One of the main characters of the biblical Book of Ezra is Zerubbabel. He heads the list of exiles that returned from the Babylonian captivity. After returning core group of exiles in the reign of the Persian king Cyrus Zerubbabel led the process of rebuilding the
Temple in , he built an altar and laid the foundations of the temple. Despite the various obstacles Zerubbabel along with other exiles finished building the temple in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the King. Jerusalem
However, the book didn't disclose the figure of Zerubbabel absolutely. Who was he? How did he become the leader of Jews? For what achievements? What is its fate?
Zerubbabel in the Book of Haggai
The book of Haggai gives us some information about this hero. But this information is largely contrary to the events of the book of Ezra. The book of Haggai tells us that Zerubbabel was governor of
Judea at the time of king Darius. In those days people lived in Judea, but their life was uncomfortable. The land gave poor yields. Then God Yahweh through the prophet Haggai addressed the Jews and explained them that the reason of calamity is that the people of Judah didn’t rebuild the temple of God in Jerusalem. If they would rebuild it God will bless the land and it will give generous yields. Then residents of Judea led by the governor Zerubbabel began to build the temple and a few weeks they resumed it in the second year of the reign of king Darius.
In this book there is no single word on the return from captivity and obstacles of Samaritans in building the temple. In addition, the temple has been rebuilt four years earlier than stated in the book of Ezra. In the book of Haggai, Zerubbabel is not a head of the exiles, but governor of the Judeans who live in the province for many years. Therefore, book of Haggai doesn’t bring clarity regarding origin of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel in 1 Esdras (story of three guards)
|Zerubbabel before the King Darius|
In non-canonical today 1 Esdras there is an attempt to fill the gap in the origin of Zerubbabel. In this book the return of exiles from the Babylonian captivity dated to the times of King Darius, not Cyrus (as in canonical Ezra). In 1 Esdras besides significant chronological differences there is a story of three guards of the king Darius. One of these guards is our hero Zerubbabel.
This story of the guards tells us that the king Darius organized a great feast for his subordinated commanders, satraps, and a whole court. After a loud celebration the king tired and went to sleep. Meanwhile, three of his guards organized contest: what is the strongest in the world? Each of them wrote his answer and put under the pillow of sleeping king.
The first guard wrote: Wine is the strongest.
The second guard wrote: The king is strongest.
A third guard wrote: Women are strongest but above all things Truth bears away the victory.
Waking up, king Darius found the answers and he read them. Having gathered all the guests again he asked the guards to explain their points of view. And each of the guards brought his arguments. The third guard, who was Zerubbabel, first continuously argued that women are strongest. And when he already stated his point of view, he unexpectedly began to argue the opposite, namely that the truth is strongest. As a result, all recognized the correctness of Zerubbabel, he won the contest. King Darius decided to award the winner and asked him about reward. Then Zerubbabel asked King Darius to help rebuild
and return the temple vessels to their previous place. Darius agreed and wrote letters to his subjects with order to help Zerubbabel rebuild the temple. Also he sent to Jerusalem Temple all the temple vessels that Persian king Cyrus planned to return, but didn't do this. Jerusalem
Origin of the guards story
The storyline of this account is constructed as if at the times of king Darius there was no any activity on the reconstruction of
and its temple. There was no return of a large group of exiles in the first year of King Cyrus there was no return of the temple vessels by Jewish leader Sheshbazzar. The return from captivity and the rebuilding of the temple began during the reign of King Darius. Obviously, this storyline directly contradicts the canonical Book of Ezra (chapter 1). Therefore we can assume that at the early stage of literary development the story of Zerubbabel return from captivity and rebuilding the temple by him has not been in any way connected with the story of Sheshbazzar in the first chapter of Ezra. These stories are different alternatives of Jewish returning from exile and rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple in . Jerusalem
As the story of the guards missing in the canonical Book of Ezra, most biblical scholars agree that it has been added in 1 Esdras in very late stage of development this book. The story of the guards belongs to the literary genre of a "court novel", which was very popular among Jewish Diaspora. This literary genre also includes the story of Joseph in Genesis, the story of Daniel, and story of Esther. Biblical scholars believe that the story of the guards that contained in 1 Esdras has not been in any way connected with Zerubbabel. It was the usual story about the contest of three unnamed guards, one of which won, received many honors and has been named royal cousin.
In this story the king's concubine Apama is mentioned. Thanks to the Greek historians we know that King Darius really had concubine named Apama. And not Darius I, but Darius III, last king of
. Therefore, it is clear that this legend has been written when the Persia Persian Empire no longer existed, and stories about the activities of the Persian kings became the legends. Scholars agree that it has been written no earlier second century BCE but not later first century CE, because the Jewish historian Josephus mentioned it in his book "Antiquity." Open pronounced polemics against Idumea suggest that inclusion of this story in 1 Esdras took place during the Jewish-Idumean conflict at the end of second century BCE.
