Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
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Ezra (Heb., help), an ot book and the priest to whom it is ascribed.
The Book of Ezra: The material in the first part of the book of Ezra in Hebrew is what the English Bible has as Ezra and Nehemiah. The English book of Ezra also appears as part of 1 Esdras in the Apocrypha. The first part (chaps. 1-6) concerns the restoration of the Jewish community after the Exile and the second part (chaps. 7-10) the account of Ezras mission (continued in Neh. 8-9).
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
The Book of Ezra
I. Restoration of the community (1:1-6:22)
A. Decree authorizing rebuilding (1:1-11)
B. List of returnees (2:1-70)
C. Restoration (3:1-13)
1. Altar (3:2-7)
2. Temple (3:8-13)
D. Opposition to restoration (4:1-24)
E. Restoration completed (5:1-6:22)
1. Temple completed (5:1-6:18)
a. Work begun (5:1-2)
b. Official reports (5:3-6:12)
c. Work completed (6:13-18)
2. Completion celebrated (6:19-22)
II. Ezras mission (7:1-10:44)
A. Ezra introduced (7:1-10)
B. Ezras commission (7:11-26)
C. Ezras departure (8:1-36)
1. Preparations (8:1-30)
2. Departure (8:31-36)
D. The purity of Gods people (9:1-10:44)
1. Mixed marriages: problem (9:1-2)
2. Mixed marriages: reaction (9:3-10:6)
3. Mixed marriages: action (10:7-19)
4. Mixed marriages: result (10:20-44)
Chaps. 1-6 provide several different elements, mainly concerned with the early years of the restoration of Israel under Darius and Cyrus (late sixth century b.c.). Chap. 1 relates a decree authorizing the rebuilding of the Temple and the handing of the sacred Temple vessels to Sheshbazzar. 2:1-3:1 interrupts the narrative with a list, found also in Nehemiah 7, of those who returned to Judah; the list is composite and clearly includes material belonging to quite different stages. It ends in a narrative fragment which in its present form provides a lead-in to chap. 3 (2:70-3:1). 3:2-13 relates the restoring of the altar (2-7) and Temple (8-13), both attributed to Zerubbabel and Jeshua. The sequel appears to be in 4:1-5, which relates an attempt by adversaries to collaborate in the building of the Temple, a collaboration rejected by the leaders of the returned exiles. As a result, further building was prevented by the people of the land (4:4, local inhabitants). More probably the real sequel is in the Passover ceremony of 6:19-22. The intervening material is almost entirely in Aramaic, though the first two verses 4:6 and 7 (in Hebrew) report two further initiatives against the returned exiles, addressed to Xerxes and Artaxerxes. 4:8-23 has a fuller account of opposition, particularly associated with the authorities in Samariathere is no hint here of religious oppositionand concerned with the rebuilding of the city, not the Temple. 4:24 provides a link to 5:1-6:18, where another account of the Temple is given, in which the main activity is attributed to the elders supported by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. An inquiry to Darius brings renewed authority to rebuild the Temple, work that is described as having continued without interruption from the days of Cyrus. It is clear that the various elements in these chapters do not provide a fully harmonized account of the restoration; distinct elements stand side by side, with some linkages between the various themes.
The Man Ezra: The story of Ezra, priest and scribe (secretary), appears in Ezra 7-10 and Nehemiah 8-9. The setting is the time of Artaxerxes (7:1), but it is not clear which king of this name is intended. As the narratives now stand, the activities of Ezra and Nehemiah overlap, but there is no real contact between them and it is most often believed that they worked entirely separately. This has led to the proposal that Ezra should be placed later than Nehemiah, Nehemiah in the reign of Artaxerxes I and Ezra in that of Artaxerxes II, but there is no certainty here. Ezra 7 describes his commissioning and sets out (in Aramaic, 7:11-26) his authority to impose the law within the Persian province Beyond the River. Ezra 8 provides a list of those who went with him and gives an account of the journey. Ezra 9 and 10 deal with the problems created by marriages with women of foreign origin, and the action taken by Ezra to eliminate this religious danger. It incorporates a poetic prayer in 9:6-15. 7:27-9:15 is a first person narrative, while the remainder of the Ezra material is in the third person. The story continues in Nehemiah 8, though this passage, dealing with the proclaiming and acceptance of the law, would more logically precede the material of Ezra 9-10. Nehemiah 9 has a short opening narrative (vv. 1-6), which appears to be a duplicate or summary of what precedes, followed by a long psalm-prayer that the Greek translators of the Septuagint (so too rsv) attribute to Ezra.
Ezra is also mentioned in Neh. 12:26 and 36, probably as a harmonizing addition to the Nehemiah narrative. The name appears also in lists in Neh. 12:13 and 33. In 12:1 and 12:13 he is named as a priestly leader.
Ezra occupies a prominent place in later Jewish tradition, particularly in connection with the writing of the Scriptures; this tradition is evident in 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) 14, where he has become a prophet (2 Esd. 1:1) and is described as dictating the whole of ninety-four books, to replace what had been lost in Exile. Of these, twenty-four are the canonical books, to be made public: the remaining seventy, presumably works like 2 Esdras itself, were to be kept secret for the wise. Ezra thus becomes the preserver of the religious tradition from its earlier stages through to the forerunners of the great rabbis, and thus occupies a place in some respects similar to that of Moses. A markedly hostile view of Ezra is to be found in Samaritan tradition, which reflects the views of those who opposed the returned exiles and their attempt to assume the religious leadership of Palestine.
Finshaw, F. C. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.
Myers, J. M. Ezra-Nehemiah. Anchor Bible 14. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer