We should remember that the BC dates that are used by historians are dependent upon the length of the Persian empire being known. This is not the case, however. The dates currently accepted are based upon the writings of Ptolemy, an Egyptian astrologer and astronomer who lived AD, and therefore hundreds of years after the events he was dating. The reason why his numbers are accepted is because he based them on the dates of eclipses. However, a particular eclipse is repeated roughly every 7 years, and more nearly every 54 years. There is reason to believe that Ptolemy had an agenda, and deliberately ignored eclipses that did not fit in with his scheme.
Much help on these matters has been obtained from “The Romance of Bible Chronology”, by Martin Anstey, available online.
Cyrus, King of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem if they so wished. This was in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy many years before, as found in Isaiah chapters 44 and 45. Ezra records what happened when they returned.
Ezra 1:1 = 2 Chronicles 36:22. First year of Cyrus king of Persia. He declared “the Lord God of heaven…hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem”. Isaiah had stated that God said of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure: Even saying to Jerusalem ‘Thou shalt be built:’ And to the temple, ‘Thy foundation shall be laid’, Isaiah 44:28, see also verse 26.
Ezra 1:11 Shezbazzar brings vessels to Jerusalem. Other nations allowed to bring their idols back, but having no idols, the Jews were allowed to bring the vessels from the temple.
Ezra 2:2 Those who came with Zerubabel: Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah (Ezra’s father, 7:1), Mordecai.
Ezra 3:2 Jeshua and Zerubabel build the altar in 7th month, and keep feast of Tabernacles.
Ezra 3:8 Second year of coming from Babylon. Set forward the workmen. Second year of Cyrus- but foundation was laid on 2nd year of Darius, Haggai 2:11-20. So 3:10-13 in parenthesis. Laid foundation in 3:10 = finished laying foundation.
Ezra 4:1 “Builded the temple of the Lord” = start to build. Work frustrated all the days of Cyrus, (i.e. all that was left of his reign from that point on), even until the reign of Darius, King of Persia. Not to be confused with Darius the Mede, who was co-rex with Cyrus at time of capture of Babylon. Persian has now come to the fore.
Daniel 11:2- “Behold there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all”. This is in 3rd year of Cyrus, (the reference to the first year of Darius the Mede in Daniel 11:1 is to the previous activity of Gabriel at the change of empire when Gabriel assisted Michael who was angel-guardian of Israel).
So after Cyrus:
First: Cambyses = Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6.
Second: Pseudo-Smernis = Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7-23.
Third: Darius Hystaspes = Darius of Ezra 4:24, also known as Artaxerxes in Ezra 6:14, 7:1-26, Nehemiah 2:1, 5:14, 13:6. Also known as Ahasuerus in Book of Esther. Like Artaxerxes, Ahasuerus is not a personal name but a title, meaning Great King or Shah. Shah, Caesar, Tsar and Czar are all the same, and are official titles, (like Pharoah), not personal names..
Fourth: Xerxes, not mentioned by name in Scripture. The “fourth” of Daniel 11:2, defeated by Alexander the Great of Greece, bringing the Persian Empire to an end.
Ezra 4:6 Accusation written to Ahasuerus = Cambyses.
Ezra 4:7 Bishlan etc. write to Artaxerxes = Pseudo-Smerdis who only reigned 9 months.
Work of house of God ceases until the 2nd year of Darius. Haggai and Zechariah prophesy.
Zechariah 4:9 11th month of 2nd year of Darius- “the hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation, his hands shall also finish it”.
Haggai 1:14,15 Zerubabel came and did work in the house.
Haggai 2:4 “Be strong”. God is able to shake heaven and earth, so is able to control nations.
Ezra 5:2 Began to build the house of God. Does this show that the account of rejoicing at the laying of the foundation in Ezra 3:10 is anticipative of what happened years later, with 3:11-4:24 giving reason for delay? Or is it that the first stones are laid and they rejoice then?
Ezra 5:3 “Who hath commanded you to build up this house…make up this wall?- Tatnai.
Ezra 5:8 “Be it known unto the king…the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones…and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands”.
Ezra 6:14,15. “tthe Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king”. Darius defeated the nine contenders for his throne, and subdued revolting territories, and in the 5th year of his reign had the Behistun Inscription carved on a cliff-face to commemorate his achievements. He took the title Arta-xerxes, meaning “Great King”, which is not a personal name. It is the equivalent to “Shah” or Tsar”. Hence in Ezra 6:15 both Darius and Artaxerxces are listed, even though the temple was finished in the days of Darius. By the time the temple was finished Darius had taken the name Artaxerxes; hence the Authorised Version is correct. He was Darius when the temple was restarted, and Darius and Artaxerxes when the temple was finished.
Ezra 7:1 Ezra comes to Jerusalem from Babylon in the 7th year of the king, 7:8.
Ezra 7:15 Artaxerxes gives money for offerings to the temple, by hand of Ezra.
Ezra 8:1-14 List of those who went with Ezra to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 1:2 20th year. From 2:1 we learn that this is 20th year of reign of Artaxerxes. The fact that this is not stated in 1:2 shows that we are to think of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as one book, as they were before Origen divided them. The last year mentioned in Ezra is the 7th year of Artaxerxes, when Ezra journeyed to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 1:2 Nehemiah asks “concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem”. He is told, “The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire”. Nehemiah knew the walls were broken down by reading 2 Chronicles 36:19. The remnant that are left of the captivity are those who were left behind in the land because they escaped the invading army.
Nehemiah 3:1ff The words “builded”, meaning to build up, and “repaired”, meaning to strengthen, are both used throughout the passsage. Perhaps build refers to more major work, and repair to lesser work. Ezra 5:3 says “make up this wall”, using the word for perfect, finish, complete. So the wall was completed in Ezra’s time, and had subsequently been damaged. The people of the land “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building…even until the reign of Darius king of Persia”, Ezra 4:4,5, so the opposition was ongoing.
Nehemiah 4:7 Sanballat heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up. This verb is literally “healed, as when new flesh grows in an old wound”. So the old wounds have now been healed. The repairing of the wall was finished in 52 days, 6:15, indicating it was a repair, not a building from the ground up.
Nehemiah 5:14 Nehemiah is appointed governor, and serves from 20th to 32nd year of Artaxerxes.
Nehemiah 8:1 Ezra is mentioned without any introduction, as if he is the same as in the Book of Ezra.
Nehemiah 13:6 Nehemiah returned to Babylon, and Tobiah took advantage of his absence. Nehemiah returns from Babylon in 32nd year of Artaxerxes and deals with Tobiah. This is the last event in the Old Testament.