosheh III succeeded in seizing back the throne and after this Hat-shep-sut disappears from the heiroglyphic record; her monuments were defaced and an apparent attempt to erase her memory was carried out. Her fate remains unknown: she may just have been deposed and exiled, but it is more likely that she was executed (if she was not killed during the 1457BCE coup).

Let us summarise the dates of these Pharaohs of the early part of the 18th dynasty, taking account of the ±10 year uncertainty in the conventional dating:

Pharaoh length of reign conventional
dates
reign could have
started as early as
reign could have
ended as late as
Neb-pehty-ra Ah-mosheh I 25 years 1550-1525BCE 1560BCE 1515BCE
Djeser-ka-ra Amun-hotep I 21 years 1525-1504BCE 1535BCE 1494BCE
Aa-kheper-ka-ra Thoth-mosheh I 12 years 1504-1492BCE 1514BCE 1482BCE
Aa-kheper-en-ra Thoth-mosheh II 13 years 1492-1479BCE 1502BCE 1469BCE
Ma-at-ka-ra Hat-shep-sut 22 years 1479-1457BCE 1489BCE 1447BCE
Men-kheper-ra Thoth-mosheh III 54 years 1479-1425BCE 1489BCE 1415BCE

We therefore have two possible candidates for the Pharaoh of the Exodus narrative: Aa-kheper-en-ra Thoth-Mosheh II, and Ma-at-ka-ra Hat-shep-sut (Men-kheper-ra Thoth-mosheh III, although technically a third possibility, would still have been a child at the time in question and Hat-shep-sut would either still have been acting as regent, or would already have usurped the throne and declared herself Pharaoh).

So could the Pharaoh of the Exodus narrative have been a woman? There is nothing in the text that would excludes this possibility, and yet it is always automatically assumed that it must have been a man (even by those who have heard of Queen Hat-shep-sut, although admittedly most people haven’t). The Pharaoh portrayed in the Exodus narrative was capricious and kept changing his mind, a trait more characteristic of women than of men, and furthermore I was always perturbed by the threat made to “him” by God in Sh’mot 7:26-28 until I discovered the intriguing possibility that the Exodus “Pharaoh” might have been a woman—

Adonai said to Mosheh, “Go to the Pharaoh and tell him: ‘This is what Adonai says—Release My people, so that they can serve Me! And if you persist in refusing to release them, I am going to infest the whole of your country with frogs… the Nile will swarm with frogs: they will emerge [from the river], enter your house and come into your bedroom—even onto your bed!’…”

Speaking as a man, I have never found the prospect of waking up to find frogs hopping about on my bed particularly alarming: not pleasant, to be sure, but not bad enough to cause me to dissolve into hysterics. Was this supposed to terrify the Pharaoh into submission? Most men would laugh at a threat like that. But, equally, most women would not: such a threat is far more likely to be effective against a woman than against a man.

Moving on, Yarov’am ben N’vat is reported to have sought the protection of “Shishak, king of Egypt” during Sh’lomoh’s reign (M’lachim Alef 11:40), and this same “Shishak” is also said to have attacked Sh’lomoh’s son, R’ḥav’am, in the 5th year of the latter’s reign (M’lachim Alef 14:25, Divrei Hayamim Beit 12:2), i.e. 956BCE. This was Hedj-kheper-ra Sheshonq I, the first Pharaoh of the 22nd dynasty, whose dates are only known approximately; Egyptologists give the start of his reign conventionally as “about 945BCE“, but he seems to have been already in power at more than 15 years before that, because Sh’lomoh died in 961BCE.

 

Another Pharaoh crops up in the Biblical narrative at the time of the final overthrow of Samaria. The text states that:

the Assyrian king discovered that Hoshé’a had betrayed him and was sending messages to the Egyptian king So, and was not paying his annual tribute as he had in previous years; the Assyrian king therefore arrested him and threw him into prison, invaded the whole country and laid siege to Samaria for three years… (M’lachim Beit 18:4-5)

According to M’lachim Beit 18:9-11, the siege lasted from Ḥizkiyyahu ‘s 4th and Hoshé’a ‘s 7th year (723BCE) until Ḥizkiyyahu ‘s 6th and Hoshé’a ‘s 9th year (721BCE), when Samaria fell and the Northern Kingdom came to an end. “So” was Aa-kheper-ra Set-ep-en-amun O-sor-kon IV, an obscure Pharaoh of the 22nd dynasty, who reigned ca.735-712BCE. Osorkon sent no aid to Hoshé’a ; he had his own problems with the Assyrians, and only managed to avoid being attacked himself by sending a very large bribe to the Assyrian king, Sargon II.

One more Pharaoh is mentioned in the historical narrative of the Bible. The book of M’lachim records that—

In [Yoshiyyahu‘s] time, the Egyptian king, Pharaoh N’cho, was marching against the Assyrian king [who lived] by the River Euphrates. King Yoshiyyahu went to confront him, but [N’cho] killed him at M’giddo where he confronted him… (M’lachim Beit 23:29)

and the Chronicler elaborates—

After all this, when Yoshiyyahu had finished renovating the Temple, the Egyptian king N’cho was marching to make war on Kark’mish by the [River] Euphrates, and Yoshiyyahu marched out to confront him. [N’cho] sent ambassadors to [Yoshiyyahu] to say: “I have no quarrel with you, King of Y’hudah… I am not attacking you, but I need to proceed to the location of my own war. God has told me to hurry, so don’t oppose the God who is with me, or you will be destroyed!” But Yoshiyyahu refused to back down, because he was determined to fight: he took no notice of N’cho‘s words, [which were] from God. The battle was joined in the Megiddo Valley; and the archers shot at King Yoshiyyahu. The king said to his servants “Get me out of here, I am badly wounded!” So his servants took him from his battle-chariot and drove him to Y’rushalayim in a second carriage that he had… he died and was buried in his fathers’ tombs… all of Y’hudah and Y’rushalayimmourned for Yoshiyyahu. (Divrei Hayamim Beit 35:20-24)

