Ezra and Nehemiah in the Light of the Texts from Persepolis- by Uwe Rosenkranz

Ezra and Nehemiah in the Light of the Texts from Persepolis


Between the years of 1931 and 1939 a major excavation of Persepolis, one of the capitals of the Achaemenid empire, was undertaken by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. During the course of these excavations, many discoveries of texts were made, of which three are of particular concern to us here. The first and largest group to be unearthed was found initially by accident during the third season (1933), when E. E. Herzfeld was still leader of the excavation. “When leveling debris for the construction of a road, Herzfeld discovered great numbers of cuneiform tablets in the northeastern remnants of the Terrace fortification.” These “remnants” proved to have been a bastion on the northern edge of the terrace, the tablets being located in its southeastern portion. In 1935, when E. F. Schmidt had succeeded Herzfeld as director, work was begun on the Treasury, and here in 1936 a further, though much smaller, group of tablets was found in Room 33. Finally, principally in Hall 38 of the Treasury, a number of (probably) ritual objects, such as pestles, mortars and plates, were discovered. Made of a hard green stone known as (impure) chert, and usually highly polished, many of these objects were found to have Aramaic inscriptions written on them. Although the three groups of texts, and especially the fortification and treasury tablets, share a number of points in common, it is important to distinguish carefully their individual characteristics. Most obviously distinctive is the small group of about 200 texts in Aramaic (not all legible). Cameron was the first to study these texts, and he came to the conclusion that they referred to the delivery of the objects on which they were written at Persepolis. Bowman, however, to whom was entrusted the publication of the material, rejected this conclusion in favor of the view that they described the objects’ use in the religious haoma ceremony. Subsequent study has vindicated Cameron’s basic approach, so that although several differences of opinion, to say nothing of a number of obscurities, remain in the realm of detail, the general approach that should be taken to these texts is now agreed. For instance, instead of Bowman’s translation of text no. 18: בסרך בירתא ליד מתרך סגנא 1) In the ritual of the fortress, beside Mithraka the segan, בגפשת / עבד סחר זנה רב/ 2) I Bago-paušta used this plate, a large one, [ליד ב] גפת גנזברא קדם מזדדת 3) [beside Ba]ga-pāta the treasurer (and) before Mazda-data אפגנזברא אשכר שנתי /// /// /// 4) the sub-treasurer. ’škr of year 19 we should probably translate along the lines: 1) In the fortress of Sāruka, (which is) under the authority of Mithraka the prefect, 2) I Bago-paušta handed over this plate, a large one, 3) under the authority of/to (or ‘made for’) Baga-pāta the treasurer in the presence of Mazda-dāta 4) the sub-treasurer (as) tribute/a gift of year 19. The texts are dated to the years 479/78–436/35 B.C. or perhaps a little later, during the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes I, so that they overlap with the work of Ezra and Nehemiah on a traditional dating. By far the largest group of texts, of which over two thousand have been published to date, are the so-called fortification tablets, which date from the earlier period of 509–494 B.C. Being written in Elamite, they are by no means perfectly understood, but the number of them, together with the degree of overlap between one text and another, means that there is no doubt about the general situation. For the most part they record receipts or payments in kind for a variety of purposes. Their discovery in the ‘fortifications’ of Persepolis is an explicable accident of history which has no bearing on the fact that they give us a direct insight into various aspects of administration at one of the Achaemenid capital cities. The situation with regard to the treasury tablets is not dissimilar. Published in a variety of works by G. G. Cameron, they date from 492–458 B.C. The chief difference from the fortification tablets is that payments are now made in cash rather than in kind. So far as I can tell, this wealth of material has largely been ignored by biblical scholars, and even occasional references that may be found in commentaries hardly do justice to their potential. In what follows I cannot, of course, attempt fully to remedy this situation. The most I can set out to achieve is to draw attention to the relevance and scope of this material, in the hope that others with the necessary linguistic skills may be able later to refine what will, I fear, be seen in retrospect as a very crude comparison. Towards the conclusion of my 1987 Tyndale Biblical Archaeology Lecture, I made a start on this comparison by suggesting six ways in which the Persepolis material could help forward our understanding of Neh 5:14–19. I shall not repeat that discussion here, but will provide rather an introduction to three more general topics—language, religion, and travel—while emphasizing once more that this is far from an exhaustive survey. 