Ezra-Esther

EZRA 1:1 ~ During the first year that Cyrus was king of Persia, the Lord encouraged Cyrus to make an announcement. Cyrus put that announcement in writing and had it read every place in his kingdom.

Cyrus conquered Babylon in 536 BC, then made Persia a world empire.  It covered the Middle East, half of Asia, much of Europe and some of Russia.  He reigned from 538 to 529 BC and died in battle.  He respected the customs and religions of each land he conquered and allowed the people to continue living as they had been.  His political and military methods were humane and successful, and his policies of human rights renown.  His palace was in today’s Iran.  After he conquered Babylon (one of his early conquests), the people there hailed him as their liberator.  People in the lands he conquered loved Cyrus.

Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great

EZRA 1:2-4 ~ “From Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, gave all the kingdoms on earth to me. And the Lord chose me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in the country of Judah.The Lord is the God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem. If any of God’s people are living among you, then I pray God will bless them. You must let them go to Jerusalem in the country of Judah.You must let them go build the Lord’s temple. And so in any place where there might be survivors of Israel, the men in that place must support those survivors. Give those people silver, gold, cows, andother things. Give them gifts for God’s temple in Jerusalem.”


The “Cyrus Cylinder” is considered one of the, if not the, greatest statements of human rights in the history of the world.  Among his statements of human and religious rights, he said this:

Cyrus Cylinder of Human Rights

“As to the inhabitants of Babylon who against the will of the gods were enslaved, I abolished the corvee which was against their social standing.”

Regarding other kingdoms he had conquered, he said this about their religion:

“I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled...unharmed, in their former chapels, the places which make them happy….May all the gods whom I have placed within their sanctuaries and resettled in their sacred cities, address a daily prayer in my favor.”

The Cyrus Cylinder is on display at the British Museum in London.

EZRA 4:5, 24 ~ This continued the whole time that Cyrus was the king of Persia until Darius became the king of Persia….So the work stopped on God’s temple in Jerusalem. The work did not continue until Darius’ second year as king of Persia.

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DARIUS’ relief on Mount Behistun
Cambyses II, Cyrus’ son, was king of Persia for only 7 years.  Then Darius became king in 522 BC.  Rather than engrave his victories on walls of a palace, he had them engraved on the great Behistun Mountain in today’s Iran.  It begins with his ancestry, proceeds to rebellions following the deaths of Cyrus the Great and his son Cambyses, and then gives his version of events and victories he enjoyed.  He reigned until 476 BC ~ 46 years.
DARIUS’ relief up close

The inscription includes three versions of the same text, written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (a later form of Akkadian).  It is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone was to hieroglyphics.  Darius’ son, Xerxes, succeeded him.

EZRA 5:17; 6:1-3 ~ Now, if it pleases the king, please search the official records of the king. See if it is true that King Cyrus gave an order to build again God’s temple in Jerusalem. And then, sir, please send us a letter to let us know what you have decided to do about this. So King Darius gave an order to search the writings of the kings before him. Those writings were kept in Babylon in the same place the money was kept. A scroll was found in the fortress of Ecbatana. Ecbatana is in the province of Media. This is what was written on that scroll: Official Note: During Cyrus’ first year as king, Cyrus gave an order about the temple of God in Jerusalem. The order said….

In October 539 BC, Persian King Cyrus took Babylon, the ancient capital of an empire covering modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Babylon was the ancient world’s capital of scholarship and science.The “Chronicle of Nabonidus” covers history of Babylon from 556 BC to 539 BC.  It is on display at the British Museum in London.  It explains that in the 6th year of the reign of King Nabonidus of Babylon….

Chronicle of King Nabonidus
of ECBATANA

“King Astyages called up his troops and marched against Cyrus, king of Ansan [Persia], in order to meet him in battle. The army of Astyages revolted against him and in fetters they delivered him to Cyrus. Cyrus marched against the country Ecbatana; the royal residence he seized; silver, gold, other valuables of the country Ecbatana he took as booty and brought to Ansan [Persia].”

Ecbatana is part of today’s city of Hegmataneh.

EZRA 4:6 ~ Those enemies even wrote letters to the king of Persia trying to stop the Jews. They wrote a letter the year that Xerxes became the king of Persia.

The image of father Darius and son Xerxes is of the stone relief from the Treasury, which was part of the marvelous palace complex in Persepolis, Iran. The relief is about 20 feet high and now on display at the Archaeological Museum in Tehran. (Image copyright Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago)

Persian king DARIUS on throne 
with son XERXES behind him

The relief of Xerxes remains on the grounds of his palace in Persepolis in today’s Iran.  The relief of Darius stabbing a lion is a relief on the southwest side of his palace in Persepolis and now in the British Museum, London.  

