Search of the Royal Archives
Tattenai’s recommendation to Darius was to search the royal archives in Babylon for the decree of Cyrus that the Jewish leaders mentioned (5:17). Darius does decree for the search of the archives to be made, and a memorandum describing the decree was found in Ecbatana, which was where the Persian kings resided in the summer” (6:1-2; Williamson 1985: 80).
These are the kinds of details that a writer who was fabricating an account at a much later date would not get right. They attest the genuineness of the account (Williamson 1985: 80; Steinmann 2010: 266).
Ezra 6:3-5 presents the memorandum of Cyrus’s decree which was found in Ecbatana. The Jewish leaders said that Cyrus decreed the rebuilding of the temple and that he sent back the temple vessels to be placed in the rebuilt temple. The memorandum confirms these points (Breneman 1993: 115; Steinmann 2010: 268). However, it adds some additional material, most notably that cost of the building project would be paid from the royal treasury (6:4). This is an example of potential opposition being providentially redirected to support.
Darius fully supported Cyrus’s decree. He ordered that Tattenai not interfere with the project but instead pay for the cost of rebuilding—and for the cost of the sacrificial animals. He further requests for prayers to be made on behalf of himself and his sons. This seems to reflect the Persian policy of aligning with all of the gods of the conquered peoples.
The details regarding sacrifices are correct in Darius’s decree, which probably indicates that Darius made use of Jews to write the decree. Steinmann says that this reflects the “standard Persian practice of consulting religious authorities (in this case, Judeans) to ensure that worship practices of a particular religion were followed correctly” (Steinmann 2010: 269; cf. Kidner 1979: 64).
The decree is backed up with provisions for enforcement. Kidner notes that “[t]here was poetic justice intended in making a man’s own house his instrument of execution for tampering with the house of God (Kidner 1979: 64). Notably, Darius recognizes that God has caused his name to dwell in Jerusalem. God himself, Darius recognizes, will ensure that the decree to carry out the rebuilding of the temple will be carried out.
Conclusion: Tying up Narrative Threads
Verses 13-15 bring to an initial resolution the part of the narrative begun in 5:1 by tying together the various narrative threads. Tatttenai and his associates are diligent to carry out Darius’s decree. The elders of the Jews, with the support of the prophets. And the building is finished according to the decree of God and of the Persian kings. The decree of the kings comes from the decree of God (Steinmann 2010: 269-70; Brown 2005a: 43).
The mention of Artaxerxes in the list of kings is a bit odd since Artaxerxes reigned after the temple had been completed. Since Artaxerxes contributed to the beautifying of the temple (Ezra 7:29; cf. 7:15-24), Ezra includes him in the list (Williamson 1985: 84). Brown notes, “Ezra’s use of anachrony signals that thematic development is again overriding chronological presentation. The inclusion of Artaxerxes’ name in 6:14 brings into one compass all the Persian kings who contributed to the temple—from initial rebuilding to final beautification—and unites the entire preceding narrative around one of the narrative’s theological centerpoints: Yahweh’s sovereign control of history” (Brown 2005a: 42-43).
Ezra recorded that the temple was completed in the sixth year of Darius’s reign. Though Ezra does not himself make the connection to the seventy years’ prophecy (just as he did not in Ezra 1 make explicit mention of that prophecy), the date enables the diligent reader to make the connection. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple in 586 BC, and the Second Temple was dedicated in 516 BC.