The Building of the Second Temple

The Rev. J. Stafford Wright, M.A. Former Principal of Tyndale Hall, Bristol



The chief problems of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah centre in two series of events. The problem of the relative priority in time of Ezra and of Nehemiah has been discussed in my Tyndale Lecture, The Date of Ezra's Coming to Jerusalem (Tyndale Press). The other problem concerns the actual rebuilding of the Second Temple between the period 537 and 516 B.C. In the other lecture we could argue that the Chronicler, if he wrote about 300 B.C., was dealing with events whose accuracy could to some extent be checked by first-hand or second-hand witnesses. For this earlier period such an argument is impossible. We are not, however, wholly without an independent first-hand account, since we possess some of the utterances of Haggai and Zechariah from 520 B.C. onwards, and some believe that a few other prophecies may be placed at approximately this time.

The problems arise, partly because there are gaps in the sequence of the Chronicler's record in Ezra; partly because of a statement in Haggai that might seem to be at variance with the Chronicler's record; and partly because of a general suspicion that the Chronicler is writing with an illegitimate bias, and consequently has rewritten incidents in the history to fit what he believes to be the facts.


We must begin by having a clear outline in our minds of what the Chronicler actually records about this period. Ezra i quotes a public decree by Cyrus, permitting the Jews to return under a certain Sheshbazzar, who is here called 'the prince of Judah', and who, according to Ezra v. 14, is made governor. The decree authorizes the building of the Temple. Chapter ii gives a register of returning exiles, and is similar to Nehemiah vii and I Esdras v.

In the seventh month of the first year of the return Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel take the initiative in setting up the altar of burnt-offering, and follow this, in the second month of the second year (536 B.C.), by laying the foundation of the Temple (chapter iii).

Chapter iv is divided into three dated sections. In verses 1-5


certain ' adversaries ' offer to help, but are refused. They then hinder the work until 520 B.C. Verses 6-23 are dated in the reigns of two later kings, and are concerned, not with the building of the Temple, but with the building of the city walls (12). In The Date of Ezra's Coming to Jerusalem I have shown that this passage may be taken in the period to which the Chronicler has assigned it when he names the kings in verses 6 and 7, and that it belongs to the time shortly before the coming of Nehemiah. It may be that the Chronicler has deliberately collected together here these examples of opposition by the adversaries, first to the Temple and then to the city walls. The story of 520 B.C. is picked up again by the virtual repetition of verse 5 in verse 24.

In chapter v the prophets Haggai and Zechariah inspire Zerubbabel and Joshua to restart the building of the Temple in 520 B.C. Tattenai, the governor of the province, demands their authority, and is referred to the original decree of Cyrus. In chapter vi the decree is found, but is quoted in a form different from that in chapter i. In particular it contains the dimensions of the proposed Temple. Darius enforces the decree, and the Temple is completed in 516 B.C. After the dedication a united passover is kept by the returned exiles and 'all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek Yahweh, the God of Israel' .We may note that similar united passovers were kept after the Northern Captivity, and are mentioned in 2 Chronicles xxx. 18, 25 and xxxv. 17. It is possible that the Chronicler deliberately calls attention to the fact that members of the Northern Kingdom now join with the Jews, since in vi. 22 he uses the term 'king of Assyria' in place of 'king of Persia' .Persia had succeeded Assyria and Babylon, but the Chronicler indicates that now the effects of both the Captivities have been reversed.

After chapter vi the Chronicler moves on some sixty years, and begins the story of the coming of Ezra, which does not now concern us.


The Books of Haggai and Zechariah contain dated prophecies from 520 B.C. Haggai i blames the people for saying that the time had not come to build the Temple, whereas they themselves were living in houses more luxurious than necessity demanded.


Yet they were passing through a time of drought and scarcity. The prophet commands them to go to the hills and gather wood for the Temple. There is an immediate response from Zerubbabel and Joshua and ' all the remnant of the people', and the work begins.