EZRA 4:7;  7:1a, 7-8 ~ And later, at the time Artaxerxes became the new king of Persia, some of those men wrote another letter complaining about the Jews….After these things, during the rule of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra came to Jerusalem from Babylon….Those people of Israel arrived in Jerusalem during the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year that Artaxerxes was king.

Artaxerxes I was king of the Persian Empire from 465 BC to 424 BC. He was the son of Xerxes I of Persia.  His father, Xerxes, had been killed by an official who then accused Xerxes’ oldest son of the murder.  The oldest son was then murdered.  Artaxerxes I was made king and executed the usurper and murder of his father and brother.  

Persian King Xerxes

The greatest period of the empire was during the time of his grandfather, Darius.  It began a slight decline later in the reign of his father, Xerxes.  Artaxerxes I was known more for his gentleness than his prowess as a warrior. He was described as handsome, brave and kind.

Ruins of King ARTAXERXES I’s
palace in Persepolis


EZRA 7:1b ~ Ezra was the son of Seraiah. Seraiah was the son of Azariah. Azariah was the son of Hilkiah.

Ezra was a priest.  His grandfather was Hilkiah, the high priest at the time Nebuchadnezzar took the people of Judea captive to Babylon and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.  A seal has been discovered among many other seals in Jerusalem that belonged to Hilkiah.  (See reference to this above in Chronicles.)

EZRA 9:9 ~ “Yes, we were slaves, but you would not let us be slaves forever. You were kind to us. You made the kings of Persia be kind to us. Your temple was ruined. But you gave us new life so we can build your temple again and fix it like new. God, you helped us build a wall to protect Judah and Jerusalem.”

Persian King Darius

Through the years beginning with King Cyrus of Persia who conquered Babylon, successive kings were kind to the Jews ~ Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes.  Several times during their reigns, Jews were allowed to return to their homeland.

NEHEMIAH

NEHEMIAH 1:1 ~ These are the words of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the son of Hacaliah: I, Nehemiah, was in the capital city of Susa in  the month of Kislev. This was in the 20th year {that Artaxerxes was king}.

Darius the Great built his winter palace in Susa.  He explained, “This palace which I built at Susa, from afar its ornamentation was brought. Downward the earth was dug, until I reached rock in the earth. When the excavation had been made, then rubble was packed down, some 40 cubits in depth, another part 20 cubits in depth. On that rubble the palace was constructed.” This inscription is on display at the British Museum in London.

Darius’ explanation how he built 
his palace in SUSA

 

Susa was also known as Shushan, and is near the modern city of Shush.  It was taken from the Assyrians by King Cyrus in 540 BC and made one of his capitals. Susa continued as a winter capital and residence for the Persian kings after Darius the Great ~ Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, etc.

NEHEMIAH 2:10; 19; 4:1-2, 7; 6:1, 7 ~ Sanballat...very upset and angry that someone had come to help the people of Israel.  Sanballat was from Horon ….But Sanballat from Horon…heard that we were building again. They made fun of us in a very ugly way. They said, “What are you doing? Are you turning against the king?”…Sanballat … became very angry and upset. He started making fun of the Jews. Sanballat talked with his friends and the army at Samaria….But Sanballat…very angry…. heard that the people continued…fixing the holes in the wall….Then Sanballat...and our other enemies heard
that I had built the wall….But we had not yet put the doors in the gates….“Now I warn you, Nehemiah, 
King Artaxerxes will hear about this,” [said Sanballat].

Letter addressed to the sons of
SANBALLAT

An Elephantine Papyrus dated to about 407 BC, mentiond Sanballat. The letter was found in the ancient city of Elephantine and was written by the priests who lived there requesting authorization to rebuild a Jewish temple in the city.  It is addressed to Delaiah and Shelemaiah, the sons of Sanballat governor of Samaria.

NEHEMIAH 2:13-14 ~ While it was dark I went out through the Valley Gate. I rode toward the Dragon Well and the Gate of the Ash Piles….Then I rode on toward the Fountain Gate  and the King’s Pool.

