Archeology Nehemiah


AUTHOR, PLACE AND DATE OF WRITING 
    Ezra the priest, who is presumed to have written this book around 430 B.C., after having returned to Jerusalem with a group of Babylonian exiles in 458 B.C., also authored the book of Ezra in about 440 B.C. Originally two separate compositions, they were combined into one book, titled Ezra, prior to A.D. 100. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint treated Nehemiah and Ezra as one book. Origen (c. A.D. 185-253) was the first writer to make a distinction between the two, which he called 1 Ezra and 2 Ezra. Wycliffe's (1382) and Coverdale's (1535) English translations also separated the two. 


AUDIENCE 
    Generations of Israelites after the exiles had returned from Babylon read the book of Nehemiah. Ezra clearly wanted his readers to understand what had happened in Jerusalem as the exiles returned, as well as the issues they faced and overcame in order to reestablish their covenant relationship with God. The national identity of God's people was at stake: The community of God had to be rebuilt upon the foundation of God's covenants with his people established many years earlier. 


CULTURAL FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS 
    Continuing the historical record found in the book of Ezra, Nehemiah describes the Jews' return from exile in Babylon and God's continued faithfulness to his covenant people. The book's narrative is communicated through the life of Nehemiah, who left his position as cupbearer of Artaxerxes to become governor of Jerusalem when Ezra was leading the people. 


AS YOU READ 
    Notice the key role of prayer in Nehemiah's life, and evaluate its importance in your own life today. Imagine how the Jewish exiles must have felt as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem under threats from powerful neighbors and even opposition from some fellow Jews. Reflect on why—despite what they were learning about God and Moses' Law, as well as their participation in the covenant-renewal ceremony (chs, 8-10)—the members of the Jewish remnant seemed unable or unwilling to honor fully their covenant with Yahweh or to maintain purity of faith. 

    Carefully note the challenges Nehemiah faced. Imagine his disappointment after having returned from his visit with Artaxerxes only to discover that more problems had surfaced while he had been away: neglect of the temple, Levites not being supplied with food and supplies, God's people working on the Sabbath, men of Judah once again marrying pagan women. Follow along as he and Ezra worked to overcome these crises of national identity. 


DID YOU KNOW? 
  • One of the cupbearer's duties was to choose and taste the king's wine to make certain it was not poisoned. The need for trustworthy court attendants is underscored by the intrigues that characterized the Persian court. Xerxes, the father of Artaxerxes I, was killed in his own bedchamber by a courtier (1:11). 
  • The Sheep Gate was known in New Testament times as having been located near the Bethesda Pool (in the northeastern corner of Jerusalem). Even today this area is periodically used as a sheep market (3:1). 
  • Women did not participate in ordinary meetings but were included, together with children, on sacred occasions. In one memorable instance the people stood for five or six hours, attentively listening to the reading and explanation of the Scriptures (8:2-3). 
  • The practice of forcibly redistributing populations was also used to establish Greek and Hellenistic cities (11:1-2). 


THEMES 
Nehemiah contains the following themes: 

1. Renewal. While rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was the obvious material challenge facing Nehemiah, reestablishing the Jews' commitment to God and to the Mosaic Law was his primary spiritual concern. Nehemiah 9:1-12:47 captures the people's dramatic response to the reading of the law by Ezra (8:1-18): They confessed their sins (9:1-37) and voluntarily recommitted themselves to God's covenant (9:38-10:39). Later, during a second visit from Nehemiah, they agreed to support the temple (13:4-14), keep the Sabbath (13:15-22) and divorce their foreign wives (13:23-31). 

2. Prayer. Prayer is essential to any work of God, and Nehemiah was a model leader who initiated his plans only after consultation with God. A man of prayer (1:4; 2:4; 4:4; 5:19; 6:9,14; 13:14,22,29,31), his efforts were richly blessed by God. 

