THE PERSIAN PERIOD (IRON AGE III, 600-330 B.C.)
The Persian Empire
Definition. The name Persia comes from the Greeks who knew perfectly well that Persia meant the province of the Achaemenian empire where the Persians lived in the land of the Aryans. Aryan, with an approximate derived meaning "noble, lord," seems to have been the general designation of these people, speaking Eastern Indo-European dialects, who migrated into the land between the Ganges and the Euphrates rivers at the end of the second and the beginning of the first millennium B.C. Both in India and the West they were conscious of their difference from the settled peoples over whom they came to rule.
Sources. For the Genealogy of the Achaemenids, see Frye, The Heritage of Persia (Mentor Books, 1966), Appendix I (See also under Cyrus, “His Conquests,” p. 2).
In historical sources in the Iranian languages, in the oldest period “The Inscriptions of the Achaemenid Kings,” primarily Darius and Xerxes, in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian, and the religious book The Avesta.
In the histories, the classical historians Herodotus, Xenophon, and the historians of Alexander the Great, primarily Arrian, are the references. These are valuable for the Achaemenids; while the geographers Ptolemy and Strabo and the historian Pompeius Trogus in the epitome of Justin are especially significant for the history of the Parthians (125 B.C.).
For archaeological remains, see, for example, the photographs #30 and #31 in Frye for the light they shed on Isaiah 52:15 and 45:7 respectively.
N.B. Much of what you read in the material on Persia is applicable to Darius--he is the major innovator. Not much is there for the background or setting of Isaiah 40-66 as some expect, or of Daniel. The last prophecy of Daniel comes in 536 B.C., and after that there is nothing much in Daniel about Persia.
Cyrus II: The Rise of Persia (549-530)
Here we find the material that helps us with the references to Cyrus in Isaiah 40-66 as well as the background for Daniel.
His Ancestry. The story briefly, according to Herodotus, who says that there were three other less reliable stories about Cyrus (I.95 and 214), is as follows (I. 1-7-130): Astyges, after a bad dream, gave his daughter to Cambyses, a Persian, to marry, because he feared to give her to a noble Mede who might try to dethrone him. Cyrus II was born of this marriage, but another dream indicated to Astyages that Cyrus would replace him, so he ordered the baby killed (cf. Isa. 41:2,25--note that dreams play an important part in these accounts [cf. Dan. 2]). Isa. 41:2 says that he would come from the East (Persia) and the North (Media); Isa. 13 says that Babylon would fall to the Medes.
His Conquests (Seven Major Conquests):
1. Of Media in 549. The Babylonian Chronicle of Nabonidus tells us that in the sixth year of Nabonidus (550/549) King Ishtumegu (Astyages)
“called up his troops and marched against Cyrus, king of Anshan, in order to meet him in the battle. The army of Ishtumegu revolted against him and in fetters they delivered him to Cyrus. Cyrus marched against the country of Agamtanu; the royal residence he seized, silver and gold and valuables . . . of the country Agamtanu he took as booty and brought them to Anshan.”
In the time of Cyrus and his father and grandfather Anshan for the Babylonians seems to have been eastern Elam including part of the later province of Persia. The family of Cyrus had been ruling the Persians for generations, as he says in another Akkadian text, asserting that he was the “son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, great king of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan, of a family which always exercised kingship” (ANET, p. 316). In Pasargadae an inscription of Cyrus, or Cyrus II as he should be called, was found in which Cyrus said he was the son of Cambyses, an Achaemenid. Achaemenes was considered the eponymous ancestor of the great kings.
2. Of Lydia in 547. See Herodotus (I.88).
3. Of Babylon in 539. From the Nabonidus Chronicle, as we have seen, we learn that this conquest was swift and without much conflict. The text in ANET, p. 306, says:
“In the month of Tashritu, when Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris, the inhabitants of Akkad revolted, but he [Nabonidus] massacred the confused inhabitants. On the fourteenth day Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. On the sixteenth day, Gobras (Ugbaru), the governor of Gutium, and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterward, Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned there.”
Gutium is Old Babylonian usage for the land between Assyria and Media, east of the Tigris. See Isaiah 41:3 which refers to the swift destruction, 44:24--45:5 which tells of the river dried up and the call of Cyrus by God, and compare the Cylinder of Cyrus with Isaiah 45, and read Herodotus I, 191, and 179.
