Biblical Archeology following the Babylonian
Just as the prophet Jeremiah had
warned, the city of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in
King Zedekiah tried to escape but was captured
near Jericho and brought to Nebuchadnezzar’s
headquarters at Riblah where his sons were killed before
his eyes, and then his own eyes put out.
Jerusalem was destroyed under an officer of
Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuzaradan, along with the complete
destruction of the temple built by Solomon.
According to the Lachish Letters, all of Judah
The discovery of the Lachish
Letters (fig. 1) in 1935 of 18 ostraca (clay tablets
with writing in ink), written in Hebrew script, from the
7th century BC, reveal important information concerning
the last days of Judah.
discovered at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir) among the ruins
of an ancient guardroom outside the Lachish city gate.
the letters were dispatches from a Jewish commander
named Hoshaiah who was stationed at an outpost north of
Lachish, who was responsible for interpreting the
signals from Azekah and Lachish.
final communications confirm what the prophet Jeremiah
writes in the Bible.
In one of the Lachish Letters Hoshaiah writes
that the signal of Azekah can no longer be seen, which
suggests that this city had fallen to the Babylonian
Jeremiah indicates that Azekah and Lachish
were two of the last cities to remain before being
captured by the Babylonians
when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting
against Jerusalem and against all the remaining cities
of Judah, that is, Lachish and Azekah, for they
alone remained as fortified cities among the
cities of Judah.
Like the Assyrians, the Babylonians took the
influential people of conquered nations as prisoners.
With the leaders, scholars, and promising youth
in captivity the conquered nation was less likely to
rebel later on.
Another advantage was the opportunity to train
the captive youth in the thought and culture of Babylon,
assimilating them as valuable members of the empire.
Judah became a province of
Babylon. There was no longer a king, but a governor
appointed by Nebuchadnezzar.
The first governor was Gedaliah.
With Jerusalem destroyed, Gedaliah established a
new capital at Mizpah.
During excavations in the city of Lachish a clay
seal (fig. 2) was found in a layer of ashes containing
the following words:
“Belonging to Gedaliah who is
over the house.”
This seal is confirmation of the scriptural
account in 2 Kings 25:22,
Now as for the people who were left in the land
of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left,
he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of
Shaphan over them.
The people governed by Gedaliah were called
“the poorest people of the land” and were left to
cultivate the soil (2 Kings
Gedaliah had only been governor for two months
when he was assassinated by Ishmael, a member of the
royal family who had fled Judah when the Babylonians
were approaching (2 Kings
25:23-26; Jeremiah 40:7-41:18).
The fact that Nebuchadnezzar
conquered lands, including Judah, during his first year
as king is recorded on tablets known as the Babylonian
Chronicles (fig. 3).
They record that kings from the territory known
as Hatti-land came before him and offered him tribute.
Those cities, which did not submit to him, he came
against and carried off its spoils back to Babylon.
According to the Bible in
Daniel 1:3-4, during
the invasion of Jerusalem in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar the
king of Babylon instructed Ashpenaz the Master of his
eunuchs, to bring back some of the children of Israel to
serve in the king’s palace and to teach them the
language and literature of the Chaldeans. He picked
Daniel along with his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael,
The Babylonian office of Master of the Eunuchs
has been confirmed by Archaeology. In the British Museum
is a clay tablet with the words “Rab-Saris”
inscribed on it. In Aramaic, the word Rab interpreted
means Master and Saris means Eunuchs.
Nebuzaradan, the Babylonian
general, had given Jeremiah his choice of going to
Babylon or remaining in the land, he had decided to
stay. He took up residence in Mizpah, where he could be
Upon the assassination of Gedaliah the people
feared reprisal by Babylon.
Jeremiah, with God’s revelation, instructed the
people to remain in the land and not to fear, for the
Babylonians would not retaliate. Jeremiah warned
particularly against seeking shelter in Egypt.
The people refused to accept God’s word and made
plans to go to Egypt.
The number of Judeans who made the
trip to Egypt was relatively large
Jeremiah went to Egypt as well, probably against
The migrants came to Tahpanhes (identified as
Tell Defenneh), in the eastern Delta of Egypt. Tell
Defenneh is located 27 miles south southwest of Port
Here Jeremiah, at God’s direction, hid stones in
the pavement at the entry of a royal palace, and
delivered God’s prediction that Nebuchadnezzar would
conquer that very place (Jer.
