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Artaxerxes I - Regnal Years and Timeline

Daniel's prophecy of 69 weeks commences with a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, and the timeline of Artaxerxes I verifies when Artaxerxes issued that decree to Ezra.

Daniel (along with Ezra and Nehemiah) reckoned regnal years by the accession-year system and civil calendar years running Tishri-Elul (see Regnal Year Reckoning). Ezra records that he departed Babylon (with decree in hand) on the 1st day of the 1st month of Artaxerxes' 7th year. Ezra reckoned by accession years using the Jewish civil/fall calendar which runs Tishri 1 through Elul 29.

Ezra 7:8-9 He came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him.

Artaxerxes I accession year

Artaxerxes' reign began with the murder of his father Xerxes by Artabanus in Kislimnu or Tebetu (Babylonian months for Nov/Dec and Dec/Jan) of 465 B.C. Some scholars place Artaxerxes on the throne immediately whereas others have Artabanus ruling for a few months, but regardless Artabanus is not credited with any regnal years for either of two reasons:

  1. Artabanus, if he was ever considered king, didn't reign through to the next calendar year and hence had no regnal years to his credit. He is regarded by some to have 'reigned' even if illegitimately for only about 7 months, from Kislev 465 to Sivan 464, which falls short of the new calendar year as per the Jewish civil/fall calendar which begins 1 Tishri. Hence Artabanus never had a regnal year and regardless of when precisely Artaxerxes' reign began, it crossed into the next calendar year beginning 1 Tishri 464, becoming Artaxerxes' 1st regnal year.
  2. Many scholars regard Artabanus as a mere courtier' or high official who first slew Xerxes and then persuaded Artaxerxes to slay Artaxerxes' older brother Darius (Artabanus apparently thinking he would then dominate Artaxerxes). However, ostensibly Artabanus attempted to then slay Artaxerxes and sieze the throne for himself, but Artaxerxes instead slew Artabanus. So the Greek historian Ctesias and Diodorus of Sicily never saw Artabanus as king. So Artaxerxes' reign began with Xerxes death and crossed into the next calendar year beginning 1 Tishri 464, becoming Artaxerxes' 1st regnal year.

Either way, Aratxerxes I 1st regnal year begins Tashritu or Tishri of 464 B.C.

Authenticity of the Artaxerxes rescript:

Ezra 7 provides the only known copy of Artaxerxes' decree to Ezra. Because Ezra 7:11 records it as a "copy" it is also sometimes known as the "Artaxerxes rescript". It has not been found or referenced in any other inscriptions or historical artifacts. Here is the passage in question:

Ezr 7:11 (NASB) Now this is the copy of the decree which King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in the words of the commandments of the LORD and His statutes to Israel:

Ezr 7:12-26 (NASB) "Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace.

And now 13 I have issued a decree that any of the people of Israel and their priests and the Levites in my kingdom who are willing to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14 "Forasmuch as you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God which is in your hand, 15 and to bring the silver and gold, which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 with all the silver and gold which you find in the whole province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and of the priests, who offered willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem; 17 with this money, therefore, you shall diligently buy bulls, rams and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings and offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. 18 "Whatever seems good to you and to your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do according to the will of your God. 19 "Also the utensils which are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem. 20 "The rest of the needs for the house of your God, for which you may have occasion to provide, provide for it from the royal treasury. 21 "I, even I, King Artaxerxes, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the provinces beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, may require of you, it shall be done diligently, 22 even up to 100 talents of silver, 100 kors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt as needed. 23 "Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, so that there will not be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons. 24 "We also inform you that it is not allowed to impose tax, tribute or toll on any of the priests, Levites, singers, doorkeepers, Nethinim or servants of this house of God. 25 "You, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges that they may judge all the people who are in the province beyond the River, even all those who know the laws of your God; and you may teach anyone who is ignorant of them. 26 "Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon him strictly, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of goods or for imprisonment."

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

Most contemporary scholars now accept that Ezra and Nehemiah were eponymous and not written by the Chronicler, that Nehemiah chronologically follows Ezra, and that both are authentic:

Within the last decade other important scholars have voiced their dissatisfaction with the arguments for the reverse order and have expressed support for the traditional view. Morton Smith, for example, comments: 'The minor reasons commonly given for dating Ezra after Nehemiah are all of them trivial and have been disposed of by Kellermann.' F. M. Cross also writes, 'Of the many arguments brought forward to support the position that Ezra followed Nehemiah to Jerusalem, most are without weight.' S. Talmon suggests, 'Such tenuous argumentation does not warrant a reordering of the biblical presentation... Today a more optimistic appreciation of the biblical presentation seems to be gaining ground. H. Tadmor notes, 'Actually, more methodological problems are posed by assuming that Ezra came after Nehemiah than by accepting the view that he preceded Nehemiah.'

