🔼The name Zerubbabel: Summary
- Seed Of Babel
- Pressed Out Of Babel
- From (1) the verb זרע (zara'), to scatter or sow, and (2) the name Babel, from the verb בלל (balal), to mix unto saturation.
- From (1) the verb זור (zur), to press down and out, and (2) the name Babel, from the verb בלל (balal), to mix unto saturation.
🔼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 and 1:13, and 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:
The verb זרע (zara') means to scatter seed or to sow but may even describe merely extending one's arm or even a leg and ultimately signify the bearing of fruit or even children (hence referred to as one's seed).
Nouns זרע (zera') and זרוע (zerua') mean a sowing or that which is sown, and may refer to: seed, sperm, one child, offspring, posterity, family or a whole community. Nouns זרע (zeroa') and זרען (zer'on) specifically denote vegetables. And noun מזרע (mizra') literally means a place or agent of sowing.
Nouns זרוע (zeroa') or זרע (zeroa') or אזרוע ('ezroa') mean arm but are mostly used to figuratively to denote the seat of strength of a person or a nation or even of God.
Noun זרה (zara) also means to scatter but where זרע (zara') scatters seed to bear fruit, זרה (zara) scatters chaff and debris. It means to winnow. Noun מזרה (mizreh), describes place or agent of scattering, which in this case denotes a winnowing fork.
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 instead 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:
The verb זור (zur) deals with being foreign. It either simply establishes foreignness or discordance, or actively declares loathsome, or even more actively describes the removal of the object of discordance. The latter nuance may describe the pressing of a wound in order to evacuate it from puss, dirt and perhaps shards and such. Twice it's used to describe the emptying of crushed eggs.
Noun זרא (zara') refers to any loathsome or emetic thing (and specifically to too much of the same boring food). Noun זר (zer) appears to describe a kind of gold hoop that bound various elements of the tabernacle together. Likewise, the adjective זרזיר (zarzir) means girded or girt. The noun מזור (mazor) is a word for wound, and particularly one that requires evacuation by pressing on it.
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.
Modern Scripture Theory has long abandoned the traditional notion that the Bible is a collective of legendary biographies of single human individuals who may have actually lived at their respective points in history. Instead, it's now commonly understood that the Bible doesn't care about politics and nationalisms, but instead discusses the evolution of Yahwism, which is humanity's collective understanding of observable reality. The main players of the Bible are in fact humanity's stations on its grand trek through time. Moses, in that model, equals whatever natural force sifted through Stone and Bronze Age literature (which was still oral, obviously), and weeded out the nonsense but kept the precious. What survived the Bronze Age collapse is what we now know as the Torah, which in turn sums up the whole of the wisdom library of mankind's most intellectual and astute era.
The decline of this legacy accelerated after the fall of the Persian Empire, and suffered its darkest moment at the rise of the idiotic Roman empire. But although the great blazing torch of human light had dwindled to a mere smoldering wick, the authors of the gospel genre kept it going through the dark night that lasted more than a thousand years. In our modern age the light has flared up again, only to find most humans too blind to see what they're actually looking at. Fortunately, this will all be sorted soon.
Zerubbabel plays the same role in the Persian era as Moses did in the Egyptian era. He was the Gold Hoop That Kept The Sacred Things Of Babylon Together And Preserved Them From The Achaemenid Collapse.