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Josephus, Antiquities XI, 75-108: Samaritans and the Restoration of the Temple

Cyrus CylinderJosephus provides an account of the building of the Temple which supplements that in Ezra. However, it clearly draws on 1 Esdras while at the same time including other traditions which expand the narrative. Aspects of his account must therefore be seen as independent of that preserved in the Bible, and with careful evaluation certain of the details he presents may be accepted as historical.

(75) In the seventh month after they had departed from Babylon, both Jeshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel the governor sent messengers all around and showed no lack of zeal in gathering those who were in the country together as a group at Jerusalem. (76) They then built the altar on the same place it had formerly been built so that they might offer the appointed sacrifices upon it to God according to the Jaws of Moses. But in doing this, they did not please the neighboring nations, all of whom bore ill will towards them. (77) They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles [Sukkot] at that time as the legislator [Moses] had ordained concerning it. After that they offered sacrifices and what were called the daily sacrifices, and the offerings proper for the Sabbaths and for all the holy festivals. Those also who had made vows fulfilled them and offered their sacrifices from the first day of the seventh month. 76 (78) They also began to build the temple, and gave a great deal of money to the masons and to the carpenters and what was necessary for the maintenance of the workmen. The Sidonians also were very willing and ready to bring the cedar trees from Lebanon, to bind them together, and to make a united float of them, and to bring them to the port of Joppa. This was what Cyrus had commanded at first, and now it was being done at the command of Darius.

(79) In the second year after the return of the Jews to Jerusalem, in the second month, the building of the temple was undertaken. When they had laid its foundations on the first day of the second month of that second year, they appointed as overseers of the work, Levites who were at least twenty years old, and Jeshua and his sons and brothers, and Zodmiel, the brother of Judas, the son of Aminadab, with his sons. (80) The temple, by the great diligence of those who were in charge of it, was finished sooner than anyone would have expected. When the temple was finished, the priests, adorned with their customary garments, stood with their trumpets, while the Levites and the sons of Asaph stood and sang hymns to God, as David had first shown them to bless God.

(81) The priests and Levites, and the elders of the families, recollecting how much greater and more sumptuous the old temple had been, seeing that the one now constructed was much inferior to the old one, on account of their poverty, considered how far their prosperity had sunk below what it had been of old, as well as their temple. Thereupon they were disconsolate and not able to contain their grief, and were moved to lament and shed tears at this thought. (82) But the people in general were content with their present condition because they were allowed to build themselves a temple. They desired no more and neither regarded nor remembered, nor indeed at all tormented themselves with the comparison of this one and the former temple, as if this were below their expectations. (83) But the wailing of the old men and of the priests on account of the deficiency of this temple, in their opinion, if compared with that which had been demolished, overcame the sounds of the trumpets and the rejoicing of the people.

(84) But when the Samaritans, who were still enemies of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, heard the sound of the trumpets, they came running together and desired to know what was the occasion of this tumult. When they perceived that it was from the Jews who had been carried captive to Babylon who were rebuilding their temple, they came to Zerubbabel and to Jeshua, and to the heads of the families, and requested that they give them permission to build the temple with them and to be partners with them in building it. For they said, (85) “We worship their God, and pray fervently to Him, and have been zealous in His service ever since Shalmanezer, the king of Assyria, transplanted us out of Cuthah and Media, to this place.” (86) When they said this, Zerubbabel and Jeshua the high priest, and the heads of the families of the Israelites, replied to them that it was impossible for them to permit them to be their partners since they [only] had been appointed to build that temple; at first by Cyrus and now by Darius. (87) They said that it was indeed lawful for them to come and worship there if they pleased, but that they could allow them nothing in common with them except that which was common to them with all other men, to come to their temple and worship God there.

(88) When the Cutheans heard this, for the Samaritans have that appellation, they were indignant at it and persuaded the nations of Syria to request of the governors, in the same manner as they had done formerly in the days of Cyrus and again in the days of Cambyses afterwards, to put a stop to the building of the temple and to endeavor to delay and protract the Jews in their zeal about it. (89) At this time Sisinnes, 77 the governor of Syria and Phoenicia, and Sathrabuzanes 78 with certain others came up to Jerusalem. He asked the rulers of the Jews, by whose grant it was that they built the temple in this manner since it was more like a citadel than a temple. And for what reason it was that they built porticoes and strong walls around the city? (90) To this Zerubbabel and Jeshua the high priest replied, that they were the servants of God Almighty; that this temple was built for him by a king of theirs who lived in great prosperity, and one that exceeded all men in virtue; and that it had stood for a long time. (91) Because of their fathers’ impiety towards God, Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians and Chaldeans, took their city by
force; destroyed it, pillaged the temple, burned it down, transplanted the people whom he had made captives, and removed them to Babylon. (92) Cyrus, who, after him was king of Babylonia and Persia, wrote to them to build the temple and committed the gifts and vessels and whatever Nebuchadnezzar had taken from it, to Zerubbabel and Mithridates the treasurer, and ordered them to be carried to Jerusalem and restored to their own temple when it was built. (93) He had sent to them to have this done speedily and commanded Sanabassar 79 to go up to Jerusalem and to take care of the building of the temple. Upon receiving that epistle from Cyrus, he came and immediately laid its foundations, and although it had been in construction from that time on, it had not yet been finished, because of the malice of their enemies. (94) “If therefore you have a mind, and think it proper, write this account to Darius so that when he has consulted the records of the kings, he may find that we have told you nothing that is false about this matter.”

