“Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah . . . This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which YHWH God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of YHWH his God upon him . . . And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.”
So far we’ve looked at two of the four decrees that scholars have postulated might be the “commandment” of Daniel 9:25. Now we turn our attention to the last two. This, unfortunately, is where modern scholarship takes a detour from a reasonable reading of the biblical chronological record. I’ll do my best to explain, but first, let’s take a look at the verses used as the basis for this next decree to be considered the “commandment” of Daniel 9:25. I’ve abridged parts of this passage for clarity’s sake. It’s well worth your time to read the passage in its entirety, for it is the basis for one of the biggest and most influential chronological errors scholars have made about the biblical record.
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of YHWH, and of his statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee . . . And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel . . . That thou mayest buy speedily with this money bullocks, rams, lambs, with their meat offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem.
And whatsoever shall seem good to thee, and to thy brethren, to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, that do after the will of your God. The vessels also that are given thee for the service of the house of thy God, those deliver thou before the God of Jerusalem. And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king’s treasure house. And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, unto an hundred talents of silver, and to an hundred measures of wheat, and to an hundred baths of wine, and to an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much.
Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons? . . . And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.
Blessed be YHWH God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of YHWH which is in Jerusalem . . . And I was strengthened as the hand of YHWH my God was upon me, and I gathered together out of Israel chief men to go up with me. (Ezra 7:11–28)
This sure sounds similar to the decree of Darius ‘the Great’ from the previous chapter, doesn’t it? In any case, from the verses above, we can safely say that this decree by “Artaxerxes” is a decree to beautify the temple at Jerusalem. It also gives Ezra special powers to ensure that the law of YHWH is taught and followed by the repatriated children of Israel.
A few things stand out about this decree. First, the text does not tell us when the decree was given. It does tell us that Ezra went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, but we are left to guess when this Artaxerxes gave this decree.
Second, the text does not identify this Persian Artaxerxes. It is important to understand that the term Artaxerxes is not a name; it is merely a title given to Persian kings, much like “Caesar” in Rome centuries later. In Ezra 4:7, the Persian Artaxerxes who ordered construction of the temple to stop was likely Smerdis, the Magian usurper, with his decree given at some point between the first year of Cyrus and the second year of Darius. But he is not necessarily the only Artaxerxes named in Scripture. As we will explore more fully in the coming pages, Darius ‘the Great’ was also known historically as Artaxerxes. For the present, just keep in mind that Artaxerxes is a title. We must allow the Bible’s chronological context to identify him.
The third and final fact I would like to bring to your attention is the context of this passage in Ezra 7. Ezra 6 finished with the completion of the temple in the sixth year of Darius ‘the Great’. Now that the temple is completed, Ezra, the priest and scribe, feels compelled to go up to Jerusalem and teach the people the law. Ezra 7:7 fixes these events to the seventh year of Artaxerxes. Modern scholarship ignores the possibility that the Artaxerxes of Ezra 7 is one and the same as Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes in Ezra 6—though that seems to be the most reasonable conclusion given the dates! Instead, a gap of nearly sixty years is inserted into the chronology between Ezra 6 and 7 with very little contextual justification, during which another Artaxerxes is supposed to have arisen.
Although we have enough information to identify the decree of Ezra 7, we cannot be totally certain of its chronological context. In other words, we cannot yet date this decree from a biblical context, thus we do not have enough information to answer our four questions. So let’s dig a little deeper into the life and times of Ezra, the priest and scribe. If we can determine his place in the Second Temple era, we can then confidently date the decree which was given to him by this Persian “Artaxerxes.” I think you’ll find Ezra was truly a fascinating player in these events.
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