Aftermath: Spring 537 to 409 BCE
Within the range of Persian Kings affecting Judea and Jerusalem or the Holy Land between the rivers, the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah are dated records of occurrences and events during the time from Cyrus through the fourth king’s son Artaxerxes I or the fifth king of Persia. The Book of Esther’s events occur during this period as well. The Prophets Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi ministered to Israel during this history.
Confusion has abounded around the record in Ezra 4 concerning a letter that is stated to be during the time of the fifth king of Persia 465/464-404 BCE, Artaxerxes I, whose father, Xerxes I, was murdered in August 465 where Artaxerxes eventually took over by 464 BCE, after a period of unrest and further assassinations. This letter does not single out the Temple at all, which is the key to understanding this portion.
The cessation of building until the 2nd year of Darius in verse 24 of Ezra 4, upon a cursory reading, APPEARS to be due to this letter mentioned in verses 7-23 and consequent command to cease building. Again, this confusion or apparent contradiction to known archaeological records is only due to lack of referring to all the given Biblical record concerning this issue. In silimiar fashion, one will find in Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion and ministry in Acts 9, a cursory reading appears to lead one to believe that Paul went into the synagogues to preach just a few days after his conversion. Whereas when we compare that, with the rest of the story from Paul’s own account in Galatians 1, we will see he took a trip to Arabia and back, before publicly ministering.
In Ezra 4 concerning the letter written in the reign of Artaxerxes I, it came after a period of 129 plus years from Cyrus 539 to 464 BCE, the first year of Artaxerxes I. It was the second letter attempted and was a consummation of those years of antagonism against building the city by those living in the Holy Land that opposed Israel. This letter of Ezra 4:7-23, from the enemies against building, to Artaxerxes I, the fifth king of Persia, states, “Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.” There is no mention of the Temple at all. There is good reason for this. This letter and the consequent command to cease building, was, as it says, during the reign of Artaxerxes I from 464 BCE. The Temple had been finished more than 52 years before in the year 517 BCE.
Once examining the record, the point to clarify is the fact that the cessation of the work on the Temple, in particular of verse 24 of Ezra 4, is simply a cessation due to general discouragement to building. This is made apparent in Ezra 4:4-5 when compared with the consequential attitude of the people of Israel as stated in Haggai 1:2, “…this people say, the time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built.” The word “then” in verse 24 of Ezra 4 clearly means “during the time” of Cyrus “even until …Darius” according to verse 4-5. It does not mean “after” this letter of verses 7-23 which came at a minimum of 52 years later. Therefore the Decree from Darius to “let the work… alone” of Ezra 6 is in no way an order to resume building, because there NEVER was a letter to stop in Ezra 5. Additionally, again, the command as the result of the letter in Ezra 4:7-23 DOES NOT have any bearing or association to Ezra 5 and 6 whatsoever! Also, keep in mind that the chapter breaks are not done by the original authors. These ancient records are written in the original record as one long scroll, as we have mentioned earlier with Daniel. It is obvious, in light of a thorough analysis, verse 24 belongs with Chapter 5.
Including Ezra 4:24, Ezra 5 is simply an account of a letter sent to Darius as a challenge made by Tatnai the governor, after Haggai and Zechariah, the Prophets, prophesied and motivated Zerubbabel and Jeshua to RESTART their building of the house of God. This was over and above the foundation that was already laid some 16 years earlier in Spring of 537 BCE, in the second month, after the return from Babylon in the summer and fall of 538 BCE. (Compare Ezra 3:8-13, Haggai 1:1, 1:15, 2:1, 2:10). Ezra 6 was the Decree from Darius, after Cyrus’ records were searched concerning this challenge in the letter sent by Tatnai to Darius. The Darius Decree said, they were to keep building and anybody in the way of such was in jeopardy of severe judgment from the King.
Starting with Ezra 4:24, through to the end of Chapter 6 inclusive, again can be treated as a parenthesis. Removing it, one can join verse 23 of Chapter 4, right up to verse 1 of Chapter 7. This way one can see the command to stop the building by Artaxerxes I in Ezra 4:21, sometime after 464 BCE, followed up by the same King’s command and authority given to Ezra in 458 BCE to really build Jerusalem as far as government and judicial authority. This is the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem initiating the Prophecy of 70 Weeks of Daniel 9:24-27.
