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by Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch
The Book of Ezra
1. Name and Contents, Object and Plan of the Book of Ezra
The book of Ezra derives its name of עזרא in the Hebrew Bible, of Ἔσδρας in the Septuagint, and of Liber Esdrae in the Vulgate, from Ezra, עזרא , the priest and scribe who, in Ezra 7-10, narrates his return from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem, and the particulars of his ministry in the latter city. For the sake of making the number of the books contained in their canon of Scripture correspond with the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the Jews had from of old reckoned the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as one; whilst an apocryphal book of Ezra, composed of passages from the second book of Chronicles, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and certain popular legends, had long been current among the Hellenistic Jews together with the canonical book of Ezra. Hence our book of Ezra is called, in the catalogues of the Old Testament writings handed down to us by the Fathers (see the statements of Origen, of the Council of Laodicea, Can. 60, of Cyril, Jerome, and others, in the Lehrbuch der Einleitung, 216, Not. 11, 13), Ἔσδρας πρῶτος ( α ) , and the book of Nehemiah Ἔσδρας δεύτερος ( β ) , and consequently separated as I. Ezra from the book of Nehemiah as II. Ezra; while the Greek book of Ezra is called III. Ezra, to which was subsequently added the falsely so-called book of Ezra as IV. Ezra. In the Septuagint, the Vet. Itala, and the Syriac, on the contrary (comp. Libri V. T. apocryphi syriace e recogn. de Lagarde), we find the Greek book of Ezra placed as Ἔσδρας πρῶτον before the canonical book, and the latter designated Ἔσδρας δεύτερον .
The book of Ezra consists of two parts. The first part, comprising a period anterior to Ezra, begins with the edict of Coresh (Cyrus), king of Persia, permitting the return to their native land of such Jews as were exiles in Babylon, and prescribing the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-Numbers :); and relates that when the heads of the nation, the priests and Levites, and many of the people, made preparations for returning, Cyrus had the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem brought forth and delivered to Sheshbazzar (Zerubbabel), prince of Judah (Ezra 1:5-1 Kings :). Next follows a list of the names of those who returned from captivity (Ezra 2), and the account of the building of the altar of burnt-offerings, the restoration of divine worship, and the laying of the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:1-1 Chronicles :). Then the manner in which the rebuilding of the temple was hindered by the Samaritans is narrated; and mention made of the written accusation sent by the adversaries of the Jews to the kings Ahashverosh and Artachshasta (Ezra 4:1-Judges :): the letter sent to the latter monarch, and his answer thereto, in consequence of which the rebuilding of the temple ceased till the second year of Darius, being inserted in the Chaldee original (Ezra 4:24). It is then related (also in Chaldee) that Zerubbabel and Joshua, undertaking, in consequence of the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, the rebuilding of the temple, were immediately interrogated by Tatnai the Persian governor and his companions as to who had commanded such rebuilding; that the reply of the Jewish rulers was reported in writing to the king, whereupon the latter caused search to be made for the edict of Cyrus, and gave command for the continuance and furtherance of the building in compliance therewith (Ezra 5:1-6:13); that hence the Jews were enabled to complete the work, solemnly to dedicate their now finished temple (Ezra 6:14-Job :), and (as further related, Ezra 6:19-Song of Solomon :, in the Hebrew tongue) to celebrate their passover with rejoicing. In the second part (Ezra 7-10), the return of Ezra the priest and scribe, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, from Babylon to Jerusalem, with a number of priests, Levites, and Israelites, is related; and (Ezra 7:1-2 Samuel :) a copy of the royal decree, in virtue of which Ezra was entrusted with the ordering of divine worship, and of the administration of justice as prescribed in the law, given in the Chaldee original (7:11-26), with a postscript by Ezra (Ezra 7:27.). Then follows a list of those who went up with Ezra (Ezra 8:1-2 Chronicles :); and particulars given by Ezra himself concerning his journey, his arrival at Jerusalem (8:14-36), and the energetic proceedings by which he effected the separation of the heathen women from the congregation (9:1-10:17); the book concluding with a list of those who were forced to put away their heathen wives (10:18-44).