3. Opposition. Nehemiah's task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was met with strong resistance, which was overcome with God's help (2:19-20; 4:1-15; 5:1-19; 6:1-14). 


OUTLINE

 I. Nehemiah Leads in the Rebuilding of the Wall (1:1-7:3) 
         II. Changes Under Ezra (7:4-10:39) 
        Ill. Jerusalem Repopulated and Wall Dedicated (11-12) 
       IV. Nehemiah's Return to Jerusalem and Leadership Role (13) 




 The Chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah


    NEHEMIAH 1 The chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah is a complex issue, especially as the events these books recount took place during a relatively obscure period of Biblical history. According to the Bible, Ezra arrived in Jerusalem during the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes I, in 458 B.C. (Ezr 7:8), and Nehemiah in the twentieth year of the same king,445 B.C. (Ne 2:1).1 Two other passages suggest that the two leaders were present in the city at the same time (8:9; 12:36).This data suggests the priority of Ezra's mission,while acknowledging the close relationship of the respective activities of the two leaders. 

    Modern research has raised a number of objections against the traditional sequence, however, and some scholars suggest that Nehemiah's mission occurred prior to Ezra's. The most significant argument is based on the succession of high priests recorded in the Bible in comparison to the extrabiblical evidence. The book of Nehemiah records Eliashib as the high priest with whom Nehemiah dealt (3:1,20; 13:28). Nehemiah 12:10-11 presents the succession of high priests as follows: "Jeshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada,Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua." Chapter 12:22 lists names from the same progression as "Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan [a variation of Jonathan) and Jaddua." Furthermore, 12:23 refers to Johanan as the son (i.e., grandson) of Eliashib. 

    The difficulty arises in the comparison of this sequence with that found in Ezra. According to Ezra 10:6 "Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the room of Jehohanan [another variation of Jonathan) son of Eliashib." This passage seems at first glance to suggest that Ezra dealt with the grandson of the man whom Nehemiah knew—necessitating the conclusion that Nehemiah's ministry must have preceded Ezra's. This deduction appears to receive confirmation from the Elephantine papyri (documents from the Jewish colony at Elephantine in Egypt), which clearly identify a Johanan as high priest around 410 B.C. 

    Scholars who espouse this theory accept the 445 B.C. date for Nehemiah's arrival in Jerusalem but place the ministry of Ezra as beginning in 398 B.c., the seventh year of Artaxerxes II (not Artaxerxes).A minority opinion conjectures that Ezra 7:8 originally read as the thirty-seventh year of Artaxerxes I, or 428 B.C. However, no textual evidence suggests a scribal error in Ezra 7:8. 

    Further, at least three important points render this conclusion unnecessary: 
  • The names of Eliashib and Jonathan were extremely common (there are three different men named Eliashib in Ezr 10 alone). Therefore, it is not at all certain that the Jonathan of Nehemiah 12 and the one of Ezra 10 were the same person. 
  • Ezra 10:6 indicates that Ezra entered the chamber of Jehohanan (Jonathan) but does not identify Jehohanan as the reigning high priest. It is entirely possible to maintain the traditional sequence on the assumption that Jonathan was a young man from a high priestly family with access to the temple at the time of his meeting with Ezra. 
  • There was indeed a high priest named Johanan at the beginning of the fourth century B.C., but the ancient Jewish historian Josephus described how this Johanan killed his own brother Jesus in the year 398 B.C. within the temple itself (Antiquities,11.297- 301).0n the basis of this scandalous crime,the Persian governor Bagoas, a supporter of this Jesus, placed the Jews under a seven-year period of punishment.lt is most unlikely that Ezra could have received the judicial and financial support of the Persian crown for doing his work at this very time (Ezr 7:6,11-28).The Biblical data,as well as historical information described by Josephus,suggests the priority of Ezra's mission and so should be maintained. 



 Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem 


    NEHEMIAH 2 When Nehemiah began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in 445 B.C., he met with strong resistance from three individuals named Sanballat,Tobiah and Geshem. Although Nehemiah did not record their titles, we know from extrabiblical evidence that they were rulers of adjoining areas (cf. Ne 2:9-10): 
  • Sanballat: Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, the province north of Judah. We know, in fact, of three men by this name who ruled Samaria at different times. A 407 B.C. papyrus letter from Elephantine' in Egypt mentions the Sanballat of Nehemiah's time. Written to the governor of Judah, requesting permission to rebuild the ruined temple at Elephantine, it states: "All these things in a letter we sent in our name to Delaiah and Shelemiah sons of Sanballat governor of Samaria." It appears that at this time, 38 years after Sanballat's confrontation with Nehemiah, Sanballat's sons were acting on behalf of their aged father. 
A coin and a bulla (seal impression) from the mid-fourth century B.C., inscribed with the name of Sanballat, governor of Samaria, were discovered in a cave in the wilderness of Judah. This particular Sanballat was likely the grandson of Nehemiah's Sanballat. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus mentions a third Sanballat, who was ruling Samaria in 332 a.c.and was perhaps the great-grandson of the Sanballat who opposed Nehemiah. Tabiah:The Tobiah family was well known in the third century B.C. as powerful Jewish aristocrats living in the Transjordan. Papyrus letters of an Egyptian official named Zenon, dating from around 260 B.C., mention a wealthy landowner, businessman and tax collector named Tobias (an alternative spelling of Tobiah) in the province of Ammonitis. Ruins of the Tobiah family's palatial estate from the second century B.C., mentioned by Josephus, have been excavated 11 miles (18 km) west of modern Amman, Jordan. The family name is inscribed above two entrances to rock-cut halls on the estate.The Tobiah of Nehemiah's acquaintance appears to have been governor of the province of Ammon, east of Judah in Transjordan. 

  • Geshem: An inscription found in north-western Arabia from the time of Nehemiah reads,"Geshem son of Sahr and Abd, governor of Dedan." A silver offering bowl uncovered in the eastern delta region of Egypt from the late fifth century B.C. bears the same name, stating, "That which Kainu son of Geshem king of Kedar offered to Hanilat." Since Dedan and Kedar were tribal nations occupying the eastern desert, including Syria, northern Arabia, Sinai and northern Egypt, Geshem must have been a powerful ruler who controlled a vast area. 




 Hittite Instructions for Border Outposts 


    NEHEMIAH 4 Nehemiah 3-4 describes Nehemiah's attempt to rebuild Jerusalem in the face of violent opposition. Nehemiah had to inspire the people under his command to rebuild the walls and towers of the city, while simultaneously maintaining discipline for the Jewish militia defending it. This was not unusual; throughout the ancient Near East kings established military procedures for the commanders who manned their watchtowers and outposts. 

    A group of Hittite administrative texts describes the guidelines a "lord of a watch-tower" (a garrison commander) was to fol-low.These included fixed procedures for the changing of the guard,for opening the gates of a city, for patrolling access routes and for maintaining a roster of troops. The Hittites also had specific procedures for the building and fortification of walls, to ensure that they would be resistant to burning and tunneling by sappers (men whose specialty it was to tunnel under a city wail). Interestingly, Hittite regulations also required that commanders oversee the maintenance of the priesthood, temples and rituals for the Hittite storm god (cf. chs. 7;10).1 They also had to ensure that deportees could recover from their destitute situation (cf. ch. 5). Chronologically, these Hittite texts are distant from the time of Nehemiah, but they do attest to the duties any governor of an ancient garrison city would presumably have been expected to fulfill. 



