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(3760 - 2080 BCE)
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Completion of the Second Temple
(3244 AM - 516 BCE)
(3260 AM - 500 BCE)
Death of Darius
(3274 AM - 486 BCE)
Reign of Xerxes
(3274 AM - 486 BCE)
(3276 AM - 484 BCE)
The 70 years of the prophecy
(3276 AM - 484 BCE)
Xerxes' campaign against Greece
(3280 AM - 480 BCE)
Previous << Generation 28 >> Next
Hebrew years 3240 to 3360 (520-400 BCE)
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The 28th GenerationThis Generation falls into the cycle of 7 generations which started with the 7th Generation of Lamech, followed by the 14th Generation of the Flood, then the 21st Generation of the Exodus which represented the first "return to Sion" (the Promised Land), and now this 28th Generation is the one that really triggered the real return to Sion of the Israelites who finally abandoned their life of exiles in the Persian Empire.
The construction of the Second Temple was completed 4 years after Darius’ decree, in the 6th year of his reign, in the last month of the year (Adar):
And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. And the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy. And they offered at the dedication of this house of God a hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin-offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses. --- Ezra 6:15-18
Darius had asked that a memorial plaque of the city of Susa be placed towards the east, facing his empire. This was done at the eastern gate of the Temple which was then named "Shushan Gate" (the Gate of Susa).
A few weeks later, in the month of Nisan, the Israelites of Judea followed the festival of Passover. There had not been such celebration in the Temple since the end of the reign of King Josiah, some 92 years before. The first High Priest from this return from Babylon was Jeshua, the son of Jehozadak, the High Priest who went into captivity. Jeshua held this role until 490 BCE and was then followed by his son Joiakim until 470 BCE. Joiakim was succeeded by his son Eliashib until 433 BCE, who was himself followed by Joiada. But one son of the the latter married a Canaanite woman. The chronological details are given in Nehemiah 12, but the dates are approximate.
The erection of the Second Temple, in a time when there was no more kingship in he Jewish nation, meant that the most important authority among Jews was now the High Priest.
Meanwhile, in Persia, the Jews started to assimilate and lived comfortably under the Persian rulers who were tolerant to religions.
During the reign of Darius, a Greek named Scylax of Caryanda made a journey by boat through several ports of the Mediterranean Sea, and this included ports along the coast of the Levant. His narrative titled Periplus of the sea of inhabited Europe, of Asia, and of Libya is interesting concerning the coast of Israel because it confirms that the ports at that time were ruled by the Sidonites from Phoenicia. This was part of the agreement they made with the Persians. The author specifically mentions the ports of Joppa (Jaffa), Doris (Dora), and Ascalon (Ashkelon), and also distances between the locations that he described. Here is the corresponding extract, with some parts missing from the original text:
Travellers can notice in this country the city of Paleotyre [Tyre], at the middle of which flows the river of the same name, and the city of Ecdippa [Achziv], with its river [...], and the cities of Ace [Akko], of Belos [probably present-day Ashdod] and Ascelon [Ashqelon] of the people of Tyre, and the cities of Arados [probably present-day Atlit] and Doros [Dor], inhabited by the people of Sidon, and the cities of Sycaminon [a fig-grove settlement that was close to present-day Haifa, on the coast near the Carmel Mount] and Joppe [Jaffa], the Carmel mountain and the temple of Jupiter.[4a] It is said that it is in Joppe that Andromeda was exposed. It is in Ascalon that are the arsenals and the shipyards of the Syrian court [4c] [...] of [...] Until Ascalon, there are 1700 stada.[4b]--- Pausanias ou Voyage Historique, etc. Nouvelle édition [...] augmentée du Voyage autour du Monde par Scylax, traduit du grec en français par J. Ch. Poncelin, Paris, 1797; translation into English by Albert Benhamou
Darius was the first Persian ruler to extend his reach to the European continent, by crossing from Asia Minor onto Northern Greece. He invaded most of the Greek dominium, including Thrace and Macedonia, but failed to defeat Athens at Marathon in 490 BCE. This saved Greece. Being already old at that time, he left to his son Xerxes the task to continue his work and conquer the rest of Greece. But this will not happen.
Darius died in 486 BCE (Hebrew year 3274) and was buried in the necropolis of the Persian kings in Naqsh-Rostan near Persepolis in Iran.
Necropolis of the Achaemenid dynasty (source: Wikipedia Pictures of the Year 2011)
Xerxes, who is called Ahasuerus in the Bible, had been nominated by his father to become the Achaemenid heir, so he naturally came to rule over the empire after his father’s death. He was 36 years old when he started to reign. His first task was to suppress some revolts in Egypt and in Babylon. As a result, he refused the title of king of Babylon unlike his father Darius.
