Diana Edelman, The Origins of the Second Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem
(BibleWorld; London: Equinox Press, 2005). Pp. xvi + 440. Paper, US$37.95; Can$41.13; £18.99. ISBN: 1845530179.
Reviewed by Mark Boda

In her recent book, The Origins of the ‘Second’ Temple, Diana Edelman challenges most traditional interpretations of the biblical and archaeological evidence for the history of the early Persian Period in the province of Yehud. After a brief introduction presenting past hypotheses, Edelman begins her argument by analyzing genealogies in books describing the Persian period (Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah) and concludes that Nehemiah was probably only one generation younger than Zerubbabel; thus there was at most a 23 year gap in age between the men. This means that Zerubbabel and Nehemiah could have functioned as Persian appointed officials at the same time (in light of the generic meaning of the term peḥâ, often translated as “governor”) or could have succeeded one another in the same office. Since the date for Nehemiah is placed firmly at 445 BCE (especially because AP 30 places Nehemiah’s nemesis Sanballat as old or dead in 410), the return of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the prophetic work of Haggai and Zechariah, and the reconstruction of the temple must have occurred at the end of Xerxes’ or beginning of Artaxerxes’ reign (around 465 BCE). The city wall would then have been completed under Nehemiah in 445 BCE as part of a larger coordinated plan for the renewal of Jerusalem as the capital of the province. This fusing of temple reconstruction and wall building at or around the time of Nehemiah not only makes sense strategically (why build a temple without a protective wall?), but also is reflected in the later tradition of 2 Macc 1:18 and Josephus’ Ant. 11.165 which claim that Nehemiah built the temple and altar.

Of course, this reconstruction based on genealogical evidence runs counter to the presentation of the rebuilding of the Second Temple in the books of Haggai, Zechariah and Ezra. The next two chapters (chs. 2, 3) then argue that the dates found in Haggai-Zechariah and the account found in Ezra 1–6 are unreliable. According to Edelman, the prophecies found in Haggai and Zechariah 1–8 appear to be authentic prophecies delivered in connection with the construction of the Second Temple, but that these have been secondarily arranged using the template for temple reconstruction in the ancient Near East, and at a later time have been assigned historically unreliable dates. Ezra 1–6 contains no reliable sources that stem from the events in the early Persian period. Rather the author of this account combined existing biblical traditions (1-2 Chronicles, Ezekiel 40–48; Haggai 1-Zechariah 8; Jeremiah, Second Isaiah, Nehemiah) with the basic template for temple reconstruction in the ancient Near East to create the fiction of a temple project in the reign of Darius.

Edelman’s skepticism toward these textual accounts is also evidenced in her work on artifactual evidence in chapters 4 and 5. Seeking to determine the boundaries of the province of Yehud at the time of Artaxerxes I she concludes in chapter 4 that the lists found in Nehemiah 3, 7, and 11:25–35 and the various stamp jars normally used for determining the borders are either unreliable or provide insufficient and uncertain evidence. The coastal plain around Lod and Ono was most likely not part of the province until the Hasmonean period. Based on texts in Ezekiel, Obadiah, and Malachi as well as archaeological evidence from the region, Edelman concludes that control over the Beersheva Valley and the Negev was probably ceded by the Neo-Babylonians to Edom after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Artaxerxes I was the first Persian emperor to transfer these regions back to Yehud. Thus, the large number of returnees to Yehud in the book of Nehemiah reflects the broader project of Artaxerxes to develop southern Yehud.

In chapter 5 Edelman investigates patterns of settlements and military installations in Persian period Yehud. She casts doubt over the ability of scholars to ascertain settlement patterns in Yehud in the 2nd half of the 5th Century BCE, especially as they relate to earlier settlement patterns. She does, however, note the appearance of a number of newly established farmsteads or hamlets in the regions of Benjamin, Shephelah, central and southern Judean hills during the Persian period. Patterns for free-standing forts are more promising. At the end of the monarchy they were regularly spaced in the Shephelah to guard the western edge of the kingdom, constructed along internal main roads to maintain stability in the kingdom, and placed in the Beersheva Valley to guard the southern edge of the kingdom and protect trade routes. In the Persian period there was no longer a need for fortification of the province since it was within the Persian Empire. Instead forts were maintained along the main road from Jerusalem to Beersheva, from Jerusalem to the coastal plain (via Lachish), and from Jerusalem to Samaria in order to send fire-signals from the outlying regions to the capital in Jerusalem. The construction of these Persian forts, however, cannot be firmly dated in the reign of Artaxerxes I.

