Saturday, January 21, 2017

Nehemiah, Wall Builder of Judah and and a Cohen, Ezra

Nadene Goldfoot                                                
Nehemiah-Engineer and builder of walls
He found the wall breached in many places.  In order to get fellow Jews to work on it,
he made additional breaches in the wall in order to get the men to rebuild it.  He assigned each person
or group of people to build a section of the wall.  The men of Jericho stood and built next to
the last Cohen;  Zaccur (son of Imri-a Judahite)  stood and built next to the last Jerichoite.  
A Baptist minister at Donald Trump's inauguration on 1/20/2016, mentioned that Nehemiah was also a builder and had built a wall around Judah.  This pleased President Trump.   I looked him up and sure enough, he was. 

Nehemiah lived in the 5th century BCE in Persia (Iran), a Jew who had been taken by the Babylonians out of Judah in 597 BCE or 586 BCE.  He was the king's cupbearer.
This was  King Artaxerxes I's ( Artachshasta) also AKA I Longimanus who reigned from 465 to 421 BCE and aka King Darius of Persia, son of king Ahashueros and Queen Esther.  of the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah.  A cupbearer was a high position. "A cup-bearer was an officer of high rank in royal courts whose duty it was to serve the drinks at the royal table. On account of the constant fear of plots and intrigues, a person must be regarded as thoroughly trustworthy to hold the position. He must guard against poison in the king's cup and was sometimes required to swallow some of the wine before serving it. His confidential relations with the king often gave him a position of great influence. The position of cup-bearer is greatly valued and given to only a select few throughout history.       

Qualifications for the job were not held lightly but of high esteem valued for their beauty and even more for their modesty, industriousness and courage.)  Ah, I note how important wine was in those days in Persia.  
This is Lachish, showing a 6 chambered gate; was a city destroyed by the Assyrians (722-721 BCE)
It had been first captured by Joshua and given to the tribe of Judah, then fortified by King Rehoboam (933-917 BCE.)
In 701 BCE, Sennacherib took the town.  Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city before the fall of Jerusalem.
It continued to exist as a Persian residence .  In 1933-1938, Prof. JL Starkey uncovered the remains of the city wall, a temple destroyed in about 1320 BCE, part of the Israelite city, a Persian palace, and a burnt gatehouse with 21 letters written on potsherds (lachish Letters).  Today a district of Israel is called Lachish.  
 He had heard of the reports about Jerusalem being in deplorable condition, much like Donald Trump has spoken about the condition of these United States of late, and Nehemiah, being a builder, thought he should do something about it as he had the needed skills.
Rebuilding of 2nd Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem on Temple Mount
 Our builder requested permission from the king to go to Judah, and Artaxerxes was all for it.  He appointed him the governor (Tirshata) of Judah in 444 BCE.  When he finally reached Jerusalem, he organized the repair of its walls and finished the job in the record breaking time in 52 days, even though their neighbors' activities against them were a big interference to the progress of their work.
Nehemiah working on social reforms-observing the Sabbath
That task done, Nehemiah devoted himself to social reforms.  The people had not been observing the Sabbath either properly or not at all, as they had been exiled for 70 years in this Babylonian exile, so he commenced to re-educate them in the whys and wherefores and got them stimulated to be observant once again.

The interesting fact is that not ALL Jews had been exiled out of Israel.  A nucleus of Jews had remained  under the rule of Gedaliah, and some elements of the population survived there after his assassination.  Those who were deported were made up of  mostly peasants and draftsmen, with their main center at Tel Abib near the Great Canal, and they were encouraged by Jeremiah, and later by prophecies of Ezekiel.  So they were able to remain Jewish and hadn't forgotten their practices.  It was in 538 BCE that King Cyrus II of Persia who died in 529 BCE   had permitted his Jewish subjects to return to Israel if they so desired and rebuild the Temple.  This was the 1st group able to return to Jerusalem.  But those that had been taken to Mesopotamia evidently had no religious leaders with them.

As the governor, Nehemiah cancelled debts that the poor were supposed to pay off to stimulate their economy.  The leaders of the people had to pledge themselves to maintain the Temple regulations and pay their tithes.

The security of Jerusalem was ensured by arranging for a 1/10th of the people to live in Jerusalem.

After living in Jerusalem himself for 12 years, Nehemiah returned to Susa, Persia.  He returned later to renew his drastic projects.