The Book of Esther opens with the following details:
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus -- this is Ahasuerus who reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces -- that in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the castle, in the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the army of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him. --- Esther 1:1-3
His son Xerxes started his reign with 127 provinces. The Biblical expression sat on the throne of his kingdom is a reminder that Xerxes had already been chosen as the heir of the Persian Empire, although the succession had already been a matter of dispute in the lifetime of Darius because Xerxes had an older half-brother, Artabazanes. But the latter had a commoner mother, a previous wife of Darius, so Xerxes claimed that the throne was his because he came from a princely lineage from his mother.
The reason for this big feast of several months, in which all the army participated, was because Xerxes was preparing to raise the spirit of his nation before engaging in the future military campaign in Greece. His father had been defeated at Marathon and he left the task to Xerxes to complete the conquest.
Xerxes was married to Vashti, the daughter of a high dignitary, Otanes, who was one of the 7 conspirers who brought Darius to the throne. Vashti has been identified as Amestris. She did not obey his command during the feast and he needed to punish her in order to ascertain his authority in front of all the important guests:
Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Bizzetha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that ministered in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the peoples and the princes her beauty; for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by the chamberlains; therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him. --- Esther 1:9-12
The Biblical text seems to contain names that have been known to historians: Bizzetha was probably Megabyzus who would later conspire against Xerxes but would eventually switch side again, and Abagtha was Artabanus who was in charge of the harems and who would later assassinate Xerxes.
Instead of using authoritative power, as a king of the biggest empire of the times would have done if he would be certain of his authority, Ahasuerus played cautiously against Vashti, as he was too new a king and had not yet won a major military campaign to strengthen his power. And she was the daughter of one of his army commanders. So he used high dignitaries to decide what should we do:
Then the king said to the wise men, who knew the times -- for so was the king's manner toward all that knew law and judgment; and the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king's face, and sat the first in the kingdom: 'What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, forasmuch as she has not done the bidding of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?' --- Esther 1:13-15
Among the list of princes of Persia, Marsena was probably Arsamenes who, according to Herodotus, was son of Darius. Alternatively these names may refer to the names of provinces that formed the Persian Empire, such as Shethar for Scythia, Tarshish in Asia Minor, Pakshish which was Bactria, Meres may be Media, Marsena for Margiana, Memucan may refer to Akka.
Memucan was the last of the list to be mentioned and yet he was the only one to speak up:
And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: 'Vashti the queen has not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the peoples, that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen will come abroad unto all women, to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes, when it will be said: The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.’ --- Esther 1:16-17
According to the Talmud, this Memucan was eager to get promoted, and he will… for his good advice:
A Tanna taught: Memucan is the same as Haman, And why was he called Memucan? Because he was destined [mukan] for punishment. R. Kahana said: From here we see that an ordinary man always pushes himself in front. --- Talmud, Megilah, 12b
Vashti was disgraced, but not executed due to her aristocratic dignity. After some time, Ahasuerus wanted to restore her, probably thinking that he needed a heir before engaging in the difficult campaign against Greece. But his dignitaries wanted to prevent this from happening and rather sought after young virgins to occupy the king’s mind (Esther 2:1-4).
Hadassah, an Israelite orphan girl, was noticed by the chamberlain of the king in charge of the harem. She was the niece of Mordechai, a Benjamite who had Kish as an ancestor, as King Saul did. She was brought to the castle of Susa in order to be raised as a concubine, and called herself Esther, which was derived from Ishtar the goddess of Babylon, to conceal her real origin. The name of Mordechai himself could have been created for the same reason, because Mordechai reminds of Marduk, the god of Babylon.
The Sages have argued about the counting of 70 years of Babylon: did the prophecy of Jeremiah apply to the Babylon rulers? Or to the Babylonian captivity? When was it supposed to end? The question had puzzled Daniel in his days and the following text gives an idea of the difficulty met by our Sages at the time of the Talmud in building the chronology of events to lead to the right calculation:
In those days, when the king [Ahasuerus] sat [on his throne]. [How can this be] seeing that it says just afterwards, in the third year of his reign? — Raba said: What is meant by ‘when he sat’? After he began to feel secure. He reasoned thus: ‘Belshazar calculated and made a mistake; l have calculated and made no mistake’ — What is the meaning of this? — It is written: After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon I will remember you, and it is written, That He would accomplish for the desolations of Jerusalem seventy years. He reckoned forty-five years of Nebuchadnezzar and twenty-three of Evilmerodach and two of his own, making seventy in all. He then brought out the vessels of the Temple and used them [during his great feast].
