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Commentary On Daniel :: Post-Exilic History

An interim from a commentary on the Book of Daniel written from an evangelical (non-critical) perspective. To download a pdf version (where the fonts come out best), either sign up to or email me.
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  Post-Exilic History  Our knowledge of Israel’s post-exilic history contains many ‘holes’, but itis reasonably well-established in terms of when its key events occurred,as is evident from the degree of agreement in its major chronologies(Finegan’s, 1 McFall’s, 2 and Steinmann’s. 3 ). The primary distinctives of my own proffered chronology are as follows.  (1).  Given the Talmud’smention of a 52-year Judean exile from the land, I have assigned Judah’sreturn from exile to the year 535 n  /534 n . I have consequently been ableto align Haggai’s ministry with a Sabbatical year, when the Law wouldhave been read out in public (and the sowers’ “seed” would have re-mained in its barn).  (2).  Since I have parsed Ezra’s dates as Nisan-yearsand Nehemiah’s as Tishri-years (cf. Neh. 1.1, 2.1), I have been able toalign the events associated with “the 7 th month” in Ezra and Nehemiah(as well as Israel’s promise to give the land its Sabbath rest) with Sab-batical years. 4 (3).  I have assigned Malachi’s ministry a date prior toNehemiah’s final (unexpected) return to Judea, which I take to be a par-tial fulfilment of Mal. 3.1-4. (Nehemiah suddenly appeared in the Tem-ple, purged it of an unwelcome guest, purified the Levites, and restoredthe payment of the priests’ tributes.)  (4).  I have dated Nehemiah’s re-turn to the first Jubilee year (409 t  /408 t ) of Ezra’s re-instituted Jubileecycle, which I take to have begun in 458 t (as stated in the  Seder ‘Olam ).If the date of 458 t is correct, then two further incidents turn out to co-incide with Jubilee years: a] the Maccabees’ reclamation of the Templein 164 t  /163 t , and b] the Bar Kochba revolt in 131 t  /132 t  AD . Both of these incidents could easily have been spurred on by the approach of a 1. FHBC 1998:266-2692. McFall 1991:263-293, 2009:673-718.3. SFATP 2011:171-214.4. The close connection between the record of Ezra and Nehemiah and the events of Sabbatical years hasbeen noted by commentators both ancient and modern (cf. Demsky 1994:12-15).1  2  539-331: THE MEDO-PERSIANS  Jubilee; indeed, the latter was publicised by means of a batch of coinsemblazened with trumpets, palm branches, and a new year-count (coinsprinted in 132  AD  are stamped ‘Year 1 of the Redemption of Israel’), which is highly Jubilee-esque. 5 539-331: The Medo-Persians During the period 539-331  BC , ten different Medo-Persian kings cameto reign over Babylonia. The relevant details from their reigns arecharted out below. The column entitled “Ptolemy’s” is an estimation of the 1 st (post-acc.) year of each king’s reign based on Ptolemy’s Canon. 6 The other columns derive from Parker and Dubberstein’s BabylonianChronology. The columns entitled “earliest” and “latest” provide (re-spectively) the latest item of evidence of each king’s predecessor’s reignand the earliest evidence of each king’s  own  reign. The column “1 st Nisan” then notes my suggestion as to the start-date of each king’s 1 st year given the available evidence. In all cases, these 1 st year dates agree with  PDBC ’s suggestions, with the exception of Darius I’s, for details of  which see the table’s footnotes. King Ptolemy’s Earliest Latest 1 st Nis. 1. Cyrus the Great 540 n  /539 n 12 Oct.53912 Oct.5395382. Cambyses 530 n  /529 n 12 Aug.53031 Aug.5305293. Darius I Hystaspes(the Great)522 n  /521 n 11 Mar.522 7 22 Dec.522522 8 5. Schäfer 2003:102.6. The list contained in Ptolemy’s Canon can be cross-checked for accuracy against various inscriptions.One of Artaxerxes III’s inscriptions, for instance, reads, “I am the son (of) Artaxerxes [II] the King, (of) Artaxerxes (who was) the son (of) Darius [II] the King, (of) Darius (who was) the son (of) Artaxerxes[I] the King, (of) Artaxerxes (who was) the son (of) Xerxes the King, (of) Xerxes (who was) the son (of)Darius [I] the King, ...(who was) the son of Hystaspes by name” (ARI A3Pa), i.e., the same kings listedin Ptolemy’s Canon.7. The reign of an apparent impostor (Pseudo-Smerdis) is evidenced in Mar. 522 (in Babylon), which Dar-ius’s reign could have been backdated in order to ‘overwrite’. In 522, 1 st Nis. fell on 27 th March.8. Exactly when Darius is reckoned to have started his reign by different cultures is unclear. Darius quasheda number of revolts in his early years, the first of which predated Nis. 522 and the last of which postdatedNis. 