Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cry "Apostasy!" and Let Slip the Dogs of War

The second chapter of Esdras in the Septuagint is remarkable for its compression of history. It begins with Cyrus (585-550 B.C.) allowing the Jews to return and build a temple (1 Esdras 2:1-11 = Ezra 1:1-11). Then it shifts to events in the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC) about a century later (1 Esdras 2:12-26 = Ezra 4:6-24). The third chapter of Esdras begins with the reign of Darius (550-486 B.C.) leaping backward in time. The chronological jumps are disorienting unless one is familiar with some basic Persian history.

During the reign of Artaxerxes, attempts to build the temple were delayed when Rehum and Shimshai wrote to the king saying, among other things:
The Jews have come up from you to us, coming to Jerusalem they have founded the apostate (ἀποστάτιν) and wicked city (1 Esdras 2:14 = Ezra 4:12).
The Aramaic term translated by Greek ἀποστάτιν is mārādtā', which means rebellion or disobedience. The Samaritan leaders accused the Jews of being apostate, when they were actually following an old and established decree of the Persian king. But just as there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph (Exodus 1:8), so these rulers either did not know about the decree (it had been nearly a century) or refused to recognize it and hoped everyone else had forgotten about it. They were temporarily successful and got the work on the temple to stop until the ruler changed (1 Esdras 2:26). The interesting thing is that the Samaritans were actually in rebellion against the earlier royal decree but managed to persuade the powers that be that the Jews were the ones in apostasy rather than themselves. It worked for a time but not in the long run.