Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi . . . More Background for Esther

September 20, 2017

The restored treasury of the Athenians at Delphi:

The Athenian Treasury was a votive building in the form of a reduced scale temple, designed to hold the multitude of Athenian offerings to the Delphi oracle. The building was constructed entirely of Parian marble and had a Doric frieze decorated with 30 metopes. It is a distyle in antis building with a porch before the entrance to the cella, measuring 10 x 6 meters.

The metopes depicted mythological themes of Theseus, Heracles, and Amazons in high relief. It is believed that two Athenian sculptors carved the metopes, each representing a distinct style or generation: one from the Archaic period, and one from the Severe style of classical art (the transition from Archaic to High Classical art). The walls of the treasury were inscribed with various texts, among which are the hymns to Apollo which included melody notation (see below).

Several dates for its construction have been suggested (with Pausanias mentioning that it was built after the battle of Marathon), but it is widely accepted that its was created sometime between 510 and 480 BCE, a period framed by the founding of the Athenian democracy and the defining battle of Marathon. (http://ancient-greece.org/museum/muse-delphi-athenians.html)

Delphi of course is “home of the famous oracle of Delphi, known as the Pythia, and the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle presided” (Fant, Clyde E.; Reddish, Mitchell G.. A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, Kindle Locations 1180-1181).

Our photo here shows the treasury at left center:

Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the famous battle of Marathon, 490 BC, where the greatly outnumbered Greeks repelled and defeated the Persians, EyeWitnessHistory.com has the following info:

The battle of Marathon is one of history’s most famous military engagements. It is also one of the earliest recorded battles. Their victory over the Persian invaders gave the fledgling Greek city states confidence in their ability to defend themselves and belief in their continued existence. The battle is therefore considered a defining moment in the development of European culture.

In September of 490 BC a Persian armada of 600 ships disgorged an invasion force of approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry on Greek soil just north of Athens. Their mission was to crush the Greek states in retaliation for their support of their Ionian cousins who had revolted against Persian rule.

Undaunted by the numerical superiority of the invaders, Athens mobilized 10,000 hoplite warriors to defend their territory. The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens. The flat battlefield surrounded by hills and sea was ideal for the Persian cavalry. Surveying the advantage that the terrain and size of their force gave to the Persians, the Greek generals hesitated.

One of the Greek generals – Miltiades – made a passionate plea for boldness and convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persians. Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. Then – in an act that his enemy believed to be complete madness – he ordered his Greek warriors to attack the Persian line at a dead run. In the ensuing melee, the middle of the Greek line weakened and gave way, but the flanks were able to engulf and slaughter the trapped Persians. An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.

The remaining Persians escaped on their ships and made an attempt to attack what they thought was an undefended Athens. However, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persians. (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pfmarathon.htm)

In our title I suggested that these events give further background to the biblical book of Esther. In our post here we showed how in 480 BC, ten years after the Battle of Marathon, the Persian King Xerxes was building his forces to again attempt to subjugate Greece. The fact that Persia was still “smarting” after her humiliating defeat by Greece helps us to see the purpose and even urgency behind those opening verses of Esther (1:1-9), where Xerxes is meeting with officials from his 127 provinces, which ranged from India to Ethiopia.

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Xerxes at Troy–Some Background for Esther

September 19, 2017

The events narrated in Esther take place during the reign of the Persian King Xerxes. “The Hebrew word used throughout the book is ʾaḥašwērôš (“Ahasuerus”) which is considered a variant of Xerxes’ name. Xerxes is the Greek form of the Persian Khshayârsha” (Huey, F. B., Jr., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 797).

The book of Esther begins by telling of a great banquet in Susa, the capital,  in the 3rd year of his reign (483 BC): “in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence” (Esther 1:3). The biblical author’s intent was not to give the details as to the why of this banquet, but historical sources are helpful. Xerxes was on a mission to gather strength and support for his invasion [ill-fated] into Greece. This is the setting for the opening verses of Esther.

In the year 480 BC Xerxes marched westward to invade and attempt to conquer Greece. En route he passed through ancient Troy, where the historian Herodotus states, “he sacrificed a thousand heifers to Athene of Ilion” (Herodotus 7:43). Ilion is the Greek name for ancient Troy.

Our photo shows the Troy sanctuary area, Stratum VIII (dated ca. 700-85 BC).

Troy Sanctuary Area. Here Xerxes, King of Persia (r.486-464 BC) offered 1,000 heifers in sacrifice to the goddess Athena, in preparation for his war on Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece was a failure. It was after his return from his disappointing catastrophe that the Jewish maiden Esther became his queen, in the “seventh year of his reign” (Esther 2:17), which would be 479 BC.

Regarding the site in our photo above, Manfred O. Korfmann writes, “The earliest structures representing a sanctuary at the nearly deserted site are those established by the Aeolian Greeks sometime after 700 BCE, thus apparently existing within the lifetime of Homer! Votive offerings confirm the existence of much earlier sacred precincts as well” (TROİA/WIL̇USA p.62).

Of the city of Troy itself Korfmann continues, “Illion became the religious and political capital of a federation of municipalities, and to the south and east of the acropolis a lower city (on a grid-plan) arose – overtop and partially dug into remains from Trois VI/VII” (ibid.63).

The ancient city Troy consists of 46 occupational levels which date back to a total of nine different cities!

Our map shows Troy, which is a site on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Map of Troy in today’s Turkey, in relation to Greece.

I have previously posted on Troy here and here.

It is good to be reminded that the events of the Bible did not take place in a vacuum. The covenant people of God interacted with the people of their day, sometimes including the world powers as was the case in the Persian period, the setting for Esther.


Esther and the Providence of God

September 12, 2017

In our local congregation (Hanceville AL) we are soon to begin a study of Esther in our Sun AM class. I’m looking forward to this study, which displays the providence of God to continue, against all odds, to fulfill His plan through the Jewish people. The promise made to Abraham to bring salvation through the promised Seed, would be accomplished, in spite of the efforts of wicked Haman to destroy all the Jews of the Persian Empire.

Ladies at Şanlıurfa, or Urfa, Southeastern Turkey. Known in ancient times as Edessa. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The festive apparel of these ladies at Şanlıurfa perhaps help us visualize the dress of that ancient culture described in Esther.

Şanlıurfa, often simply known as Urfa or in Arabic, Al-Ruha, in ancient times was Edessa, located in south-eastern Turkey; it is the capital of Şanlıurfa Province. The city is populated with primarily Arabs, Kurds and Turks. Urfa is situated on a plain about 50 miles east of the Euphrates River.

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Signing the Covenant–Nehemiah 10

August 18, 2017

I love to study the book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem’s walls that had been in ruins since the Babylonian destruction (586 BC) were rebuilt (444 BC) in just 52 days! (Neh. 6:15). The people had a mind to work (4:6); they had a godly and capable leader in Nehemiah, and the good hand of God was upon them. But the remainder of the book (chapters 7ff.) is about the necessary follow-up; the necessary commitment to covenant faithfulness, without which the newly rebuilt walls would be meaningless.

Gezer Calendar. One of the oldest examples of Hebrew script. Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

To that end Israel’s leaders/Levites promised God: “Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests” (Neh. 9:38). What follows is a listing of 84 names (Neh. 10:1-27). Nehemiah’s name appropriately is first.

The Gezer Calendar is one of the oldest examples of Hebrew script. We share it here to illustrate our Nehemiah text. Those men who signed their renewed covenant with God, as well as “the rest of the people” (10:28), were pledging themselves to obey (v.29) in their homes (v.30), their business (v.31) and worship (v.32). In short: “We will not neglect the house of our God” (v.39).

By the way, the Gezer Calendar in our photo is a school-boy’s exercise in learning the months of the year, associated with agricultural events.

Explanation of the Gezer Calendar. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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“I Was the King’s Cupbearer” (Nehemiah)

July 20, 2017

Nehemiah, whom God used to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (444 BC), served during the administration of the Persian King Artaxerxes (464-423 BC). Nehemiah states, “For I was the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11).

Drinking Cup. Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Professor Edwin Yamauchi has some helpful information on what it would have meant to be a “cupbearer”:

“Cupbearer” (mašqeh is a Hiphil participle of the verb šaqāh) literally means “one who gives (someone) something to drink.” It occurs twelve times in the OT in the sense of “cupbearer,” e.g., in 1 Kings 10:5 and 2 Chronicles 9:4 of Solomon’s attendants. In the Joseph story it occurs nine times (Gen 40:1–41:9), but its significance is obscured by the KJV and the RSV, which translate the word “butler.” That the cupbearer could have other responsibilities as well is indicated by Tobit 1:22: “Now Ahikar was cupbearer, keeper of the signet, and in charge of administration of the accounts, for Esarhaddon had appointed him second to himself.” For archaeological evidence of Persian wine services, see P.R.S. Moorey, “Metal Wine-Sets in the Ancient Near East,” Iranica Antiqua 15 (1980): 181ff.
Varied sources suggest something about Nehemiah as a royal cupbearer:

1. He would have been well-trained in court etiquette (cf. Dan 1:4–5).

2. He was probably a handsome individual (cf. Dan 1:4, 13, 15; Jos. Antiq. XVI, 230 [viii.1]).

3. He would certainly know how to select the wines to set before the king. A proverb in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Qamma 92b) states: “The wine belongs to the master but credit for it is due to his cupbearer.”

4. He would have to be a convivial companion, willing to lend an ear at all times.

5. He would have great influence as one with the closest access to the king, able to determine who was able see his master.

6. Above all Nehemiah had to be one who enjoyed the unreserved confidence of the king. The great need for trustworthy court attendants is underscored by the intrigues endemic to the Achaemenid court. Xerxes, father of Artaxerxes I, was killed in his own bedchamber by Artabanus, a courtier (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job. Vol. 4, p. 683).

H.G.M. Williamson notes:

Royal cupbearers in antiquity, in addition to their skill in selecting and serving wine and their duty in tasting it as proof against poison, were also expected to be convivial and tactful companions to the king. Being much in his confidence, they could thus wield considerable influence by way of informal counsel and discussion. Texts and pictures from many Ancient Near Eastern sources (including Achaemenid) supporting this statement have been helpfully collected by Yamauchi, ZAW 92 (1980) 132–42. The portrayal fits admirably with the sequel in chap. 2. It may be noted also that the office of cupbearer could be combined with other important offices. (Word Biblical Commentary, Ezra, Nehemiah. Vol. 16, p. 174).

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Odeion at Troy

April 1, 2016

Ancient Troy has been made famous by Homer’s Iliad. Troy is located within the province of Çanakkale, located in extreme western Turkey. Troy’s extensive remains are the most significant and substantial evidence of the first contact between the civilizations of Anatolia and the Mediterranean world. This past Spring, 2015, we were able to visit Troy. Among the fascinating ruins there was the Roman Odeion, a small theater where concerts, lectures and other events took place.

Roman Odeion at Troy, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Roman Odeion at Troy, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The skene, stage building included a larger-than-life statue of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). Also, a sculpted head of Augustus was found at the odeion, causing some to surmise that this may have been erected in honor of his visit here in 20 BC. Beyond the odeion at the back you can see a portion of the fortification wall of Troia VI.

The Roman odeion is in Troy’s Level IX. Over the centuries there were nine levels of occupation.

Cross-section of Troy, showing 9 occupation levels. Istanbul Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Cross-section of Troy, showing 9 occupation levels. Istanbul Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin. 

Wikipedia has this helpful chart:

Troy I 3000–2600 BC (Western Anatolian EB 1)
Troy II 2600–2250 BC (Western Anatolian EB 2)
Troy III 2250–2100 BC (Western Anatolian EB 3 [early])
Troy IV 2100–1950 BC (Western Anatolian EB 3 [middle])
Troy V: 20th–18th centuries BC (Western Anatolian EB 3 [late])
Troy VI: 17th–15th centuries BC
Troy VIh: late Bronze Age, 14th century BC
Troy VIIa: c. 1300–1190 BC, most likely setting for Homer’s story
Troy VIIb1: 12th century BC
Troy VIIb2: 11th century BC
Troy VIIb3: until c. 950 BC
Troy VIII: c. 700–85 BC
Troy IX: 85 BC–c. AD 500

Biblical significance: It was here at Troy (Ilium) at the temple of Athena that Xerxes (Ahasuerus) of the book of Esther sacrificed 1,000 head of cattle en route on his march through the Hellespontine region towards Greece. This was 480 BC.

We have previously posted on Troy here.


Q&A re: Persian Chronology in Ezra 4

May 3, 2012

A friend writes to ask that I help with the following question:

In Ezra 4-5, we read of the opposition that the Jews faced in the rebuilding of the temple. We read of Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes as the kings in Persia.

When Ezra jumps from Darius to Ahasuerus, is he jumping forward in history to the Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes that reigned from about 486-424, or are those titles for the son of Cyrus, Cambyses, who reigned immediately following Cyrus? Clarke suggests that these were titles for Smerdis, who reigned between Cambyses and Darius.

Is there any way to figure it out conclusively?

Here is what I believe to be the best explanation to the text:

Ezra 4:5 states that the enemies “hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”  At that point the record goes on to mention Ahasuerus (v.6), who is to be identified as Xerxes (see NAS ft. nt.).  This is the Persian king who took Esther as queen (Xerxes reigned 486-464 B.C.).  The next verse, Ezra 4:7, then says, “And in the days of Artaxerxes..,” who is the Persian king in the days of Nehemiah, cupbearer to the king (reigned 464-423 B.C.).   Ezra 4:23 makes reference to a document of King Artaxerxes. So why are these kings who reigned after Darius (522-486 B.C., under whose reign the temple was rebuilt) mentioned here?  It seems the best answer is that the current opposition which stopped (for several years) the rebuilding of the temple furnished the occasion for the writer to list similar efforts made by enemies of God’s people to hurt and halt His work including the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  As Fensham noted, the author “is referring in this chapter in chronological order to the hindrances placed in the way of the Jews to rebuild the temple and the wall of Jerusalem.  When he discussed the problems of the building of the temple in 4:1-5, it reminded him of later similar troubles with the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, and so 4:6-23 has been inserted, almost parenthetically, before the argument of the building of the temple has again been taken up in 4:24ff) (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, p.70).  “…the author of this chapter enumerated the different hostile actions against the Jews…” (ibid.71).   This explanation was earlier given by Keil in the 19th century (Vol.4, p.46), who went on to say, “v.24, so far, then, as its [subject] matter is concerned, belongs to the following chapter, to which it forms an introduction (ibid.47).

The Oriental Institute Museum has an impressive collection of Persian artifacts which relate to the biblical period.

Bull from Palace at Persepolis. Dates to Persian Kings Xerxes and Artaxerxes I. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The accompanying info sign dates this bull to the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes (Xerxes married Esther and made her queen; Artaxerxes was king during the days of Nehemiah) and goes on to state:

Paris of guardian figures commonly protected the entrance to important buildings in the ancient Near East.

This highly polished stone head originally belonged to one of two guardian bulls flanking the portico of the hundred-column hall at Persepolis.

[This head] which weights approximately ten tons, was transported to Chicago and restored by Mr. Donato Bastiani, a member of the Oriental Institute Museum technical staff.

The two bulls were carved in the court style typical of the Achaemenid Empire. The ears and horns, which had been added separately, were not found.

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