Three months later there is a discussion with the priests about the contagion of holiness and uncleanness. The conclusion is that 'this people' and 'this nation', with all that they do and offer, are unclean. But the natural disasters of the past will be reversed, and from a certain specified date God will bless them. This date is given as follows (Hg. ii. 18); 'From this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, since the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid.'

We cannot now summarize all the prophecies of Zechariah. Those that are specially relevant concern Zerubbabel and Joshua. As the text stands, Joshua appears twice. In chapter iii he is vindicated before the court of Yahweh, and is then told to walk carefully in God's ways, and thus be able to ' judge my house ' and ' keep my courts' .Then Joshua and his fellow priests are assured that 'they are men who are a sign: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch'.

The other appearance of Joshua is in vi. 9-15 where he is ceremonially crowned by Zechariah with circlets made from gifts brought by certain 'of the captivity' .Again a reference is made to the Branch, in the words 'Behold, the man whose name is the Branch; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of Yahweh.' Reference is also made to 'a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both'.

Zerubbabel is mentioned abruptly in the middle of the candlestick vision in chapter iv. In between the vision and its interpretation, words of encouragement are addressed to him. He laid the foundation of the Temple, and he will finish it, in spite of some great mountain of opposition, and in spite of people who are despising the day of small things.

In the same vision Zerubbabel and Joshua appear to be the two unnamed 'sons of oil, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth', and who are represented by the two olive branches.

We will not at the moment discuss other prophecies that some ascribe to this period, though we shall refer to one or two later in this lecture.



Before we begin to assess the evidence, it is necessary to look briefly at the account in I Esdras, which is a Greek version of the narrative from 2 Chronicles xxxv. 1 to the end of Ezra, with the addition of Nehemiah viii. 1-12. It differs considerably from the Hebrew text, and its value has been variously assessed. It is printed in our Apocrypha.

Cyrus permits a return under 'Sanabassar the governor of Judaea' (ii. 1-15). The story immediately moves to ' the time of Artaxerxes ' and records the letter of Ezra iv together with the king's reply. I Esdras ii. 16-30 thus is the equivalent of Ezra iv. 7-24, including the final statement that the building of the Temple ceased until the second year of Darius.

Chapter iii. 1-iv. 46 is a section that has no parallel in Ezra. It takes place in the reign of Darius, and largely consists of the story of three guardsmen, who each maintain before the king and his courtiers their opinion of the strongest thing in the world. The first holds that wine is the strongest, the second that the king is the strongest, while the third, Zerubbabel (iv. 13), maintains that women are stronger than either, but that truth is the strongest of all.

Zerubbabel is judged the winner by acclamation, and asks Darius for a reward in the following terms: 'Remember thy vow, which thou didst vow to build Jerusalem, in the day when thou earnest to thy kingdom, and to send away all the vessels that were taken away out of Jerusalem, which Cyrus set apart, when he vowed to destroy Babylon, and vowed to send them again thither. Thou didst also vow to build up the temple, which the Edomites burned when Judaea was made desolate by the Chaldeans' (iv. 43-45).

Darius commissions Zerubbabel to go with others 'to build Jerusalem' (47), and writes letters to all the officials concerned, including in the letters a command to the governors in Coele-Syria, Phoenicia, and Lebanon, to supply cedar wood and to build the city with Zerubbabel. In addition he issues a bill of rights for the Jews, ordering, amongst other things, that the Edomites should hand over those villages of the Jews that they then held. He also makes financial gifts for the Temple, and returns the sacred Temple vessels.

Chapter v contains the list of those who returned, and is virtu-


ally the same as Ezra ii, except for three introductory verses (4-6) which specially mention Joshua the son of Josedek, and 'Joakim the son of Zerubbabel the son of Salathiel of the house of David, who spake wise sentences before Darius the king of Persia in the second year of his reign, in the month Nisan.' In passing we may note that some words have probably dropped out after 'Josedek ', since Joakim was the son of Joshua (Ne. xii. 10, 11), while Zerubbabel had no son of that name (1 Ch. iii. 19, 20). Moreover the present text of I Esdras v. 5 reads as though Zerubbabel is included among the priests.

