Jerusalem in the Achaemenid Period

The Relationship between Temple and Agriculture in the Book of Haggai

by Jieun Kim (Author)
©2016 Monographs XIV, 287 Pages


This is the first book to explore the importance of agriculture in relation to the restoration of the Jerusalem temple in the Book of Haggai during the Achaemenid period. Scholars discussing the rebuilding of the temple have mainly focused on the political and social context. Additionally, the missions of Ezra and Nehemiah have been used as a basis for analysing the economy of postexilic Judah. This has, however, understated the wider socio-economic significance of the temple by disregarding the agricultural capacity of Judah.
The Book of Haggai is primarily concerned with agriculture and the temple. This analysis of Haggai includes an examination of the temple’s reconstruction from a historical and economic point of view, with agriculture playing a central role. Archaeological records are examined and show that prized commodities such as olives and grapes were produced in and around Jerusalem in large quantities and exported all over the ancient Near East.
This book is intended to shed new light on the value of agriculture for the people of Judah and the whole imperial economy. It also presents a new interpretation of the Book of Haggai and a new perspective on the temple economy in Jerusalem.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Restoration of the Jerusalem Temple
  • Chapter 1: Agriculture and Economy in the Ancient Near East
  • Chapter 2: Darius and the Achaemenid Empire
  • Chapter 3: Judah in the Neo-Babylonian and the Achaemenid Periods
  • Chapter 4: Judah in the Achaemenid Economy: Hag 1:1–15
  • Chapter 5: A Judean Revolt and its Results: Hag 2:1–23
  • Conclusion
  • Index

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Introduction: Restoration of the Jerusalem Temple

This study deals with the relationship between the restoration of the Jerusalem temple and agriculture in the Book of Haggai. The problem is twofold: firstly, I want to look into the nature of agriculture in Judah in general; secondly, I intend to relate the agricultural activities to the prophetic exhortations to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.1 The corpus texts I have chosen are Hag 1:2, 5–6, 7–8, 9–11, 12–14; 2:3, 8–9, 15–19.2

Particularly in Hag 1:5–6, 9–11; 2:15–19, Haggai focuses above all on agricultural activities that are related to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. It is a major issue in the Book of Haggai that the state of Judean economy in general depended on a well functioning temple economy in Jerusalem. For this reason, quite a large portion of Haggai proclaims that the current economic disaster in Judah results from the ruined state of the Jerusalem temple (Hag 1:3–4, 9–11; 2:11–14). Thus, the text itself indicates the importance of the relationship between the temple and a larger agricultural industry.

The book of Haggai is dated to the second year of Darius. It is commonly assumed that the king in question is Darius I (522–486 BCE). From a historical viewpoint, the Book of Haggai should be read as reflecting Darius’s early reign. According to the text, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple ← 1 | 2 → was claimed in the time of Darius. Historians in general assume that this was common Achaemenid imperial policy.3 Haggai emphasised that the renovated Jerusalem temple would be crucial to improving Judean economy, enabling the country to fulfil its economic duties toward the empire (Hag 1:4; 2:3, 8–9).4 Judah had to be able to support the upcoming deployment of a huge imperial army in response to the rebellion in Egypt in 519 BCE.5 The study of the temple rebuilding project, consequently, gives important information on Jerusalem as one of many administrative centres in the Achaemenid Empire. Darius ruled all conquered territories throughout his reign in the same manner: Judah was but one province in this huge empire.

Haggai’s description of the relationship between temple and agriculture reminds us of a commonly known phenomenon. Deities all over the ancient Near East would provide blessing and prosperity if they were worshipped according to prescribed rules and regulations. However, if gods were disobeyed, they would punish.6 Behind this “punishment” theology ← 2 | 3 → is the wider understanding that the created world is good and created by gods that provide everything humans need. However, occasionally humans experienced drought or famine or defeat in the battlefields: when catastrophes occurred, they were always understood as punishment from the deities. My thesis is not so much a study of the “common theology of the ancient Near East.” Rather, I want to pay attention to the role of temples within the macroeconomic system of the ancient Near East.

In centralised political entities in the ancient Near East, we find temples as cultural, religious, and economic major institutions. Further, temples were not only engaged in all sorts of agricultural pursuits, including animal husbandry, but also large-scale manufacture of goods based on agricultural products, including trade.7 In particular, in the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid Empires, temples were controlled directly by kings, and played a leading role in the imperial economy.8 Furthermore, the state of temple economic prosperity mirrored the economy of the empire. Consequently, the economic importance of temples cannot be exaggerated.

Research History

Critical analyses of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple during the Achaemenid rule over Judah commonly focus on its purpose and role in a political and social context. This relates the temple to the social, economic and administrative organisation of that time. However, too little attention has been paid to the importance of agriculture, which was fundamental to ← 3 | 4 → the economy of Judah. The Book of Haggai is primarily concerned with agriculture and the temple, therefore an analysis of Haggai should include an examination of the temple’s reconstruction during the Achaemenid period.

