ZERUBBABEL (Heb. זְרֻבָּבֶל; Akk. Zēr Bābili, "scion of Babylon"). Usually recorded as the son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2, 8; 5:2; Neh. 12:1; Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 23), he is mentioned once in a genealogical list as the first son of Pedaiah and the nephew of Shealtiel, the son of exiled King Jehoiachin (i Chron. 3:17–19). This may be the result of a lacuna in the text. Like some of the other Jewish leaders of the period – Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8), Mordecai, and Bilshan (Ezra 2:2 = Neh. 7:7) – he bore a Babylonian name, perhaps because of his contact with the Babylonian court (cf. i Esd. 3–5; Dan. 1:3ff.). He worked in close collaboration with Joshua (Jeshua) son of Jehozadak the high priest as leader of the original caravan of repatriates (Ezra 2:2 = Neh. 7:7; Neh. 12:1) and as builder of the Temple, which frequently bears his name (see *Temple). Just as there is confusion about his genealogy, so is there uncertainty about the chronology of events and personalities involved in the reconstruction of the Temple. When in 520 b.c.e., Tattenai, governor of the Trans-Euphrates, inquired concerning who was responsible for building the Temple, the Jews responded that Cyrus had appointed Sheshbazzar as governor to carry out the task (Ezra 5:14–16). According to another account, however, the work was carried out by Zerubbabel, also entitled "governor" (Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21), and Joshua. The year date of the arrival of the caravan is not given, but it is said to have been in the seventh month (Tishri). The two leaders, in the face of opposition from the neighboring peoples, set up the altar, reinstituted the sacrificial cult, and offered the special sacrifices for Tabernacles. In the second month (Iyyar) of the second year of their arrival, they began the construction of the Temple proper and dedicated the laying of the foundation stone (Ezra 3). The offer on the part of the neighbors to participate in the task was rejected by the two leaders. The former thereupon put forth every effort to bring a halt to the building of the Temple, and work, in fact, did not resume in earnest until 520 (Ezra 4:1–5).
The divine encouragement necessary to bring about resumption of the work was provided by the prophet *Haggai, and a new foundation ceremony was held on Kislev 24 (December 17). On that day the prophet told Zerubbabel that the Lord was about to shake heaven and earth, overturn kingdoms, and make him like a "signet ring" (Haggai 2:18ff.), thereby reversing the prophecy of Jeremiah against Jehoiachin (Jer. 22:24ff.).
Following the lead of Haggai, Zechariah also encouraged the people to rebuild the Temple (Zech. 1:16). He too addressed both leaders, albeit individually, and there is some uncertainty as to the full import of his message. Zerubbabel is mentioned explicitly in only one passage (Zech. 4:6–10), but alluded to in two others (Zech. 3:8; 6:12). In the last two passages mentioned, Joshua is addressed. He is told that the Lord "will raise up for David a righteous Branch," again fulfilling a prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 23:5f.; 33:14ff.), who shall build the Temple, bear royal honor, and rule upon this throne. The (high) priest shall likewise rule and a peaceful relationship shall exist between the two. The first passage (Zech. 4:6–10) elaborates: Zerubbabel shall finish the work on the Temple and topple mountains, "not by might nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts."
These messianic hopes came to naught. Neither Zerubbabel nor Joshua are mentioned by name at the dedication ceremonies of the Temple (Ezra 6:14ff.), nor does Zerubbabel appear further in any official capacity. However, the name of Zerubbabel did not fade from the people's memory. It was early embellished in the apocryphal tale which placed the beginning of his activity in the reign of Darius as one of the king's bodyguards who outdid his companions in a battle of wits and thereby won the right to rebuild the Temple (i Esd. 3:1–5:6; Jos., Ant. 11:31–74). Although even Ezra is absent from Ben-Sira's list of worthies, Zerubbabel is fully praised along with Joshua and Nehemiah (Ecclus. 49:11ff). In the medieval Ḥanukkah hymn Ma'oz Ẓur celebrating Israel's past redeemers, the "end of Babel (Babylon)," is associated with Zerubbabel.
In the Aggadah
Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jehoiachin (pdrk 163). He is identified with *Nehemiah, the name Zerubbabel indicating his Babylonian birth (בבל זרוע; Sanh. 38a). He was born circumcised (arn1, 12) and was designated as one of the select servants of God (arn2, 43, 121). He later served as one of the members of the Great Synagogue (Introd. to Maim. Yad, 2a). He succeeded Daniel in the service of King Darius and occupied a higher position than all the other servants and officials. He was captain of the three who constituted the royal bodyguard. Once when the monarch slumbered, his guards resolved to write down what each considered the mightiest thing in the world. The first wrote down "wine," the second, "the king," while Zerubbabel wrote, "women are the mightiest in the world, but truth prevails over all." After he awakened, the king, preferring the answer of Zerubbabel, offered to grant any request he would make. Zerubbabel asked for nothing for himself, but asked permission of the king to restore Jerusalem, rebuild the sanctuary, and return the holy vessels. Not only did Darius grant these request, but also gave him letters of safe-conduct and conferred numerous privileges upon the Jews who accompanied him to Palestine (Josippon, Hominer ed. 3:16–20).
Like Daniel, Zerubbabel was also vouchsafed a knowledge of the secrets of the future. The archangel Metatron was especially friendly to him. Besides revealing the time at which the Messiah would appear, he also brought about an interview between the Messiah and Zerubbabel (Zerubbabel, ed. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 2 (1938), 54–57). Together with Elijah, Zerubbabel will also explain obscure Torah passages and reveal its mysteries in the time to come (Midrash in Halakhot Gedolot, ed. Hildesheimer, p. 223).
Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (19475), 287, 351–2; 6 (19463), 381, 437–9.