Thursday, December 23, 2010

Just who is who in Esther's times?

Were you as lost in history as I was during the lesson on the rebuilding of the temple? I had all sorts of notes in my scriptures placed there over the years and I still couldn’t unravel the chronology.

I let it nag at me for a few days then I headed to the internet and began to hit my favorite, reputable sites to find out just where all those puzzle pieces fit.

Now, what I found out is that, at times, no one really knows for sure who’s who. There are almost as many ‘ideas’ of who’s who as there are scholars. I’m glad the confusion is not just mine!!

I also found it interesting that in this very lesson, the people who could not prove who they were, were excluded from helping rebuild the temple. Accurate records, especially in genealogy, are so important!

Out of all the research I did, this information showed up the most so, here it is.

Cyrus came to power. It was his policy to free the slaves in the land he conquered and so he released the Jews and allowed them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Of course, many didn’t want to go by then and stayed behind. That’s pretty straight forward and easy to follow but now it gets a bit convoluted.

Some scholars believe that Cyrus was also known as Darius the Mede (I'll call him Darius the Mede/Darius I). Other scholars believe the Darius the Mede and Cyrus were two different people. Whoever they were, at some point Darius the Mede/Darius I co-ruled Persia with the help of Xerxes. (I’ll call him Xerxes I.)

When Darius the Mede/Darius I died, Xerxes I ruled alone until his ‘death’. Some scholars believe that, in order to keep the throne with Darius dead and his own reputation slipping Xerxes I faked his own death.

Word of the 'death' of Xerxes I reached his son, Ahasuerus I, who was leading the army in Egypt. As heir to the throne and now unofficial king, Ahasuerus I headed back for Persia to be officially crowned yet, before he arrived, two things happened: someone showed up claiming to be the king's son and took the throne; and Ahasuerus I died before he made it back to Persia and could get rid of the imposter.

The imposter called himself Artaxerxes I. Some scholars believe it was really Xerxes I showing up pretending to be his own son. To gain the favor of the citizens, this questionable king repealed all taxes for three years (that always gets lots of support from short-sighted citizens). He also halted the building of the temple when he got the letter mentioned in Ezra 4.

With the king's real son dead, Darius II led much of the army and knew Artaxerxes I was not who he said he was. With the support of the armies, Darius II captured Artaxerxes I and killed him, thus claiming the throne for himself.

During the next two years, Darius II repelled the attacks of nine kings and established peace in the kingdom. He also learned of the decree of Cyrus to let the Jews rebuild the temple (Ezra 5). Darius II renewed that decree (Ezra 6).

When Darius II died, Xerxes II took the throne. He is better known as Ahasuerus I. This is the same Ahasuerus I who married Esther. Of course, his antics are well known. During his time on the throne, he halted the building of the temple and harassed the Jews. The role his wife, Esther, played in halting Haman’s plans to destroy the Jews saved the life of a Jew named Nehemiah. Just a few short years later, Nehemiah would become pivotal in rebuilding the temple.

Upon the death of Esther’s husband his son, Artaxerxes II, took the throne. Artaxerxes II had a cupbearer named Nehemiah served. When Nehemiah asked to go help with the rebuilding, Artaxerxes II allowed him to go and sent him the aid he needed. Nehemiah was able to accomplish in 52 days what had been unfinished for years.

As I mentioned, there are scholarly conflicts over who’s who during this time; but this information seemed to be the most common. The lesson here isn’t who’s who; but what can happen (as the lesson pointed out) when accurate records are not kept and preserved.