It is widely accepted that the Book of Haggai is dated back to the early period of the Achaemenids, but the attempt to detect redactional layers in the text has been examined in various approaches and perspectives. I shall survey these literary critiques before I proceed with an exegesis of the text of Haggai. In this research survey, I shall give a small sample of those which illustrate my point about the relationship between the temple and economy: in doing so, I shall assert my conviction that a study of Haggai is essential when examining the temple rebuilding project in Achaemenid Judah.

Scholarly debates on the political status of Judah can be traced to the argument that Judah was annexed to the province of Samaria after the fall of the Judean kingdom.9 In their view, Judah existed in sub-province of Samaria until the arrival of Nehemiah in 445 BCE. Yet, Judah enjoyed a ← 4 | 5 → brief period of independence as a province during the time of its governor Zerubbabel. This short spell of independence seems to have been in the time of Darius, when the Jerusalem temple rebuilding was demanded of Zerubbabel. This rebuilding project was for Judah’s provincial administration, comparable in this respect to other provinces such as Samaria. For Judah’s national self-definition as a province, the imperial government encouraged the establishment of a dominant elite of proven loyalty within Judah, politically sensitive region because of its proximity to Egypt. This new political level was made up of the returnees from Babylonia who were considered most likely to be a faithful allies to Darius.

However, the claim that Judah was included in the province of Samaria does not fully understand the role of Judean governor Zerubbabel. Judah evidently existed as a province of the Achaemenids under the rule of an uninterrupted line of Jewish governors from Sheshbazzar to Nehemiah and beyond.10 Considering all the evidence available—such as imperial ← 5 | 6 → policies, the term פחה, stamp impressions and coins – it appears most likely that Judah in fact constituted a province of the Achaemenids. The political reality of Judah as an independent province is also assumed during the Neo-Babylonian rule.

Social and political life in the province Judah in the early Achaemenid period is marked by social conflict in various accounts. Variants of this paradigm are fundamentally bounded to the Jerusalem temple rebuilding project, wherein two issues are explored: the role of the temple rebuilding and the identity of a cultic community or theocracy in the rebuilt temple. For many debates the conflict is between the returnees from Babylonia and those who had lived in Judah during the exile in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.11 Both texts unquestionably deal with the building of the temple, but very little of this would have any direct bearing on the function of the temple in the political and social context of Achaemenid Judah.

This controversial scheme also involves a monarchical concept of the Jerusalem temple in the Judean kingdom. Its emphasis is placed on prophetic texts wherein Judah’s future is envisaged with the restoration of the Judean kingdom through Zerubbabel of the Davidic lineage at the time ← 6 | 7 → of rebuilding the temple. This view of Judean restoration is developed by the notion of the kingship of YHWH in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple and is commonly termed “eschatology.”12 However, this eschatological view of Judean restoration does not give full understanding to the role of Zerubbabel; likewise, in debates on the political status of Achaemenid Judah.

Paul D. Hanson’s work could be representative of the distinction in the division of Judean society. Hanson has found two groups with competing notions of how the kingship of YHWH should rule within the rebuilt Jerusalem temple.13 One group, termed “hierocratic party” (theocratists), envisaged the rule of YHWH in his rebuilt temple, based on Ezekiel’s vision: YHWH’s sovereignty over his people was manifested through his presence in the cult. Visualising the rule of YHWH himself, this group accordingly encouraged the temple rebuilding, wherein Joshua the high priest of the Zadokite priests who had gained the support of the Achaemenid government was content to collaborate with the Achaemenids, since they believed that this political order had been established by YHWH.14 In his view, Haggai is considered as belonging to the “hierocratic party” due to his focus on the temple rebuilding.15

The competing group, termed “visionaries” (eschatologists), which was excluded from the Jerusalem cult, regarded YHWH’s kingship in Achaemenid Judah to be a miraculous divine undertaking against the temple ← 7 | 8 → reconstruction through Isa 40–55, 56–66 and Zech 9–14:16 YHWH’s existence in Zion (Jerusalem) as his earthly abode was to reassert his kingship over the nations. Zion would then be maintained by Judean kings over all his nations and peoples and serve the ideological and administrative needs of YHWH’s sovereignty. This hope for YHWH’s vindication in the context of their disenfranchisement gave rise to apocalyptic eschatology which embraced a universal vision of YHWH’s sovereignty.

Hanson’s understanding of the social conflict in Achaemenid Judah is based on the various definitions of prophecy and apocalyptic.17 Hanson surely conceives of Judean kings’ ruling authority in favour of YHWH in the hope of the visionary group but there is little place for the restoration of the monarchy. This may be due to Hanson’s aim of establishing a social context for the rise of apocalyptic eschatology.