 Banking and Money in the Ancient World


    NEHEMIAH 5 The earliest monetary exchanges were made on the basis of a barter system. In Mesopotamia barley and dates were often standards of trade, since they could be stored for a relatively long period of time without loss. Tithes, taxes and tribute could be paid in agricultural produce. Coins were introduced in Lydia during the seventh century B.C. but were not common until the time of Alexander the Great (c. 330 B.O.' Barter was used even in Roman times. Precious metals (e.g., silver, gold and electrum) formed into vessels (cups, bowls, dishes) or jewelry (rings, earrings, bracelets) often were used as items of exchange.

    An item's weight (e.g., a silver plate of 130 shekels; Nu 7:13) was the primary indication of its monetary value, although other factors, such as the quality of the craftsman-ship, were important as well. Common units of weight were the gerah (.02 ou or .6 g), the shekel (.4 ou or 11.5 g), the mina (1.5 lbs or .6 kg) and the talent (74 lbs or 34 kg). All of these weight equivalents are approximate and to a degree conjectural, however, and weights were not fixed for all places throughout the entire Biblical period. This does not mean that ancient people were casual about weights and exchanges; the condemnation of fraudulent weights and scales, in fact, shows how seriously they treated precision in such matters (cf. Lev 19:36; Pr 16:11). 

    Prices naturally fluctuated through the centuries, and it is difficult to ascertain how much a particular commodity may have cost at a given time and place—and equally difficult to communicate prices in a manner meaningful to a modern reader. The laws of supply and demand operated then as now. Second Kings 7:1 indicates that in the ninth century B.C. the price of one silver shekel for two seahs (about 24 qts or 14.6 I) of barley was regarded as so inexpensive that it would only occur when grain was overly abundant. The prophet Hosea, in approximately 740 B.c., seems to have redeemed his wife, Gomer, from slavery for a price of 15 shekels of silver and "about a homer and a lethek of barley" (Hos 3:2). A homer seems to have been approximately 6 bushels or 220 liters and a lethek half that, indicating a total price of about 4.46 ounces (127.5 g) of silver and 8.53 bushels (3301) of barley for redemp-tion of a slave woman in eighth-century Israel. Hosea's contemporaries would have been able to determine whether this represented a typical or an exorbitant price. 

    With regard to the Israelites/Jews, money was safeguarded in temples and palaces or buried in underground hoards. Loans were documented and witnessed. Six-month agricultural loans were common, as were promissory notes and letters of credit. Laws regu-lated abuse of collateral: Outer garments had to be returned that night (Ex 22:26 —27), the taking of millstones was prohibited (Dt 24:6) and creditors could not enter debtors' homes to collect collateral (Dt 24:10). Interest-carrying loans to fellow Israelites were prohibited (Ex 22:25) and real estate transactions highly re-stricted. As in modern business ventures, risk and profit were often directly proportional. International trade was highly risky but could also be quite profitable; local trading offered lower risks but also smaller returns on investment. 



 The Postexilic Period of the Old Testament The Persian Period 


    NEHEMIAH 7 The postexilic period, which covers over 500 years, can be conveniently divided into five periods: Persian, Greek, Hasmonean, Roman and Herodian. 

    In 539-538 B.C. Cyrus the Persian defeated the Babylonians and reversed the policy of depopulating areas and scattering people into foreign lands.' Almost immediately thereafter he allowed the exiled Israelites to return to their homeland under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (cf. Ezr 1-2; 5:13-16; Ne 7). The Cyrus Cylinder provides important extrabiblical confirmation.

    Many Jews opted to remain in the lands to which they had been exiled,though maintaining their religious and ethnic identity. This phenomenon, known as the dispersion of the Jews, had become an irreversible social reality. However,the Old Testament exilic and postexilic narratives, with the exception of the book of Esther, focus on the challenges and crises facing the returnees. 

    The first major challenge was the rebuilding of the temple in the face of external opposition (Ezr 4:1-5, 24; 5:1-6:18) and internal neglect (Hag 1:2– 11). Its restoration was a prerequisite for the reinstatement of God's presence and blessings, and a strong priesthood was necessary to reinstitute local worship according to prescribed norms (Hag 2:11-19; Zec 3). Stirred into action by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and with Persian sponsorship, the Persian-appointed governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua successfully completed the project, dedicating the temple in 516/515 B.C. (cf. Ezr 6:15-16). 