God’s predication was fulfilled. One of
Nebuchadnezzar’s tablets tells of a successful campaign
in his 37th year (568-567) against Pharaoh
Amasis in this location.
Petrie excavated Tell Defenneh in 1883 and
discovered a foundation of a palace, possibly the one
Jeremiah is referring to here.
Jeremiah 44:1, 15, it appears that Judeans had
taken up residence throughout Egypt. Another area of
Jewish occupation outside Judah was located on the
island of Elephantine (fig. 4) in the Nile River of
Egypt. This island is situated at the lower end of the
first cataract, about 500 miles south of the
Numerous papyri written in Aramaic have been
found, most of them in 1903. They date from the fifth
century BC and are referred to as the Elephantine
This group of Jews may have descended from those
who took Jeremiah with them when they fled from Judah in
fear of Babylon.
The colony served as a southern military garrison
for the Persians who were stationed in Egypt. It appears
to have ceased existence shortly after the beginning of
the fourth century.
The contents of the papyri vary considerably in
character. One papyrus gives a copy of the famous
Behistun Inscription, placed by Darius I high on a
mountainside near Ecbatana, Persia. Another is a
These Jews also had a temple to Yahweh. This
means that, though far from Jerusalem, they had not
forgotten the one true God. The worship of Yahweh was
not pure, for the names of at least three other deities,
who were worshiped by some of the residents, have been
Elephantine letters mention persons in the
biblical record such as:
Johanan, mentioned as high priest in
Jerusalem, said in Nehemiah
12:10-11, 22-23 to be grandson of Eliashib, who
was high priest in Nehemiah’s time
Sanballat, governor of Samaria, spoken of
as father of Delaiah and Shelemaiah, and no doubt the
same as the opponent of Nehemiah.
Rananiah who may be the same as the man
Nehemiah made superintendent over Jerusalem along with
Nehemiah’s brother Ranani
Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) ruled 43 years and
maintained his country’s empire as long as he lived.
Those who succeeded him could not hold what he had
conquered. Under their rule the country decayed only
lasting another 23 years after Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar was proficient in warfare.
The siege of Tyre, during the same campaign in
which Jerusalem fell, continued for 13 years at which
time it fell.
Jeremiah states (Jer.
52:30) that Nebuchadnezzar forced another
deportation from Judah in 582 BC. In the same year he
campaigned successfully in Syria, Moab, and Ammon.
In 568 he invaded Egypt shortly after Pharaoh
Amasis had replaced Pharaoh Hophra. The time was one of
weakness in Egypt, and the Babylonian ruler took
advantage of it.
Nebuchadnezzar was an active and successful
He constructed an intricate system of
fortifications, including Babylon’s own defenses and a
chain of fortresses both north and south of the capital
He built temples, palaces, canals, and
streets. A processional avenue leading to the city’s
sacred area was lined with brightly colored, enameled
brick, adorned with rows of bulls and dragons in
bas-relief. The street led through the famous gate of
Ishtar, similarly decorated.
The Ishtar Gate (fig. 5) was built by
Nebuchadnezzar and dedicated to the goddess Ishtar
around 575 BC. It was decorated with glazed brick
reliefs of dragons and bulls. It is 47 feet high and 32
The Ishtar Gate was discovered in 1899 by Robert
Koldeway, disassembled, and reconstructed in the
Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
This is the very Gate, which the Jewish captives
must have passed through, including Daniel and Ezekiel.
None of Nebuchadnezzar’s
successors could maintain what he established, resulting
in Babylon’s decline.
Amel-marduk (562-560): Nebuchadnezzar was
succeeded by his son, Amel-marduk, who ruled only two
years. The Bible refers to him as Evil-merodach, the one
who released Jehoiachin from prison and gave a place of
privilege at the Babylonian court
(2 Kings 25:27-30; Jer.
Nergalshar-usur (560-556): Amel-marduk was
murdered by his brother-in-law, Nergalshar-usur, who
took the throne in 560 BC. This man is identified with
the Nergal-sharezer of
Jeremiah 39:3, 13,
who, as the official under Nebuchadnezzar, played a part
in releasing Jeremiah from prison in 586 BC. As king, he
is known for a major military venture across the Taurus
Mountains where he suffered defeat and withdrew back to
Babylon in 556 BC, shortly before his death.