In Daniel the conqueror is called “Darius the Mede.” Some think that “Darius” is a titulatory name for Cyrus. But most think it is another name for Ugbaru.
His Capital. Ekbatana, the Median capital, became the center of the far-flung Persian empire. We know next to nothing of this place that is buried under modern Hamadan. His original capital was Pasargadae which has been investigated about 43 km. north of Persepolis. See the finding of the Decree of Cyrus at Kbatana recorded in Ezra 6. Darius had moved the capital to Susa, so Ezra had to go back to Ekbatana to the archives.
Cambyses: The Crisis of Empire (530-522)
His Conquest. The defeat of the Egyptians marked the end of the Pharaonic Egypt. From now on it would be ruled by Persia, then Greece, then Rome. But Cambyses overextended himself in Egypt.
The Succession. This is one of the most interesting stories and greatest scandals of ancient history. The prime source for the events of the time is the Behistun Inscription. Apparently Gaumata tried to take over the throne. But many think Darius was the usurper, and the whole thing is a lie.
Darius I: The One World Order of the Achaemenids (522-486)
The Kings of the Persian empire were:
Cyrus II 549 - 530 (Babylon falls in 539; Jews returned)
Cambyses 530 - 522
Darius I 522 - 486 (temple rebuilt 515 B.C.)
Xerxes I 486 - 464 (defeated by Greeks; Esther)
Artaxerxes 464 - 423 (Ezra’s return 454; Nehemiah’s 444)
Darius II 423 - 404
Artaxerxes II 404 - 358
Artaxerxes III 358 - 335
Darius III 335 - 332 (Alexander’s Conquests)
This section provides the background of Haggai, Zechariah, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and the time up to Malachi [Artaxerxes].
Introduction. His name is Darius I. It is a throne name, an appelative, perhaps taken at the time of his accession, or when named the crown prince. It cannot be proved, however, that his personal name was Spentadata (a Zoroastrian word). His throne name may be explained as darayat + vahush (“having wealth [good things of life]”). That Darius is a throne name has great bearing on the identification of Darius the Mede in Daniel.
The name Xerxes (486-464) probably means “hero among rulers.” Old Persian khshaya + arshan (= Hebrew Ahasuerus).
The name Artaxerxes (not etymologically related) is a Greek explanation of Artkhshassa, “having just rule” (< arta + khshassa).
Harems. The harems of these kings were large, including members of the family. Women exerted a strong influence on the kings at this time. See the Book of Esther.
Court Nobility. The famous “six helpers of Darius” when he killed Gaumata were subsequently established in a special favored position vis-a-vis the king, and their families and friends shared in the privileges. Herodotus (III. 70), and the Behistun Inscription (IV. 83) give the names of the helpers of Darius but they do not fully correspond. In Esther 1:14 there are seven names of the chiefs of the Medes and Persians who could view the face of the king. It may be that the six families of Herodotus and the family of Darius make up the seven great families of Iran which is a tradition maintained throughout Parthian and Sasanian times.
The Palace(s). The court of the Achaemenids was not fixed in one place, for the king had palaces in several localities according to the Greek authors.
1. Susa. The main capital of the empire of Darius was the city of Susa, although Hamadan-Ekbatana must have maintained its ancient prestige as a former capital and ideal summer resort for the court. Cuneiform inscriptions from Susa telling of the building activities of Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes I; Darius II and Artaxerxes II, amply testify to the interest of all the rulers in this palace as their winter capital.
Susa is the capital of the Achaemenids for the Greeks and in the Old Testament, and finds of objects from all over the empire indicate the cosmopolitan nature of the metropolis, perhaps rivalled in the various mixtures of peoples only by Babylon.
2. Persepolis. From the Old Persian inscriptions and the Elamite clay tablets found at Persepolis it seems that this remarkable complex of palaces was not used for any government activities, or for the reception of foreign envoys. Nor was it a religious center, for no temples or cult buildings have been excavated. Yet the ruins show it to be one of the wonders of the ancient world--a great site, a national shrine.
What was this place, this impressive group of buildings on the plan of the tombs of the kings? Perhaps the whole area was a kind of national sanctuary where the religious archives or the fire of the king were preserved in the building at Naqshi-i Rustam, called the Ka‘bah of Zoroaster. Note the change from fire to lions in Daniel 4 and 6.