By 433-432 BCE, he took steps against mixed marriages along with his friend, Ezra.  His work was decisive in the rebuilding of Judah.
Ezra, teaching about the Torah in Jerusalem.  He was a Cohen,
part of the priestly family of Zadok, who had been king David's chief Cohen (priest) back in c940 BCE  and was the one who had annointed Solomon as king.  When Ezra was living in Persia, he had become a  

scribe for the government.  He was also one of the Jews in Persia who had heard about the deterioration 

of Jerusalem.  Jews had returned 60 years earlier who were under Zerubbabel (b.480 BC and grandson of King Jehoiachin, one of the first Jews to return to Judah from Babylon with the assent of Cyrus of Persia,  but they had been struggling to make it successful.
        Zerubbabel had been the bodyguard of King Darius who gave him permission to return to Jerusalem
.       He had accomplished some things such as setting up an altar, re-establishing the festivals, and took            steps toward the rebuilding of the Temple.  He was the last satrap of Davidic descent in Jerusalem and        after his time, the high priest (Cohen) increased in influence from the renewal of the Davidic dynasty's          power.  Some people think he was removed from this office and recalled to Persia.  

 Ezra then decided to return and lead a new party of settlers who would establish the Mosaic law there.  He received permission from king Artaxerxes I of Persia and went to Jerusalem with 1,754 returning exiles. in 458 BCE.  Together with Nehemiah, they persuaded the people to keep the torah, observe the Sabbath and the sabbatical year, pay their Temple dues, and reject intermarriage with gentiles in 444 BCE.  Ezra introduced biblical law after it had been long forgotten.  After all, it had been 277 years since the ancestors of these people had been practicing in Jerusalem, surrounded by the great minds of that period who kept it alive.  Ezra was a Cohen. He came from the tribe of Levi, and it was the Levites who were entrusted with the job of education.  

Ezra also introduced the square Hebrew letters to these exiled Jews, something that must have developed in Persia.  He brought in many new idea, such as the precise determination of the text of the Pentateuch, and the estabishemt of the Great Assembly, the Kneset ha-Gedolah.  
Ezra died on his way back to Susa, Persia to speak with the king.  His tomb should be in a Babylonian village on the Tigris River.  Rabbis have said that his spiritual level was that of Moses.  Nehemiah and Ezra's books were originally together as one unit.  They are thought to have been divided in 1448.  

 Nehemia's memoirs form the basis of the biblical Book of Nehemiah which is a continuation of the Book of Ezra in the Hagiographa.  Nehemia was the son of Hacaliah .  The events recorded took place 14 years after the completion of the 2nd Temple.  Jews had been suffering from privation and the threat of attack.  This was during Artaxerxes's 20th year of reign.  He is also identified as Darius of Persia, the son of Ahasuerus and Esther.
The story of Jews winding up in Persia, today's Iran (of all places), comes from 153 years before when Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia had conquered Judah and thereby exiling many Jews to his country of Babylonia.  Before this attack, Israel's 10 Lost Tribes had already been exiled to this same area for starters by the Assyrian Empire.  Neuchadnezzar II had inherited this land.   By the time the Jews in 433 were exiled, they must have come across many Jews who had been living there already for the past 277 years since the Assyrian attack in 722- 721 BCE.

 Assyrians had attacked Judah in 722 and 721 BCE and led Jews away to Mesopotamia in captivity.  They consisted of our 10 tribes of Israel and became our 10 Lost Tribes.

 Then 125 years later, the Babylonians inherited this same land and their leader was Nebuchadnezzar. He also took captives in 597 and again in 586 BCE.  Jews were able to return in 538 BCE.  They had been in exile for 70 some years.  Nehemiah and Ezra were among those taken by the Babylonians and returning after the 70 years.  This may be figured from the death of Josiah in 608 BCE to the dedication of the 2nd Temple in 515 BCE.  It was from the Babylonian exile that the idea of synagogues was developed as well as prayer books and the canonization of the Scriptures. 

Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel Abib, that lived by the river Chebar, and to where they lived; and I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. (Tel Abib (Hebrewתל-אביב‎‎, Tel Aviv; lit. "Spring Mound", where Spring (Aviv) is the season) is an unidentified place on the Kebar Canal, near Nippur in what is now Iraq. Tel Abib is mentioned in Ezekiel 3:15:)  This is about 546 miles from Jerusalem as a crow flies.  

The actual distance from Persia  to Jerusalem is 1559 km or 968 miles.  In those days, that was a very long distance.  For Ezra to first go back in 458 BCE with 1,754 exiles,  it was a huge undertaking.  

Resource:  The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Tanakh, Stone Edition-Nehemia and Ezra; Nehemia 1:2; 2;10-3:10

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