Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The adversaries of the Jews prevent the building of the temple till the reign of Darius (Ezr 4:1, Ezr 4:2). When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the community which had returned from captivity were beginning to rebuild the temple, they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chiefs of the people, and desired to take part in this work, because they also sacrificed to the God of Israel. These adversaries were, according to Ezr 4:2, the people whom Esarhaddon king of Assyria had settled in the neighbourhood of Benjamin and Judah. If we compare with this verse the information (Kg2 17:24) that the kings of Assyria brought men from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria, and that they took possession of the depopulated kingdom of the ten tribes, and dwelt therein; then these adversaries of Judah and Benjamin are the inhabitants of the former kingdom of Israel, who were called Samaritans after the central-point of their settlement. הגּולה בּני, sons of the captivity (Ezr 6:19, etc., Ezr 8:35; Ezr 10:7, Ezr 10:16), also shortly into הגּולה, e.g., Ezr 1:11, are the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity, who composed the new community in Judah and Jerusalem. Those who returned with Zerubbabel, and took possession of the dwelling-places of their ancestors, being, exclusive of priests and Levites, chiefly members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, are called, especially when named in distinction from the other inhabitants of the land, Judah and Benjamin. The adversaries give the reason of their request to share in the building of the temple in the words: "For we seek your God as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, which brought us up hither." The words זבחים אנחנוּ ולא are variously explained. Older expositors take the Chethiv ולא as a negative, and make זבחים to mean the offering of sacrifices to idols, both because לא is a negative, and also because the assertion that they had sacrificed to Jahve would not have pleased the Jews, quia deficiente templo non debuerint sacrificare; and sacrifices not offered in Jerusalem were regarded as equivalent to sacrifices to idols. They might, moreover, fitly strengthen their case by the remark: "Since the days of Esarhaddon we offer no sacrifices to idols." On the other hand, however, it is arbitrary to understand זבח, without any further definition, of sacrificing to idols; and the statement, "We already sacrifice to the God of Israel," contains undoubtedly a far stronger reason for granting their request than the circumstance that they do not sacrifice to idols. Hence we incline, with older translators (lxx, Syr., Vulg., 1 Esdras), to regard לא as an unusual form of לו, occurring in several places (see on Exo 21:8), the latter being also substituted in the present instance as Keri. The position also of לא before אנחנוּ points the same way, for the negative would certainly have stood with the verb. On Esarhaddon, see remarks on Kg2 19:37 and Isa 37:38.
Zerubbabel and the other chiefs of Israel answer, "It is not for you and for us to build a house to our God;" i.e., You and we cannot together build a house to the God who is our God; "but we alone will build it to Jahve the God of Israel, as King Cyrus commanded us." יחד אנחנוּ, we together, i.e., we alone (without your assistance). By the emphasis placed upon "our God" and "Jahve the God of Israel," the assertion of the adversaries, "We seek your God as ye do," is indirectly refuted. If Jahve is the God of Israel, He is not the God of those whom Esarhaddon brought into the land. The appeal to the decree of Cyrus (Ezr 1:3, comp. Ezr 3:6, etc.) forms a strong argument for the sole agency of Jews in building the temple, inasmuch as Cyrus had invited those only who were of His (Jahve's) people (Ezr 1:3). Hence the leaders of the new community were legally justified in rejecting the proposal of the colonists brought in by Esarhaddon. For the latter were neither members of the people of Jahve, nor Israelites, nor genuine worshippers of Jahve. They were non-Israelites, and designated themselves as those whom the king of Assyria had brought into the land. According to Kg2 17:24, the king of Assyria brought colonists from Babylon, Cuthah, and other places, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel. Now we cannot suppose that every Israelite, to the very last man, was carried away by the Assyrians; such a deportation of a conquered people being unusual, and indeed impossible. Apart, then, from the passage, Ch2 30:6, etc., which many expositors refer to the time of the destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes, we find that in the time of King Josiah (Ch2 34:9), when the foreign colonists had been for a considerable period in the country, there were still remnants of Manasseh, of Ephraim, and of all Israel, who gave contributions for the house of God at Jerusalem; and also that in Kg2 23:15-20 and Ch2 34:6, a remnant of the Israelite inhabitants still existed in the former territory of the ten tribes. The eighty men, too, who (Jer 41:5, etc.) came, after the destruction of the temple, from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria, mourning, and bringing offerings and incense to Jerusalem, to the place of the house of God, which was still a holy place to them, were certainly Israelites of the ten tribes still left in the land, and who had probably from the days of Josiah adhered to the temple worship. These