    Another challenge was the threat of assimilation and idolatry (Ezr 9). With Persian endorsement Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. (Ezr 7:6-10). He confronted the people, led them in confession of their unfaithfulness to God (Ezr 10) and later fulfilled his commission to teach the Book of the Law of Moses to the people (Ne 8-9). 

    A third significant challenge was the fortification of Jerusalem. In 445 B.C. Nehemiah, royal cupbearer to the Persian monarch, appealed to Artaxerxes I on Jerusalem's be-half., Artaxerxes appointed Nehemiah governor of Judea, funded his return to Jerusalem and provided building materials (2:1-9; 5:14). Despite considerable opposition,, Nehemiah and the returnees succeeded in their mission (6:15). 

    The dedication of the wall was accompanied by extensive reading from the law and a call for covenant renewal. This period of revival was apparently short-lived, however. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, perhaps in 433/432 B.C, he discovered that the priests and people alike had become negligent in their worship. 

    The Persian kings' endorsement and support of religious activity in "Yehud" (Judea) is consistent with their interest in temple communities in Babylonia, Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia, Phoenicia and elsewhere: 
  • Temples served as regional power centers and helped maintain civil obedience and political loyalty. It is hardly coincidental that the Persians authorized the second temple's completion shortly after their subjugation of Egypt in 526-525 s.c. They willingly com-missioned Ezra and Nehemiah a few years after quelling Egypt's revolt in 460 B.C. The Egyptian threat to the south highlighted Persia's reliance upon a productive and loyal "Yehud." 
  • Priestly governmental systems were less threatening to Persian kings than were local monarchies. Judea was ruled by both a high priest and a governor (cf. Hag 1:1,14; Zec 4), and the balance of power between the two fluctuated throughout the postexilic period. Nehemiah played a crucial role as governor in the mid-fifth century B.C., yet in Judea over-all this period saw an increasing role of the priesthood and a decreasing role of the Davidic royal family. By the end of the Persian period (c. 330 B.c.) the priests had risen to a prominent position. 
  • The Persians hoped to curry the favor and support of local deities and their priestly servants, who might intercede for the prosperity of the empire (cf. Ezr 6:9-10; 7:23). 
  • Religious endorsement was essential to the legitimization of Persian rule in the eyes of various peoples.The Persians were so suc-cessful in this that in Babylonia their rule was not regarded as foreign domination. 
    Israel's leaders and prophets recognized the constraints of their situation under Persian rule but welcomed Persian support to carry out God's commands in their homeland. Nevertheless, they consistently testified that God was the source of all blessing and success (Ezr 1:1; 7:6; Ne 2:8,20) and continued to look forward to a day when the Davidic branch would take root and all peoples would flock to Mount Zion to seek the Lord of hosts (Zec 3:8-10; 8:20-23). 



 The Greek and Hasmonean Periods 


    NEHEMIAH 7 The Greeks. Historical sources are virtually silent about the history of Judea from the later Persian period (see previous article) until the time of Alexander the Great. In 332 a.c. this Macedonian king conquered the region and ended centuries of Persian con-Alexander brought with him Hellenism,a popular form of Greek culture that left a lasting impression on all societies with which it came into contact. 

    Following his death in 323 B.C. Alexander's most powerful generals waged war among themselves in an effort to claim portions of the empire. By 301 the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Greek family that ruled Egypt, had gained control of Judea.' Sources for this period are scant at best, but this may suggest that the Jews existed quite peacefully under the Ptolemies. 