The first year of the rule of Cyrus king of Persia corresponding with the year 536 b.c., and the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Longimanus) with 458 b.c., it follows that this book comprises a period of at least eighty years. An interval of fifty-six years, extending from the seventh year of Darius Hystaspis, in which the passover was celebrated after the dedication of the new temple (Ezra 6:19-Song of Solomon :), to the seventh of Artaxerxes, in which Ezra went up from Babylon (Ezra 7:6), separates the events of the first part from those of the second. The narrative of the return of Ezra from Babylon in Ezra 7:1 is nevertheless connected with the celebration of the passover under Darius by the usual formula of transition, “Now after these things,” without further comment, because nothing had occurred in the intervening period which the author of the book felt it necessary, in conformity with the plan of his work, to communicate.
Even this cursory notice of its contents shows that the object of Ezra was not to give a history of the re-settlement in Judah and Jerusalem of the Jews liberated by Cyrus from the Babylonian captivity, nor to relate all the memorable events which took place from the departure and the arrival in Judah of those who returned with Zerubbabel and Joshua, until his own return and his ministry in Jerusalem. For he tells us nothing at all of the journey of the first band of returning exiles, and so little concerning their arrival in Jerusalem and Judah, that this has merely a passing notice in the superscription of the list of their names; while at the close of this list he only mentions the voluntary gifts which they brought with them for the temple service, and then just remarks that they-the priests, Levites, people, etc. - dwelt in their cities (Ezra 2:70). The following chapters (Ezra 3-6), moreover, treat exclusively of the building of the altar of burnt-offering and the temple, the hindrances by which this building was delayed for years, and of the final removal of these hindrances, the continuation and completion of the building, and the dedication of the new temple, by means of which the tribe of Judah was enabled to carry on the worship of God according to the law, and to celebrate the festivals in the house of the Lord. In the second part, indeed, after giving the decree he had obtained from Artaxerxes, he speaks in a comparatively circumstantial manner of the preparations he made for his journey, of the journey itself, and of his arrival at Jerusalem; while he relates but a single incident of his proceedings there-an incident, indeed, of the utmost importance with respect to the preservation of the returned community as a covenant people, viz., the dissolution of the marriages with Canaanites and other Gentile women, forbidden by the law, but contracted in the period immediately following his arrival at Jerusalem. Of his subsequent proceedings there we learn nothing further from his own writings, although the king had given him authority, “after the wisdom of his God, to set magistrates and judges” (Ezra 7:25); while the book of Nehemiah testifies that he continued his ministry there for some years in conjunction with Nehemiah, who did not arrive till thirteen years later: comp. Neh 8-10 and Nehemiah 12:36, Nehemiah 12:38.
Such being the nature of the contents of this book, it is evident that the object and plan of its author must have been to collect only such facts and documents as might show the manner in which the Lord God, after the lapse of the seventy years of exile, fulfilled His promise announced by the prophets, by the deliverance of His people from Babylon, the building of the temple at Jerusalem, and the restoration of the temple worship according to the law, and preserved the re-assembled community from fresh relapses into heathen customs and idolatrous worship by the dissolution of the marriages with Gentile women. Moreover, the restoration of the temple and of the legal temple worship, and the separation of the heathen from the newly settled community, were necessary and indispensable conditions for the gathering out of the people of God from among the heathen, and for the maintenance and continued existence of the nation of Israel, to which and through which God might at His own time fulfil and realize His promises made to their forefathers, to make their seed a blessing to all the families of the earth, in a manner consistent both with His dealings with this people hitherto, and with the further development of His promises made through the prophets. The significance of the book of Ezra in sacred history lies in the fact that it enables us to perceive how the Lord, on the one hand, so disposed the hearts of the kings of Persia, the then rulers of the world, that in spite of all the machinations of the enemies of God's people, they promoted the building of His temple in Jerusalem, and the maintenance of His worship therein; and on the other, raised up for His people, when delivered from Babylon, men like Zerubbabel their governor, Joshua the high priest, and Ezra the scribe, who, supported by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, undertook the work to which they were called, with hearty resolution, and carried it out with a powerful hand.
