Ezra 4

 

In v. 4:8, the scribe’s language shifts to Aramaic, as was done in parts of Daniel.  The Aramaic continues throughout the rest of this chapter and until Ezra 6:18.

וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ צָרֵי יְהוּדָה וּבִנְיָמִן כִּי־בְנֵי הַגּוֹלָה בּוֹנִים הֵיכָל לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃   4:1

Ezra 4:1   When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the exile were building a Temple to the Lord, God of Israel,

Take notice that the scribe immediately identifies those who will be approaching the Jews (next verse) as enemies.  We will see how destructive and vicious they will be, but at this point, we are already told to be wary, just as the Jews will be described as having been.

וַיִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל־זְרֻבָּבֶל וְאֶל־רָאשֵׁי הָאָבֹות וַיֹּאמְרוּ לָהֶם נִבְנֶה עִםָּכֶם כִּי כָכֶם נִדְרֹושׁ   4:2

לֵאלֹהֵיכֶם (וְלֹא) [וְלֹו] אֲנַחְנוּ זֹבְחִים מִימֵי אֵסַר חַדֹּן מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר הַמַּעֲלֶה אֹתָנוּ פֹּה׃

Ezra 4:2   then they came near to Zerubbabel and to the heads of households and said to them, “Let us build with you, for like you we would seek your God, and we have not been sacrificing since the days of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, who carried us away from here.”

Two points relating to this verse:  First, we can be fairly confident that these “enemies,” who are identified by scholars to have been Samaritans, a mixture of several races who were exiled to Samaria, did not intend to be helpful as implied by their plea.  It will soon become apparent that they had mischief in mind from the beginning.  Their purpose?  To prevent the rebuilding of the Temple and of Jerusalem.  Secondly, the “error” identified in the parentheses is not an error, in my opinion.  That word is translated as not (in we have not been ...), whereas the “correction” in the brackets is translated as unto Him (as in we have been sacrificing unto Him ...).  I have a problem with the latter translation as I find it difficult to imagine that these people were indeed sacrificing to the Lord during their own exile.  They weren’t Jews; they must have not sacrificed to the Lord before their exile.  So why would they say they had sacrificed (unless they were lying -- but no one knows this to be the case)?

וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם זְרֻבָּבֶל וְיֵשׁוּעַ וּשְׁאָר רָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא־לָכֶם וָלָנוּ לִבְנוֹת בַּיִת לֵאלֹהֵינוּ כִּי   4:3

אֲנַחְנוּ יַחַד נִבְנֶה לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּנוּ הַמֶּלֶךְ כּוֹרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ־פָּרָס׃

Ezra 4:3   But Zarubbabel said to them, with Jeshua and the rest of the heads of Israel's households, “Building a house to our God is not for you, but for us, for only we will build for the Lord, God of Israel, as the king, Cyrus, king of Persia, charged us.”

We may ask here, were the Jews wary of these outsiders or were they being exclusionary?  It’s difficult to say, but I suspect they were being wary, because we know that outsiders helped in the building of the first Temple (for example, see 1Kin. 5:32).

וַיְהִי עַם־הָאָרֶץ מְרַפִּים יְדֵי עַם־יְהוּדָה (וּמְבַלַהִים) [וּמְבַהֲלִים] אֹותָם לִבְנֹות׃   4:4

Ezra 4:4   Then it happened the people of the land were impeding the hands of the people of Judah, and wearying them in building,

As far as I am concerned the word in the parentheses is not incorrect.  I translate it as wearying.  The word in the brackets is translatable as disturbing, alarming, hurrying, dismaying, and others.  None of these alternative translations (except possibly dismaying -- but none of the bibles use this translation) seem to fit as well as the original.

וְסֹכְרִים עֲלֵיהֶם יוֹעֲצִים לְהָפֵר עֲצָתָם כָּל־יְמֵי כּוֹרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרַס וְעַד־מַלְכוּת דָּרְיָוֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ־פָּרָס׃   4:5

Ezra 4:5   and hiring counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus, king of Persia, and even of the reign of Darius, king of Persia.

Verses 4 and 5 together are introductory to the rest of the story of the period of the rebuilding of the Temple.  The interruption to the rebuilding described here lasted for some twenty years.  The interval from the time the Jews returned to Jerusalem until the reign of Darius was about 15 years.  Now here’s another interesting understanding:  At least this verse, and most likely the entire chapter (if not more), was written after the fact, after the Temple had been completed.  The Temple was completed fairly early in Darius’ reign.

וּבְמַלְכוּת אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בִּתְחִלַּת מַלְכוּתוֹ כָּתְבוּ שִׂטְנָה עַל־יֹשְׁבֵי יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם׃   4:6

Ezra 4:6   Then in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and of Jerusalem.

Now, Ahasuerus began his reign long after the Temple had been rebuilt.  Very strange!

וּבִימֵי אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא כָּתַב בִּשְׁלָם מִתְרְדָת טָבְאֵל וּשְׁאָר (כְּנָוֹתֹו) [כְּנָוֹתָיו   4:7

עַל־(אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא) [אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּ] מֶלֶךְ פָּרָס וּכְתָב הַנִּשְׁתְּוָן כָּתוּב אֲרָמִית וּמְתֻרְגָּם אֲרָמִית׃

Ezra 4:7   Then in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam wrote, Mithredath, Tabeal, with the rest of his compatriots, to Artaxerxes, king of Persia, and the writing of the letter was Aramaic writing and the translation was Aramaic.

Artaxerxes reigned after Ahasuerus.  Also very strange!  Maybe even more strange is the “error” identified in the second set of parentheses.  Notice that its spelling (the name Artaxerxes) is identical to that of the second word in the verse, whereas the word in the second set of brackets truncates the name by omitting the aleph suffix (which is not an incorrect spelling, by the way, only an unnecessary one).  The word in the first set of parentheses is an error.  It is spelled as singular, his compatriot, and should be plural, his compatriots, as appears in the first set of brackets.

רְחוּם בְּעֵל־טְעֵם וְשִׁמְשַׁי סָפְרָא כְּתַבוּ אִגְּרָה חֲדָה עַל־יְרוּשְׁלֶם לְאַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּא מַלְכָּא כְּנֵמָא׃   4:8

Ezra 4:8   Rehum, a man of judgment, and Shimshai, the scribe, wrote one letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes, the king, as follows –

This verse and the rest of the chapter is in Aramaic.

אֱדַיִן רְחוּם בְּעֵל־טְעֵם וְשִׁמְשַׁי סָפְרָא וּשְׁאָר כְּנָוָתְהֹון דִּינָיֵא וַאֲפַרְסַתְכָיֵא טַרְפְּלָיֵא   4:9

 אֲפָרְסָיֵא (אַרְכְּוָי) [אַרְכְּוָיֵא] בָבְלָיֵא שׁוּשַׁנְכָיֵא (דִּהוּא) [דֶּהָיֵא] עֵלְמָיֵא׃

Ezra 4:9   then Rehum, the man of judgment, and Shimshai, the scribe, and the rest of their compatriots, the Dinites and the Apharesattechites, the Tarpelites, the Apharesites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Shushanchites, the Dehites, the Elamites,

The words in the two sets of parentheses are incorrect.  The first one is missing an aleph suffix, which in this case translates as the definite article the.  The second error contains a vav that should be a yad.

וּשְׁאָר אֻמַּיָּא דִּי הַגְלִי אָסְנַפַּר רַבָּא וְיַקִּירָא וְהוֹתֵב הִמּוֹ בְּקִרְיָה דִּי שָׁמְרָיִן וּשְׁאָר עֲבַר־נַהֲרָה   4:10

 וּכְעֶנֶת׃

Ezra 4:10   and the rest of the peoples whom the great and noble Asenappar had taken into exile and made them dwell in the city of Samaria, and the rest beyond the river -- and now,

Verses 9 and 10 interrupt the narrative of v. 8, which resumes in v. 11.  Notice that these people mentioned here are still dwelling in Samaria, not in Judah, as indicated in vss. 4:14 and 17 below.

דְּנָה פַּרְשֶׁגֶן אִגַּרְתָּא דִּי שְׁלַחוּ עֲלֹוהִי עַל־אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּא מַלְכָּא (עַבְדָיִךְ) [עַבְדָךְ] אֱנָשׁ עֲבַר־נַהֲרָה   4:11

 וּכְעֶנֶת׃

Ezra 4:11   this is a copy of the letter that they sent to him, to Artaxerxes, the king:  “Your servants, men beyond the river; and now

The river is the Jordan.  As for the alleged error in the parentheses, I believe it is correctly spelled, and the supposed correction in the brackets is unnecessary.