Pharaoh “N’cho” was Wehem-ib-ra Nekau II, the second Pharaoh of the 26th dynasty, who reigned ca.610-595BCE; his battle against Yoshiyyahu (who died in 610BCE) was therefore right at the start of his reign. It appears that Yoshiyyahu‘s successor, his son Y’hoaḥaz (who had been the people’s choice in preference to the older brother Elyakim), did not meet with Nekau’s approval because, after only three months, Nekau invaded Y’hudah and deposed Y’hoaḥaz, replacing him with his brother, who reigned for the next 11 years as KingY’hoyakim (M’lachim Beit 23:30-36, Divrei Hayamim Beit 36:1-5).

Back to top

 

(2) Assyrian history

Assyria (Ashur) was a major force in the ancient world of the 9th century BCE, particularly under Ashurnasirapli (“the god Ashur is the protector of the heir”) or Ashur-nâsir-pal II(reigned 883-859BCE) and his son Shulmanuashared (“the god Shulmanu is foremost”) or Shalmaneser III (reigned 858-824BCE). Towards the end of his reign a revolt broke out and several years of civil war ensued, and Assyria’s power then declined and it fell into obscurity.

In the middle of the 8th century BCE, though, under Tukultiapilesharra (“my trust is the son of the god Esharra“) or Tiglath-pileser III (reigned 744-727BCE), Assyria’s fortunes revived and it once again rose to prominence. After Tiglath-pileser III’s death in 727BCE, he was succeeded by his son Shulmanuashared (“the god Shulmanu is foremost”) orShalmaneser V whose brief reign (727-722BCE) ended abruptly when his half-brother SharruKenu (“legitimate king”) or Sargon II (721-705BCE), another son of Tiglath-pileser III, seized power in a violent coup.

Sargon was killed in battle in Anatolia and was succeeded by his son Sinahhecriba (“the god Sin has replaced the brothers”) or Sennacherib (reigned 704-681BCE). It was Sennacherib who transferred the Assyrian capital to Nineveh (see M’lachim Beit 19:36 and Y’shayahu 37:37). The murder of Sennacherib is well documented in Assyrian sources as well as in the Bible (M’lachim Beit 19:37, Y’shayahu 37:38) and, in his 1980 paper The murderer of Sennacherib (published in Copenhagen Studies in Assyriology (Mesopotamia): “Death in Mesopotamia”, Papers read at the XXVIeme Rencontre assyriologique internationale, edited by Bendt Alster, Akademisk Forlag, Dr Simo Parpola (University of Chicago) established the likely identity of the murderer. Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Ashurahuiddina (“the god Ashur has given a brother”) or Esarhaddon (reigned 680-669BCE).

Every one of the kings just named other than Ashur-nâsir-pal II had dealings with one or other of the two Hebrew kingdoms to their west:

  • a two-metre high black limestone obelisk (in the British Museum, London) found in 1846 and dating from the year 825BCE depicts Shalmaneser III (858-824BCE) receiving tributes from five foreign kings, one of whom, according to the inscription, was “Jehu of the House of Omri”. In fact, Jehu (869-842BCE) was not a member of Omri’s dynasty and was actually responsible for bringing it to an end. There is also no Biblical record of him ever paying tribute to the king of Assyria—but he was certainly a contemporary of Shalmaneser III.
  • Ahaz (742-727BCE) bribed Tiglath-pileser III (744-727BCE) to come to his aid against the alliance of the northern Hebrew king Pekah and the Aramean (Syrian) king R’tzin (M’lachim Beit 16:7-8, Divrei Hayamim Beit 28:16). The Assyrian king obliged and attacked Pekah and R’tzin, but after that he betrayed Ahaz by attacking him too (M’lachim Beit 16:9-10, Divrei Hayamim Beit 28:20-21).
  • Hoshé’a (738-721BCE) was subjugated by an Assyrian king who is not named in the Biblical narrative, although it must have been Tiglath-pileser III, and was forced to pay him tribute from the beginning of his reign in 738BCE until about 730BCE (M’lachim Beit 17:1-3), after which he rebelled and stopped paying his tribute, and also appealed to the Egyptian king Osorkon IV for help. Upon discovering Hoshé’a ‘s rebellion, Shalmaneser V (727-722BCE) marched on Samaria to deal with the recalcitrant Israelite king… as mentioned above, the siege of Samaria lasted from Ḥizkiyyahu ‘s 4th and Hoshé’a ‘s 7th year (723BCE) until Ḥizkiyyahu ‘s 6th and Hoshé’a ‘s 9th year (721BCE), when Samaria fell and the northern Israelite kingdom came to an end… by this time, Shalmaneser V had already been overthrown (and presumably killed) in the violent coup that brought his half-brother Sargon II to power.
  • In 713BCEḤizkiyyahu (726-698BCE) was attacked by the armies of Sargon II (721-705BCE), commanded by the king’s son, Crown Prince Sennacherib (M’lachim Beit 18:13ff)… the account in the book of M’lachim doesn’t actually mention Sargon, but M’lachim Beit 18:17 refers to a military commander named Tartan who is stated elsewhere to have been Sargon’s general (Y’shayahu 20:1).
  • The Biblical narrative does not record any contact between Israel and Esarhaddon (680-669BCE), but the latter’s succession to the Assyrian throne following his father’s murder (see above) is documented in M’lachim Beit 19:36 and Y’shayahu 37:38.

