Jewish governor of Judea under the Persians. He succeeded in having the fallen walls of Jerusalem rebuilt. Before he was governor, Nehemiah (Heb. n eḥemyâ ) was an official at the court of the Persian king, Artaxerxes I (465–424 b.c.). The conditions under which the Palestinian Jews then lived were far from ideal. The defenses of the capital, Jerusalem, lay in ruins and the Jews, themselves, were subject to harassment and oppression by their predatory neighbors. Hearing of these conditions and moved by pity for his people, Nehemiah obtained credentials from the king and set out in the 20th year of Artaxerxes for Jerusalem, where he remained for 12 years (445–433 b.c.) as governor (peḥâ in Neh 5.14, 15, 18;12.26; tiršātā’ in Neh 8.9; 10.2; Neh 2.1–8; 5.14).
His first major accomplishment was to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, despite the threats and various stratagems of the neighboring governors, Sanballat of Samaria, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab, who accused him of rebellion against the king (Neh 2.10, 19; ch. 4; ch. 6). In Neh 7.15 it is said the wall was completed in 52 days, but the period of two years and four months that Josephus (Ant. 11.5.8) allows for is a much more plausible length of time.
During this time, famine and usurious exactions of the upper classes brought the poorer people crying to Nehemiah for relief (Neh 5.1–5). Prompt action by the governor—his request to the assembled leaders, with pointed reference to his own unselfish example—led to the restoration of lands and houses to the indigent (Neh 5.6–13;5.14–19). Next, Nehemiah resettled a tenth of Judea's population, moving them into the newly fortified Jerusalem (Neh 7.4–5; 11.1–2). The dedication of the city's wall is described (in the Chronicler's style) in Neh 12.27–43.
In 433 b.c., Nehemiah returned to Artaxerxes (Neh 13.6). Sometime after that, but before the king's death in 424, Nehemiah came again to Jerusalem as governor. This time he was noted principally for correcting abuses. He drove Tobiah from a room that had formerly served as a temple storeroom but had been given to Tobiah for his personal use (Neh 13.4–9); reinstated the practice of tithing for the support of the Levites (Neh 13.10–14); enforced observance of the Sabbath (Neh 13.15–22); and prohibited marriages with foreigners, to prevent such marriages from leading the Jews into idolatrous practices (Neh 13.23–27). He also expelled the son-in-law of Sanballat from the Jerusalemite priesthood (Neh 13.28–29).
Comparatively little else is known of Nehemiah. According to Neh 7.2 he placed his brother, Hanani, in charge of Jerusalem. In Sir 49.13 he is praised for restoring Jerusalem's defenses. The "memories of Nehemiah" cited in 2 Mc 1.36 associate him with a discovery of fireproducing νεφθαρ (naphtha), and in 2 Mc 2.13 it is said that he founded a library and collected various books: (1) about kings (the Old Testament books of Joshua through Kings?), (2) Prophets, (3) David's writings (Psalms), and (4) royal letters (of the Persian kings) concerning votive offerings. One Talmudic reference identifies him (incorrectly) with Zerubbabel (Sanhedrin 38a), and another credits him (wrongly) with the completion of the book of Chronicles (Baba Bathra 15a). For the Book of Nehemiah, see chronicler, biblical.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 1626–27. h. schneider, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 7:868–869. k. galling, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 4:1395–96. h. h. rowley, "Nehemiah's Mission and Its Background," The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 37 (Manchester 1955) 528–561. a. fernÁndez, Un hombre de carácter: Nehemías (Jerusalem 1940).
[n. j. mceleney]
NEHEMIAH (Heb. נְחֶמְיָה; "yhwh has comforted": fifth century b.c.e.), cupbearer of *Artaxerxesi and later governor of Judah. Nothing is known of the parentage of Nehemiah except that he was the son of Hacaliah. Two other persons of that name are mentioned in the Bible: one returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:7), and the other, a son of Azbuk, was the chief of half the district of Beth-Zur and helped in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem (Neh. 3:16). Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah was a high official at the Persian court of Artaxerxesi, perhaps a eunuch (cf. lxxĆ, Neh. 1:11, eunochos for oinochoos of lxxḂ). Origen considers Nehemiah, the king's cupbearer, and his eunuch as one person. E. Weidner (see bibl.) has pointed out the importance of the cupbearer at the Assyrian court which, according to Herodotus (3:34), continued at the Persian court.
