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Ezra 4:2-10

Context
4:2 they came to Zerubbabel and the leaders 1  and said to them, “Let us help you build, 2  for like you we seek your God and we have been sacrificing to him 3  from the time 4  of King Esarhaddon 5  of Assyria, who brought us here.” 6  4:3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the leaders of Israel said to them, “You have no right 7  to help us build the temple of our God. We will build it by ourselves for the Lord God of Israel, just as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, has commanded us.” 4:4 Then the local people 8  began to discourage 9  the people of Judah and to dishearten them from building. 4:5 They were hiring advisers to oppose them, so as to frustrate their plans, throughout the time 10  of King Cyrus of Persia until the reign of King Darius 11  of Persia. 12 

Official Complaints Are Lodged Against the Jews

4:6 13 At the beginning of the reign of Ahasuerus 14  they filed an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. 15  4:7 And during the reign 16  of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, 17  Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their colleagues 18  wrote to King Artaxerxes 19  of Persia. This letter 20  was first written in Aramaic but then translated.

[Aramaic:] 21 

4:8 Rehum the commander 22  and Shimshai the scribe 23  wrote a letter concerning 24  Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows: 4:9 From 25  Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues – the judges, the rulers, the officials, the secretaries, the Erechites, the Babylonians, the people of Susa (that is, 26  the Elamites), 4:10 and the rest of nations whom the great and noble Ashurbanipal 27  deported and settled in the cities 28  of Samaria and other places in Trans-Euphrates. 29 

1 tn Heb “the heads of the fathers.” So also in v. 3.

2 tn Heb “Let us build with you.”

3 tc The translation reads with the Qere, a Qumran MS, the LXX, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Arabic version וְלוֹ (vÿlo, “and him”) rather than the Kethib of the MT, וְלֹא (vÿlo’, “and not”).

4 tn Heb “days.”

5 sn Esarhaddon was king of Assyria ca. 681-669 b.c.

6 sn The Assyrian policy had been to resettle Samaria with peoples from other areas (cf. 2 Kgs 17:24-34). These immigrants acknowledged Yahweh as well as other deities in some cases. The Jews who returned from the Exile regarded them with suspicion and were not hospitable to their offer of help in rebuilding the temple.

7 tn Heb “not to you and to us.”

8 tn Heb “the people of the land.” Elsewhere this expression sometimes has a negative connotation, referring to a lay population that was less zealous for Judaism than it should have been. Here, however, it seems to refer to the resident population of the area without any negative connotation.

9 tn Heb “were making slack the hands of.”

10 tn Heb “all the days of.”

11 sn Darius ruled Persia ca. 522-486 B.C.

12 sn The purpose of the opening verses of this chapter is to summarize why the Jews returning from the exile were unable to complete the rebuilding of the temple more quickly than they did. The delay was due not to disinterest on their part but to the repeated obstacles that had been placed in their path by determined foes.

13 sn The chronological problems of Ezra 4:6-24 are well known and have been the subject of extensive discussion since ancient times. Both v. 5 and v. 24 describe the reign of Darius I Hystaspes, who ruled Persia ca. 522–486 b.c. and in whose time the rebuilt temple was finished. The material in between is from later times (v. 16 describes the rebuilding of the walls, not the temple), and so appear to be a digression. Even recognizing this, there are still questions, such as why Cambyses (530-522 b.c.) is not mentioned at all, and why events from the time of Xerxes (486-465 b.c.) and Artaxerxes (464-423 b.c.) are included here if the author was discussing opposition to the building of the temple, which was finished in 516 b.c. Theories to explain these difficulties are too numerous to mention here, but have existed since ancient times: Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, rearranged the account to put Cambyses before Xerxes and replacing Artaxerxes with Xerxes (for further discussion of Josephus’ rearrangement see L. L. Grabbe, “Josephus and the Reconstruction of the Judean Restoration” JBL 106 [1987]: 231-46). In brief, it seems best to view the author’s primary concern here as thematic (the theme of opposition to the Jewish resettlement in Jerusalem, including the rebuilding of the temple and restoration of Jerusalem’s walls) rather than purely chronological. In the previous verses the author had shown how the Jews had rejected an offer of assistance from surrounding peoples and how these people in turn harassed them. The inserted account shows how, in light of the unremitting opposition the Jews experienced (even extending down to more recent times), this refusal of help had been fully justified. Some of the documents the author employed show how this opposition continued even after the temple was rebuilt. (The failure to mention Cambyses may simply mean the author had no documents available from that period.) For detailed discussion of the difficulties presented by the passage and the various theories advanced to explain them, see H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah (WBC), 56-60.

14 sn Ahasuerus, otherwise known as Xerxes I, ruled ca. 486-464 b.c.

15 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

16 tn Heb “And in the days.”

17 tn The LXX understands this word as a prepositional phrase (“in peace”) rather than as a proper name (“Bishlam”). Taken this way it would suggest that Mithredath was “in agreement with” the contents of Tabeel’s letter. Some scholars regard the word in the MT to be a corruption of either “in Jerusalem” (i.e., “in the matter of Jerusalem”) or “in the name of Jerusalem.” The translation adopted above follows the traditional understanding of the word as a name.

18 tc The translation reads the plural with the Qere rather than the singular found in the MT Kethib.

19 sn Artaxerxes I ruled in Persia from ca. 465–425 b.c.

20 tc It is preferable to delete the MT’s וּכְתָב (ukhÿtav) here.

21 sn The double reference in v. 7 to the Aramaic language is difficult. It would not make sense to say that the letter was written in Aramaic and then translated into Aramaic. Some interpreters understand the verse to mean that the letter was written in the Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language, but this does not seem to give sufficient attention to the participle “translated” at the end of the verse. The second reference to Aramaic in the verse is more probably a gloss that calls attention to the fact that the following verses retain the Aramaic language of the letter in its original linguistic form. A similar reference to Aramaic occurs in Dan 2:4b, where the language of that book shifts from Hebrew to Aramaic. Ezra 4:8–6:18 and 7:12-26 are written in Aramaic, whereas the rest of the book is written in Hebrew.

22 tn Aram “lord of the command.” So also in vv. 9, 17.

23 sn Like Rehum, Shimshai was apparently a fairly high-ranking official charged with overseeing Persian interests in this part of the empire. His title was “scribe” or “secretary,” but in a more elevated political sense than that word sometimes has elsewhere. American governmental titles such as “Secretary of State” perhaps provide an analogy in that the word “secretary” can have a broad range of meaning.

24 tn Or perhaps “against.”

25 tn Aram “then.” What follows in v. 9 seems to be the preface of the letter, serving to identify the senders of the letter. The word “from” is not in the Aramaic text but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

26 tn For the qere of the MT (דֶּהָיֵא, dehaye’, a proper name) it seems better to retain the Kethib דִּהוּא (dihu’, “that is”). See F. Rosenthal, Grammar, 25, §35; E. Vogt, Lexicon linguae aramaicae, 36.

27 tn Aram “Osnappar” (so ASV, NASB, NRSV), another name for Ashurbanipal.

sn Ashurbanipal succeeded his father Esarhaddon as king of Assyria in 669 B.C. Around 645 B.C. he sacked the city of Susa, capital of Elam, and apparently some of these people were exiled to Samaria and other places.

28 tc The translation reads with the ancient versions the plural בְּקֻרְיַהּ (bÿquryah, “in the cities”) rather than the singular (“in the city”) of the MT.

29 tn Aram “beyond the river.” In Ezra this term is a technical designation for the region west of the Euphrates river.



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