521 (PDBC 16). Consistency would therefore require us either to backdate Darius’s accession tocover  all  of these revolts (i.e., to designate 522 n  /521 n as Darius’s 1 st year) or not to include  any   of them(i.e., to designate 520 n  /519 n as Darius’s 1 st year, as per PDBC). I personally take the Heb. Bible to be  POST-EXILIC HISTORY   3 King Ptolemy’s Earliest Latest 1 st Nis. 4. Xerxes (aka Ahasuerus) 9 486 n  /485 n 7 Nov. 486 1 Dec. 486 4855. Artaxerxes ILongimanus465 n  /464 n 18 Aug.46511 Jun.464464 10 6. Darius  II  Ochus 424 n  /423 n 24 Dec.424 11 13 Feb.4234237. Artaxerxes  II Mnemon405 n  /404 n 20 Sep.4083 June4044048. Artaxerxes  III  Ochus 359 n  /358 n 25 Nov.359358 Sabbath years Before we proceed further, it will be helpful to discuss an important fea-ture of the Hebrew calendar, namely Sabbatical years. Such years turnout to be a very important feature of Daniel’s prophecy in ch. 9. In theHebrew calendar, the 7 th month is seen as the climax of the Hebrew predicated on the former approach, since the Biblical chronology then hangs together more neatly (seelater). But whether or not the Persians adopted the same convention (as PDBC suggests) is unclear.To interpret at least  some  Babylonian tablets on the basis of a 522 n  /521 n 1 st year would certainly seemdesirable, since one tablet refers to Darius’s 36 th year, which PDBC is forced to treat as a ‘notional date’(i.e., a statement of a delivery date for a prospective order: PDBC 17), since, if Darius’s 1 st year began in520 n , the last year of his reign would have been his 35 th .9. That Ahasuerus (Aram. pronounciation,  Achash-verosh ) and Artaxerxes (Aram. pronounciation,  Artach- shashta ) are the Aram. equivalents of Xerxes and Artaxerxes seems very likely, as Schaeder demonstrateson the basis of their philology (1930).10. Horn and Wood are of the same view. Xerxes appears to have died some time in the summer of 465 (ortherebouts), at which point his throne was temporarily held by Artabanus, a powerful courtier (Neuffer1968:64-73). Artaxerxes therefore acceded to the throne towards the end of 465 BC (post-Tishri), whichmade 464 n  /463 n  Artaxerxes’s 1 st Nisan-year and 464 t  /463 t his 1 st Tishri-year (1954:9), as is affirmed by Neuffer (1968:82-83), Owusu-Antwi (1993:328-334), and Horn & Wood’s later calculations (2006:36).Two sources (Thucydides and Charon of Lampsacus, both 5 th cent. Gr. historians) imply a different version of events. Acc. to Thucydides and Charon, a politician named Themistocles soon after the siegeof Naxos (c. 470) visited Artaxerxes (in our view, 464 n -424 n ), who was in charge of Persia at the time, which would require an accession date long before 465 (as is maintained by Jones 1993:241-255). But whether we should give greater credence to Thucydides and Charon than to the records of Ptolemy cross-referenced with Babylon’s economic and legal tablets is doubtful. The majority of Gr. historianssay Themistocles met  Xerxes  rather than Artaxerxes (Neuffer 1968:60-73), and a 465 accession date isalso implied by other accounts of history; as Neuffer writes, “Diodorus places the death of Xerxes, aftera reign of more than 20 years, in the Athenian year of the archonship of Lysitheus (which ran frommid-summer 465 to midsummer 464) and in the Roman year (January-December) of the consulship of Lucius Valerius Publicola and Titus Aemilius Mamercus (465)” (1968:65). That Artaxerxes entered intoa co-regency with Xerxes in c. 475 is, of course, a possibility, but, even if he did, it is still preferable toread Nehemiah and Ezra’s record in light of Artaxerxes’ sole regency due to its coherence with otherobservations of the Sabbatical year.11. One tablet appears to have Darius II still on the throne on 26 Feb. 423, but the evidence is confused andso has not been included here.  4  SABBATH YEARS  year. It is the month in which the harvest is gathered in and three im-portant feast-days are remembered: the Day of Trumpets, the Day of  Atonement, and the feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 16.29, 23.23-36). Today,its advent is celebrated by the New Year festival, i.e.,  Rosh Hashanah  (lit.‘the head of the year’). The 7 th year in every ‘cycle’ is also seen as aclimax. It is the culmination of a ‘week of years’, and is consequently known as a ‘Sabbatical’ year. Like the weekly Sabbath, the Sabbaticalyear it is characterised by rest. It is a time when the land is to ‘rest’ and‘lie fallow’ (Exod. 23.10-11), and whatever crops arise are said to havearisen ‘by themselves’, i.e., by ‘natural’ rather than agricultural means(Lev. 25.5, 25.11). The Sabbatical year is also a time of release—a time when creditors are to release what they have lent to their neighbours,and slaves are to be released from their bonds (Deut. 15.1-18). In theaftermath of the Sabbatical year, food was scarce in Israel since no newcrops were planted in the Sabbatical year. (Sabbatical years were pred-icated on the agricultural cycle, so they ran from Tishri to Tishri.) God,however, made an important promise to the Israelites in order to allowthem to observe the Sabbatical year without detriment. If the Israelitesfaithfully observed the Sabbath, then God would ensure the sixth-year’scrop yielded a bumper harvest. As a result, the Israelites would not lack food in the “eighth year” (Lev. 25.20-22).Where to begin Israel’s ‘week of years’ has been the subject of much de-bate. My own position is roughly as follows. That 458 n  /457 n (whenEzra returned to Jerusalem) was a Sabbatical year strikes me as highly likely given what took place there, namely the apparent recitation of the Law (Ezra 9.1-10.17 cf. Deut. 31.10-13). 