Perhaps Persepolis played a role only for the New Year’s festival, or the solemn acts of the crowning or burial of kings.
In any event we can assume that Susa was the administrative capital of the Achaemenids and Persepolis was a dynastic, perhaps ritual center, while Ekbatana, Babylon, and other cities maintained their importance as commercial or strategic cities or as provincial capitals.
The Postal System. Persia did not invent this--Mesopotamia and the Assyrians did. But Persia brought it to efficiency.
Herodotus (VIII. 98) describes the postal system, telling how Xerxes sent a message to Susa:
“Now there is nothing mortal that accomplished a course more swiftly than do these messengers, by the Persians’ skillful contrivance. It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and men at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed. The first rider delivers his charge to the second, the second to the third, and thence it passes from hand to hand, even as in the Greek torch-bearers’ race in honor of Hephaestus.”
Note the importance of this for the references to the letters being sent in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
The Language. By the time of Darius Akkadian was all but a dead language used only by scribes and priests. Already under the Assyrians Aramaic with its short alphabet had displaced Akkadian as the lingua franca of the Near East. The Achaemenids apparently supported the use of Aramaic as the general means of communication in their empire. Scribes were important people in antiquity and archives were also necessary. Note in this regard the language changes in Daniel (chapters 2-7 is in Aramaic) and Ezra (the letters in Aramaic), and the fact that Ezra was a scribe.
The discovery of fragments of the Behistun Inscription in Aramaic from Elephantine confirms the copying of the text of the inscription in various languages and then sending them everywhere. Note Esther 3:12.
The Law. That Darius was greatly concerned with Law is evidenced by passages in his inscriptions (DB, I, 21): “Within these countries man who was accommodating, him I treated well; (him) who was false I punished well. By the favor of Ahrua Mazda these countries showed respect for my law; as was said to them by me, thus was it done.” In another inscription (DNB, 55), he sanctions his exhortations by appealing to the fear of his law.
Payment. The payment of soldiers in the early reigns was principally in naturalia, in meat, wine and grain and the like. The use of coins was limited (cf. Neh. 6).
Xerxes, Artaxerxes, etc.: The Fall of the Achaemenids (486- )
Here we have the background of Esther, Ezra and Nehemiah.
The story of the wars with Greece begun by Darius I and ended in the debacle by Xerxes I should be known from general history studies. The failure by Xerxes really decided the fate of the empire. After the defeats in Greece Xerxes devoted himself to the building of Persepolis and to the harem which came to occupy a dominant position in imperial affairs. He had just lost his army, and his fleet in famous battles; he was in no mood to be challenged by his queen Vashti. So she was deposed and Esther chosen (cf. Esther). Xerxes was assassinated in 465, a bad omen for the future of the empire.
Daniel 11:3-4 prophesies the transition from one empire to another; from Xerxes it jumps to Alexander the Great.
If one were to assess the achievements of the Achaemenid Persians, surely the concept of “One World,” the fusion of peoples and cultures in one ‘oecumene,’ was one of the important legacies to Alexander and the Romans. The Achaemenid monarch thought of himself as a king of kings over many peoples with their various rulers. Hand in hand with the idea of empire went the process of mixture and syncretism. It is against this cultural background that the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the preaching of Malachi, must be viewed.
From the Captivity to the Restoration
“Then Was Our Mouth Filled With Laughter”
Archaeology and the Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel has received more negative criticism than most books of the Bible, both from theological positions as well as historical. But archaeological discoveries over the decades have confirmed that Daniel is indeed a reliable witness to the events of the captivity and the exile in Babylon. For a treatment of the major critical issues, see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament.
The Accession Year. There has been some debate over the date of the first wave of the captivity--was it in 606 or 605 B.C. Daniel 1:1 says it was in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim, but Jeremiah says in the 4th year (Jer. 46:2). For a while this was easily pointed to as a clear example of the errors that are in the Bible.
But the British scholar Alan Millard has shown that the apparent discrepancy can be resolved by looking at the different ways people had of numbering the reigns of the kings, whether they counted the accession year or not. In Babylon the first year was the accession year, and Daniel would have used that system because he was there. In any event, if the New Year began in the fall, then 608/607 was the 1st, 607-606 the 2nd, 606-605 the 3rd. Nebuchadnezzar conquered in 605.
Babylonian Names. The names given to Daniel and his friends are good Babylonian names (and not later Persian or Greek names).
Belet-sar-usur means “Lady protect the king.”
Saduraku means “I am very fearful [of God].”
Mesaku means “I am humble/of little account.”
Abed-nego is a Western Semitic play on the name “Servant of the Shining One [Nebo].”
The Restless King. The record in Daniel 2:1 and 6:18 refer to the king as not being able to sleep for one reason or another. In the “King of Justice” text we find reference to this idea--“he did not rest night or day” because of his concern for justice.
The “Chaldean” Problem. The early Babylonians who fought the Assyrians inherited the astrological traditions. These priestly groups became known as Kaldu, or “Chaldeans” in the Bible. The name became a common designation of the ruling class of the empire. The priestly class of the Medes was to be later referred to as the Magi.
The Change in Religion. The archaeological work has shown that in the E.Nun-Mah sanctuary a change is reflected by the reconstruction that took place in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. What had been a private chapel was changed to accommodate congregational worship. It was no longer just for an esoteric priesthood, but as a place of public honor. It was dedicated to the Moon God Nannar.
This may reflect the account in Daniel where the king had everyone assemble in the courtyard and at the sound of the music bow down and worship his statue
Belshazzar. The Nabonidus Chronicle cleared up this ancient problem. Nabonidus, alienated from the people of Babylon (ca. 550), moved to Teima and left the kingship to his son. Daniel was correct after all in listing him as a king at the end of the empire.
Derangement of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4). Was Daniel 4 a garbled view of the account of Nabonidus’ problems accounted for in the Nabondus Chronicle? This is what many contend. In the two accounts several things are similar:
* the Babylonian king was afflicted by God;
* it was for seven times--seven years in Nabonidus;
* Daniel restored Nebuchadnezzar--a Jewish exorcist restored Nabonidus.
But there are some significant differences:
* the kings are different;
* Daniel 4:13,20,22 says seven times, and not years;
* Nebuchadnezzar had lycanthropic insanity--madness; but Nabonidus simply had a skin disease or inflammation;
* the phrase says that Nabonidus was angry--mad--but not insane; he left because people had offended his god;
* the texts are different--Daniel is a narrative--so there is no literary dependence.
For more discussion of this, see Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament.
The Languages in Daniel. It was the famous statement by S. R. Driver (Introduction) that said that Daniel had to be dated late because of the Aramaic language in it (chaps. 2-7) and the Greek words (which he thought had to date it after Alexander).
Kutscher has shown that the Aramaic of the book matches the Hermopolis papyri of the 5th century B.C. Kitchen endorses this view (Criticism and the Book of Daniel).
The Greek words in the book are three of the musical instruments: kitharis, psalterion, sumphonia (Dan. 3:5). Yamauchi (Greece and Babylon) has shown that trade between Greece and Babylon extended back for centuries, and that much trade involved musical instruments and performers. It would have been unusual if no Greek instruments had shown up in other parts of the world. In the 15th century B.C. there was trade between the Egyptians and Asiatics in music; in the 12th century Elamite and Mesopotamian singers, and in the 8th century Syrian and Assyrian musicians. The use of three Greek terms for musical instruments certainly cannot require a date after Alexander the Great (336-323).
In fact, the spelling of the first shows that it comes from the pre-Hellenistic period. The Ionic kitharis is used, and not the Attic kithara (after Alexander).
Archaeology and the Book of Ezra
Among the several items that can be mentioned for the background of this book are the following subjects.
The Call of Cyrus. First, a comparison of Isaiah 45 and the Cylinder of Cyrus should be made (see the texts). Both Isaiah 45 and the Cylinder say that God called Cyrus by name, took him by the hand, enabled him to subdue nations and kings, etc. But in the Bible it is Yahweh, on the Cylinder it is Marduk.
The critical view sees the biblical account (of a prophet later than Isaiah on Jerusalem, one living in the time of the king Cyrus) adapting the Cyrus account and adjusting it to the truth--it was Yahweh who called Cyrus, not Marduk as the king claimed. But the other view, the traditional view, is more plausible, namely, that Isaiah of Jerusalem wrote this as prophecy years before it happened--but Cyrus gave the credit to Marduk, since that was the deity he had to appease in the city.