The account now is virtually identical with the Ezra narrative, even to the extent of recording that Zerubbabel and Joshua were hampered in their building 'all the time that king Cyrus lived', though curiously enough the hindering only lasted 'for the space of two years, until the reign of Darius' (v. 73). Yet the writer has already said that Zerubbabel did not return at all until the reign of Darius. We have already noted that the letter of Ezra iv. 6-24 has been given at an earlier stage in the I Esdras narrative. But the letter of Ezra v. 6-17 appears in its proper sequence in I Esdras vi.

The only other important variant is the strange remark in I Esdras vii. 2, where the governors, who had written the letter of complaint, 'did oversee the sacred works, very carefully working with the elders of the Jews and governors of the Temple.' This verse does not appear in Ezra vi. 13, 14.


Here then are three accounts. It is for us to decide how far they are complementary with, or contradictory to, each other, how far they are self-consistent, and how far any of them is likely to be true.

One of the three is on a different level from the others, since it is, so far as we can judge, a first-hand statement by contemporaries, Haggai and Zechariah. If we possessed only their prophecies, and neither of the other two accounts, we should probably reach the following conclusions: The foundation of the Second Temple was laid in 520 B.C. by Zerubbabel, Joshua, the returned exiles, and 'the people of the land' (Hg. i. 14-ii. 4). The people had evidently been back in Judea long enough to have built somewhat luxurious houses for themselves (Hg. i. 4),


and there were perhaps proposals on foot to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Zc. ii. 1-5). But the people had been passing through a time of scarcity (Hg. i. 9-11). There is no question of a grant for timber for building, but the people were urged to go up to the hill country and bring the wood for the Temple (Hg. i. 8). When the work was in hand, some great difficulty threatened which seemed to Zerubbabel like a great mountain (Zc. iv. 7).

The accounts in Ezra and I Esdras agree with each other over the events of 520-516 B.C., but they contain one statement that is apparently at variance with Haggai ii. 15-18, when they state that the foundation of the Second Temple was laid in 536 B.C. But they agree with Haggai and Zechariah in so far as they state that the effective rebuilding of the Temple took place between 520 and 516 B.C.

In the earlier period before 520 B.C. both Ezra and I Esdras have the figure of Sheshbazzar or Sanabassar, who was appointed Governor by Cyrus. Both have the letter in which it is stated that this man laid the foundations of the Temple in 536 B.C. (Ezr. v. 16; I Esdras vi. 20), whereas in their own narrative Zerubbabel and Joshua appear to be the instigators of this work (Ezr. iii. 8f.; I Esdras v. 56f.).

In the Ezra record Zerubbabel is introduced without a word of explanation. He is first mentioned at the head of the list of returned exiles in ii. 2. After that he assumes leadership, without any word about his relations with Sheshbazzar. The I Esdras record succeeds in introducing him as leader of a return in 520 B.C. when presumably Sheshbazzar had died, but becomes hopelessly confused by combining this with the other record which makes Zerubbabel work on the Temple in 536 B.C. during the reign of Cyrus (I Esdras v. 70-73).


This is perhaps the place to consider the identity of Sheshbazzar. Three main views have been taken of him

1. From the time of Josephus (Ant. xi. 1. 5.) he has frequently been identified with Zerubbabel. Both held the position of Governor (Pechah) (Ezr. v. 14; Hg. i. 1, ii. 2). Both are said to have laid the foundations of the Temple in 536 B.C. (Ezr. iii. 8f., v. 16). If both are the same individual, there is no need for the


Chronicler to introduce Zerubbabel as a fresh character in Ezra iii.

But in spite of this simple solution, it is impossible to hold that the Chronicler makes this identification, although S. A. Cook maintains that he does.[1] For in Ezra v, when Zerubbabel was actually engaged in building the Temple, the Jews refer to Sheshbazzar as to one who is obviously dead, and virtually unknown to the opponents of the building. It is reported that Cyrus delivered the sacred vessels to 'one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor' (v. 14).