Her final chapter seeks to clarify the reasons behind the reconstruction of temple and city during Artaxerxes I’s reign. Artaxerxes decided to move the capital from Mizpah to Jerusalem because the latter possessed a reliable spring and protected water tunnel system and the city lay at a major juncture intersecting the east-west and north-south road system in Yehud. This move was part of a larger assessment of the province conducted by the emperor in anticipation of sending an army to Egypt early in Artaxerxes’ reign. In addition to the transfer of the provincial capital, the master plan included sending a group of new settlers to increase agricultural productivity in the province, installing a new governor with ancestral ties to the region to oversee implementation of the plan, building a new series of structures to serve as fire-relay stations, and transfering jurisdiction of the Beersheva Valley to the governor of Yehud. Artaxerxes’ motivation was not “piety,” but rather pragmatic concern to integrate Yehud more fully into the empire’s economic and military systems.

There is no question that Edelman provides an innovative and provocative perspective on old evidence. She has assembled most of the key witnesses (whether textual, artifactual, or archaeological) for dealing with this fascinating period of Jewish history and so provides a superb resource for future research. She shows the result of adopting a skeptical attitude toward all evidence used to reconstruct this period. In the latter chapters Edelman provides a more cautious depiction of Yehud in the period of Artaxerxes I which provides insight into the pragmatic political agenda of this period. There is so much detail in this book that this review will be limited to the first two chapters in which she presents her most radical contribution to early Persian historiography, the shift of the temple reconstruction from the reign of Darius to that of Artaxerxes I (or very late Xerxes).

It is clear that the foundation of her revisionist account is built on the evidence presented in the opening chapter with its focus on genealogies, for it is the evidence marshaled here that calls into question the witness of Haggai/Zechariah 1–8 and Ezra (“The analysis of the genealogical information in the book of Nehemiah in the foregoing chapter has shown that Zerubbabel and Nehemiah were not separated by some seventy years but rather, were either a generation apart or possibly even members of the same generation,” p. 80). So one key question that needs to be asked is whether Edelman’s analysis of the genealogies is appropriate.

It appears that the historical solid ground for Edelman is the generation and account of Nehemiah. Key characters that appear in this generation are Eliashiv as high priest (Neh 3:1), Sanballat as governor of Samaria, and Tobiah the Ammonite. The rebuilding of the wall for the creation of a fortress is considered factual. It appears that four families are key to Edelman’s argument: the high priestly Zadokite family, the royal Davidic family, the priestly family of Shekaniah ben Arah, and the Levitical family of Iddo.

As for the high priestly family, based on Neh 3:1 and 12:26 Edelman assumes that Yoiakim was high priest at the outset of Nehemiah’s tenure, followed quickly by his son Eliashiv. If Yoiakim was still alive in 445 BCE when Nehemiah arrived then it is difficult to imagine that his father Yeshua arrived in 520 BCE. Edelman’s supposition, however, is unjustified. Nehemiah 12:26 claims that the gatekeepers listed served in the time of Yoiakim and in the time of Nehemiah and Ezra, thus it is at most claiming that these gatekeepers bridged these two eras. Thus Yoiakim need not be alive when Nehemiah appeared on the scene in 445 BCE. One can discern throughout Edelman’s argument regular attempts to collapse the length of tenure of the first few high priests. Thus, for instance, she suggests that Yeshua “exercised the office only a short time before his death and succession by his son, Yoiakim” (p. 18) and argues that Yeshua and Zerubbabel need not be members of the same generation. For her Yoiakim was already middle-aged when he arrived in Yehud (p. 22), a view established only on the unsubstantiated possibility that Yeshua was an elderly man (pp. 18-19). In response it must be said that the tenure of the five high priests from Eliashiv to Yaddua (460-330) reveals an average of 30 years per high priest and, even if there are some questions over whether two of these were brothers, the thirty year average is also used by Edelman herself for the Davidic line (p. 21). In light of this there is no reason to question a dating scheme which would place Yeshua at 520 BCE, Yoiakim at 490 BCE, and Eliashiv at 460 BCE. This would also make sense of 1 Chron 6:14–15 which places only Yehozadaq between Seraiah and Yeshua (a list that Edelman must call into question for her theory to work).

