History: From the Destruction to Alexander
FROM THE DESTRUCTION TO ALEXANDERThe Restoration
The destruction of the Temple constituted a double crisis. Not only were the people cast off the land but the Divine Presence departed from Jerusalem (Ezek. 10:19; 11:23). Once the city was bereft of the God of Israel, its Canaanite origins came to the fore (Ezek. 16). The process of restoration (see *Exile, Babylonian) would be a lengthy one that would carry the people along the same route traversed by their ancestors who emerged from Egypt. Like the Exodus from Egypt, the one from Babylonia was depicted in miraculous terms. The Sinaitic theophany was paralleled by the reconstruction of the Temple, which restored the Divine Presence to Jerusalem (cf. Ezra 6:12; 7:15), while the revelation of the laws to Moses had its counterpart in the reading of the Torah and the legislative activity of Ezra. The sanctity of the newly occupied land could only be preserved if the Sabbath was observed, if each member of the nation cared for his brother, and if the men did not take wives from among the pagan peoples. The Restoration was depicted in the terms outlined above in Deutero-Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah. As the Lord revealed Himself by preparing a passage through the Red Sea, so would He reveal Himself by clearing a road through the desert separating Babylon from Jerusalem (Isa. 40:3ff.). Israel would be redeemed from its present as from its former bondage and gathered in from the four corners of the earth (Isa. 43:1ff.). As Israel took spoils from the Egyptians in its earlier Exodus (Ex. 3:21–22; 11:2–3; 12:35–36), so would it now receive the tribute of all the nations (Isa. 60). The miraculous and munificent return described by the prophet is echoed in the historical books. The neighbors of the repatriates from Babylonia "strengthened their hands" with silver and gold vessels, cattle and goods of all sorts (Ezra 1:6). The Persian king Darius contributed toward the construction and sacrificial cult of the Temple (Ezra 5:8ff.) and this policy of support was continued by Artaxerxes i, who together with his seven advisers, also sent contributions (Ezra 7:15ff.). Though nothing is told of the journey of the repatriates who returned shortly after Cyrus' decree, the return of Ezra and his small band was carried out under divine guidance. In his memoirs Ezra writes "I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way; since we had told the king 'The hand of our God is for good upon all that seek Him'…" Fasting and prayer thus secured safe passage (Ezra 8:22ff.). Since the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah are structured so as to base the account of the Restoration on the model of the early stages of Israel's nationhood there is no "complete" account of the history of the period. The source is silent on the 30 years of the reign of Darius after the dedication of the Temple (515–486). A single sentence states that "at the beginning of the reign" of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) i.e., in his accession year, an accusation was written against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 4:6). Egypt had rebelled against Persia on the eve of Darius' death and the rebellion was subdued by Xerxes. It had traditionally been the case that Judah could sustain her rebellion against an imperial power, be it Assyria (Isa. 30–31) or Babylon (Jer. 37:6ff.), only by reliance upon Egypt. Thus it may be that Judah was involved or suspected of being involved in the Egyptian rebellion. The historical source is silent for another period of almost 30 years. In the seventh year of Artaxerxes i (458) Ezra was officially authorized by the king to "investigate" the situation in Judah and in Jerusalem in accordance with the law of God which was in his possession. He was entitled to appoint judges for the Jews beyond the confines of Judah, that is, throughout the satrapy of the Trans-Euphrates ("Beyond the River"). Jews ignorant of the divine law were to be instructed, while those who violated either that law or the law of the king were to be suitably punished whether by death, banishment, fine, or imprisonment (Ezra 7:25–26).