In addition to those listed by Rowley and Kellerrnann, other scholars who have assumed the traditional order include: Y. Aharoni, G. Archer, M. Avi-Yonah, A. E. Cundall, M. Dandamayev, R. Harrison, S. Herrmann, S. Horn, Y. Kaufmann, B. Kelly, K. A. Kitchen, B. Mazar, M. Meauleau, B. Reicke, M. Segal, J. Slotki, C. Tuland, J. Weinberg, L. Wood, and K.Yates.

In summary, though the reverse order of Nehemiah before Ezra which has dominated for over two decades still has many eminent supporters, there has been within the last decade a remarkable development of support among equally distinguished scholars for the traditional order of Ezra before Nehemiah. [p. 11]

Edwin Yamauchi, "The Reverse Order of Ezra/Nehemiah Reconsidered"
Themelios 5.3 (1980): pp. 7-13

[fn 60] The fact that all genealogies in Chr end shortly before 400 B.C.virtually eliminates the popular view that Ezra followed Nehemiah in the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes 11, 398 B.C. Of the many arguments brought forward to support the position that Ezra followed Nehemiah to Jerusalem, most are without weight. [p. 14]

Frank Moore Cross, "A Reconstruction of the Judean Restoration",
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 94, No. 1. (Mar., 1975), pp. 4-18

These documents in Ezra, written in Aramaic, are unquestionably authentic authorized documents of the Persian kings. [p. 183]

J. Liver, "The Half-Shekel Offering in Biblical and Post-Biblical Literature",
The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 56, No. 3. (Jul., 1963), pp. 173-198

Most contemporary scholars now further accept Artaxerxes' letter to Ezra as likewise authentic:

The territory of Abar Naharah is central to the commission of Ezra. It defines the scope of his commission (Erza 7:25). Thus, the region once ruled by rebellious Judean kings will now be governed by Judean religious law. Artaxerxes commissions Ezra to implement this form of Yahwism throughout the entire territory of Abar Naharah. And he even reinforces the authority of the religious law with the power of state law (Ezra 7:26). Once again the Aramaic language takes on a literary role, underscoring the authenticity and authority of the commission (Ezra 7:12-26). The crucial role of Ezra's mission is confirmed by the literary design of Ezra-Nehemiah. The mission of Ezra to implement a religion of law in Abar Naharah paves the way for Artaxerxes to reverse his earlier decree that Jerusalem not be rebuilt, when he commissions Nehemiah. [p. 463]

Thomas B. Dozeman, "Geography and History in Herodotus and in Ezra-Nehemiah",
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 122, No. 3 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 449-466

By the end of 459 B.C. Memphis had fallen to the Egyptian rebels, and the Persian position in Egypt was precarious. The Persians were on the brink of losing all of Egypt. Ezra left Persia in March/April 458 B.C. and arrived in Jerusalem in July/August. Given the time needed to assemble the returning Jews and make preparations, the decision of Artaxerxes to send Ezra to Jerusalem must have been taken at the end of 459 or the very beginning of 458 B.C. The timing of Ezra's mission is more than coincidental. The Persians needed to take every effort to stop the Athenian advance. With Egypt in disarray and the Athenians at Dor, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem seemed an obvious military strategy. [p. 257]

Robert J. Littman, "Athens, Persia and the Book of Ezra",
Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 125. (1995), pp. 251-259

But since there is no reason to deny the basic authenticity of the decree the suggestion that the mission of Ezra as sapar reflects the policy of the Persian court -or, in other words, that he was acting as a kind of high commissioner for Jewish affairs in the Trans-Euphrates satrapy - still makes excellent sense. In this respect his mandate was comparable to that of Udjahorresnet in Egypt more than half a century earlier. [p. 418]

Joseph Blenkinsopp, "The Mission of Udjahorresnet and Those of Ezra and Nehemiah",
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 106, No. 3. (Sep., 1987), pp. 409-421

Recently, Richard C. Steiner refuted some objections as to the authenticity and reliability of the Artaxerxes rescript raised by David Janzen:

Janzen argues the letter is both unauthentic and unreliable, because:

Not only does it not reflect the style of official correspondence, but its vocabulary also seems to reflect a peculiar Palestinian tinge, utilizing words and phrases not found elsewhere in Imperial Aramaic. [pp. 624-625]

Ezra would not, as Meyer suggested, have written a letter for Artaxerxes to sign. The lack of quotation of the kind that we have seen above speaks against the letter's authenticity. [p. 626]

The vocabulary of the letter also raises questions about its authenticity, for a number of the words and phrases that appear here are common in Palestinian Aramaic yet do not appear in the epigraphical corpus outside of Palestine. [p. 627]