An alternative interpretation of the purpose of the temple rebuilding and social context in which it was taken can be found in Peter Ross Bedford. Adapting motifs such as YHWH being king of the earth and nations, the divine warrior, and the cosmic renewal from the Zion psalms (Ps 46, 48, 76) and the img1 psalms (Ps 47, 93, 96–99), Bedford focuses on both the title img2 (Hag 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21) and the uses of the term img3 (Hag 1:2, 5, 7, 14; 2:4, 6–9, 11, 23) in Haggai which dealt with the rebuilding of the temple.18

Bedford has indisputably developed the intervention of the divine warrior and the cosmic renewal in the exegesis of Haggai as the assault of the nations: YHWH’s portrayals in his kingship and enthronement are given to the occurrence of the motif of the shaking of the earth and nations (Hag 2:6–7). Being king of both of these, YHWH did indeed judge and ← 8 | 9 → chastise nations (Hag 2:4–5), then used funds drawn from them to make Judah glorious (Hag 2:3, 8–9).19 For Haggai the temple rebuilding was for the expression of YHWH’s return to Jerusalem and YHWH’s kingship in Jerusalem, as the temple in the monarchical period.

Bedford then draws attention to the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. In his view of the monarchical temple, the temple project contributed to the restoration of the Davidic dynasty. This is evident in Haggai’s intentional use of img4 instead of img5 (Hag 1:4 and 9). YHWH thus declared that Zerubbabel was his servant and signet, which would be connected to the future restoration of Judah (Hag 2:20–23). However, Haggai understood “that day” to restore Judean kingship to be coming “very soon” (Hag 2:6, 23).20 This is the way that Haggai made the eschatological claim on Zerubbabel, acknowledging the realities of Achaemenid authority but also affirming YHWH’s promise of Judah’s future.

This eschatological ideology of the Judean kingdom in YHWH’s supremacy accompanying YHWH’s return to the rebuilt Jerusalem temple legitimised the temple rebuilding among the Judean people. This acknowledgement led to the integration of society which had been in conflict for control over the temple with different groups pursuing their vision of its function. At this point, Bedford holds that rebuilding the temple was initiated by the Judean people due to the monarchical concept of the temple as evidenced in Haggai, although this rebuilding work was later granted by the Achaemenid government (Ezra 5–6). The temple rebuilding in Judah thus never challenged Achaemenid sovereignty.21 In Bedford’s reading of Haggai it is likely that the figure of Zerubbabel was promoted, such as in a monarchical institution. However, his interpretation of Haggai against the backdrop of Achaemenid Judah, as such, does no more than focus on the ideological role of the temple within Judean society. ← 9 | 10 →

Attempts to relate the temple rebuilding to an Achaemenid policy to establish imperial administration has been done in various studies. Joel P. Weinberg, for example, has developed “the citizen-temple community” by comparative data drawn from his previous work which is related to “temple communities” in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.22

Attention in this study has above all been given to the role of the Jerusalem temple as an agrarian institution. Weinberg has studied the agrarian structure and nature of the postexilic Judean community based on social status and authority structures, concentrating on how the missions of Ezra and Nehemiah have become the focus of considerable interest in economic aspects of postexilic Judean society.23 He has propounded the view that the Jerusalem temple was built as a result of Achaemenid administrative policy which had as its goal the formation of a self-determining institution within Judah: the Zion returnees formed img6 as a basic social unit in postexilic Judean society, which later developed into img7 a unique social institution that was composed of socio-economic units as recorded in Ezra-Nehemiah. This community of img8 definitely established the citizen-temple community.24 The status of the temple members was accordingly dependent on their connection with the existence or nonexistence of temple property.

Weinberg further points out that after the missions of Ezra and Nehemiah, due to the members’ acceptance of the local, non-deported population of Judah into the community, the membership of the citizen-temple community rapidly rose from only 20 per cent to 70 per cent of the population of Judah.25 Among the emergent population, three major centres were situated in the Central Hill country around Jerusalem, in the Coastal Plain and in the Jordan Valley. Here, Haggai helped the citizen-temple community that had already begun to establish itself become more realistic and concrete while supporting the Davidic Zerubbabel and the Zadokite Joshua in his promulgation. ← 10 | 11 →


XIV, 287
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Achaemenid imperial economy Temple economy of Jerusalemeconomy Achaemenid imperial administration
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. XIV, 288 pp.

Biographical notes

Jieun Kim (Author)

Jieun Kim finished her second PhD at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh in November 2013. After receiving her first PhD from Yonsei University she taught for several years in Seoul as a lecturer and an assistant professor. She is currently an independent scholar and her next research project will focus on land ownership in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.


Title: Jerusalem in the Achaemenid Period