AND THE JUDEAN RESTORATION1
Lester L. Grabbe
University of Hull
However you look at it—whether maximalist, minimalist, or can'tmake-up-my-mind—the Persian period in Jewish history is largely a blank. Many historians today would argue that we have sources (primarily the biblical text) for much of the history of Israel from the “settlement” to the fall of Jerusalem, but then suddenly the sources disappear. For the “exilic period” we have almost nothing; for the Persian period we find sources purporting to tell us about the early decades (Ezra, some prophetic writings), similarly for the period in the mid-fifth century BCE (Ezra, Nehemiah), possibly for a few years at the beginning of the fourth century (depending on when Ezra is dated), and that is it.
There are major gaps, and scholars are in danger of falling into them. My purpose here is to look at the nature of the narrative in Ezra and Nehemiah and ask to what extent the accounts in these books help to fill some of the blanks in the history of Persian period Judah, or Yehud, to use the Aramaic name by which the Persians knew it.
In its present form the Hebrew book of Ezra-Nehemiah gives a more or less continuous narrative. It begins with the return of the people from captivity, relates the rebuilding of the temple (made more
1 Those readers who have traveled at any length on the London
Underground will have heard the periodic admonition on the loudspeaker system,
“Mind the gap.” This happens where the Victorian builders of the original
Underground have allowed an unsafe gap of space to occur between the edge of
the platform and the train door. Persian-period Jewish history, unfortunately, has
not one but several unsafe gaps, though the metaphor is still appropriate. This
article was written for a particular context and from a particular perspective, but
further detail on a number of points can be found in my study, Ezra-Nehemiah
(Old Testament Readings; London/New York: Routledge, 1998).
2 This section is largely a summary of the points made in my Ezra -
Nehemiah (e.g., chap. 5 and pp. 187–89).