The Davidic line is also important to Edelman’s argument. Edelman highlights Nehemiah’s appointment of Hananiah as commander of the new fortress in Jerusalem (Neh 7:2) and then links this Hananiah to one of Zerubbabel’s son (1 Chron 3:19). No explicit link, however, is ever established between these two men who share a common name during this period (cf. Ezra 10:28; Neh 3:8, 30; 10:23). With Zerubbabel’s son linked to Nehemiah’s era, it is not surprising that Edelman then pushes Zerubbabel to a later period. This she does by emending the Davidic genealogy in 1 Chron 3:17–18 in order to add two more generations between Jehoiachin and Zerubbabel so that in her view Zerubbabel was born in 500 BCE. There is, however, no clear justification for such an emendation. If Jehoiachin was born in 616 BCE, then (using Edelman’s thirty year generational spans, p. 21) Pedaiah’s generation was born around 586 BCE, Zerubbabel’s generation was born around 556 and Hananiah’s generation was born around 526. Thus, Zerubbabel was around 36 years old in 520 when he journeyed to Jerusalem.

As for the priestly family of Shekaniah ben Arah, Edelman finds a figure named Shekaniah serving as one of the chief priests during the era of Yeshua and Zerubbabel (Neh 12:3). Interesting to her is the fact that a Shemaiah ben Shekaniah appears in the wall building list in Neh 3:29 and that Tobiah’s father-in-law is identified as Shekaniah ben Arah in Neh 6:17–18. Although Edelman readily admits that this connection cannot be confirmed, for some reason she still considers this a “strong possibility” (p. 23).

Finally, Edelman refers regularly to the family of Iddo, noting how Iddo returned with Yeshua and Zerubbabel (Neh 12:4), while Zechariah his grandson was chief of the family of Iddo during the tenure of Yeshua’s son Yoiakim (Neh 12:16). Edelman highlights a certain Meshullam ben Berekiah in Neh 3:30, arguing that this Meshullam was the brother of Zechariah and lived during the time of Nehemiah. However, this Berekiah is not explicitly linked to Iddo or to Zechariah. Interestingly, Neh 3:4 also records a Meshullam ben Berekiah, but there makes it clear (ben Meshezabel) that this is not from the family of Iddo. If Iddo returned with Yeshua in 520, Berekiah may have served in the period between the list created under Yeshua and the one created under his son Yoiakim. Zechariah may have been a young man when he prophesied in 520 BCE and took up his family headship after 490 when Yoiakim assumed the mantle of high priest.

Edelman’s genealogical evidence is thus built on questionable treatments of genealogical lists and unsubstantiated links between various figures in the early Persian period. Her argument is interesting, but is hardly strong enough to overturn the tradition that places the generation of Yeshua and Zerubbabel and thus their temple reconstruction early in the reign of Darius.

