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Cyrus Frees the Jews

Publishing Date : 17 September, 2019

Benson C Sail
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER


Meanwhile, all sorts of complications arise that throw a question mark over the legitimacy of Jesus

Nabunaid returned to Babylonia in  539 BC, when he heard that Cyrus, the mighty Persian King, had Babylon in his sights. It seemed the Babylonian  priesthood had somehow become disenchanted with his regent Belshazzar’s rule when initially  he had been their darling. For when Cyrus marched into the city of Babylon, he was welcomed in the manner of a messiah. The propaganda word Cyrus put out there was that he had been expressly  invited by the Babylonian god Marduk himself.


Whilst Belshazzar was killed, probably because he wanted to get up to some kind of mischief, Nabunaid was spared and so lived to a ripe old age. Having grasped the hand of Marduk as a sign of the god’s seal of approval, Cyrus  was prompt in effecting radical reforms in his new empire, which extended to the “Four Corners of the Earth” as he brashly announced in his inscriptions. Perhaps the happiest beneficiaries of his reforms were the Jews.


He declared their exile over, consented to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, and ordered that all the articles Nebuchadnezzar had looted  of the destroyed Temple be returned.    Cyrus also proclaimed a general amnesty that allowed people to worship any god they pleased and not be force-fed a faith. The Jews, however, did not return all at once. The return occurred in waves and over a period of 110 years. The first wave comprised of 50,000 Jews and set off in 538 BC. They were led by Zerubabbel, who Cyrus appointed as the new governor of Israel.

The second wave was led by Sheltiel, Zerubabbel’s son. About 42,360 Jews were participants in this wave. With this reinforcement, the Temple was rebuilt and completed in 516 BC. The third wave of returnees set  off in 458 BC. They were led by Ezra the scribe. Ezra was at the head of 5000 Jews. The fourth and final wave was led by Nehemiah, who was cup-bearer to the Persian King and who took over from Zerubabbel as Israel’s next governor. It is not known exactly how many Jews were in this group though it must have comprised a good number of the Jewish nobility as it was escorted by a sizeable contingent of the Persian army.


Nehemiah was responsible for performing the feat of constructing the Jerusalem wall in only 52 days. He was in Jerusalem for 12 years before he returned to Persia to resume his royal court  duties but he was forced to beat a path back to Jerusalem in 431 BC to help arrest the deteriorating security, religious, and social  conditions. Altogether, there were about seven Jewish governors  of Judah from circa 538 BC to 443 BC. The last governor was Hananiah, whose exact circumstances are unclear. In the next 200 years after Hananiah, Persia dominated all of the Middle East and Egypt, During all this time Palestine was a client state of Persia and was directly ruled by a Persian governor.


WAS JESUS OF A CURSED LINEAGE?


There is a section of the gospels which practically nobody reads, including pastors. This is the genealogy, the lineage of Jesus.  Throughout the 30 years or so that I have been a Christian, I have never heard a single sermon on the genealogy of Jesus. This is unfortunate because the genealogy, when investigated by cross-reference with Old Testament records, yields some very valuable insights on the ancestry of Jesus. Furthermore, it provides context as to why he was such a love-him-or-loathe-him figure as well as why the circumstances of his birth were overshadowed by a scandal that continued to haunt him for the rest of his life.  


The genealogies are found in MATTHEW 1:1-17 and LUKE 3:23-38. The scope of each of the two genealogies is tailored to the audiences for whom the gospel narratives were primarily intended.  Matthew was fundamentally writing for the Jews; hence he begins his genealogy with Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. On the other hand, Luke, a Greek, targeted Gentiles. Accordingly, he began his genealogy with Adam, the father of the human race.


Why did Matthew and Luke deem it necessary to furnish a genealogy of Jesus? Certainly, if Jesus was a God-man, as the bulk of Christendom believe, there would be no need for a genealogy. God will not need details about his family background. The only reason, therefore, why the two evangelists decided to include a genealogy in their accounts was because they wanted to set down   evidence of Jesus’s royal credentials. They wanted to demonstrate that Jesus was a descendent of David, Israel’s covenant king, and therefore had the right pedigree.


Both Mathew and Luke do articulate Jesus’ Davidic connection. The very first line of Matthew’s gospel reads, “This is the record of the ancestry of Jesus Christ, the son of David …” In LUKE 1:32, we’re told, plainly, that Jesus would “sit on the throne of his father David”.  It was the Jews’ Anunnaki  “god” Ishkur-Adad – generically called Yahweh in the Bible – who through the prophet Nathan declared to David during his waning days that only  a Jew of  Davidic stock would ever rule Israel (2 SAMUEL 7:12-16).