And how do we know that Nebuchadnezzar reigned forty-five years? — As a Master has said: ‘They went into exile in the seventh year and they went into exile in the eighth year; they went into exile in the eighteenth year and they went into exile in the nineteenth year’ — [That is to say], in the seventh year after the subjection of Jehoiakim they underwent the exile of Jeconiah, this being the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar. In the eighteenth year from the subjection of Jehoiakim they underwent the exile of Zedekiah, this being the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, as a Master has said, In the first year [of his reign] he [Nebuchadnezzar] overthrew Nineveh; in the second year he conquered Jehoiakim and it is written, And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month in the seven and twentieth day of the month, that Evilmerodach King of Babylon, in the year of his reign, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him forth out of prison. Eight and thirty-seven make forty-five of Nebuchadnezzar. The twenty-three of Evilmerodach we know from tradition. These with two of his own [years of reign] make seventy. He [Belshazar] said to himself: Now of a surety they [the Jews] will not be redeemed. So he brought out the vessels of the Temple and used them. Hence it was that Daniel said to him, “but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven, and they have brought the vessels of His house before you.” It is further written: In that night Belshazar the Chaldean king was slain, and it is written, And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old. He [Ahasuerus] said: He [Belshazar] calculated and made a mistake. I will calculate and make no mistake. Is it written, ‘seventy years for the kingdom of Babylon?’ It is written seventy years for Babylon. What is meant by Babylon? The exile of Babylon — How many years [is this reckoning] less [than the other]? Eight. So in place of them he inserted one of Belshazar, five of Darius and Cyrus, and two of his own, which made seventy — When he saw that seventy had been completed and they were not redeemed, he brought out the vessels of the Temple and used them — Then the Satan came and danced among them and slew Vashti. But he reckoned correctly? — He also made a mistake, since he ought to have reckoned from the destruction of Jerusalem. Granted all this, how many years are short? Eleven. How long did he reign? Fourteen. Consequently in the fourteenth year of his reign he ought to have rebuilt the Temple. Why then is it written, Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem? — Raba replied: The years were not full ones. --- Talmug, Megilah, 11b
Furthermore, the same Raba believed that Daniel had got the numbers wrong as well:
Raba said: Daniel also made a mistake in this calculation, as it is written: In the first year of his reign, I Daniel meditated in the books [etc.]. From his use of the words ‘I meditated’ [which can also be read as ‘I revised’] we can infer that he [at first] made a mistake. --- Talmud, Megilah, 12a
The task of setting a correct chronology has been arduous in these times, and still is today ! In this particular case, the 70 years applied to the divine punishment of the Babylonian kingdom: it was destroyed by the Persians 70 years after Jeremiah’s prophecy. But the Babylonian captivity was said to end after these 70 years would be accomplished. The collapse of Babylon had indeed opened the door to the end of the captivity with Cyrus’ decree. But the end of the captivity did not imply the end of the exile.. because most of the Jews remained in Babylon as free men, and even moved to the Persian cities, rather than returning to Sion as expected and wished by God.
Raba’s attempt to place the end of the 70 years period at the time of Ahasuerus was wrong. He surely wanted to match this period with the group of Israelites who were the first to return to Sion. But this first return did not mark the end of the exile. The captivity had indeed (officially) ended with Cyrus’ decree, thus correctly after the accomplishement of the 70 years prophecy. But the Jews unfortunately preferred to remain exiled in the new empire, and preferred to enjoy their new status of free citizens of the Persian empire. The clear risk was the end of the Jewish nation by assimilation, as it had happened with their ancestors in Egypt where they took high positions and adopted local customs.
To get the Jews to move on, and rebuild Sion, God had to design a succession of events that would cause their return to their ancient faith and the binding to the Covenant made with their ancestors.
Xerxes started to attack Greece in spring 480 BCE with a very large army. He was challenged by Leonidas and a small force of Spartans at the battle of the Thermopylae but succeeded in his campaign and captured Athens. But the war was not over. The Greeks had retreated to nearby Salamis and defeated the entire Persian fleet in the straits there. Xerxes, fearing to be cut off from Asia on the European continent, decided to return to Persia in the winter of 480 BCE thus ending his campaign with mixed result.
Persian warriors from Darius palace in Susa (Louvre)
 To read more about Otones and his daughter, the wife of Xerxes, click here
 Herodotus, op. cit., chapter Polymnia, section LXVIII
 The names of Persian provinces are mentioned in Beshitun inscription of Darius, column 2, section [2.2] ; to check them, click here
[4a] The Mount Carmel has often been the place for pagan cult, even at the time of the Israelite Northern Kingdom when Elijah confronted the priests of Baal during the reign of Ahab; the Mount Carmel, with its cliff nearly reaching the sea, was a noticeable location for travellers of all times
[4b] The stadia, according to Herodotus, was of 600 feet, but the length of a foot varied according to a given region; in Greece it was about 180 meters while in Egypt and in the Persian Empire it was about 200 meters; in the text, the part is missing from which to count the distance of 1700 stadia, which corresponded to about 300 km for a Greek traveller; the distance mentioned was probably the distance either from Beirut to Ashqelon or from Ashqelon to the Nile Delta
[4c] This detail confirms the known fact that the Persian empire (the "Syrian court" being a reference to the Syrian satrapy that ruled the Levant) had allowed the people of Sidon and of Tyre to occupy this part of the land in order to build a fleet that would support Persian military campaigns against the Greek islands
 God intervened in His creation every 7 generations of mankind, as it is shown in various pages of this site; to check this cycle, click here
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