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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/810

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NEHEMIAS


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NEHEMIAS


nected. Nehemias, tlic sou of llelchias, relates how. lit the court of Artaxerxes at Susa where he fuliiHed the office of the kin^i's cup-bearer, he received the news of this caUiinity in the twentieth year of the king (,Xeh., i), and how, thanks to his prudence, he suc- ceeded in getting himself sent on a first mission to Jerusalem with full powers to rebuild the walls of the Jewish capital (Neh., ii, 1-8). This first mission lasted twelve years (v, 14; xiii, 6); he had the title of Pehah (v, 14; xii, 2G) or Athersatha (viii, 9; x, 1). It had long been the opinion of most historians of Israel that the Artaxerxes of Nehemias was certainly the first of that name, and that consequently the first mis- sion of Nehemias fell in the year B. C. 44.5. The Ara- maic pajjvri of Elephantine, recently published by Sachau, put this date beyond the shadow of a doubt. For in the letter which they wrote to Bahohim, Gov- ernor of Judea, in the seventeenth year of Darius II (B. C. 4()Si, the Jewish priests of Elephantine say that they have also made an application to the sons of San- aballat at .Samaria. Now Sanaballat was a contem- porary of Nehemias, and the Artaxerxes of Nehemias, therefore, was the predecessor, and not the successor, of Darius II.

(3) On his arrival at Jerusalem, Nehemias lost no time; he inspected the state of the walls, and then took measures and gave orders for taking the work in hand (ii, 9-lS). Chapter iii, a docimient of the high- est importance for determining the area of Jerusalem in the middle of the fifth century B. C, contains a de- scription of the work, carried out at all points at once under the direction of the zealous Jewish governor. The high priest Eliasib is named first among the fel- low workers of Nehemias (iii, 1). To bring the under- taking to a successful termination the latter had to fight against all sorts of difficulties. (4) First of all, the foreign element had great influence in Judea. The Jews who had returned from captivity almost a cen- tury before, had found the country partly occupied by people belonging to the neighbouring races, and being unable to organize themselves politically, had seen themselves reduced, httle by little, to a humiliating position in their own land. And so, at the time, of Nehemias, we see certain foreigners taking an exceed- ingly arrogant attitude towards the Jewish governor and his work. Sanaballat the Horonite, chief of the Samaritans (iv, 1, 2), Tobias the Ammonite, Gossem the Arabian, claim to exercise constant control over Jewish affairs, and try by all means in their power, by calumny (ii, 19), scoffs (iv, 1 ff), threats of violence (iv, 7 ft), and craft (vi, 1 ff), to hinder Nehemias' work or ruin him. The reason of this was that the raising up again of the walls of Jerusalem was destined to bring about the overthrow of the moral domination, which for many years circumstances had secured for these foreigners.

(.5) The cause of the foreigners was upheld by a party of Jews, traitors to their own nation. The prophet Noadias and other false prophets sought to terrify Nehemias (vi, 14); there were some who, like Samaia, allowed themselves to be hired by Tobias and Sanaballat to set snares for him (vi, 10-14). Many Jews sided with Tobias on account of the matrimonial alliances existing between his family and certain Jew- ish families. Nehemias, however, does not speak of the mixed marriages as if they had been actually for- bidden. The father-in-law of Tobias' son, Mosollam, the son of Barachias, on the contrary, was a fellow worker of Nehemias (vi, 18; iii, 4). The law of Deu- teronomv onlv forbade marriages between Jews and Chanaanites (Deut. vii, 1, 3). (6) Difficulties of a social nature, the restilt of the selfish treatment of the poor by the rich, who misused the common distress for their own ends, likewise called for the energetic inter- vention of Nehemias (v). On this occa,sion Nehemias lecalls the fact that previous governors had practised extortion, while he was the first to show himself disin-


terested in the discharge of his duties (v. If) ff). (7) In spile (if all these iliiliculties the rebuilding of the wall made rajiid progress. We learn from vii, 15, that the work waa completely finished within fifty-one days. Josephus (Ant., V, 7, 8) says that it lasted two years and four months, but his testimony, often far from reliable, presents no plausible reason for setting aside the text. The relatively short duration of the work is explained, when we consider that Nehemias had only to repair the damage wrought after the pro- liibitiou of iVrtaxerxes (I Esd., iv, 23), and finish off the construction, which might at that moment have been already far advanced [see above (1)].

Section III: xiii, 4-31. After the expiration of his first mission, Nehemias had returned to Susa in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes (B. C. 433; xiii, 6). Some time after, he was charged with a fresh mission to Judea, an<l it is with his doings during this second mission that xiii, 4-31 is concerned. The account at the begiiming seems mutilated. Nehemias relates how, at the time of his second arrival at Jerusalem, he began by putting an end to the abuses which Tobias, the Ammonite, supported by the high priest Eliasib, was practising in the temple in the matter of the de- pository for the sacred offerings (.xiii, 4-9) . He severely blames the violation of the right of the Levites in the distribution of the tithes, and takes measures to pre- vent its occurrence in future (xiii, 10-14); he insists on the Sabbath being strictly respected even by the for- eign merchants (xiii, 15-22). Finally he dealt se- verely with the Jews who were guilty of marriages with strange wives, and banished a grandson of Eliasib who had married a daughter of Sanaballat (xiii, 23-28). To this son-in-law of Sanaballat is gen- erally attributed the inauguration of the worship in the temple of Garizim. It is plain that Nehemias' attitude during his second mission with regard to mixed marriages differs greatly from his attitude at the beginning of his first stay at Jerusalem [see section I, (5)1.

Section II: vii-xiii, 3, (1) contains accounts or doc- uments relating to the work of politico-social and re- ligious organization effected by Nehemias, after the walls were finished. Here we no longer have Nehe- mias speaking in the first person, except in vii, 1-5, and in the account of the dedication of the walls (xii, 31, 37, 39). He relates how, after having rebuilt the walls, he had to proceed to erect houses, and take measures for bringing into the town a population more in proportion to its importance as the capital (vii, 1-5; cf. Ecclus., xlix, 15). (2) He gives (vii, 5 ff.) the list of the families who had returned from captivity with Zorobabcl. This list is in I Esd., ii. It is remarkable that in the Book of Nehemias, following on the list we find reproduced (vii, 70 ff.) with variants, the remark of I Esd., ii, 68-70 about the gifts given towards the work of the temple by Zorobabel's companions, and the settlement of these latter in the country; and again that Neh., viii, 1 resumes the narrative in the very words of I Esd., iii. This dependence is probably due to the redactor, who in this place gave a new form to the notes supplied him by the Jewish governor's memoirs which also explains the latter's being spoken of in the third person, Neh., viii, 9. (3) There is a de- scription of a great gathering held in the seventh month under the direction of Nehemias (viii, 9-12) at which Esdras reads the Law (viii, 13). They then kept the feast of Tabernacles (viii, 1.3-18). When this feast is over, the people gather together again on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month (ix, 1 ff.) to praise God, confess their sins, and to bind them- selves by a written covenant faithfully to observe their obligations. Chapter X after giving the list of the subscribers to the covenant, sets forth the oliliga- tions, which the people l)ind themselves to fulfil; in particular the prohibition of mixed marriages (verse 30); the keeping of the Sabbath, especially in their