Since “God” so said, the Jews simply never accepted anybody who wasn’t a descendent of David to rule over them.  For example, King Herod (reign: 37 BC to 4 BC) went out of his way to try and win the devotion and affections of the Jews. He even built a magnificent Temple for good measure, the globe’s architectural masterpiece of the day. The Jews were unmoved.


Being   half-Arab, Herod was not a true blue Jew. Worse still, he did not have a single drop of Davidic blood coursing in his veins.  Even the prophets themselves – Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc – referred to Israel’s throne as “David’s throne”, that is, one worthy only of a descendent of David and no less. Yet although Jesus was of Davidic lineage, he was tainted in two ways. FIRST, THERE WAS A CURSE ONCE UPON A TIME IN HIS ANCESTRY. SECOND, HE WAS BORN IN CIRCUMSTANCES ANATHEMA TO A DYNASTIC HEIR.  
 
THE CURSE OF JECONIAH


The Jewish king who caused problems for Jesus, who considerably dented his legitimacy, was Jeconiah (also known as Coniah and as Jehoiachin). In terms of monarchical  profile, Jeconiah was dismally undistinguished. He officially ruled over Judah for only three months but the effect he had on the fate of his nation was probably of eternal proportions.   


Jeconiah ascended to the throne at the very tender age of 18, on December 9, 598 BC, following the foul death of his father Jehoiakim.  Then just after 100 days on the throne, he was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar on March 15, 597 BC (“beware the ides of March” a soothsayer had warned Julius Caesar) and led into incarcerated exile in Babylon. In the greater scheme of things, his fate was inevitable: it was part of a series of  Seven Chastisements Ishkur-Adad, had pronounced upon the Jews for diluting their loyalty to him with intermittent worship of rival “gods” (LEVITICUS 26:27-28 /PSALMS 12:6)). However, since the Babylonian Chastisement, the second of the seven, occurred on Jeconiah’s watch, a sadistic Adad slapped a further curse on him personally (?).    


Adad pronounced the curse through the prophet Jeremiah thus: “Is this man Coniah a despised, broken pot, a vessel no one cares for?  Why are he and his children hurled and cast into a land that they do not know? O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord: ‘Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days, for none of his seed shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah (JEREMIAH 22:28-30).” The boy king did no wrong: he incurred a personalised curse all because a national curse took effect when he was reigning. We Christians ought to wake up: our “God” is a joke really!


The Kingdom of Judah was not left without a king though as Nebuchadnezzar appointed his own client king in place of Jeconiah. This was Zedekiah, Jeconiah’s 21-year-old uncle, another youngster. About ten years later, Nebuchadnezzar struck again after an intransigent Zedekiah revolted.  This was the beginning of the Babylonian captivity proper, when Solomon’s Temple was razed to the ground and virtually every able-bodied Jew, including Zedekiah himself, was matched off to Babylon.


To ensure there was no rabble-rousing heir for the Jews to possibly rally around, all of Zedekiah’s ten sons, who included toddlers, were killed in cold blood and Zedekiah had his eyes gouged out. He was to die whilst in captivity. The exile ended in 539 BC, when Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon and issued a decree to free the Jews. As highlighted above, the Jews left in batches.


The Jews naturally did not recognise Zedekiah as their king. Only Jeconiah counted as he was the linear and anointed king. At the same time, they were well aware of the fact that he was accursed, including his descendents, which meant that there was never going to be another King of Judah from his loins. That was what complicated things for Jesus. He was legally a descendent of Jeconiah and was by rights disqualified from ever occupying the throne of Judah. But did the Jeconiah curse indeed invalidate the accession of Jesus to the throne of a liberated Israel?     

A CANCELLED CURSE

Let us take another look at the Jeconiah curse. There were three aspects to the curse. First, Jeconiah would not prosper in his life time. Second, his own descendents too would not prosper. Third, none of the Jeconiah offspring would ever be King of the Jews. We will begin with Jeconiah himself. Contrary to the wishes of his god, JECONIAH DID ACTUALLY PROSPER.   True, Nebuchadnezzar did confine him to jail but he was released after 36 years, on March 27,  561 BC, by  Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Merodach.


What happened upon his release? Merodach exalted him above every other king that was in captivity in Babylon at the time (2 KINGS 25:27-28).   In other words, Jeconiah became a national patriarch in a foreign domain, a kind of elder statesman whose views in regard to the affairs of the nation were periodically sought. This may come as a shock to Christians but prophecies did not always come true. 


For instance, this was what a “major” prophet had said about Jeconiah: “And I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim King of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon saith the LORD: for I will break the yoke of the King of Babylon” – JEREMIAH 28:4. The same Adad who had surrendered Jeconiah and the rest of Judah for that matter into Babylonian bondage declared that he was nonetheless going to ensure that Jeconiah returned to Judah some day. This prophecy never came to pass as Jeconiah died right in Babylon. The Bible is full of consistencies which Christians tragically, hypocritically, and therefore comically  assume away.


