Categories: Old Testament Kings
- Scholars are uncertain which king is referred to by this name.
- For a long time, they believed it was another name for Xerxes I, who reigned from 485-465 BCE.
- He was the son of Darius I of Persia; his mother was the daughter of Cyrus the Great.
- During his reign, he had to deal with revolts in Egypt and Babylon.
- He was successful in both ventures, but highly unpopular in Babylon after melting down the revered statue of the idol Marduk. Some scholars think this might have been the cause of subsequent rebellions by the Babylonians.
- He was also in command during the Battle at Thermopylae when 300 Spartans and 1000 Greeks stood up to the entire Persian army. Though the Spartans were ultimately defeated (by the treachery of a fellow countryman), their stand allowed the people of Athens time to vacate the city.
- The city of Athens was destroyed (whether on purpose or by accident is a matter of debate), which led to high anti-Persian sentiment.
- After unsuccessfully trying to defeat the Greeks on the sea, Xerxes had to return to Babylon to deal with further unrest in that area.
- Generally Xerxes I was thought to be a just and worthy king.
- This is most likely due to his representation in the Book of Esther, and it surely didn’t hurt that he had destroyed the statue of Marduk.
- The Septuagint (Greek Bible) and Josephus (first-century historian), however, both refer to Ahasuerus as Artaxerxes I. Many scholars now agree with this.
- According to Josephus, “after the death of Xerxes, the kingdom came to be transferred to his son, Cyrus, whom the Greeks called Artaxerxes.”
- Josephus claims this king married a Jewish wife, who was responsible for saving the Jews.
- He goes on to relate the story of Vashti, Esther, and Mordecai.
- There is no question that the Ahasuerus of the Septuagint is, indeed, Artaxerxes.
- Some scholars maintain that it was common for kings to have multiple names. Otherwise, there seems to be no good explanation for the different names.
- Artaxerxes I was the third son of Xerxes I.
- Legend has it that Xerxes I was killed by Artabanus, who was a political figure of some stature. Supposedly he was Xerxes’ bodyguard. It is unknown whether he intended the throne for himself or was afraid of the king. For whatever reason, he killed Xerxes and accused Darius, Xerxes’ first born, of committing the deed. Based on those accusations, Darius was executed.
- That left Artabanus in a position to act as Regent since Artaxerxes I was still quite young.
- This did not last long, however, because Artaxerxes killed Artabanus – reasons again are unknown.
- (Some scholars think that Artabanus was the inspiration for Haman in the story of Esther.)
- Xerxes’ second son, Hystaspes, tried to revolt against Artaxerxes, but could not prevail even after mounting two separate battles. He disappeared from history at this point so scholars think he was probably killed in the second battle.
- Artaxerxes I reigned from 465-424 BCE.
- In Latin, Artaxerxes’ name is Longimanus – presumably because his right hand was longer than his left.
- Relations between Greece and Persia were still strained during his reign.
- Artaxerxes tried to undermine the Athenians by giving assistance to their enemies in Greece.
- Eventually, the Athenians moved the royal treasury to another city.
- This resulted in more fighting (450BCE), which eventually led to a ceasefire between Athens and Persia.
- This was known as the peace of Callias, whereby Persia was given the island of Cyprus in exchange for allowing all the other Greek cities to remain free.
- Artaxerxes gave asylum to Themistocles when he was ostracized from Athens.
- Artaxerxes also had to deal with a revolt of Egypt in 460 BCE and Syria in 448.
- Scholars generally believe that Ezra and Nehemiah were officials in his court.
- He commissioned them by a letter of decree to return to Jerusalem and work on the temple.
- Ezra, supposedly, left Babylon in 457 BCE, which would have been in the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ reign.
- The return to Jerusalem had been commenced way back when Cyrus was king (537 BCE). But work on the temple had stalled.
- Artaxerxes I died in 424 BCE and was succeeded by his son, Xerxes II.
- He had two other sons, Sogdianus and Ochus, the latter of which took the name Darius.
- Xerxes II only reigned for 45 days before he was assassinated (probably by one of his brothers, who were the offspring of different mothers and considered to be illegitimate).
- First Sogdinaus killed Xerxes II, and he was in turn killed by Ochus (Darius II).
- Darius II reigned for nineteen years, and little is known about him except that he bore a son called Artaxerxes II.
- Plutarch (died 359 BCE) wrote several tracts about Artaxerxes II, who reigned from 405-359 BCE.
- Some scholars now think that this might be the Artaxerxes of the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah.
- If that isn’t confusing enough, there was also an Artaxerxes III (359-337 BCE) and an Artaxerxes IV who only reigned two years, lasting from 338-336BCE. (There would be only one more Persian king before Persia would be conquered during the wars of Alexander the Great.)
- Daniel 9:1 also mentions Ahasuerus, who was supposedly the father of Darius, King of Media. Unfortunately, no such individual is known, so scholars do not give this much credence.
- Most scholars presume that most of the biblical references refer to Artaxerxes I. There is, however, no consensus on this (see above) leading to lively discussions among scholars who try to correlate biblical passages with specific kings.