Who was this Ezra and why should Artaxerxes grant him such broad authority in the year 458? In a genealogically conscious era, Ezra's genealogy is one of the most elaborate. He is a priest who traces his line directly back to Aaron through the latter's son and grandson Phinehas son of Eleazar. His immediate ancestor is given as Seraiah whose name is identical with that of the chief priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah (2 Kings 25:18ff.). With the exception of two lacunae, the genealogy is identical with that in i Chronicles 5:29–40. As recorded in the Book of Ezra (7:1–5) it gives the appearance of schematic arrangement (seven names between Aaron and Azariah (absent in Chron.) and seven names between Azariah and Ezra (hypocoristic of Azariah). While the genealogy is silent, perhaps deliberately so, about Ezra's relationship to the executed Seraiah's grandson, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, its schematic selectivity suggests divine determination: "For Ezra had set his mind on investigating the Torah of the Lord in order to teach effectively its statutes and judgments in Israel" (Ezra 7:10). The Hebrew term for "set" is identical with that used to describe the erection of the altar (Ezra 3:3), indicating that Ezra was fulfilling the second major task in the complete restoration of Israel. What were his qualifications for this undertaking? He was a "scribe skilled in the Torah of Moses given by the Lord God of Israel" (Ezra 7:6; cf. 7:11). In its Aramaic formulation his title was "scribe of the Law of the God of Heaven" (Ezra 7:12, 21). The scribe was not only one versed in writing (cf. Ps. 45:2), he was also learned, "a wise man" who transmitted his wisdom (cf. Jer. 8:8; Ahikar, in: Pritchard, Texts, 427). The divine law in which Ezra was proficient was "the Wisdom of his God in his possession" (Ezra 7:25). In their wisdom, scribes were also called upon to advise kings (cf. Ahikar) and fill other governmental posts so that scribe, "secretary," also appears as an official title (ii Sam. 8:17, et al.; Ezra 4:8 et al., Neh. 13:13). Whether in his capacity as scribe Ezra held a post in the Persian government, as some scholars have maintained, is uncertain.
Whatever his status in the Persian Empire, Ezra "the priest and scribe" (Ezra 7:11) claimed that divine favor was responsible for Artaxerxes' giving him everything he requested (Ezra 7:6). The historical reason for the fame Ezra enjoyed may have been the revolt which broke out in Egypt ca. 463/2. It was in the interest of the Persian king at just this juncture to strengthen his hold on the territory bordering on Egypt. The Jewish garrison at *Elephantine in Egypt having remained loyal to Artaxerxes throughout the decade of rebellion in lower Egypt, the king must have felt that he could rely on the Jews in the Trans-Euphrates as well. Their loyalty would be assured if the internal law which they observed received the same absolute sanction as did imperial law (Persian dātā; cf. Esth. 1:19; 8:8; Dan. 6:9) and if the enforcement of both laws was entrusted to a respected Jewish personality such as Ezra. It should be mentioned that scholars are not in agreement as to the date of Ezra's mission, some preferring to see it in the reign of Artaxerxes, the second king of that name, who reigned from 404–359. The seventh year of his reign would accordingly have been 398, and Ezra's mission would likewise have coincided with a rebellion in Egypt. This later revolt included all of Egypt and the garrison at Elephantine acknowledged the ruling Egyptian king Amyrtaeus by June 19, 400. The motive for the privileges granted Ezra are thus the same whether the king is hypothesized as Artaxerxes ii or Artaxerxes i. Were the king in fact Artaxerxes ii, Ezra would have followed Nehemiah, whose arrival in Jerusalem, because of a correlation with a date in the Elephantine papyrus (cf. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri 30:18, 30 with Neh. 12:22–23), is fixed to 444 (cf. Neh. 2:1). Some scholars, rather than shifting Ezra to the year seven of the reign of Artaxerxes ii, maintain that the king was Artaxerxes i and emend the year date to 27, 32, (33), or 37, thus placing Ezra's arrival either in 438 (during Nehemiah's first mission), 432 (433) (after Nehemiah's first mission), or 428 (during Nehemiah's second mission). The arguments for the shifting of the king and the emendation of the date are numerous but most rest on specious considerations and dubious textual interpretation. The return under Ezra was a replica in miniature of that under Zerubbabel. Stress was laid on the unity of Israel. Ezra's caravan contained members of the major groups of society. Included were two priestly families, Hattush of the Davidic line and 12 lay families numbering together with Ezra, 1,500. Special efforts were taken to enlist Levites, of whom 38 were recruited, and Temple servants, who numbered 220 (Ezra 8:1–20). Concern for Temple cult and personnel played a primary role. Contributions of gold, silver, and vessels from the king and his advisers and from Jews remaining in Babylonia were duly recorded, carefully transported, and officially deposited in the Temple (Ezra 7:15–16; 8:24–34). All the Temple officials from priest to lowly servant were to be exempt from taxation by the Persian government (Ezra 7:24). Just as the Temple dedication was celebrated by the sacrifice of 12 he-goats as sin offerings, to atone for the whole house of Israel (Ezra 6:17), so the arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem was marked by the sacrifice of 12 bulls as burnt offerings and 12 he-goats as sin offerings (Ezra 8:35–36). The numbers of the other sacrifices were typological multiples – 96 rams, a multiple of 12 (cf. Num. 7:87–88), and 77 lambs, a multiple of seven, the number offered on all the festivals, the New Moon, the New Year, and the Day of Atonement (Num. 28–29).
