[Avodah] Persian history

Eli Turkel eliturkel at gmail.com
Mon Feb 18 05:50:08 PST 2013

As we approach Purim I again review some of the difficulties with the
traditional history of the Persia as given by chazal

 According to Chazal there were 4 Persian kings
1) Darius the Mede
2) Cyrus
3) Achasverosh
4) Daryavosh (conquered by Alexander the great)

Darius the Mede & Cyrus - 5 years
Achashverosh 14 years
Daryavosh 35 years
total 54 years

70 years aftyer Chruban Bayit Rishon came in 2nd year of Daryavosh
Jews ruled by Persian for another 34 years afterwards

1) Darius the Mede doesnt appear in any other record - perhaps because his
rule was under 1 year

2) According to secular history Cyrus ruled for approximately  30 years
(various versions whether he dies in battle or peacefully) after conquring
many lands and building cities

Next is Camysis (Rashi quotes from Yossipon about Canbysis)

3) after the death of Camysis there was a brother (real or pretender not
clear) who was defeated by Darius I. Hence, Achasverosh could not be
between Cyrus and Daryavosh.
Darius left many documents including large descriptions on walls giving his
accomplishments (eg Mount Bisitun) the inscriptions on the face of the
cliff is given in 3 languages. Darius also expanded the city of Susa

It appears that the Persians had several capitals (in addition to Susa was
Babylonia and especially Persepolis. The assumption is that Susa was the
winter palace as it is extremely hot in the summer.

4) The next king was Xerxes (Greek name) whose Persian name is somewhat
similar to Achashverosh (Chasiarsh) . In addition to many wars he also
expnded the cities of Susa and Persepolis. He also is mentioned in many
documents as the son of Darius

King Xerxes Proclaims: My father was Darius whose father was Hystapses etc.
see inscription at Hamadan

5) Xerxes was murdered and was succeeded by his son Artaxeres. There is a
bowl in the British museum with the inscription

Artaxerses the great king, king of kings. king of countries, son of Xerxes
the king who was the son of Darius the king the Achamenian in whose house
this silver cup was made.

Note that all these names appear in Tanach and are consistent with Persian
history. However Chazal accepting only 4 kings (3 without Darius the Mede)
stated that the various names refer to the same person.
Also note that many of the details of Megillat Esther coincide with what is
known about the Persinas and Susa (eg the large number of concubines, tombs
of queens with vast amount of jewelry, a picture of the perian king on his
thrown with a large rod in his right hand, Mordechai sitting at the king's
gate. The king rewarding those who gave information was well known in
Persian life. There is even a picture of a servant carrying a footstool to
help the master on his horse as told by chazal.

Note however that Haman promised 10,000 talents of silver which is
approximately 300 tons! according to Herodotus this was about the size of
the annual budget of Persia.

According to this version the story of Purim happened in the reigh of
Xerxes many years after the second Temple was rebuilt in the days of Darius.

The Persian kingdom lasted for many more years (interestingly there is much
less native documentation ie non-Greek for these later kings) and it was
only Darius III (after several Xerxes' and Artaxerxes) who was conquered by
Alexander the great.

In general the archaeological evidence supports the version of Herodotus
and other Greek historians in the large though the Greek historians are
known to be not trustworthy in many details especially in regard to the
wars between the Greeks and the Persians where they had an axe to grind. In
addition to the many documents left by the Persian kings there are letters
sent to the garrison in elephantime (southern Eygpt) that corroborates this
history together with the Jewish officers there keeping many halachot.

Eli Turkel
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