remnants, however, of the Israelites inhabitants in the territories of the former kingdom of the ten tribes, are not taken into account in the present discussion concerning the erection of the temple; because, however considerable their numbers might be, they formed no community independent of the colonists, but were dispersed among them, and without political influence. It is not indeed impossible "that the colonists were induced through the influence exercised upon them by the Israelites living in their midst to prefer to the Jews the request, 'Let us build with you;' still those who made the proposal were not Israelites, but the foreign colonists" (Bertheau). These were neither members of the chosen people nor worshippers of the God of Israel. At their first settlement (Kg2 17:24, etc.) they evidently feared not the Lord, nor did they learn to do so till the king of Assyria, at their request, sent them one of the priests who had been carried away to teach them the manner of worshipping the God of the land. This priest, being a priest of the Israelitish calf-worship, took up his abode at Bethel, and taught them to worship Jahve under the image of a golden calf. Hence arose a worship which is thus described, Kg2 17:29-33 : Every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans, i.e., the former inhabitants of the kingdom of the ten tribes, had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. And besides their idols Nergal, Asima, Nibhaz, Tartak, they feared Jahve; they sacrificed to all these gods as well as to Him. A mixed worship which the prophet-historian (Kg2 17:34) thus condemns: "They fear not the Lord, and do after their statutes and ordinances, not after the law and commandment which the Lord commanded to the sons of Jacob." And so, it is finally said (Kg2 17:41), do also their children and children's children unto this day, i.e., about the middle of the Babylonian captivity; nor was it will a subsequent period that the Samaritans renounced gross idolatry. The rulers and heads of Judah could not acknowledge that Jahve whom the colonists worshipped as a local god, together with other gods, in the houses of the high places at Bethel and elsewhere, to be the God of Israel, to whom they were building a temple at Jerusalem. For the question was not whether they would permit Israelites who earnestly sought Jahve to participate in His worship at Jerusalem-a permission which they certainly would have refused to none who sincerely desired to turn to the Lord God-but whether they would acknowledge a mixed population of Gentiles and Israelites, whose worship was more heathen than Israelite, and who nevertheless claimed on its account to belong to the people of God.
(Note: The opinion of Knobel, that those who preferred the request were not the heathen colonists placed in the cities of Samaria by the Assyrian king (Kg2 17:24), but the priests sent by the Assyrian king to Samaria (Kg2 17:27), has been rejected as utterly unfounded by Bertheau, who at the same time demonstrates, against Fritzsche on 1 Esdr. 5:65, the identity of the unnamed king of Assyria (Kg2 17:24) with Esarhaddon.)
To such, the rulers of Judah could not, without unfaithfulness to the Lord their God, permit a participation in the building of the Lord's house.
In consequence of this refusal, the adversaries of Judah sought to weaken the hands of the people, and to deter them from building. הארץ עם, the people of the land, i.e., the inhabitants of the country, the colonists dwelling in the land, the same who in Ezr 4:1 are called the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin. ויהי followed by the participle expresses the continuance of the inimical attempts. To weaken the hands of any one, means to deprive him of strength and courage for action; comp. Jer 38:4. יהוּדה עם are the inhabitants of the realm of Judah, who, including the Benjamites, had returned from captivity, Judah being now used to designate the whole territory of the new community, as before the captivity the entire southern kingdom; comp. Ezr 4:6. Instead of the Chethiv מבלּהים, the Keri offer מבהלים, from בהל, Piel, to terrify, to alarm, Ch2 32:18; Job 21:6, because the verb בלה nowhere else occurs; but the noun בּלּהה, fear, being not uncommon, and presupposing the existence of a verb בּלהּ, the correctness of the Chethiv cannot be impugned.
And they hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose (of building the temple). וסכרים still depends on the ויהי of Ezr 4:4. סכר is a later orthography of שׂכר, to hire, to bribe. Whether by the hiring of יועציט we are to understand the corruption of royal counsellors or ministers, or the appointment of legal agents to act against the Jewish community at the Persian court, and to endeavour to obtain an inhibition against the erection of the temple, does not appear. Thus much only is evident from the text, that the adversaries succeeded in frustrating the continuance of the building "all the days of Koresh," i.e., the yet remaining five years of Cyrus, who was for the space of seven years sole ruler of Babylon; while the machinations against the building, begun immediately after the laying of its foundations in the second year of the return, had the effect, in the beginning of the third year of Cyrus (judging from Dan 10:2), of putting a stop to the work until the reign of Darius, - in all, fourteen years, viz., five years of Cyrus, seven and a half of Cambyses, seven months of the Pseudo-Smerdis, and one year of Darius (till the second year of his reign).