It may be that the writer of Ezra is wrong on this point, but additional force is lent to his opinion by the fact that both Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are Babylonian names. They are not in the same category as the two names of Daniel and his friends, where the one name is Hebrew and the other Babylonian.

Moreover one of the reasons for identifying the two is removed if one accepts the reasoning of W. Rudolph in his Esra und Nehemia. Rudolph denies that Zerubbabel was ever officially appointed governor. The use of the title in Haggai i. 1 and ii. 2 is purely a courtesy one. If Zerubbabel had been governor in 520 B.C. he, and not the elders in general, would have been approached by Tattenai in Ezra v. 9.

Therefore, unless other things force us to this conclusion, we ought not to identify Sheshbazzar with Zerubbabel.

2. Others have identified Sheshbazzar with Shenazzar, a son of king Jehoiachin, who occurs in the genealogy of I Chronicles iii. 18. This would mean that Sheshbazzar was the uncle of Zerubbabel, who appears in the same genealogy, though, curiously enough, as the son of Pedaiah, and not the son of Shealtiel, as he is designated elsewhere (e.g. Ezr. v. 2; Hg. i. 14; I Esdras v. 5). If the name Pedaiah in I Chronicles iii. 19 is not due to a copyist's error, the simplest explanation is that of a levirate marriage.

The identification of Sheshbazzar with Shenazzar has been defended and denied on linguistic grounds, since it was first proposed by Imbert in 1888. It is notoriously difficult to pronounce dogmatically on legitimate and illegitimate equivalents of letters when a name is transferred from one language to another. One can see that the Greek renderings Sanabassar and Sanasar bring the two names one step closer than they appear to be in

1 See his essay ' The Age of Zerubbabel' in the volume of essays edited by H. H. Rowley, Studies in Old Testament Prophecy.


the Hebrew. One notes in passing that Shenazzar is the only member of Jehoiachin's family with a foreign name. The genealogy in I Chronicles iii. 17, 18 gives Jehoiachin seven sons. We know from the recently discovered ration lists of 592 B.C. that at that date he had five sons. Perhaps the birth of Shenazzar took place after 560 B.C. when Jehoiachin, at the age of 55, was released from prison and given a position of some honour (2 Ki. xxv. 27-30). The pagan name with its apparent allusion to Sin, the moon-god, may have been given to his next son as a compliment to Evil-Merodach, Jehoiachin's benefactor.

Alternatively the Babylonian name may have been given to an older son when he was given some official appointment at the court, as the names of Daniel and his friends were changed.

In either case one can see a reason for his appointment by Cyrus as leader of the return. His name, and presumably his record, showed him to be a safe man who would work happily with both parties.

But these very facts would damn him in the eyes of the fervent nationalists, and once they were back in their own country, they preferred the leadership of Zerubbabel, and allowed Sheshbazzar to drop into obscurity.

3. Others, on the strength of the foreign name, have regarded Sheshbazzar as a Persian official, appointed by Cyrus to superintend the return and the resettlement of the Jews.

The difficulty of this view is the title given to him in Ezra i. 8, 'the prince of Judah' .Yet while this would normally imply that he was of the royal line, it need not mean this. 'Prince' (nasi) has a wide use, and might indicate here no more than that he was put in a position of authority over Judah. My own preference is for the second view.


We may grant, then, that Sheshbazzar was sent to Jerusalem in a position of authority by Cyrus, soon after the capture of Babylon. But was he the leader of a considerable body of returning exiles, and was Zerubbabel amongst them? The Chronicler in Ezra certainly gives this impression when he places his list of returned exiles after Ezra i. Moreover, according to Ezra iii. 8, the prime movers in the attempt to rebuild the Temple in 536 B.C., were the returned exiles. Many views have been held


about the date of the Gola list, which occurs both in Ezra ii and Nehemiah vii.

Some like C. C. Torrey have dismissed it as a pure invention. L. W. Batten in the I.C.C. regards it as a comprehensive list of all who had come to Judah from the time of Zerubbabel to the time of Ezra. Others have pin-pointed it to one time. Kurt Galling in the J.B.L. for June 1951, after considering various views, regards it as basically a list given by the nationalists to Tattenai when he demanded the names of the builders in Ezra v.