This is bound up in the whole question of biblical criticism and the book of Isaiah. Most modern scholars claim that it is a compilation of several writers over serveral centuries, and not the work of a prophet living between 760-680 B.C. The traditional and conservative view is thatit is Isaiah because there is not a shred of evidence for the critical view--other than the belief (or in this case disbelief) that a prophet cannot project into the future with that degree of precision. See the introductions for more discussion (or, see on this web site the introduction material to the notes of Isaiah).
The Edict of Cyrus. According to Ezra 1:2,3 and 2 Chronicles 26:22,23, one of Cyrus’ great acts was to restore all gods to their native lands, meaning restoring statues and relics and religious objects. Cyrus writes: “I returned the gods to their shrines” (Sin, especially, to Ur). And, he says, “I returned all their inhabitants . . . may all their gods pray for me.” This is clearly the way that Cyrus saw to appease enemies and make loyal subjects of them.
The return of the Jews got underway immediately, about 537 B.C. (Ez. 1:1). Despite his gifts to them, and the return of the vessels to the temple, a relatively small band of Jews started home--about 50,000 of them (Ez. 2:64,65).
In the texts we read that they gave an offering for the temple (Ez. 2:68). They gave a “daric” as the currency--which is the Greek “drachma.” This has been looked at as evidence of a later date for the text. But archaeology has shown that in Attic Greek the drachma was the common coin in Palestine in the middle of the 5th century B.C. In the 4th century it was the official coinage of the Jewish state.
Rebuilding the Temple. From the Bible we learn that they first set up the altar (Ez. 3:1-6), which allowed them to worship back in the land. Then they began to collect raw materials for the building, very much as Solomon had done (Ez. 3:7). The foundation was laid in the second year of the return (Ez. 3:8-13).
But Cyrus died in battle about 530 B.C. and the work soon came to a halt. Cambyses came to the throne in 530 and reigned till 522. Opponents of the Jews made false charges against them with letters to the king. The letters from Elephantine show how this communication worked, and how easily the communications were carried.
The work was begun again in 520 with the reign of Darius I, the Great. So after a 15 year hiatus, they could continue. What happened is that Ezra had to go to Ekbatana to find the original charter. The King was satisfied, and so ordered that there be no interference; he also ordered magnanimous contributions for it. The work was finished in the 6th year of Darius--515 B.C.
Archaeology and the Book of Esther
While archaeology has not specifically confirmed the events in the Book of Esther, there is sufficient data to show that the book is realistic and fits the period exceptionally well. Esther comes to power during the reign of Xerxes (486-465). The persian name is Khshayarsha, or in Hebrew, Ahasuerus (see Est. 1:1). This is the king who was soundly defeated by Greece at the Battle of Thermopylae, and also saw his navy destroyed at the Battle of Salamis. Herodotus says that he returned home to pay more attention to domestic matters and especially to his harem. It is very plausible that Vashti the Queen felt she could defy the king because his power was diminished with such major defeats--but she was wrong.
Esther was made queen in the 7th year of his reign, about 479, after he had come back from Greece. What we know from the book is that the story fits this period precisely. There is no Hellenic coloring to the book, which one would expect if it was later. Shushan is the capital, and that is clearly Elamite Susa. Mordechai, the uncle, had been given a name from the religion of Marduk. And the whole custom of fixing a date for the destruction of the Jews by a dice was common. This became the significant means of memorializing the events, because the word for “die, lot” is pur. Thus, the Jews celebrate the Feast of Purim.
Archaeology and the Book of Nehemiah
We know from the Bible that Nehemiah was the “cup-bearer” for the king Artaxerxes I (464-424). One wonders if the treatment of the Jews during Esther’s reign had made it possible for someone like Nehemiah to rise to power. At any rate, he served the king. This is the king referred to as “Longimanus,” for one hand was longer that the other.
Dates. He had his palace in Susa, and then in Persepolis. There was a revolt in Egypt in 459. In 458 Ezra was sent to Judah to secure the state. Since the king had also sent an enormous army of 300,000 men against Egypt, the roads were safe for the Jews to follow. It is likely that the Persian king needed a buffer zone between Egypt and the other Persian states. But there was another revolt, and Artaxerxes became suspicious of the building of Jerusalem. When this revolt was over, he sent Nehemiah to build the walls (444).
