[Avodah] Persian history

Lisa Liel lisa at starways.net
Mon Feb 18 10:27:00 PST 2013

I hope no one minds if I take this piece by piece.

On 2/18/2013 7:50 AM, Eli Turkel wrote:
> 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)

This isn't precisely correct. Darius the Mede was not a Persian king,
even according to Chazal. He was a Median king. I say this not to pick
nits, but because it matters. Chazal also say that Achashverosh was
his son, and that he only became king of Persia as well by killing Cyrus.

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

Again, this is a little inaccurate. These years start with the fall
of Babylon. I don't think anyone argues that Darius the Mede and
Cyrus weren't around prior to that fall, since they were the ones who
implemented it. So Chazal actually don't say much about how long Darius
and Cyrus reigned. The only information even somewhat relating to it is
the idea that Darius, who was about 62 years old at the fall of Babylon,
was born when Nebuchadnezzar exiled Jehoiachin. If you need a source
for that, I'll have to look it up, but it's one of the midrashim.

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

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

Or because the Greeks, who are the source of the conventional history
of those times, didn't distinguish between Medes and Persians, and
thereby got confused. At the time, "medism" was the term they used
for the introduction of too much Medo-Persian culture into Greece.
People got accused of it the way people were accused of Judaizing during
the Inquisition.

The picture Chazal paint is of parallel, intermarried royal lines
of Medes and Persians, that had some kind of "rotation agreement".
Cyrus was clearly a stronger king than Darius the Mede, but Chazal
say Cyrus deferred to him as his liege and father-in-law. They also
say that Darius was the son of Ahasuerus the Mede, who is mentioned in
Daniel 9:1. Which is interesting, because according to the Behistun
Inscription of Darius I, son of Hystaspes, Cyrus's father and son were
both named Cambyses, and Cyrus's grandfather was also named Cyrus. So the
alternating names of the Persian kings -- which all historians accept --
match the alternating names of the Median kings according to Chazal.
Ein raaya l'davar, aval yesh zecher l'davar.

> 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

Yes and no. Herodotus, who is sometimes called the "Father of History",
records that he heard 4 different stories of the origins and life
of Cyrus, and that he only included the one that he considered most
plausible. Xenophon, on the other hand, records the story of two sons of
a king Darius: Cyrus and Artaxerxes. When Darius died, these sons fought
against each other for 3 years, and eventually Artaxerxes overcame Cyrus's
forces and killed him. Yossipon writes that when Darius the Mede died,
Cyrus took the throne of the Medo-Persian coalition, and that Ahasuerus,
his brother-in-law, Darius's son, rebelled and killed him after 3 years
of fighting. That's why Ahasuerus only sat on his royal throne in
Shushan in his third year. Shushan had been the royal city of Persia
since before Babylon fell.

Yes, historians call the Cyrus in Xenophon's account "Cyrus the Younger",
and portray him as a different person, but we don't know that Xenophon's
account wasn't one of the ones Herodotus didn't choose for his history.
And yes, it's possible that the author of Yossipon had read Xenophon,
but we don't know one way or the other.

> 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.

There was certainly no Ahasuerus the Persian between them. But remember
who writes the histories. Even now, not all historians accept Darius's
account that Cambyses brother Bardiya was really an imposter whom
Darius killed, avenging his 3rd cousin Cambyses and rescuing the throne
from an usurper. There are many who see this as posturing, and think
that Darius actually *did* kill Bardiya, and was himself an usurper.
There's no way to know after all this time.

> 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
> (Shushan)

True.  I don't think any of that is problematic.

> 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

It isn't somewhat similar. The original Old Persian is Khshay-arsha.
I don't think there are any linguists who doubt that this name is
the original both of the Hebrew Achashveirosh and the Greek Xerxes.
And it's true that Darius had a son named Khshay-arsha. It's equally
true that there was a king by that name who campaigned through Anatolia
and engaged in war with the Ionian Greeks. It doesn't necessarily follow
that they are the same person. There is reason enough to think that the
Ahasuerus who warred with the Greeks was the father of Darius the Mede,
and that the minor king by that name who reigned after his father Darius
(the Persian) never did anything but dedicate some buildings.

> 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.

There are finds from the Achaemenid period (the Achaemenids are the 
Persian dynasty that included Cyrus and Cambyses and Darius son of 
Hystaspes) which modern scholars view as ancient forgeries.  Some 
attributed to Darius's grandfather and great-grandfather.  The Parthians 
who ruled Persia after Alexander's death claimed to be descendants of 
the Achaemenids.  So did the Sassanids who succeeded them.  They used 
the same royal names at the Achaemenids.  We don't know if the bowl 
cited above was written by a Parthian or possibly by a Persian pretender 
after Alexander's conquest.

> 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.

They also say that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was also the king of 
Nineveh in Jonah.  And that Eliyahu was Pinchas.  When Chazal say that 
two people are the same, it doesn't necessarily mean that they were 
literally the same person.

> 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.

Which made it a substantial bribe.

> 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.

Except that Chazal are *very* clear about it having happened before
Bayit Sheni was rebuilt. And there's no real reason why they would have
said that if it wasn't the case. And it isn't just a matter of midrash.
The whole framework of history presented by Chazal is integrally dependent
on this part of the chronology.

> 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.

I think it's telling that native is equated to Greek. The Greeks
were not native to Persia. The Jews, however, were. We lived there.
We were local. The Greeks were tourists who went around collecting
folklore for entertainment purposes. Herodotus was a raconteur.
While it's understandable that western civilization would base its
historical tradition on Greek storytelling, I don't think it stands to
reason that their vignettes are more likely to be accurate than local
traditions handed down by people whose lives revolved around the accurate
and precise transmission of information.

> 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.

With all due respect, I see nothing in what was posted here to support
the claim that the archaeological evidence supports the Greek accounts.
On the contrary; using the conventional framework of the period, there
is a gap of about 150 years in any written materials from Persepolis.
Which seems odd for the greatest empire in the world at the time.

The letters at Yev (Elephantine), an island in the Nile near Aswan,
do corroborate the fact that there were kings by these names. But they
don't corroborate the Greek-based chronology.

I've been teaching a weekly class over the past year that started out as
being about the kings of Israel and Judah. We passed that a while ago,
and we're in the middle of the Chashmonaim now. But when we got to Purim,
I wrote up a brief synopsis of how things may have actually happened,
based on the information we have. If anyone would like a look at it,
it can be found at http://www.starways.net/lisa/essays/purimstory.pdf


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