Book of Ezra

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Book of Ezra
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{{short description|Book of the Bible}}{{for|a summary of conflicting names for related books|Esdras}}{{Tanakh OT |historical}}The Book of Ezra is a book of the Hebrew Bible; which formerly included the Book of Nehemiah in a single book, commonly distinguished in scholarship as Ezra–Nehemiah. The two became separated with the first printed rabbinic bibles of the early 16th century, following late medieval Latin Christian tradition.JOURNAL, 110, 5–26, Bogaert, Pierre-Maurice, Les livres d’Esdras et leur numérotation dans l’histoire du canon de la Bible latin, Revue Benedictine, 2000, Its subject is the Return to Zion following the close of the Babylonian captivity, and it is divided into two parts, the first telling the story of the first return of exiles in the first year of Cyrus the Great (538 BC) and the completion and dedication of the new Temple in Jerusalem in the sixth year of Darius I (515 BC), the second telling of the subsequent mission of Ezra to Jerusalem and his struggle to purify the Jews from marriage with non-Jews. Together with the Book of Nehemiah, it represents the final chapter in the historical narrative of the Hebrew Bible.BOOK, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra: An Historical Survey, Albright, William, William F. Albright, 1963, Harpercollins College Div, 0-06-130102-7,weblink Ezra is written to fit a schematic pattern in which the God of Israel inspires a king of Persia to commission a leader from the Jewish community to carry out a mission; three successive leaders carry out three such missions, the first rebuilding the Temple, the second purifying the Jewish community, and the third sealing the holy city itself behind a wall. (This last mission, that of Nehemiah, is not part of the Book of Ezra.) The theological program of the book explains the many problems its chronological structure presents.Throntveit, Mark A., "Ezra-Nehemiah" (John Knox Press, 1992) pp.1–3 It probably appeared in its earliest version around 399 BC, and continued to be revised and edited for several centuries before being accepted as scriptural in the early Christian era.Blenkinsopp, Joseph, "Judaism, the first phase" (Eerdmans, 2009) p.87


The Book of Ezra consists of ten chapters: chapters 1–6, covering the period from the Cyrus the Great to the dedication of the Second Temple, are told in the third person; chapters 7–10, dealing with the mission of Ezra, are told largely in the first person. The book contains several documents presented as historical inclusions, written in Aramaic while the surrounding text is in Hebrew (1:2–4, 4:8–16, 4:17–22, 5:7–17, 6:3–5, 6:6–12, 7:12–26) JOURNAL, Torrey, C. C., The Aramaic Portions of Ezra, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, April 1908, 24, 3, 209–281, 527607,
Chapters 1–6 (documents included in the text in italics)
  • 1. Decree of Cyrus, first version: Cyrus, inspired by God, returns the Temple vessels to Sheshbazzar, "prince of Judah", and directs the Israelites to return to Jerusalem with him and rebuild the Temple.
  • 2. 42,360 exiles, with men servants, women servants and "singing men and women", return from Babylon to Jerusalem and Judah under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua the High Priest.
  • 3. Jeshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel build the altar and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. In the second year the foundations of the Temple are laid and the dedication takes place with great rejoicing.
File:Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 126.png|thumb|right|Ezra calls for the rebuilding of the temple in this 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von KarolsfeldJulius Schnorr von Karolsfeld
  • 4. Letter of the Samaritans to Artaxerxes, and reply of Artaxerxes: The "enemies of Judah and Benjamin" offer to help with the rebuilding, but are rebuffed; they then work to frustrate the builders "down to the reign of Darius." The officials of Samaria write to king Artaxerxes warning him that Jerusalem is being rebuilt, and the king orders the work to stop. "Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia."
  • 5. Tattenai's letter to Darius: Through the exhortations of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel and Joshua recommence the building of the Temple. Tattenai, satrap over both Judah and Samaria, writes to Darius warning him that Jerusalem is being rebuilt and advising that the archives be searched to discover the decree of Cyrus.
  • 6. Decree of Cyrus, second version, and decree of Darius: Darius finds the decree, directs Tattenai not to disturb the Jews in their work, and exempts them from tribute and supplies everything necessary for the offerings. The Temple is finished in the month of Adar in the sixth year of Darius, and the Israelites assemble to celebrate its completion.

Chapters 7–10
  • 7. Letter of Artaxerxes to Ezra (Artaxerxes' rescript): King Artaxerxes is moved by God to commission Ezra "to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God" and to "appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God." Artaxerxes gives Ezra much gold and directs all Persian officials to aid him.
(File:Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 128.png|thumb|right|Ezra reads the Law in this 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld)
  • 8. Ezra gathers a large body of returnees and much gold and silver and precious vessels for the Temple and camps by a canal outside Babylon. There he discovers he has no Levites, and so sends messengers to gather some. The exiles then return to Jerusalem, where they distribute the gold and silver and offer sacrifices to God.
  • 9. Ezra is informed that some of the Jews already in Jerusalem have married non-Jewish women. Ezra is appalled at this proof of sin, and prays to God: "O God of Israel, you are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence."
  • 10. Despite the opposition of some of their number, the Israelites assemble and send away their foreign wives and children.