Shaft Down to Gihon Spring
considered the DRAGON WELL

The Kedron Valley turns slightly westward and widens itself near the beginning of that saddle-shaped projection of the temple hill where there is a cave and Gihon Spring begins.   Since it gushed periodically, not always flowing, early Arabs thought dragons were living below in the cave.  Warren’s Shaft is a steep tunnel, dating from slightly later than the Middle Bronze Age leading from the Well Gate at the top of Ophel, and was discovered by Charles Warren. It runs from within the old city 
to a spot near the Gihon Spring, was the main water supply system for Jerusalem before Hezekiah built his water tunnel.  It enabled the city’s occupants to safely descend it down fresh water (which was otherwise unavailable within the city).  Many believe the opening to Warren’s Shaft down to the Gihon Spring was the Dragon Well.
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Restoration of Pool of Siloam whose water poured into the  KING’S POOL.
At the bottom of Ophel is the back part of Gihon Spring.  Then a subterraneous passage begins, through which the water flows. It is 1708 feet long, 16 feet high at the entrance, but only 16 inches at its narrowest.  It enters a small rock-cut chamber which forms the opening of Siloam Pool, about five or six feet broad. To this you descend by a few steps, under which the water pours itself into the main pool of Siloam. This pool is oblong, about 52 feet long, 18 feet broad and 19 feet deep; but it is never filled, the water either passing directly through or being maintained at a depth of three or four feet. This pool poured its waters into a second pool to water the royal gardens, and this second was 

the Kings’ Pool.

NEHEMIAH 3:1-3, 8, 10, 13, 15a, 26-29, 31   ~ The name of the high priest was Eliashib. Eliashib and his brothers the priests went to work and built the Sheep Gate.…The sons of a man named Hassenaah built the Fish Gate.…Those men built and fixed Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall….Shallun also fixed the wall of the Pool of Siloam that is next to the King’s Garden….The temple servants lived on Ophel Hill. They fixed the next section all the way to the east side of the Water Gate and the tower near it.  The men from Tekoa fixed the rest of that section from the big tower all the way to the Ophel wall….Shemaiah was the guard of the East Gate….That is across from the Inspection Gate.

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Pool of Bethesda by SHEEP GATE

SHEEP GATE:  The Pool of Bethsada was next to the Sheep Gate.  This pool has been excavated.

BROAD WALL:  Also known as the wall Hezekiah built.  See Chronicles for a picture & explanation.

WALL OF POOL OF SILOAM:  (See Nehemiah 2 above)

Related image
Water Gate Excavation

WATER GATE & TOWER:  Hezekiah’s broad wall is at the center right of the picture and the Warren Shaft down to Gihon Springs (Dragon Well) is at top left.  The water tower rises up at upper right.

OPHEL WALL Ophel means raised area such as a tower or fortress.  The City of David was sometimes called the Ophel.  Sometimes the place where he built his house is called the Ophel. Excavations are ongoing.  

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OPHEL wall
EAST GATE:  This is also known as the Golden Gate  Although blocked up, it still exists today.
East Gate

NEHEMIAH 3:15b, 25-26; 12:37 ~ He fixed the wall all the way to the steps that go down from the City of David.  The temple servants lived on Ophel Hill. They fixed the next section all the way to the east side of the Water Gate and the tower near it….They went to the Fountain Gate. They walked up the stairs all the way to the City of David.

The large stairway just to the south of the Double Gate was excavated in 1967.  This stairway of 30 steps is 215 feet wide, paved with smoothly trimmed stones, and its foundation steps are cut into the bedrock.  They go from a wide plaza below on the south…and up 22-1/2 feet to the upper street [the rampart/platform] in front of the Double Gate”

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CITY OF DAVID on right, the Jerusalem before expansion.  It was on a high hill.

NEHEMIAH 12:31  ~ 31-42 ~ I told the leaders of Judah to go up and stand on top of the wall. I also chose two large singing groups to give thanks to God. One group was to start going up on top of the wall on the right side, toward the Ash Pile Gate. Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed those singers...And some of the priests with trumpets also followed them up to the wall. Also Zechariah followed them….Ezra the teacher led the group of people that were there to dedicate the wall….They walked up the stairs all the way to the City of David. They were on top of the city wall.They walked over the house of David and went toward the Water Gate.  The second group of singers started out in the other direction, to the left. I followed them as they went up to the top of the
wall.

Foundation of NEHEMIAH’S WALL
Parts of Nehemiah’s wall still exist.  What is pictured is the top.  Keep in mind that buildings were built on top of the remains of other buildings so that the city has built up at least twenty feet since the wall was built.

ESTHER

ESTHER 1:1 ~ 1This is what happened during the time that Xerxes was king. Xerxes ruled over the 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. King Xerxes ruled from his throne in the capital city of Susa.

