Bible Commentary: Nehemiah 12:1-26

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Bible Commentary

Nehemiah 12:1-26

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The Religious Leadership

This passage lists leaders among the priests and Levites in the time of the first return under Zerubbabel and the high priest Jeshua and in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Verses 12-21 give the later heads of the priestly families that arrived with Zerubbabel, listed in verses 1-7. The following succession of high priests is given: Jeshua; Joiakim; Eliashib (high priest when Nehemiah arrives); Joiada; Jonathan; Jaddua (verses 10-11, 22). There is wide dispute over whether this list is complete or skips some generations.

Verse 22 mentions this record being kept during the reign of "Darius the Persian." This evidently refers to Emperor Darius II, also known as Ochus or Nothus, who reigned from 423 to 404 B.C.—though some argue for Darius III (Codomanus), who reigned from 336 until his overthrow by Alexander the Great in 330. The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "The fact that a Jaddua is mentioned as the high priest [at the time of Alexander] by Josephus (Antiq[uities of the Jews,Book 11, chap. 7, sec. 2]…) has caused some scholars to favor the later king [Darius III]. A Johanan appears, however, as the high priest [of Jerusalem] in an Elephantine papyrus [from the Jewish community of southern Egypt] dated to 407 B.C….and this favors an identification with Darius II. The recently discovered Samaria papyri [illustrating the routine practice of alternating generations having the same name] has persuaded some scholars that the Jaddua in Nehemiah was not the Jaddua in Josephus but the grandfather of the latter" (note on verse 22). The latter seems most likely, as the same commentary details in its introduction to the book of Ezra.

The tradition attributing to Ezra the compilation of this book and the canonization of the Old Testament also argues for identifying Darius here as Darius II (whose reign came 34 years after Ezra's arrival in Judea)—and for Jaddua being an earlier high priest than the one referred to by Josephus. This is because Ezra would no longer have been living by the time of Darius III's reign and Alexander's conquest (as this would have been more than 120 years after his arrival).

Chronologically, the events of Nehemiah 13:4 came before the events surrounding the dedication of the city wall that is mentioned over the rest of chapter 12. If Chapter 13, as we will see, describes problems that Nehemiah faced when he returned from a trip back to the Persian court at the end of his initial 12 years as governor (see verses 6-7; compare 5:14).