2. Unity and Composition of the Book of Ezra
Several modern critics (Zunz, Ewald, Bertheau, and others) have raised objections both to the single authorship and to the independent character of this book, and declared it to be but a fragment of a larger work, comprising not only the book of Nehemiah, but that of Chronicles also. The section of this work which forms our canonical book of Ezra is said to have been composed and edited by some unknown author about 200 years after Ezra, partly from an older Chaldee history of the building of the temple and of the walls of Jerusalem, partly from a record drawn up by Ezra himself of his agency in Jerusalem, and from certain other public documents. The evidence in favour of this hypothesis is derived, first, from the fact that not only the official letters to the Persian kings, and their decrees (Ezra 4:8-Song of Solomon :; Ezra 5:6-Esther :; Ezra 6:6-2 Kings :; Ezra 7:12-Ezekiel :), but also a still longer section on the building of the temple (Ezra 4:23-6:18), are written in the Chaldee, and the remaining portions in the Hebrew language; next, from the diversity of its style, its lack of internal unity, and its want of finish; and, finally, from the circumstance that the book of Ezra had from of old been combined with that of Nehemiah as one book. These reasons, however, upon closer consideration, prove too weak to confirm this view. For, to begin with the historical testimony, Nägelsback, in Herzog's Realencycl. iv. p. 166, justly finds it “incomprehensible” that Bertheau should appeal to the testimony of the Talmud, the Masora, the most ancient catalogues of Old Testament books in the Christian church, the Cod. Alexandr., the Cod. Friderico Aug., and the lxx, because the comprehension of the two books in one in these authorities is entirely owing to the Jewish mode of computing the books of the Old Testament. Even Josephus ( c. Ap. i. 8) reckons twenty-two books, which he arranges, in a manner peculiar to himself, into five books of Moses, thirteen of the prophets, and four containing hymns to God and moral precepts for man; and Jerome says, in Prol. Gal., that the Hebrews reckon twenty-two canonical books, whose names he cites, after the number of the letters of their alphabet, but then adds that some reckoned Ruth and Lamentations separately, thus making twenty-four, because the Rabbis distinguished between שׁ and שׂ , and received a double Jod ( יי ) into the alphabet for the sate of including in it the name יהוה , which when abbreviated is written יי . The number twenty-four is also found in Baba bathr. fol. 14. Hence we also find these numbers and computations in the Fathers and in the resolutions of the councils, but with the express distinction of I. and II. Ezra. This distinction is not indeed mentioned in the Talmud; and Baba bathr., l.c., says: Esra scripsit librum suum et genealogias librorum Chr. usque ad sua tempora . But what authority can there be in such testimony, which also declares Moses to have been the author not only of the Pentateuch, but also of the book of Job, and Samuel the author of the books of Judges, Ruth, and Samuel? The authority, too, of Cod. Alex. and Cod. Frid. Aug. is opposed to that of Cod. Vatic. and of the lxx, in which the books Ezra and Nehemiah are separated, as they likewise are in the Masoretic text, although the Masoretes regarded and reckoned both as forming but one book.
(Note: Though Zunz and Ewald appeal also to the Greek book of Ezra, in which portions of Chronicles and of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are comprised, it is not really to be understood how any critical importance can be attributed to this apocryphal compilation. Besides, even if it possessed such importance, the circumstance that only the two last chapters of Chronicles, and only Neh 7:73-8:13 of Nehemiah, are comprised in it, says more against than in favour of the assumed single authorship of the three canonical books.)
This mode of computation, however, affords no ground for the supposition that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah originally formed one work. For in this case we should be obliged to regard the books of the twelve minor prophets as the work of one author. If the number of books was to be reduced to twenty-two or twenty-four, it was necessary to combine smaller works of similar character. The single authorship of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is most decidedly negatived, not only by the superscription of the latter book, דּברי נחמיה בּן־חכליה , there being in the entire Old Testament no other instance of a single portion or section of a longer work being distinguished from its other portions by a similar superscription, with the name of the author; but also by the fact already brought forward in the introduction to Chronicles, Comm. on Chron. p. 384, that no reason or motive whatever can be perceived for a subsequent division of the historical work in question into three separate books, on account of its reception into the canon.
