Ezra 1:8—Who is Sheshbazzar?
Problem: When Cyrus the king of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, he gave back the articles of the house of the Lord which Nebuchadnezzar had taken. According to Ezra 1:8, Cyrus counted out into the hands of Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah the treasures that Nebuchadnezzar had taken. Who was this Sheshbazzar?
Solution: There have been two proposals as to the identity of Sheshbazzar. First, some commentators claim that Sheshbazzar was the court name of Zerubbabel. The giving of court names was quite common during the captivity of Israel in Babylon. Daniel’s court name was Belteshazzar (Dan. 1:7). One weakness of this view is that it is not clear whether or not Sheshbazzar is a Babylonian name, and usually, an Israelite who had received a court name, had also been given a Hebrew name by his parents. Neither Sheshbazzar nor Zerubbabel are Hebrew names, and neither can be conclusively identified as Babylonian.
Second, other commentators claim that Sheshbazzar is the court name of Shealtiel, Zerubbabel’s adopted father. This involves an explanation as to why Sheshbazzar is identified as “the prince of Judah” in Ezra 1:8. It is proposed that Shealtiel/Sheshbazzar was assigned to this position by the Babylonian governor, and that this position passed on to Zerubbabel after Shealtiel/Sheshbazzar’s death. Ezra 5:16 states that it was Sheshbazzar who “laid the foundation of the house of God.” Since Ezra 3 does not specifically name Sheshbazzar as participating in the laying of this foundation, it can be assumed that Shealtiel/Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel participated in the project together as a father/son team, and Sheshbazzar is just not mentioned. One weakness of this position is that there is no indication that there were two persons functioning as joint governors of Jerusalem. Also, there is the fact that the name Sheshbazzar is not mentioned in the long list recorded in Ezra 2 of those who came back with Zerubbabel.
The fact that Sheshbazzar’s name is not mentioned again after Ezra 5:16 can be explained from the point of view of either proposal. If Sheshbazzar and Shealtiel are one person, then perhaps he died shortly after the laying of the foundation. If Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are one person, then the court name was simply dropped, and the given name Zerubbabel was retained. Either explanation, however, provides a reasonable solution, and there is no real reason to assume an error or contradiction here.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.