Assyria had reached the height of its power under Sennacherib (704-681BCE), who even succeeded in capturing and sacking Babylon in about 689BCE. This dominance continued underEsarhaddon (680-669BCE) and his son Ashurbaniapli (“the god Ashur is the creator of the heir”) or Ashurbanipal (668-627BCE), but declined rapidly after Ashurbanipal’s death in 627BCE. Coincidentally, at exactly that time, Nabuaplautzur or Nabopolassar, a Chaldæan of unknown background, seized power in Babylonia (626BCE).

The new Babylonian king fought for control, and within 10 years was in a position to mount attacks against the Assyrian territories to the west and north. In 612BCE, with the assistance of the Persian Medes with whom he was allied, Nabopolassar was able to overrun many of the most important cities of the Assyrian empire, including the capital Nineveh. After the fall of Nineveh, Assyria disappears completely from the history of ancient Mesopotamia.

 

Back to top

 

(3) Babylonian history

The first Babylonian king who is mentioned in the Scriptures is Mardukaplaiddina, or Merodach-baladan II (722-710BCE). Information about this king is sketchy and somewhat confused. He seems to have rebelled against Assyrian domination after the accession of Sargon (721BCE), and Sargon did not succeed in subduing him until 709BCE when he fled to Elam, only to return to Babylon and seize power again in 703BCE after Sargon had been killed and his son Sennacherib had succeeded to the throne. Sennacherib was able to overcome Merodach-baladan very quickly, but Babylonian resistance to Assyrian rule seems to have continued for some years. Little else is known about him.

Merodach-baladan is mentioned as a contemporary of Ḥizkiyyahu (reigned 726-698BCE) in M’lachim Beit 20:12 and Y’shayahu 39:1; the reference in Y’shayahu calls him “M’rodach Baladan son of Baladan” and the M’lachim author calls him “B‘rodach Baladan son of Baladan“.

As I mentioned at the end of the section on Assyrian history, the Chaldæan Nabuaplautzur (“Nabopolassar”) took advantage of the confusion that followed Ashurbanipal’s death in 627BCE to seize power in Babylon. Much of his reign is documented in the so-called “Babylonian Chronicle” tablet BM21901 in the British Museum, London, which covers the period 616-609BCE; the Babylonian record continues in tablet BM21946, which covers the years 605-594BCE.

Nabopolassar reigned for 21 years (626-605BCE). According to the “Babylonian Chronicle” tablet BM21946, he died on 8th Abu (approx. 15th Aug.), 605BCE and was immediately succeeded by his son Nabukudurriutzur (“O Nabu, protect the son”) or Nebuchadnezzar II who returned to Babylon from Hamath where he was fighting the Egyptians and was crowned on 1st Ulûlu (approx. 7th Sept.), 605BCE.

According to Ptolemy’s κανων βασιλεων (kanon basileon, or “Canon of the Kings”), Nebuchadnezzar II reigned for 43 years (not counting the period from his accession in the summer of 605BCE to the beginning of his “1st year” in the spring of 604BCE, i.e. his “accession year”), and was succeeded by his son AmelMarduk (the Biblical “Evil-M’rodach“,M’lachim Beit 25:27 & Yirm’yahu 52:31). AmelMarduk reigned for two years (561-559BCE) and was then murdered by his brother-in-law (Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law)Nergalsharrautzur (“Neriglissar”), who reigned for four years (559-556BCE); he died and was succeeded by his son LabashiMarduk, who only lasted for a few months before he was deposed and and Nabuna’id or Nabonidus came to power.

Tablet BM35382, which chronicles Nabonidus’s 17-year reign (556-539BCE), records that he was absent from Babylon campaigning in Arabia for much of it, leaving his sonBelsharrautzur, the Biblical “Belshazzar”, reigning as regent in his absence.

Meanwhile Kûrush, or Cyrus, had taken control of the whole of Persia. Croesus, the king of Lydia, felt threatened by the expanding Persian empire and his forces clashed with the Persian army in 547BCE. The battle was undecisive but the Persians pursued Croesus back to the Lydian capital, Sardis, which fell after a two-week siege. The Babylonians were allied with Lydia and the Persian and Babylonian armies eventually met at Opis, east of the Tigris, in the autumn of 539BCE. Cyrus was victorious: Opis fell, its inhabitants were massacred, and Nabonidus was captured; neighbouring Sippar and Babylon surrendered without offering any resistance, and the Persian king entered Babylon to take control.

Nabopolassar ia not mentioned in the Bible at all, but his son Nebuchadnezzar more than makes up for his father’s absence from the Biblical narrative. His name is variously spelt asנְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר N’vuchad’netzar and as נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר N’vuchad’retzar, the latter form being very close to that Babylonian Nabukudurriutzur.

Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign can be dated precisely with no room for doubt by means of an astronomical observations diary tablet, catalogue no. VAT4956, which is in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum in East Berlin.

Yirm’yahu 25:1 records that Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year coincided with Y’hoyakim‘s 4th (605BCE) and Yirm’yahu 46:2 places the battle of Kark’mish, in which Nebuchadnezzar routed the Egyptians, in the same year—which is in precise agreement with Babylonian Chronicle tablet BM21946.

According to the Biblical narrative accounts, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Y’rushalayim twice. The first attack occurred in Nebuchadnezzar’s 7th year (or his 8th if his “accession year” is included), i.e. 597BCE. On this occasion, he merely deposed the young king Y’hoyachin and placed his uncle Mattanyah on the throne of Y’hudah as King Tzid’kiyyahu—this is documented in M’lachim Beit 24:12, where it is clearly stated to have taken place in Nebuchadnezzar’s eighth year. However in Yirm’yahu 52:28, where the number of Y’hudimdeported at the same time is reported, the date is given as Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year, following the Babylonian system.