Hymn to the truth
In the story of the guards contest there is a strange moment. Two guards gave one answer, and the third (Zerubbabel) gave two answers. First he argued that women are the strongest, and then he denied himself and argued that the truth is strongest. This complex and confusing answer of the third guard gave reason to some scholars argue that the initial story about the contest three guards contained only one answer - women are strongest. A second answer has been added in order to represent Zerubbabel more wise and righteous.
Another possible explanation for the double reply of Zerubbabel offers us by ancient Syrian translation of 1 Esdras. It has no the story of the guards, and Zerubbabel story begins with words:
The truth is great, and stronger than all things. All the earth cries upon the truth, and the heaven blesses it, all works shake and tremble at it, and with it is no unrighteous thing. The truth endures, and is always strong; it lives and conquers for evermore. With her there is no accepting of persons or rewards; but she does the things that are just, and refrains from all unjust and wicked things; and all men do well like of her works. Neither in her judgment is any unrighteousness; and she is the strength, kingdom, power, and majesty, of all ages. Blessed be the God of truth.
And then goes the story about Darius assistance in rebuilding of
temple. This introduction in the story of Zerubbabel is similar to the introduction in the Gospel of John: Jerusalem
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Introduction to the Gospel of John has been named as Hymn to the Word (Logos). Similarly, introduction to the story of Zerubbabel in Syrian translation can be named as Hymn to the Truth.
The biblical author, who added the story about the contest of three guards in 1 Esdras, had before him some intermediate version of this book. In this version the events on restoration began during the reign of King Darius. Before this events there was contained a brief introduction, so called Hymn to the Truth. The author could insert the guards story before or after the hymn, but he decided to put this hymn in Zerubbabel reply. So he has changed the guards story. This unknown author added second answer of the third guard (truth is strongest) to the first answer (women are strongest). And after a long speech of the third guard (now turned into Zerubbabel), in which he argued that women are strongest, the biblical author inserted Hymn to the Truth. And he didn't just add, but insert it in the second reply of Zerubbabel. Also he added some other statements to connect this hymn to the previous storyline. As a result he has created a story (bold highlighted Hymn to the Truth that is now a part of Zerubbabel speech):
So he began to speak of the truth. “O ye men, are not women strong? great is the earth, high is the heaven, swift is the sun in his course, for he compasses the heavens round about, and fetches his course again to his own place in one day. Is he not great that makes these things?
Therefore the truth is great and stronger than all things. All the earth cries upon the truth, and the heaven blesses it: all works shake and tremble at it, and with it is no unrighteous thing.
Wine is wicked, the king is wicked, women are wicked, all the children of men are wicked, and such are all their wicked works; and there is no truth in them; in their unrighteousness also they shall perish.
The truth endures, and is always strong; it lives and conquers for evermore. With her there is no accepting of persons or rewards; but she does the things that are just, and refrains from all unjust and wicked things; and all men do well like of her works. Neither in her judgment is any unrighteousness; and she is the strength, kingdom, power, and majesty, of all ages. Blessed be the God of truth.”
And with that he held his peace. And all the people then shouted, and said, “Great is Truth, and mighty above all things.”
Then said the king unto him, “Ask what thou wilt more than is appointed in the writing, and we will give it thee, because thou art found wisest; and thou shall sit next me, and shall be called my cousin.” (1 Esdras 4:34-42)
As a result, inclusion the story of three guards, one of which was Zerubbabel, in 1 Esdras filled the gap in the origin of this hero. Consequently, 1 Esdras that contained the story of Zerubbabel became more popular than the canonical Book of Ezra, because it has been considered to be more complete. Greek translation of this book has been called Ezra A, that is, the first book of Ezra.
In the first century CE there were two versions of the Book of Ezra at the same time. According to the storyline of one version the returning of the Jews from Babylonian captivity under Zerubbabel took place at the times of the Persian king Cyrus. According to the storyline of another version the returning of captives took place at the times of King Darius after Zerubbabel's victory in contest of three guards. In the late first century CE Jewish historian Josephus, writing his book "Antiquity," was familiar with both versions. Not daring to give preference to any one versions, he simply combined the chronologies of both Ezra books. As a result, Josephus described Zerubbabel's return from captivity at the time of King Cyrus (according to the canonical books of Ezra), then returned him back to Medes and made him a guard of King Darius (according to 1 Esdras). Thus he combined events of both books and he described two waves of returnees. First wave was at the times of Cyrus, and the second one - at the times of Darius.
But eventually the shorter version has been recognized as the canonical book of Ezra and more complete version has been added to the list of non-canonical books. Today biblical scholars consider non-canonical 1 Esdras so important, as canonical. Because both books of Ezra are different literary editions of a same book about returning from captivity and rebuilding