By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Men in the Old Testament

  • There is some confusion regarding the ancestry of Zerubbabel.
  • Ezra 3:2, 8; Neh. 12:1; Haggai 1:1 claim he was the son of Shealteil.
  • I Chronicles 3:19 states he was the son of Pedaiah, which would make him the grandson of Jehoiachin who was the grandson of Josiah.
  • Scholars cannot reconcile these two names.
  • Some think Pedaiah engaged in a levirate marriage with Shealtiel’s widow after Zerubbabel died, though there is nothing in the text to support this view.
  • The meaning of the name Zerubbabel is also uncertain. If it is derived from Hebrew, it probably means “begotten of [in] Babylon.” If it is derived from the Assyro-Babylonian term “Zeru-Babel,” it probably means “seed/offspring of Babylon.”
  • In some texts, he has an identical function to an individual named Sheshbazzar (“the prince of Judah”).
  • The easiest explanation is that he, like Daniel, had two names – one Hebrew (“Zerubbabel”) and one Babylonian/Persian (“Sheshbazzar”). Therefore, both references are to the same person.
  • The fact that Ezra refers to both individually might suggest two distinct persons.
  • Sheshbazzar was the leader of the first group of exiles returning to Jerusalem under king Cyrus (as recounted by Ezra).
  • Zerubbabel is found in the canonical books of 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah.
  • He, along with Jeshua, was responsible for rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • How and when this happened is a subject of dispute.
  • Some suggest that he was sent to Jerusalem by Cyrus [a.k.a. Sheshbazzar] (see Ezra 3-4).
  • If this is true, then the story would be as follows: In the first year of Cyrus, he was living in Babylon in captivity.
  • When Cyrus decreed that the Israelites could go back, Zerubbabel took advantage of the king’s offer and placed himself in charge of the returnees.
  • He was accompanied by a priest known as Jeshua.
  • It is possible that he was in the king’s service at this time and was appointed by the king to be governor of Judea.
  • As governor, one of his duties would have been to collect the taxes for Persia.
  • As soon as he arrived in Jerusalem, he began work on the temple.
  • By the second month of the second year, the foundation was laid and a great ceremony ensued.
  • At this point, however, the Samaritans were able to get the work stopped and nothing happened for at least sixteen or seventeen years (some say as long as 23 years).
  • During this time, Zerubbabel and the other leaders were busy building their own houses.
  • During the second year of Darius, the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, roused the people, and Zerubbabel again responded.
  • He began again to work on the temple and it was finished four years later (despite many interruptions and continued opposition).
  • At this point, the temple was dedicated with much pomp and circumstance.
  • Along with Jeshua, Zerubbabel is also credited with restoring the functions of priests and Levites and providing for their maintenance.
  • During the seventh year of Darius, they celebrated their first Passover.
  • Zerubbabel is included in both Matthew and Luke’s genealogies with the name, Zorobabel, which is the Greek form of Zerubbabel.
  • The other historical option is the one determined by the legend recounted in 1 Esdras.
  • This one has him working in the court of King Darius, at which point he won a contest because of his wit.
  • He determined that the one thing strongest was “women” and ultimately “truth.”
  • After being called “Kinsman” of the king, he was offered whatever he wanted.
  • What he wanted was to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (this would have been sixteen or seventeen years after the first option).
  • Once he arrived in Jerusalem, the stories are quite similar.
  • Scholars do know that he was governor of Judea and a leader in the rebuilding of the temple.
  • There was opposition again the second time to thwart any rebuilding efforts. But this time, they appealed to the king, who found the original decree from King Cyrus.
  • Thereafter, they built without opposition.
  • This work would have predated anything Nehemiah did with the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.
  • The roles of Haggai and Zechariah are not exactly clear with this second option.
  • In Zech. 4:11-14, Zerubbabel and Jeshua were labeled as God’s anointed.
  • They were given instructions as to the rebuilding of the Temple.
  • There is also language referring to them as “the Branch.”
  • Scholars see messianic overtones in this title.
  • In Haggai 2:2, they are specifically addressed by God.
  • In Haggai 2:20-23, God says, “On that day, I will take you, O Zerubbabel, my servant…and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you.”
  • “On that day” refers to that final Day of Judgment – Zerubbabel will be there.
  • Since a signet ring is a symbol of one’s authority, to be a signet ring meant that that person was invested with the authority of another – in this case, God’s.
  • Lest anyone thought the line of Judean kings had ended, this passage suggests God would take Zerubbabel and make him his authority, the representation of God.
  • In this fashion, God endorsed Zerubbabel as a legal heir to David’s throne
  • This was meant to be a restoration of the Davidic line.
  • Some scholars have suggested that Zerubbabel was actually made King of Judah, but that he was martyred by the Persians. This would lend credence to him having a messianic kingdom and in so doing, he foreshadowed the Messiah to come.
  • There is no record that Zerubbabel ever took the office of king, but the words suggest it.
  • Nothing is known about his demise.
  • There is no record of any governors after him; it is likely that the Persians stopped appointing any.
  • His name is also not included in Ezra’s list of those who were present when the temple was finished (leading scholars to believe in the martyrdom theory).
  • It is also possible he simply returned to Babylon to live out his final days.
  • According to 1 Chronicles, he had one daughter and seven sons.


Coggins, R. J. and M.A. Knibb. "The First and Second Books of Esdras." The Cambridge Bible Commentary. London, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press. 1979.

deSilva, David. Introducing the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002.

Jones, Ivor. "The Apocrypha." Epworth Commentaries. London, Great Britain: Epworth Press. 2003.

Kee, Howard Clark. Cambridge Annotated Study Apocrypha. Cambridge, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press. 1989.

Kohlenberger, John, III. The Parallel Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press. 1997.

Meeks, Wayne, ed. The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers. 1993.

Bible Characters