Laying the events out in order through Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai we have:
Spring of 538 BCE, Ezra 1:1-2:70 - Return under Cyrus
Fall of 538 BCE, Ezra 3:1-7 - Altar built and celebration of Feast of Tabernacles
Spring 537 BCE, Ezra 3:8-13 – Foundation to Temple laid and celebration
Spring 537 – Summer 521 BCE, Ezra 4:1-5, 24 – People discouraged, no building for 16 years. According to verse 5 “until,… Darius” and then verse 24 “so it ceased unto,… Darius,” verse 6-23 are parenthetical of the whole period and attitude of enemies toward building in general but has no application specifically to the Temple. Therefore, regarding the Temple or House of God, verses 4 and 5 can be read with 24 as the next verse as follows:
“4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
5 And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”
“24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”
Summer / Fall 521 BCE, 2nd year of Darius I, Ezra 5:1-2, Haggai 1 and 2 – Rebuilding Temple again.
Dates in Haggai that prophesied at this time are as follows:
Haggai 1:1 – 1st day, 6th month, Elul, Summer 521, 2nd year, Darius I
Prophecy given by Haggai to build.
Haggai 1:15 – 24th day, 6th month, Elul, Summer 521, 2nd year, Darius I
Building begun recommenced.
Haggai 2:1 – 20th day, 7th month, Tishrei, early fall 521, 2nd year Darius I
Haggai 2:10 – 24th day, 9th month, Kislev, winter 521, 2nd year Darius I
Dates in Zechariah that prophesied at this time are as follows:
Zechariah 1:1- ? day, 8th month, Heshvan, 521 BCE, 2nd year, Darius I
Zechariah 1:7 – 24th day, 11th mon., Shevat, 521/520 BCE, 2nd yr. Darius I
Zechariah 7:1 – 4th day, 9th month, Kislev, 519 BCE, 4th year, Darius I
Summer 521 – Late Winter, 3rd Hebrew month Adar 517 BCE Ezra 5:3-6:15 – Challenge by Tatnai the governor is taken to Darius in king’s 2nd year while building Temple continues, having been started again by Zerubbabel and Jeshua who laid the foundation 16 years earlier Spring 537 BCE. Sometime later in this same span of 4 years Tatnai brings approval, from a record search done by Darius, back to the original Cyrus decree of late fall of 539 BCE. This approval and no building delay via Decree of Darius in Ezra 6, the Temple is finished in the 3rd Hebrew month of Adar in the 6th year of Darius, 517 BCE.
Spring Passover 517 BCE Ezra 6:16-22 Temple dedicated and the Passover celebrated for the first time with rebuilt Temple. From the time the Temple foundation was laid in the second month of Spring 537 unto the finish of the building and dedication / Passover 517 BCE was just days short of, or approximately, 20 years.
464 BCE 1st year, Artaxerxes I, before 458 BCE 7th year of King, Ezra 4:7-23 – The letter here is reported to be given to the King in some undetermined year within his reign. He is recorded as agreeing with it and stopping building in general of the city of Jerusalem. This is all this letter addresses. He says it must stop until he gives another commandment. Again this has nothing to do with the Temple which was finished much earlier under Darius I, as we have seen in examining all the record. This command was indeed overturned by this same King by Decree given to Ezra 458 BCE and followed up by letter to build the walls under Nehemiah in 444 BCE, both dates within the 60 year tenure of Artaxerxes I, 464-404 BCE.
Spring 458 BCE, 7th year of Artaxerxes I, Ezra 7:7-28 – Ezra sent with decree (verse 13) to establish government and rebuild Jerusalem in fulfillment of Daniel 9:25-26, starting Daniels 70 Weeks, 70 x 7 years or 490 year countdown.
Spring of 444 BCE, 20th year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah receives letter and then goes to Jerusalem to build walls and streets in troublous times which stretches from Ezra’s arrival in 458 BCE unto the end of Nehemiah’s governorship in 409 BCE which is the 7 Weeks or 49 years separated from the 62 Weeks in Daniel 9:25-27.