Extent of the Persian Empire in Xerxes’ time.

The Persian empire is said to have spanned five million square miles.  Shushan/Susa  was 200 miles east of Babylon.  It was the winter residence of Persian kings.  Its site was identified by Aracheologist Loftus who found an inscription of Artaxerxes II (405-358 BC):  “My ancestor Darius built this palace in former times.  In the reign of my grandfather [Artaxerxes I) it was burned. I have restored it.”  Darius was Xerxes’ father.

ESTHER 1:3 ~ In the third year of Xerxes’ rule, he gave a party for his officers and leaders. The army leaders and important leaders from all of Persia and Media were there.

Xerxes was crowned King of the Persian Empire in 486 BC.  Three years later, he began preparing for his famous military expedition to Greece.  He needed his officers for the planning, organizing and mustering of troops.

ESTHER 1:4, 6 ~ The party continued for 180 days [six months]. All during that time, King Xerxes was showing the great wealth of is kingdom. And he was showing everyone  the majestic beauty and wealth of his palace….That inside garden had white and blue linen hangings around the room. Those hangings were held in place with cords of white linen and purple material on silver rings and marble pillars. There were couches made of gold and silver. Those couches were setting on mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and other expensive stones.

Glazed brick
frieze of
SOLDIER
from SUSA
PALACE

Pictured here are glazed brick friezes from the walls of Xerxes’  palace in Susa.  The bottom one depicts Persian archers.  They are now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Glazed brick friezes in SUSA PALACE were everywhere

ESTHER 1:7 ~ Wine was served in golden cups. And every cup was different! And there was plenty of the king’s wine, because the king was very generous.  The king had given a command to his servants. He told them that each guest must be given as much wine as he wanted. And the wine server obeyed the king.

Gold cup Owner John Webber says his grandfather gave him the 5.5-inch (14-centimetre) high cup to play with when he was a child, back in 1945.  A few years ago he realized its true value and offered it for auction.  It was evaluated to have been from ancient Persia.

Persian Gold Cup

ESTHER 2:17-18 ~ The king loved Esther more than any of the other girls. And she became his favorite. He approved of her more than any of the other girls. So King Xerxes put a crown on Esther’s head and made her the new queen in Vashti’s place. And the king gave a big party for Esther. It was for all his important people and leaders. He announced a holiday in all the provinces. And he sent out gifts to people, because he was a generous king.

Pictured is a drawing of Xerxes’ great palace at Susa, based on foundations that have been excavated, columns that have been found, and art work from within.


Possibly what the SUSA PALACE looked like.

ESTHER 2:21; 3:2 ~ During the time Mordecai was sitting next to the king’s gate….All of the king’s leaders at the king’s gate would bow down and give honor to Haman.

Much of the palace at Susa was destroyed by Alexander the Great.  Pictured is the remains of the Great Gate.

Foundation of Susa Palace. Only the Great Gate has survived

ESTHER 3:7 ~ In the twelfth year of King Xerxes’ rule, in the first month, the month of Nisan, Haman threw lots to choose a special day and  Adar was chosen. (At that time, the lot was called “pur.”)

Pur is Persian for “Casting a lot”; Purim is the plural.  Pictured is a reproduction of a Pur belonging to Iahali who was a high official of Shalmanesser III who ruled from 858-823BC.

A Pur

Purim came in many forms in the ancient world ~ pebbles placed in a bag, wooden pieces with names that were placed in a jar, or dice. They were used by many civilizations to invoke an answer from the gods, not as chance but as direction.

Persian Scepter

ESTHER 5:1-2 ~ On the third day, Esther put on her special robes. Then she stood in the inside area of the king’s palace. That area was in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his throne in the hall. He was sitting facing the place where people enter the throne room. Then the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court. When he saw her, he was very pleased. He held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther went in to the room and went near the king. Then she touched the end of the king’s gold scepter.

Foundation of King’s Hall at Susa

This event occurred after the twelth year of Xerxes.  History lists a difference wife of Xerxes as being the mother of the next king ~ Artaxerxes.  He had three children by unknown wives; one of those wives was Esther.  Xerxes was murdered nine years after this event.

NOTE:  Xerxes also had an illustrious palace in Persepolis.  

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Magnificent ruins of Persopolis

It was under Xerxes’ father, Darius, that the Jews were freed from captivity and allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple  It was under Xerxes’ son, Artaxerxes, that more Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem with financing to rebuild the city and the walls.  These events are covered in Ezra and Nehemiah above.  All is historically accurate.