Complaints against the Jews to Kings Ahashverosh and Artachshasta. - The right understanding of this section depends upon the question, What kings of Persia are meant by Ahashverosh and Artachshasta? while the answer to this question is, in part at least, determined by the contents of the letter, Ezr 4:8-16, sent by the enemies of the Jews to the latter monarch.
And in the reign of Ahashverosh, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. שׂטנה, not to mention the name of the well, Gen 26:21, occurs here only, and means, according to its derivation from שׂטן, to bear enmity, the enmity; hence here, the accusation. ישׁבי על belongs to שׂטנה, not to כּתבוּ; the letter was sent, not to the inhabitants of Judah, but to the king against the Jews. The contents of this letter are not given, but may be inferred from the designation שׂטנה. The letter to Artachshasta then follows, Ezr 4:7-16. In his days, i.e., during his reign, wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions. כּנותו, for which the Keri offers the ordinary form כּנותיו mrof yra, occurs only here in the Hebrew sections, but more frequently in the Chaldee (comp. Ezr 4:9, Ezr 4:17, Ezr 4:23; Ezr 5:3, and elsewhere), in the sense of companions or fellow-citizens; according to Gesenius, it means those who bear the same surname (Kunje) together with another, though Ewald is of a different opinion; see 117, b, note. The singular would be written כּנת (Ewald, 187, d). And the writing of the letter was written in Aramaean (i.e., with Aramaean characters), and interpreted in (i.e., translated into) Aramaean. נשׁתּון is of Aryan origin, and connected with the modern Persian nuwishten, to write together; it signifies in Hebrew and Chaldee a letter: comp. Ezr 4:18, where נשׁתּונא is used for אגּרתּא of Ezr 4:11. Bertheau translates הנּשׁתּון כּתב, copy of the letter, and regards it as quite identical with the Chaldee אגּרתּא פּרשׁגן, Ezr 4:11; he can hardly, however, be in the right. כּתב does not mean a transcript or copy, but only a writing (comp. Est 4:8). This, too, does away with the inference "that the writer of this statement had before him only an Aramaean translation of the letter contained in the state-papers or chronicles which he made use of." It is not כּתב, the copy or writing, but הנּשׁתּון, the letter, that is the subject of ארמית מתרגּם, interpreted in Aramaean. This was translated into the Aramaean or Syrian tongue. The passage is not to be understood as stating that the letter was drawn up in the Hebrew or Samaritan tongue, and then translated into Aramaean, but simply that the letter was not composed in the native language of the writers, but in Aramaean. Thus Gesenius rightly asserts, in his Thes. p. 1264, et lingua aramaea scripta erat; in saying which תרגם does not receive the meaning concepit, expressit, but retains its own signification, to interpret, to translate into another language. The writers of the letter were Samaritans, who, having sprung from the intermingling of the Babylonian settlers brought in by Esarhaddon and the remnants of the Israelitish population, spoke a language more nearly akin to Hebrew than to Aramaean, which was spoken at the Babylonian court, and was the official language of the Persian kings and the Persian authorities in Western Asia. This Aramaean tongue had also its own characters, differing from those of the Hebrew and Samaritan. This is stated by the words ארמית כּתוּב, whence Bertheau erroneously infers that this Aramaean writing was written in other than the ordinary Aramaean, and perhaps in Hebrew characters.
This letter, too, of Bishlam and his companions seems to be omitted. There follows, indeed, in Ezr 4:8, etc., a letter to King Artachshasta, of which a copy is given in Ezr 4:11-16; but the names of the writers are different from those mentioned in Ezr 4:7. The three names, Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel (Ezr 4:7), cannot be identified with the two names Rehum and Shimshai (Ezr 4:8). When we consider, however, that the writers named in Ezr 4:8 were high officials of the Persian king, sending to the monarch a written accusation against the Jews in their own and their associates' names, it requires but little stretch of the imagination to suppose that these personages were acting at the instance of the adversaries named in Ezr 4:7, the Samaritans Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel, and merely inditing the complaints raised by these opponents against the Jews. This view, which is not opposed by the כּתב of Ezr 4:7, - this word not necessarily implying an autograph, - commends itself to our acceptance, first, because the notion that the contents of this letter are not given finds no analogy in Ezr 4:6, where the contents of the letter to Ahashverosh are sufficiently hinted at by the word שׂטנה; while, with regard to the letter of Ezr 4:7, we should have not a notion of its purport in case it were not the same which is given in Ezr 4:8, etc.
