A cube may be lodged in the story.

Did a hundred Jewish men, just returned from captivity in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, reject and expel their non-Jewish wives together with their children?

Short answer:  I find it hard to believe.

I suppose there could have been some attempt made at ethnic cleansing by the priestly leader named Ezra, meetings held, rulings made, names put on a list, men on the list told they must abandon their non-Jewish wives (Pagans), but how could that be enforced short of killing or enslaving the men?  It couldn’t.

Probably most of the men would not abandon their wives and children.  Why should they?  So they could find themselves without the help and comfort of a wife?  So they could continue to have the dubious honor and privilege of giving the best of their flocks to the priestly tribe?  I don’t find any penalty specified in Ezra 9 or 10 for failure to dispose of a wife.  Yet there may have been a penalty for noncompliance – perhaps those who persisted in being married to non-Jewish women risked discrimination.

I’m not sure the Jewish leadership (all male of course) would have expelled a hundred women because at that time the Land of Israel was not controlled by the Jews, they were just guests there, newly arrived, and they would not, as a matter of policy, have risked outraging their Pagan neighbors – that could have ended their return to the Land right then and there.  The Persian overlords would have taken a dim view of warfare or even quarreling among the inhabitants of Persian territory.

Women were only property in that era, but they had fathers and grandfathers who would not have been pleased to have “used goods” returned to them.  What about wedding gifts or dowries and such?  Were the Jewish men going to return these along with the wives?  Were the men going to receive new wives from among the young Jewish women to replace those wives driven away?  The men would want to know the answers to these questions.

There may have been some very low key pressures put on men to stop intermarrying.  It was probably not humanity’s first attempt at ethnic cleansing and was certainly not the last.

It is very interesting that the Book of Ezra in the Hebrew Bible (NRSV) has chapters 9 and 10 devoted to this ethnic cleansing, but does not actually say it was done.  Only four of the 111 men found guilty of marrying Pagan women pledged to send them away, but no time frame was specified, and no verse records they actually did it, except possibly Ezra 10:44, depending on the translation.

For that verse, the NRSV says the meaning of the Hebrew is “uncertain” and points to a parallel verse (9:36) in the non-canonical and presumably later Greek book called 1Esdras which relates a similar account of the same events.

Here is Ezra 10:44 (NRSV):

All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children.”

Which according to its footnote takes its sense from 1Esdras 9:36 (NRSV) which says:

All these had married foreign women, and they put them away together with their children.”

However, the vast majority of translations on Biblegateway for Ezra 10:44 are similar to the 21st Century King James Version which has:

All these had taken foreign wives; and some of them had wives by whom they had children.”

No mention of any actually being sent away.

Perhaps the NRSV translator thought that the author of 1Esdras might have had some insight into the untranslatable Hebrew in Ezra 10:44, and therefore took the meaning from 1Esdras??  Possibly the author of 1Esdras did not know any more about the meaning of the Hebrew in Ezra 10:44  than anyone today and just inferred from the text that since four men had pledged they would abandon their wives, that they did in fact do just that, and so did all the others.  But since when do people always do as expected?  And the pledging by the four was certainly under duress.  No one can be bound by such.

An intriguing alternative translation of Ezra 10:44 is given by Young’s Literal Translation (YLT):

All these have taken strange women, and there are of them women _ _ who adopt sons.”

“Adopt sons” ?!?

Perhaps this means that some of the Pagan wives practiced worship of the divine son, which involved a sex ritual in Pagan temples.  “Adoption” may have been “code” for this sex ritual which devotees considered to be a wedding representing the marriage of the mother and her consort son.-a-   In other words, “adoption” may have been a polite way of referring to a ritual that recollected a divine marriage that was an abomination.  Much of the railing against “prostitution” in the Hebrew Bible points to this sex ritual.

“All Israel” swore to turn out the Pagan wives, but that is in verse 10:5 of Ezra, and clearly involves only the leaders of the people and onlookers, days before the gathering of all the returned exiles.  The corresponding verse in 1Esdras 8:96 has only leaders swear.  Even though the assembled returnees, in both books, then say they agree to it, I am still not convinced that the wives were sent away – it just wouldn’t happen.

I believe that the Hebrew biblical author who wrote the Book of Ezra had a goal of religious uniformity – a goal of paramount importance if the priests were to maintain the flow of money and food offerings, everything from bread to flank steaks, into the Temple for their benefit.  If people wandered off into Pagan “prostitution,” then the Temple tax revenues might lag.  The author wrote the story so that any devout Jewish male reading it would become frightened, too frightened to marry a Pagan, thinking he might be forced to reject his own children.

Notice that in Ezra, the publisher (ABS 1989) has the women “rejected” in a heading, but in 1Esdras, the heading word is “expulsion.”  A hint that not everyone in the production of that particular Bible thought that rejection in Ezra necessarily went as far as the expulsion in 1Esdras.  If I take “reject” to mean “refuse to like,” then it does not necessarily mean the women were actually sent off.

Now I know you are asking, what about Jewish women who married Pagan men?  Were the Pagan men going to be sent away also?  It may be that the Judaism of the Temple was mainly a religion for the male Jews and thus only their religious loyalty was an issue – if a man could have his thinking subverted by a Pagan woman, she had to go.  But I suspect that the main reason only Pagan women and not Pagan men were targeted was because the marital fidelity of the woman was what was important to the patriarchal leaders.  They wanted to be able to ensure that any Jewish man could know the paternity of the children of his wife, something that would be uncertain if she were going off to engage in “sacred weddings” at the local Pagan temple.

Even if the expulsion of Pagan wives didn’t actually happen, it still seems probable that the priestly leaders drew up a blacklist of men who were guilty of marriages the Temple did not approve of.

Odd though, that the list in Ezra (111 men) is different from the list in 1Esdras (101 men).  Which list is correct?  Which is from the oldest tradition?

I suspect that the list in 1Esdras is not the original list because interestingly enough, numbers derived from that list can be used to construct a cube.  What are the odds that the numbers just happen to work out that way with just the right amount of number pairs to construct a cube?  I don’t know and of course there is no way I know of to prove which list is the original or correct list.

The following is just simple math, so have no fear.

The 1Esdras list has two categories: (1) names of four men who pledged to send away wives, and (2) names of 97 men who sent away wives together with their children; for a total of 101 men named.

The 97 men are subdivided into 16 clans, with the number of men in each clan as follows:

  1. 6
  2. 6
  3. 6
  4. 2
  5. 2
  6. 7
  7. 6
  8. 6
  9. 4
  10. 6
  11. 8
  12. 5
  13. 6
  14. 16
  15. 6
  16. 5

This arrangement of 16 clans invites me to make a grid of 4 x 4 cells.

















I have arranged the 16 numbers the only way they can be arranged around the periphery and still make a cube.

Visualize this cube:

Each of six faces has the number arrangement in the grid above.  Each cell in the cube is three-dimensional now.  The cube has 64 three-dimensional cells.  I don’t know what to do with the internal cells and leave them blank.


The arrangement on each face must be aligned (reversed if necessary) so that each corner has convergences of the same number (either a “2” or a “5”) to complete the corner cell.

The sixes must be the center numbers on the edges of each face, in order to match up with sixes on neighboring faces.

But what to do with the four remaining numbers which are not paired?  Well, stick them in the center four cells of the grid.  But how?

2013 10 26 cube from 1Esdras 9

Here is the 1Esdras cube unfolded

It finally dawned on me that Greek numerals were formerly expressed as letters of the alphabet.  So what letters are indicated by the center grid numbers 8 – 7 – 4 – 16?

Answer:  η – ζ – δ – ?

Phonetically this is:  E – Z – D – ?

And where’s the “R”?

Yes, it sort of spells “Esdras” and I expect that the author was not able to put in the “R” because the value of R is 100.  Not feasible when your tally for 16 clans is 97 men.

The actual spelling of Esdras in Greek uses mostly different letters (Εσδρας = ESDRAs) and what you get from the grid is phonetically similar:  ηζδ? = EZD?

If indeed the author of 1Esdras altered the Ezra list of names so that he/she could make a cube and post “EZD?” as sort of a “hey – gotcha,” then I have to just sigh and say, why?

My guess is that this is the kind of “spirituality” that was demanded by the public at the time the book was being produced.  And it is somewhat uplifting to think that out of what is basically a shameful intolerant blacklist, something mystifying and harmonious can be derived – except that it is not much of a mystery if the clan numbers are totally contrived.  Well, many of the clan numbers are shared with the Ezra list, so maybe there was only a bit of tweaking to change a total of 111 to a total of 101.  Could the 101 names be a subset of the 111?  I am not about to try to compare the two lists right now, because while I might be able to make some progress with what I know of the Greek alphabet, I know next to nothing of Hebrew.

I did notice that in the Greek* there are 6 pairs of names spelled identically among the 101; and this means that there are 12 men with a shared name; both “6” and “12” being special numbers, 6 being the foundation for the Star of David (hexagram), and 12 being especially special as in 12 Tribes of Israel.

The shared names are:

  1. Ανανιας
  2. Ελεαζαρος
  3. Ελιασιβος
  4. Ιερεμωθ
  5. Ιουηλ
  6. Μελχιας

It did not escape my notice that if you add up all the numbers on the diagonals in the grid above ((2 + 8 + 16 + 2) + (5 + 7 + 4 + 5)) you get 49 which is seven times seven; seven being a very special number, judging from the number of times it appears in the Bible.

If you write out the number of occurrences of each clan number and multiply to get the product, the product is 64, just as there are 64 cells in the cube, as follows:

2 of 2; 2 of 4; 2 of 5; 8 of 6; 1 of 7; 1 of 8; 1 of 16

2 x 2 x 2 x 8 x 1 x 1 x 1 = 64

Recall that one of the two 4’s is not in the grid above because that 4 is in category 1 above, still part of the 101 names, but not among the 16 clans.  This extra “4” at the beginning of the list maybe?? just signals there are four special characters to spell EZD?.  Any notion that the list of 101 names in 1Esdras came unaltered from the Hebrew Priest Ezra of Babylon fame, just flew out the window with the appearance of EZD? spelled phonetically in Greek numerals.  Greek!!  We can say the author of 1Esdras was not a stickler for historical accuracy . . . .  OR maybe the appearance of EZD? is just one those strange coincidences that cannot be explained . . . .  OR maybe the puzzle works in Hebrew also??

Only one of the listed names is a double name (Σιμων Χοσαμαιος) translated as Simon Chosamaeus (1Esdras 9:32).  This is the only guy with a last name.  If the translator should have made that two names instead (with a comma between), then of course, the cube does not exist because the numbers won’t work out (a “5” becomes a “6”).  There is another guy who has an alternate name (“Kelaiah who was Kelita” (9:23)).  So if I ask myself how many men have a double name (1) and how many men have a single name or one name at a time (100), what happens?

Oh!  There’s that missing 100 for the “R”!

So now I get E – Z – D – R – ?  !!!

What a neat puzzle!

Well, I wrote that and then decided to check out Hebrew numerals.  As luck would have it, these likewise were written with alphabet letters (with apparently many similarities to the Greek).  I’ll save that for some day when I decide to study Hebrew.  I would not rule out the possibility that 1Esdras was first written in Hebrew (independently of Ezra) and there was a solution to the puzzle in Hebrew also.

In case you were wondering, I am not a mind reader and don’t have a crystal ball and so do not know the antiquity or correctness of the Ezra and 1Esdras lists nor what was in the minds of the authors who wrote these books.

Maybe no cube was intended.  Maybe there is no cube and/or there are many other ways to arrange the numbers.


NRSV used throughout this post except where noted.


*  Greek text for 1Esdras 9 online at:

1Esdras 9:1-36 NRSV

Ezra chapters 9 and 10 NRSV,%2010&version=NRSV

Wikipedia Greek numerals

More Greek numerals

-a-  Impressions on ancient Pagan religion drawn from Merlin Stone, When God Was A Woman, Barnes & Noble Books, NY, 1976, 1993.

Posted October 27, 2013; updated December 28, 2013

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