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Zerubbabel (Hebrew: זְרֻבָּבֶל, Modern Zrubavel Tiberian Zərubbāḇél; Greek: Ζοροβαβελ, Zorobabel; Latin: Zorobabel) was a governor of the Persian Province of Judah (Haggai 1:1) and the grandson of Jehoiachin, penultimate king of Judah. Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews, numbering 42,360, who returned from the Babylonian Captivity in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia (Ezra). The date is generally thought to have been between 538 and 520 BCE.[1] Zerubbabel also laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem soon after.

In all of the accounts in the Hebrew Bible that mention Zerubbabel, he is always associated with the high priest who returned with him, Jeshua son of Jozadak. Together, these two men led the second wave of Jewish returnees from exile and began to rebuild the Temple (Ezra). Kessler describes the region of Judah as a small province that contained land moving 25 km from Jerusalem and was independently ruled prior to the Persian rule. Zerubbabel was the governor of this province.[2] King Darius I of Persia appointed Zerubbabel governor of the Province.[3] It was after this appointment that Zerubbabel began to rebuild the Temple. Elias Bickerman speculates that one of the reasons that Zerubbabel was able to rebuild the Temple was because of “the widespread revolts at the beginning of the reign of Darius I in 522 BCE, which preoccupied him to such a degree that Zerubbabel felt he could initiate the rebuilding of the temple without repercussions”.[4]

Zerubbabel is also a source of controversy in the study of the sanctity of the Davidic line in post-exilic times. The prophets Zechariah and Haggai both give unclear statements regarding Zerubbabel’s authority in their oracles, in which Zerubbabel was either the subject of a false prophecy or the receiver of a divine promotion to kingship. Either way, he was given the task of rebuilding the Temple in the second year of the reign of Darius I (520 BCE), along with the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak.

Muslim historian Ya'qubi attributed the recovery of the Torah and the Books of the Prophets to him instead of Ezra.[5] The Seder Olam Zutta lists him as the Exilarch in Babylon to succeed Shealtiel. The texts are conflicting as to whether Zerubbabel was the son of Shealtiel or his nephew. His son Meshullam succeeded him as Exilarch, and was followed by another son Hananiah. His other sons were Hashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah and Jushab-hesed (1 Chronicles 3:20). He also had a daughter called Shelomith (1 Chronicles 3:19).

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