One can say that it would be unlikely if no records were kept of the returning exiles. Certainly Ezra had a list of those who came with him (Ezr. viii). And, once records were made, they would be available for consultation. A record dating from one specific period is more likely than a conflated one. Therefore, unless there are strong reasons for rejecting it on other grounds, this list in Ezra ii may be taken as dating from the time of Zerubbabel. It should perhaps be pointed out that Nehemiah in verse 2 is not the famous Nehemiah.

But even if it is granted that this list belongs to the time of Zerubbabel, it does not throw any light upon whether Zerubbabel returned in 537 B.C. Galling dates Zerubbabel's return about 524 B.C. in the reign of Cambyses, but there is a general tendency among modern writers to follow I Esdras in so far as it makes Zerubbabel the leader of a return in the reign of Darius I, shortly before 520 B.C. On the other hand we must again note that the writer of I Esdras clearly had before him the document of Ezra that pictures Zerubbabel at work in 536 B.C. in the reign of Cyrus, i.e. I Esdras incorporates two variant traditions. If one has to try to estimate on literary grounds which of the two variants is the more likely to be correct, it is relevant to point out that the name of Zerubbabel is slipped into the story of the three guardsmen almost as an afterthought, iv. 13 being its only occurrence in the whole passage; though a second identification is made in the introduction to the register in v. 5, 6. It seems as though the compiler wanted an excuse to incorporate a good story, and justified himself by tacking on Zerubbabel's name.

Haggai and Zechariah throw no light upon the date of Zerubbabel's return. The most that can be said is that there is nothing in any of their prophecies that would contradict the statement in Ezra that both Zerubbabel and Joshua were back in the land in 536 B.C. The general indication, though this falls short of proof,


is that they are both grouped by Haggai with the people who had been in the land long enough to build panelled houses for themselves, and to have experienced a period of depression.

This question of the numbers who returned in 537 B.C. must, therefore, in the present stage of knowledge, be settled largely on the grounds of probability. I have been criticized for using this sort of approach in my Ezra Lecture, when I tried to reconstruct a 'likely' picture of the course of events. Obviously, one cannot build conclusively on arguments of this kind. But, having given, on other grounds, reasons for preferring one account rather than another - as, for example, the greater likelihood of the Chronicler's order of Ezra and Nehemiah - it is legitimate to try to construct a picture of the period that will help to fill in the gaps and account for certain phenomena.

Now the Chronicler's implication that a large number of exiles returned in 537 B.C. is far more likely than that there was only a small trickle until shortly before 520 B.C. One can estimate the likelihood by happenings in our own day. From the moment that a return to Palestine became possible, large numbers of Jews pressed back into what they regarded as their own land. They spurned the system of rationing that tried to stem the torrent of the return, and when that system was lifted, they poured in like a flood. Yet these were men and women who had never known Palestine before.

Set over against them the exiles in Babylon, many of whom still treasured their memories of the glories of Jerusalem (Hg. ii. 3), who could not sing the Lord's song in a strange land (Ps. cxxxvii) and who suffered under the yoke of Babylon (Is. xiv. 3, xlvii. 6, li. 23). The Chronicler is surely right when he makes them return as soon as Cyrus granted permission, and that modern version is surely wrong that delays the return for some 12-15 years, when the memory of Cyrus' permission was fading into the past. Unless we have the very strongest reason for rejecting the Ezra account here, we must accept it, because it is so reasonable.

It has, of course, been argued that the Decree of Cyrus in Ezra i is fictitious, but certainly its general contents are in accord with the well-known policy of Cyrus to allow the captive nations to return and to acknowledge their gods. The Cyrus Cylinder (lines 30 f.) records, 'All their populations I gathered together and restored them to their own dwelling-places.' A few


lines before this Cyrus acknowledges Marduk (the chief god of Babylon) as the one who helped him, and on another inscription he ascribes his victories to the god, Sin.

In full agreement with this known policy, Cyrus published a decree which acknowledges Yahweh and specifically permits the return of the Jews and the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezr. i). It would seem obvious that he would use some Jew (presumably the Secretary of State for Jewish affairs) to draw up a specific decree in terms that would be acceptable to the Jews. At the same time a more precise decree would be filed in the official records. This is the decree quoted in Ezra vi, where the name of Yahweh is not mentioned, and where detailed figures are given for the size of the Temple, in the light of the fact that Cyrus was making a grant of material. One of the best recent defences of the genuineness of the decree is by E. J. Bickerman in the Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. LXV (1946).

There are, therefore, sound historical reasons for believing that Cyrus did issue a decree permitting the return of the Jews, and very human reasons for supposing that a large number of Jews responded to the decree. Whether Zerubbabel and Joshua were amongst them cannot be proved; but it may be pointed out that since a record of those exiles who returned at the first is likely to have been preserved, Ezra ii may well be that record, and, if so, Zerubbabel's and Joshua's names stand at the head of the list.


If we grant a return in 537 B.C. on the scale suggested in Ezra, can we hold that work began on the Temple soon afterwards as Ezra iii states? The argument from probability would say Yes; but there is one passage which might indicate that no work was done on the Temple until 520 B.C. The passage is Haggai ii. 18 which declares, 'Consider, I pray you, from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, since the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it.' It is clear that Haggai, writing in 520 B.C., is referring to the recent work that had begun on the Temple, as described at the end of chapter i. He describes this work as the laying of the foundation of the Lord's Temple. It is possible that there is a copyist's error over the month, since the twenty-fourth of the ninth month is the date when this prophecy was delivered,


whereas, according to i. 15, the work on the Temple began on the twenty-fourth of the sixth month. But the fact is clear that Haggai speaks of the laying of the foundation in 520 B.C., whereas Ezra iii. 8, 9 states that the foundation was laid early in the second year after the Return, probably in 536 B.C.

The Chronicler in three places indicates that virtually no work was done between 536 and 520 B.C. In Ezra iv. 5, 24 he says that the work was frustrated and ceased. In v. 16, in the letter sent to Darius, Tattenai reports the Jews as having said that Sheshbazzar laid the foundations of the Temple, 'and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not completed.'

There are two points in this last verse which must be noticed. Sheshbazzar, and not Zerubbabel (as in Ezra iii) is said to have laid the foundations. The reason for this is clearly that the Jews are concerned to establish their right to be building according to the Decree of Cyrus. In this Decree they knew that the name of Sheshbazzar would appear, while Zerubbabel's name would be absent. They therefore asserted that Sheshbazzar had laid the foundations, which was generally true, inasmuch as he was responsible for seeing that the work was begun, even though Zerubbabel and Joshua were the enthusiasts, who took the initiative.


This brings us to the question of what exactly happened in 520 B.C. when, according to Haggai ii. 18, the foundation of the Temple was laid. According to the picture painted by the Chronicler, very little had been done since the formal laying of the foundation in 536 B.C. From the beginning there had been hindering tactics adopted by the enemies round about. One can visualize what form these tactics would take. Material had to be brought from a distance (Ezr. iii. 7), and from the North. Judicious interference by hired counsellors (iv. 5) would put a stop to that. We are familiar with such tactics today. Jerusalem itself had few houses (Ne. vii. 4) and the people mostly lived in the country round about. Ezra states that their rivals 'troubled' or 'terrified' them in building, presumably as they did in Nehemiah iv. The builders would have to leave their homes undefended, and would themselves be open to molestation


on their way to work, and even while they worked. A few months of such tactics would break down the enthusiasm of the majority, and would give them the excuse of first turning to the easier task of rebuilding and adorning their own houses (Hg. i. 4, 9). Gradually they became more concerned with getting their own livelihood particularly when lean years of drought followed (Hg. i. 6, 11).

The time was ripe for revival in 520 B.C. The Temple was still in ruins, and the new work of 536 B.C. was negligible. The occasion demanded a completely new beginning. In such circumstances a fresh foundation ceremony is the most likely thing in the world. This is a case where a consideration of how people behave in certain circumstances must be allowed to guide our interpretation. George Adam Smith saw this in his Book of the Twelve Prophets, and I am sure that he is right.

It would be helpful if we had some evidence from antiquity as to the nature of the foundation ceremony, but the only references that I have been able to find are in J. B. Pritchard's book, Ancient Near Eastern Texts. On pages 339f. there are three Akkadian rituals for the repair of a temple, two written down in 231 B.C., the third probably a century or two earlier. The three tablets that are quoted are all very similar, and begin, 'When the wall of the temple falls into ruin - for the purpose of demolishing and founding anew the temple in question . . . .' Stands are set up for the gods, sacrifices are offered, and pure water is sprinkled on the roof of the temple. This sounds as though different sections of the temple had their own foundation ceremony when necessity demanded. If a wall needed to be rebuilt, the ritual for the building of the temple was followed, even though it does not seem from the reading of the rituals that the whole temple was itself destroyed. This would be consistent with the idea that a fresh foundation could be laid in another part of the ruins of the Jewish temple in 520 B.C. even though a foundation had already been laid in 536 B.C. A Hittite ritual given on page 356. describes the foundation or rebuilding of a temple. Instructions are given for laying foundation 'stones' of precious metals under each of the four corner stones, and in other parts of the building. Thus from these two passages we may conclude that a foundation ceremony need not concern only one stone or only one occasion, and both the Chronicler and Haggai could be correct in what they say.


It is often thought that Haggai and Zechariah knew nothing of the fresh opposition mentioned in Ezra v, with the letter of Tattenai to Darius. It is, however, likely that this letter is the 'great mountain' of Zechariah iv. 7, which was threatening to hinder the accomplishment of the new enterprise, and that the 'might' and 'power' of Zechariah iv. 6 are the might and power of Tattenai and the opposition. Moreover the suggestion of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem in Zechariah ii implies perhaps the need for protection against surrounding enemies.


Before closing, there are two other points that demand notice. These concern the actual builders and the nature of the opposition.

The question 'Who were the builders?' must be answered partly by a consideration of terminology. Consider the following terms: (1) 'The remnant' .The term is used by the Chronicler (e.g. Ezr. i. 4, vi. 16, ix. 8, 14, 15) and by Haggai (i. 12, 14, ii. 2) and Zechariah (viii. 6, 11, 12) of the returned exiles, and the Chronicler and Haggai state that these took the leading part in the rebuilding. (2) 'The people of the land' (am ha-aretz). This phrase, as used by the Chronicler, is commonly thought to refer to the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, including the Samaritans (Ezr. iv. 4) who had no part in the building. In spite of the unsupported assertion of Oesterley and Robinson on p. 86 of A History of Israel (vol. 2) there is no evidence of the Chronicler's use of the term for Jews who had not been in exile. But the same term is used by Haggai (ii. 4) and Zechariah (vii. 5) of those people who had not been in captivity and who did not take part in the building; and in default of any evidence to the contrary, we must assume that these were Jews, and not the semi-heathen people.

If we set out the matter like this it is easy to see that the difference between the Chronicler and the prophets may be one of terminology only. In the time of Haggai and Zechariah the term ' the people of the land' meant those Jews who had remained in the land during the exile period, as opposed to the remnant who had returned. But by the time of the Chronicler this distinction between the two groups of Jews had naturally been abandoned, and the term ' the people of the land ' now


denoted the pagan inhabitants. It would thus have been completely misleading for the Chronicler to have employed the term of the true Jews who had remained in the land.

There may be an even simpler solution. In the discussion that followed the delivery of this lecture it was maintained cogently by Mr. H. L. Ellison that Haggai and Zechariah use the term 'the people of the land' of the returned exiles. Support for this view is found in the parallelism in Haggai ii. 2, 4, where the phrase in 4 appears to be the equivalent of 'the remnant of the people' in 2. It might well be that the prophets were encouraging the returned exiles to regard themselves as the rightful possessors of the land of their fathers.