DISSOLUTION OF MIXED MARRIAGES
Ezra set out from Babylon on the first of Nisan (Ezra 7:9), departed from a place called Ahava on the 12th of Nisan (Ezra 8:31), and arrived in Jerusalem on the first of Av some five months later (Ezra 7:8). On the 20th of Kislev, in the middle of the winter and in pouring rain, Ezra convened an assembly in Jerusalem (Ezra 10:9ff.) with the express purpose of dissolving the many mixed marriages, prevalent in all levels of society, which were called to his attention shortly after his arrival.
Interestingly there is no mention of Jewish women married to foreign men. The whole situation revolves around foreign wives. There is not even any effort made to convert them to Judaism. Israel is the "holy seed" and must not become contaminated by the "abominations" of the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, and Egyptians. Mixed marriages would be "sacrilege" against the holy. At the core of this view of the situation lies not only a midrashic interpretation of the various laws in the Torah regarding intermarriage (Ex. 34:11ff.; Deut. 7:1ff.; 23:4ff.) but the notion that the land, being resettled as in the days of the conquest, was once more susceptible to the taint of its aboriginal impurity (cf. Ezra 9–10 with Deut. 7–9). The procedure which culminated in that fateful assembly on 20 Kislev, 458, bore distinct resemblance to the ceremonies surrounding the condemnation of Achan, who committed sacrilege through misappropriation of the devoted things (cf. Ezra 9:1–10:8 with Josh. 7; Deut. 7:2, 26).
The mourning and confession of Ezra upon learning of the mixed marriages and the subsequent ceremony on that rainy day established the mood appropriate to the dissolution of the mixed marriages. However, the act itself was preceded by three months of work, from the first of Tevet to the first of Nisan, which consisted of investigating and recording the names, according to their families, of each male who had married a foreign wife. The list is headed by four members of the high-priestly family who agreed to put away their foreign wives and offered a ram as a guilt offering (Ezra 10:9–19), the sacrifice prescribed for one who unknowingly committed sacrilege against a sacred object (Lev. 5:14ff.). The number of lay families as recorded in the Masoretic Text was ten but a Septuagint reading in Ezra (10:38) yields the traditional 12. The latter figure indicates that, although the recorded instances (111 or 113) were few, relative to the size of the population, the desecration affected "all Israel." Strangely, the outcome of this enterprise is uncertain. The concluding verse to the whole account in the Masoretic Text is obscure and noncommittal, but the apocryphal Book of Esdras is decisive in asserting that the men all sent away their foreign wives together with their children (i Esd. 9:36).
FORTIFICATION OF JERUSALEM
Similarly uncertain are the circumstances surrounding the next step attempted in the Restoration of the people to its land. The source for the event is an Aramaic correspondence between officials in Samaria and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:8–23). The letters are not dated and the account is incorporated into Ezra according to a topical arrangement – setbacks first (Ezra 4), successes, last (Ezra 5–6) – rather than a chronological one (i.e., Ezra 4:6–23 preceding Neh. 1). The Samarian officials were the chancellor Rehum and the scribe Shimshai. They write in the name of the local bureaucracy as well as of the settlers from Erech, Babylon, Susa, and elsewhere, introduced into the area by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (669–27), possibly around 642. The letter informs Artaxerxes i that the Jews who recently arrived (along with Ezra?) were busily fortifying Jerusalem. It goes on to say that the city was notoriously rebellious and that, if the fortifications were to be completed, the people would merely not pay royal taxes. The king reported back to his officials that he had duly investigated the reputation of Jerusalem and discovered that it had been a rebellious city as charged. He therefore ordered the Samarian officials to proceed to Jerusalem and put a halt to the fortifications. They acted with dispatch and by force of arms.
