Thursday, May 31, 2012

Laying the Foundations of Jerusalem Temple by Zerubbabel

Third chapter of Ezra book tells us how after the return from Babylon the Jews led by Zerubbabel and Joshua built an altar and restored the sacrifice to God Yahweh. After celebration of religious holidays they began to rebuild the temple.

First, they brought wood from Lebanon according to the order of King Cyrus. The priests began construction of the temple and laid its foundations. After laying the foundations the priests and Levites with trumpets and cymbals began to praise the Lord and to thank him for establishing the foundations of the temple. There were also the people who have seen the previous temple of Solomon by their own eyes. They wept for joy and someone just loudly rejoiced. This noise has been heard by Samaritans who wanted to participate in the reconstruction of the temple. But Zerubbabel refused them. Consequently, Samaritans began to interfere with the Jews to build the temple and its rebuilding has been delayed from the reign of King Cyrus until the reign of King Darius.

Premature celebration

In the plot line of this story about laying the foundations of the temple there is a confusing thing. For what did the Jews celebrate so joyfully with trumpets and cymbals? For what did they so grateful to God? What did the elders compare with the previous Solomon Temple? According to the storyline of Ezra book, they merely laid the foundation but rejoiced as if the temple has already been built.

The book of Haggai the prophet could offer the answer to this question. It contains a very similar story. In this book, God gave orders to the Jews to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. Residents of Judea with his governor Zerubbabel restored the temple for few weeks. Then God told them:

Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? (Haggai 2:3 NRSV)

According to the story of Haggai book the Jews rebuilt the temple. Then the Lord has asked those who had seen the previous temple, compare the new temple with old. The new temple was much smaller and more modest. But God promised the Jews that the glory of this second temple will be even greater than the glory of previous one.

The story of Ezra book with elders comparing the new temple with previous one has been taken directly from the Book of Haggai the prophet. But there was no temple yet in the book of Ezra. What did they look on? They only laid the foundations.

Evidence of 1 Esdras

1 Esdras will help us for this. In the appropriate place, where the canonical book tells us about laying the foundations of the temple, 1 Esdras tells (1 Esdras 5:57-65 NRSV):

And they laid the foundation of the temple of God on the new moon of the second month in the second year after they came to Judea and Jerusalem.

They appointed the Levites who were twenty or more years of age to have charge of the work of the Lord. And Jeshua arose, and his sons and kindred and his brother Kadmiel and the sons of Jeshua Emadabun and the sons of Joda son of Iliadun, with their sons and kindred, all the Levites, pressing forward the work on the house of God with a single purpose.
So the builders built the temple of the Lord.

And the priests stood arrayed in their vestments, with musical instruments and trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, praising the Lord and blessing him, according to the directions of King David of Israel; they sang hymns, giving thanks to the Lord, "For his goodness and his glory are forever upon all Israel."

And all the people sounded trumpets and shouted with a great shout, praising the Lord for the erection of the house of the Lord.

Some of the levitical priests and heads of ancestral houses, old men who had seen the former house, came to the building of this one with outcries and loud weeping, while many came with trumpets and a joyful noise, so that the people could not hear the trumpets because of the weeping of the people.

The storyline of laying the foundations of the temple in 1 Esdras is:

1. Jews laid the foundations of the temple.
2. Priests and Levites began construction.
3. They built the temple.
4. People began to celebrate the completion of construction.
5. Elders who had seen the previous temple wept for joy in contemplation of a new temple.

The storyline of 1 Esdras is a natural and logical. It is likely that in this book preserved the original form of story about laying the foundations of the temple. In the canonical book rebuilding the temple has been replaced on an interim action - the establishment of the temple (the laying of the foundations).

Continuation of the story

Once, the story about laying the foundations of the temple already contained a description of completion the construction and its celebration. But in our book of Ezra the story of building the temple is not finished. Unknown enemies constantly interfered completion, there were new challenges, there were passed new solutions. Why?

During creation of Ezra book the unknown biblical authors had attempted to bring together various stories, tales and legends on the return from captivity and restoration of Jerusalem temple. So they combined different independent stories in one continuous storyline. If original independent stories did not contain obvious contradictions, they have been combined together by creation transitions from one story to another. If the stories contained explicit contradictions and they could not exist together, the biblical authors and editors had to make corrections, to alter or delete parts of independent stories. As a result, there has been formed continuous storyline.

