Saturday, April 21, 2012

List of Exiles Who Returned from Babylonian Captivity

In Ezra 2 there is a list of people who returned from Babylon to Judah by order of the Persian king Cyrus. In the list it is given the heads of Jews, division of people by genealogy, division of local origin, division of the profession. There is given total number of captives, the number of cattle and slaves. After returning to Judah the people donated gold and silver for the reconstruction of the temple and settled in their cities. The following start of the temple building described in the next chapter of the book.

Textual problems

This list is also located in the Book of Nehemiah and in 1 Esdras. Moreover, 1 Esdras states that these exiles returned not at the time of King Cyrus, but at the time of King Darius. These three versions contain significant differences. They are different genealogies, numbers in groups, the number of donated money, the number of animals, the replacing of some groups. These discrepancies are chaotic in nature. Only part of them can be explained by errors of copyists. Therefore impossible to determine what list is original and what is derived from the original list.

The list indicated the total number of captives, which are 42,360 people. But in none of the lists in both books of Ezra and Nehemiah the total number of people does not exceed 34,000 people. Thus the lists are incomplete in all three books, the total number of listed exiles is 30000 - 34000 people.

Chronological problems

Analysis of the list of exiles reveals also many chronological problems. Thus, among the leaders of the Jews who returned in the first year of King Cyrus (in 538 BCE), after the names of Zerubbabel and Joshua, we find the names of Nehemiah, who returned at the time of the king Artaxerxes, who ruled much later, and the name of Mordecai, the uncle of Esther (the protagonist of the same book, events of what also occurred in times of Artaxerxes). In addition, among the leaders of the Jews mentioned Bilsham and Rehum who mentioned also in Ezra. 4:7-8 among the senders of the letter to King Artaxerxes. Among other names mentioned Delaiah and Tobiah. Delaiah is a son of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and Tobiah is Sanballat contemporary. These characters are also mentioned in the book of Nehemiah, the events of what occurred at the times of Artaxerxes. Such way, the list of exiles who returned in 538 BCE presents the persons who are mentioned in the times of the Persian king Artaxerxes in other chapters of Ezra-Nehemiah. The first of the Persian kings with the name of Artaxerxes I began to rule through 73 years in 465 BCE and he ruled over 41 years.

How the persons who lived in the days of king Artaxerxes through 73 - 114 years can be present in the list of Jews who came in 538 BCE at the time of King Cyrus?

Historical problems

According to the storyline of this list a huge amount of exiles (42,360 people) returned to Judah led by its leaders Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, and many others. There was no one in Judah at this time, the land rested. After returning the exiles proved their genealogies (that they belong to the children of Israel) through supporting records in the books of genealogy. The priests also proved their genealogies in order to be eligible to serve in the temple. After confirmation of their genealogy the exiles settled in their cities. According to this storyline after the destruction of Jerusalem by armies of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon in 586 BCE Judah was empty and uninhabited. The life in the province resumed only after returning a huge number of exiles.

However, this settlement pattern contradicts the archaeological data. Archaeologists estimate the population of Judah before the Babylonian invasion about 100 thousand. According to archaeological data after the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar the population of Judah fell 3 times - estimated up to 30 thousand people. But Judah was not empty and uninhabited. In addition, in the early Persian period, there didn't observe any increase in the number of inhabitants of Judah. The population of Judah gradually increased due to natural increase. And so it goes on for 300 years. The population of Judah increased significantly only in the mid-2nd century BCE, the number of cities and villages increased, the Jerusalem grew.

Comparison of the Book of Ezra with archaeological data gives reason to believe that if the mass return from the captivity of Judah ever took place in reality, it could happen only in 2 century BCE.

In his article, Archaeology and the List of Returnees in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein argues that a large number of sites mentioned in the list of returnees didn’t exist in Persian times. They appeared only in 2 century BCE. Therefore, the list of returnees that contained today in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah could not be written before 2 century BCE.

Ancient Syro-Hexaplar translations of 1 Esdras and Nehemiah doesn’t contain the list of exiles nor in the first book, nor in the second. Critical analysis of the list of exiles allows us to assume that this list has been created as a separate story on the return from captivity. And this story has been inserted in Ezra and Nehemiah in very late stage of development of these books.

Integration of the list into the books of Ezra and Nehemiah

In the book of Ezra the list of returnees is inserted between the story about the return of temple vessels and the start of temple building. As a result of this placement the time of return from exile has been changed. Without this list the returning took place in the middle of Sheshbazzar story before returning the temple vessels, but after inserting this list the returning shifted to a later period - before the arrival of Zerubbabel. But this location has created various chronological problems, namely the presence in the list of many persons who lived and was active much later.