(Note: The weight of this argument is indirectly admitted by Ewald (Gesch. iv. p. 119) and Bertheau, inasmuch as both suppose that there is a long gap in the narrative, and regard the Aramaean letter mentioned in Ezr 4:7 to have been a petition, on the part of persons of consideration in the community at Jerusalem, to the new king, - two notions which immediately betray themselves to be the expedients of perplexity. The supposed "long gaps, which the chronicler might well leave even in transcribing from his documents" (Ew.), do not explain the abrupt commencement of Ezr 4:8. If a petition from the Jewish community to the king were spoken of in Ezr 4:7, the accusation against the Jews in Ezr 4:8 would certainly have been alluded to by at least a ו adversative, or some other adversative particle.)
Besides, the statement concerning the Aramaean composition of this letter would have been utterly purposeless if the Aramaean letter following in Ezr 4:8 had been an entirely different one. The information concerning the language in which the letter was written has obviously no other motive than to introduce its transcription in the original Aramaean. This conjecture becomes a certainty through the fact that the Aramaean letter follows in Ezr 4:8 without a copula of any kind. If any other had been intended, the ו copulative would not more have been omitted here than in Ezr 4:7. The letter itself, indeed, does not begin till Ezr 4:9, while Ezr 4:8 contains yet another announcement of it. This circumstance, however, is explained by the fact that the writers of the letters are other individuals than those named in Ezr 4:7, but chiefly by the consideration that the letter, together with the king's answer, being derived from an Aramaean account of the building of the temple, the introduction to the letter found therein was also transcribed.
The writers of the letter are designated by titles which show them to have been among the higher functionaries of Artachshasta. Rehum is called טעם בּעל, dominus consilii v. decreti, by others consiliarius, royal counsellor, probably the title of the Persian civil governor (erroneously taken for a proper name in lxx, Syr., Arab.); Shimshai, ספרא, the Hebrew סופר, scribe, secretary. כּנמא is interpreted by Rashi and Aben Ezra by כּאשׁר נאמר, as we shall say; נמא is in the Talmud frequently an abbreviation of נאמר or נימר, of like signification with לאמר: as follows.
After this introduction we naturally look for the letter itself in Ezr 4:9, instead of which we have (Ezr 4:9 and Ezr 4:10) a full statement of who were the senders; and then, after a parenthetical interpolation, "This is the copy of the letter," etc., the letter itself in Ezr 4:11. The statement is rather a clumsy one, the construction especially exhibiting a want of sequence. The verb to אדין is wanting; this follows in Ezr 4:11, but as an anacoluthon, after an enumeration of the names in Ezr 4:9 and Ezr 4:10 with שׁלחוּ. The sentence ought properly to run thus: "Then (i.e., in the days of Artachshasta) Rehum, etc., sent a letter to King Artachshasta, of which the following is a copy: Thy servants, the men on this side the river," etc. The names enumerated in Ezr 4:9 and Ezr 4:10 were undoubtedly all inserted in the superscription or preamble of the letter, to give weight to the accusation brought against the Jews. The author of the Chaldee section of the narrative, however, has placed them first, and made the copy of the letter itself begin only with the words, "Thy servants," etc. First come the names of the superior officials, Rehum and Shimshai, and the rest of their companions. The latter are then separately enumerated: The Dinaites, lxx Δειναῖοι, - so named, according to the conjecture of Ewald (Gesch. iii. p. 676), from the Median city long afterwards called Deinaver (Abulf. Gegr. ed. Paris. p. 414); the Apharsathchites, probably the Pharathiakites of Strabo (15:3. 12) (Παρητακηνοί, Herod. i. 101), on the borders of Persia and Media, described as being, together with the Elymaites, a predatory people relying on their mountain fastnesses; the Tarpelites, whom Junius already connects with the Τάπουροι dwelling east of Elymais (Ptol. vi. 2. 6); the Apharsites, probably the Persians (פרסיא with א prosthetic); the Archevites, probably so called from the city ארך, Gen 10:10, upon inscriptions Uruk, the modern Warka; the בּבליא, Babylonians, inhabitants of Babylon; the Shushanchites, i.e., the Susanites, inhabitants of the city of Susa; דּהוא, in the Keri דּהיא, the Dehavites, the Grecians (Δάοι, Herod. i. 125); and lastly, the Elamites, the people of Elam or Elymais. Full as this enumeration may seem, yet the motive being to name as many races as possible, the addition, "and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnapper brought over and set in the city of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river," etc., is made for the sake of enhancing the statement. Prominence being given both here and Ezr 4:17 to the city of Samaria as the city in which Osnapper had settled the colonists here named, the "nations brought in by Osnapper" must be identical with those who, according to Ezr 4:2, and Kg2 17:24, had been placed in the cities of Samaria by King Esarhaddon. Hence Osnapper would seem to be merely another name for Esarhaddon. But the names Osnapper (lxx Ἀσσεναφάρ) and Asarhaddon (lxx Ἀσαραδάν) being too different to be identified, and the notion that Osnapper was a second name of Asarhaddon having but little probability, together with the circumstance that Osnapper is not called king, as Asarhaddon is Ezr 4:2, but only "the great and noble," it is more likely that he was some high functionary of Asarhaddon, who presided over the settlement of eastern races in Samaria and the lands west of the Euphrates. "In the cities," or at least the preposition ב, must be supplied from the preceding בּקריה before נהרה עבר שׁאר: and in the rest of the territory, or in the cities of the rest of the territory, on this side of Euphrates. עבר, trans, is to be understood of the countries west of Euphrates; matters being regarded from the point of view of the settlers, who had been transported from the territories east, to those west of Euphrates. וּכענת means "and so forth," and hints that the statement is not complete.
