Monday, March 24, 2008

God, The God of History

I have had two requests recently for a timeline I put together as a background for the study of Ezra/Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah & Esther, so I thought I would go ahead and post it here. My sources include The New Geneva Study Bible (NGSB), The Anchor History of the World, Vol. I, Herodotus, The Histories, John Calvin, Commentary on Haggai, and Rich Lusk, Lectures on Esther. Since putting this material together, I have also become aware of James Jordan's extensive work on Biblical Chronology, which evidently influenced me via Rich Lusk. While this may be a helpful overview, the careful student will want to do additional research to correct any errors that remain.

~1100BC Assyria under Tilgathpileser I conquers Babylon. Together with Egypt, these two powers dominate the international scene in Palestine for the next 500 years.

~1010BC David anointed King in Israel.

930BC Divided Kingdom; Northern Kingdom (Israel) under Jeroboam I, Judah under Rehoboam.

~840/830 Medes repel Assyrian invasion, limiting Assyrian expansion eastward..

~750-722 Hosea warns Israel against apostasy and compromise with Assyria..

722BC Assyria conquers Israel (Northern Kingdom); followed typical pattern of taking native population captive, distributing them throughout empire, and resettling captives from other areas in the conquered territory..

701BC Assyria under Senacharib invades Judah as part of its war with Egypt. (2 Kings 19).

672BC Assyria conquers Egypt, which is a vassal state until 663 when it reasserts its independence..

648BC Babylon rebels against Assyria and asserts its independence..

~700/650 Growing power center in Media-Persia farther east contributes to weakening of Assyria..

~614-608 Persia under Cyaxares conquers Assyria; western portions of empire break off and Persia absorbs eastern and northern portions..

~609BC Judah begins paying tribute to Egypt (2 Kings 23:31-34).

605BC Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar defeats Egypt at Carchemish, making Judah a Babylonian client state.

~604-598 Judah rebels under Jehoiakim; Nebuchadnezzar puts down the rebellion (2 Kings 24).

~595 Judah rebels again under Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:20).

586BC Nebuchadnezzar completely defeats Judah, sacking and destroying Jerusalem and taking the people captive to Babylon. There is no attempt to resettle the area. (2 Kings 25)

~580-563 Nebuchadnezzar rules in Babylon. He spends part of this time in extended trips to the wilderness of Arabia – partly due to insanity (Daniel 1-4); Belshazzar, his son, rules in his place. When Nebchudnezzar dies, Belshazzar inherits the throne and rules until 539.

559BC Cyrus becomes the first “Great King” of a combined Media-Persian empire.

Note that the Persian terms “Xerxes” (King) and “Artaxerxes” (Great King) along with the Greek transliteration of the latter (Ahasuerus) are often used in place of the king’s name. Complicating this further, some Persian kings are known only by such honorific names, perhaps in an attempt to borrow glory from a predecessor. Failure to take these into account can lead to some tortuous interpretations of Ezra, Esther and others; see in particular the suspect timeline on page 659 of the NGSB.

539BC Belshazzar holds a great feast in his impregnable city of Babylon, mocking the recently-departed Persian besiegers, and sees “the hand writing on the wall” (Daniel 5). Unbeknownst to Belshazzar, Cyrus had left a small force behind at the gates of the city. The main body had moved ~30 miles upstream and had diverted the Euphrates river. The small Persian force forded the river and entered the city under the river gates, capturing the city and putting Belshazzar to death.

538BC In his first year (of reign over Babylon), Cyrus issues a decree that the captives should return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). The foundations are laid, but opposition (and maybe self-interest by the people) stops the work for 18 years.

~536-530 Persia is engaged in an extended war with the Scythians, in which Cyrus eventually is killed.

530 - 522 Cyrus’ son Cambyses rules Persian Empire as “Great King”. Having entrusted the day-to-day governing to some Magi under Patizeithes, he led the army to complete victory over Egypt, extending Persian power to modern Libya and Ethiopia. He was also apparently paranoid (Herodotus and John Calvin agree on this point). He was known as an oppressor of the Jews, and is apparently the “Great King” to whom Ezra’s opponents appeal (in about 530-529) and who orders a halt to the building of the temple (Ezra 4:6-24). Note that the basis of the appeal, a rebellious history, is both based in truth (see above) and designed to appeal to Cambyses’ character.