Historical background

In the early 6th century BC, the Kingdom of Judah rebelled against the Neo-Babylonian Empire and was destroyed. As a result, the royal court, the priests, the prophets and scribes were taken into captivity in the city of Babylon. There a profound intellectual revolution took place, the exiles blaming their fate on disobedience to their God and looking forward to a future when he would allow a purified people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The same period saw the rapid rise of Persia, previously an unimportant kingdom in present-day southern Iran, to a position of great power, and in 539 BC Cyrus II, the Persian ruler, conquered Babylon.Fensham, F. Charles, "The books of Ezra and Nehemiah" (Eerdmans, 1982) p. 10It is difficult to describe the parties and politics of Judea in this period because of the lack of historical sources, but there seem to have been three important groups involved: the returnees from the exile who claimed the reconstruction with the support of Cyrus I; "the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin"; and a third group, "people of the land", who seem to be local opposition against the returnees building the Temple in Jerusalem.The following table is a guide to major events in the region during the period covered by the Book of Ezra:{| class="wikitable"! {{nowrap|King of Persia}}Coggins, R.J., "The books of Ezra and Nehemiah" (Cambridge University Press, 1976) p. xi! Reign {{nobold|(BC)}}! Main eventsFensham, F. Charles, "The books of Ezra and Nehemiah" (Eerdmans, 1982) pp. 10–16! Correlation with Ezra–NehemiahMin, Kyung-Jin, "The Levitical authorship of Ezra-Nehemiah" (T&T Clark, 2004) pp. 31–32
Cyrus the Great>Cyrus II 550[?]–530 Neo-Babylonian Empire#Fall of Babylon>Fall of Babylon(taken as occurring in 538, since Babylon fell in October 539)}}
Cambyses II>Cambyses 530–522Battle of Pelusium (525 BC)>Conquest of Egypt|
Darius I >| 522–486First Persian invasion of Greece>failed punitive invasion of GreeceSecond Temple>Temple rebuilt. In the book of Daniel, Darius has the old title of Darius I (king of the Chaldeans = Babylonians), while Koresh has the new one of Xerxes (king of the Persians).Roman Ghirshman, Iran (1954), Penguin Books, p 191.
Xerxes I of Persia>Xerxes 486–465Second Persian invasion of Greece>Failed attempt to conquer Greece; beginning of struggle with Greeks for control of the eastern Mediterranean| (Alternative) directive by Koresh to the Jews to rebuild the Temple and first return of the exiles to Jerusalem.
Artaxerxes I of Persia>Artaxerxes I 465–424Artaxerxes I of Persia#Egyptian revolt>Successful suppression of Greek-supported revolt in Egypt449 Revolt by Megabyzus, governor of the territory which included Judah(in 458 if the king is Artaxerxes I, or 428 if the year is read as his thirty-seventh instead of his seventh)}}445–433 Nehemiah {{small>(returns before the death of Artaxerxes)}}
Darius II >| 423–404|Second Temple>Temple rebuilt.
Artaxerxes II of Persia>Artaxerxes II 404–358Battle of Cunaxa>Egypt regains independence(in 398 if the king is Artaxerxes II)}}
Artaxerxes III >| 358–338| Egypt reconquered| In his Historia Scholastica Petrus Comestor identified Artaxerxes III as king Ahasuerus in the book of Esther (Esther 1:1/10:1-2)weblink
Darius III >| 336–330| The Achaemenid Empire conquered by Alexander the Great|



{{Books of Ketuvim}}The single Hebrew book Ezra–Nehemiah, with title "Ezra", was translated into Greek around the middle of the 2nd century BC.Graham, M.P, and McKenzie, Steven L., "The Hebrew Bible today: an introduction to critical issues" (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) p. 202 Slightly later a second, and very different and selective Greek translation was made, in the form of 1 Esdras (which omitted all materiel specific to Nehemiah), and initially early Christians reckoned this later translation as their biblical 'Book of Ezra', as had the 1st century Jewish writer Josephus. From the third century the Christian Old Testament supplemented the text of 1 Esdras with the older translation of Ezra-Nehemiah, naming the two books Esdras A and Esdras B respectively; and this usage is noted by the early Christian scholar Origen, who remarked that the Hebrew 'book of Ezra' might then be considered a 'double' book. Jerome, writing in the early 5th century, noted that this duplication had since been adopted by Greek and Latin Christians. Jerome himself rejected the duplication in his Vulgate translation of the Bible into Latin from the Hebrew; and consequently all early Vulgate manuscripts present Ezra-Nehemiah as a single book,JOURNAL, 110, 5–26, Bogaert, Pierre-Maurice, Les livres d’Esdras et leur numérotation dans l’histoire du canon de la Bible latin, Revue Benedictine, 2000, as too does the 8th century commentary of Bede, and the 9th century bibles of Alcuin and Theodulf of Orleans. However, from the 9th century onwards, Latin bibles are found that for the first time separate the Ezra and Nehemiah sections of Ezra-Nehemiah as two distinct books, then called the first and second books of Ezra; and this becomes standard in the Paris Bibles of the 13th century. It was not until 1516/17, in the first printed Rabbinic Bible of Daniel Bomberg that the separation was introduced generally in Hebrew Bibles.{{Citation| last1 = Gallagher| first1 = Edmon L.|last2 = Meade| first2 = John D. | title = The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity | pages = 269 | publisher = OUP| year = 2017}}

First Esdras

1 Esdras, also known as "Esdras α", is an alternate Greek-language version of Ezra. This text has one additional section, the 'Tale of the Three Guardsmen' in the middle of Ezra 4. Almost all early Christian references to the 'Book of Ezra' are citations of 1 Esdras not 'Ezra-Nehemiah'; while the 'Ezra' portions of Ezra-Nehemiah are never cited in patristic writings before the 6th century, and appear never to have been read in church.JOURNAL, 110, 5–26, Bogaert, Pierre-Maurice, Les livres d’Esdras et leur numérotation dans l’histoire du canon de la Bible latin, Revue Benedictine, 2000,

Date, structure and composition


Koresh of Ezra 1:1 is called "king of Persia", which title was introduced not by Cyrus the Great but by his grandson and probable namesake Xerxes (486–465 BC).Roman Ghirshman, Iran (1954), Penguin Books, p 191.Scholars are divided over the chronological sequence of the activities of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra 7:8 says that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the seventh year of king Artaxerxes, while Nehemiah 2:1–9 has Nehemiah arriving in Artaxerxes' twentieth year. If this was Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC), then Ezra arrived in 458 and Nehemiah in 445 BC. Nehemiah 8–9, in which the two (possibly by editorial error) appear together, supports this scenario.M. Patrick Graham, The "Chronicler's History": Ezra-Nehemiah, 1–2 Chronicles in Graham, M.P, and McKenzie, Steven L., "The Hebrew Bible today: an introduction to critical issues" (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), pp. 204–05


The contents of Ezra–Nehemiah are structured in a theological rather than chronological order: "The Temple must come first, then the purifying of the community, then the building of the outer walls of the city, and so finally all could reach a grand climax in the reading of the law."R.J. Coggins, "The books of Ezra and Nehemiah" (Cambridge University Press, 1976)p.107, quoted in Throntveit, Mark A., "Ezra-Nehemiah" (John Knox Press, 1992) p.3The narrative follows a repeating pattern in which the God of Israel "stirs up" the king of Persia to commission a Jewish leader (Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah) to undertake a mission; the leader completes his mission in the face of opposition; and success is marked by a great assembly.Throntveit, Mark A., "Ezra-Nehemiah" (John Knox Press, 1992) pp.2–4 The tasks of the three leaders are progressive: first the Temple is restored (Zerubabbel), then the community of Israel (Ezra), and finally the walls which will separate the purified community and Temple from the outside world (Nehemiah).Throntveit, Mark A., "Ezra-Nehemiah" (John Knox Press, 1992) p.3 The pattern is completed with a final coda in which Nehemiah restores the belief of Yahweh.Throntveit, Mark A., "Ezra-Nehemiah" (John Knox Press, 1992) p.2 This concern with a schematic pattern-making, rather than with history in the modern sense of a factual account of events in the order in which they occurred, explains the origin of the many problems which surround both Ezra and Nehemiah as historical sources.Throntveit, Mark A., "Ezra-Nehemiah" (John Knox Press, 1992) pp1-3


Twentieth-century views on the composition of Ezra revolved around whether the author was Ezra himself (and who may have also authored the Books of Chronicles) or was another author or authors (who also wrote the Chronicles).Fensham, F. Charles, "The books of Ezra and Nehemiah" (Eerdmans, 1982) pp.1–2 ff. More recently it has been increasingly recognised that Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles all have extremely complex histories stretching over many stages of editing,Pakkala, Juha, "Ezra the scribe: the development of Ezra 7–10 and Nehemiah 8" (Walter de Gryter, 2004) p.16 and most scholars now are cautious of assuming a unified composition with a single theology and point of view.Grabbe, L.L., "A history of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 1" (T&T Clark, 2004) p.71 As an indication of the many layers of editing which Ezra has undergone, one recent study finds that Ezra 1–6 and Ezra 9–10 were originally separate documents, that they were spliced together at a later stage by the authors of Ezra 7–8, and that all have undergone extensive later editing.BOOK,weblink Ezra the Scribe,

Persian documents

Seven purported Persian decrees of kings or letters to and from high officials are quoted in Ezra. Their authenticity has been contentious; while some scholars accept them in their current form, most accept only part of them as genuine, while still others reject them entirely. L.L. Grabbe surveys six tests against which the documents can be measured (comparative known Persian material, linguistic details, contents, presence of Jewish theology, the Persian attitude to local religions, and Persian letter-writing formulas) and concludes that all the documents are late post-Persian works and probable forgeries, but that some features suggest a genuine Persian correspondence behind some of them.Grabbe, L.L., "A history of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 1" (T&T Clark, 2004) p.78

See also



External links

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