If the style of 7:12-26 lacks important aspects that we would expect to find in official correspondence of the Persian period, and if its vocabulary seems at home in the Palestinian milieu, it does begin to seem a bit unlikely that this was a letter that originated in the court of Artaxerxes. The Palestinian vocabulary would be understandable if the letter's author were quoting an original appeal from Judeans like Ezra. Yet the absence of this common epistolary technique of the correspondence of the Persian administration makes such words seem out of place and so argues against the letter's authenticity. [p. 629]

H. H. Schaeder, for example, has concluded that Ezra was in fact a "High Commissioner for Jewish Affairs" [H. H. Schaeder, Esra der Schreiber (BHT 5; Tiibingen: Mohr, 1930).] The point has not been proven, but many scholars who accept the validity of Ezra's commission here do look to the title of scribe as one that helps explains his position vis-a-vis the royal administration. [p. 635]

Even if this is the case, however, we still know of no precise parallel elsewhere in the Persian period for what the letter states that Ezra is to do. Nowhere else do we hear of scribes appointing judges or instructing people in law. Ezra's activities as described in the letter, then, are not disproven by what we know of Persian-period scribes, but our limited knowledge of their administrative duties hardly acts as evidence to bolster the claim that what Ezra is told to do in the Artaxerxes letter is an act that falls nicely into the role of official scribe. [p. 637]

David Janzen, "The "Mission" of Ezra and the Persian-Period Temple Community",
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 119, No. 4. (Winter, 2000), pp. 619-643

Steiner factually refutes each of Janzen's objections and omissions. Firstly that Ezra's responsibilities were more than as a "scribe", that he was an "overseer" sent to establish a new judicial system (possibly similar to the legal projects instituted by Darius in Egypt now being furthered in Judea) under Artaxerxes:

I would suggest that, in Ezra 7:14 too, the meaning of the preposition על is not "concerning" but "over," as in Ezra 4:20 על ירושלם "over Jerusalem," etc. As a first approximation, we may translate לבקרא על יהוד ולירושלם as "to oversee Judah and Jerusalem on the analogy of האיש המבקר על הרבים "the man who oversees the community," and האיש המבקר על מלאכת הרבים "the, man who oversees the community's property."

Similar conclusions have been reached in a few modern commentaries written in Hebrew. Moses Isaac Ashkenazi of Trieste, a student of Samuel David Luzatto, glosses לבקרא with להשגיח seemingly in the postbiblical sense of "supervise." And M. Kochman writes that the interpretation לפקח ("to supervise") fits the context better than "to search, examine, investigate." Finally, NJPS should also be mentioned here. It departs from virtually all English versions in translating "to regulate." [p. 626]

In short, the fact that "Ezra was long after Darius" is not an argument against connecting Ezra's mission with Darius's codification of Egyptian law. Any one of the factors discussed above is sufficient to account for a delay amounting to thirty-six years at most. Once again we see that there is no basis for Janzen's claim that "we know of no historical background that would explain the type of mission upon which Ezra is supposedly sent, and so we must conclude that Ezra's 'mission' as such is suspect." [p. 636]

Richard C. Steiner,
"The mbqr at Qumran, the episkopos in the Athenian Empire, and the Meaning of lbqr# in Ezra 7:14: On the Relation of Ezra's Mission to the Persian Legal Project"
Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 120, No. 4. (Winter, 2001), pp. 623-646

Secondly, Steiner refutes Janzen's cite of those four generic words כל קבל ("in accordance with" 7:14), (רעו(ת ("will [n.] 7:18"), קצף ("wrath" 7:23), רמא ("throw" 7:24) that Janzen claims "suggest a Palestinian rather than a Persian or Babylonian origin", demonstrating that many words are clearly of Aramaic origin, and not Palestinian:

The Aramaist will find this claim rather startling - especially as regards רמא ["throw"], which is found in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Mandaic, and Pehlevi (as an Aramaic logogram), not to mention Syriac and (according to some) Palmyrene. How many Aramaic words can boast of being better attested in Eastern Aramaic, including the Aramaic of Persia and Babylonia? As for (רעו(ת ["will"] and רמא ["throw"], they are found in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (see below) and Syriac, respectively.