On comparing the names of the nations here mentioned with the names of the cities from which, according to Kg2 17:24, colonists were brought to Samaria, we find the inhabitants of most of the cities there named - Babylon, Cuthah, and Ava - here comprised under the name of the country as בּבליא, Babylonians; while the people of Hamath and Sepharvaim may fitly be included among "the rest of the nations," since certainly but few colonists would have been transported from the Syrian Hamath to Samaria. The main divergence between the two passages arises from the mention in our present verse, not only of the nations planted in the cities of Samaria, but of all the nations in the great region on this side of Euphrates (נהרה עבר). All these tribes had similar interests to defend in opposing the Jewish community, and they desired by united action to give greater force to their representation to the Persian monarch, and thus to hinder the people of Jerusalem from becoming powerful. And certainly they had some grounds for uneasiness lest the remnant of the Israelites in Palestine, and in other regions on this side the Euphrates, should combine with the Jerusalem community, and the thus united Israelites should become sufficiently powerful to oppose an effectual resistance to their heathen adversaries. On the anacoluthistic connection of Ezr 4:11. פּרשׁגן, Ezr 4:11, Ezr 4:23; Ezr 5:6; Ezr 7:11, and frequently in the Targums and the Syriac, written פּתשׁגן Est 3:14 and Est 4:8, is derived from the Zendish paiti (Sanscr. prati) and enghana (in Old-Persian thanhana), and signifies properly a counterword, i.e., counterpart, copy. The form with ר is either a corruption, or formed from a compound with fra; comp. Gildemeister in the Zeitschr. fr die Kunde des Morgenl. iv. p. 210, and Haug in Ewald's bibl. Jahrb. v. p. 163, etc. - The copy of the letter begins with עבדּיך, thy servants, the men, etc. The Chethib עבדיך is the original form, shortened in the Keri into עבדּך. Both forms occur elsewhere; comp. Dan 2:29; Dan 3:12, and other passages. The וכענת, etc., here stands for the full enumeration of the writers already given in Ezr 4:9, and also for the customary form of salutation.
The letter. Ezr 4:12 "Be it known unto the king." On the form להוא for יהוא, peculiar to biblical Chaldee, see remarks on Dan 2:20. "Which are come up from thee," i.e., from the territory where thou art tarrying; in other words, from the country beyond Euphrates. This by no means leads to the inference, as Schrader supposes, that these Jews had been transported from Babylon to Jerusalem by King Artachshasta. מלק answers to the Hebrew עלה, and is used like this of the journey to Jerusalem. "Are come to us, to Jerusalem," עלינא, to us, that is, into the parts where we dwell, is more precisely defined by the words "to Jerusalem." "They are building the rebellious and bad city, and are setting up its walls and digging its foundations." Instead of מרדתּא (with Kamets and Metheg under )ר the edition of J. H. Mich. has מרדתּא, answering to the stat. abs. מרדא, Ezr 4:15; on the other hand, the edition of Norzi and several codices read מרדתּא, the feminine of מרוד. For בּאוּשׁתּא Norzi has באישׁתּא, from בּישׁ, a contraction of בּאישׁ. For אשׁכללוּ must be read, according to the Keri, שׁכללוּ שׁוּריּא. The Shaphel שׁכלל from כּלל, means to complete, to finish. אשּׁין, bases, foundations. יחיטוּ may be the imperf. Aphel of חוּט, formed after the example of יקּים for יקים, omitting the reduplication, יחיט. חוּט means to sew, to sew together, and may, like רפא, be understood of repairing walls or foundations. But it is more likely to be the imperf. Aphel of חטט, in Syriac hat, and in the Talmud, to dig, to dig out, fodit, excavavit - to dig out the foundations for the purpose of erecting new buildings.