Being a trusted Jew, though a layman, Nehemiah was, at his own request, placed in charge of a very important and delicate mission – that of the governorship of Judah, which involved rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and reorganizing the Judean province. He was thus invested with great authority which he wielded with distinction and propriety. The first tasks to which he set himself with great zeal were providing protection for Judah by restoring the walls of the capital, and erecting houses for its population so that all aspects of the community could function more smoothly. Though he suffered almost continuous interference from the governor of Samaria, and perhaps from those of Ammon, Arabia, and Ashdod (6:1–9), he was sufficiently astute to avoid serious conflict, probably because he used his authority wisely and gained the confidence of his fellow Jews. Having achieved his primary objective, he next devoted himself to establishing order and justice in the community (7:1–3). Conscious of his position as a layman (and perhaps, eunuch), he submitted to the religious regulations of his time but was himself a profoundly religious man as is evident from his concern for the levites (13:10–14), his conception of the sanctity of the Temple as shown in the Tobiah affair (13:4–9), his appreciation of the Sabbath (10:32; 13:15–21), and his provision for offerings (10:33–40). It is of interest that he had drawn up his memoirs, which were doubtless placed in the Temple precincts as an inscription of his deeds and works.
Nehemiah is praised by Ben Sira (49:12b–13) and in ii Maccabees 1:18, 20–36. Josephus (Ant. 11:159–74) embellished the story of Nehemiah, but the Talmud and the Church Fathers were not so complimentary. The date of Nehemiah's first period of service (5:14) extended from the 20th to the 32nd year of Artaxerxes i (i.e., c. 445–433 b.c.e.). The length of his second period (13:6–7) is not stated.
[Jacob M. Myers]
In the Aggadah
Nehemiah is identified with *Zerubbabel, the latter name being considered as indicative of his Babylonian birth (Heb. זְרוּעַ בָּבֵל, "conceived in Babylon"; Sanh. 38a). He was called Tirshatha (Neh. 8:9) because the authorities absolved him (hittir) from the prohibition against gentile wine, permitting him, as cupbearer to the king, to drink (shatah) with him (tj, Kid. 4:1, 65b). The strict rabbinic enactment prohibiting the handling of most vessels or utensils on the Sabbath was attributed to Nehemiah as a means of counteracting the laxity in Sabbath observance during his period (Shab. 123b; Neh. 13:15). The sages did not call the Book of Nehemiah by his name and referred to it as the second part of Ezra because Nehemiah utilized a seemingly vain expression (Neh. 5:19) and also spoke disparagingly of his predecessors, who included Daniel (Neh. 5:15; Sanh. 93b). Nehemiah completed the Book of Chronicles which was started by Ezra (bb 15a).
F. James, Personalities of the Old Testament (1943), 443–61; E. Weider, in: afo, 17 (1956), 264–5; F.L. Moriarty, Introducing the Old Testament (1960), 189–201; S. Mowinckel, Studien zu dem Buche Ezra-Nehemia, 2 (1964), 76–83; J.M. Meyers (ed.), Ezra-Nehemiah (1965), 53–56, 74–77. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (19475), 352; 6 (19463), 438–9.
NEHEMIAH (middle of second century c.e.), tanna. Nehemiah was considered one of Akiva's outstanding disciples and is mentioned in all the talmudic traditions that described the reestablishment of the center of learning in Galilee after the Bar Kokhba revolt. Thus it is reported that on the easing of the Hadrianic persecution he took part in the activity for the renewal of the teaching of the Torah (Gen. R. 61:3; Eccles. R. 11:6). Similarly, Nehemiah was listed as one of the five ordained by *Judah b. Bava at the cost of his life (Sanh. 14a), and also among the scholars who gathered at Usha to reconstruct the religious life of the people (Song R. 2:5, no. 3). He was also described as having been active at Bet Rimmon when the renewed calendar arrangements were made (tj, Ḥag. 3:1), and as having taken part in the convention of Jabneh (Ber. 63b). Though these traditions have been viewed by some as representing distinct historical events, they should more properly be viewed as a family of related traditions with definite lines of literary dependence between them, as has been recently argued convincingly (Oppenheimer, 78–79).
