Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On the Subject of Persian Succession

So I’ve had a glut of interesting questions and observations in the comments lately. I’m not entirely sure why, as I’m not doing anything differently. But there does seem to be some new blood, so that helps. And, hey, it’s the internet, so when random commenters show up with discussion points and not, y’know, advertisements for Chinese Viagra,[1] offers to help you find salvation, or attempts to get you to look at goatse or two girls one cup or whatever the kids are doing for lulz these days the appropriate response is, “Welcome. Would you like some pie?”[2] Anyway, I made what I thought would be a one-off mention of Daniel’s chronology problem with respect to Cyrus the Great and Darius a couple posts ago. This lead to a question. My answer to said question lead to an observation.
I didn't know about Darius and Cyrus (the things they omit to teach at Bible College...), but I guess I've always been suspicious of the whole "Hey God, it's been 70 years since Jeremiah (?) said that the exile would end in 70 years! How about a little help down here?"
That, in turn, lead me to smack myself upside the head and then wander about, muttering muffled invective cut with phrases like, “Why didn’t I think about that before?” It seems like such a natural leap to make when someone else mentions it, after all.[3] Since I’m lazy, I’m probably going to use Wikipedia more than is entirely safe. This blog is almost enough to convince me to sign up for JSTOR or something, though. Of course, JSTOR won’t let me because I’m not affiliated with any particular institution. Fuck that noise. Anyway, where was I? Oh, right, Darius, Cyrus, and the 70 years of Babylonian Captivity. Let me give the Biblical account in broad strokes. The fun thing is that when I do this, it makes the Biblical account even harder to reconcile with reality. 2 Kings 18:13 records that in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah the king of the Assyrians, Sennacherib, laid siege to Jerusalem and exacted a tribute from the King. We’re told he reigned for 29 years all told, so that meant he still had 15 years to go as king. Manasseh followed at reigned 55 years. Then came Amon, who ruled 2 years. Josiah ruled for 31 years next. Jehohaz showed up and made it three whole months. Jehoiakim followed for 11 years, then came his son Jeconiah for three months. Finally a Babylonian puppet was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar (II, for the record) and ruled for 11 years before there was a rebellion and the city was destroyed. This whole string of events allows us to come up with a chronology, since we have a date to start with. Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.[4] This places the destruction of Jerusalem and beginning of the Babylonian Captivity some time around 575 B.C.E., as the math indicates 125.5 years had passed. Nebuchadnezzar II took Jerusalem in 597 and leveled it in 587. The Biblical account is, therefore, off by ten years (although it’s at least partially accurate, as the time between Jeconiah and the destruction of Jerusalem does match the time frame of the Babylonian puppet regime). The account at the beginning of Daniel whereby Daniel ended up in Babylon “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim” also fits well with Nebuchadnezzar’s adventures in the Levant. But this is where the story begins to break down. Let’s place Daniel’s entrance to the scene in 605 BCE. He was regarded as a promising youth, which is a tricky age to figure out. Let’s call it 10. Daniel 1 then ends with “And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the King.” Cyrus conquered Babylon in 538 BCE. That means that Daniel would have had to live to be at least 77 years old. Now, this is not unheard of, especially for someone who lived well in the court of the king, but 77 is still pretty old. Of course the Bible says that Daniel served Darius, who didn’t become king until 522. That would have meant he lived to be at least 93, which is somewhat less believable. The latter half of Daniel is the book commonly known as II Daniel to scholars, as it’s widely believed that the book was written and then spliced in to the Daniel story during the Hellenistic age, probably right around the time of the Maccabean Revolt. In this part of Daniel he interprets dreams for Darius and Cyrus. It’s therefore convenient enough to say that the later volume just got it wrong or conflated Daniel with someone else. But the fact remains that Daniel 5 (the famous writing on the wall passage) tells us that Darius took over Babylon. This is a problem. But, on a weird level, it isn’t even the biggest problem. That one comes in Ezra. See, if the Temple was destroyed and the Babylonian Captivity began in 587 and, as the book of Ezra tells us, the re-building began by decree of Cyrus in his first year, which was 538, that means that the Biblical 70 year prophecy was fulfilled in 50 years.[5] And that doesn’t even approach the issue that Cyrus declared that the god of the Israelites had commanded him to build the Temple. Cyrus declared a general religious amnesty for all people under his rule. He did not single anyone in particular out, because that’s kind of the point of a general statement of religious freedom. No one is more equal in that case. If we go with the Biblical chronology Jerusalem was empty for about forty years. The lesson, as always, is that god sucks at math. Pi = 3. 43 = 70. Friday evening through Sunday morning = 3 days. I think Creation Math class would destroy America way faster than Creation Science. Quick, someone get Don McLeroy on the phone, someone has to stand up to those experts who say that 2 + 2 = 4.[6] There’s also a weird little interlude in Ezra 5 where Ezra’s enemies try to stop the reconstruction of the Temple and enlist the new king to help. Are you ready for this one? It’s Darius. Now, Darius, far from not giving a shit, decided instead that the best thing to do was to find Cyrus’s decree in the fortress at Ecbatana[7]. When it turned up, Darius then gave the Jews money to help work on the Temple. This account is flat-out impossible, but not for the reasons you might think. Ezra 6:3-5 declares:
