Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Remember When . . . Historians Duked It Out?

So I've had some frustration lately in the research department. Bear with me as I explain it to you.

It begins in the footnotes of my Bible. When looking at them for the Esther part of Jewel of Persia, it handily tells me that Xerxes' successor is Artaxerxes (which I knew), who is mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah. Okay . . . cool. Said notes tell me how he's the king who funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the one that Nehemiah was the cupbearer for. Okay . . . cool. This makes perfect sense, right? Artaxerxes may well have been influenced by a certain Jewish queen that came on the scene when he was a boy, so my plot-loving self just thinks this is awesome.

Until I actually read Ezra. Then I'm left scratching my head and asking, "And you get that this is Artaxerxes I how?" Here's the thing--all the kings in the dynasty used, like, four names. And they go in this order: Cyrus (the Great), Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, Xerxes II, Darius II, Artaxerxes II. (There's another one in there for a few months, but I'm leaving him out for the sake of clarity.)

Now, we can see right away where this is confusing, right? But when reading Ezra, the tale goes something like this: Cyrus the Great released the captives. (Check.) They reminded Xerxes of Cyrus's command to rebuild and got started. (Check.) But during the reign of Artaxerxes, their enemies sent him a letter whining about how rebellious these folks have been in the past, and Artaxerxes said, "Yeah, stop working on your temple, dudes. You're causing trouble." So construction halted until the second year of Darius. Then after these things, during the reign of Artaxerxes, Ezra came up from Babylon . . .

Do you see where my issue is here? I don't get how in the world this is during the reign of the first Artaxerxes, given that after these things. My commentators tell me he's just talking about one thing, then jumps back to the "real" story and the king in power when the whiners wrote that letter, but I just don't see it.

The issue could be handily resolved by outside dates, but I'm not at all sure if the dates of completion of the temple, etc., are based on the commentators' understanding of the kings, or if their understanding of the kings is based on known dates. It makes a huge difference.

And I'm left in this weird place of wanting it to be Artaxerxes I for plot reasons, but totally not buying that it is, LOL. I might go with it anyway--I mean, I write fiction. And it would agree with all the Bible footnotes I can find. But still. The historian in me cringes and demands a better explanation than my commentators will give me.

Then I get to growling at other historians too--apparently much of the info we have on the kings and their families after Xerxes comes from a historian so notoriously unreliable that other historians have ascribed him a special ring of hell, LOL. (Seriously--it's in some ancient satire.) So I don't have a clue what I can trust when it comes to information on the years following Xerxes' assassination.

Why is this important, you ask? Because my hubby/publisher said, "I want to know what happens to Esther after Xerxes is killed. Write a sequel."

Yeah . . . if only I knew what I could accurately put in it!


  1. Have you tried Josephus, a Jewish historian? He is quite reliable I hear. Also, I have another chronology chart which may or may not be helpful.

  2. Hi Eleanor!!

    I haven't checked him for this, no, but that's a good idea. He's definitely well respected for his reliability.