The Talmud (Sanh. 86a) ascribes to R. Johanan the statement that סְתָם תּוֹסֶפְתָא ר׳ נְחֶמְיָה (setam tosefta Rabbi Neḥemyah), apparently ascribing to Nehemiah the authorship of all anonymous statements in the Tosefta. Both the authenticity and the exact intent of this statement are unclear (see: *Tosefta), and in any case it is clear that R. Nehemiah is neither the author of our Tosefta (nor of any earlier version of the Tosefta which may have once existed), nor do his traditions take up any considerable percentage of this work. His name is mentioned 20 times in the Mishnah and about 60 times in the Tosefta, and given the fact that the Tosefta is between three to four times longer than the Mishnah, the two figures correspond almost exactly. Nehemiah is also mentioned about 60 times in the midrashei halakhah and is well represented in both tannaitic halakhah and aggadah.
The Talmud attributes to him the grammatical rule that the suffix ה to a noun is equivalent to the prefix ל (Yev. 13b). According to the printed edition of the Talmud, Nehemiah's name is associated with the study of Merkabah mysticism (Shab. 80b), but in the manuscript readings of this passage (Oxford, Vatican 108, Munich 95) Nehemiah is not mentioned. Similarly, the Talmud ascribes to him a statement on the creation, transmitted in the name of his father (Pes. 54a). A tannaitic source ascribes to him the following aggadic saying: "Beloved is suffering. For just as sacrifices bring atonement so does suffering" (Sif. Deut. 32). In a much later aggadic saying he is reported to have said: "A single individual is as important as the whole of creation" (arn1 31, p. 46). According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'an. 4:2, 88a) he was descended from the biblical Nehemiah. He lived in great poverty and on one occasion shared his pottage of lentils with a poor man, who died from eating such scant fare (Ket. 67b). He worked as a potter (tj, bm 6:8, 11a).
J. Bruell, Mevo ha-Mishnah, 1 (1876), 198–200; Frankel, Mishnah (19232), 185f., 222 n. 5, 324; Bacher, Tann; Hyman, Toledot, 924–6; Ḥ. Albeck, Meḥkarim ba-Beraita ve-Tosefta (1944), 63–65, 183; Epstein, Tanna'im, 241f.; A. Oppenheimer, in: Z. Baras, S. Safrai, M. Stern. Y. Tsafrir (eds.), Eretz Israel from the Destruction of the Second Temple to the Moslem Conquest (Heb.) (1982).
[Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]
NEHEMIAH (mid-fifth century bce), or, in Hebrew, Neḥemyah; a governor of Judah in the Persian period, known for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. In the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes I (445 bce), Nehemiah received a commission from the Persian king to return to Judah and take on the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The Book of Nehemiah gives an account of his activity in the first-person style of memoirs. It begins with his reception of distressing news from the homeland while he is in the royal service in Susa. This leads to his petitioning the king for support in repairing the walls and gates of Jerusalem and to his appointment as governor to carry out the task. In spite of opposition from Sanballat, governor of Samaria, and other local authorities of the region, the work is successfully completed. With the walls rebuilt, the city was repopulated with settlers from the countryside.
Nehemiah is credited also with social and religious reforms. He is presented as showing concern for the poor while maintaining a modest administration. In his second term as governor, which is not precisely dated, Nehemiah carried out a series of religious reforms having to do with Temple regulations and provisions for the priests, observance of the Sabbath, and the dissolution of mixed marriages. These reforms emphasize a tradition of religious conservatism and concern for ethnic purity that eventually leads to the Samaritan schism.
Nehemiah 8–9, having to do with the mission of Ezra, does not properly belong to the "memoirs" source and has seriously confused the historical relationship between Ezra and Nehemiah. It seems preferable to view Ezra's activity as subsequent to that of Nehemiah, building on the latter's work of restoration.
Nehemiah is recognized by tradition (Sir. 49:13) and by modern scholarship as largely responsible for restoring Jerusalem to a place of political prominence and semiautonomy with a chance to grow into a city of destiny.
For the historical treatments of Nehemiah, one should compare John Bright's A History of Israel, 3d ed. (Philadelphia, 1981), and Peter R. Ackroyd's Israel under Babylon and Persia (Oxford, 1970). See also the commentary by Jacob M. Myers in Ezra, Nehemiah, vol. 14 of the Anchor Bible (Garden City, N. Y., 1965).
Eskenazi, Tamara Cohn. In an Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah. Atlanta, Ga., 1988.
John Van Seters (1987)