Labashi-Marduk (556): Nergalshar-usur was
succeeded by his son, Labashi-Marduk, who was
assassinated only a few months later by Nabonidus, who
seized the throne.
Nabonidus & Belshazzar (556-539): The son
of an Aramean nobleman from Haran, Nabonidus was
probably the most capable ruler following
Nebuchadnezzar. Nabonidus made two military campaigns:
one against Cilicia (554 BC) and another against Syria
(553 BC). An unusual act was his transfer of residence
to Tema, southeast of Edam in the Arabian Desert. He
remained in Tema for a period of 10 years, leaving the
kingdom in the hands of his son, Belshazzar. Actual
kingship was entrusted to the young man, which coincides
with Belshazzar’s portrayal in the Book of Daniel.
Greek historian Herodotus states that Nabonidus
had been the Babylonian representative in 585 BC when a
peace treaty between the Medes and Lydians had been
In Daniel chapter 5 a Babylonian
king by the name of Belshazzar mocks God by throwing a
party with articles taken from the Jewish temple. God
passes judgment on Belshazzar by taking away his kingdom
and dividing it between the Medes and Persians.
Some critics of the Bible point out an apparent
historical error in an attempt to disprove the accuracy
of the bible by saying that the last king to rule
Babylon before being destroyed by the Medes and
Persians, was a man by the name of Nabonidus, not
Belshazzar. Secondly, Belshazzar was never a king of
Babylon. And third, the Bible refers to Nebuchadnezzar
as the father of Belshazzar, which he was not.
Is the Bible wrong? Belshazzar’s name is found on
the Nabonidus Cylinder (fig. 6) where he is mentioned as
the son of King Nabonidus. Some translations of the
bible state that Nebuchadnezzar was his father, the
Hebrew word for father can also be translated into
English as meaning grandfather or ancestor. Belshazzar
was a bloodline descendent of Nebuchadnezzar. The same
goes for the fact that the Bible calls Belshazzar a
king. Even though historical records do not mention he
was a king, the Hebrew word for king can also be
interpreted as governor, or prince. History records that
he was both.
Nabonidus, who ruled Babylon from 556-539 BC,
mentions his firstborn son Belshazzar on an inscription
found in the city of Ur in 1853. The inscription reads:
“May it be that I, Nabonidus,
king of Babylon, never fail you. And may my firstborn,
Belshazzar, worship you with all his heart.”
Another piece of evidence for Belshazzar’s reign
in the city of Babylon comes from an inscription, where
he is referred to as the son of Nabonidus and is given
authority to rule.
“Putting the camp under the rule
of his oldest son . . . His hands were now free; He
entrusted the authority of the royal throne to him.”
Yet even another piece of evidence comes from a
tablet dating back to the sixth century in Babylon,
where Belshazzar is mentioned in the same light as his
“In regards to the bright star
which has appeared, I will undertake to interpret its
meaning for the glory of my lord Nabonidus, Babylon’s
king, and also for the crown prince, Belshazzar”
This archaeological evidence
confirms the biblical account of Belshazzar. The
evidence found confirms that Belshazzar had a
co-reigning authority that was second only to his
father. The Bible also supports this when Belshazzar is
speaking to Daniel in chapter 5:16:
“But I personally have heard about you, that you are
able to give interpretations and solve difficult
problems. Now if you are able to read the inscription
and make its interpretation known to me, you will be
clothed with purple and wear a necklace of gold
around your neck, and you will have authority as the
third ruler in the kingdom.”
We also know that at the time the
Medes and Persians captured Babylon, Nabonidus was not
living in the city of Babylon, but was staying in a
place called Tema in Arabia, leaving his son back home
in charge of governing the kingdom. King Cyrus of Persia
also refers to Belshazzar when he conquered Babylon in
“A coward was put in charge as
the king of this country…With evil intents he did away
with the regular offerings to the gods…and desecrated
the worship of the king of his gods, Marduk.”
Darius the Mede
Daniel 5:30-31 states the
That same night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain.