    In 200 B.C.the Seleucid king Antiochus III conquered Judea (the Seleucids were a Greek dynasty that ruled Syria)., He established favorable relations by guaranteeing religious liberty to his subjects. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, reversed this policy and engaged in extreme religious persecution of the Jews. He is most likely the "contemptible person" who rose to power in Daniel 11:21. Historians believe that Antiochus's desperate need for money to fight the Romans contributed to this state of affairs. It also appears that quarreling factions within the Jerusalem priestly class attempted to strengthen their own positions by cooperating with the Greek-speaking leadership, even to the point of suppressing their own people. 

    Antiochus used Judea as a staging ground for a campaign against Egypt, but in 168 B.C. this effort was thwarted. The repressed people of Jerusalem seized the opportunity to rebel against Antiochus, who crushed the uprising and punished the citizens by installing pagan cults in the city and forbidding the observance of Jewish religious practices. The author of 1 Maccabees (an Apocryphal book not found in the traditional Protestant canon) records that the worst insult of all occurred in 167 B.C. when Antiochus defiled the temple by sacrificing swine, an "unclean" meat,on the altar. Daniel 11:31 probably also refers to this incident, which it calls the "abomination that causes desolation.", The Jews reacted violently with a revolt led by the priest Mattathias of the Hasmonean family and his five sons.Within a few years the Jews had won back their religious freedom, and the temple was cleansed and rededicated in 164 B.C. 

    The Hasmoneans. The Maccabees, because of their victory over their Seleucid ene-mies, established themselves as the ruling dynasty in Judea.The most famous member of this family was Judas Maccabeus, son of Mattathias. His name provided the common title for this uprising, the Maccabean Revolt. 

    Judas led successful military campaigns in 163 and 162 B.C. to protect Jews who were being attacked in other areas of the Holy Land. The Hasmoneans soon gained a reputation as national leaders and defenders.The Seleucids attempted unsuccessfully to quell the growing tide of Jewish nationalism, and in 161 s.c. the Hasmoneans increased their advantage by signing a mutual defense treaty with the Roman Republic. 

    Meanwhile,the Seleucid Empire was crumbling from within. Ironically, the contenders for the throne now sought help from the Hasmoneans to secure their positions. In return, they promised autonomy to the Jews.The Hasmoneans profited from this period of Seleucid weakness by taking control of large areas of the Holy Land. Finally, in 141 B.c.the last Greek garrison was removed from Jerusalem,and the city no longer bore any burden of taxation by the Seleucids. 

    The Hasmonean dynasty achieved significant territorial expansion. John Hyrcanus I (135-104 B.c.) was particularly notable for his military campaigns against the Samaritans and Idumeans.' He destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim and conquered the capital at Shechem.5 The [du-means were allowed to stay in their lands on the condition that all their males be circumcised. Galilee fell to Hyrcanus's son, Aris-tobolus (104-103 B.c.).The subsequent ruler, Alexander Jannaeus (103 —76 B.C.) extended the Hasmonean reach to the Greek cities along the coast of the Holy Land and to the region of the Transjordan. However, Jannaeus gained a reputation for severe cruelty. Internal dissension increased and threatened to tear apart this increasingly fragile state. Jannaeus bequeathed the sizable Hasmonean kingdom to his wife, Salome, whose nine-year rule was marked by a civil war between her two sons, Aristobolus II and Hyr-canus II. 

    Another important development of this period was the rise of the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees represented the Jewish priestly upper class and their aristocratic associates.They sought prominence in both the religious and political spheres and were seen by some as being too friendly toward Hellenistic cultural influences.6 The Pharisees, or "separatists," developed as a reaction against such Hellenism. This group was characterized by its strict, uncompromising observance of the Mosaic Law. Over time its members gained a lofty status in the eyes of many Jews, who viewed them as defenders of pure religion.