Edelman’s attack on the authenticity of the dates in Haggai and Zechariah in chapter 2 is also not convincing. She seeks to explain why the editor of Haggai/Zechariah 1-8 chose the 2nd and 4th years of Darius as the fictional setting for these prophecies. The first reason is that the editor was drawing on Jeremiah for the rough figure of Babylon’s 70 year hegemony over the world, and applied it instead to the length of the exile of the people. Actually, the editor of Zechariah has properly interpreted Jer 25:11 which looks to the destruction of Judah by Babylon and counts the period until Babylon would be judged by Yahweh as 70 years. This is precisely what is being portrayed in the book of Zechariah, which focuses on the judgment of Babylon, which did not occur under Cyrus, but rather under Darius.1 Edelman must admit that an exact 70 years is not being portrayed, something surprising for an editor who had the freedom to create this (according to her) out of whole cloth. Interestingly, this editor (according to Edelman) did know enough about Darius’ account of his rise to power (that he was preoccupied in his first year to focus on temple rebuilding, and that after quashing Gaumata he rebuilt temples) not to place the temple reconstruction in his first year. How Edelman can distinguish between an editor who had access to reliable tradition and an editor who had experienced it is uncertain.

The second reason that the editor placed the temple rebuilding in the 2nd-4th year of Darius is that the editor was aware of the tradition of 1 Kings 4–5 which emphasizes that peace must prevail before temple construction. She claims that such a motif can be discerned in Zech 1:15–17. However, the problem with this is that “peace” in the first night vision is not seen as a positive condition, but rather the obstacle that stands in the way of the new era of renewal (thus the cry of the Angel to Yahweh in 1:12). The point is that Babylon has not yet been punished for abuses against Judah. The transition between the reign of Cambyses and Darius is precisely the first time that Babylon is severely disciplined by Persia and this comes in connection with revolts against Cambyses and Darius. A similar misuse of the theme of “peace” is also found in her treatment of Zech 6:1–6 [sic] on p. 136 where she claims that the “North country…was now at rest again.” In this pericope, however, it is “my spirit” which has found “rest” in the North country, a reference to the exhaustion of Yahweh’s wrath upon abusive Babylon.2

Edelman also seeks to explain why the various days and months were chosen by the editor in Haggai/Zechariah 1–8. Although her review of the various chronological and hemerological traditions in the ancient world is extremely helpful, in the end her evidence undermines her argument. Assuming that the dates in Haggai/Zechariah 1–8 must be incorrect (p. 80, although she protests on p. 123: “while I did not presuppose their editorial origin”) she looks for a pattern that would explain how these texts were linked to such specific dates during Darius’ reign (Hag 1:1, 15; 2:1, 10, 20; Zech 1:1, 7; 7:1). The fact is that Edelman is unable to find a consistent system that was used either for dating the sections in Haggai/Zechariah 1–8 or linking the various sections to favorable days. At times one senses her frustration with the evidence as she argues that when the editor does not follow the Babylonian almanac traditions the editor was “deliberately selecting an unpropitious day to show that Yahweh was not bound by this foreign system…an oblique attack on the almanac tradition, implying it was not relevant to life in Yehud” (p. 116). This evidence merely shows that the scheme is not being used. While most likely Edelman is correct that such a building project would not be undertaken in the Persian Empire without official permission, there is no evidence that the Persians practiced the Babylonian almanac system (p. 118), especially in relation to temple rebuilding since such structures were not part of their heritage.3 In the end the variety of dating schemes is strong evidence in favor of their authenticity. If an editor was creating a fictional structure one would expect consistency across the collection.

Even if Edelman’s attempts to link the various dates found in Haggai/Zechariah 1–8 to the harvest or ritual cycles of Yehud or the ancient Near East were successful, one has to ask how one would distinguish between dates that fit this because they reflect the original context and dates that fit this because an editor was trying to create an original context that fit his ancient world. It is thus only because Edelman has presupposed the inauthenticity of these dates based on her work on the genealogies in the previous chapter that leads to her belief in a later editorial fiction.