BM21946‘s account of Nebuchadnezzar’s first attack on Y’rushalayim also places it in his 7th year. It occupies lines 11-13 on the reverse of the tablet and reads as follows—the translation is taken from Assyrian & Babylonian Chronicles by A. K. Grayson, published by Eisenbrauns, 2000), page 102:

The seventh year: In the month Kislev the king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Hattu. He encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of the month Adar he captured the city (and) seized (its) king. A king of his own choice he appointed in the city (and) taking the vast tribute he brought it into Babylon.

The Biblical account in M’lachim parallels this remarkably closely:

…at that time, Nebuchadnezzar’s servants had attacked Y’rushalayim and the city was under siege; then Nebuchadnezzar himself came upon the city, while his servants were besieging it, and KingY’hoyachin of Y’hudah surrendered to the king of Babylonia, together with his mother, his servants, his ministers-of-state and his officials: the king of Babylonia arrested him in his eighth year. [Nebuchadnezzar] plundered all the treasuries of Adonai‘s Temple and the treasuries of the king’s palace, and also stripped off all the golden ornaments that King Sh’lomoh of Yisraél had decoratedAdonai‘s Sanctuary with, as Adonai had instructed him… the king of Babylonia placed [Y’hoyachin‘s] uncle Mattanyah on the throne in his place, changing his name to Tzid’kiyyahu… (M’lachim Beit 24:10-17)

Y’hoyachin‘s dethronement and arrest get a much terser treatment in the Chronicle

…at the turn of the year, Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylonia, together with the most precious utensils of Adonai‘s House, and appointed his [father’s] brother Tzid’kiyyahu king overY’hudah and Y’rushalayim. (Divrei Hayamim Beit 36:10)

Note that even the date given by BM21946 for Y’hoyachin‘s arrest agrees with the Biblical narrative, because Adar is the 12th (i.e. last) month of the year, so Nebuchadnezzar did indeed seize Jehoiachin לִתְשׁוּבַת הַשָּׁנָה lit’shuvat hashanah, “at the end of the [regnal] year”, just as Divrei Hayamim Beit 36:10 records.

The second attack on Y’rushalayim is documented in M’lachim Beit 25 and Yirm’yahu 52. Y’rushalayim was under siege from the winter of Tzid’kiyyahu‘s 9th year (589BCE) until the summer of his 11th year (587BCE), a period of some eighteen months. The city walls were then breached and the city fell; the defending soldiers deserted and fled for their lives, andTzid’kiyyahu himself also managed to escape, although he was pursued by the Babylonian troops and captured (M’lachim Beit 25:1-7, Yirm’yahu 52:4-11). The prophet Yirm’yahulaments the king’s capture in the fourth of his five mournful poems on the destruction of Y’rushalayim“Our life-breath, Adonai‘s messiah, was captured in their traps…” (Eichah4:20—remember that all Hebrew kings are called messiahs). However it was not until 13 months later, in the summer of Nebuchadnezzar’s nineteenth year (586BCE), that the Babylonian commander, Nabusharraiddânu (“Nebuzaradan”) returned to Y’rushalayim and destroyed the Temple (M’lachim Beit 25:8-9, Yirm’yahu 52:12-13). Yirm’yahu again adopts the Babylonian reckoning-system when he reports the number of Y’hudahns who were deported on this occasion (52:29) and there he gives the date as Nebuchadnezzar’seighteenth year—in 52:12, he was using the Hebrew system (i.e. counting Nebuchadnezzar’s “accession year” as his “first”), as in M’lachim Beit 25:8. Unfortunately, the Chronicle tablet that would have covered Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year has not so far been found, so at this time we do not have a Babylonian account of the final destruction of Y’rushalayimand the Temple.

Y’hoyachin, who was deported to Babylonia and imprisoned there by Nebuchadnezzar in 597BCE, spent 37 years in confinement; he was released under the general amnesty declared by Nebuchadnezzar’s son AmelMardûk (the Biblical “Evil-M’rodach“), to celebrate his succession to the Babylonian throne in 561BCE (M’lachim Beit 25:27, Yirm’yahu 52:31). The Biblical narratives do not record how long Y’hoyachin lived, but it appears from M’lachim Beit 25:29-30 and Yirm’yahu 52:33-34 that he lived for a considerable number of years after being released from detention by AmelMardûk: he was no more than 55 (and possibly only 45) years old when he was released, so he could conceivably have lived for as long as 30 or 40 years after that.

It is also noteworthy that the duration of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign according to the Biblical narrative also agrees with secular history: because Y’hoyachin was released from detention by AmelMarduk (or Evil-M’rodach) “in his accession year” (i.e. in the latter part of the year in which Nebuchadnezzar died), which was also the 37th year of Y’hoyachin‘s confinement (M’lachim Beit 25:27, Yirm’yahu 52:31). But we have already seen that Nebuchadnezzar was in his 7th year when he deposed and arrested Y’hoyachin, which means that he had already been reigning for six years prior to that; he therefore reigned for a total of 6 + 37 = 43 years, exactly as Ptolemy’s “Canon” says.

The Biblical narratives give no indication of how long AmelMarduk (Evil-M’rodach) reigned, and makes no mention at all of Nergalsharrautzur (Neriglissar), LabashiMarduk, orNabuna’id (Nabonidus). Well—that isn’t quite true: Neriglissar does show up in Zedekiah’s 11th year (587BCE) as one of the officers (with the rank of “Rav-Mag”) who commanded the final assault on Y’rushalayim (Yirm’yahu 39:3), and later in the same chapter he crops up again as one of a group of officers in whose custody the prophet Yirm’yahu is placed (vv.11-13). This was some 29 years before Neriglissar murdered AmelMarduk (Evil-M’rodach) and claimed the throne for himself, but it is hardly surprising that the king’s son-in-law should have held a senior rank in the army.