So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age
The Babylonian Chronicles (fig. 3)
tell us the exact date, which Babylon fell, October 13,
According to historical records a man named
Gubaru, a Mede, was appointed by King Cyrus to be ruler
in Babylon at this time. Gubaru was born in 601 BC,
which would make him 62 years old when he invaded
Babylon. Exactly the age found in
Daniel 5:31 of Darius
The Babylonian record of Darius the Mede’s
conquest of Babylon is given below:
“In the month of Tashritu, at
the time when Cyrus battled the forces of Akkad in Opis
on the Tigris River, the citizens of Akkad revolted
against him, but Nabonidus scattered his opposition with
a great slaughter. On the 14th day, Sippar was taken
without a fight. Nabonidus then fled for his life. On
the 16th day, Gubaru the leader of Gutium along with the
army of Cyrus entered Babylon without any opposition.
Later they arrested Nabonidus when he returned to
Babylon. On the third day of the month of Arahshamnu,
Cyrus marched into Babylon, and they laid down green
branches in front of him. The city was no longer at war,
Peace being restored. Cyrus then sent his best wishes to
the residents living there. His governor, Gubaru, then
installed leaders to govern over all Babylon.”
This account says that Darius the Mede installed
sub-governors in Babylon. The Bible says the same thing,
and the prophet Daniel was one of them:
It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the
kingdom, that they would be in charge of the whole
and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was
one), that these satraps might be accountable to them,
and that the king might not suffer loss.
Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the
commissioners and satraps because he possessed an
extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint
him over the entire kingdom.
Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find
a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to
government affairs; but they could find no ground of
accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as
he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was
to be found in him.
As far as his name goes, historians believe that
the name Darius was not a proper name at all, but a
title of honor meaning “Holder of the Scepter.” In other
words “The Scepter Holder (King) of the Medes.”
The Jewish historian Josephus also recorded that:
“Darius the Mede, who along with his relative, Cyrus
the King of Persia, brought an end to the Babylonian
empire. Darius was the son of Astyages.”
Daniel, along with others of his
age, were taken to Babylon in 605 BC to be educated
Before three years had passed, Daniel, as a
result of interpreting a dream for Nebuchadnezzar
(Dan. 2:1-45), was
elevated to the important position of chief of the
“wise men,” upon whom the king depended for counsel.
Daniel apparently retained this position for a long
time, because years later Nebuchadnezzar still referred
to him as “chief of the magicians”
By the time of Belshazzar’s rule, this king
needed to be reminded that Daniel was available to
interpret the writing on the palace wall
At the time of the Persian conquest of Babylon,
when Daniel could not have been less than 80 years old,
he was still retained by the new regime in a position of
high responsibility. In fact, he was made one of the
three presidents who superintended the respective
governors of Persia’s 120 provinces
According to Professor William Shea
from Andrews University a Babylonian inscription may
record the actual names of Daniel’s three friends,
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Daniel 1:6-7 states the following:
Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel,
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
Then the commander of the officials assigned new
names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name
Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach
and to Azariah Abednego.
The Istanbul Prism of Nebuchadnezzar is a
clay prism found in Babylon, housed in the Istanbul
museum, which gives a list of men and their titles.
Three men listed on the prism have pronunciations, which
are very similar to the names of Daniel’s three friends.
Whether or not they are the actual men mentioned in the
bible is uncertain.
Found on the list is the name Arbenebo, Official
of the Royal Prince. This name is the equivalent to the
Aramaic name Abednego and may in fact be the first
mention of one of Daniel’s friends found outside of the
Another name found on the list is Hannunu,
Commander of the king’s merchants. The name Hannunu may
be the Babylonian equivalent for the Hebrew name
Another name found on the list is Meshaku,
Official to Nebuchadnezzar. Meshaku is very similar in
pronunciation to Meshach.
Each of these men held an administrative position
in Babylon just as Daniel 2:49
Daniel chapter 4 states that
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a dream that
troubled him. So he called in the prophet Daniel to
interpret his dream. Daniel told him that the following
would happen to the king because of his pride:
this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the
decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the
that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling
place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given
grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of
heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you,
until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the
realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.
‘And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with
the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to
you after you recognize that it is Heaven that
One year latter the dream became reality.
Daniel 4:30 states that
the king spoke with great pride saying: “Is not this
great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by
my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”
While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a
voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you
it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! .....
and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.
They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times
shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High
rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He
A similar quote of Nebuchadnezzar has been found
outside the bible that is almost identical to his
statement in Daniel 4:30.
The inscription known as The East India House
Inscription (fig. 7), records Nebuchadnezzar’s building
activities in Babylon and states the following:
“My name will be remembered
throughout history for all time because I turned Babylon
and Esagila into a mighty fortress.”