1) Language We may begin by noting, then, that despite the geographical distance which separates Arachosia from Judah, there are several points of contact between the language of the Aramaic texts from Persepolis and that of Ezra and Nehemiah. This is due, of course, to the fact that both reflect the current language of Persian administration, and to that extent little is added to what was already known or strongly surmised from other sources. Thus, for instance, we have the regular opening of the texts with b + place name + byrt’, “in the fortress of X,” to set alongside be’aẖmeta’ bîrta’ of Ezra 6:22 and the Hebrew bešûšan habbîra of Neh 1:1; the official title gnzbr’, “the treasurer,” to compare with Hebrew haggizbār at Ezra 1:8 and the Aramaic plural gizzabrayyā’ at Ezra 7:21; the use of the anarthrous kl in the summary of a list, which may help explain the unusual Hebrew kol-kēlîm at Ezra 1:11; and the use of PN + šmh (literally, “his name”) to mean “a man named PN,” exactly like šēšbas̱s̱ar šemēh at Ezra 5:14. Although we should not, therefore, expect any major new advance of understanding in this area, there are nevertheless a few matters, of which we will here consider three examples, concerning which our texts can add clarification. To take first the idiom just referred to, Clines has observed that it “is found regularly in contemporary papyri in reference to slaves,” from which he concludes that “the possibility must be considered that he (Sheshbazzar) was a high-ranking Babylonian official of slave status.”26 Hinz, however, has made out a strong case for the suggestion that those so designated in the Persepolis texts were wealthy nobles in the area of the three named fortresses who regarded it as a privilege to supply the vessels needed for the periodic festival at Persepolis. If he is right, then, of course, no deductions can be drawn from the use of this idiom about the social status of the individuals concerned.28 We might surmise that it was used rather in cases where the individual was unknown personally to the recipient of the document, for in our texts it is striking that it is only used in connection with the donors of the vessels, whose names are hardly ever repeated, but never in connection with the various officials, whose names recur frequently and who would have been known to others in the state bureaucracy. This would also, of course, readily explain its use with slaves—and with Sheshbazzar in the context presupposed by Ezra 5:14. Second, light can be shed from these texts on the troublesome ’eben gelāl referred to in connection with the building of the temple at Ezra 5:8 and 6:4, and which has generally been translated into English by “large stones” or the like. A number of other translations have been proposed, however, among which we may notice most recently the suggestion that the reference is to cobble or rubble fill in connection with what is known as pier-and-rubble construction.31 In something like a quarter of the Aramaic texts from Persepolis, the objects described are said to be zy gll, which Bowman translates “of stone.” In some cases, a further modifier is added, varying from one text to another. Sometimes an adjective is used, and on other occasions another noun joined by zy. The meaning of these words is uncertain, but the suggestion that the first group refers to something like coloring or patterning and the second to the type of stone seems reasonable. On the basis of this material, together with the evidence collected concerning Akkadian galālu for the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, Bowman wrote an article in 1965 arguing, inter alia, that (i) a distinction should be drawn between galālu (and some later Aramaic uses of gll) meaning “pebble,” “cobble,” and the many passages in Akkadian of the Persian period where such a meaning is inappropriate; he reckoned Ezra 5:8 and 6:4 among the latter; (ii) because of the variety of objects described by gll (including stelae, pillars, window frames and dishes), gll cannot refer to either the shape or type of stone: it “should be translated simply as ‘stone,’ without further specification” (67); (iii) the use of ’bn should be regarded as a determinative; whether or not gll once had a more specific meaning, by the time of Ezra, with or without the determinative ’bn, it simply meant “stone.” Although Bowman’s article is a helpful collection of material and is certainly moving in the right direction, its conclusion nevertheless raises two particular difficulties. First, Aramaic is not Akkadian, and to speak of ’eben as “a determinative” is inappropriate. It is simply not a usage that would have been recognized by Aramaic speaking Jews in Judah. Whatever its history, the phrase must have meant something more to them than just “stone,” for which ’eben alone would have sufficed. Secondly, Delaunay has argued