Her work on the temple rebuilding scheme draws heavily on the patterns identified by Hurowitz, but his scheme is more appropriate for the account in 1 Kings rather than the temple foundation texts such as those found throughout the ancient world and in Haggai and Zechariah 1–8.4 Edelman argues that the root ysd, found in Hag 2:18 and Zech 4:9 does not refer to foundation laying, but rather to temple construction in general. In this way Hag 2:15–19 refers to the dedication of the temple, rather than to its foundation laying and Zech 4:9 is merely referring to Zerubbabel’s role in reconstruction in general. However, a close look at ancient Near Eastern rituals reveals that much greater emphasis is placed on the act of temple foundation, rather than on its dedication. The overall shape of the book of Haggai as well as the oracles within it reflect patterns associated with such temple refoundations in the ancient Near East.5

Edelman sees in Zechariah 1–8, however, an overall scheme related to temple reconstruction, especially drawing on the scheme articulated by Hurowitz. Key to this is Edelman’s argument that Zechariah 7 depicts the temple as already completed by the fourth year of Darius’ reign (p. 91), a fact that contradicts the date given in Ezra 6:15 (day 3, month 12 Adar, year 6 of Darius), but also identifies chapters 7-8 as part of the latter phases of the temple rebuilding schema. However, the fact that cultic officials are functioning in connection with the temple and that people are “entreating the face of Yahweh” (Zech 7:2–3) does not mean that the temple was completed. Hurowitz has marshaled evidence for the existence of temporary sacred structures for use during the reconstruction of temples in the ancient world.6 The book of Haggai suggests that some sacrificial activity had been taking place on an altar at the temple site (see Hag 2:14—“and that which they offer there”) even prior to what is clearly the official foundation laying ceremony in 2:15–19. Furthermore, the fact that the people are asking about fast(s) commemorating the destruction of the temple does not necessarily mean that the temple was completed nor even that it was to be completed within the year (p. 92). The foundation laying ceremony was the most significant marker in the reconstruction of the new temple, marking a new day of blessing (see Hag 2:19). The book of Zechariah never mentions the completion of the temple, and this appears to be part of the progressive argument of the book as a whole.7 Other attempts by Edelman to force Zechariah 1–8 into the mold of temple reconstruction are not successful. She fails to see that, although temple rebuilding can be discerned at points throughout Zechariah 1–8, the vision for renewal is far broader, including the physical reconstruction of the city and province, the social organization of the leadership, and the spiritual and moral transformation of the community. The template for temple reconstruction does not do justice to the shape of her “editor’s” text.

It should be obvious that the evidence presented in these key initial chapters is not convincing to the present reviewer and space does not permit a full review of her analysis of Ezra 1–6. Edelman has indeed been innovative in her rereading of these various texts in light of her new hypothesis, and such is certainly welcome to force scholars to reconsider assumed traditional readings and positions. Throughout the book Edelman consistently displays skepticism toward all her sources. The danger of such a skeptical attitude is that once the evidence and witnesses have been deconstructed, one wonders how the same or similar witnesses can be used to reconstruct a new picture. Nevertheless, Edelman’s revisionist account of the early Persian period has certainly accomplished two key purposes of the academic guild: to question accepted positions and to stimulate further research, and for this she should be applauded and her work considered in further study of this phase of Jewish history.


[1] Mark J. Boda, “Terrifying the Horns: Persia and Babylon in Zechariah 1:7–6:15,” CBQ 67 (2005): 22-41.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mark J. Boda, “From Dystopia to Myopia: Utopian (re)visions in Haggai and Zechariah 1–8,” in Utopia and Dystopia in Prophetic Literature (ed. Ehud Ben Zvi; Publications of the Finnish Exegetical Society 92; Helsinki/Göttingen: Finnish Exegetical Society/Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006), 211-249; see Mark J. Boda and Jamie R. Novotny, eds., From the Foundations to the Crenellations: Essays on Temple Building in the Ancient Near East and Hebrew Bible. (AOAT; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, forthcoming).

[4] Boda, “Dystopia,” 211-249.

[5] Mark J. Boda, “Haggai, Book of,” in The New Interpreter`s Dictionary of the Bible (ed. K. D. Sakenfeld; Nashville: Abingdon, 2007).

[6] Victor Hurowitz, “Temporary temples,” in Raphael Kutscher memorial volume (ed. Anson F. Rainey; Tel Aviv Tel: Aviv University, 1993), 37-50.

[7] Mark J. Boda, “From Fasts to Feasts: The Literary Function of Zechariah 7–8,” CBQ 65 (2003): 390-407.