🔼The name Zerubbabel in the Bible
Zerubbabel is the hallowed leader of the second and great wave of returnees from exile (Ezra 2:2 — the first and small wave was headed by Sheshbazzar; Ezra 1:11). And since he's also an ancestor of Christ according to both Matthew and Luke, his name also appears in the Greek New Testament (spelled as Ζοροβαβελ, Zorobabel; Matthew 1:12, Luke 3:27).
Zerubbabel is introduced in the Bible as a son of Pedaiah, son of the deported king Jeconiah (1 Chronicles 3:19), also known as king Jehoiachin. But frequently he's called a son of Shealtiel (Ezra 3:2, Matthew 1:12), the brother of Pedaiah. There are several ways to deal with this conundrum:
- It may be that the sons of Shealtiel formed a kind of sub-clan, perhaps collectively known as the Shealtielites, and that other folks joined them, even though they weren't biological descendants of Shealtiel. Something similar occurs with Japheth and Shem, the sons of Noah (Genesis 9:27) and perhaps also with Ard and Bela of Benjamin.
- In 1 Chronicles 3, only Shealtiel is said to be the son of Jeconiah, and the names of Malchiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama and Nedabiah are rattled off perhaps as brothers of Shealtiel but perhaps as sons. Alfred Jones (Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names) solves the problem of Zerubbabel's father by assuming that Zerubbabel was a son of Pedaiah and a grandson of Shealtiel. This solution is certainly acceptable in the Hebrew way of organizing families, but it creates a conflict with Christ's genealogies of both Matthew and Luke.
- A third solution is forwarded by HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, that states that Shealtiel and Pedaiah were indeed brothers but that Shealtiel died young and his son Zerubbabel was adopted by Pedaiah, or ("likely," says HAW), Shealtiel died childless and Pedaiah fulfilled his brotherly duty according to levirate law (Exodus 2:10), married Shealtiel's widow and sired Zerubbabel. If that is so, it would be the second case of levirate progeneration in Christ's genealogy; the first being that of Boaz and Ruth.
The problem with this solution is that if Zerubbabel came into existence through levirate law, or was adopted, we would have probably heard about it.
And we hear quite a bit about Zerubbabel. In the Bible he's the celebrated instigator of Judah's return to Israel and even Josephus mentions him. According to the latter, Zerubbabel was one of three personal guards of emperor Darius, who's debating skills had swayed Darius into giving anything he asked for, including the return.
Zerubbabel and high priest Jeshua began to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 5:2), but while Jeshua remains a part of the story, Zerubbabel is heard from no more. He may have died before the dedication (Ezra 6:16), but his grandfather Jeconiah or Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he and his family were deported to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8), so his grandson Zerubbabel was probably a relatively young man at the time of the return, seventy years later.
Some scholars propose that Zerubbabel had a mind to him reviving the Davidic dynasty and that he was removed from power by the Persians. Their main argument comes from the book of Zechariah, that speaks of a man named צמח (Semah; means Branch — 3:8 and 6:11). This Semah is commonly understood to be the Messiah, but it may also, or more so, be an ancestor of the Messiah, namely Zerubbabel.
His temple-building colleague Jeshua is mentioned in 6:11, where a crown is set on his head. But this is highly unusual because in Israel there was a strict separation between the political and military government of the king and the religious government of the high priest. High priests were never crowned, and these two functions only juncture in the Messiah, or his ancestors. Thus, it is assumed, the text was originally about Zerubbabel, but after his non-registered fall from grace, his name was erased and Jeshua's name was inserted.
Another clue may come from the meaning of the name Zerubbabel:
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Zerubbabel
The name Zerubbabel consists of two parts. The second part of this name is obviously the same as the Hebrew word for Babel / Babylon.
The origin of the first part is a bit of a mystery. It's perfectly conceivable that the first part of the name Zerubbabel originated in another language. Only a very select group of scribes still spoke Hebrew; all others spoke Aramaic, and the name Zerubbabel may have originated in Aramaic or Babylonian or even another language. The name Zerubbabel is Zorobabel in Latin, which brings to mind the name Zoroaster, which is a Latinized version of the Old Persian name Zarathustra, and the first part of that name is probably based on a word meaning gold. Some scholars propose that Zerubbabel is in fact the wholly Babylonian name Zeru Babel, which means Seed Of Babel. And the list goes on.
However, since Zerubbabel played a key role in Israel's repatriation process, and all authors who dealt with the return wrote their accounts almost exclusively in Hebrew, we may expect the name Zerubbabel to either be a translation of the man's original Aramaic (or Persian/Babylonian) name, or the function of his literary character reflected in a Hebrew expression.
Traditionally, the name Zerubbabel is considered to be a contraction of זרוע בבל; the first part taken from the Hebrew verb זרע (zara'), meaning to scatter seed or sow, or its derived noun זרע (zera'), meaning seed or offspring:
This tradition is so strong that for a meaning of the name Zerubbabel, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Seed Of Babel, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Born At Babylon, and even the puristic BDB Theological Dictionary cites the renowned theologian Gesenius and proposes Begotten In Babylon.
But there are some strong objections to this etymology to be made. The letter ע (ayin) of the verb זרע does not occur in the name Zerubbabel, and this skeletal letter can't be omitted without changing the meaning of the word it occurs in. The verb זרע occurs certainly in one Biblical name, namely יזרעאל (Jezreel), without omission of the ayin. If the name Zerubbabel contains a truncated verb, it would be the vowel-final זרה (zara), meaning to fan, scatter or winnow.
But in stead of taking the first part of our name from זרע and then trying to figure out what happened to the ayin, we could also look at the root group זור (zur), which yields the word זר (zer) ready for use:
Tradition dictates the meaning of the name Zerubbabel to be Seed Of Babel, or something to that extent, but seeing that in the story Zerubbabel applied enough pressure on the governing body of Babylon/Persia to be allowed to lead the people back to their Promised Land, the literary character of Zerubbabel is strongly reminiscent of that of Moses. The name Moses probably originated as an Egyptian name, but written in Hebrew it obviously means Drawn/Drew Out [Of Egypt]. Hence, to a Hebrew audience, the name Zerubbabel must have looked like Pressed Out Of Babel.