It is clear from these developments that the Jeconiah curse did not bear out in full measure: only the element of a descendent of his never having to sit on the throne of Israel was fulfilled though this was simply in the nature of things and not because Adad intended it. I say this because THE JECONIAH CURSE ACTUALLY LAPSED. In JEREMIAH 22:24, Adad had said thus to Jeconiah: “As surely as I live … even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim King of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.”


Adad had compared Jeconiah to a signet ring, a symbol of divine as well as monarchical authority: Adad  himself  wore this ring and so did other members of the Anunnaki royalty and Egyptian kings.  Now, let us listen to what another prophet of the same Adad said to Zerubbabel upon his return from Babylon:  “On that day … I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel … and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you … (HAGGAI 2:23).”


Adad here designates Zerubbabel as a potential king by likening him to his signet ring. Clearly, the Jeconiah curse was at this point rendered null and void. It explains why Jerubbabel,  Jeconiah’s grandson legally speaking, did prosper: when the exile ended, he was not only instrumental in resettling the freed Jews in Jerusalem but he was appointed governor of Judea.     


Sadly, the matter of the status of the Jeconiah curse was a rather grey area to the Jews of  Jesus’ day. Some thought Jesus was not entitled both to the symbolic and literal throne of Judah as his ancestral line had been the subject of a curse. This was the more influential view. Those who recognised that the curse had been withdrawn as per prophet Haggai were in the minority. Since the matter was not settled with cut and dry finality,  later Christian redactors inserted phrases in the gospel texts  that made it look like both Matthew and Luke had intimated that Jesus was not fathered by Joseph but was begot supernaturally.  

IN TRUTH, HOWEVER,  JESUS WAS UNAFFECTED BY THE JECONIAH CURSE.   
 
THE ROLE OF NERI

Both Mathew and Luke were cognisant of the Jeconiah curse and the problems it threw up for Jesus. In their accounts, therefore, they made sure it was somewhat disambiguated. How?
Let us begin with Matthew. On concluding his genealogical line-up, after the words “Jacob became the father of Joseph”, Matthew adds: “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Contrary to what some ranks of the so-called scholars aver, this statement had nothing to do with the drivel that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus or that Jesus was born to Mary only by supernatural means, without the involvement of a male agent. 


Mathew featured Mary in a genealogy  she was not part and parcel of,  the genealogy of  Joseph,  for two reasons only. The first one was to demonstrate that Jesus was a descendent of  David not only through Joseph but through Mary as well. As such, the Jeconiah curse  had to be evaluated  in this context. Matthew, however, did not expand on his point.    Noting this shortcoming, Luke decided to plug it. Now, Luke is my most favourite evangelist.


Like the other three, he is not consistently truthful and even shows bias in some respects but he is the most accurate historically as even scholars now almost unanimously agree. The man was not only a chronicler but he was an intellectual, a doctor, and so he made sure he meticulously investigated everything to make sure what he set down was in general unimpeachable (LUKE 1:3-4). Whilst Matthew traces the ancestry of Jesus through Joseph, Luke does so through  Mary. Both Joseph and Mary were descendents of David but Joseph came through the line of Solomon, David’s heir, whereas Mary came through the line of Nathan, Solomon’s  elder brother.


According to Luke, Joseph and Mary’s lines did converge at Shealtiel as indeed the two genealogies bear the name Shealtiel. However, what Luke found was that Shealtiel was not the son of Jeconiah but the son of Neri (LUKE 3:27).  WHAT MUST HAVE HAPPENED WAS THAT WHILST IN PRISON AND CONSCIOUS OF THE RAMIFICATIONS OF HIS CURSE,  JECONIAH   ASKED HIS COUSIN NERI OF THE LINE OF NATHAN TO “SERVE”   HIS (JECONIAH’S) WIFE AND SIRE HEIRS FOR  HIM PARTICULARLY THAT HE WAS NOT SURE WHEN HE WOULD BE RELEASED FROM JAIL.


Such arrangements, called levirates, were common among Jews particularly when a wealthy or dynastic relation died childless or simply was infertile. Thus whilst Jeconiah was the legal father of Shealtiel and at least four other children out of Jeconiah’s  seven, their biological father was actually Neri. That way, the Jeconiah curse was rendered invalid, with all descendents henceforth – Jesus included – benefitting  from such a setup. Indeed prophet Haggai’s euphoria over Zerubbabel says it all. But as  I have already indicated, the issue was quite a sticking point to the Jews of Jesus’ day and therefore remained a divisive bone of contention indefinitely.  


NEXT WEEK:   NEW ERA DAWNS ON EARTH

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