458 B.C., when Iranians and Jews worked together

The God of Providence sees to it that his people have opportunity for historical renewal when it becomes necessary.

Such is the lesson that this Christian believer distills from my reading of a scholarly treatise in biblical history and theology, written by Kyong-Jin Lee: The Authority and Authorization of Torah in the Persian Period,  (Peeters 2011)

Now I am no scholar. However, I am a student of history; I have appreciated this book, and managed to learn from it, even though it was written mainly for academic scholars.

Professor Lee explores the working relationship between 5th-century BCE Achaemenid rulers and the the local priests whose leadership legitimatized Persian channels of authority throughout their vassal countries.

Following well-worn paths of scholarly research, Kyong-Jin Lee examines several case studies in which the ancient Persian kings and their appointees consistently worked within pre-existing channels of local authority, religious and political, to collectively maintain a Pax Persicus. Her exegesis reveals a modus operandi of very practical Persian administrations. Regional satrapies, appointed by the Achaemenid King, generally sought to understand how each vassal state had habitually operated religiously and politically. Then the dutiful satraps  acted in an informed manner to legislate effectively. Utilizing native leadership, the Achaemenids would work to construct productive channels for effective localized administrations. Thus a network of King-appointed priests or governors worked to maintain peace and order throughout the Persian empire.

Through Kyong-Jin Lee’s careful analysis of steles and documentary fragments from Egypt and Asia Minor antiquity, a consistently Persian legislative approach to governing emerges for the reader. It is inclusive, cooperative and ultimately pragmatic. Her chosen precedent case studies help the reader gain understanding about  the main object of Lee’s study: the working relationship between king Artaxerxes and his emissary to the Jews of Jerusalem, Ezra the scribe. About ~458 BCE.

This Christian reader has little experience navigating the meticulous academic exegeses of such scholars as Peter Frei, Joseph Blenkinsopp, Lisbeth Fried, Juha Pakkala and other noteworthy scholars upon whose research Kyong-Jin Lee builds her case. Nevertheless, I must say:

Reading this book has been quite a learning experience for me.

Circa the 5th-century BCE, the rise of the Achaemenid Persians under the conquerors Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes, brought about new political conditions favorable for the Jewish people, who had been deported to Babylon about seventy years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar. By an edict of the Persian king Artaxerxes, the Babylonian Jewish scribe Ezra was commissioned to travel to Judea on a fact-finding mission which eventually became a Persian-backed restoration of Jewish religious practice in Jerusalem. Imagine that. This development contributed not only to political stability in the Judean “beyond the River” satrapy, but incidentally also contributed (Providentially, from my faith perspective) to Torah, and later the written Bible.

So I find my 21st-century Biblical reader-self feeling cognitive gratitude to these Persian monarchs of long ago–Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes, whose benevolent rulership facilitated a rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and hence the continuing worship of Y__H. Therefore, this believer infers this historical lesson:

After a time of great trial–an era of captivity and chastisement under an oppressive (the Babylonian) empire– the God of history can arrange for the restoration of his people. He can raise up foreign potentates to facilitate their homeland aliyah, and thereby allow the ministrations of the loving, Providential God to continue among them through the ages, right up to the time of his supreme Sacrifice for the good of us all, such a time as then and now, when a Passover lamb would no longer be necessary.

Smoke

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