One more question remains, and that is the nature of the opposition. A common view, represented by Oesterley and Robinson, is that the Chronicler has exaggerated, or even invented, the idea of opposition on religious grounds to the Samaritans.

This view has been combatted by L. E. Browne in From Babylon to Bethlehem and Early Judaism, though he does not accept a foundation ceremony on 536 B.C. He thinks that the reference in Haggai ii. 14 to 'this people' as 'unclean' is a reference to the Samaritans. He also discusses certain passages in the latter part of Isaiah, notably Isaiah lxiii. 6-lxiv, which he takes as a complaint by a Samaritan prophet, at a time when the Temple was in ruins (lxiv. 10. 11), that official Judaism was spurning his people (lxiii. 16). An answer by the Jewish prophet in lxv. 1-7 and lxvi. 1-9 rebukes the Samaritans for their idolatry, and urges repentance, and also rebukes the Jews for thinking of building the Temple, which cannot contain the true God. It would take too long to discuss the dating and the precise application of these passages. The date of composition and the date of application are not necessarily the same. But I do not myself believe that Isaiah lxvi. 1 is a direct command not to rebuild the Temple in 536 or 520 B.C. It belongs to a section in which the temporal is giving place to the eternal, the earthly Jerusalem to the New Jerusalem, and it is a reminder that in the new day there will be no need of a Temple to contain the presence of God. It is the same gospel message as was stated by Jesus Christ in John iv. 20-24 and by Stephen, quoting this actual verse, in Acts vii. 49, 50.

Whether or not we follow L. E. Browne. there is no adequate reason for denying the Chronicler's statement that from the beginning there was antagonism on religious grounds between the


Jews and the pagans and semi-pagans around. The Jews and members of the Northern kingdom who had remained in the land uncontaminated, or who were now prepared to separate themselves entirely from paganism (Ezr. vi. 21) were accepted. But the mixed mass of Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites and imported exiles, giving a partial allegiance to Yahweh as one out of many gods, were debarred from membership of the restored Jewish community. Many of the Jews did not like this policy, and fraternized with the heathen and semi-heathen alike. Many of the heathen and semi-heathen, for one reason or another, were anxious for fellowship, and, as years went by, saw in the growing Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem's God, a new rallying centre, so that at the time of the eventual Samaritan schism, a number were prepared to throw in their lot with the new Temple on Mount Gerizim. Gerizim was not Jerusalem, but at least the Temple commemorated the same God, and He had had centres in the North before.

I wish there had been time to discuss the fate of Zerubbabel in the light of the theory that the Jews attempted to make him the Messianic king, and to rebel against Persia. Let me simply say that there is no historical evidence at all for this. The theory depends upon the substitution of Zerubbabel for Joshua in the crowning incident of Zechariah vi. 9-15, whereas the apparent application of this passage and of the other reference to the Branch in Zechariah iii. 8, is to Joshua as the sign of the coming Messiah.


To sum up: Ezra and I Esdras both give a professedly historical outline of the period 537-516 B.C. I Esdras contains chronological difficulties that cannot be harmonized. Ezra contains an account that can be shown to be self-consistent and that is not out of harmony with the contemporary allusions in Haggai and Zechariah.

It is not as full as we could have wished, and there are tantalizing gaps. But if, as seems likely, the Chronicler had comparatively few documents to guide him through this period, he appears to have transmitted them accurately. The few difficulties that exist show that he did not deliberately harmonize the documents, and the record as it stands can be interpreted in ways that make sense.


[1] See his essay ' The Age of Zerubbabel' in the volume of essays edited by H. H. Rowley, Studies in Old Testament Prophecy.

This monograph, published by the Tyndale Press in February 1958, reproduces in a revised and expanded form the Tyndale Old Testament Lecture delivered in Cambridge on July 4th, 1952, at a meeting arranged by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research.

© 1958 The Estate of J. Stafford Wright. Reproduced by kind permission of Christopher Stafford Wright.

Prepared for the web in January 2005 by Michael Farmery & Robert I. Bradshaw.