that “stone” is also inappropriate for gll in the Persepolis texts on the ground that it would be superfluous, and even absurd, so to qualify certain vessels when in fact they are all made of stone in any case. (It should be remembered, however, that the Persians were obsessed with bureaucratic pedantry, so that Delaunay’s objection may not be so strong as at first appears.) Delaunay thus returns to a proposal of Herzfeld that, in accordance with the root meaning of gll, the reference is to turning or polishing, and so work that might attract extra remuneration. This suggestion seems to fit the varied uses of both gll and galālu, and one may well imagine how it could come to be used without the pedantically correct use of ’eben, “stone,” with it; compare, for instance, how we regularly speak of “hardback” and “paperback” without thereby implying that either is the exact equivalent of “book.” Bowman seems to have fallen into the trap of asserting that “all gll is ’bn, therefore all ’bn is gll.” Thus “dressed/hewn/polished stone” seems appropriate for the Biblical occurrences. A final line of support for this understanding may come from an Aramaic gloss on one of the fortification tablets. PFT 1587 is translated by Hallock, “185 (BAR of) grain, supplied by Hatarbanus, Ramakka received. It was taken (to) Persepolis (for) rations of makers of stone (sculptures). Second month, … th year.” The Aramaic gloss reads rmk ybl prs ptp lnqry gll, and is translated (apparently by Bowman; cf. PFT p. 82) “Ramakka brought (it to) Persepolis, (for) rations of diggers of stone.” The Elamite text, however, as Hallock’s bracketed explanation suggests, implies something more than just quarrymen, for which other terms are used (cf. PTT 9); the word in question translated “makers” is elsewhere used with such other finished products as wine and oil. The Aramaic translation nqr can reasonably fit with this, for although in all the cognate languages the root can have the meaning “to quarry, bore,” it is also used, both in Aramaic and Akkadian, for carving stone or the like. Indeed, when it is thought by Bowman to occur in a very damaged text on one of his mortars (no. 160), he translates “chiseled(?),” and comments, “The word nqwr may be from the root nqr meaning ‘to chisel,’ ‘to shape stones by chiseling,’ ‘to whet a millstone.’ ” It may be suggested that here again the evidence is best explained if gll means not just “stone,” but stone that has been worked in some particular manner. A final area where our texts may help towards a better understanding of the vocabulary of Ezra and Nehemiah derives, strangely enough, not from the Aramaic texts at all, but the Elamite. Not infrequently in the records of payments in kind to some individual, there is reference also to what Hallock translates as his “boys” (puhu); for instance, we are told concerning Parnaka, a well-known senior official, that “Daily (by) Parnaka together with his boys 48 BAR is received. (By) Parnaka himself 18 BAR is received. (By) his 300 boys 1 QA each is received.” There is a good deal of evidence, however, that “boy” is a reference to status rather than age. For instance, though rations vary, theirs are often as much as an adult male, they receive rations of wine, they do “men’s” work, and occasionally are even referred to in the same text as “men” (ruh). It thus looks as though puhu has a similar semantic range as Hebrew na’ar in Nehemiah 4 and 5 (and 13:19; perhaps also at 6:5), where the ne‘ārîm are clearly a group who owe particular and personal loyalty to Nehemiah (or whoever). And since it is clear from the Persepolis texts that their rations or salary were a designated fraction of their master’s, we may perhaps understand better why, after complaining about the heavy burdens that his predecessors as governor had laid upon the people in terms of both cash and kind, Nehemiah adds, “Even their ne‘ārîm lorded it over the people” (Neh 5:15). 2) Support of local cults At Ezra 6:9–10 and 7:17–20 we are told that Darius I, and later Artaxerxes I, gave instructions that material support should be given by the empire for the regular sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple. Earlier skepticism about the likelihood of such support was countered most effectively by de Vaux, who was able to adduce several examples of Achaemenid concern for the continuation of local cults, no doubt partly in order that they might be able effectively to pray for “the life of the king and his sons” (Ezra 6:10; cf. Jer 29:7; AP 30:25–26; and the Cyrus Cylinder, ANET 316), and today most commentators accept that there is little difficulty in principle with the biblical statement. The Persepolis fortification tablets lend strong support to this conclusion and illuminate some of the practicalities involved. PFT 303, 336–77 and 2029–30 record delivery of various goods for use in the service of a number of different named and unnamed gods; for example, “7 (BAR of) grain, supplied by Bakamira, Anbaduš received, and utilized (it) for (the god) Humban. 