God caused this mighty ruler to go
insane for seven seasons to teach him a lesson that God
Actual Babylonian records from Nebuchadnezzar
himself also record the seven season period of his
“For four years my kingdom gave
me no joy. During this time, not one building of any
importance did I issue to be built. And in Babylon
itself, no building was erected to pay tribute to my
name or to give me glory. I did not sing praises to
Merodach, my god, nor did I provide his sacrificial
table with offerings, nor did I clean any of the
In Babylon only two seasons were counted, Summer
and Winter. Thus 7 seasons equals 3 1/2 years. And
Nebuchadnezzar stated he did not delight in his kingdom
for 4 years.
Another amazing fact about the book
of Daniel is that in 1947 the first of the Dead Sea
scrolls were discovered. They contained fragments of all
the books of the Old Testament except the book of
Esther. Among them is a copy of Daniel.
Chapters 2:4 through chapters 7:28 are written in
the ancient Aramaic language known as Chaldee (the
language of Babylon), the same language used in
documents of the 7th century BC. This is another
confirmation of the fact that the events spoken of in
the book of Daniel were written down by Daniel during
the time of his captivity in Babylon.
Life in Babylon
The Hebrew captives enjoyed
freedom of movement in the land of Babylon.
Ezekiel even had his own house
(Ezek. 8:1). The elders
were also at liberty to visit him there.
The freedom accorded Jehoiachin, after
liberation from prison by Amel-marduk, testifies
similarly. He was given food and other provisions at the
court for the remainder of his life and may even have
been granted some authority to rule, for it is stated
that he was given a “seat of honor” above that of
other kings with him in Babylon
(2 Kings 25:28).
Cuneiform tablets (fig. 8) found by Weidner in
Babylon agree with these biblical notations. They
identify Jehoiachin as “King of the land of Judah,”
and indicate that he and his five sons received liberal
allowances of oil and food. They state further that the
sons were in the care of an attendant, suggesting that
servants were actually provided for the family.
The captives were also employed.
Nebuchadnezzar had taken craftsmen and artisans,
particularly in the captivity of 597 B.C.
(2 Kings 24:14-16).
According to the Bible, apparently
Nebuchadnezzar planned to put them to work in skilled
Evidence of this is also found in the many
business tablets (fig. 9) discovered at Nippur on the
canal Kabari, which contain Jewish names in a context
showing that they were active in business: renting,
buying, and selling. The tablets date from the fifth
century and so represent the Jewish situation after the
exiles had been in Babylonia for more than a hundred
years, but they imply that similar conditions had
existed for some time.
Nearly one 160 years before king
Cyrus was even born, God declared to the prophet Isaiah
that he would raise up this man, a shepherd, to rebuild
his city. Even though at the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem
was prospering and would not be destroyed for another
100 years by Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. God’s
prophecy begins at Isaiah
ISA 44:28 “It
is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd!
And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of
Jerusalem, ‘ She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘
Your foundation will be laid.’ ”
The 5th century BC, Greek historian,
Herodotus (fig. 11) records the story of how Cyrus
escaped death at the time of his birth and how he was
brought up by a shepherd who wasn’t his father. Thus,
fulfilling God’s spoken word to the prophet Isaiah.
“Astyages, the son of Cyaxares, became king. He had
a fascinating dream concerning his daughter Mandane. In
his dream he envisioned a stream of water flowing from
her that flooded his capital as well as Asia. He told
this vision to the Magi who had the gift of interpreting
dreams, and who gave its meaning to him, whereas he
became greatly terrified . . . Learning that she was
now with child and her time for giving birth was near,
he sent Mandane away to Persia. When she arrived there,
he put a guard over her, with plans to kill the child
after she gave birth ( Isaiah
45:10-13); for when the Magi had interpreted the
vision they told him that the son of his daughter would
reign over Asia instead of him. To keep this from
happening, immediately following the birth of Cyrus,
Astyages sent for Harpagus, a man of his own house and a
faithful Mede, to whom he trusted all his affairs, and
addressed him saying . . . Harpagus, take the son born
of my daughter Mandane, and steal him away to your house
and slay him there. Then bury him as you see fit. When
Harpagus had reluctantly agreed, the child was given
into his hands, wrapped in the swaddling cloth of death,
and he weeping went quickly to his home . . . speaking,
My hands will not carry out his will, nor do I want any
part of this murder . . . After he had said this, he
sent a messenger to bring back a man named Mitradates,
one of the shepherds . . . Coming quickly at his
request, the shepherd arrived and Harpagus said to him
“Astyages commands you to take this child into the
wildest part of the hills, and there abandon him, that
he should die a sudden death. And he told me to tell
you, that if you do not kill the boy, but allow him to
escape, you will be put to the death by the most painful
of methods. I myself have been given orders to make sure
the child dies. At this command the herdsman took the
child into his arms, and traveled back the way he had
come till he reached his flocks . . . With this the
shepherd uncovered the infant, and showed him to his
wife, who, when she saw how fine and beautiful the child
was, broke down into tears, and falling at her husbands
knees, begged him not to kill the babe; . . . so the
child, whom he was commanded to destroy, was handed over
to his wife . . .”
