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hands of the Jews. The Ahasuerus of the sixth verse of this fourth chapter, is evidently Cambyses, son and successor of Cyrus—not the Ahasuerus of the time of Esther. In Profane History, we are told that he did not openly revoke the edict of his father Cyrus; but greatly frustrated its execution, by many annoyances levelled against the Jews. This under-hand kind of working is implied in the verse before us, which merely mentions the writing to the king an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
The Artaxerxes of the next verse is not the same sovereign, but the Smerdis of Profane History, the brother and successor of Cambyses; who, not satisfied with secretly frustrating the building of the temple, openly revoked the decree of Cyrus, and sent such letters to the adversaries of the Jews, as to make them “go up in haste to Jerusalem, and the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.” “ Then ceased the work of the house of God, which is in Jerusalem ; so it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius, king of Persia.”
This tallies exactly with the dates and names of Profane History. Smerdis, suspected to be an impostor, was dethroned and murdered, and Darius Hystaspes elected in his room.
In the reign of Darius, we find, by the fifth chapter of Ezra, the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Iddo, prophesying to the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem; and, encouraged by this manifestation that the spirit of the God of Israel was still at work, Zerubbabel and Jeshua urged and helped the people again to set forward the work, disregarding even the threatening questions of Tatnai and Shethar-boznai; and “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they should not cease till the matter came before Darius.” A letter was consequently written to the king by Tatnai and his companions, stating all that had passed between them and the Jews, and concluding by entreating the king to let search be made, “whether indeed it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king, to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter." It is clear from the words of this letter that some time had elapsed, and divers kings intervened since the decree of Cyrus; the tone is different to that in which Bishlam, Mithredath, and others addressed Smerdismore conciliating and enquiring—not the determined opposition of the previous appeal. The letter, though written by their adversaries, served the Jews as fully as if they had appealed to the king themselves.
In the sixth chapter, we find that Darius did make the requisite search for the decree, which was found, and so fully confirmed the statement of the Jews, that Darius instantly promulgated another decree, not only confirming that of Cyrus, but commanding the adversaries of the Hebrews to let the work of this house of God alone, so that the Jews and their governors might build it in the place appointed; and to give them help in forwarding the work, and in all that they needed for sacrifice, etc. That he who hindered it should be hanged on timber taken from his dwelling, and his house be made a dunghill; “ And the God that hath caused His name to dwell there, destroy all kings and people that shall put their hands to alter and destroy this house of God, which is in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have made a decree-let it be done with speed.”
A decree peremptory as this was of course productive of good. The building progressed rapidly: the elders being still more encouraged by the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah:-“ And they builded and finished it according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the decree of Cyrus and Darius, and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.” This Artaxerxes, though not reigning at the time of the event here recorded, is introduced by Ezra, the writer of the book, in compliment to the favour he ever showed the Hebrews; and this Artaxerxes it is, who is, in all probability, the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther.
The remainder of the sixth chapter is devoted to the rejoicing of the children of Israel, on occasion of the dedication of their temple, the building of which was completed in the sixth year of King Darius's reign; their offerings; the establishment of their priests, “as it is written in the book of Moses ;” the solemn celebration of the Passover “ seven days with joy”—for they had been purified from the filthiness of the heathen, and the “ Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel."
So concludes the sixth chapter of the book of Ezra; and between that and the seventh, a period of some years must have elapsed. Darius reigned thirty-six years; Xerxes, who succeeded him, twelve; and it was not till the seventh year of Artaxerxes, consequently forty-nine after the completion of the building of the
temple, that Ezra obtained permission from the king to go up to Jerusalem, armed with the royal repetition of the decree in favour of the Hebrews, and the rebuilding of the city, already promulgated by his predecessors Cyrus and Darius.
In this interval it appears then, most probable, that the events recorded in the book of Esther took place. Whether we believe the Ahasuerus so closely connected with her, to be the tyrant Xerxes, according to Milman's view of his character, or Artaxerxes Longimanus, according to Josephus and other commentators; still the period of these events remains, unalterably, between the sixth and seventh chapters of Ezra, as we have stated before.
According to the events of Profane History, a period of sixty-three years must have elapsed between the decree of Cyrus for the return of the Jews, and the accession of Artaxerxes Longimanus. In the Jewish calendar we find only six. How this disparity can ever be reconciled, we know not, and must leave it to wiser heads than our own: suffice it, that the events narrated in the first six chapters of Ezra must have covered a longer interval than six years; but on such a subject our readers must search and judge for themselves; we offer no opinion to be adopted as the right one, and will willingly and thankfully receive any communication likely to elucidate this difficult point.
That the events of Esther took place after the decree of Cyrus, is, however, a truth on which there can be no dispute; and whatever number of years may have elapsed since the permission to return to Jerusalem, it is equally clear, that an immense number of the
Hebrews yet remained scattered over the large dominions of Ahasuerus, which we are told “extended from India, even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces,” including, of course, Persia and Media.
Amongst these was a Jew of noble descent, Mordecai by name, a Benjamite by tribe; consequently, not one of the Ten Tribes, but of the two who had faithfully adhered to the royal house of Judah. In direct compliance with the law of Moses, which had expressly commended the fatherless to the care of their countrymen, Mordecai had brought up, as his own child, Esther, or Hadassah, the orphan daughter of his uncle, nd resided with her in an establishment according to his rank, in “ Shushan the palace;" meaning the city which was the usual residence of the king.
In the third year of Ahasuerus, the city of Shushan was thrown into a ferment of excitement, by the royal feasts given alike to princes and nobles, and to all the people, and lasting several months. The princes of the provinces were present; to whom, we are told, in the scriptural record, all the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty, were lavishly displayed. And this excitement was followed by another; -the banishment of Queen Vashti from her royal estate, and proclamation made throughout the provinces, that all the fairest maidens were to be gathered together unto Shushan the palace, from whom the king might select a queen in the place of Vashti. The extreme beauty of Esther, whose very name, in Persian, signifies a star, of course attracted the attention of the king's