22nd year” (PFT 340). Within the region covered by these texts, the following are some of the gods mentioned: Ahuramazda, Humban, Mišduši, Mithra, Šimut, Pirdakamiya, Turma, Mariraš, Narišanka and Adad. Here we have Persian, Elamite and Babylonian gods all being honored by their separate devotees within a circumscribed area, and all being supported equally by funds from the imperial treasury.46 Viewed in this light, the addition of another god to whatever list may have been supported by the treasury of “Beyond the River,” specifying the quantities to be supplied, need have surprised nobody. The commodities listed as being supplied for the gods are grain, wine, flour, beer and tarmu grain, which at first sight overlaps only very partially with the biblical lists. Quite apart from the fact that naturally the needs of the individual cults concerned will have had to be considered, there are other reasons why this dissimilarity need not worry us unduly; to appreciate this, however, each piece of evidence needs to be considered in its chronological and religious context. First in time comes Darius’s order that “whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them …” (Ezra 6:9). As noted, there is no direct parallel for this, because it is so much earlier than our other sources, but in principle it is not unreasonable in the light of what we have already seen. Second come the fortification tablets, and here it is of interest to observe that the grain rations could quite openly be used for the purchase of sheep for sacrifice. For instance: 80 (BAR of) grain, supplied by Mamannuwiš, Ururu the priest received and delivered, and in its stead he received 8 sheep, and utilized (them) for the gods. 2 sheep for (the god) Adad, 2 sheep for the shrine (?), 2 sheep for (the place) Tikrakkaš, 2 sheep for (the place) Hapidanuš, total 8 yearling sheep, were issued (at) the granary (?) (PFT 352; cf. 362–64 and 2030). A possible reason for this cumbersome procedure is suggested by Hinz, who sees in it a somewhat artificial means whereby a Zoroastrian, who of course could not accept animal sacrifice in any shape,48 was nevertheless able to support a cult in which such sacrifice was normal. The date at which, if at all, or to what extent, the Achaemenids embraced Zoroastrianism, is a highly contentious issue, but a move in that direction between the early years of Darius I and the period of the fortification tablets is not unreasonable, and could explain the difference between them and Ezra 6. Alternatively, grain may simply have been used as the basic unit of currency in the treasury, with the system of reckoning up for animals in terms of grain in place from the start, in which case there is no real development to be detected between the two periods. Next in order come the treasury tablets which, while not dealing directly with support for local cults, are relevant here because of their testimony that for a number of years up until the time of Ezra payment in kind was being supplemented, if not replaced, by payment in silver in the imperial treasuries. And this, then, leads straight back, fourthly, to the text of Ezra 7:15–20, where Ezra is given cash to enable him to buy both animals and other materials for the sacrificial cult. The different manner in which these grants were paid to the Jews by Darius and Artaxerxes is thus neatly explained by factors which we could only have learned about from the two collections of Elamite texts from Persepolis which come in between. Four other smaller matters also deserve mention here. First, several of these texts specify a particular ceremony for which the supply is made; for instance, “3 marriš (of) wine, supplied by Parsauka, Mardonius the priest received, and (utilized it for) the divine tamšiyam (ceremony) of (the god) Humban. (At) Uratukaš. 23rd year” (PFT 348). The meaning of tamšiyam is uncertain, but Hallock himself favors the suggestion of I. Gershevitch, which he reports as follows: “it is to be connected with Av. zaoša-, ‘pleasure.’ Thus it would represent OP *daušiyam, a neuter adjective used as a substantive, meaning ‘what serves for satisfaction, propitiatory offering’ ” (19). If this is so, then one may more readily understand how so very “Jewish” a word as nyẖwẖyn, “pleasing sacrifices, soothing offerings,” could be included in Darius’s decree at Ezra 6:10. It is generally believed that Jewish scribes would have had a hand in drafting such a document.52 It was a happy coincidence for them that they could pass off one of their most technical items of cultic vocabulary as though it were the Aramaic equivalent of a ceremony better known in Achaemenid circles. Second, PFT 741–74 record rations paid to individuals who exercised religious functions, for instance: “12 (marriš of) wine, supplied by Miššabadda, Harima received (for) performing (?) the lan (ceremony at) Harbus. It was given to him as rations by the king, (for) a whole year. 23rd year” (PFT 753).53 This may be set alongside Ezra 7:24, where Artaxerxes orders the treasurers in Beyond the River: “Be it further known to you that you have no authority to impose tribute, tax, or dues upon any of the priests and Levites, the musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants, or (other) servants of this house of God.” The specific mention of support for officially recognized cultic officials is thus common to both contexts, and this further undermines Weinberg’s attempt to argue that the community as a whole was exempt from tax. Third, most of these rations to individuals engaged in religious functions are given for a specified period, as in the text just cited, and as in this further typical example: “12 marriš (of) wine, supplied by Parnizza, Kurka the Magus, the lan performer (?) (at) Marsaškaš, received (for) the libation of the lan (ceremony). From the sixth month through the fifth month, total 12 months, (starting in?) the 17th year” (PFT 757). The time involved in the grants recorded in Ezra is not specified, but on the basis of the quantities involved the suggestion has been advanced that the allowance at Ezra 7:22 was intended to last for two years. Some such limitation certainly seems plausible in the light of our texts. Finally, alongside Ezra 6:9, in which it is stated that the necessary supplies are to be given them “day by day,” a phrase often attributed to the Chronicler, it is worth setting a text such as PFT 748, where concerning the allocation of a ration of beer for the lan ceremony we are told, “(For) a period of 12 months he received (for) 1 month 3 marriš. Daily he receives 1 QA” (lines 7–11). It was clearly not unusual for an allowance to be made for an extended period but for it to be released on a day-by-day basis. 3) Travel and Transportation There are several accounts in Ezra and Nehemiah of journeys between Babylon and Jerusalem, included in which there is reference to the transportation of specified items for the temple or city. Ezra 1:7–11 includes an inventory of the temple vessels, and concludes, “all these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when they of the captivity were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.” Ezra 8 comprises a fuller account of Ezra’s journey, again with a list of valuable items transported, but this time with the details of the accounting procedures at both the start and the conclusion of the journey. Finally, in Nehemiah 2 we are told how Nehemiah traveled with a smaller party from Susa to Jerusalem carrying letters to various officials requesting both a safe conduct on the journey and materials for rebuilding after his arrival. Although a number of other such journeys are mentioned or presupposed by the narrative, these three provide the most detail for comparative purposes. The texts from Persepolis contain a great deal of information which can be treated as background against which to read these various accounts. Because they are not narrative documents, it is necessary to combine information from different groups of texts in order to build up a composite whole. There is admittedly a danger of misrepresentation in this procedure, but this is partly offset by the number of texts at our disposal which helps to develop a reasonably rounded picture. The first point to be made is the simple observation that without question the Achaemenid bureaucracy went to enormous lengths to record carefully all manner of payments and receipts at the central treasuries. Hallock’s A texts (PFT 1–57), for instance, record details of the transport of commodities in the sense of how they were taken away from a given center; they are thus comparable to a receipt by the bearer; for example, “22 (BAR of) barley loaves (?), supplied by Bakabada, was taken to Persepolis for the (royal) stores. 24th year” (PFT 3). The B texts (PFT 58–137), on the other hand, record how commodities were delivered to a given center; they are thus comparable to a receipt by the recipient to the bearer. As a brief example, “22 (BAR of) tarmu (grain) Sunkišip took, and delivered (it at) Tandari. Hapikra received (it). 24th year” (PFT 114). Other collections of texts deal with tax receipts and other deposits, payments of salaries and making provision for special officials and for royal occasions, payments of allowances to mothers who have just had babies, travel rations and the like. These texts were not just receipts, however, but were clearly used as part of a broader accounting procedure. One group of texts (PFT 233–58) is accounting balances, noting the total amount that was being “carried forward as balance,” and sometimes a note of the date on which the calculation was made; for instance, “9,502 (BAR of) grain has been carried forward (as) balance, entrusted to Bakasušta, (at) Liduma. In the 22nd year, twelfth month, the accounting was done” (PFT 240). Finally, in PFT 1961–2014 there are longer and more elaborate accounting texts itemizing payments and receipts and balances brought or carried forward. The treasury texts too, though somewhat different in nature, demonstrate not dissimilar concerns, while the Aramaic texts remind us that sometimes special items which had been supplied (under whatever circumstances and for whatever purpose) could be individually marked with all necessary detail.57 In this context, it should come as no surprise to find the detailed care attested in the biblical texts enumerated above regarding procedures of payments and receipt. To Sheshbazzar an itemized list was brought out and counted over by the treasurer (Ezra 1:8), while in Ezra’s case the items were first weighed out by Ezra to specified individuals (8:25–27) who then in turn weighed them out to other officials on their arrival in Jerusalem; “everything was checked by number and by weight and the total weight was recorded in writing” (Ezra 8:34). Indeed, by now we should have learned from Persepolis to expect nothing less. The formula used when noting such payments, attested at Ezra 1:8, has already been compared with AP 61, but a further point of comparison comes now from the Aramaic texts at Persepolis. As was seen above, there are at least two levels of authority involved with the manufacture or delivery of the items in question, one introduced by lyd, the other by qdm. The latter is used only with the sub-treasurer (’pgnzbr’), and is probably to be understood as indicating that he was personally present when the vessel was made/made over. The other indicates only more generally under whose authority the work was done. In Ezra 1:8, when we are told that Cyrus brought out the temple vessels by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer who then counted them out to Sheshbazzar, we should probably see a similar procedure, Cyrus himself, of course, not being personally responsible for bringing out the vessels. Despite all the care that went into these recording and accounting procedures, mistakes were sometimes made. These usually involve a mistake in the numbers concerned, the causes being anything from a simple slip to more serious miscalculations in accountancy. For example, at PFT 661 we seem to have a simple error of 6 for 8; at 855 a slip in the list (23 for 32) has led to an error in the final total; at 864 the total (228) is out by one in the tens unit, but in 1023 the total (88) is out by one in the ones unit; in 1011 a figure in the body of the list is out by a factor of one, but in 1028 by a factor of ten. Sometimes, it is possible to trace how an error has arisen. At PFT 865 the scribe put only one month’s ration total instead of the three months that the account was for; at 932 a line has been left out accidentally as the scribe’s eye jumped from one figure of 15 to the next (parablepsis); at 860 Hallock tells us that an erasure left some signs undeleted even though the scribe wrote his new text over the top—it is not difficult to imagine that a later copyist, when drawing up a combined account, might have been led into error as a consequence; PFT 259–66 involve large quantities of wine together with some kind of fractional charge or deduction. In his discussion Hallock (15) sets out the somewhat complicated procedure by which this deduction is calculated, but even then, when applying his results to the related account text 2006 two errors of figures have additionally to be conjectured. Finally, an occasional glimpse allows us to see why such miscalculations might have occurred. PFT 77 reads: 12 “cowhides” of camels, 7 “cowhides” of yearling camels, 2 “cowhides” of camel calves (?), total 21 “cowhides,” supplied by Takmašbada, Šandupirzana received. Included among these “cowhides” (were) 2 aššana. They were received (in) the ninth month, on the first day, 24th year. It is not difficult to see how the two “included” items could be misunderstood as additional by a careless scribe. It has long bothered commentators that we are faced with errors of similar kinds in some of the lists in Ezra and Nehemiah. For example, there are differences between some of the figures in what purports to be the same list in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7, and neither there nor in Ezra 1:11 do the totals equal the sum of the parts. Not a few of these discrepancies can be accounted for on the basis of the system of numeral notation probably used at some stage in the transmission of the text, but that does not account for every case. It is thus reassuring to find that the sources which may lie behind the biblical text are no worse off than the products of the royal scribes and accountants at Persepolis. A substantial group of over 300 of our texts (PFT 1285–1579; 2049–57; cf. 1780–87; 1942: 19–22; 1953: 34–35) deal with the provision of rations for travelers, and contain several matters of interest for us. We learn of journeys by both small and large groups of workers and others over shorter and longer distances. Kandahar, India, Arachosia, Babylon, Sardis and Egypt, for instance, are all mentioned as starting points or destinations. The rations referred to, however, are generally only sufficient for a single day (1 or 1 1/2 QA of flour per person), from which it has been not unreasonably deduced that there must have been supply stations at single day’s journey intervals along the major routes of the empire.61 The authorizing and accounting system appears to have operated as follows: the leader of each group of travelers was given some kind of document (of which more below) by the king or other senior official, authorizing him to draw so much each day in the way of rations from the supply stations. Each time he did this, a document such as those that we have was drawn up by an official at the supply station and sent to Persepolis. There, the commodities issued will have been credited to the account of the supply station by debiting the account of the official who had issued the authorizing document. There are two words for this kind of authorizing document: halmi is usually translated “sealed document,” and Cameron suggested that it might be a loan-word from Aramaic ẖtm. The other is miyatukkam, which is thought to derive from Old Persian with some such meaning as “authorisation,” so that semantically the two words are not far removed from each other. They seem to be used more or less interchangeably. Sadly, no example of such an authorizing document has survived at Persepolis, partly, no doubt, because they would often have been written in Aramaic on papyrus or parchment. It has been suggested by Benveniste, however, that AD 6 is just such a document, for in it Arsames, the satrap of Egypt who is temporarily on leave back home in Babylon, writes to various of his subordinates along the way to Egypt, commanding them to provide daily rations for Neẖtiẖur, his officer. In Driver’s translation, the first five lines read: From. Aram to Marduk the officer who is at …, Nabû-dalâni the officer who is at La‘ir, Zātōhi the officer who is [at] ’Arzūhin, ’Upastabar the officer who is at Arbel, H̱alšu (?) and Māt-âl-Ubaš (?), Bagafarna the officer who is at Sa‘lan, Frādafarna and Gavazāna (?) the officers who are at Damascus. And now:—behold! one named Neẖtiẖur, [my] officer, is going to Egypt. Do you give [him] (as) provisions from my estate in your provinces every day two measures of white meal, three measures of inferior meal, two measures of wine or beer, and one sheep, and for his servants, 10 men, one measure of meal daily for each, (and) hay according to (the number of) his horses; and give provisions for two Cilicians (and) one craftsman, all three my servants who are going with him to Egypt, for each and every man daily one measure of meal; give them these provisions, each officer of you in turn, in accordance with (the stages of) his journey from province to province until he reaches Egypt.… Clearly, some distinction needs to be drawn between this text and the halmi of the Persepolis tablets on account of the fact that Arsames refers only to his personal estates, not the more official supply stations, but in general the comparison drawn by Benveniste seems apposite. Turning with these introductory remarks on the travel ration texts to a comparison with the biblical data, several points stand out: (1) Both Ezra (Ezra 8:36) and Nehemiah (Neh 2:8–9) took with them letters from the king authorizing the payment of certain grants for their work. While these cannot be equated with the documents carried by the travelers in the Persepolis tablets, since they do not refer to supplies for the journey, they would doubtless have functioned in exactly the same way. Indeed, it may be wondered whether the unusual use of an Old Persian loan-word at Ezra 8:36 (dātê hammelek; in Hebrew elsewhere only in Esther) may not be intended precisely as the equivalent of miyatukkam. (2) In addition, Nehemiah requested that he be given letters “addressed to the governors of Beyond the River so that they may grant me a safe conduct until I reach Judah” (Neh 2:7). These too are likely to have been recognizably in the same class as the halmi. (3) Ezra’s letters are addressed “to all the treasurers of Beyond the River” (Ezra 7:21). In the light of the administrative structures probably to be deduced from the Aramaic texts considered above, we may say that these are likely, strictly speaking, to have been “subtreasurers” (’pgnzbr’), who were actually responsible for making the payments, and who operated under the authority of the treasurer of the satrapy. The plural ’ahašdarpenê hammelek, “the royal satraps,” at Ezra 8:36, remains a puzzle, however. (4) According to the figures supplied in the biblical text, Ezra’s caravan will have numbered approximately 1,500 men, and we are not told how many women and children accompanied them. Nehemiah’s group, of course, was much smaller, though he had an armed escort with him. It is unlikely, in my opinion, that the list in Ezra 2 is intended to describe a single caravan, but it is rather a summary of all in the land by 520 B.C., including some who had not been in exile. We cannot, therefore, say anything about the size of the first parties which returned. Traveling parties of many sizes are attested in our texts, and since more than 72 percent of the dated texts come from only two years it must be assumed that such traveling companies were by no means an uncommon sight on the empire’s highways. PFT 1532, for instance, speaks of 2,454 gentlemen, and no. 1527 of 1,150 workers,72 though the majority of texts deal with smaller numbers. (5) With regard to Nehemiah’s armed guard (and Ezra’s refusal of such an escort) we may observe that a number of titles of uncertain meaning crop up in these texts which Hallock tentatively associates with those who might have accompanied the caravans. We should note especially the “elite guide” (literally, “safe-keeper”), and his comment that “Persons with this title … are involved particularly with groups of foreigners, for whom special guidance and protection would be required” (42). In addition, as is probably attested by these texts, and as is already known from other sources, there were mounted couriers, who must have been armed, moving rapidly from one station to the next, as well as many other travelers. Whatever risks he took, Ezra is certainly not to be pictured as leading his party through totally deserted and trackless wastes. (6) Part of Ezra’s anxiety was doubtless caused by the fact that he was transporting gold, silver, and valuable vessels for the temple (Ezra 8:25–27). In this connection, it is hard to resist citing PFT 1342, even though it is not fully understood: “8 BAR (of) flour (was) supplied by Karma. Mannuya the treasurer took silver from Susa, and went to Matezziš. 2 gentlemen daily received each 1 1/2 QA. Ninth (Elamite) month, (for) a period of 16 days, 22nd year.” There are several unusual points about this text: we do not normally find references to someone of the rank of treasurer among the travelers; nor to the transportation of silver (but cf. PFT 1357 and PFa 14); nor are the rations ever for so long as 16 days.74 It is clearly tempting to assume that these three factors are somehow related, but it remains strange that Mannuya did not make all haste to deposit his silver safely. Did he have to wait for an escort, or until the road had been made safe? Perhaps there is a hint that Ezra had good cause to pray earnestly for a safe journey and to give thanks after his arrival in Jerusalem. (7) Finally, in view of both Ezra 2:66–67 and Neh 2:9, it is worth pointing out that animals (especially horses) are sometimes included in these texts as receiving rations, and indeed that PFT 1780–87 relate exclusively to rations for animals on journeys (e.g., PFT 1785: “17.4 BAR [i.e., 17 BAR, 4 QA] (of) grain, Miramana received for rations, and gave (it) to horses of Abbalema, (as) rations (for) 2 days. He carried a sealed document of the king. 19 horses, 1 received 3 QA. And 15 mules, 1 received 2 QA. In the second (Elamite) month, 23rd year”). Conclusion In drawing these remarks to a close, it is worth reminding ourselves that the chronologically restricted testimony of the Persepolis tablets is probably an accident of history, and that the type of administration which they reflect will have lasted throughout the years of the Achaemenid empire. There can thus be no objection to comparing them closely with Ezra and Nehemiah, with which we have seen they demonstrate some striking points of contact. Furthermore, as in the case of Neh 5:14–19, dealt with on a previous occasion (see above, n 19), the biblical passages referred to here have tended to be clustered in concentrated sections, despite the more thematic nature of the discussion. Not surprisingly, it will be found that these are passages which deal with points of closest contact between the Persian administration and the Jewish leaders. To that extent, our discussion has not only illuminated some obscurities in our texts, but has also shown how well they fit into their purported setting. On the other hand, it is important to be careful not to try to prove too much from such comparisons. There is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the detailed understanding of these texts, some of the points raised above could well be coincidental, and it may be assumed that government practices were as well known to storytellers as to historians. Nevertheless, when due allowance has been made, it remains the case that the more we learn of the system of Persian rule, the more the objections of an earlier generation of scholars to the substantial authenticity of the accounts in Ezra and Nehemiah may be seen to have been unwarranted; and with that we must remain content. Williamson, H. G. M. (1991). Ezra and Nehemiah in the Light of the Texts from Persepolis. Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 1, 41–61.

Published: January 31, 2017, 06:09 | No Comments on Ezra and Nehemiah in the Light of the Texts from Persepolis- by Uwe Rosenkranz
Category: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

ROSARY welcome

Prayer Menu



Blog archive

April 2017
« Mar    

Bishop Rosary´s Arch