Shifting the stories

In both books the laying of the foundations of the temple occurred in the second year after returning from captivity. In canonical Book of Ezra this events took place at the times of King Cyrus, but in apocryphal 1 Esdras the events took place at the times of King Darius. Accordingly, in the Book of Ezra the laying of the temple foundations took place in the second year of Cyrus, and in 1 Esdras - in the second year of Darius. What date is primary?

We can not answer definitely. But one should note that the story on the laying of the temple foundations follows the narrative of the Book of Haggai. In this book rebuilding of the temple occurred in the second year of King Darius. Therefore we can assume that in our story the primary date is the times of Darius. Another argument in favor of this assumption is that at the start of rebuilding of the temple the Jews got the cedar trees from Lebanon by order of King Cyrus. But in our canonical Book of Ezra there is no mention of this order. However, it is contained in 1 Esdras. And it is not an order of King Cyrus, but King Darius.

However, the more likely that shifting the stories has been carried in the opposite direction from the times of Cyrus to the times of Darius. This is evidenced by the text of the story. Whatever it was, already at an early stage of the Books of Ezra the stories associated with the return from exile and rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem have been reworked. Events since the times of one king have been shifted to the times of another king. Why?

Possible answer is that historical knowledge of some authors of the book was substantially different from historical knowledge of other authors.

Darius the Mede

In the prophecies on the end of Babylonian captivity and return from exile has been prophesied future fall of Babylon. It has been prophesied that Babylonian captivity would last 70 years, and after this time the Lord will do judgment upon Babylon, and he will be destroyed. This coming fall of Babylon has been perceived as God's punishment, and the man, who will destroy it, will be God's agent.

Babylon really fell, and Babylon kingdom ceased to exist. But over 49 years, not 70. However, all biblical authors really believed that the Babylonian captivity lasted 70 years, and the fall of Babylon took place 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem temple. Greek historians told that the Babylon kingdom fell at the hands of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. Accordingly, the authors of biblical books considered him an agent of God Yahweh in the punishment of Babylon. In the Book of Isaiah the Persian king Cyrus even has been named God's anointed (Messiah). And as God's anointed he authorized the Jews to return and rebuild the destroyed Jerusalem Temple.
However, not all authors of biblical books shared this view. By the analysis of the Book of Daniel we can assume that the authors of this book really thought that Babylon kingdom fell at the hands of the Medes, but not Persians. In the book of Jeremiah also it has been predicted that Median kings will destroy Babylon. It is difficult to say what was the data of authors of Daniel book - the prophecies of Jeremiah, or some additional data - but they really believed that Babylon fell at the hands of the Median king. In the Book of Daniel this king has even been named - Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus. It has been believed that this mythical king ruled the mythical united Median-Persian kingdom before the Persian king Cyrus, and the capital of this mythical united kingdom was city Ecbatana in Media. Exactly for some biblical authors Darius the Mede was a main hero.  Because he destroyed Babylon, he was an agent of God Yahweh, he was anointed. And he gave permission to the Jews to return from exile, he gave the order to rebuild the Jerusalem temple.

In the guards story (story of Zerubbabel origin in 1 Esdras) King Darius - who figures in the guards story, who reigned over the Medes and Persia, who gave permission to the Jews to return, handed on the temple vessels, who wrote letters to satraps in order to help the Jews in building of Jerusalem Temple - is not the Persian king Darius I Hystaspes. He is a mythical Darius the Mede who allegedly destroyed Babylon. Reworking of stories about the return from captivity, in which events from the times of one king have been shifted to the times of another king, has been made by authors who thought that Darius the Mede was original agent of God Yahweh.

But shifting the events from the times of one king to the times of another one took place only in some manuscripts. In other manuscripts the previous version had preserved. As a result, already at an early stage of the Ezra book there were two versions of events. In one of them rebuilding the temple by Zerubbabel took place at the times of Cyrus, in another - at the times of Darius. These different versions of events had caused developing of Ezra book in two editions. One of these editions became the basis for the canonical Book of Ezra. Another edition became the basis for 1 Esdras, which largely underestimated today.

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