In any case—the Bible may not record how long AmelMarduk (Evil-M’rodach) reigned, but this issue does come up in the Talmud (Treatise M’gillah, folio 11b), where it is reported as a “tradition” that he reigned for 23 years. That isn’t right, though: Ptolemy only gives him two years, and this is backed up by Babylonian sources. But just look at this:

Evil-M’rodach 02 years 561-560BCE
Neriglissar 04 years 559-556BCE
Labashi-Marduk (a few months only) —— 556BCE
Nabonidus 17 years 556-539BCE
23 years

Now isn’t that a coincidence! It isn’t hard to see how the names of three totally unmemorable and (from the Hebrew point of view) unimportant and irrelevant obscure Babylonian kings could be lost in an orally-transmitted tradition, all of them becoming merged into “Evil-M’rodach“, the only one who is mentioned in the Scriptures. This might also account for the book Daniyyél calling Nabonidus’s son Belsharrautzur (Belshazzar) “the king” (several times in chapter 5, and also in 7:1 and 8:1), even though he never actually was king of Babylonia.

 

Back to top

 

(4) Achæmenid (Persian) history

The kings of the dynasty founded by Kûrush (Cyrus) “The Great”, which ruled Persia from about 559BCE to 330BCE, are known as the Achæmenids, from Kûrush‘s great-great-grandfather Hakhamanish (7th century BCE), who is called Achæmenes in Greek writings. There were ten Achæmenid kings…

Kûrush (Cyrus) “The Great” 09 years 539-530BCE
Kambutziya (Cambyses), son of Cyrus 08 years 529-522BCE
Dârayavahu (Darius) I, son of Hystaspes (a Persian noble) 36 years 521-486BCE
Khshayârshâ (Xerxes) I, son of Darius I 21 years 486-465BCE
Artakhshathrâ (Artaxerxes) I, son of Xerxes I 41 years 464-424BCE
Dârayavahu (Darius) II, illegitimate son of Artaxerxes I 19 years 423-404BCE
Artakhshathrâ (Artaxerxes) II, son of Darius II 46 years 404-359BCE
Vahauka (Artaxerxes III), son of Artaxerxes II 21 years 359-338BCE
Hawarsha[?] (Arogos or Arses) 02 years 338-336BCE
Dârayavahu (Darius) III, great-grandson of Darius II 04 years 336-332BCE

Only three of the Achæmenid kings are of interest in the context of Biblical history: Cyrus the Great, his son Kambutziya (Cambyses), and Darius I.

Cyrus cylinder (BM90920)

Cyrus commemorated his capture of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king, and his conquest of the Babylonian empire (539BCE) on this 9″-long clay cylinder, part of the British Museum collection (see BM90920). After describing his victory and attributing his success to Marduk, the god of Babylon, he goes on to describe the relief-measures he brought to the city’s inhabitants, and tells how he arranged for the return of a number of images of gods, which Nabonidus and his predecessors had collected in Babylon, to their proper temples throughout Mesopotamia and western Persia. At the same time he made arrangements for the restoration of these various temples, and organized the return to their homelands of a number of groups of people who were being held captive in Babylonia by the Babylonian kings. Although the Y’hudim are not specifically mentioned in this document, their return to Israel after decades of exile following their deportation by Nebuchadnezzar II was part of this policy.

According to the Biblical book EzraN’ḥemyah,

In the first year of Kûrush, king of Persia, in order to bring about the LORD‘s prophecy that Yirm’yahu had spoken, the LORD motivated Kûrush, king of Persia, to issue a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also to put it in writing, saying:
“Thus says Kûrush, king of Persia, ‘The LORD, God of the Heavens, has given to me all the kingdoms of the Earth, and He has commanded me to build a House for Him in Y’rushalayim, which is inY’hudah. Therefore, whoever is among you of all His people—may his God be with him! let him go up to Y’rushalayim, which is in Y’hudah, and build the House for the LORD, Israel’s God—He is the God Who is in Y’rushalayim… and whoever remains from whatever place he has settled in—the people of that place shall help him with silver, gold, possessions and cattle—[they shall give] donations for the House of God, which is in Y’rushalayim.’”
Then the family-heads of Judah and Benjamin, the Kohanim and the Levites arose, and all those whom God motivated to go up to build the LORD‘s House, which is in Y’rushalayim, and all those around them provided them with silver vessels, gold, possessions, cattle and precious things, besides everything that was donated.
King Kûrush also produced all the vessels from the LORD‘s House which Nebuchadnezzar had removed from Y’rushalayim and had placed in the temple of his [own] gods… Kûrush, the king of Persia, had his treasurer Mitr’dat bring them out, and he counted them out to Sheshbatzar, the prince of Judah. There were 30 gold basins, 1,000 silver basins, 29 knives, 30 gold bowls, 410 secondary silver bowls, and 1,000 other vessels: in all, 5,400 silver and gold vessels; Sheshbatzar brought all this up when the exiles returned from Babylon to Y’rushalayim. (Ezra 1:1-11; the first two verses and a small part of the third are reproduced word-for-word at the very end of the Chronicle)

Interestingly, in Cyrus’s own document which has survived and is currently in the British Museum (see picture above), he gives the credit for his conquest of Babylon to the Babylonian god Marduk, whereas in the Biblical version he acknowledges Israel’s God as having “given all all the kingdoms of the Earth to him”.

More than 40,000 Y’hudim, plus more than 7,000 male and female bonded servants, led by Crown Prince Z’rubavel ben Sh’altiyel (“Zerubbabel”—a grandson of King Y’hoyachin), Chief Kohén-designate Yéshua ben Y’hotzadak (who was a grandson of S’rayah, the last Chief Priest who had served in Sh’lomoh’s Temple—see M’lachim Beit 25:18, Yirm’yahu52:24) and others (see Ezra 2:2), took advantage of Cyrus’s amnesty to return to their ancestral homeland (Ezra 2:64-65), and after making the long journey (which took four months at that time, see Ezra 7:9), all of these dispersed back to their home towns (Ezra 2:70).