It is only by arbitrarily excluding all of these data that Janzen is able to cite the last three lexical items as evidence for his claim. Janzen does not bother to defend this exclusion or even to mention the excluded data; he simply restricts his discussion to "epigraphical Aramaic," as though the reason for this were self-evident. But exclusion of data is hardly what one would expect in the presentation of an argument from silence. Such an argument needs to rest on the largest possible database if it is to escape the charge of statistical insignificance.

ibid, p.639

Thirdly, Steiner elaborates on Persian words that were ignored by Janzen:

What about the Persian loanwords ( אספרנא ["diligent" 3x], גנזי ["treasure" Ez 7:20], גזבריא ["treasurer" Ez 7:21], אדרזדא ["diligently" Ez 7:23], שרשי ["banishment" Ez 7:26] not to mention דת ["law" 6x]) in the letter? Can they really be ignored in an article proposing "a Palestinian rather than a Persian or Babylonian origin of the letter" based on its vocabulary? They would seem to be at least as relevant to the question as the common Aramaic terms mentioned above, and yet Janzen does not discuss them at all. Indeed, were it not for a statement that H. G. M. Williamson argues for the letter's authenticity based on "its Persian loan words" there would be no mention of them in [Janzen's] article. If Janzen wishes to dismiss them, he needs to show that all of these words were in common use in Palestine during the period to which he dates the letter and that the density of Persian words exhibited by this text (expressed as a percentage of the total) is typical of Palestinian compositions.

ibid, p.640

And, lastly regarding the writing style Steiner quotes Grabbe, on whom Janzen relied:

One would hardly guess from these confident assertions that not a single Aramaic royal edict from the Persian empire is available for comparison with the letters in the Bible. In the words of Grabbe: "it must be acknowledged that we have only one royal letter generally admitted as genuine, and this is only in Greek translation. . . ."

ibid, p.640

The letter from Artaxerxes I to Ezra in 458 B.C. is authentic. Artaxerxes declared he had in fact "issued a decree" (as Daniel's prophecy stipulates) and it represented Ezra as an overseer to re-establish Jewish law (which is the Jewish way of life) in Judah and Jerusalem, and further provided for a population of Jews to accompany him, a Temple offering from Artaxerxes, funding, made the Temple and its adminstration free from taxation, and Ezra and his accompanyment were free to do as they wished with any excess funds. It was a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

Chronology of Artaxerexes I accession through to Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem

The table below organizes the years of Artaxerxes as recorded by history and Ezra, so as to verify the dates when the decree to restore Jersualem was issued and when Ezra returned to Jerusalem with that decree, accounting for differences in accession-year and regnal-year conventions.

key dates highlighted in:
    
Babylonian embolismic months in:
    
Hebrew hypothetical embolismic months in:
    

Julian
Year B.C.
Julian
Month
Babylonian
Month
Hebrew
Year A.M.
Hebrew
Month
Event Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Judah
use Tishri accession-years
            Civil/Fall - Tishri
 465 Jan/Feb Shabatu  3296 Shevat    
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
  Ululu II      
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3297 Tishri    21st regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev  Xerxes murdered in 21st year by Artabanus  
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet  Artabanus 1st month or Artaxerxes accession earliest  accession
 464 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat  Artabanus 2nd month or Artaxerxes accession  
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar  Artabanus 3rd month or Artaxerxes accession  
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan  Artabanus 4th month or Artaxerxes accession  
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar  Artabanus 5th month or Artaxerxes accession  
May/Jun Simanu Sivan  Artabanus 6th month or Artaxerxes accession  
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz  Artabanus 7th month or Artaxerxes accession  
Jul/Aug Abu Av  Artaxerxes accession latest*   accession*
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3298 Tishri    1st regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 463 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat    
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
    Adar II ec    
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3299 Tishri    2nd regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 462 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat    
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
  Addaru II      
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3300 Tishri    3rd regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 461 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat    
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3301 Tishri    4th regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 460 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat    
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
    Adar II ec    
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3302 Tishri    5th regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 459 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat    
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
  Addaru II      
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3303 Tishri    6th regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 458 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat  Artaxerxes decree (earliest in 458 B.C.)  
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul  Artaxerxes decree (latest in 458 B.C.)  
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3304 Tishri  Ezra departs Babylon 1st day of 1st month 7th year  7th regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 457 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat  Ezra arrives Jerusalem 1st day of 5th month 7th year  
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
    Adar II ed    
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3305 Tishri    8th regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 456 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat    
Feb/Mar Addaru Adar    
  Addaru II      
Mar/Apr Nisanu Nisan    
Apr/May Aiaru Iyar    
May/Jun Simanu Sivan    
Jun/Jul Duzu Tammuz    
Jul/Aug Abu Av    
Aug/Sep Ululu Elul    
Sep/Oct Tashritu  3306 Tishri    9th regnal
Oct/Nov Arahsamnu Heshvan    
Nov/Dec Kislimnu Kislev    
Dec/Jan Tebetu Tevet    
 455 Jan/Feb Shabatu Shevat    

 

To ensure that intercalated months did not invalidate the correlation of Daniel's and Ezra's, and Nehemiah's reporting of dates and events, the table above shows the intercalated (embolismic) months. See Hebrew and Babylonian Intercalation for a brief overview of the intercalation methods and their impact on the above table.



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