In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: 'Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained, its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits; with three layers of huge stones and one layer of timbers. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. 'Also let the gold and silver utensils of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be returned and brought to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; and you shall put them in the house of God.'
Cyrus conquered Babylon in the 21st year of his reign. Therefore, in the first year of King Cyrus he had no ability or authority to do a damn thing about the Temple in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, this leads to another question: why did it apparently take from the first year of Cyrus’s reign in to the reign of Darius to complete the new Temple? Ezra 6 says it was completed in the 6th year of Darius, which would have made it 516 BCE, so it took 22 years to build the damn thing.. Ooooh. Wait. 587 – 516 = 71. Convenient two-plus decade delay, that. Especially since it was stymied by opponents during the reigns of Cyrus (which is weird), Artaxerxes, Ahasuerus, and Darius. That’s really tough, since Artaxerxes I was Darius’s grandson. And Ahasuerus was his own grandfather, a trick made really neat since he managed to not exist not once but twice. Yeah…Ahasuerus. That’s a fun one. See, he gets mentioned in the Bible twice. In Daniel 9 he’s referred to as the father of Darius. In Esther he’s the king that makes all the crazy crap from that book happen. Biblical scholars used to identify the Ahasuerus from Esther with Xerxes I, who historians know as the son of Darius. Ergo, he’s his own grandfather. Who never existed. Darius’s father was Hystaspes, a Bactrian Satrap. Darius became Emperor during a period of upheaval and civil war after Darius killed a guy who may or may not[8] have been Bardiya, the son of Cyrus the Great who didn’t get to be king and rebelled against Cambyses II, who was then king. Meanwhile, King Ahasuerus is said in Esther to have ruled 127 provinces from Ethiopia to India from his capitol at Susa. The utterly insane thing about this is it means that a real “King Ahasuerus” could, therefore, be identified: Cambyses II. The height of the Persian Empire, which would have been the time it could be said it stretched from Ethiopia to India, went from Cyrus to Darius. Under Cyrus the capitol was Pasargardae. Under Darius it was Persepolis. Between them, under Cambyses II it was Susa. It was, in fact, only during the rule of Cambyses II (and, probably, Bardiya) that the capitol was Susa. This really, really isn’t tough to figure out. I mean, duh. That doesn't mean that this little revelation lets any of that bizarre chronology off the hook. I just think it's kind of funny how the one obvious way to reconcile the whole thing just gets passed over. Either way, that’s way more than I was intending to write on this subject. But I thought y’all might want to know… ------------------------------ [1]Now made with only 46% post-consumer waste! Buy now! 80% off V1a6ra just for you! [2]There is no pie. Unless you have recently acquired a pie. In which case, can I have some pie? Also, I was thinking of adding lolcats to my list of things that people randomly toss on to blogs for spite. But I’ve made peace with the lolcat lately and I even sometimes find them funny. And they’re definitely not goatse. Which leads me to wonder: has anyone ever made a lolgoatse? And if so, um, why? [3]And, um, it kind of is. Seeing as how that’s the entire drive of the whole Cyrus part of the story… [4]Also, this whole thing is making me think of the Oriental Institute. Sad face. [5]Jeremiah 25:12 god declares that Jerusalem will be empty for seventy years. He also says that Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans will be made in to an everlasting desolation. Considering that it’s a good 2500 years later and we’re still fighting over Babylon and the land of the Chaldeans, I, um, I take issue with that. Hell, the moment Cyrus took over and said, “Y’know, I think I like this place, I’ma stay,” he negated half of that particular bit of prophecy. [6]Have I mentioned that if I ever meet a woman who actually wants to have children with me one of the stipulations will be, “We leave Texas before they’re old enough for school?” [7]Which is also weird. Ecbatana was considered one of the capitols of the Persian Empire, along with Susa, Persepolis, Pasargadae, and Babylon. But it was never a major capitol and regarded as a summer residence. So storing Cyrus’s great decrees there would have been like moving the Declaration of Independence to Camp David. [8]Probably not.


GailVortex said...

Wow, look. Here's my request for more historical detail on Esther written before I even asked for it! God, you're good, Geds...

Geds said...

God, you're good, Geds...

Sadly, this is one of only two times I can recall a woman saying that to me. The other time involved me cooking a flank steak.

And, no, that's not a euphemism for anything.