A few weeks after all these Israelites had re-settled in their ancestral home-towns, Rosh Hashanah (the New Year festival) arrived and, according to Ezra 3:1, the people assembled “as one man” in Y’rushalayimYéshua and the other Kohanim had already rebuilt the Great Altar on the Temple site and they re-commenced the daily sacrificial services on Tishri 1st (i.e. on Rosh Hashanah)—even though they had not as yet even started to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 3:6). The foundations of the new building were laid in Iyyar (April-May) of the following year, i.e. 538BCE (3:8-10).

The so-called “Samaritans”, who were descendants of the foreigners that the Assyrians had settled in the territories of the ten northern tribes after overthrowing the Northern Kingdom and deporting all its Israelite population in 721BCE (see M’lachim Beit 17:24-41), then approached Z’rubavelYéshua and the other Y’hudi leaders and pretended that they too wanted to participate in the rebuilding of the Temple, claiming that they had been sacrificing to Yisraél’s God “ever since the time of Esarhaddon, king of Assyiria, who brought us here” (Ezra4:1-2—that had been nearly 200 years earlier). The Y’hudi leaders refused, pointing out that Cyrus had specified that it was the Y’hudi exiles who were to return to Y’hudah and rebuild God’s Temple—but the real reason was that these people had already shown themselves to be enemies of the Y’hudim (4:1) by intimidating the workers and interfering with the building work that was already in progress (4:4).

These “Samaritans” didn’t really want to help. They still bore a grudge about not having been accepted as part of Israel two centuries earlier on account of their refusal to abandon their own idols and serve God and God alone (see M’lachim Beit 17:33-34,40-41), and now they were also afraid that the returning Israelites would expel them from the lands they had settled in to regain all of Eretz Yisrael (echoes of this same kind of mentality can be seen even in our own time). It was because of this that they started trying to hinder the rebuilding of the Temple right from the very start and, when their attempt to join in the reconstruction (so they would be in a position to be even more obstructive) was frustrated, they started bribing the architects in charge of the project to impede the work, which continued throughout Cyrus’s reign and that of his successor (Cambyses), right up to the reign of Darius I (Ezra 4:5). This doesn’t seem to have been very effective as long as Cyrus was alive, so as soon as he had died and his son Cambyses was on the throne, they started sending letters to the king making (unspecified) accusations against the Y’hudim (4:6—the text calls Cambyses “Aḥashvérosh“).

That didn’t work either so, when Darius I came to power in Cambyses’s place in 521BCE, they tried a different tactic (Ezra 4:7—the writer refers to Darius as “Artaḥ’shasta“, equivalent to Artakh’shathra, a title commonly used by the Achæmenid kings). The text of this letter is reproduced in full in verses 11-16 and is followed by Darius’s reply ordering the immediate cessation of the rebuilding work (verses 18-22). The conspirators thereupon rushed back to Y’rushalayim and stopped the work by force (v.23).

The work of rebuilding remained at a standstill until the following year, which was Darius’s 2nd (v.24—here, Darius is called by his actual name), i.e. 520BCE, when two of Darius’s officials, accompanied by troops, arrived and demanded to know who had authorised the reconstruction works that had previously been taking place (Ezra 5:3). These officials then sent a letter to the king informing him that the Y’hudim were claiming that Cyrus had given permission for the Temple to be rebuilt, and asking the king to search the royal archives to see if this was true. Darius did so, and found that it indeed was the case, so he commanded that the Y’hudim be allowed to resume and complete the work (6:1-8), that his officials should assist in whatever manner was needed, and provide suitable animals to be sacrificed on Darius’s own behalf (6:9-10), with dire consequences to anyone disobeying the king’s command (6:11-12).

After that, the building work proceeded without any further interruption, and the new building was completed on Adar 3rd in Darius’s 6th year (Ezra 6:15), i.e. 516BCE—exactly 70 years after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (in 586BCE), just as the prophet Yirm’yah had predicted in his famous prophecy (which is discussed in greater depth in Addendum 2 below). The new Temple was dedicated with great jubilation (6:16-18), and six weeks later they celebrated Pesaḥ (6:19-22).

In the summer of the following year (more specifically, on Av 1st of Darius’s 7th year, i.e. 515BCEEzra 7:8-9), “a brilliant scholar of Mosheh‘s Torah” (7:6) arrived in Y’rushalayim:Yéshua‘s uncle, Ezra son of S’rayah (7:1). It is not clear why he had chosen to remain in exile until after the Temple reconstruction had been completed. Ezra brought with him a letter from Darius authorising him, and any other Y’hudim who wanted to accompany him, to travel to Y’hudah, to collect donations in Babylonia for the Temple funds, promising that Darius would himself contribute, and requiring Ezra to teach and to enforce the law of the Torah and also Persian law in Y’hudah, and to impose the appropriate punishments on offenders, “whether it be execution, deportation, fine or imprisonment” (7:12-26). Ezra immediately set about this task, but his book ends abruptly after just three more chapters and we hear no more about him.

The book N’ḥemyah resumes the historical narrative 13 years later, in 502BCE, Darius I’s 20th year (N’ḥemyah 1:1, 2:1—this writer also calls Darius “Artaḥ’shasta“). There is no other information of historical interest in this book other than the detail that this “Artaḥ’shasta” reigned for at least 32 years (N’ḥemyah 5:14, 13:6)—Darius I actually reigned for 36 years (521-486BCE).

 

Addendum 1: Who was “Aḥashvérosh” in the book of Esther?