The desire of the Jews to refortify Jerusalem was natural. Jeremiah had prophesied that "the city would be rebuilt upon its mound" (Jer. 30:18), and, according to Deutero-Isaiah, Cyrus himself would carry out the task (Isa. 44:28). Cyrus apparently never issued such orders and hopes for an early Davidic restoration ceased with Zerubbabel's inexplicable disappearance from the scene. The broad powers given to Ezra may have encouraged the Jews to believe that the time was ripe to rebuild Jerusalem. Perhaps, too, the struggle for independence pursued by Egypt, now in alliance with Athens, spurred on Judah. Whatever the reason, the plan miscarried. The northern rival Samaria prevailed and Judah was put to shame. Word of the situation eventually reached Nehemiah, the king's cup-bearer in Susa. His immediate reaction was similar to that of Ezra upon learning of the mixed marriages – fasting and confession of guilt (Neh. 1). However, Nehemiah was a decisive man of action. Praying to God for assistance, he sought an appropriate moment to ask leave of the king to travel to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem. Leave was granted, and preparations for the journey and the task to be undertaken were carefully laid. Nehemiah requested, and received, letters of safe conduct and a military escort – unlike Ezra, who relied on divine assistance alone – along with an authorization to the keeper of the king's forest for timber for a Temple citadel, his own residence, as well as for the wall of the city (Neh. 2:1–9).
The account of Nehemiah's activity is reported in his own memoirs. Like Ezra, Nehemiah ascribed his success with the king to the hand of God (Neh. 2:8). Historically it is not clear what prompted Artaxerxes i to contradict himself in 445 and allow the reconstruction of the walls he had earlier ordered destroyed. Perhaps the high position and forceful personality of Nehemiah were responsible. Nehemiah noted that the queen was present when he put forth his request. Certainly he showed skill in formulating his petition. Like Haman who sought from Ahasuerus destruction of "a certain people" who "do not keep the king's laws" (Esth. 3:8), without mentioning the Jews by name, so Nehemiah sought permission from Artaxerxes to rebuild "the city of the graves of my fathers" (Neh. 2:5), not specifying Jerusalem. Even if the king were fully aware that the permission being granted Nehemiah reversed an earlier decision of his, he may have felt that, if his trusted servant were in charge of the project, fear of rebellion was minimal. Accordingly, Nehemiah was appointed governor of Judah, a post he held from 445 until 433 (Neh. 5:14) and then again for an unspecified period after returning to the court at Susa (Neh. 13:6–7). This appointment may also have been an attempt to strengthen Persian control in the area in the wake of the recent rebellion of Megabyzus, satrap of the Trans-Euphrates.
REBUILDING OF THE WALL OF JERUSALEM
In his memoirs, Nehemiah described his task of building the wall as having gone through seven stages, each one punctuated by opposition on the part of Judah's neighbors. These were Sanballat (I) the Horonite, governor of Samaria (cf. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri 30:29), Tobiah of Transjordan, and Geshem (Gashmu) king of Kedar (cf. Tell el-Maskhuteh inscription). Both Sanballat and Tobiah were "Jewish," i.e., worshipers of the God of Israel, as attested either by their own names or those of their descendants (cf. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri 30:29; Aramaic papyri from Wadi Daliyeh), who inherited their official posts. Both were allied by marriage to prominent families in Judah (Neh. 6:17ff.; 13:28). For a time Tobiah enjoyed a chamber in the Jerusalem Temple (Neh. 13:4ff.). The factors that allowed the high priest Eliashib to join Nehemiah in reconstructing the wall in the teeth of Sanballat's opposition yet permitted Eliashib's grandson to marry a daughter of Sanballat to Nehemiah's great annoyance (Neh. 13:28) are unknown. Suffice it to say that all three foreigners viewed Nehemiah as a personal enemy. The feeling was reciprocated. He never referred to Sanballat as "governor," denigrated Tobiah by referring to him as the "Ammonite servant" (Neh. 2:10), and called Geshem simply "the Arabian."
The first stage of Nehemiah's activity was his journey to Jerusalem. His arrival greatly displeased Sanballat and Tobiah because "someone had come to seek the welfare of the Israelites" (Neh. 2:10). In stealth and with circumspection Nehemiah conducted a nocturnal inspection of the wall and then inspired the leaders to agree to reconstruction by informing them of the divine and royal favor he enjoyed. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem mocked and derided the decision of this second stage of Nehemiah's activity, but he replied with an affirmation of divine assistance and told them decisively, and apparently not gratuitously, "you have no share, right, or memorial in Jerusalem" (Neh. 2:11–20). The policy of exclusion initiated by Zerubbabel (Ezra 4:2–3) and carried through by Ezra (Ezra 9–10) was now being vigorously pursued by Nehemiah.
