Book Summaries

A canonical work that records the return of the Jewish exiles from captivity in Babylonia and their re-establishment in Jerusalem, together with relevant genealogical lists and copies of the royal documents that authorised the restoration in its successive stages. Prior to a.d. 1448 Ezra and Nehemiah stood as one book in all Hebrew Bibles and were counted as one. In the LXX the book Ezra-Nehemiah appears as one book with the title 2 Esdras, with an Apocryphal book bearing the title Esdras preceding it as 1 Esdras. About a.d. 400 Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, separated Ezra-Nehemiah into 2 books, as they appear in all English translations, but called them 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras. He also transposed the LXX Apocryphal work 1 Esdras and gave it the title 3 Esdras, and to these 3 added a spurious apocalypse bearing the name of Ezra and called it 4 Esdras. In Hebrew Bibles Ezra-Nehemiah appears near the close of the 3rd and last section of the OT, the Hagiographa, or Writings, with only Chronicles following. This position in the canon suggests that Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles were either the last of the OT books to be written or the last to be accepted into the canon, or both. The translators of the LXX transposed this group of historical works to the position they now occupy in English translations, next to Kings, near the close of the historical section of the OT. The LXX also transposed Chronicles, which it divided into 2 books, so as to precede Ezra and Nehemiah, probably on the basis that when read in this order the 4 books provide a chronological historical narrative from David to near the close of OT times, with genealogical records from the Creation to David. In view of the fact that the Hebrew text of Ezra begins with the word "and," together with the additional fact that the last 2 verses of 2 Chr. 36 are repeated verbatim in Ezr 1:1 ­3, it is thought likely that at one time Ezra may have followed Chronicles in the Hebrew canon, or at least in some Hebrew manuscripts.

Jewish tradition (Talmud, Baba Bathra 15a) identifies Ezra as the principal writer of Ezra-Nehemiah. Certain passages are written in the first person (Ezr 7:28 to 9:1 ­15), but without identifying the writer by name. Ezra is mentioned by name 7 times in ch 7 (vs. 1, 6, 10 ­12, 21, 25) and 6 times in ch 10 (vs. 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 16), but nowhere else in the book. Narrative sections in the 3rd person are chs 7:1 ­26; 8:35, 36; 10:1 ­44. The book thus leaves the matter of authorship undetermined. However, certain considerations clearly point to a Jew of the time of Ezra, or soon thereafter, as responsible for the composition of the book. In view of the fact that Ezra-Nehemiah originally constituted one work, and that the genealogical lists of Neh 12 terminate about 400 b.c., it is reasonable to suppose that the combined work was completed by that time. The precise details enumerated in connection with the return from Babylon, together with the royal Persian decrees quoted at length, possibly in full, point to the writer as a person familiar with these events and one who had access to the documents themselves. Two sections (Ezr 4:8 to 6:18; 7:12 ­26) are in Aramaic, and the remainder in Hebrew, a bilingual characteristic found also in the book of Daniel. Since Aramaic was the official language of the Persian Empire and a sort of lingua franca spoken widely even where it was not the native tongue, the bilingual nature of the book points to an educated Jew, possibly one in the service of the government, as the writer (see Ezr 7:6). The great linguistic similarities between the Aramaic portions of Ezra on the one hand, and a group of recently recovered *Aramaic Jewish documents dating from the same period, on the other, provide further testimony concerning a 5th-century date for the book. Similarly, the Hebrew portions of Ezra are strikingly similar in language and literary style, not only to Nehemiah, as might be expected, but also to Chronicles, and to a remarkable extent to Daniel and Haggai as well. Some have suggested that one writer was responsible for both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. Ezra, "a ready scribe," qualifies in every way as the writer, and there is no valid reason to deny his authorship.

Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are the only historical books dealing with the postexilic period, and are most important as source material for events of that time, concerning which the Sacred Canon is otherwise silent, with the exception of slight information provided by the prophetic books of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The close of the 70-year period foretold by Jeremiah (Jer 25:11; cf. 29:10) witnessed the decree by Cyrus for the return of the Jews and the rebuilding of Jerusalem with its Temple. Apparently but a small fraction of the Jewish exiles returned to their homeland, leaving by far the larger number behind. Beset by enemies without (Ezr 4) and lethargy within (Hag 1:1 ­5), work on the Temple came to a halt. Some 15 years after the return under Zerubbabel, God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to a renewed effort, which, strengthened by a new decree issued by Darius, led to the completion of the Temple in 515 b.c. (see Ezr 5:1 to 6:15; Hag 1:12, 13; Hag 2:10 ­19). In half a century more, however, the moral and religious tone of Jerusalem had deteriorated, and it was under these circumstances that God inspired Ezra, the priest-scribe, to return from Babylonia to Jerusalem, where he instructed leaders and people in the law and led the way to a thoroughgoing reform (Ezr 9; Ezr 10). Some years afterward, however, temporal matters were still in lamentable state (Neh 1:3), and Nehemiah sought, and obtained, a royal commission to administer the affairs of Jerusalem and Judah (Neh 2:1 ­8). The united efforts of Ezra and Nehemiah, with the assistance of the Persian government and under God's blessing, completed the work of restoration--material, civil, economic, moral, and religious.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah constitute our chief historical source for information concerning the restoration period of Judaism. They provide a record, as well, of the fulfilment in part of the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel regarding the return from captivity. They provide the historical background for understanding the prophetic messages of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Ezra opens with an account of Cyrus' decree for the return of the Jews and of their response to the call (Ezr 1:1 ­11). Chapter 2 lists and enumerates the returning exiles by families, the pedigrees of priest and Levite being of special importance. The restoration of the altar and the resumption of the daily sacrifices and the earlier stages of reconstruction occupy ch 3. Chapter 4 tells of the success of Samaritan efforts to halt the process of rebuilding, and chs 5 and 6 relate the means by which God opened the way for work to be again set forward, together with the completion of the new Temple and its dedication and the celebration of the Passover. In ch 7 Ezra relates the circumstances of his journey to Jerusalem and quotes the decree of Artaxerxes authorising him to complete the work of restoration, whereas in ch 8 he tells of the actual preparations for return, of the Jews who accompanied him, and of the arrival at Jerusalem. The lax moral conditions, particularly among the priests and the Levites, which Ezra found are recounted in ch 9, and in ch 10 the measures taken to effect a reform, together with a long list of the offenders.

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.

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