Who is the king called “Aḥashvérosh” in the book of Esther? Is the book even historical? My personal opinion is that it is not: many scholars have taken the view that “Aḥashvérosh” is an attempt to transliterate the Persian name Kh’shayarsha (Xerxes) into Hebrew letters, and that Xerxes I is meant; but Xerxes I is not known to have had either a queen called Vashtior a Judæan queen called Ester (or Hadassah), or chamberlains named M’humanBiz’taḤarvonah etc. (Est. 1:10), or advisers called Karsh’naShétarTar’shish etc. (Est. 1:14), or a Viceroy by the name of Haman, or one called Mordochai—and neither is any of the other Achæmenid kings, for that matter.

Mordochai was certainly an historical person: his full name was Mordochai Bil’shan (i.e. Mordochai “the Linguist”) and he is listed among the Judæan elders who, together with Crown Prince Z’rubavel and Chief Kohen-designate Y’hoshua ben Y’hotzadak (who was nicknamed Yéshua), led the returning exiles in 539BCE (see Ezra 2:2, and also N’ḥemyah 7:7). And therein lies the problem: if he returned to Judæa right at the beginning of Cyrus’s reign, how could he have been around in the reign of “Aḥashvérosh“, whoever he was? But even if Esther is just a literary legend which features a famous and prominent character from Hebrew history, the question remains—is “Aḥashvérosh” supposed to be an actual king, or is he purely fictitious?

The identification of the Mordochai character in the Esther story with the historical Mordochai who features in EzraN’ḥemyah is reinforced by a midrashic legend reported in the Talmud (Treatise M’gillah, folio 13b) that he “knew all the 70 languages”—hence his “surname” Bil’shan (“the Linguist”) in Ezra 2:2 and N’ḥemyah 7:7—which is linked with the statement in Est. 2:22 that the “matter [of Bigtan and Teresh‘s conspiracy] ‘became known’ to Mordochai“, the implication being that he overheard the two of them discussing it in their own language which he, unknown to them, was able to understand.

I noted above that Cyrus’s son Cambyses is called by the name “Aḥashvérosh” in Ezra 4:6. Could the “Aḥashvérosh” in the book of Esther also be Cambyses? On the face of it, no—because Cambyses only reigned for 8 years (530-522BCE), and the king who is called “Aḥashvérosh” in Esther reigns for at least 12 years (Est. 3:7).

But let’s look into this a little more deeply. It is known that a revolt against Cambyses broke out in 522BCE, and Cambyses was on his way to deal with it when he was accidentally killed. Could the author of “Esther” be suggesting that the revolt was triggered by the Judæans being allowed to kill 75,000 Persians on one day (Est. 9:16)? If such is the case, the (fictitious) “King Aḥashvérosh” in the story would have reigned for twelve years and no more; and, although Cyrus actually reigned for nine years, in Hebrew tradition (Talmud, Treatise M’gillah, folio 11b) he is said to have reigned for only five (in fact, the Talmudic text reads “Darius and Cyrus”, but this has to be an error in redaction). In other words, in the Hebrew tradition, Cyrus and “Aḥashvérosh” together reigned for a total of 17 years—which, by a strange coincidence, just happens to be exactly the combined duration of theactual reigns of Cyrus (9 years) and his son Cambyses (8 years) according to secular history.

 

Back to top

 

Addendum 2: The problems raised by the book of Daniel

Who was Daniel? At the beginning of his book we read

The king said to Ashp’naz, his chief officer, to select from the Israelites—from the royal family and from the part’mim [“nobles”]—a group of flawless young men, good-looking and well-educated, skilled in science and articulate, and strong enough to stand [and serve] in the king’s palace—and to teach them the Chaldæan script and language. (Daniyel 1:3-4)

According to Daniyel 1:6-7, among the group chosen were Daniel himself and his three friends ḤananyahMisha’el and Azar’yah—who were promptly given Persian names (Belt’sha’tzarShadrachMeishachAvédn’go) by Ashp’naz. It is also stated that “Daniel was [there] until the first year of King Cyrus” (Daniyel 1:21), and that “this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius as he had in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (Daniyel 6:29). This places Daniel during the Babylonian exile period, between 586BCE and at least 520BCE, and the dating is reinforced by the prophet Y’ḥezkel (“Ezekiel”) who also lived during the Babylonian exile period and who mentions Daniel three times (Y’ḥezkél 14:14,20 & 28:3) as one of Israel’s men of legendary wisdom.

So Daniel himself, assuming he was a real historical person, is supposed to have lived in in the early part of the 6th century BCE. It is not, however, clear by any means that he actually existed: he is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible apart from the three references in Ezekiel, two of which (Y’ḥezkél 14:14,20) associate him with the mythological Iyyov (“Job”), and there are a number of anomalies in the book of Daniel that suggest it is a much later, and very possibly mythological, composition.

First of all, there are several oddities of language. There is nothing surprising about him using the Persian word פַּרְתְּמִים part’mim, “nobles” (a word that is only found here and twice in Esther, which is also set during the exile period but after Babylonia had fallen to the Persian king Cyrus) in Daniyel 1:3, but Daniel also uses Greek words—notably קַתְרֹס katros,פְסַנְתֵּרִין psan’térin and סוּמְפֹּנְיָה sumponyah (which all occur in Daniyel 3:5, 3:7, 3:10 and 3:15 apart from sumponyah, which is missing from 3:7)…

  • קַתְרֹס katros (but always spelt קִיתְרֹס kitros) is a transliteration of κιθαρα kithara, a guitar;
  • פְסַנְתֵּרִין psan’térin is a transliteration of ψαλτηριον psalterion, a stringed instrument that was plucked with fingers or a plectrum (from the verb ψαλλω psallo, to pluck); and
  • סוּמְפֹּנְיָה sumponyah is a combination of the two Greek words συμ sum (or sym), together, and φωνος phonos, sound: i.e. some kind of musical instrument capable of producing several different notes simultaneously—the English word symphony has exactly the same etymology.