12 458 t  /457 t is also af-firmed as a Sabbatical year—and as the moment when Israel became‘subject to Jubilee cycles’ again—by the  Seder Olam Rabbah  (a Biblicalchronology produced in the 2 nd cent.  AD ). 13 I therefore take Ezra’s ob- 12. See “Ezra 4’s chronology” in  Post-Exilic History  .13. which states, “Just as, at their ‘arrival’ in the time of Joshua, [the Israelites] became subject to tithes,Sabbatical years, and Jubilees, too at their ‘arrival’ in the time of Ezra” ( SO  30.31-37). Note: In  SO 30, the writer’s burden is to explain how the Israelites could possibly have failed to ‘live in tabernacles’ (atthe feast of Tabernacles) throughout the entire period from Joshua’s day and Nehemiah’s, as Nehemiahclaims in 8.2-17. His solution is to restrict Nehemiah’s comment to a new ‘era’ of observances, which,he claims, began when Ezra and his fellows first arrived in Judah. The writer seems to identify “the[arrival] in the time of Ezra” with the events of Neh. 8, which do not in fact describe Ezra’s ‘arrival’ (Ezraarrived much earlier, in 458 t  /457 t ), nor, for that matter, the arrival of anyone else. Perhaps, therefore,  POST-EXILIC HISTORY   5 servance of a Sabbatical year in 458 t to have inaugurated a new Jubileecycle in Judah, which, if my interpretation of Ezra 1-3 and Haggai is cor-rect, was observed ‘in sync’ with the extant Sabbatical cycle. 14 Hence,444 n  /443 n  would have been a Sabbatical year, which would explain thepublic recital of the Law described in Neh. 8.1-18, 15 and, in 409 t  /408 t ,the first post-exilic Jubilee year would have been observed, i.e., on the50 th year since 458 t .To harmonise these years with the relevant extra-Biblical evidence ismore difficult. On the basis of the text of the  Megillat Ta’anit , Zeitlinclassifies 164 n  /63 n BC , 38 n  /37 n BC , and 68 n  /69 n  AD  as Sabbatical years, 16 all of which match up with a 458 n  /457 n Sabbatical year, as well as withZuckermann’s and Blosser’s timetable of Sabbatical years, 17  which Fine-gan endorses. 18 Wacholder, however, proposes a different cycle, one yearlater (457). 19 Which cycle is correct is not an easy matter to decide, butthe balance of probability, in my view, lies with the 458 n  /457 n  view, sinceit strikes me as the most compatible with the relevant Biblical data. 20 we are not intended to directly equate Ezra’s arrival with Neh. 8. The writer’s intention may simply beto draw a parallel between the joy of Joshua’s day and the joy of Nehemiah’s (cf.  SO  30’s discussion of Neh. 8.17). Either way, the primary memory behind the text of   SO  30 seems to be how Ezra’s arrivalin Judah officially inaugurated a new era of Sabbatical and Jubilee observances, as well as of tithes andfestivals.14. As far as I can tell, Israel’s Jubilee cycles began with a Sabbatical year and ended with a Sabbatical year;hence, each Jubilee was the 50 th year of a Sabbath-to-Sabbath interval (so also Steinmann: SFATP 25-36). We can consider, by analogy, how Israel are instructed to “count fifty days” from the day after thesabbath in Passover week to the day after the Sabbath seven weeks later (Lev. 23.15-16).15. For the interpretation of Nehemiah’s refs. to Artaxerxes, see “Neh. 8 and beyond” in  Post-Exilic History  .16. Zeitlin 1922:17.17. Zuckermann 1857:43-45, Blosser 1979:113.18. FHBC 116-122.19. Wacholder 1976:33-44.20. For a full discussion of the matter, see my   Sabbatical years  (2015).  Pre -exilic Sabbatical years are adifferent matter. According to Jer. 34, 588 n  /587 n  was also a Sabbatical year (Jer. 34.6-20, App. 1A), which does not match up with either a 458 n  /457 n or a 457 n  /456 n Sabbatical year. But then we have noreason to think it should. The concept of a Sabbatical year was intended to govern Israel’s years  in theland of Israel , not in exile. As Rodger Young writes, “All project post-exilic Sabbatical cyclesback into pre-exilic times have failed, whether [they started from a Sabbatical Tishri...38 BC(Zuckermann)or...37BC(Wacholder)....Countingwasinterruptedduringtheexile,sincethestipulationsof the Sabbatical years were only commanded to be observed while Israel was in [the] land [Lev. 25.2]”(Young 2008:114). The post-exile Sabbath (and Jubilee) cycle would, therefore, have been instituted atthe decision of the resettled exiles rather than on the basis of calendrical considerations.
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