The following came from Lexham Bible Dictionary entry on SHESHBAZZAR authored by Noah M. Marsh, proposing that the most widely accepted explanation is that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were two different people. The entry includes biblical and historical sources.
SHESHBAZZAR (שֵׁשְׁבַּצַּר, sheshebbatstsar). First governor of Judaea appointed by Cyrus II. He returned the temple vessels and laid the temple foundations in 538 BC.
Sheshbazzar appears in the book of Ezra (Ezra 1:8, 11; 5:14, 16; also see 1 Esdras 2:12, 15; 6:18, 20). In Ezra 1:8, Sheshbazzar receives the temple vessels from Cyrus, which he then returns to Jerusalem with other exiles (Ezra 1:11). Williamson argues that the account of the temple vessels being returned reflects actual historical practices—evidence for this has been preserved at Persepolis (Studies in Persian Period, 225). The letter in Ezra 5 recounts that Cyrus appointed Sheshbazzar as governor and commanded him to return the temple vessels (Ezra 5:14). Ezra then reports that laid the foundations of the temple (Ezra 5:16).
Identity of Sheshbazzar
Haggai and Zechariah claim that Zerubbabel laid the foundations of the temple, not Sheshbazzar (Zech 4:9; 8:9; Hag 2:18). There are three possible solutions for the overlap between Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel:
- Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were actually the same person.
- Andrew E. Steinmann suggests that Sheshbazzar was the Persian official commissioned for the project, but Zerubbabel was the actual project manager who did the work (“Chronological Note,” 520).
- A. Gelston proposed that Sheshbazzar unsuccessfully attempted to rebuild the temple in 536 BC and Zerubbabel successfully restarted the rebuilding project in 520 BC (“Foundations of the Second Temple,” 234–35). This is the most widely accepted explanation.
Based on the spellings of Sheshbazzar in the Septuagint (Sasabasar) and 1 Esdras (Sanabassar), as well as the shared title “prince of Judah,” D. J. A. Clines identifies Sheshbazzar as Shenazzar (1 Chr 3:18; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, 41). However, most modern commentators do not identify Sheshbazzar with any other biblical character (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 46).
Clines, D.J.A. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. New Century Bible Commentary. Edited by Ronald E. Clements. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.
Gelston, A. “The Foundations of the Second Temple.” Vetus Testamentum 16 (1966): 232–235
Fensham, F. Charles. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Edited by R. K. Harrison. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.
Japhet, S. “Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel—Against the Background of the Historical and Religious Tendencies of Ezra—Nehemiah.” Zietschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. 1982.
Klein, Ralph W. “Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.” Pages 661–852 in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary 3. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon, 1999.
Steinmann, Andrew E. “A Chronological Note: The Return of the Exiles under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel (Ezra 1–2).” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 2008.
Williamson, H.G. Studies in Persian Period History and Historiography. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 38. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.
The entry on ZERUBBABEL, SON OF SHEALTIEL characterizes the past attempts to identify Zerubbabel with Sheshbazzar with efforts to harmonize Ezra 3:8 and 5:16. However, the entry (by David B. Schreiner) argues that the two people are also different:
In response to tensions between Ezra 3:8 and 5:16, Zerubbabel has often been equated with Sheshbazzar. Ezra 3:8 credits Zerubbabel with beginning reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Cyrus. However, Ezra 5:16 credits Sheshbazzar with initiating this effort. The identification of Zerubbabel with Sheshbazzar is thus a harmonization of these texts.
The effort to harmonize Ezra 3:8 and 5:16 by identifying Zerubbabel with Sheshbazzar dates back to the rabbinic exegesis of the Middle Ages and has a small amount of support in certain manuscript traditions (compare discussion in Japhet, “Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel,” 91). However, today, few scholars adhere to the position that Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar are the same person (Albertz, Israel in Exile, 120–21; Meyers and Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1–8, 9–12). For example, Albertz and Japhet argue that efforts to identify Zerubbabel with Sheshbazzar are ineffective because both names are Babylonian in origin (Albertz, Israel in Exile, 120; Japhet, “Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel,” 91). Japhet considers the various sources with their theological tendencies in relationship to one another and argues, “Sheshbazzar is the least of the people and the governor in the days of Cyrus, who lays the foundations of the Temple and brings the Temple vessels to Jerusalem; Zerubbabel is the leader and governor in the days of Darius, whose journey to Jerusalem brings in its wake waves of hope for redemption. Under his direction … the building is resumed and even completed” (Japhet, “Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel,” 93).
Albertz, Rainer. Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century BC. Translated by David Green. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Japhet, Sara. “Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel—Against the Background of the Historical and Religious Tendencies of Ezra-Nehemiah.” Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 94 (1982): 66–98.