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A Reconstruction of Jewish History in the Persian Period, 458-430 BC, with special reference to Ezra- Nehemiah

Kyung-jin Min 1

1부산장신대학교

Candidate

ABSTRACT

This article is an attempt to reconstruct the Jewish history in the Persian period, 458―445 BC with special reference to Ezra-Nehemiah. 458 BC is the date which is arguably agreed as that of Ezra's return to Jerusalem, and 430 BC is the date which is presumed as the end of Nehemiah's whole mission. In order to fulfil this purpose we first discuss controversial issues such as what was the missions given to Ezra and Nehemiah by Artaxerxes, and why Nehemiah came to revisit Jerusalem. On the basis of this discussion we outline the Jewish history of the period 458―430 BC as follows: 1. During a period of revolts elsewhere in Persia, the empire felt a strong need to take a more 'hands-on' approach to its provinces, and to enforce greater compliance with imperial policy. Under these circumstances, Ezra was sent to Yehud in 458 BC. He brought a law, which contained not only traditional laws and customs of Judah, but also aspects of imperial control. 2. Another important mission assigned to Ezra was to inquire about Jerusalem and Yehud (Ezra 7:14). Specifically, he had to assess whether there existed a possibility of rebellion by the priests to whom power had been centralized in the community. Ezra was probably, however, involved in the attempt to build the wall (Ezra 4:7ff), which came to be viewed with suspicion by the Persians, and was prohibited. 3. Nehemiah, who had been in support of the previous attempt to build the wall, learned that the effort had been frustrated, and decided to ask the Persian king for permission to continue the building work. This request was accepted, since the empire thought that it was wiser to give permission: the completion of the wall with Persis's authorization, and under the supervision of a Persian loyalist, would ultimately provide a fort defending an imperial fringe. The empire was aware that the accumulation of power by particular groups in occupied countries was undesirable, as it created an alternative source of authority, and could lead to rebellion. Thus, providing Nehemiah with full support for rebuilding the wall, on the one hand, the empire also required that he should attempt to check the accumulation of power by the priesthood in Yehud, who had previously aroused suspicions of disloyalty, and antagonized other groups locally. 4. During his first term in office, Nehemiah was careful not to neglect this second mission of checking the priests and decentralizing their power. From the outset, he let all the people share in the building work, rather than limiting it to a specific group of people (cf. Neh 3). He was also interested in promoting the status of the common people (cf. Neh 5). Following a brief recall to the court, during which the priesthood took advantage of his absence, Nehemiah took a new and more forceful approach to the problem, by supporting the Levites, who were the only credible alternative to the priests. Upon returning th Jerusalem, he concentrated his efforts on supporting the Levites in various ways, and reported these efforts to the king.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.