יְדִיעַ לֶהֱוֵא לְמַלְכָּא דִּי יְהוּדָיֵא דִּי סְלִקוּ מִן־לְוָתָךְ עֲלֶינָא אֲתֹו לִירוּשְׁלֶם קִרְיְתָא מָרָדְתָּא   4:12

וּבִאישְׁתָּאק בָּנַיִן (וְשׁוּרַי) [וְשׁוּרַיָּא] (אֶשְׁכְלִלוּ) [שַׁכְלִלוּ] וְאֻשַּׁיָּא יַחִיטוּ׃

Ezra 4:12   let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have come to Jerusalem are building the rebellious and bad city, and the walls have been completed and the foundations should be joined.

The word in the first set of parentheses is incorrectly spelled.  It should have the aleph suffix (meaning the) as shown in the first set of brackets.  The word in the second set of parentheses is correct, as I see it.  Its form is appropriate to be translated as the passive plural verb have been completed.  The correction in the second set of brackets is therefore unnecessary.

כְּעַן יְדִיעַ לֶהֱוֵא לְמַלְכָּא דִּי הֵן קִרְיְתָא דָךְ תִּתְבְּנֵא וְשׁוּרַיָּה יִשְׁתַּכְלְלוּן מִנְדָּה־בְלוֹ וַהֲלָךְ לָא יִנְתְּנוּן   4:13

וְאַפְּתֹם מַלְכִים תְּהַנְזִק׃

Ezra 4:13   Now let it be known to the king that if they would complete this city, they would not pay toll, tribute, or custom, and the revenue of the kings would be adversely affected.

כְּעַן כָּל־קֳבֵל דִּי־מְלַח הֵיכְלָא מְלַחְנָא וְעַרְוַת מַלְכָּא לָא אֲרִיךְ לַנָא לְמֶחֱזֵא עַל־דְּנָה שְׁלַחְנָא   4:14

 וְהוֹדַעְנָא לְמַלְכָּא׃

Ezra 4:14   Now because we eat of the salt of the palace, and the dishonor of the king is not appropriate to us to see, therefore we have sent and announced to the king

דִּי יְבַקַּר בִּסְפַר־דָּכְרָנַיָּא דִּי אֲבָהָתָךְ וּתְהַשְׁכַּח בִּסְפַר דָּכְרָנַיָּא וְתִנְדַּע דִּי קִרְיְתָא דָךְ קִרְיָא מָרָדָא   4:15

וּמְהַנְזְקַת מַלְכִין וּמְדִנָן וְאֶשְׁתַּדּוּר עָבְדִין בְּגַוַּהּ מִן־יוֹמָת עָלְמָא עַל־דְּנָה קִרְיְתָא דָךְ הָחָרְבַת׃

Ezra 4:15   that a search should be made in the book of records of your fathers and you will find in the book of records and know that this city is a rebellious city and damaging of kings and provinces, that they have performed sedition in its midst since the days of antiquity; because of which this city had been laid waste.

מְהוֹדְעִין אֲנַחְנָה לְמַלְכָּא דִּי הֵן קִרְיְתָא דָךְ תִּתְבְּנֵא וְשׁוּרַיָּה יִשְׁתַּכְלְלוּן לָקֳבֵל דְּנָה חֲלָק בַּעֲבַר   4:16

 נַהֲרָא לָא אִיתַי לָךְ׃

Ezra 4:16   We are announcing to the king that if this city would be rebuilt and its walls completed, because of this no portion beyond the river would be for you.”

פִּתְגָמָא שְׁלַח מַלְכָּא עַל־רְחוּם בְּעֵל־טְעֵם וְשִׁמְשַׁי סָפְרָא וּשְׁאָר כְּנָוָתְהוֹן דִּי יָתְבִין בְּשָׁמְרָיִן וּשְׁאָר   4:17

 עֲבַר־נַהֲרָה שְׁלָם וּכְעֶת׃

Ezra 4:17   The king sent an answer to Rehum, the man of judgment, and Shimshai, the scribe, and the rest of their compatriots who were dwelling in Samaria, and the rest beyond the river:  “Peace! And now,

נִשְׁתְּוָנָא דִּי שְׁלַחְתּוּן עֲלֶינָא מְפָרַשׁ קֱרִי קָדָמָי׃   4:18

Ezra 4:18   the letter that you sent to us was plainly read before me.

וּמִנִּי שִׂים טְעֵם וּבַקַּרוּ וְהַשְׁכַּחוּ דִּי קִרְיְתָא דָךְ מִן־יוֹמָת עָלְמָא עַל־מַלְכִין מִתְנַשְּׂאָה וּמְרַד   4:19

וְאֶשְׁתַּדּוּר מִתְעֲבֶד־בַּהּ׃

Ezra 4:19   And a decree was set from me and they searched and found that this city since the days of antiquity has been engaging in insurrection and rebellion against kings, and inciting sedition within it.

וּמַלְכִין תַּקִּיפִין הֲווֹ עַל־יְרוּשְׁלֶם וְשַׁלִּיטִין בְּכֹל עֲבַר נַהֲרָה וּמִדָּה בְלוֹ וַהֲלָךְ מִתְיְהֵב לְהוֹן׃   4:20

Ezra 4:20   And mighty kings had been ruling over Jerusalem and in all beyond the river, and toll, tribute, and custom had been given to them.

כְּעַן שִׂימוּ טְּעֵמ לְבַטָּלָא גֻּבְרַיָּא אִלֵּךְ וְקִרְיְתָא דָךְ לָא תִתְבְּנֵא עַד־מִנִּי טַעְמָא יִתְּשָׂם׃   4:21

Ezra 4:21   Now set out a decree to make these men cease, that this city shall not be built until the decree will be set out by me.

וּזְהִירִין הֱווֹ שָׁלוּ לְמֶעְבַּד עַל־דְּנָה לְמָה יִשְׂגֵּא חֲבָלָא לְהַנְזָקַת מַלְכִין׃   4:22

Ezra 4:22   And be warned:  Fail to perform concerning this, injury would increase thereby to the detriment of kings.”

אֱדַיִן מִן־דִּי פַּרְשֶׁגֶן נִשְׁתְּוָנָא דִּי (אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא) [אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתְּ] מַלְכָּא קֱרִי קֳדָם־רְחוּם וְשִׁמְשַׁי   4:23

סָפְרָא וּכְנָוָתְהֹון אֲזַלוּ בִבְהִילוּ לִירוּשְׁלֶמ עַל־יְהוּדָיֵא וּבַטִּלוּ הִמֹּו בְּאֶדְרָע וְחָיִל׃

Ezra 4:23   Then as a result of this a copy of the letter of Artaxerxes, the king, was read before Rahum and Shimshai, the scribe, and their compatriots.  They went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews and made them cease with force and power.

The word in the parentheses is correctly spelled, as in v. 4:7.  The correction in the brackets is unnecessary.

בֵּאדַיִן בְּטֵלַת עֲבִידַת בֵּית־אֱלָהָא דִּי בִּירוּשְׁלֶם וַהֲוָת בָּטְלָא עַד שְׁנַת תַּרְתֵּין לְמַלְכוּת דָּרְיָוֶשׁ   4:24

 מֶלֶךְ־פָּרָס׃

Ezra 4:24   Thereupon the work of the house of God that was in Jerusalem stopped, and the stoppage was until the second year of the reign of Darius, king of Persia.

The sequence of this chapter is mysterious and not easy to understand.  The stoppage of the construction of the second Temple seems to have been implied in v. 4:5 above.  Then from v. 4:6 until v. 4:23, the narrative shifts to the rebuilding of Jerusalem itself, which took place after the Temple had been rebuilt.  Now in this verse we seem to have been told that the Temple construction was halted as a consequence of the events described up to v. 4:23.  Weird, indeed!  Apparently the only way to explain this twist is to assume that all the verses from v. 4:4 until v. 4:23 are an interruptive recap of much later events, and the story of the Temple resumes here from v. 4:5.

 

[Return to Ezra Chapters]   [Prev.:  Ezra 3]   [Next:  Ezra 5]