In a dramatic departure away from the often-brutal imperial subjugation that characterized the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, the relatively benevolent rule of the Persian Empire (539-332 BC) ushered in a period of peace, enhanced connectivity and, initiated by the decree of Cyrus, limited self-rule for its subjects (Betlyon 2005; Briant 2016). Organized into many satrapies, the Persian, also known as the Achaemenid Empire, at its largest extent stretched from Egypt and Greece to India, becoming the first global power. Persia’s imperial hegemony was reflected in the material culture of each region it controlled (e.g., Ray 2006). One of these subject polities was the province of Yehud or Judah.
Relevance to the Biblical Account
The Persian Period corresponds with the popular terms “Post exilic,” “Restoration,” and “Return to Zion,” used in most biblical handbooks and scholarly works (e.g., Stern 1982: xv; Yamauchi 1990). The Persian Period reflects the historical background of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel 6, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Also during this time, a Jewish priest wrote First and Second Chronicles, using already ancient annals and records during to remind God’s people of their covenant relationship with God in the past, their present situation, and regarding their messianic hope for the future.
Among the Horn Museum objects dating to the Persian Period are the following items.
Bronze Bowl and Ladle: While less common in earlier periods, bronze bowls, chalices, ladles and jugs became widely used household utensils during the Persian Period. Particularly popular for wine-drinking at banquets, these round or moderately carinated bowls with ladles or dippers reflect an earlier Mesopotamian style adapted by Phoenician artisans and often decorated with lotus and rosette reliefs (Betlyon 2005: 46). Aside from everyday use, these vessels also served as votive offerings (Stern 1982: 144-47; 2001: 525-27). The Horn Museum collection includes a beautifully crafted carinated bronze bowl and ladle datable to the Persian Period.
Yehud Coins: The governing authorities of the Province of Yehud minted a limited number of very small silver coins often inscribed with the letters yhd (Judah) appearing in older, pre-exilic script and depicting various motifs, including the lily flower. One variation of this coin bears the name of Hezekiah, perhaps the governor or priest at the time. The range of dates of these coins vary, but seem to date later than the sixth-fifth century BC, when most of the postexilic biblical figures such as Ezra and Nehemiah lived and the biblical events associated with them took place. (Stern 1982: 224-27; 2001: 565-69; Betlyon 2005: 47-50). The modern state of Israel choose the Yehud lily design on its one shekel coins. The Horn Museum collection includes two Yehud coins; one bearing the lily motif and another inscribed with the name Hezekiah.
Attic Ware Vases:
Increased trade during the Persian Period brought a wide variety of new goods and merchandise to Yehud. One of these products was a marked increase in imported Greek pottery from Athens and eastern Greek colonies. Known as Attic ware, these red and black painted or glazed ceramic vessels dominated the market (Stern 1982: 136-42; 2001: 518-22; see especially the side bar by S. R. Martin in Betlyon 2005: 24-25) and were a harbinger of Greek colonization and future domination of the eastern Mediterranean. The Horn Museum collection includes two large Attic Ware vases.
The practice of casting lots, mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament (e.g., Joshua 18:10; Jonah 1:7), as well as during the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24) was a common practice in biblical times. Casting lots occurs at a critical point in the Scroll of Esther (3:7) and the Jewish feast of Purim (lots) is rooted in the Esther account. Called puru or pur, lots existed in the form of cube shaped dice, along with other forms (Hallo 1983). The Horn Museum collection includes a replica of a pur (cube or die) similar to those used during the time of Esther.
Imperial Persia included 26 satrapies or districts. The Province of Yehud was part of the Persian satrap of eber-nari (Beyond the River; Ezra 6:6). The Persian term satrap is well attested in the Old Testament (e.g., Ezra 8:35-36; Esther 3:12; Daniel 6:1-5). Moreover, the Jewish governors of Yehud include several individuals mentioned in the Old Testament; Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8-11, 5:16), Zerubbabel (1 Chronicles 3:19; Ezra 2-4; Nehemiah 12:1; Haggai 2:23; Zechariah 1-8), Ezra and Nehemiah. These governors had access to the Persian king himself, such as Nehemiah to Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2). Over the past century, scholars have discovered nearly 600 seal impressions bearing variations of the title Yehud on storage jar handles. These official provincial stamps seem to be a continuation of earlier royal Judahite lmlk and rosette stamps used on similar jars during the eighth-seventh centuries BC (Stern 1982: 202-6; 2001: 545-51; Lipschits and Vanderhooft 2011).
Betlyon, J. W.
2005 A People Transformed: Palestine in the Persian Period. Near Eastern Archaeology 68: 4-58.
2016 Persia and the Persians. Pp. 379-415 in The World around the Old Testament: The People and Places of the Ancient Near East, eds. B. T. Arnold and B. A. Strawn. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Hallo, W. W.
1983 The First Purim. Biblical Archaeologist 46: 19-29.
Lipschits, O., and Vanderhooft, D. S.
2011 The Yehud Stamp Impressions: A Corpus of Inscribed Impressions from the Persian and Hellenistic Periods in Judah. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
Ray, P. J.
2006 Connectivity: Transjordan during the Persian Period. Pp. 75-92 in Connectivity in Antiquity: Globalization as a Long-Term Historical Process, eds. Ø. S. LaBianca and S. A. Scham. London: Equinox.
1982 Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Persian Period 538-332 B.C. Warminster: Aris & Phillips and Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
2001 Archaeology of the Land of the Bible Volume II: The Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Periods 732-332 BCE. New York: Doubleday.
Yamauchi, E. M.1990 Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker.