Do you ever have a question for so long that you finally decide to dive in and discover your answers? I sure do! My latest quest is taking me deep into the history of the ancient Persian empire. No, history is not my cup of tea, but good stories are and that is what has led me here!
Why on earth would I want to study about ancient Persian kings? That is a question I keep asking myself! One of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of Esther. What is so frustrating to me about it, however, is that it is just stuck in the Bible with no real historical context given. Many of the names found are similar names to those found in Ezra and Daniel. What is difficult, however, is that many of these names are repeated in the royal lineage, so there are seven kings known as Xerxes/Artaxerxes and four individuals known as Darius and that makes things confusing! What it does tell us, however, is that the events found in Daniel, those found in Chronicles and Ezra, and the story of Esther all took place close to the same period in time. So my question has been, for a very long time, how do these stories flow into one another? I have finally decided to find out, if possible. This may be somewhat of a lengthy journey, but I will share all that I can with you!
I decided, the best place to begin is the beginning. So here is my best attempt to compile what I have read into a story that makes sense. Please remember that this is completely my own understanding of what the historical studies show and I am in no way a historian. This story twists and turns, so hang on for the ride!
The Israelites in Babylon and Old King Neb
Ok, so we all know that when Israel fell it was to the Babylonians under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar II. Much is found about Old King Neb in the Bible, most of which we find in the book of Daniel. When King Neb destroyed Israel, he did not do so entirely and he took the noble young men with him back to Babylon with him in order to train them up the Babylonian way and make good Babylon-serving leaders out of them. Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were along on this ride and we find out about their experiences during this time frame in Daniel chapters 1-3. King Nebuchadnezzar married Amytis, daughter of Cyaxares the Great, king of the Medes. History tells us that she was so homesick that King Neb built her the great Hanging Gardens of Babylon to remind her of home. King Neb was also married to the great Queen Nitocris who continued his building projects and kingdom improvements for years during King Neb's insanity (Daniel 4) and even after his death. It is thought that Nitocris was the grandmother "Queen Mother" of Belshazzar that refers the prince to Daniel during the banquet in Daniel chapter 5.
Babylon No More
There is a lot of history pertaining to the fall of Babylon, and even many prophetic scriptures warning of this occurrence in the Bible. For our purposes we need to know that King Neb was succeeded by his son Nebonidus who was the father of Belshazzar in Daniel 5. Nebonidus was the last Babylonian king. When Babylon fell, Nebonidus was on a conquest in Arabia, so his son was left in charge, just as we see in the biblical account. The Medo-Persians, under Cyrus the Great, were now in control. Daniel 5:31 states "So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of 62." This Darius the Mede is most likely the individual in historical accounts known as Cyaxares II who served for 2 years as the viceroy of Cyrus in Babylon. One of Cyrus' immediate acts to prove his authority and secure his reign in Babylon was to release all of the forced exiles to return to their homeland. This event is found in the Bible in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-8; 5:13-17 and is a clear fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1. Cyrus, called by name, was an instrument in God's overall plan for His people.
Now, if your head is swimming with facts like mine is at the moment, then I am happy to tell you that I am finished for today! I find it always helpful to place stories in context, so now that we have a beginning to our story!