Thus, Cyrus was raised to be a shepherd,
fulfilling God’s word to Isaiah.
The second part of Isaiah’s prophecy states that
Cyrus would declare Jerusalem and the temple to be
rebuilt. According to the Bible, King Cyrus of Persia
invaded the Empire of Babylon bringing its downfall.
The following is an account from King Cyrus,
which was found inscribed on a clay barrel now on
display in the British Museum, called the Cyrus Cylinder
(fig. 10). He mentions how he conquered Babylon,
returned exiles to their former lands, returned the
articles of worship to the sacred cities, and commanded
that the temples where they worshiped be rebuilt. The
“The number of men in his army
were so great, resembling that of water in a river,
which could not be counted, marched forward, their
weapons stashed away. Without engaging the enemy, he was
able to enter Babylon without causing any damage to the
city. Into my hands, Nabonidus was delivered, the king
who did not worship him . . . “To the sacred cities
located on the other side of the Tigris river, I sent
back to the ruins of their holy places, the articles
which were used in their sanctuaries. I also allowed to
return to their homes the former citizens of the land, .
. . I also made an effort to repair their dwelling
Cyrus ruled as king for nine years
following his Babylonian victory. Finally, in 530 BC,
while leading his army into the far north, he was
fatally wounded. His body was returned to Pasargadae,
the Persian capital, for burial.
Cyrus was buried in a stone tomb (fig. 12)
outside his capital of Pasargadae in modern Iran.
According to the Greek historian Strabo (1st
century AD), this inscription once graced the structure,
“Oh man, I am Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, who founded
the empire of Persia, and was king of Asia. Grudge me
not therefore this monument.”
Cambyses II (530-522): Cyrus
was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II.
Cambyses’s greatest accomplishment was his
conquest of Egypt, which he added to his already huge
territory in 525 BC.
When en route home in 522 BC Cambyses received
news that one Gaumata had seized the Persian throne,
masquerading as Smerdis, the brother whom Cambyses had
Cambyses’s sudden death at this point has given
rise to numerous conflicting stories. It is frequently
assumed that he committed suicide, although this is
Darius I (522 -486): One of
Cambyses’s officers, Darius I, son of the satrap,
Hystaspes, and a descendant of a secondary branch of the
royal line of Persia, now assumed command of the army
and marched home to put down the insurrection and seize
He was successful in both, putting the pretender
to death and taking the throne for himself.
There was some rebellion in the empire, but
within two years, he had the empire back under control.
He considered the overall triumph sufficiently
important to have a record made of it high on a mountain
cliff beside the road to Ecbatana. This inscription,
which has come to be called the Behistun Inscription
(fig. 13), was written in three languages and has proven
invaluable in modern time for providing the key to
reading Old Akkadian.
While he did maintain his boarders, Darius
suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the
Greeks in the famous battle of Marathon, 490 BC. He
planned revenge, but a revolt in Egypt demanded his
attention for a time, and his own death came in 486 B.C.
before he was able to retaliate.
Darius also gave permission to renew the
rebuilding of the Hebrew Temple
(Ezra 6:1-12), which
had been discontinued for some 10 years.
Darius is the first of three monumental tombs
(fig. 14) cut into a cliff near the Persian capital of
Persepolis, Iran. The inscription on his tomb reads:
“King, whoever you are, who may
arise after me, protect yourself well from lies. Do not
trust the man who lies. … Believe what I did and tell
the truth to the people. Do not conceal (it). If you do
not conceal these matters, but you do tell the people,
may Ahura Mayda protect you.”
There are three other tombs at this site, thought
to be those of the Persian kings Xerxes (486-465 BC),
Artaxerxes I (465-425 BC), and Darius II (423-405 BC).
Xerxes I (486-465): Xerxes I
succeeded his father.
His first two years were occupied in quelling
revolutions, especially in Babylon.
In his third year he planned his greatest
military campaign, which he hoped would avenge his
father’s defeat by the Greeks. At first he was
victorious, even capturing Athens and burning the
Acropolis. But then his fleet of ships was routed at
Salamis, and his army was defeated in 479 BC.
Xerxes, who had returned to his capital following
the defeat at Salamis, gave up on his attempt to annex
Artaxerxes I (465-424): The
last Persian ruler of note is Artaxerxes I.
He succeeded to the throne when the commander of
the palace guard, one Artabanus, assassinated his
In 460 BC he faced a revolt in Egypt, which was
put down only after several years of fighting by his
satrap of Abarnahara (Syria and Palestine), Megabyzus.
Difficulty with the Greeks led to further
humiliation for the Persian monarch, as he signed a
treaty (449 BC) permitting Greek cities in Asia Minor to
be free to join in league with Athens.
Neither Artaxerxes I nor Xerxes I attained the
stature of their predecessor, Darius I.
The first return to Judah for the Jews came shortly
after the Persian conquest of Babylon, 538 BC
(Ezra 1:1), led by
Sheshbazzar. The second came 80 years later, in the
seventh year of Artaxerxes I, 458 BC
(Ezra 7:7), led by
Ezra. And the third came 13 years after the second, in
the 20th year of Artaxerxes I, 444 BC
(Neh. 2:1), led by
Edict of Cyrus
(2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra
The tolerant attitude of Cyrus
toward his subjects included permission for people, who
had been deported by Babylon, to return to their
Cyrus extended this permission to the people of
Judah in the first year after the fall of Babylon.
Cyrus’ edict is recorded twice in Scripture:
Ezra 1:2-4 and Ezra 6:3-5.
They give orders that the Jerusalem temple be
rebuilt, with the cost defrayed from Cyrus’ own
treasury; that certain specifications be met in this
rebuilding; that all Jews who wished could return to
their homeland, with those Jews who remained in Babylon
being urged to assist with financial contribution; and
that the gold and silver vessels taken by Nebuchadnezzar
be returned to Jerusalem.
Presumably the return occurred soon
after the issuance of the decree, likely in 538 or 537
It was led by Sheshbazzar, called a “prince
of Judah” (Ezra 1:8).
Those who made the journey are listed in
Ezra 2, with their
number indicated as 42,360, besides 7,337 servants
This is a substantial number, but it did not
include all the Jews who lived in the East.
Building the Temple
A prime order of business on
arriving in the homeland was the rebuilding of the
Construction on the temple did begin soon after
arrival in the land. Ezra 3:8
states that the people were led in by Zerubbabel and
Joshua (Jeshua), the high priest, though apparently
Sheshbazzar was in charge
They first erected the altar and reinstated the
prescribed sacrifices. Later, in the second month of the
second year they commenced work on the temple. The first
step was laying the foundation. When it was completed,
the people celebrated. Many rejoiced, but others, who
could remember the glory of the former Solomonic Temple,
wept openly (Ezra 3:8-12).
They could see that the new temple would be more modest
than the former.
At this point, opposition from Samaritans to the
north began (Ezra 4:1-5).
Besides this outside interference, the Jewish workers on
the temple began to use more of their time for
rebuilding their own houses and farming their own lands
(Hag. 1:3-11). It was
not long before all work ceased, with the result that
the temple remained little more than a foundation until
the second year of Darius I, 520 BC
(Hag. 1:1), some 16
In Darius’s second year, the prophets Haggai and
Zechariah urged that building operations be resumed.
They addressed both the people in general and Zerubbabel
and Joshua, who were still in command.
Their prophetic efforts were fruitful and work
did begin in the sixth month of the year
(Hag. 1:15; Ezra 5:1-2).
Four years later, in the sixth year of Darius I,
515 BC (Ezra 6:15), the
temple was completed.
Darius I ruled Persia until 486 BC, followed by
Xerxes I, who ruled until 465 BC. It was during the rule
of Xerxes that Esther was queen. Then came Artaxerxes I,
during whose seventh year the second return occurred.
The second return was led by Ezra
(Ezra 7:6, 10).