The third stage in Nehemiah's activity constituted the actual building (Neh. 3). Jeremiah had prophesied, "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel … to the Horse Gate … sacred to the Lord" (Jer. 31:38ff.). The wall was divided into some 40 sections, and groups from all classes of the people were assigned to work on each section. The first section extended from the Sheep Gate to the Tower of Hananel and was restored by the high priest Eliashib (Neh. 3:1). One of the last sections constructed was the Horse Gate where, too, priests were at work (Neh. 3:28). In addition to providing a detailed description of the wall, the list is valuable for some of the random information it supplies, e.g., it indicates the presence of guilds in Jerusalem such as the goldsmiths', the ointment mixers', and the merchants' guild (Neh. 3:8, 31). When Sanballat and Tobiah learned that construction had begun in earnest they became angry and expressed themselves in mockery, "Can they revive the stones from the dust heap? From burned stones? Should a fox jump up, he would demolish their stone wall." Nehemiah cursed them for their taunts as the work proceeded apace until the wall reached half its intended height (Neh. 3:33–38). The reaction of Sanballat and Tobiah, the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites to this fourth stage of the reconstruction was to prepare armed intervention. Word of the plan reached Nehemiah through the Jews dwelling in those districts, and he not only placed guards at vulnerable spots along the wall but armed the builders. He encouraged the workers by assuring them that should an attack come, "our God will fight for us" (Neh. 4).
This fifth stage of activity almost brought the work to its completion. It was now threatened, however, by internal discontent. Jews were not behaving like "brothers." Short of food to eat and money for taxes, many were forced to take costly loans, mortgage their fields, and sell their children into slavery. Even Nehemiah and his servants were guilty of extorting heavy interest and taking pledges. Demanding interest from a brother in need was incompatible with fear of the Lord (Neh. 5:9; cf. Lev. 25:36) and would not be conducive to God's blessing on the newly occupied land (cf. Deut. 23:20–21). If the building of the wall were to be brought to successful completion, all debts had to be canceled and pledges returned. Nehemiah convened an assembly of the people and forced his reform through (Neh. 5).
Unable to thwart the building itself, Sanballat and Geshem sought to lure Nehemiah into a private conference where presumably his life would be threatened. They circulated the rumor that he was planning a rebellion and appointing prophets to acclaim him king of Judah. They themselves hired Noadiah the prophetess to frighten him and the prophet Shemaiah son of Delaiah to entice him into seeking refuge in the Temple. Tobiah's allies in Judah likewise spoke to Nehemiah on behalf of Tobiah. The reaction of Nehemiah's enemies to this stage availed as little as the earlier ones. After 52 days of strenuous labor, the wall was finished on 25 Elul, 445. Josephus maintained that the labor took two years and four months (Ant. 11:179). There remained nothing for the "enemies" to do but appear downcast and acknowledge God's contribution to the project (Neh. 6), and so the seventh and final stage of Nehemiah's building activity was brought to a successful conclusion. Guards of the city were appointed and Nehemiah's God-fearing brother, Hanani(ah), was put in charge of the citadel (Neh. 7:1–3).
RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION AND DEDICATION OF THE TEMPLE
It was now the 14th year since the arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem and nothing had yet been said of his having implemented the instruction to teach the Torah (Ezra 7:25). No doubt he had been engaged in this project over the years, gathering around himself a band of teachers, primarily levites, able to expound the Torah and render it into the Aramaic vernacular. The timing was now right for a grand ceremony patterned on that of Zerubbabel and the first repatriates. To emphasize the imitation of the earlier period, the editor of the historical source (Ezra-Nehemiah) even reproduced verbatim the original list of repatriates (Ezra 2; Neh. 7:6–72). Although fortification of Jerusalem enhanced the status of Judah and removed its shame, Davidic kingship had not been restored. Foreign rulers still occupied the land. The gains already achieved could only be maintained if the people observed the Torah.