"Now be it known unto the king, that if this city be built up and ... they will not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and it (the city) will at last bring damage to the king." The three words מנדּה בלו והלך occur again, Ezr 4:20 and Ezr 7:24, in this combination as designating the different kinds of imposts. מנדּה, with resolved Dagesh forte, for מדּה (Ezr 4:20), signifies measure, then tax or custom measured to every one. בּלו, probably a duty on consumption, excise; הלך, a toll paid upon roads by travellers and their goods. The word אפּהם, which occurs only here, and has not been expressed by old translators, depends upon the Pehlevi word אודום: it is connected with the Sanscrit apa, in the superl. apama, and signifies at last, or in the future; comp. Haug, p. 156. מלכים, a Hebraized form for מלכין, Ezr 4:15, is perhaps only an error of transcription.
"Now, because we eat the salt of the palace, and it does not become us to see the damage of the king, we send (this letter) and make known to the king." מלח מלח, to salt salt = to eat salt. To eat the salt of the palace is a figurative expression for: to be in the king's pay. See this interpretation vindicated from the Syriac and Persian in Gesen. thes. p. 790.
(Note: Luther, in translating "all we who destroyed the temple," follows the Rabbis, who, from the custom of scattering salt upon destroyed places, Jdg 9:45, understood these words as an expression figurative of destruction, and היכלא as the temple.)
ערוה, deprivation, emptying, here injury to the royal power or revenue. אריך, participle of ארך, answering to the Hebrew ערך, means fitting, becoming.
"That search may be made in the book of the chronicles of thy fathers, so shalt thou find in the book of the Chronicles that this city has been a rebellious city, and hurtful to kings and countries, and that they have from of old stirred up sedition within it, on which account this city was (also) destroyed." יבקּר is used impersonally: let one seek, let search be made. דּכרניּא ספר, book of records, is the public royal chronicle in which the chief events of the history of the realm were recorded, called Est 6:1 the book of the records of daily events. Thy fathers are the predecessors of the king, i.e., his predecessors in government; therefore not merely the Median and Persian, but the Chaldean and Assyrian kings, to whose dominions the Persian monarchs had succeeded. אשׁתּדּוּר, a verbal noun from the Ithpeal of שׁדר, rebellion. עלמא יומת מן, from the days of eternity, i.e., from time immemorial. יומת is in the constructive state, plural, formed from the singular יומא. This form occurs only here and Ezr 4:19, but is analogous with the Hebrew poetical form ימות for ימים.
After thus casting suspicion upon the Jews as a seditious people, their adversaries bring the accusation, already raised at the beginning of the letter, to a climax, by saying that if Jerusalem is rebuilt and fortified, the king will lose his supremacy over the lands on this side the river. דּנה לקבל, on this account, for this reason, that the present inhabitants of the fortified city Jerusalem are like its former inhabitants, thou wilt have no portion west of Euphrates, i.e., thou wilt have nothing more to do with the countries on this side the river-wilt forfeit thy sway over these districts.
The royal answer to this letter. פּתגּמא - a word which has also passed into the Hebrew, Ecc 8:11; Est 1:20 - is the Zend. patigama, properly that which is to take place, the decree, the sentence; see on Dan 3:16. עבר וּשׁאר still depends upon בּ: those dwelling in Samaria and the other towns on this side the river. The royal letter begins with וּכעת שׁלם, "Peace," and so forth. כּעת is abbreviated from כּענת.
"The letter which you sent to us has been plainly read before me." מפרשׁ part. pass. Peal, corresponds with the Hebrew part. Piel מפרשׁ, made plain, adverbially, plainly, and does not signify "translated into Persian."
"And by me a command has been given, and search has been made; and it has been found that this city from of old hath lifted itself (risen) up against kings," etc. מתנשּׁא, lifted itself up rebelliously, as (in Hebrew) in Kg1 1:5.
"There have been powerful kings in Jerusalem, and (rulers) exercising dominion over the whole region beyond the river" (westward of Euphrates). This applies in its full extent only to David and Solomon, and in a less degree to subsequent kings of Israel and Judah. On Ezr 4:20, comp. Ezr 4:13.
"Give ye now commandment to hinder these people (to keep them from the work), that this city be not built until command (sc. to build) be given from me." יתּשׂם, Ithpeal of שׂוּם.