 The Roman and Herodian Periods 


    NEHEMIAH 7 The period of Hasmonean rule marked the last time that Jews would be under the governance of their own people until the modern state of Israel was established in 1948. Indeed, when the Hasmoneans were at the height of their power, Roman power was already growing in the region and would soon encroach upon the Hasmonean state. By the time the Roman Pompey arrived at Jerusalem with his legions in 63 B.C., Roman conquest was virtually a foregone conclusion.' The Romans were quite merciful and did not destroy Jerusalem or punish the people of the region. They respected the antiquity of the Jewish faith and permitted its observance to continue un-abated, so long as the Jews did not threaten the Roman state. 

    Pompey's successor, Gabinius, governor of Syria from 57 to 55 B.C., attempted to divide the Jewish territory into five administrative units.When the people reacted violently, Gabinius abandoned his plan. From this experience the Romans learned that Judea had the potential to be a powder keg. Indeed, rebellion would prove to be the norm, not the excep-tion, throughout the period of Roman rule. 

    In 37 B.C. Herod the Great was appointed vassal king over Judea by Julius Caesar and the Roman Senate. He quickly granted the high priesthood to members of the Jewish Diaspora, men who shared his Hellenistic tendencies (in contrast to the more conservative Jewish priests)—an act that angered many Judeans. He also ruled the region with a heavy hand, believing that rebellion was best discouraged by making examples of those who challenged the peace. Matthew 2, in the account of the slaughter of the innocents, illustrates Herod's cruelty. 

    On the other hand, Herod could be quite sympathetic to the Jewish people. On one occasion he lobbied the imperial court in Rome on behalf of certain Jews who had revolted. He also undertook the restoration of the temple in 20 B.C. Following Herod's death in 4 B.C. Archelaus became king but proved unable to maintain order. After ten years of uprisings, Rome designated Judea a Roman province and placed it under the direct oversight of the imperial capital. Nothing, however, could coerce the Jews into being satisfied under foreign rule. It was precisely in this difficult environment that Jesus embarked upon his public ministry. 



 Ur


    NEHEMIAH 9 References to the Biblical Ur usually point to the ancient city located at modern Tell el-Muqqayyar in southern Mesopotamia. This was one of the great cities of the Sumerians, that flourished in the third millennium B.C. Founded perhaps as early as the fifth millennium, it grew during the fourth millennium and became prominent around 2600-2500 B.C., during the city's Early Dynastic period. Excavations of this phase have revealed a number of possibly royal tombs containing jewelry, ceremonial weapons and musical instruments. 

    After a period during which this particular Ur was under Akkadian domination, it achieved its greatest glory during the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2100-2000 B.c.), when it governed an empire that covered much of Mesopotamia. A massive ziggurat and temple complex, as well as thousands of cuneiform tablets, have been excavated from this period. However, the city was sacked by the Elamites and, although rebuilt, was never again to become the power center it had been. Even so, the city continued to exist and was periodically rebuilt by various Akkadian and Babylonian rulers. As late as the reign of Nabonidus of Babylon (555-539 B.c.), restoration work was carried out there. The site was finally abandoned during the Persian period. 

    Since the name Ur was identified on an inscribed brick in 1855 at Tell el-Muqqayyar, this site has been thought to be the Biblical Ur. The excavations of C.L. Woolley (1922 — 1934) were based on that assumption, but more recently scholars have come to question this theory for the following reasons: 
  • Although several cities named Ur existed in antiquity, the Biblical Ur is always referred to as"Ur of the Chaldeans," most likely to dis-tinguish it from a famous city of the same name (i.e., the southern Mesopotamian Ur discussed above). 
The designation Chaldean applies to southern Mesopotamia only after about 1000 B.C., long after Abraham's lifetime. Previous to that time the Chaldeans lived in northern Mesopotamia. Another city named Ur, located in the north, is in fact probably intended by the Biblical references. 

