ZERUBBABEL (זְרֻבָּבֶ֗ל, Akkad. zer-babili (?) offspring of Babylon (?); LXX Ζοροβαβέλ, G2431, KJV Apoc. ZOROBABEL). A Babylonian Jew who returned to Pal. (Ezra 2:2) after the exile and functioned as the governor of Jerusalem under the Pers. ruler Darius Hystaspes I (522-486 b.c.).
There are certain difficulties connected with the identification of Zerubbabel in view of the fact that he has sometimes been regarded as identical with Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8 et. al.), and also because of an apparent discrepancy in the genealogical lists of Ezra and Chronicles. He was said to have been the son of Shealtiel (or Salathiel), and the grandson of King Jehoiachin (Ezra 3:2; Hag 1:1; Matt 1:12; Luke 3:27). However, the MT (1 Chron 3:19), though not the LXX, described him as the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel.
Subsequent to the decree of Cyrus in 538 b.c. in which the captive peoples of Babylonia were permitted to return to their own homes, Zerubbabel was appointed governor (peḥâ) in postexilic Jerusalem (Ezra 1:8, 11; 5:14). These narratives reflect accurately the policy of Cyrus toward those minority groups made captive and expatriated under the neo-Babylonian regime. By urging such peoples to return home and rebuild their religious shrines, Cyrus was at once promoting good will for his own regime in all parts of his newly-won empire and at the same time relieving himself of responsibility for maintaining dissident captive groups in continued servitude. By about 530 b.c. some of the Hebrews had returned to Judaea under the leadership of Zerubbabel and began work on the reconstruction of the Temple. From the time of Darius the Great (522-486 b.c.) the Pers. regime was stable in nature, and the Judaean state was encouraged to function as a religious rather than a political entity, supported by Pers. rule.
Work of Zerubbabel.
This man was the active political leader in Jerusalem under the aegis of Tattenai, the military governor of Judaea (6:13), with Joshua the high priest serving as the principal religious figure. The work of rebuilding the Temple, which had been hindered until 520 b.c., was resumed when Darius found the decree authorizing the project (6:1-12) and forbade further interference with it. This support, along with a large subsidy for the completion of the Temple, provided official sanction for the task which had all but defeated the resolve of the returned exiles. At this point the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (520 b.c.) furnished the necessary moral and spiritual impetus for the work of rebuilding. Haggai castigated the Jews for their selfishness, indifference and neglect, spurring Zerubbabel on to give proper oversight to the work in hand. In the same year Zechariah urged completion of the Temple, and promised that earlier opposition would be removed.
Some scholars have assumed that both prophets encouraged Zerubbabel to look forward to a time when Judaea would be free from foreign domination and be governed by a descendant of the house of David. Thus it is held that the crowning of Joshua (Zech 6:9-15) was actually the coronation of Zerubbabel, but MS evidence for this position is non-existent, and in any event, it is Joshua who is the type of the Messianic Branch (3:8). Consequently there is no ground whatever for taking the crowning and the promise of protection in Haggai 2:20-23 as a theoretical basis for the coronation of Zerubbabel as king of Judaea, and supposing in addition that this act of rebellion was quickly crushed, along with others of a similar kind in the empire, by Darius I. In fact, the political circumstances of Zerubbabel’s rule are unknown, as are those of his death.
Zerubbabel was honored in Jewish tradition, mentioned as a man of renown (Ecclus 49:11). A 6th-cent. a.d. Jewish chronicle preserved the tradition that Zerubbabel returned to Babylonia after 515 b.c. and succeeded his father Shealtiel as a prince of the exiled remnant there, but this is historically improbable. Another familiar legend was the forensic contest of the three young warriors of Darius (1 Esd 3:1-5:6), which was adopted by the Jewish historian Josephus. The story recounted how the wisdom of Zorobabel prevailed, and has elements reminiscent of the narrative of Daniel and his three companions (Dan 1:1-21).
L. E. Browne, Early Judaism (1929); A. C. Welch, Post-Exilic Judaism (1935); J. S. Wright, The Building of the Second Temple (1958).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(zerubbabhel, probably a transliteration of the Babylonian name Zeru-Babili, "seed of Babylon"; Zorobabel):
Whatever may have been his blood relationship to Jeconiah, the Scriptures teach that Zerubbabel was his legal successor, of the 3rd or 4th generation. According to 1Ch 3:19, he had one daughter, Shelomith, and seven sons, Meshullam, Hananiah, Hashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah and Jushab-hesed. In Mt 1:13 he is said to have been the father of Abiud (i.e. Abi-hud). As it is the custom in Arabia today to give a man a new name when his first son is born, so it may have been, in this case, that Meshullam was the father of Hud, and that his name was changed to Abiud as soon as his son was named Hud. In Lu 3:27, the son of Zerubbabel is called Rhesa. This is doubtless the title of the head of the captivity, the resh gelutha’, and would be appropriate as a title of Meshullam in his capacity as the official representative of the captive Jews. That Zerubbabel is said in the New Testament to be the son of Shealtiel the son of Neri instead of Jeconiah may be accounted for on the supposition that Shealtiel was the legal heir or adopted son of Jeconiah, who according to Jer 36:30 was apparently to die childless.
3. Relation to Sheshbazzar:
It has been shown in the article on Sheshbazzar that he and Zerubbabel may possibly have been the same person and that the name may have been Shamash-ban (or bun)-zer-Babili-usur. It seems more probable, however, that Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, was governor under Cyrus and that Zerubbabel was governor under Darius. The former, according to Ezr 1:8 and 5:14-16, laid the foundations, and the latter completed the building of the temple (Ezr 2:2,68; 4:2; Hag 1:14; Zec 4:9).
All that is known certainly about Zerubbabel is found in the canonical books of Zechariah, Haggai and Ezra-Nehemiah. According to these he and Jeshua, the high priest, led up a band of captives from Babylon to Jerusalem and began rebuilding the temple in the second year of Darius Hystaspis. They first constructed the altar of burnt offerings, and afterward built a temple, usually called the Second Temple, much inferior in beauty to that of Solomon. According to Josephus and the apocryphal Book of Ezra (1 Esdras 3,4), Zerubbabel was a friend of Darius Hystaspis, having successfully competed before him in a contest whose object was to determine what was the strongest thing in the world--wine, kings, women, or truth. Zerubbabel, having demonstrated that truth was the mightiest of all, was called the king’s "cousin," and was granted by him permission to go up to Jerusalem and to build the temple. Zerubbabel was also made a governor of Jerusalem, and performed also the duties of the tirshatha, an official who was probably the Persian collector of taxes.
R. Dick Wilson