"And be warned from committing an oversight in this respect," i.e., take heed to overlook nothing in this matter (זהיר, instructed, warned). "Why should the damage become great (i.e., grow), to bring injury to kings?"
The result of this royal command. As soon as the copy of the letter was read before Rehum and his associates, they went up in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews, and hindered them by violence and force. אדרע with א prosthetic only here, elsewhere דּרע (= זרוע), arm, violence. Bertheau translates, "with forces and a host;" but the rendering of אדרע or זרוע by "force" can neither be shown to be correct from Eze 17:9 and Dan 11:15, Dan 11:31, nor justified by the translation of the lxx, ἐν ἵπποις καὶ δυνάμει.
"Then ceased the work of the house of God at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of Darius king of Persia." With this statement the narrator returns to the notice in Ezr 4:5, that the adversaries of Judah succeeded in delaying the building of the temple till the reign of King Darius, which he takes up, and now adds the more precise information that it ceased till the second year of King Darius. The intervening section, Ezr 4:6, gives a more detailed account of those accusations against the Jews made by their adversaries to kings Ahashverosh and Artachshasta. If we read Ezr 4:23 and Ezr 4:24 as successive, we get an impression that the discontinuation to build mentioned in Ezr 4:24 was the effect and consequence of the prohibition obtained from King Artachshasta, through the complaints brought against the Jews by his officials on this side the river; the בּאדין of Ezr 4:24 seeming to refer to the אדין of Ezr 4:23. Under this impression, older expositors have without hesitation referred the contents of Ezr 4:6 to the interruption to the building of the temple during the period from Cyrus to Darius, and understood the two names Ahashverosh and Artachshasta as belonging to Cambyses and (Pseudo) Smerdis, the monarchs who reigned between Cyrus and Darius. Grave objections to this view have, however, been raised by Kleinert (in the Beitrgen der Dorpater Prof. d. Theol. 8132, vol. i) and J. W. Schultz (Cyrus der Grosse, in Theol. Stud. u. Krit. 1853, p. 624, etc.), who have sought to prove that none but the Persian kings Xerxes and Artaxerxes can be meant by Ahashverosh and Artachshasta, and that the section Ezr 4:6 relates not to the building of the temple, but to the building of the walls of Jerusalem, and forms an interpolation or episode, in which the historian makes the efforts of the adversaries of Judah to prevent the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem under Xerxes and Artaxerxes follow immediately after his statement of their attempt to hinder the building of the temple, for the sake of presenting at one glance a view of all their machinations against the Jews. This view has been advocated not only by Vaihinger, "On the Elucidation of the History of Israel after the Captivity," in the Theol. Stud. u. Krit. 1857, p. 87, etc., and Bertheau in his Commentary on this passage, but also by Hengstenberg, Christol. iii. p. 143, Auberlen, and others, and opposed by Ewald in the 2nd edition of his Gesch. Israels, iv. p. 118, where he embraces the older explanation of these verses, and A. Koehler on Haggai, p. 20. On reviewing the arguments advanced in favour of the more modern view, we can lay no weight at all upon the circumstance that in Ezr 4:6 the building of the temple is not spoken of. The contents of the letter sent to Ahashverosh (Ezr 4:6) are not stated; in that to Artachshasta (Ezr 4:11) the writers certainly accuse the Jews of building the rebellious and bad city (Jerusalem), of setting up its walls and digging out its foundations (Ezr 4:12); but the whole document is so evidently the result of ardent hatred and malevolent suspicion, that well-founded objections to the truthfulness of these accusations may reasonably be entertained. Such adversaries might, for the sake of more surely attaining their end of obstructing the work of the Jews, easily represent the act of laying the foundations and building the walls of the temple as a rebuilding of the town walls. The answer of the king, too (Ezr 4:17), would naturally treat only of such matters as the accusers had mentioned.