Ezra was known to Artaxerxes (fig. 15), for he
had attained a position of some standing at the court.
In some undisclosed manner he persuaded the king
to permit him to travel to Judah for the purpose of
effecting needed reforms.
From the fact that Nehemiah found it necessary
much later (444 BC) to come and build Jerusalem’s walls,
it is clear that little was done in reconstructing the
capital city apart from erecting homes.
From Ezra’s confession of the people’s sin in
intermarriage with surrounding pagans
(Ezra 9:1-15), we know
of interaction with neighboring peoples, which raised
the possibility of a return to the old idolatrous
worship, which always seemed to accompany intermarriage.
Like Sheshbazzar 80 years before,
Ezra received notable privileges from the Persian
monarch in connection with his return.
These privileges included authority to take as
many of his countrymen with him as desired the
opportunity; to receive from Jews in Persia, as well as
from Artaxerxes himself and his court counselors, gold
and silver for the Jerusalem temple; to draw upon the
royal treasury of the satrapy of Abarnahara for needs
that might arise; to purchase animals for sacrifice at
the temple; to exempt temple personnel from Persian
taxation; and to appoint civil magistrates in the land
of Judah to enforce the laws of Yahweh, with power of
life and death over the guilty.
Ezra’s interest and assigned task was thus not to
build the country materially, as it had been with the
first return and would be again with the third, but to
build the people socially and spiritually. Reform was
needed that the people might live more pleasingly in
the sight of God.
Ezra assembled those who wished to return at the
river Ahava (unknown, but probably near Babylon). The
size of the group is indicated by the number of men,
approximately 1,500, a number much smaller than that of
the first return.
Final departure occurred the twelfth day of the
first month (458 BC) and arrival in Jerusalem the first
day of the fifth month (Ezra
7:9; 8:31), a journey of just over three and
Upon arrival Ezra began to address the issue of
intermarriage of a number of Jews with surrounding
The third return, that of Nehemiah, came in the 20th
year of Artaxerxes I, 444 BC
(Neh. 1:1). Nehemiah’s purpose lay in the
rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
No indication is given regarding the number of
Jews who went along in this return, but there were
enough to warrant the Persian king providing “army
officers and cavalry”
(Neh. 2:9) to act as guards.
Nehemiah held a responsible position at the
Persian court, as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. He had
direct access to the king to speak intimately regarding
a return to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was granted unusual privilege, like
Sheshbazzar and Ezra before him, in connection with the
In 444 BC the king noticed sadness on Nehemiah’s
face one day and asked the reason. Nehemiah told him of
Jerusalem’s plight, asked if he might journey there to
help, and even requested letters to officials in
Abarnahara to grant him safe passage and material aid
for rebuilding. The Persian monarch responded with an
affirmative answer and granted him all for which he
asked, thus cheering and encouraging his faithful
servant’s heart. He further assigned army officers and
cavalry to convey Nehemiah safely over the many miles
Nehemiah Builds the Wall
On arrival, Nehemiah set himself
quickly to the task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls.
Workers were quickly recruited, both from
Jerusalem and outlying cities; and all were assigned
particular sections of the wall on which to labor.
The work moved forward with opposition from the
The king had given Nehemiah full authority for
the task, but enemies still did their best to hinder
the work. Heading the opposition was the governor of
Samaria, Sanballat the Horonite of Bethhoron;
At first these adversaries were content
merely to mock (Neh. 2:19-20;
4:1-3). Then plans were laid to attack Jerusalem
(Neh. 4:7-8). News of
this terrorized the Jews, but Nehemiah responded by
dividing the builders into two groups, one to continue
building and the other to bear arms. In this way the
work progressed, though more slowly.
A schedule was kept from dawn until dark
to achieve as much speed as possible. During the night,
a heavy guard was posted to protect what had been
accomplished. All this was effective and resulted in
the main attack being called off though smaller raids
were conducted on outlying districts.
The work of rebuilding was completed in
only 52 days, amazing in view of the opposition, and
much to the consternation and displeasure of the
An Elephantine Papyrus (fig. 16),
which dates back to about 407 BC, actually makes mention
of 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. In the letter, they describe how the
Jewish temple in the city had been destroyed by the
priests of a Pagan Egyptian god. They make the whole
incident known to Delaiah and Shelemaiah, the sons of
Sanballat governor of Samaria.