(95) When Zerubbabel and the high priest had given this answer, Sisinnes and those who were with him decided not to hinder the building until they had informed King Darius of all this. So they immediately wrote to him about these affairs. (96) Since the Jews were now in terror, and afraid lest the king should change his mind about the building of Jerusalem and of the temple, there were two prophets at that time among them, Haggai and Zechariah, who encouraged them, and bade them to be of good cheer and to suspect no discouragement from the Persians, for God had foretold this to them. So in dependence on those prophets, they applied themselves earnestly to building and did not interrupt one day.

(97) But the Samaritans wrote to Darius, and in their epistle accused the Jews of fortifying the city and building the temple more like a citadel than a temple, and that what was being done was not to the king’s advantage. Besides they cited the epistle of Cambyses, wherein he forbade them to build the temple. (98) When Darius thereby understood that the restoration of Jerusalem was not safe for his government, and when he had read the epistle that was brought to him from Sisinnes and those that were with him, he ordered that what concerned these matters should be searched for among the royal records. (99) Thereupon a book was found at Ecbatana, 80 a fortress in Media,
wherein was written as follows-

“In the first year of his reign, Cyrus the king commanded that the temple should be built in Jerusalem with its altar sixty cubits high and its width the same, its wall to be made three courses of polished stone, and one course of wood of their own country. (100) He ordained that the expenses for this should be paid out of the king’s revenue. He also commanded that the vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged [from the temple] and had carried to Babylon should be restored to the people of Jerusalem (101) and that the supervision of these matters should belong to Sanabassar, the eparch and governor of Syria and Phoenicia, and to his associates, and that they may not meddle with that place, but should permit the servants of God, the Jews and their rulers, to build the temple (102) He also ordained that they should assist them in the work, and that they should payout of the tribute of the country of which they were governors the expenses of the Jews for sacrifices of bulls, rams, sheep, kids of the goats, fine flour, oil and wine and all other things that the priests should suggest to them so that they should pray for the preservation of the king and of the Persians. (103) Whoever transgresses any of these orders thus sent to them, he commanded that they should be caught, hung upon a cross, and their property confiscated to the royal treasury. He also prayed to God that if anyone attempted to hinder the building of the temple, God would strike him dead and thereby restrain his wickedness.”

(104) When Darius found this book among the records of Cyrus, he wrote an answer to Sisinnes and his associates, whose contents were these-—“King Darius to Sisinnes the governor, and to Sathrabuzanes, sends greeting. Having found a copy of this epistle among the records of Cyrus, I have sent it to you. It is my will that all things be done as therein written. Farewell.” (105) So when Sisinnes, and those that were with him, understood the intention of the king, they resolved to follow his directions entirely for the time to come. So they helped to advance the sacred works and assisted the elders of the Jews and the chiefs of the senate. 81

(106) The construction of the temple was brought to a conclusion with great diligence by the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah according to God’s commands and by the injunctions of Cyrus and Darius the kings. The temple was built in seven years’ time. (107) In the ninth year of the reign of Darius, on the twenty-third day of the twelfth month, which is by us called Adar, 82 but by the Macedonians Dystrus, the priests and Levites, and the rest of the Israelite people, offered sacrifices to celebrate the restoration of their former prosperity after their captivity and because they now had the rebuilt temple- a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and twelve kids of the goats, according to the number of their tribes (for this is the number of the tribes of the Israelites), to atone for the sins of each tribe. (108) The priests and the Levites set the porters at every gate according to the laws of Moses. The Jews also built the porticoes around the temple within the sacred precincts.

76. The fall New Year, called Rosh ha-Shanah by the Rabbis.

77. Tattenai in the biblical account.

78. Biblical Shethar-boznai.

79. Biblical Shesbbazzar.

80. The summer residence of the Persian kings

81. The council of elders, later termed Gerousia.

82. March.

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