The argument derived from the names of the kings is of far more importance. The name אחשׁורושׁ (in Ezr 4:6) occurs also in the book of Esther, where, as is now universally acknowledged, the Persian king Xerxes is meant; and in Dan 9:1, as the name of the Median king Kyaxares. In the cuneiform inscriptions the name is in Old-Persian Ksayarsa, in Assyrian Hisiarsi, in which it is easy to recognise both the Hebrew form Ahashverosh, and the Greek forms Ξέρξης and Κυαξάρης. On the other hand, the name Cambyses (Old-Persian Kambudshja) offers no single point of identity; the words are radically different, whilst nothing is known of Cambyses having ever borne a second name or surname similar in sound to the Hebrew Ahashverosh. The name Artachshasta, moreover, both in Est 7:1-10 and 8, and in the book of Nehemiah, undoubtedly denotes the monarch known as Artaxerxes (Longimanus). It is, indeed, in both these books written ארתּחשׁסתּא with ס, and in the present section, and in Ezr 6:14, ארתּחששׁתּא; but this slight difference of orthography is no argument for difference of person, ארתחשׁשׁתא seeming to be a mode of spelling the word peculiar to the author of the Chaldee section, Ezra 4-6. Two other names, indeed, of Smerdis, the successor of Cambyses, have been handed down to us. According to Xenophon, Cyrop. viii. 7, and Ktesias, Pers. fr. 8-13, he is said to have been called Tanyoxares, and according to Justini hist. i. 9, Oropastes; and Ewald is of opinion that the latter name is properly Ortosastes, which might answer to Artachshasta. It is also not improbable that Smerdis may, as king, have assumed the name of Artachshasta, Ἀρταξέρξης, which Herodotus (vi. 98) explains by μέγας ἀρήΐος. But neither this possibility, nor the opinion of Ewald, that Ortosastes is the correct reading for Oropastes in Just. hist. i. 9, can lay any claim to probability, unless other grounds also exist for the identification of Artachshasta with Smerdis. Such grounds, however, are wanting; while, on the other hand, it is priori improbable that Ps. Smerdis, who reigned but about seven months, should in this short period have pronounced such a decision concerning the matter of building the temple of Jerusalem, as we read in the letter of Artachshasta, Ezr 4:17, even if the adversaries of the Jews should, though residing in Palestine, have laid their complaints before him, immediately after his accession to the throne. When we consider also the great improbability of Ahashverosh being a surname of Cambyses, we feel constrained to embrace the view that the section Ezr 4:6 is an episode inserted by the historian, on the occasion of narrating the interruption to the building of the temple, brought about by the enemies of the Jews, and for the sake of giving a short and comprehensive view of all the hostile acts against the Jewish community on the part of the Samaritans and surrounding nations.
The contents and position of Ezr 4:24 may easily be reconciled with this view, which also refutes as unfounded the assertion of Herzfeld, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, i. p. 303, and Schrader, p. 469, that the author of the book of Ezra himself erroneously refers the document given, Ezr 4:6, to the erection of the temple, instead of to the subsequent building of the walls of Jerusalem. For, to say nothing of the contents of Ezr 4:6, although it may seem natural to refer the בּאדין of Ezr 4:24 to Ezr 4:23, it cannot be affirmed that this reference is either necessary or the only one allowable. The assertion that בּאדין is "always connected with that which immediately precedes," cannot be strengthened by an appeal to Ezr 5:2; Ezr 6:1; Dan 2:14, Dan 2:46; Dan 3:3, and other passages. בּאדין, then (= at that time), in contradistinction to אדין, thereupon, only refers a narrative, in a general manner, to the time spoken of in that which precedes it. When, then, it is said, then, or at that time, the work of the house of God ceased (Ezr 4:24), the then can only refer to what was before related concerning the building of the house of God, i.e., to the narrative Ezr 4:1. This reference of Ezr 4:24 to Ezr 4:1 is raised above all doubt, by the fact that the contents of Ezr 4:24 are but a recapitulation of Ezr 4:5; it being said in both, that the cessation from building the temple lasted till the reign, or, as it is more precisely stated in Ezr 4:24, till the second year of the reign, of Darius king of Persia. With this recapitulation of the contents of Ezr 4:5, the narrative, Ezr 4:24, returns to the point which it had reached at Ezr 4:5. What lies between is thereby characterized as an illustrative episode, the relation of which to that which precedes and follows it, is to be perceived and determined solely by its contents. If, then, in this episode, we find not only that the building of the temple is not spoken of, but that letters are given addressed to the Kings Ahashverosh and Artachshasta, who, as all Ezra's contemporaries would know, reigned not before but after Darius, the very introduction of the first letter with the words, "And in the reign of Ahashverosh" (Ezr 4:6), after the preceding statement, "until the reign of Darius king of Persia" (Ezr 4:5), would be sufficient to obviate the misconception that letters addressed to Ahashverosh and Artachshasta related to matters which happened in the period between Cyrus and Darius Hystaspis. Concerning another objection to this view of Ezr 4:6, viz., that it would be strange that King Artaxerxes, who is described to us in Ezra 7 and in Nehemiah as very favourable to the Jews, should have been for a time so prejudiced against them as to forbid the building of the town and walls of Jerusalem, we shall have an opportunity of speaking in our explanations of Neh 1:1-11. - Ezr 4:24, so far, then, as its matter is concerned, belongs to the following chapter, to which it forms an introduction.