On the first of Tishri after their return, Zerubbabel and the Jews with him had reestablished the Temple altar to offer burnt offerings "as written in the Torah of Moses the man of God" (Ezra 3:1–7). Now on the first of Tishri after the completion of the wall the people called upon Ezra to publicly read from the "book of the Torah of Moses which the Lord prescribed for Israel" (Neh. 8:1). The description of the ceremony, which began at sunrise, makes it clear that Ezra was prepared for the occasion. A special wooden podium was prepared, and six men stood on his right and seven on his left, altogether 14. Upon opening the Torah, Ezra blessed God and the people responded with "Amen," and prostrated themselves. Ezra then read until noon and 13 levites expounded the significance of the text and perhaps translated it into Aramaic. The people interrupted the reading with crying, and Ezra and Nehemiah informed them that the day was holy, one of rejoicing, feasting, and giving gifts to the poor. Similarly, when the Temple foundations had been laid, the elders who remembered the original Temple broke out in tears, while others rejoiced (Ezra 3:12).
After the original repatriates had dedicated the altar on the first of Tishri, they celebrated the seven days of Sukkot by offering the sacrifices, "according to number and prescription." This would bring the number of bulls to 70 (Num. 29:12–32), suggesting the 70 members of Jacob's family (Gen. 46:27: Ex. 1:5) and indicating the unity of Israel. The Jews under Ezra and Nehemiah gathered on the second of Tishri to continue studying the Torah and they discovered "written in the Torah which the Lord prescribed through Moses that the Israelites should dwell in booths on the festival of the seventh month" (Neh. 8:14). And so "the whole congregation which had returned from the captivity" constructed booths on their roofs, in their courtyards, in the Temple courtyards, and in public squares. Such an observance had not been held since the days of Joshua, i.e., the time of the conquest. The Torah was read daily throughout the festival (Neh. 8:13–18). Is it coincidental that these Torah-reading ceremonies fell in the 14th year? (Ezra arrived in the seventh year of Artaxerxes i and Nehemiah in the 20th year.) Might this have been related to the Deuteronomic injunction to publicly read the Torah every seventh year, the year of release, at Sukkot time with the idea of instructing future generations "as long as they live in the land which you are about … to occupy" (Deut. 31:10ff.)?
The imagery of the booth (sukkah) recurs in the Bible with overtones of redemption and providence. The levitical injunction to dwell in booths is explained by the notion that God settled the Israelites in booths (sukkot: cf. also Ex. 12:37) when He delivered them from Egypt (Lev. 23:43). Subsequently God's own booth or dwelling was in Jerusalem. There He protected His people (Ps. 76). After God's judgment of the wicked city the purified remnant will again be protected by a booth (Isa. 4). The activity of Nehemiah in rebuilding Jerusalem's walls and repairing its breaches (cf. Neh. 1:3; 2:5, 17; 3:35) was doubtless believed to fulfill the prophecy of Amos that God would "raise up the fallen booth of David" (Amos 9:11). The final deliverance – complete independence – would be celebrated annually when the nations came to Jerusalem to worship the Lord on the occasion of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16).
To hasten that day, the Jews, now reconstituted on their soil, their Temple reconstructed, and the city fortified, concluded on the 24th of Tishri a solemn agreement to "follow the law of God which had been transmitted through Moses the servant of God." The covenant ceremony was preceded by purification, i.e., separation from the foreigners, fasting, sackcloth, and confession, and concluded with the signature of a written document by Nehemiah, 21 priestly families, 17 levites and 44 lay families (Neh. 9:1–10:30). In addition to having sworn to observe the written Torah, the people undertook to observe some 18 decrees not explicitly mentioned in the Torah but derived from it through the procedure of midrash halakhah, "legal interpretation," developed by Ezra and his associates. The earlier celebration of Sukkot, building booths out of the various species "as written" (Neh. 8:15; cf. Lev. 23:40) is an example of such interpretation and of one subsequently abandoned. The decrees, now recorded, centered on the prohibition of mixed marriage, the observance of the Sabbath and the seventh year, and provisions designed to show that the people would "not neglect the House of … God" (Neh. 10:31–40).
Nehemiah had raised up Jerusalem's stones from the dust (Neh. 3:34) in answer to the call of Deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 52:2). The agreement not to intermarry (Neh. 9:2, 10, 29, 31) was necessary for the fulfillment of the promise that "the uncircumcised and the unclean" shall no more come into the "holy city" (Isa. 52:1). Jeremiah had promised that once more people would proclaim, "the Lord bless you … O holy hill" and that "Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together" (Jer. 31:22–23). The penultimate task of Nehemiah was thus the populating of the now secure and spacious "holy city." The leaders already lived there and the rest of the people cast lots to bring 10% of Judah's population into the capital. The partial list of towns in which the rest of the people were settled indicates that the southernmost town was Beer-Sheba and the northernmost Bethel. The western border extended to Ono, while the list of the first repatriates and the list of builders indicated that to the east the province of Judah included Jericho (Ezra 2:34; Neh. 7:36, 3:2, 7:4; 11:1–36).