~523BC Cambyses had his brother Smerdis killed after learning in a dream that Smerdis would rebel against him and that he would die in Agbatana, apparently the Medean city where his treasure was kept. Meanwhile, Patizeithes placed his own brother, also named Smerdis, on the Persian throne. When Cambyses heard this news, he was on his deathbed as a result of a gangrenous wound. At the same time, he learned where he was and realized that he had misunderstood the oracle. He confessed all before he died – in Agbatana, Syria.

522BC Darius I Hystaspes (also Darius the Great) led a small group of Persians who assassinated Smerdis the Magus and assumed the throne of Persia. Thanks to Cambyses’ victories in the west, Persia now contained 127 Satrapies (or royal provinces). One of these, “The Region Beyond the River”, included all of Palestine and was ruled over by Tattenai (cf. Ezra 5:3). Zerubbabel (Ezra 5:2; Haggai 1:1) was apparently the Governor of Judah, a sub-province.

522-520 Babylon rebels against Darius’ rule as several leaders in the former administration desert. Darius makes use of a “double-agent” (Zopyrus) to once again conquer the invincible citadel. This time he takes care to destroy it completely. One of Darius’ key advisors and Satraps was Daniel, and Daniel’s faith when thrown into the lion’s den apparently led Darius to confess the name of the God of Heaven (Daniel 6:24-28). Sometime during this period Mordecai apparently revealed a plot by two of Darius’ servants (Esther 6:2).

520BC Haggai brings his four messages of exhortation to Zerubbabel, Jeshua (the High Priest) and the people of Jerusalem, and Zechariah brings the first of his visions (Haggai 1:1, 2:1, 2:10, 2:20; Zechariah 1:1, 1:7; Ezra 5:1). Tattenai responds to the rebuilding efforts by appealing to Darius (now at Babylon) to see whether Cyrus had actually ordered the work (Ezra 5:3-17). Darius’ response (Ezra 6:1-11) underscores his faith and willingness to support the work with local taxes that would otherwise come to him.

519BC Darius returns to Susa after destroying Babylon and holds a great feast for his officials and servants to celebrate his now-secure hold on the kingdom; Queen Vashti displeases him by refusing to be on display (Esther 1:1-4).

518BC Zechariah brings the second series of visions to the people of Jerusalem, who are now fully engaged in rebuilding the temple (Zechariah 7:1).

516BC The new temple is dedicated and Passover is celebrated (Ezra 6:13-22). This came exactly 70 years after the people had been led away captive, fulfilling prophecy (Jeremiah 25:8-14).

~516/515 Esther becomes Darius’ new queen and exposes a plot by Haman against Mordecai and against all the Jews. Darius turns the tables on Haman and declares a day during which the Jews may avenge themselves on their oppressors throughout the kingdom (Esther 8:1 – 9:17). Shortly thereafter, Darius issued a further decree that the remaining Jews might return to Jerusalem, complete with “silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel”, which Ezra was commissioned to deliver personally (Ezra 7:1-28). This treasure evidently included both some of the original temple furnishings and additional treasure gathered in the aftermath of Haman’s plot.

~510BC Mordecai becomes “2nd to the King” under Darius, apparently serving for the rest of his reign.

~502/501 Nehemiah, serving as Darius’ cupbearer, hears of the continued problems in Jerusalem and appeals to the King to be allowed to go and assist in the rebuilding of the city walls. Darius (with Esther possibly in attendance Neh. 2:6) not only allowed him to go, but sent an armed escort (Nehemiah 1:1 – 2:10), showing his continued willingness to favor the Jews and serve “the God of Israel”. Nehemiah served as governor of Judah until 490 when he was recalled (at least temporarily) to Darius’ court (Neh. 5:14, 13:6).

490BC Darius led an invasion of Greece that eventually ended in defeat at the battle of Marathon on the plains outside of Athens.

486BC Darius dies and is succeeded by a ruler known only as Xerxes (“King”). It was not uncommon in the ancient world to use a word like “king” in a name, but it may also be that there was a self-conscious humility that contrasted the unnamed “king” with Darius, the “Great King”. Xerxes also invaded Greece and was defeated (480-479) and ruled until 465.

~465-424 Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes begins his 41-year reign. Again, the name “Great King” may have been an honorific, or it may have actually been his name. In any case, it seems very unlikely that references to “Artaxerxes” and “Ahasuerus” in Esther and Ezra refer to this person, and far less likely that references in Ezra 6 refer to his son, Darius II, who reigned from 423-404.

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