Cup-bearer. The Hebrew word is just the hiphil participle of the verb “drink,” meaning one who gives drink. It is in this sense similar to “butler”--from boteler. The ancient sources give us clues of the duties of such an office, and they are extensive. Xenophon says he was the official tester, he tasted everything before the king did. He also kept the signet for the king. But from all the sources we may list the following:
1. He was to be well-trained in court etiquette.
2. He had to be handsome, physically fit.
3. He was to select the wines and serve the king.
4. He was to be the king’s companion, to lend an ear all the time.
5. He had access to the king, and had the authority to say who saw him.
6. He enjoyed the confidence of the king, who needed a trustee.
7. He kept the accounts and did the books for the king.
This was a powerful post. In fact, in the Assyrian empire the cup-bearer was said to be second to King Esarhaddon. So in Persia much of that prestige and power remained.
But the literature also indicates that such a one might have been a eunuch. The word saris is the Hebrew word for “eunuch”--which is not used here. But that word in Akkadian is sa res sarri, “one who stands at the head of the king.” In the later second millennium it came to mean eunuch. Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus both have the Greek word for “eunuch” here, but they may simply have misread the word for “cup-bearer,” which is oinochoos. He also had access to the Queen, and this is viewed as proof he was a eunuch. But there were servants who were not eunuchs who could get near the queen. Nehemiah could have been a eunuch, but there is no compelling reason to say he was.
Governor. Nehemiah was sent to the land of Judah to be the governor over that state for Persia. Nehemiah 5:15 refers to previous governors. A collection of seals and handles, plus the Bible, from the 6th and 5th centuries give us names for these governors of YHD--Yehudah.
Sheshbazzar 538 Ez. 1:8, 5:14
Zerubbabel 515 Hag. 1:1, 14
Elnathan late 6th c. Bulla and seal
Yeho`ezer early 5th c. jar handle
Ahzai early 5th c. jar handle
Nehemiah 445-432 Neh. 5:14; 12:26
Bogohi 407 Elephantine
Yehezqiyah 330 coins
Sanballat the Samarian. Nehemiah found opposition from several people. The Bible does dot say who they were or why they opposed the work. Here archaeology has helped us fill in the details. Sanballat was the governor of Samaria. His name was Sin-u-ballit, “Sin has given life.” The Elephantine letter calls him a governor (407 B.C. for the letter). It refers to Delaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat the governor. They have Yahwistic names, but that may only indicate the syncretism in Samaria.
Also, from the Wadi ed-Daliyeh, NW of Jericho, a 4th century papyrus was found. It lists: Sanballat (485), Delaiah (460), Sanballat II (435), Yeshayahu (410), Hananiah (410), Sanballat III (385).
It is likely that Sanballat did not want another governor in a rival state in the immediate area--especially Jerusalem. Perhaps he saw his power eruded, or perhaps he saw the lucrative trade routes being shared.
Tobiah the Ammonite. He is referred to as “the slave/servant” (Neh. 1:10; 6:18). The evidence is that this was a Yahwistic Jew from the aristocratic Tobiad family of Amman. The word “slave” does not mean he was of low class. It likely meant that he was a high official in the government of Amman--another Persian province.
Gershem the Arab. He is mentioned in Neh. 1:10 and 6:1. The Arabic word jasm is the source. Aramaic inscriptions near the Suez canal, at Tell el Maskhuta, refer to “Qaynu the son of Gashmu, the king of Qedar.”
Geshem probably controlled vast areas of NE Egypt and N Arabia and S. Palestine; he probably did not want Nehemiah there to share any of his trade and tariff for the area.
The Walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah managed to get the people to build the walls in 55 days. Many of the walls, we know from archaeology, were built on the remaining existing walls of Hezekiah--so it was not that the walls were built from the ground up in 55 days, but using what was in place and restoring the rest.. Kenyon found the evidence that he had rebuilt the terraces (“millo”) in the upper city as David and Solomon had done. Avigad found that he built on the broad wall of Hezekiah, west of the temple. So he clearly used what was already in place. But even so, 55 days is a remarkable achievement.
At the crest of the temple mount, the hill of Ophel, archaeologists found the ramp, wall and tower. This may be the tower mentioned in Neh. 3:26,27. Evidence shows that he built the eastern gate on an earlier eastern gate. A storm cracked the present one, and scholars could see the predecessor of the Golden Gate.