The final ceremony in which Nehemiah participated was the dedication of the walls. The people, the gates, and the wall were purified. Two musical processions were organized to march around the city in opposite directions on the top of the wall and meet in the Temple for the sacrificial service. The procession going to the right was led by Ezra; the one to the left included Nehemiah. The circumambulation is reminiscent of certain Psalms: "His holy mountain … is the joy of all the earth … walk about Zion; go round about her" (Ps. 48:2, 13).
Nehemiah remained in Jerusalem for another dozen years before returning to Susa. Virtually nothing is known of his rule during this period other than his own statement that he ruled with a lighter hand than his predecessors and did not claim the governor's food allowance from the local populace. This in spite of the fact that he supported a retinue of 150 and regularly entertained foreign visitors. The refrain in Nehemiah's memoirs runs "Remember to my credit, O my God, all that i did on behalf of this people" (Neh. 5:19; 13:14, 22, 31). God's attention is similarly drawn to his opponents (Ezra 6:14), and these did not disappear after his main task was completed. During Nehemiah's absence, Tobiah was assigned a chamber in the Temple by Eliashib the priest, and the people failed to pay the levites their allotments, so that they left Jerusalem and retired to their fields. Upon his return, Nehemiah expelled Tobiah and enforced payment of the tithe (Neh. 13:4–14).
Even more serious than neglect of the levitical dues were the outright violations of the first two decrees in the solemn agreement sworn to earlier – work and commerce on the Sabbath and marriage to Ashdodite, Ammonite, and Moabite women. Nehemiah rebuked the leaders for the Sabbath desecration in terms reminiscent of Jeremiah who had said, "If … you keep the Sabbath day holy … this city shall be inhabited forever …. If you did not listen … fire … shall devour … Jerusalem" (Jer. 17:24–27). He then ordained that the gates of the city be shut for the Sabbath and the levites stand guard against local and foreign traders. The fate of Solomon's kingdom was cited against the men who took foreign wives, and Nehemiah cursed all, struck some and pulled out their hair. The grandson of the high priest Eliashib, who was married to a daughter of Sanballat, was "chased away." Successful implementation of the other cultic decrees was assured (Neh. 13:14–31).
Since kingship was not to be restored until the advent of the Hasmoneans 300 years later, Judah continued to exist as a theocracy – a province ruled by God's law with a civil head in the person of the governor appointed by the Persian king and a religious head in the person of the high priest of the line of Zadok. In the fourth century there appear coins and seal impressions bearing the Aramaic inscription yhd Yahud = Judea. With one or two notable exceptions, our information for the remaining 100 years of Persian rule dries up. It is possible that Nehemiah's brother Hananiah succeeded him as governor (cf. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri 21). In the last decade of the fifth century the governor was one who bore the Persian name Bagohi (Cowley, 30/31). The high priest Johanan was challenged by his brother Jeshua and Johanan murdered him. A stiff penalty was thereupon placed on the community by the strategos of Artaxerxes ii who also bore the name Bagohi (Jos., Ant., 11:298–301). One incident that has come down through the Aramaic papyri relates that Bagohi joined the sons of Sanballat, Delaiah, and Shelemiah, in responding favorably to the request of the Elephantine Jewish community for intercession with the Persian ruler in Egypt for help in the reconstruction of their temple (Cowley, Aramaic Papyri 30–32). The attraction-repulsion between Samaria and Judah of the days of Nehemiah repeated itself on the eve of Alexander's conquest. Nikaso, daughter of Sanballat iii, was married to Manasseh, brother of the high priest Jaddua. Jerusalem authorities objected to the marriage and asked Manasseh to choose between his wife and the priesthood. He thereupon accepted the offer of Sanballat to be high priest in the temple to be erected on Mt. Gerizim and "governor of all the places" under Sanballat's control. Many Jewish priests followed him to Samaria (Jos., Ant., 11:306–12). The Samaritan schism thereupon became final.