  • On a trip from the southern Mesopotamian Ur to Canaan, Haran is far out of the way, and yet the patriarchs stopped there (see Ge 11:31)., Crossing the Euphrates at Mari, south of Haran, would have been more direct had they begun their journey from the south. This suggests that their starting point was actually in the north. When Abraham sent his servant to his "own relatives" to procure a bride for Isaac (Ge 24:4), he went to Paddan-Aram in northern Mesopotamia (as did Jacob; see Ge 28:2).3 The patriarchs apparently did not gard southern Mesopotamia as their ancestral home. 
  • Cultural influences (customs, laws, etc.) seen in the patriarchal narratives follow the northern Mesopotamian models of Nuzi and Mari rather than the southern Mesopotamian model.
    Based on this evidence, it appears that "Ur of the Chaldeans" is located near Haran in the north. At least two sites have been suggested: Ura (200 mi [322 km} north of Haran) and Urfa (modern Edessa), but a definite identification of Abraham's Ur is currently impossible. The archaeological artifacts of the more famous Ur, magnificent as they are, most likely have no relationship to Abraham. 



 Ziklag 


    NEHEMIAH 11 Nehemiah 11:28 mentions in passing that Jews settled in the town of Ziklag (see"Map 5").This site was in fact the scene of some major conflicts because of its location as a border town. 

    Ziklag was apportioned to the tribe of Simeon within Judah (Jos 15:31; 19:5) but may not have been taken by Israelites before the time of David. First Samuel 27:2-6 indicates that David received the town from the Philistine king Achish, after which it served as his base of operations. Later, an Egyptian servant reported that marauding Amalekites had razed Ziklag by fire (1Sa 30:13-14).' The city remained in Israelite possession until the end of the monarchy and was reinhabited by Jews after the exile (Ne 11:25-31). 

    Although unconfirmed by epigraphic (written) evidence, the cultural remains unearthed at Tell esh-Sharia (15.5 mi [25 krn) southeast of Gaza) correspond well with what is known of Biblical Ziklag. Excavation Level IX (from the early twelfth century B.c.) revealed an incinerated "governor's residence." The destruction may be attributable to nomads, such as the Amalekites, or to the Sea Peoples. Also found at this level were Egyptian ostraca in the script of the New Kingdom period (early twelfth century B.c.). Philistine ware was uncovered at Level VIII (twelfth—eleventh centuries B.c.), while Hebrew ostraca and a pottery vessel inscribed with "belonging to Yaram,"as well as Assyrian palace ware and architecture, were unearthed at the seventh-century B.C. level (V). Thus, the archaeological picture is one of a border town in constant flux between Philistine, Israelite, Egyptian and Assyrian control.This is exactly what archaeologists would have expected from the city's location and from the Biblical record. 



The Autobiography of Idrimi 


    NEHEMIAH 13 In 1939 Sir Leonard Woolley, while excavating at Tell Atshana (ancient Alalakh), found a stone statue of King Idrimi seated on his throne. The statue, dating from approximately 1500 B.C., carries a lengthy inscription positioned as though it were issuing from the king's mouth. Idrimi recounts in this manner how his family fled from their ancestral city of Aleppo (see "Map 8a") during a hostile insurrection against his father. Hoping to regain his family's lost prestige, Idrimi claims to have initiated treaties with mighty warriors and kings around him, amassing an army and strengthening his power while in exile. He wiped out his ene-mies and reestablished his family's dominance, setting himself up as king, after which he constructed a palace and instituted reforms throughout his land, including the reestablishment of sacrifices to his patron gods.The inscription ends with a curse and blessing formula: curses on anyone who would dare to destroy the statue or alter its writings, and blessings on Idrimi and his scribe. 

    One thousand years later,when the Jews returned from their exile, Nehemiah closed his writing in a similar way. Having detailed the final religious reforms he had instituted in Jerusalem, he asked the Lord to remember him favorably for those efforts. He called down curses upon any who had defiled the priesthood, as well as upon those who had married outside the covenant, asking the Lord to remember them for their evil deeds. Unlike Idrimi, however, Nehemiah acted not for his own advancement or glory but out of zeal for God and the purity of his temple.