Is there archaeological evidence supporting the Bible record? In 2014 an article in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review addressed the question: “How many people in the Hebrew Bible have been confirmed archaeologically?” The answer given: “At least 50!” One man who did not make the list in that article was Tattenai. Who was he? Let us review his brief role in the Bible record.
Jerusalem was once part of a vast Persian Empire. The city lay in an area that the Persians called Across-the-River, that is, to the west of the Euphrates. After conquering Babylonia, the Persians released Jewish captives and authorized them to rebuild Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-4) Enemies of the Jews, however, opposed the project and used it as a pretext to accuse the Jews of rebelling against Persia. (Ezra 4:4-16) During the reign of Darius I (522-486 B.C.E.), a Persian official named Tattenai led an inquiry into the matter. The Bible calls him “the governor of the region Beyond the River.”—Ezra 5:3-7.
A number of cuneiform tablets bearing the name Tattenai have survived as part of what may have been a family archive. The tablet that links one member of this family to the Bible character is a promissory note dated to the 20th year of Darius I, 502 B.C.E. It identifies a witness to the transaction as a servant of “Tattannu, governor of Across-the-River”—the same Tattenai who appears in the Bible book of Ezra.
What was this man’s role? In 535 B.C.E., Cyrus the Great reorganized his dominions into provinces, one of which was called Babylon and Across-the-River. The province was later split into two parts, one of which was simply called Across-the-River. It included Coele-Syria, Phoenicia, Samaria, and Judah and was likely ruled from Damascus. Tattenai governed this region from about 520 to 502 B.C.E.
After traveling to Jerusalem to investigate the accusation of rebellion, Tattenai reported to Darius that the Jews claimed to have received authorization from Cyrus to rebuild Jehovah’s temple. Investigations in the royal archives substantiated that claim. (Ezra 5:6, 7, 11-13; 6:1-3) So Tattenai was ordered not to interfere, and he obeyed.—Ezra 6:6, 7, 13.
To be sure, “Tattenai the governor of the region Beyond the River” merits only a footnote in history. Note, though, that the Scriptures mention him and apply to him exactly the right title. That fact gives us yet another bit of evidence that archaeology repeatedly supports the Bible’s historical accuracy.