Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Samaritan Letter to Artaxerxes the King

According to the fourth chapter of the Book of Ezra Zerubbabel, the leader of the Jews, has refused the Samaritan’s help in rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Offended, the Samaritans began to interfere with the Jews in rebuilding the temple and seduce the king's officials to stop construction of the temple. Later, they wrote a letter to the Persian king Artaxerxes with denunciation of the Jews. In it Samaritans warned the king that if rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem would complete the Jews will raise revolt and stop paying tribute. In support of his words the senders of the letter asked the king of search in the royal archives of old documents from which it can verify the rebellious nature of the Jews. After receiving and reading the letter King Artaxerxes has raised the old documents and saw that message senders were right. In response Artaxerxes ordered a prohibition rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. As a result the construction of the temple has been stopped all the reign of Artaxerxes until the next reign of Darius king of Persia. This storyline draws us to the fourth chapter of the Book of Ezra.

Problem places of this story

Textual problems

In this chapter the letter to Artaxerxes the King contains as many as four different versions of who wrote it and under which circumstances. Two versions have been written in Hebrew, and two in Aramaic.

The first version:
In the reign of Ahasuerus, in his accession year, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezra 4:6)

The second version:
And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to King Artaxerxes of Persia; the letter was written in Aramaic / translated in Aramaic. (Ezra 4:7)

The third version:
Rehum the royal deputy and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows. (Ezra 4:8)

The fourth version:
Then Rehum the royal deputy, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the envoys, the officials, the Persians, the people of Erech, the Babylonians, the people of Susa, that is, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River wrote- and now this is a copy of the letter that they sent (Ezra 4:9-11)

In the first version the senders of the letter are the same people who have bribed the royal officials to stop rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. An addressee is not Artaxerxes, but Ahasuerus. This is a name of the king in the Book of Esther.

In the second version an addressee is Artaxerxes the King, and the senders are unknown Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and their associates. In the same version there is mentioned that the letter was written in Aramaic and in the same time translated into Aramaic (?).

The third version is written in Aramaic. Its senders are another people: Rehum the royal deputy and Shimshai the scribe.

The fourth version is also written in Aramaic. The senders are Rehum and Shimshai also, but this version is more advanced than the last.

After four versions of who wrote a letter to Artaxerxes there is our letter, written in Aramaic.

Substantial problems

According to the storyline of the Book of Ezra the letter to Artaxerxes has stopped the construction of the temple in Jerusalem until the reign of next King Darius. But in the letter to the king, as in his response, there is no single word concerning Jerusalem temple. The main theme of the correspondence is rebuilding the city. So this story misses the context of rebuilding the temple. Obviously, some editor of the book has understood this moment, and he inserted in correspondence the mention of Jerusalem temple. But these insertions occurred only in the redaction, which became the basis for 1 Esdras. We can compare the passages of both books.
And now may it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. (Ezra 4:12)

Let it now be known to our lord the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem and are building that rebellious and wicked city, repairing its market places and walls and laying the foundations for a temple. (1 Esdras 2:18 NRSV)

In this passage, except lexical differences, improvement of foundation of the walls replaced for the reconstruction of the temple. Another example:

Now because we share the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king's dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, so that a search may be made in the annals of your ancestors. (Ezra 4:14-15)

Since the building of the temple is now going on, we think it best not to neglect such a matter, but to speak to our lord the king, in order that, if it seems good to you, search may be made in the records of your ancestors. (2 Esdras 2:20-21 NRSV)

In this slightly shorter version of the letter it has been added the mention of temple building. Text in 1 Esdras has been harmonized with the overall context.

