A Glaring Problem and Easy Solution to an ESV Study Bible Contradiction

For a retail price of $59.99 and a total of 2,749 pages, the ESV Study Bible is a tome of a book. It’s packed with hundreds of pages of dozens of supplemental material on top of a Word-for-Word translation style. As such, it is a big seller in the evangelical Christian study market. I own it, and it is a fairly good resource. But there are some problems. For instance, the ESV translation has removed the word “begotten” from the translation which significantly changes the meaning of certain passages (Read this for more on that). However, if thou wantest “begotten” in thy Bible translation, then thou shalt suffer the consequences of thy selection, if ye get my drift.

However, for all of its positives, I’m going to criticize it, because I found a blatant problem with something that should have been very easy to recognize. The book makes a GLARING mistake when it comes to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.

This post explains this problem I found in the ESV Study Bible and offers a clear solution from Josephus. In the next post, I will explain the source of the problem and the TRUE solution to the entire issue of Biblical Chronology of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.

The Problem of the ESV Study Bible’s Study Notes to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther

At the start of each book of the Bible in the ESV Study Bible, there are study notes with a big “Introduction To” section. The problem that I have identified is with the Introduction to Esther. This part of the ESV Study Bible explains that Esther is the last book of the Bible written. That’s true enough, but then it says the following in a summary written by Barry G. Webb of Moore Theological College:

Nevertheless, [the book of Esther] was recognized as Scripture by the Jews well before the time of Christ — a long tradition clearly evident in Jewish writings just after the NT. For example, Josephus says that the Jewish Scriptures were written from the time of Moses “until Artaxerxes” (Against Apion 1.40-41), and elsewhere he identifies this Artaxerxes as “Ahasuerus” in the book of Esther (Jewish Antiquities 11.184). Therefore he apparently counts Esther as the last book to be written in the Jewish canon. . . . Since the book of Esther is anonymous, it cannot be dated by the years of its author. However, it matches well the time period in which it is set (the reign of Ahasuerus, 486-464 B.C.); hence it is probably from this time or soon thereafter.

. . .

In terms of biblical history, Esther belongs to the period after the Babylonian exile, when Persia had replaced Babylon as the ruling power. The story is set in Susa, the Persian capital, during the reign of King Ahasuerus, better known by his Greek name, Xerxes I (486-464 B.C.). Some Jews had returned to Jerusalem, where they enjoyed a reasonable amount of control over their own affairs as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Others, like Esther and Mordecai, were still in exile.

. . .

Apart from the book of Esther itself, the main sources of information about Persia in the relevant period are the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 485-425 B.C.) and a limited amount of relevant archaeological evidence from Susa and elsewhere. Esther herself is not mentioned in these sources, and Herodotus gives the name of Xerxes’ wife as Amestris. However, Xerxes may have had more than one wife, and it was Esther who was of special interest to the biblical author. (ESV Study Bible, p. 849-850)

There is a problem with this summary. It is most definitely wrong, and it is wrong for several obvious reasons if you take the time to look into it.

And yes, I took the time to look into it.

The Mistaken Identity Problem Between Xerxes and Artaxerxes

Let’s start with the easy part. The summary says that “Ahasuerus” is “Xerxes” and also seems to make the claim that Ahasuerus is also “Artaxerxes.” The problem is that “Xerxes” and “Artaxerxes” are definitely two different Persian kings.

But confusingly, there is a citation to “Jewish Antiquities 11.184” to claim that Josephus says that “Artaxerxes” is identified as “Ahasuerus.” Except it’s not that simple. Here is the real source of the quote:

1. After the death of Xerxes, the kingdom came to be transferred to his son Cyrus, whom the Greeks called Artaxerxes. When this man had obtained the government over the Persians, the whole nation of the Jews, with their wives and children, were in danger of perishing; (Josephus, Antiquities. 11.184)

You’ll notice that there is no mention of “Ahasuerus” in that passage. Yes, that is definitely the start of the story of Esther, but the entire story never mentions the name “Ahasuerus.” The citation to Jewish Antiquities 11.184 is a misquote of the underlying source.

The belief that “Ahasuerus” is “Xerxes” is merely an ASSUMPTION. The assumption is backed up by an incorrect citation. Yikes.

Yes, there is something wrong, but it gets even worse. You see, it’s not that Josephus doesn’t say what the Dr. Webb and the ESV Study Bible claims that it says. Josephus actually says THE OPPOSITE of what Dr. Webb claims.

And this isn’t a random mix-up of citations. In fact, this is an absolute confusion between two different people. Xerxes is one Persian King. Artaxerxes is another. All you have do do is look at the list of Persian Kings on Wikipedia to see what we’re talking about. The list of the major Persian Kings and their dates are as follows:

  • Cyrus the Great – 559-530 B.C.
  • Cambyses – 530-522 B.C.
  • Darius I – 522-486 B.C.
  • Xerxes – 485-465 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes I – 465-424 B.C.
  • Darius II – 424-404 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes II – 404-358 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes III – 358-338 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes IV – 338-336 B.C.
  • Darius III – 336-330 B.C.
  • [Alexander the Great Conquers the Persians]

So when the author of the summary in the ESV Study Bible quotes Josephus to prove his point, he’s actually quoting Josephus to prove that he is wrong. We’ll get into the details of that below.

This is the mistake of the ESV Study Bible. But the ESV Study Bible contains more than just a mistake. It contains a blatant contradiction.

The ESV Study Bible’s Contradictions between Esther and Nehemiah

Before we go to general history of the world to show the problems of the ESV Study Bible, we’re just going to look at the book itself. Doing that shows that we have a blatant contradiction in the introductory summaries.

As we quoted previously, the ESV Study Bible claims that Esther happened when Ezra and Nehemiah had already returned” to Judea. It says:

In terms of biblical history, Esther belongs to the period after the Babylonian exile, when Persia had replaced Babylon as the ruling power. The story is set in Susa, the Persian capital, during the reign of King Ahasuerus, better known by his Greek name, Xerxes I (486-464 B.C.). Some Jews had returned to Jerusalem, where they enjoyed a reasonable amount of control over their own affairs as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (ESV Study Bible, p850)

However, in the introductory summary of Nehemiah, written by J. Gordon McConville, University of Gloucestershire, with a Ph. D. from the University of Sheffield, it says something different:

For the key background dates to the book of Nehemiah, see Introduction to Ezra. Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem in 445 B.C., 13 years after Ezra arrived. He returned for a further visit sometime between 433 and 423 B.C. He may have made several journeys between Persian capitals and Jerusalem in this period of 20 years. (ESV Study Bible, p821)

Guys…. 445 B.C. (when Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem) is AFTER 486 and 464 B.C., (when King Ahasuerus, a.k.a. King Xerxes according to the ESV Study Bible), which is when the book of Esther happened. But the ESV Study Bible says Nehemiah went back BEFORE Esther.

So, according to the SAME BOOK in DIFFERENT SPOTS, Nehemiah and Ezra happened before Esther, and Esther happened before Nehemiah and Ezra. At this point, I’m pretty sure the general editors of the ESV Study Bible (who I hope will read this) are like “I totally forgot about that.”

And to make you understand how blatant this is, we even have PICTURES that demonstrate the difference of the timeline. Look at the map of the Persian Empire “at the time of Nehemiah” in 450 B.C.:

We also have a map of the Persian Empire “at the time of Ezra” in 458 B.C.:

So, at least those are in order.

But the map of the Persian Empire “at the time of Esther” is in 479 B.C.:

That is a blatant contradiction. As in, it is TOTALLY WRONG, no matter how you spin it.

HOW DID AN EDITOR NOT CATCH THIS?

After all, this book and its scholarship influences a lot of sermons across the country, including one at my church. That’s why I noticed it.

And just in case you were wondering, the Editorial Oversight Committee of the ESV Study Bible includes:

Yikes….

So if any of you people out there know these people, please ask why Barry G. Webb never talked to J. Gordon McConville on their study notes. I’d love to know the story.

The Problem of the History of the World as explained by the ESV Study Bible

So now that we’ve shown the contradictions between the ESV Study Bible and itself, let’s dig into what the TRUE problem is with the ESV Study Bible’s understanding of Ezra Nehemiah and Esther. The crux of the issue is that King Ahasuerus IS NOT King Xerxes. And I’d like to prove it to you.

The following is the introduction to the book of Esther in the text of scripture itself, where we get the IDENTITY of the ruler:

Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. (Esther 1:1-5)

Next, we get some more information about TIMING of the story of Esther in the second chapter:

And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. (Esther 2:16)

So this tells us when Esther met the king. And if we assume that Ahasueris is King Xerxes, we can ask a very simple question:

WHEN did these events happen?

We’re going to answer that question to prove that King Ahasuerus is not King Xerxes. But first, we have to explain what it means to count years of a king’s reign.

Biblical Chronology: Regnal and Accession Years of a King.

We should recognize that it is normal to take the last months of the year of the death of the king as the “accession year,” even though the new king is already ruling. Then, the next year is called the first “regnal year” of the king, even if it was 364 days later than the time the king actually came to power. We see this clearly reflected in the Handbook of Biblical Chronology, which is an excellent resource on these topics:

161. Using this term, the system of reckoning which prevailed in Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia may be called the accession-year system. This means that the balance of the calendar year in which a preceding king died or was removed and a new king came to the throne was counted as the accession year of the new king, and the first full year of his reign was reckoned as beginning with the next New Year’s day, i.e., with the next Nisanu 1 in the Babylonian calendar. The calendar year in which the predecessor occupied the throne for only a part of the year and then died or was removed, could therefore still be counted as corresponding to his own last numbered regnal year. (Finnegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Revised Edition, Hendrickson Publishers, (1998), 161)

However, while that’s LIKELY what is going on here, we can’t say that for certain. That’s because the Jews count king years differently. That is explained in a different part of the Handbook of Biblical Chronology:

165. We are here concerned with two of the New Years thus defined in the Talmud, and the first is that which begins with the month Nisan in the spring (the new moon of Nisan ideally coinciding with the spring equinox, 1 Enoch 72): “On the first of Nisan is New Year for kings and festivals.” According to this statement one would suppose that regnal years always coincided with calendar years beginning Nisan 1. In the ensuing rabbinic discussion of the Gemara it is further explained:

If a king ascends the throne on the twenty-ninth of Adar, as soon as the first of Nisan arrives he is reckoned to have reigned a year. This teaches us that Nisan is the New Year for kings, and that one day in a year is reckoned as a year. But if he ascended the throne on the first of Nisan he is not reckoned to have reigned a year till the next first of Nisan comes round.

According to this statement, not only do regnal years coincide with calendar years beginning Nisan 1 but they are also reckoned by what we have called the non-accession -year method. Indeed we recognize here as a general or normal principle of Jewish reckoning that the part stands for the whole: a part of a month is considered a whole month and a part of a year is considered a whole year. (Finnegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Revised Edition, Hendrickson Publishers, (1998), 165)

Therefore, we have two different options to date “the seventh year of king Ahasuerus” from a rock-solid date. One is called the “accession year rule” and the other is called the “non-accession year rule.”

  • If we use the “accession year rule,” and treat the months before Nisan 1 as an “accession year” under the previous king, as the Persians did, then that means Esther came to Xerxes’s palace in December of 479 B.C., when we treat day 1 of the first year of Xerxes as Nisan 1, 485 B.C.
  • If we use the “non-accession year rule,” and count the PART-year between October 486 and Nisan 1 as Xerxes’s first year, and have his second year start on Nisan 1, 485 B.C, then Esther would have come to King Xerxes in December of 480 B.C.

So we have two possible dates of Esther visiting Xerxes: December of 479 B.C. and December of 480 B.C., and there is a problem with both dates. And it’s a big problem. In fact, the problem is one of the most monumental events in ancient history: the Second Persian Invasion of Greece.

The History of the Second Persian Invasion of Greece Contradicts the Story of Esther and Xerxes

If we accept the orthodox chronology of the second Persian Invasion of Greece (which I do not, by the way, and which you can read about here), then Xerxes left with his army to invade Greece in 482 B.C. It took a long time to get to Greece, and he crossed from Asia to Europe over a floating bridge in March of 480. After losing a battle, he returned to Asia in late 480 B.C.

Therefore, he would UNQUESTIONABLY be completely out of the country under the Jewish mode of reckoning regnal years.

Additionally, we know from the narrative of Herodotus that we first have the battle of Salamis (believed to be in September of 480), a long back-and-forth where Xerxes decides if he will stay and fight or retreat to Asia, a forty-five day retreat to the Hellespont (which is the link between Europe and Asia), and then an 1500 mile journey to Susa that took (according to Herodotus, anyway) an entire year to complete on the way out to invade Greece. In other words, either way, Xerxes is PUSHING IT on time, even if he went directly back to Susa.

But he did not go directly back to Susa. We learn this from Herodotus’s Histories, which chronicles the Second Persian Invasion of Greece in Book IX, Chapter 108. The following takes place after the battle of Plataea:

Now it chanced that the king had been at Sardis ever since he came thither in flight from Athens after his overthrow in the sea‑fight. Being then at Sardis he became enamoured of Masistes’ wife, who was also at that place. But as all his messages could not bring her to yield to him, and he would not force her to his will, out of regard for his brother Masistes (which indeed wrought with the woman also, for she knew well that no force would be used with her), Xerxes found no other way to his purpose than that he should make a marriage between his own son Darius and the daughter of this woman and Masistes; for he thought that by so doing he would be likeliest to get her. So he betrothed them with all due ceremony, and rode away to Susa. (Herodotus, Histories, Book IX, Chapter 108)

So, it seems that Xerxes did NOT go back to Susa immediately, and instead stayed in Sardis (which is on the west coast of Turkey) until after the battle of Plataea and having some sordid affair. And guess when the battle of Plataea was? August of 479 B.C.

In other words, if Xerxes is the King in the book of Esther, then the Bible probably got its dates wrong.

And for the record, if you take the alternative dates that I use for the Second Persian Invasion of Greece (which I believe to have occurred between March 478 B.C. and August of 477 B.C.), the problem is just as bad, because Xerxes is not home in December of 480 B.C. or 479 B.C.

In other words, if King Ahasuerus is King Xerxes, then either the chronology of the Bible or the chronology of every record we have of the most significant event in ancient history is just flat-out wrong.

That’s a pretty big problem. But there’s another one, too.

The Esther Problem with King Ahasuerus being King Xerxes

The second problem with King Ahasuerus being King Xerxes is that it creates a weird problem with Queen Esther. You see, apparently, there is a pretty well-documented story about the wife of King Xerxes, and it happens AFTER the Second Persian Invasion of Greece. It is in Book IX of Herodotus’s Histories, and it’s long. If you want to skip it, then there’s a TL;DR version below:

Now it chanced that the king had been at Sardis ever since he came thither in flight from Athens after his overthrow in the sea‑fight. Being then at Sardis he became enamoured of Masistes’ wife, who was also at that place. But as all his messages could not bring her to yield to him, and he would not force her to his will, out of regard for his brother Masistes (which indeed wrought with the woman also, for she knew well that no force would be used with her), Xerxes found no other way to his purpose than that he should make a marriage between his own son Darius and the daughter of this woman and Masistes; for he thought that by so doing he would be likeliest to get her. So he betrothed them with all due ceremony, and rode away to Susa. But when he was come thither and had taken Darius’ bride into his house, he thought no more of Masistes’ wife, but changed about, and wooed and won this girl Artaÿnte, Darius’ wife and Masistes’ daughter.

But as time went on the truth came to light, and in such manner as I will show. Xerxes’ wife, Amestris, wove and gave to him a great gaily-coloured mantle, wondrous to behold. Xerxes was pleased with it, and went wearing it to Artaÿnte; and being pleased with her too, he bade her ask for what she would have in return for her favours, for he would deny nothing at her asking. Thereat — for she and all her house were doomed to evil — she said to Xerxes, “Will you give me whatever I ask of you?” and he promised and swore it, supposing that she would ask anything but that; but when he had sworn, she asked boldly for his mantle. Xerxes strove hard to refuse her, for no cause save that he feared lest Amestris might have plain proof of his doing what she already guessed; and he offered her cities instead, and gold in abundance, and an army for none but herself to command. Armies are the properest of gifts in Persia. But as he could not move her, he gave her the mantle; and she, rejoicing greatly in the gift, went flaunting her finery.

Amestris heard that she had the mantle; but when she learnt the truth her anger was not with the girl; she supposed rather that the girl’s mother was guilty and that this was her doing, and so it was Masistes’ wife that she plotted to destroy. She waited therefore till Xerxes her husband should be giving his royal feast. This banquet is served once a year, on the king’s birthday; the Persian name for it is “tukta,” which is in the Greek language “perfect”; on that day (and none other) the king anoints his head, and makes gifts to the Persians. Waiting for that day, Amestris then desired of Xerxes that Masistes’ wife should be given to her. Xerxes held it a terrible and wicked act to give up his brother’s wife, and that too when she was guiltless of the deed supposed; for he knew the purpose of the request.

Nevertheless, Amestris being instant, and the law constraining him (for at this royal banquet in Persia every boon asked must of necessity be granted), he did very unwillingly consent, and delivered the woman to Amestris; then, bidding her do what she would, he sent for his brother and thus spoke: “Masistes, you are Darius’ son and my brother, yea, and a right good man; hear me then; you must live no longer with her who is your wife. I give you my daughter in her place; take her for your own; but put away the wife that you have, for it is not my will that you should have her.” At that Masistes was amazed; “Sire,” he said, “what is this evil command that you lay upon me, bidding me deal thus with my wife? I have by her young sons and daughters, of whom you have taken a wife for your own son; and I am exceeding well content with herself; yet do you bid me put her away and wed your daughter? Truly, O king, I deem it a high honour to be accounted worthy of your daughter; but I will do neither one nor the other. Nay, constrain me not to consent to such a desire; you will find another husband for your daughter as good as I; but suffer me to keep my own wife.” Thus answered Masistes; but cruiser was very angry, and said: “To this pass you are come, Masistes; I will give you no daughter of mine to wife, nor shall you longer live with her that you now have; thus shall you learn to accept that which is offered you.” Hearing that, Masistes said nought but this: “Nay, sire, you have not destroyed me yet!” and so departed.

But in the meantime, while Xerxes talked with his brother, Amestris sent for Xerxes’ guards and used Masistes’ wife very cruelly; she cut off the woman’s breasts and threw them to dogs, and her nose and ears and lips likewise, and cut out her tongue, and sent her home thus cruelly used.

Knowing nought as yet of this, but fearing evil, Masistes ran speedily to his house. Seeing the havoc made of his wife, straightway he took counsel with his children and set forth to journey to Bactra with his own sons (and others too, belike), purposing to raise the province of Bactra in revolt and work the king the greatest of harm; which he would have done, to my thinking, had he escaped up into the country of the Bactrians and Sacae; for they loved him well, and he was viceroy over the Bactrians. But it was of no avail; for Xerxes learnt his intent, and sent against him an army that slew him on his way, and his sons and his army withal. Such is the story of Xerxes’ love and Masistes’ death. (Herodotus, Histories, Book IX, Chapters 109-113)

Now, that’s a long story, so here’s the TL;DR version. Xerxes has a queen named Amestris. She wove him a magnificent garment that Xerxes absolutely loved. He loved it so much that he wore it for his side-chick named Artaÿnte who he met in Sardis while he was out trying to invade Greece. Xerxes wanted to sleep with this girl Artaÿnte, who also happened to be his brother’s wife, and so once he swore that he would give her whatever she wanted if he slept with her, she asked for the garment that Amestris gave Xerxes (and which Xerxes was wearing at the time). Being bound by the oath, Xerxes gave it to her. When Amestris found out about it, she got Xerxes’s guards, and chopped off Artaÿnte’s boobs and nose and ears and lips and tongue fed them to the dogs. Then she sent the body back to her home, so that they could see what she had done to her.

The problem is that if King Ahasuerus is King Xerxes, then….

THE WOMAN WHO FED A RIVAL SIDE-CHICK’S FACE TO THE DOGS IS ESTHER.

Oh….. Oh, my.

The Easy Solution to the Problem of the ESV Study Bible

Luckily, there is an easy solution for this matter. Whenever ancient history is tough, it is best to look t o a source that is writing 2,000 years closer in time to the relevant events than you are writing.

I’m talking about Josephus.

You see, our good friend Josephus wrote the book The Antiquities of the Jews, in which he parallels many of the stories of the Bible with extra information. Some of the things were happening in his lifetime.

In his narrative, which includes detailed accounts of Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther, he makes something very clear:

Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to KING XERXES.

Ezra was sent to Jerusalem by KING XERXES.

Esther married KING ARTAXERXES.

It is quite explicit. In fact, it is quite silly to believe that King Xerxes is King Ahasuerus, because the title of the relevant chapter in Book XI of The Antiquities of the Jews is the following:

CHAPTER 5. How Xerxes The Son Of Darius Was Well Disposed To The Jews; As Also Concerning Esdras And Nehemiah.

That doesn’t really fit with the plot of the book of Esther. But let’s not stop at titles of chapters. Let’s get into the text. Let’s show how Josephus explains ALL of the books at issue. We’re talking about Ezra, Nehemiah AND Esther. And for reference’s sake, I’ll give you the list of Persian monarchs at the time, just so you can follow along at home:

  • Cyrus the Great – 559-530 B.C.
  • Cambyses – 530-522 B.C.
  • Darius I – 522-486 B.C.
  • Xerxes – 485-465 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes I – 465-424 B.C.
  • Darius II – 424-404 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes II – 404-358 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes III – 358-338 B.C.
  • Artaxerxes IV – 338-336 B.C.
  • Darius III – 336-330 B.C.
  • [Alexander the Great Conquers the Persians]

Let’s see how they compare to our modern English Bibles.

Josephus and Ezra vs. our Bibles

Let’s go to that chapter we mentioned. Let me quote to you what it says in book XI, Chapter 5:

1. Upon the death of Darius, Xerxes his son took the kingdom, who, as he inherited his father’s kingdom, so did he inherit his piety towards God, and honor of him; for he did all things suitably to his father relating to Divine worship, and he was exceeding friendly to the Jews. Now about this time a son of Jeshua, whose name was Joacim, was the high priest. Moreover, there was now in Babylon a righteous man, and one that enjoyed a great reputation among the multitude. He was the principal priest of the people, and his name was Esdras. He was very skillful in the laws of Moses, and was well acquainted with king Xerxes. He had determined to go up to Jerusalem, and to take with him some of those Jews that were in Babylon; and he desired that the king would give him an epistle to the governors of Syria, by which they might know who he was. Accordingly, the king wrote the following epistle to those governors: “Xerxes, king of kings, to Esdras the priest, and reader of the Divine law, greeting. I think it agreeable to that love which I bear to mankind, to permit those of the Jewish nation that are so disposed, as well as those of the priests and Levites that are in our kingdom, to go together to Jerusalem. Accordingly, I have given command for that purpose; and let every one that hath a mind go, according as it hath seemed good to me, and to my seven counselors, and this in order to their review of the affairs of Judea, to see whether they be agreeable to the law of God. Let them also take with them those presents which I and my friends have vowed, with all that silver and gold that is found in the country of the Babylonians, as dedicated to God, and let all this be carried to Jerusalem to God for sacrifices. Let it also be lawful for thee and thy brethren to make as many vessels of silver and gold as thou pleasest. Thou shalt also dedicate those holy vessels which have been given thee, and as many more as thou hast a mind to make, and shall take the expenses out of the king’s treasury. I have, moreover, written to the treasurers of Syria and Phoenicia, that they take care of those affairs that Esdras the priest, and reader of the laws of God, is sent about. And that God may not be at all angry with me, or with my children, I grant all that is necessary for sacrifices to God, according to the law, as far as a hundred cori of wheat. And I enjoin you not to lay any treacherous imposition, or any tributes, upon their priests or Levites, or sacred singers, or porters, or sacred servants, or scribes of the temple. And do thou, O Esdras, appoint judges according to the wisdom [given thee] of God, and those such as understand the law, that they may judge in all Syria and Phoenicia; and do thou instruct those also which are ignorant of it, that if any one of thy countrymen transgress the law of God, or that of the king, he may be punished, as not transgressing it out of ignorance, but as one that knows it indeed, but boldly despises and contemns it; and such may be punished by death, or by paying fines. Farewell.”

2. When Esdras had received this epistle, he was very joyful, and began to worship God, and confessed that he had been the cause of the king’s great favor to him, and that for the same reason he gave all the thanks to God. So he read the epistle at Babylon to those Jews that were there; but he kept the epistle itself, and sent a copy of it to all those of his own nation that were in Media. And when these Jews had understood what piety the king had towards God, and what kindness he had for Esdras, they were all greatly pleased; nay, many of them took their effects with them, and came to Babylon, as very desirous of going down to Jerusalem; but then the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country; wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Iomans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers. Now there came a great number of priests, and Levites, and porters, and sacred singers, and sacred servants to Esdras. So he gathered those that were in the captivity together beyond Euphrates, and staid there three days, and ordained a fast for them, that they might make their prayers to God for their preservation, that they might suffer no misfortunes by the way, either from their enemies, or from any other ill accident; for Esdras had said beforehand that he had told the king how God would preserve them, and so he had not thought fit to request that he would send horsemen to conduct them. So when they had finished their prayers, they removed from Euphrates on the twelfth day of the first month of the seventh year of the reign of Xerxes, and they came to Jerusalem on the fifth month of the same year. Now Esdras presented the sacred money to the treasurers, who were of the family of the priests, of silver six hundred and fifty talents, vessels of silver one hundred talents, vessels of gold twenty talents, vessels of brass, that was more precious than gold, 8 twelve talents by weight; for these Presents had been made by the king and his counselors, and by all the Israelites that staid at Babylon. So when Esdras had delivered these things to the priests, he gave to God, as the appointed sacrifices of whole burnt-offerings, twelve bulls on account of the common preservation of the people, ninety rams, seventy-two lambs, and twelve kids of the goats, for the remission of sins. He also delivered the king’s epistle to the king’s officers, and to the governors of Celesyria and Phoenicia; and as they were under a necessity of doing what was enjoined by him, they honored our nation, and were assistant to them in all their necessities.

3. Now these things were truly done under the conduct of Esdras; and he succeeded in them, because God esteemed him worthy of the success of his conduct, on account of his goodness and righteousness. But some time afterward there came some persons to him, and brought an accusation against certain of the multitude, and of the priests and Levites, who had transgressed their settlement, and dissolved the laws of their country, by marrying strange wives, and had brought the family of the priests into confusion. These persons desired him to support the laws, lest God should take up a general anger against them all, and reduce them to a calamitous condition again. Hereupon he rent his garment immediately, out of grief, and pulled off the hair of his head and beard, and cast himself upon the ground, because this crime had reached the principal men among the people; and considering that if he should enjoin them to cast out their wives, and the children they had by them, he should not be hearkened to, he continued lying upon the ground. However, all the better sort came running to him, who also themselves wept, and partook of the grief he was under for what had been done. So Esdras rose up from the ground, and stretched out his hands towards heaven, and said that he was ashamed to look towards it, because of the sins which the people had committed, while they had cast out of their memories what their fathers had undergone on account of their wickedness; and he besought God, who had saved a seed and a remnant out of the calamity and captivity they had been in, and had restored them again to Jerusalem, and to their own land, and had obliged the kings of Persia to have compassion on them, that he would also forgive them their sins they had now committed, which, though they deserved death, yet, was it agreeable to the mercy of God, to remit even to these the punishment due to them.

Did you catch that? Ezra was good friends with XERXES. However, don’t forget the important detail. Did you see the letter? Does that look familiar? Well, it is familiar. It’s almost a direct copy of Ezra chapter 7. We event get a date in there. We have the “seventh year of Xerxes” that it happened. We even get an arrival date of the “fifth month” of that year.

I wonder how that matches to the book of Ezra? Let’s take a look at Ezra 7 in the ESV Bible. Look what it says:

 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel: “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven. Peace. And now I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand, and also to carry the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, with all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God that is in Jerusalem. With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God that is in Jerusalem. Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.

And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.

“And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach. Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.” (Ezra 7:1-26)

Looks familiar, doesn’t it? But isn’t there something off?

Josephus says the person who sent Ezra is named XERXES, while the ESV Bible says the person who sent Ezra is named ARTAXERXES.

The plot thickens with Nehemiah.

Josephus and Nehemiah vs. our Bibles

Next, we get the following information about Nehemiah from Josephus:

 6. Now there was one of those Jews that had been carried captive who was cup-bearer to king Xerxes; his name was Nehemiah. As this man was walking before Susa, the metropolis of the Persians, he heard some strangers that were entering the city, after a long journey, speaking to one another in the Hebrew tongue; so he went to them, and asked them whence they came. And when their answer was, that they came from Judea, he began to inquire of them again in what state the multitude was, and in what condition Jerusalem was; and when they replied that they were in a bad state for that their walls were thrown down to the ground, and that the neighboring nations did a great deal of mischief to the Jews, while in the day time they overran the country, and pillaged it, and in the night did them mischief, insomuch that not a few were led away captive out of the country, and out of Jerusalem itself, and that the roads were in the day time found full of dead men. Hereupon Nehemiah shed tears, out of commiseration of the calamities of his countrymen; and, looking up to heaven, he said, “How long, O Lord, wilt thou overlook our nation, while it suffers so great miseries, and while we are made the prey and spoil of all men?” And while he staid at the gate, and lamented thus, one told him that the king was going to sit down to supper; so he made haste, and went as he was, without wishing himself, to minister to the king in his office of cup-bearer. But as the king was very pleasant after supper, and more cheerful than usual, he cast his eyes on Nehemiah, and seeing him look sad, he asked him why he was sad. Whereupon he prayed to God to give him favor, and afford him the power of persuading by his words, and said, “How can I, O king, appear otherwise than thus, and not be in trouble, while I hear that the walls of Jerusalem, the city where are the sepulchers of my fathers, are thrown down to the ground, and that its gates are consumed by fire? But do thou grant me the favor to go and build its wall, and to finish the building of the temple.” Accordingly, the king gave him a signal that he freely granted him what he asked; and told him that he should carry an epistle to the governors, that they might pay him due honor, and afford him whatsoever assistance he wanted, and as he pleased. “Leave off thy sorrow then,” said the king, “and be cheerful in the performance of thy office hereafter.” So Nehemiah worshipped God, and gave the king thanks for his promise, and cleared up his sad and cloudy countenance, by the pleasure he had from the king’s promises. Accordingly, the king called for him the next day, and gave him an epistle to be carried to Adeus, the governor of Syria, and Phoenicia, and Samaria; wherein he sent to him to pay due honor to Nehemiah, and to supply him with what he wanted for his building.

7. Now when he was come to Babylon, and had taken with him many of his countrymen, who voluntarily followed him, he came to Jerusalem in the twenty and fifth year of the reign of Xerxes. And when he had shown the epistles to God he gave them to Adeus, and to the other governors. He also called together all the people to Jerusalem, and stood in the midst of the temple, and made the following speech to them: “You know, O Jews, that God hath kept our fathers, Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in mind continually, and for the sake of their righteousness hath not left off the care of you. Indeed he hath assisted me in gaining this authority of the king to raise up our wall, and finish what is wanting of the temple. I desire you, therefore who well know the ill-will our neighboring nations bear to us, and that when once they are made sensible that we are in earnest about building, they will come upon us, and contrive many ways of obstructing our works, that you will, in the first place, put your trust in God, as in him that will assist us against their hatred, and to intermit building neither night nor day, but to use all diligence, and to hasten on the work, now we have this especial opportunity for it.” When he had said this, he gave order that the rulers should measure the wall, and part the work of it among the people, according to their villages and cities, as every one’s ability should require. And when he had added this promise, that he himself, with his servants, would assist them, he dissolved the assembly. So the Jews prepared for the work: that is the name they are called by from the day that they came up from Babylon, which is taken from the tribe of Judah, which came first to these places, and thence both they and the country gained that appellation. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 11.5.6-7)

So obviously, we get the problem here, that our English Bibles call the king “Artaxerxes,” while Josephus calls him “Xerxes,” but I’m going to point out a problem with this passage that you probably didn’t notice.

The Mistranslated Date by William Whiston for Xerxes

Now, there is a problem with this account, which comes to us translated from Greek. Look what it says about when Nehemiah came to Babylon:

Now when he was come to Babylon, and had taken with him many of his countrymen, who voluntarily followed him, he came to Jerusalem in the twenty and fifth year of the reign of Xerxes. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 11.5.7)

The problem is THERE IS NO TWENTY-FIFTH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF XERXES. Xerxes reigned from the spring of 485 (which was the first “regnal year” after Darius’s death in October of 486) to the time of his death in August of 465. That’s a total of 21 years (with part of the last year being the “accession year”).

This means one of two things:

  • The first thing it could mean is that Josephus made a mistake, and his “Xerxes” should be “Artaxerxes” because Xerxes only reigned 20 years and Artaxerxes reigned 40 years.
  • The second thing it could mean is that we have a bad translation.

I’m going with the second option, for the following reason. The actual Greek text of Josephus in this portion says the following:

Γενόμενος οὖν ἐν Βαβυλῶνι καὶ πολλοὺς τῶν ὁμοφύλων ἐθελοντὶ ἀκολουθοῦντας αὐτῷ παραλαβὼν ἧκεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα πέμπτον καὶ εἰκοστὸν ἔτος ἤδη βασιλεύοντος Ξέρξου,

And the key words are πέμπτον καὶ εἰκοστὸν ἔτος ἤδη βασιλεύοντος Ξέρξου. That means [fifth] [and] [twenty] [year] [that was king] [Xerxes]. And here’s why that’s significant:

That doesn’t mean the twenty fifth year of Xerxes.

Instead, the Jews often referenced their months by the number, not the name. So Josephus is saying that it is the FIFTH MONTH of the Twentieth Year of the reign of Xerxes. And we get a confirmation of this in the book of Nehemiah, which is when he explains how long it took him to build the wall:

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. (Nehemiah 6:15)

They finished the wall on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Elul, which is the sixth month. That means that fifty-two days before the twenty-fifth day of Elul was the third day of Av, which was the fifth month. And look what we see about that date:

Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant herd this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.
So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. (Nehemiah 2:11)

This matches to my alternate translation of Josephus perfectly. In other words, we have a clear chronology between Josephus and Nehemiah:

  • Nehemiah is before Xerxes in Nisan, the first month, in the 20th year of the reign of Xerxes, where he is given letters to provide him with supplies.
  • Nehemiah leaves soon thereafter with “horsemen,” allowing him to make the 1000 mile journey relatively quickly.
    • If he traveled 10 miles a day, he would have gotten there in 100 days.
    • In other words, it would have taken him a little over three months to get to Jerusalem.
    • Leave in the middle of Nisan, that means you’ll be arriving at the end of Tammuz, which is right before the month of Av, the fifth month.
  • Bada-bing, bada-boom. We have a very clear explanation and chronology of Nehemiah building the wall in the 20th year of Xerxes, leaving in the first month, arriving in the fifth month, and finishing the wall in 52 days at the end of the sixth month.

Conclusion of Nehemiah and Xerxes and Josephus vs. Our Modern Bibles

So, to summarize, Nehemiah happens DURING THE REIGN OF XERXES. It’s all quite clear. Josephus actually corresponds quite nicely to our Bibles. We just didn’t notice it.

Josephus and Esther vs. our Bibles

Next, we come to the part about Esther. Then we read what Josephus says about Esther, which is at Book XI, Chapter 6:

1. After the death of Xerxes, the kingdom came to be transferred to his son Cyrus, whom the Greeks called Artaxerxes. When this man had obtained the government over the Persians, the whole nation of the Jews, with their wives and children, were in danger of perishing; the occasion whereof we shall declare in a little time; for it is proper, in the first place, to explain somewhat relating to this king, and how he came to marry a Jewish wife, who was herself of the royal family also, and who is related to have saved our nation; for when Artaxerxes had taken the kingdom, and had set governors over the hundred twenty and seven provinces, from India even unto Ethiopia, in the third year of his reign, he made a costly feast for his friends, and for the nations of Persia, and for their governors, such a one as was proper for a king to make, when he had a mind to make a public demonstration of his riches, and this for a hundred and fourscore days; after which he made a feast for other nations, and for their ambassadors, at Shushan, for seven days. (Josephus, Antiquities, Book XI, Chapter 6, Part 1)

So once again, that looks EXACTLY like what we read in Esther, except it is a different name. Look at what we read in the ESV Bible (and pretty much every bible since the KJV):

Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. (Esther 1:1-5 (ESV))

THIS IS OBVIOUSLY THE SAME EVENT. Notice how BOTH Josephus and the book of Esther identify this king as reigning from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces. This is OBVIOUSLY the same guy. But for some reason, we believe that WE know what is going on here, and Josephus (who was 2,000 years closer to the events than we are) is just ASSUMED to be wrong.

But guess what? This isn’t just an ESV Study Bible thing. Look at other versions of the Bible:

  • Now it came to pass in the days of [Footnote: Or, Xerxes. Hebrew Ahashverosh.] Ahasuerus (this is Ahasuerus who reigned from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces), (Esther 1:1 ASV)
  • This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, [Footnote: Hebrew Ahasuerus; here and throughout Esther] the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush (Esther 1:1 (NIV))
  • Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus [Footnote: Generally identified with Xerxes I (485–464 b.c.)] (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia), (Esther 1:1 (NKJV))
  • This is the story of something that happened in the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled from India to Ethiopia—127 provinces in all. (Esther 1:1-3, the Message Bible)

Are you seeing what’s going on here? This isn’t merely an ESV Study Bible thing. This is an ENGLISH LANGUAGE BIBLE THING.

But the Bible calls the king “Ahasuerus” and Josephus calls him “Artaxerxes.” Why do we have the distinction?

The Septuagint vs. Our Bibles

Oh, you thought I was done when I stopped quoting Josephus? Nope. It gets even worse.

You see, there’s a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was written in the 3rd Century B.C. This is the Greek version of the Bible that the New Testament writers often quote. You can read what it says in the first chapter of Esther by clicking on this link. And guess what it calls the king in Esther’s time?

Αρταξέρξης 

Guess what that translates to in English:

Artaxerxes 

You see what this means about the way that we interpret who this King Ahasuerus guy is, right?

HE IS LITERALLY A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON

And guess what? This mix-up is COMPLETELY SOLVED by the chronology given by Josephus.

This COMPLETE SOLUTION also JUST SO HAPPENS to perfectly match up with the actual ORDER of the books in the Bible: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. (You didn’t think that was RANDOM, now, did you? Silly reader, NOTHING about your Bible is random.)

And for some reason, this resource has been OPEN SOURCE for more than 200 years, and it hasn’t had any effect.

CONCLUSION and NEXT POST

I have decided to pick on the ESV Study Bible because that is the Study Bible that I have. I have not picked on a different version of the Bible, because one is not before me to criticize. I suspect that they all have similar problems, but the ESV Study Bible had the problem of having DIRECT contradictions within it. Therefore, it gets some rightful criticism. However, I didn’t give it a bad grade. Instead, I just said “See me after class.” That’s because this problem is actually a harder problem than you would think, even with Josephus sitting there out in the open.

Here is the problem that will be covered in the next post. The key comes down to Nehemiah. Nehemiah is sent out by a king that is named לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא in Hebrew to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. Later in the book, we see that the same לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא in Hebrew has a 20th and 32nd year.

But wait… a 32nd year? Didn’t we just cover that King Xerxes sent Nehemiah? Didn’t we just cover that King Xerxes only reigned for 21 years? Yes. That’s right. So, in other words, we have a problem of BIBLE TRANSLATION. And here’s the problem:

  • The book of Esther says that a king named “אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ [who is the] אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ in Persia,” which we translate as “Ahasuerus” and modern scholars believe this to be Xerxes.
  • On the other hand, Josephus says that the king named אֲחַשְׁוֵר֑וֹשׁ in the book of Esther is named “Artaxerxes” and never mentions the Hebrew name of “Ahasuerus.”
  • Our bibles say that this לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא who appears in Nehemiah and Ezra cannot be “Xerxes” and must be “Artaxerxes,” because “Artaxerxes” is the only Persian King available who reigns at least 32 years.
  • On the other hand, Josephus says that a Persian King named לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא must be “Xerxes” and this לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא sent Nehemiah to build the wall. Josephus says that this לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁ֣סְתְּא is “Xerxes,” who we know only reigned 21 years.

Josephus seems to match up to the general history of the world as we know it. But our Bibles are our infallible bibles. What do we do in a situation like this? Josephus or our Bible?

The rule that evangelical Christians use in a situation like this is that even if THE ENTIRE WORLD goes against what the Bible says, we should believe the Bible. That’s why the modern evangelical world is closing its eyes and believing what is printed in our texts, hoping for it all to work out.

Well, in the next post, I’m going to make it all work out. And it will work out in a way that you weren’t expecting.

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