But in the book of Nehemiah this list has got a completely different way, much more interesting. In Nehemiah 7 relates that after the building of Jerusalem walls Nehemiah decided to make a census of all inhabitants of Judah. He gathered the people, divided them into groups, and prepared to make a census, but by chance found an old list of those who came before in the times of Zerubbabel. This list is our list of exiles. After finding the list Nehemiah read it and he found the names of those who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah (!) and others. That is, he accidentally found a list of those who came before about 100 years ago, and this list contained his own name. How is this possible? After citing a list of exiles the story of census breaks and begins the story of the collective reading the Book of the Law by Nehemiah and Ezra.

The account of Book of Nehemiah about finding the list raises another question. Why didn’t Nehemiah complete that, for what he gathered together all the people of Judah? He gathered them together to make a list of people who lived in Judah in the days of Nehemiah. Nothing has changed with finding the old list. He needed a list of the Jews who lived in his own time, why didn’t he finish his task and didn’t rewrite them?

The answer is hidden in the Greek translation of the book of Nehemiah (Septuagint version). Here is a partial translation:

And part of the heads of families gave into the treasury to Neemias for the work a thousand pieces of gold, fifty bowls, and thirty priests’ garments. (Nehemiah 7:70)

In Greek translation Nehemiah read the old list that told that the chiefs of the fathers handed Nehemiah in donate gold, silver, glassware and priestly garments. How is this possible?

Perhaps the answer is that the list of exiles, which Nehemiah "found" is actually the same list that he was going to create at the beginning of the story. Nehemiah planned to make a census of the people of Judah, gathered all the people, divided them into groups and rewrote them. Then chiefs of the fathers passed Nehemiah donations. Such a storyline partially preserved in the text of the Septuagint.

Confirmation of this assumption is further the book of Nehemiah. After the "finding" the list in Nehemiah 11 describes the repopulation of Jerusalem. Repopulation took place as follows. By lot it has been determined by one tenth of the inhabitants of Judah, which should settle in Jerusalem. In this chapter given a detailed list of those who moved to Jerusalem. Their total number is 3,044 people. This number is exactly the tenth part of the people listed in Nehemiah 7. Thus, the list of returnees in Nehemiah 7 is, in fact, not from the time of Zerubbabel but from the time of Nehemiah. Nehemiah rewrote the people of his own time, which is 30447 (or 30439 in the Septuagint), and one tenth of these people (3044) moved to Jerusalem.

The biblical author who inserted a list of exiles in the book of Nehemiah, did it in such a way as to assign the authorship of this list is Nehemiah.

Why, then, present canonical Book of Nehemiah tells us that Nehemiah found the list of exiles, not wrote it?

Harmonization of two different stories

Books of Ezra and Nehemiah evolved separately during a period of time. List of exiles, that was another story of repopulation of Judah, has been originally adapted to the Book of Nehemiah. Then it has been inserted in the Book of Ezra before the arrival of Zerubbabel. Approximately in the 2nd century CE the books of Ezra and Nehemiah have been combined into the single Book of Ezra-Nehemiah. Greek translation of that time records one combined book called Ezra β.

Merging the two books had a problem. In the book of Ezra the list of exiles related to the days of Zerubbabel but in the book of Nehemiah it related to the days of Nehemiah. The combined book could not have the same list related to different times. So editors had to make a redaction of the text and to remove this contradiction. As a result, one of the editors made ​​a correction in Nehemiah 7:5 and after the remark on the preparation to the census he added "... and I found a register of the company that came up first, and I found written in it as follows ..." Thus, the list that earlier in the book of Nehemiah belonged to Nehemiah himself became the old list of those who returned earlier in the days of Zerubbabel. This stage of literary development is recorded by Septuagint translation.

But the text still remains mention that the chiefs of the fathers gave Nehemiah donations. So later it has been made another edition in the text. Transfer the donations from chiefs of the fathers to Nehemiah has been changed. Nehemiah has been replaced by another person - one of the main characters in the list, which in the Hebrew text called by word thirshata. This word means a title that in most translations listed as governor, although this interpretation is only one possible. Among other possible meanings of the word I like most about the word butler. Probably, this title means a temple administrator. He ordered the priests "that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim." Transfer the donations to Nehemiah has been changed to transfer donations from thirshata. And in such form the story is present in our times.

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