Chronological problems

In a previous story of Zerubbabel refusing assistance from the Samaritans is told that the Samaritans have obstructed rebuilding the temple all the reign of King Cyrus until the reign of King Darius. After this story we would hope that the next story will take place at the time of King Darius, who (according to the representations of biblical authors) reigned immediately after Cyrus. But the story suddenly jumps to the times of the Persian king Artaxerxes. Even if we assume that King Artaxerxes in the fourth chapter of Ezra book is Artaxerxes I, even this first Artaxerxes began to reign 73 years after. Then, the storyline of Artaxerxes' correspondence jumps to the time of King Darius. Which one? If he is Darius I Hystaspes, then he ruled before Artaxerxes I. If he is Darius II Oh, then he began to reign in 423 BCE, after 42 years. In this case, Zerubbabel would have died long ago and he would have not take part in the reconstruction of the temple.

Therefore, we must admit that after correspondence of Artaxerxes the book's storyline has returned back into the past, to the time of Darius I. This fact tells us that the story of correspondence of Artaxerxes in general storyline of Ezra book is excessive and interrupted the previous narrative. Perhaps, this story was an independent and over some time existed outside of the Book of Ezra. It has been inserted in the Book of Ezra in the later stage of book's development. If we remove the story (all Aramaic letter and four introductions), the storyline from the times of Cyrus the Great passed to the times of Darius I. However, the Persian kings  Cambyses II and Haumata reigned between them, but biblical writers probably just do not know this reigns order, as they wrote several centuries after. They believed that Kind Darius I ruled after Cyrus, therefore, they formed the Book of Ezra accordingly.

Four different versions of the letter senders can also be explained if the story of correspondence with Artaxerxes existed separately in many copies during a period of time. And there were different variants of letter's senders in the various exemplars. In the composing of Ezra book the biblical redactors (not daring to choose from different variants)  successively added all four variants of letter's senders. The same is true of statement why a letter has been written in Aramaic. In some exemplars of the story it was claimed that the letter to Artaxerxes was written in Aramaic, in other exemplars it was claimed that the letter were translated into Aramaic. Bible redactors decided to keep both variants and wrote both: "A letter was written in Aramaic / translated in Aramaic."

Context of Artaxerxes correspondence

Why, then, the story of correspondence with Artaxerxes is now in the book of Ezra? If (according to storyline of the book) the Temple has been restored at the times of Darius I (in 516 BCE), what rebuilding did Artaxerxes stop 60 years over?

Here we must remember that the main theme of the correspondence is a rebuilding of the city, not the temple. Letter from Artaxerxes is associated with rebuilding of Jerusalem. In Artaxerxes response there are these words:

Therefore issue an order that these people be made to cease, and that this city not be rebuilt, until I make a decree. (Ezra 4:21)

This mention of the future order, in which King Artaxerxes would allow the construction of the city, gave reason to many biblical scholars to suggest that this is the same Artaxerxes, during whose reign Ezra and Nehemiah have returned. This is the same king Artaxerxes who, according to the Book of Nehemiah, allowed the latter rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

In analyzing the correspondence with Artaxerxes one must also answer the question whether these letters are genuine correspondence between the Samaritans and the Persian king. If these letters are authentic, then we would expect that the text in various biblical sources would be identical or would differ only by some copyists' errors. However, the comparison of the text in the Book of Ezra with text in 1 Esdras reveals significant differences, characteristic of a literary work, not of a document. In addition, the Aramaic language, in which this letters have been written, is a Middle Aramaic and much later than the Imperial Aramaic, official language of Persian Empire. Obviously, the letters have been written when the Persian Empire no longer existed.

American biblical scholar Jacob Wright suggested that the story of correspondence with Artaxerxes is a prehistory of Nehemiah book. The biblical author, who created this story, was familiar with the Book of Nehemiah. In this book, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 20th year of Artaxerxes reign. Perhaps, unknown author want to explain why the building of Jerusalem walls took place so late. Perhaps, the author had some other reason or desire. We do not know. We can only conclude that the story of correspondence with Artaxerxes is a literary prehistory of Nehemiah book that has been included in the Book of Ezra in a very late stage of development and has been placed very awry, tearing the previous storyline and creating a significant chronological issue.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, the Samaritan Book of Joshua also speaks of this period, see CHAPTER XLV.

    Larry Rynearson