It is most unlikely that anyone in the Babylonian empire had any contact with Greeks as early as the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and the presence of Greek words in a Babylonian royal proclamation (and it is clear from the repetetive and legalistic language used that the text of the actual proclamation is allegedly being quoted) raises serious doubts about its authenticity.

It is also noteworthy that the language in which the book is written changes twice. It begins in Hebrew, but switches abruptly into Aramaic part-way through verse 2:4 (the parts in blueare in Hebrew and those in red are in Aramaic):

וַיְדַבְּרוּ הַכַּשְׂדִּים לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲרָמִית: מַלְכָּא, לְעָלְמִין חֱיִי! אֱמַר חֶלְמָא לְעַבְדָךְ וּפִשְׁרָא נְחַוֵּא
vay’dabbru hakasdim lamelech aramit: mal’ka, l’al’min ḥeyi! emar ḥel’ma l’av’dach ufish’ra n’ḥavvé…
Then the Chaldæans replied to the king in Aramaic: “Your Majesty, may you live for ever! Tell your servants the dream and we will reveal its explanation…”

After this, the text remains in Aramaic until the end of chapter 7, and reverts to Hebrew at the beginning of chapter 8.

Secondly, there are historical issues. Daniel tells a somewhat far-fetched story in 4:28-37 about how Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity and was driven from his kingdom, living like a wild animal for seven years until he submitted to God’s sovereignty. Nothing like this is known to have actually occurred, although it was well-known in Hebrew folklore that it was supposed to happen, as Y’shayahu had very sarcastically prophesied in a long tirade against “the king of Babylonia” that can be found in Y’shayahu 14:4-23—

Oh, how you have fallen from the heights [of your former splendour], Venus, the “Morning Star”! How you have been cut down to the ground, you “Conqueror of Nations”! You said to yourself, “I will ascend into Heaven, I will set my throne even higher than God’s stars—I will sit at the extreme northern end of the Temple Mountain [the holiest part of the Temple courtyard where the most holy sacrifices were slaughtered, compare Vayikra 1:11]—I will rise above the highest clouds, I will become like the Most High!” But instead you have been brought down to the nether world, to the depths of despair… (Y’shayahu 14:12-15)

The historical problems continue throughout the book: Nabonidus’s son Belsharrautzur (Belshazzar) was never king of Babylonia (see the section on Babylonian history above), and yet Daniel calls him “king” several times in chapter 5, and also in 7:1 and 8:1—historically, Belsharrautzur only acted as regent in his father Nabonidus’s place while the latter was absent from Babylon (which in fact was the majority of his reign), and Nabonidus was overthrown by the Persian king Cyrus before his son could ever reign as king, while Daniel says that when “Belshazzar” was killed the throne passed to “Darius the Mede” (5:30-6:1). The first Darius didn’t in fact come to power until after the reigns of Cyrus (9 years) and his son Cambyses (8 years), and he wasn’t a “Mede” either.

Then there is chapter 9, to which I have devoted a page all to itself – see The 9th chapter of Daniyel.

All things considered, I tend to concur with the opinion of the majority of modern scholars, who generally agree that “Daniel” is an anonymous composition dating from the 2nd century BCE. The unknown writer tries to discourage anyone from trying to understand the seemingly very precise predictions that he makes about the time that is to elapse before the “End”—in 12:4, the eponymous “Daniel” is instructed specifically to “encrypt” the book (i.e. write it in coded language) and “seal it up until the time of the End” so that “many will research [it] and thereby knowledge will increase”.

Despite the influence of Mesopotamian and Persian mythology which is apparent in the imagery of Daniel’s visions in chapters 7-12, the book certainly appears to be Hebraic in origin and his “prophecies” of the destruction of the Second Temple are consistent with the orally-transmitted “traditional” chronology preserved in the Talmud and Midrashim such as Séder Olam, which has only 490 years (instead of the roughly 655 years there actually were) between the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus (i.e. “seventy weeks of years… to expunge transgression, to atone for sin and to expiate iniquity”Daniyel 9:24)—traditionally broken down into 70 years of exile, 34 years of Persian rule, 180 years of Greek rule, 103 years of independence under the Hasmonæans (or “Maccabees”) and 103 years under Herod’s dynasty (Treatise M’gillah, folio 11b).

Strictly speaking, Daniel is not a “prophet”: his book is one of the K’tuvim rather than the N’viyim (see The 24 Books of the Hebrew Scriptures); he is never referred to as “Daniel the Prophet”; and he never uses language such as ‘כֹּה אָמַר ה koh amar adonai (“So says the LORD“), ‘נְאֻם ה n’um adonai (“the LORD declares”) or ‘הָיְתָה עָלַי יַד ה hay’tah alai yad adonai (“the LORD‘s power came over me”), like the Prophets used—neither does he ever speak directly in God’s Name. Finally, and most telling of all, nowhere in his Book do we find a single exhortation to repentance, which is the true Hebrew definition of a “prophet” (rather than just a person who makes predictions of the future).

Nonetheless, “Daniel” does display some of the characteristics that are associated with being a “prophet”: in the first half of the book, he successfully “interprets” Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams on at least two separate occasions (ch.2 and ch.4—in the former case without even being told in advance what the dream was about); he deciphers and explains the strange writing that is inscribed in the plaster of the palace wall during a great banquet hosted by Crown Prince Belshazzar (ch.5); and he is protected by God when he is thrown into a pit of lions for defying an edict of Darius I prohibiting the offering of prayers to any god for a period of 30 days (ch.6). In the second half of the book, he documents three dreams each of which is explained to him by an “angel” (chapters 7, 8 and 9), and also one long apocalyptic vision (chapters 10-12).

 

Want to share or print this? Choose how below:
  • Print
  • email
  • Add to favorites
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: