Chronologically organising Ezra-Nehemiah


This important work has already been largely achieved by James B. Jordan, in his series:

“The Chronology of Ezra & Nehemiah”:

The Chronology of Ezra & Nehemiah, Part 1


I would not, however, accept his conventionally based BC dates for Cyrius or Darius.


The author begins by discussing:

The Chronological Problem

The chronological problem in Ezra-Nehemiah boils down to this: On the one hand, the name lists in these two books lead us to expect that all the events in them took place in the reign of Darius; while on the other hand, the text calls the Persian emperor under whom Ezra and Nehemiah lived by the name “Artaxerxes,” and Artaxerxes I (Artaxerxes Longimanus) reigned many years after Darius. We can resolve this problem one of two ways. The first is to strain the information given in the name lists in order to make it fit, this approach being the common one today. This gives us a long chronology for Ezra. The other way of resolving the problem is to hold that “Artaxerxes” in Ezra-Nehemiah is simply another name for Darius, giving us a short chronology. The long chronology is the establishment view today among both unbelieving and evangelical commentators. The short chronology has always been favored by Biblical chronologists.


Nehemiah and Mordecai

In Ezra 1-2, we read that immediately after Cyrus’s decree (536 B.C.), a group of exiles returned from Babylon to begin work on the Lord’s Temple. Among these were “Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai” (Ezr. 2:2). Nehemiah 7:7 gives the same list: “Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamiah, Mordecai.” Who is this Nehemiah who returned with the first group of exiles? Most expositors hold that he cannot be the same as the Nehemiah who wrote Nehemiah, because the latter Nehemiah was still alive over 100 years later. We must ask, however, [if] this interpretation makes sense. Was Ezra trying to confuse his reader by mentioning some other Nehemiah in Ezra 2:2? More, was Nehemiah trying to confuse us by mentioning some other Nehemiah in Nehemiah 7:7?

If we look at Nehemiah 3:16 we read about “Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, official of half the district of Beth-zur.” This is clearly another Nehemiah, and that is why we are told who his father was. Nehemiah the governor carefully distinguishes this Nehemiah from himself. Surely he would have done the same in Nehemiah 7:7, if that Nehemiah had been someone other than himself.

We ought to assume that the Biblical writers were trying to communicate, not confuse. The reference to “Nehemiah” in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 should be taken as strong evidence that the short chronology is correct. Nehemiah returned with the exiles and was present for the initial altar building under Joshua and Zerubbabel. At some later date he returned to Persia to serve King Darius/Artaxerxes.

Notice also that Mordecai is mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7. In the absence of any other qualifier, we should assume that this is the Mordecai, the great and renowned Mordecai of Esther 10:3. This identification would shorten the chronology as far as the book of Esther is concerned, and indeed would tend to identify Esther’s Ahasuerus as Darius. (For a possible side-light, see Nehemiah 2:6.)

Nehemiah 10 and 12

In Nehemiah 10 we are given a list of the priests and Levites who signed the covenant renewal document prepared by Nehemiah (Neh. 9:38). The names on this list are identical with those who returned to Jerusalem at the time of Cyrus’s decree. If the long chronology were correct, there would be a 91-year gap between these two events. According to the short chronology, there are only about 34 years between the two events.

Those who returned with Zerubbabel Those who signed with Nehemiah

in the first year of Cyrus in the 20th year of Artaxerxes

(Nehemiah 12:1-9) (Nehemiah 10:1-12)


1. Seraiah Seraiah

2. Jeremiah Jeremiah

3. Ezra (Azariah)

4. Amariah Amariah

5. Malluch (Malluchi) (Malchijah)

6. Hattush Hattush

7. Shechaniah (Shebaniah) Shebaniah

8. Rehum (Harim) Harim

9. Meremoth Meremoth

10. Iddo –

11. Ginnetho Ginnethon

12. Abijah Abijah

13. Mijamin Mijamin

14. Maadiah (Maaziah)

15. Biglah Biglai

16. Shemaiah Shemaiah

17. Joiarib –

18. Jedaiah –

19. Sallu (Sallai) –

20. Amok –

21. Hilkiah –

22. Jedaiah –


1. Jeshua Jeshua

2. Binnui Binnui

3. Kadmiel Kadmiel

4. Sherebiah Shebaniah

5. Judah (Hodijah, cp. Ezr. 2:40, 3:9)

6. Mattaniah –

7. Bakbukiah –

8. Unni –

(and 12 others)

Of the 8 Levites who are mentioned as returning with Zerubbabel, 5 are mentioned as signing the covenant with Nehemiah. Of the 22 priests who returned with Zerubbabel, 15 signed the covenant with Nehemiah. It is quite natural that 20 out of 30 men who returned with Zerubbabel in the first year of Cyrus should still be alive 34 years later. It is not reasonable to suppose that they would be alive 91 years later.

Modern commentators get around this problem by saying that the names in Nehemiah 10 are family names, not personal names. That is, they are the names of the priestly courses established by the men living at the time of Zerubbabel, not the names of individuals. This is a wholly gratuitous assertion without any foundation in the text. First of all, a number of the names in Nehemiah 10:1-27 correspond to the personal names found in Nehemiah 3. Secondly, if family names or names of priestly courses are in view, then the two lists should be identical, which they are not. Of course, if it is a proven fact that the Artaxerxes of Nehemiah is Artaxerxes Longimanus, then some such explanation of Nehemiah 10 becomes necessary, but as we are seeking to show, there is good reason to suppose that the Artaxerxes in Nehemiah is in fact Darius. Therefore, Nehemiah 10 can stand without procrustean interpretations being forced upon it.


Continuing on into Part Two:

The Chronology of Ezra & Nehemiah, Part 2

Jordan writes on the particularly complex matter of:

The Priestly Genealogy

Jeshua the high priest, who returned with Zerubbabel, was not a young man at the time. We know this because his father, Jehozadak, was taken into captivity (1 Chron. 6:15). [This] was 50 years before the decree of Cyrus (2 Kings 25:18-22, by implication). Jehozadak’s father Seraiah, slain by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18-22), was high priest at the time, so his father Azariah (1 Chron. 6:14) was already dead. Thus, Seraiah was probably in his 50s or 60s, which would put his eldest son Jehozadak in his 30s or 40s. Accordingly, it is likely that Jeshua was born before the captivity. It is possible that Jeshua was born in captivity, but he would still be fairly old by the sixth year of Darius, 21 years after the return, 71 years after the captivity. To be on the safe side, we shall put his age at 80 in the 6th year of Darius, 21 years after the return.

Jeshua’s son was Joiakim (Neh. 12:10). He was high priest in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh. 12:26). According to the long chronology, Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem 70 years later than the sixth year of Darius, which would mean that Joiakim was born when his father was very old indeed, or else that there is gap (aha, blessed gaps!) in the genealogy. Gaps do appear in genealogies (though not in chronologies) in the Old Testament, but given the tremendous importance place on the genealogical records of the priests and Levites in Ezra and Nehemiah, it is very unlikely that there is any gap here (Ezra 2:62; Neh. 12:22).

Of course, a gap is barely possible, but it is much easier to account for this genealogy on the basis of the short chronology. Old Jeshua died immediately after the Temple was dedicated, which means that his son Joiakim took over at the time Ezra arrived a year later. (The death of the high priest is significant in establishing the nation; see Num. 35:28; Num. 20:22 – 21:3; Josh. 24:33. The apparent fact that Jeshua’s life spanned the entire captivity-punishment of Israel adds an additional dimension to Zechariah 3.)

Joiakim’s son was Eliashib (Neh. 12:10). Evidently, at the time of Nehemiah (13 years after Ezra arrived) Joiakim was already an old man, so his son Eliashib was helping him as high priest (Neh. 3:1).

We are told of two sons of Eliashib: Joiada (Neh. 12:10), who served first as high priest, and Johanan (Neh. 12:23; Ezra 10:6), who served with and after him.

One of Joiada’s sons, unnamed, was already married when Nehemiah returned for his last visit about 13 years later (Neh. 13:28). We know that Joiada had a son named Jonathan, who is not listed in Nehemiah 12:22 as serving as high priest, though Jonathan’s son Jaddua did serve (Neh. 12:11). Perhaps it was Jonathan who was cast out by Nehemiah, and perhaps that prevented his serving as high priest. (Note, though Johanan and Jonathan look similar in English, they are definitely not the same name in Hebrew.)

It is helpful to realize that Johanan was Joiada’s younger brother, because letters from the Jewish colony at Elephantine mention Johanan as a high priest in the 14th and 17th years of Darius’s reign. If Johanan had been a son of Joiada, this would be impossible. According to Ezra 10:6, Johanan already had a room in the Temple precincts in the 7th year of Darius, so he must have been at least a late teenager at this time.

There is plenty of time for all this in the short chronology. Here is a possible chronology:

According to Josephus (Antiquities 11:7-8), Jaddua was still high priest when Alexander the Great arrived at Jerusalem …. He also tells us of an aged Sanballat who was operating at the time Alexander arrived on the scene. Since the Sanballat of Nehemiah was in office in Darius yr. 20 (short chronology) …. Perhaps, though, among all his confusions Josephus has it right about Jaddua’s living to see Alexander.

There was a Jewish colony in Egypt on an island in the Nile called in Greek Elephantine. Archaeologists have uncovered a number of legal documents and letters addressed to various persons in the Persian empire from this colony. A number of them are dated in the years of Darius, and these letters refer to people mentioned in Nehemiah: Bigvai (Neh. 7:19); Johanan the high priest; Hanani (Nehemiah’s brother? Neh. 1:2); Sanballat (Neh. 3:1) (Papyri 21-22, 30-34). Because the present scholarly opinion is that Ezra and Nehemiah lived in the time of Artaxerxes Longimanus, it is assumed that the Darius of the Elephantine Papyri must be Darius II, who followed Longimanus. In terms of the short chronology, however, these letters should be understood as having been written in the time of Darius the Great.

It is interesting to notice that in Elephantine Papyrus No. 21 we have a letter to the head of the Elephantine colony, Yedoniah, from Hananiah, who might be Nehemiah’s brother. The letter instructs them that King Darius had ordered in his 5th year that the Jews were to celebrate Passover. This squares very nicely with Ezra 5.

The Ezra Question

As we saw above, the high priest at the time Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem was Seraiah, and he was killed at that time. He was the father of Jeshua, who 71 years later presided over the Passover in the 6th year of Darius (Ezra 6). If we compare the genealogy of the high priests in 1 Chronicles 6:3-15 with the genealogy of Ezra in Ezra 7:1-5, we find that Ezra was a member of the high priestly family. His genealogy is identical with that of Seraiah, and he is said to be a son of Seraiah (Ezra 7:1). We have supposed that Jeshua was 80 in the 6th year of Darius. The youngest Ezra could possibly be at that time is 71, assuming he was born the year his father died.

Long chronologists argue that Ezra lived in the time of Artaxerxes Longimanus, not in the time of Darius the Great. Thus, they suppose a gap between Seraiah and Ezra in the genealogy of Ezra 7:1. They defend this supposition by pointing to the fact that there is a definite gap between Azariah and Meraioth in Ezra 7:3 (cp. 1 Chron. 6:3-15). If there is one gap in Ezra’s genealogy, they point out, they may well be another.

Let us see, however, whether the short chronology can successfully overcome the supposed gap between Seraiah and Ezra. Ezra was still alive in the 20th year of Darius, when Nehemiah arrived, making him at least 85 years old. Ezra was present at the dedication of the wall built under Nehemiah’s supervision (Neh. 8:2). It is usually assumed that it only took 52 days for the wall to be rebuilt (Neh. 6:15), so that it was built in the very year Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem. Thus, Ezra was 85 years old at this time. This is possible, and so no gap is needed. Ezra was the son of Seraiah, and brother of Jeshua the high priest.

Is this a correct reconstruction of events? It would seem to take a lot longer than 52 days to put up a wall around a city. Nehemiah 5:14 says that Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for 12 years. His sole mission was to rebuild the wall, and there is no reason why he would have remained in the city for 12 years after rebuilding it. Before he left the King, Nehemiah told him how long it would take to rebuild the wall, and promised to return (Neh. 2:6). Since Nehemiah stayed in Jerusalem 12 years, it only makes sense that he told the king it would take 12 years to rebuild the wall. It is more reasonable to assume that it took 12 years for the wall to be rebuilt, amidst opposition. In Nehemiah 6:1 we read that “no breach remained in it [the wall] although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates.” Then in 6:15 we read. “the wall was completed on the 25th of Elul, in 52 days.” Thus, a simple consecutive reading of Nehemiah 5-6 indicates that it took 12 years for the wall to be put up, and another 52 days to get the doors in the gates erected. After this there was a dedicatory ceremony and the feast of tabernacles (Neh. 7-12), and then Nehemiah returned to Persia, his task completed. ….


Now, in Part Three the author proceeds to reduce the conventional number of Persian kings.

My preference for the King of the Book of Esther, though, would be Darius the Mede-Cyrus, over the author’s: “He almost certainly was Darius the Great”.


The Chronology of Ezra & Nehemiah, Part 3


J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire (New York: Schocken, 1983; p. 45), says that Xerxes perhaps means “hero among kings,” clearly a throne name. Artaxerxes means “kingdom of justice,” again clearly a throne name (idem). We can compare this word “Artaxerxes” with the Egyptian “Pharaoh,” which means “great house.”

Darius (Persian Dareyavesh) means “he who holds firm the good” (Cook, idem). Others give something like “he who enjoys good things” (Richard Frye, The Heritage of Persia; New York: World, 1963; p. 92).

According to Carey Moore (Esther, Anchor Bible 7B, Garden City: Doubleday, 1971; p. 3), Ahasuerus means “chief of rulers.” Ahasuerus is generally thought to be the same word as Xerxes. Thus, it is very likely that Darius could have been called Artaxerxes and also Ahasuerus (Xerxes).

In summary:

Darius = The Doer of Good

Xerxes = Hero Among Kings

Artaxerxes = King of Justice

Ahasuerus = Chief of Rulers

It is interesting to note that the Inscription of Xerxes at Persepolis reads in part as follows: “I am Xerxes the great King, the King of kings, the King of the land where many languages are spoken; the King of this wide earth, far and near, the son of King Darius the Achaemenian. Says Xerxes the great King: By the grace of Ormazd I have made this portal. . . . Says Darius the King: May Ormazd protect me and my empire, and my work and my father’s work.” Here we see that Xerxes calls himself Darius. This proves that these Persian monarchs were sometimes called by different names. (Full inscription found in Martin Anstey, Chronology of the Old Testament; Grand Rapids: Kregel, [1913] 1973; p. 262.)

The fact that a given king called himself and was called by more than one name sheds light on the fact that the Apocrypha and Josephus call these kings by various names. Josephus calls the “Artaxerxes” of Ezra-Nehemiah “Xerxes” …. In the Apocryphal additions to Esther, her king is called “Artaxerxes.”



Ezra 6:14 says that the Jews finished building “according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” The problem with this verse is that the only decree of “Artaxerxes” mentioned in Ezra to this point is in 4:7-23, which was a decree to stop building the temple! Moreover, if the Artaxerxes of Ezra 6:14 is Longimanus, it is curious that he is mentioned here because the rest of Ezra says nothing about any decree of his to rebuild the temple. Of course, if Nehemiah is considered part of Ezra, then we can say that this is a decree to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, but then the question is: Why is this mentioned here in Ezra 6:14?

A far simpler solution is found in Hebrew grammar itself, which allows for “and” to mean “even” or “to wit.” In that case, Ezra 6:14 would read, “according to . . . the decree of Cyrus and Darius, to wit: Artaxerxes.” Here is Gesenius’s explanation of this use of the connective “and” in Hebrew: “Frequently vav copulativum [the connective `and’] is also explanatory (like isque, et – quidem, and the German und zwar, the English to wit), and is then called vav explicativum [the explicative `and’]. For instance, Isaiah 17:8 reads, “Nor will he look to that which his fingers have made, to wit: the Asherim and incense stands.” Similarly, Nehemiah 8:13 reads, “the [people] gathered around Ezra the scribe, to wit: to give attention to the words of the Law.” In Proverbs 3:12: “For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even [to wit] as a father the son in whom he delights.” (See Gesenius’s Hebrew Grammar, second English ed., Oxford U. Press, p. 484, note 1b.)

This reading of Ezra 6:14 is not new. John Gill, in his commentary (late 18th c.) writes, “I am most inclined to think, with Aben Ezra [noted Jewish commentator], that he [Artaxerxes] is Darius himself; and the words to be read, Darius, that is, Artaxerxes, king of Persia; Artaxerxes being, as he [Aben Ezra] observes, a common name [throne name] of the kings of Persia, as Pharaoh was of the kings of Egypt . . . and I find Dr. Lightfoot [eminent chronologist] was of the same mind.”

Remembering that the Bible often uses names meaningfully, we can interpret Ezra and Nehemiah in terms of the meaning of the names Darius and Artaxerxes. Ezra 6 would use the name Darius to focus on the fact that the king was doing good: “Then King Do-good issued a decree” (Ezra 6:1). Ezra 7 would shift to the name Artaxerxes to focus on the justice and universality of the king’s reign. Notice the end of Darius’s letter in 6:12, “I Darius (the Doer) issue decree; let it be done diligently.” Now compare the end of Artaxerxes’ letter in Ezra 7:25-26, “Set magistrates and judges who may judge . . . all such as know the laws of your God. . . . Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him.” The emphasis on justice is in keeping with the meaning of the name Artaxerxes (King of Justice).

Similarly, the use of Ahasuerus (Chief of Rulers = Xerxes, Hero Among Kings) is appropriate for Esther, because of the emphasis on his rule over 127 other lands (Esth. 1:1). As we have seen, since Mordecai was active already in the days of Jeshua and Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2), it is very unlikely that Esther’s king was (the second) Xerxes. He almost certainly was Darius the Great.

Since the genealogical and name-list evidence strongly indicates a short chronology for Ezra and Nehemiah, there is every reason to assume that Darius and Artaxerxes are the same person. ….


Finally, to Part Four, in which Jordan provides his coherent summary of it all:

The Chronology of Ezra & Nehemiah, Part 4


I suggest that the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6 and the Artaxerxes of 4:7 are both Darius, and that the “and” of 4:7 should be translated “to wit.” This means that the phrase “at the beginning of his reign” applies to Darius-Artaxerxes, and that the letter sent to Artaxerxes in Ezra 4:7 is the same as the one sent to Ahasuerus in 4:6. It also means that Ezra 4:5-6 are in chronological order. To wit: “They hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius (Do-good) king of Persia. To wit, in the reign of Ahasuerus (Chief of Rulers, Darius-Artaxerxes), in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. To wit, in the days of Artaxerxes (King of Justice, Darius), Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of his colleagues, wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic.”

The letters Ezra 4 complain that the Jews were rebuilding not the temple but the wall. The long chronology says that under Darius the temple was rebuilt, but that when the Jews began to rebuild the wall, stiff opposition arose against them. In the days of Xerxes (son of Darius) and in the days of Artaxerxes Longimanus they were prevented from rebuilding the wall. Finally, Nehemiah obtained permission to rebuild the wall, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus.

I believe that there is internal Biblical evidence against this reconstruction. We have seen that it is most likely that the Artaxerxes of Ezra-Nehemiah is Darius. But if the wall was not rebuilt until Nehemiah came in Darius’s 20th year, why were letters sent complaining about the wall at the beginning of Darius’s reign? The answer is seen in Ezra 9:9, which says that the Jews had begun rebuilding the wall before Nehemiah, and indeed had erected some kind of a wall by the time Ezra arrived in Jerusalem.

Here is the historical scenario, as I see it: Jeshua and Zerubbabel and their associates returned to Jerusalem in the first year of Cyrus. They built the altar, and begin rebuilding the temple (Ezra 3). Soon, however, they encountered opposition, which “discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them from building” (Ezra 4:4). The people left off working on the temple and devoted themselves to building nice homes for themselves and working on the wall (Haggai 1). God in His mercy raised up adversaries who complained about this wall-building, and at the beginning of his reign King Darius forbad them to work on the wall and city (Ezra 4:21). They were not, however, forbidden to work on the temple. Thus, God raised up the prophet Haggai, who told them that they were in sin for not having finished the temple first (Haggai 1). No longer able to work on walls and houses, the people to devoted themselves to rebuilding the temple. This aroused more questions, and another letter was sent to Darius asking about the temple (Ezra 5). Darius gave permission to rebuild the temple, which was completed in the 6th year of Darius (Ezra 6). The next year Ezra arrived, and noted that both the temple and a rudimentary wall had been completed.

This scenario does better justice to the information contained in the texts of Ezra-Nehemiah and Haggai, and does not require that Ezra 4 be yanked out of historical context.