The contents, too, and the form of this book, present us with nothing incompatible either with its single authorship or independence. The use of the Chaldee tongue for the official documents of the Persian kings and their subordinates cannot surprise us, this being the official language in the provinces of the Persian empire west of the Euphrates, and as current with the returning Jews as their Hebrew mother tongue. It is true that the use of the Chaldee language is not in this book confined merely to official documents, but continued, Ezra 4:8-Song of Solomon :, in the narrative of the building of the temple down to the dedication of the rebuilt temple, 4:23-6:18; and that the Hebrew is not employed again till from Ezra 6:19 to the conclusion of the book, with the exception of Ezra 7:12-Ezekiel :, where the commission given by Artaxerxes to Ezra is inserted in the Chaldee original. We also meet, however, with the two languages in the book of Daniel, Dan 2, where the Magi are introduced, Daniel 2:4, as answering the king in Aramaic, and where not only their conversation with the monarch, but also the whole course of the event, is given in this dialect, which is again used Dan 3-7. Hence it has been attempted to account for the use of the Chaldee in the narrative portions of the book of Ezra, by the assertion that the historian, after quoting Chaldee documents, found it convenient to use this language in the narrative combined therewith, and especially because during its course he had to communicate other Chaldee documents ( Ezra 5:6-Esther : and Ezra 6:3-2 Kings :) in the original. But this explanation is not sufficient to solve the problem. Both here and in the book of Daniel, the use of the two languages has a really deeper reason; see Daniel 2:14.. With respect to the book in question, this view is, moreover, insufficient; because, in the first place, the use of the Chaldee tongue does not begin with the communication of the Chaldee documents (Daniel 4:11), but is used, Daniel 2:8, in the paragraph which introduces them. And then, too, the narrator of the Chaldee historical section, Ezra 5:4, gives us to understand, by his use of the first person, “Then said we unto them,” that he was a participator in the work of rebuilding the temple under Darius; and this, Ezra, who returned to Jerusalem at a much later period, and who relates his return (Ezra 7:27) in the first person, could not himself have been. These two circumstances show that the Chaldee section, 4:8-6:18, was composed by an eye-witness of the occurrences it relates; that it came into the hands of Ezra when composing his own work, who, finding it adapted to his purpose as a record by one who was contemporary with the events he related, and a sharer in the building of the temple, included it in his own book with very slight alteration. The mention of Artachshasta, besides Coresh and Darjavesh, in Ezra 6:14, seems opposed to this view. But since neither Ezra, nor a later author of this book, contemporary with Darius Hystaspis, could cite the name of Artaxerxes as contributing towards the building of the temple, while the position of the name of Artaxerxes after that of Darius, as well as its very mention, contradicts the notion of a predecessor of King Darius, the insertion of this name in Ezra 6:14 may be a later addition made by Ezra, in grateful retrospect of the splendid gifts devoted by Artaxerxes to the temple, for the purpose of associating him with the two monarchs whose favour rendered the rebuilding of the temple possible (see on Ezra 6:14). In this case, the mention of Artaxerxes in the passage just cited, offers no argument against the above-mentioned view of the origin of the Chaldee section. Neither is any doubt cast upon the single authorship of the whole book by the notion that Ezra inserted in his book not only an authentic list of the returned families, Ezra 2, but also a narrative of the building of the temple, composed in the Chaldee tongue by an eye-witness.
All the other arguments brought forward against the unity of this book are quite unimportant. The variations and discrepancies which Schrader, in his treatise on the duration of the second temple, in the Theol. Studien u. Kritiken, 1867, p. 460f., and in De Wette's Einleitung, 8th edit. 235, supposes he has discovered in the Chaldee section, first between Ezra 4:8-23 and Ezra 5:1-Joshua :, Ezra 5:14, Ezra 5:15, on the one hand, and Ezra 4:24 on the other, and then between these passages and the remaining chapters of the first part, Ezra 1:1-1 Kings :, Ezra 3:1-1 Chronicles :, Ezra 4:1; Ezra 7:24, and Ezra 6:14, Ezra 6:16-Job :, Ezra 6:19-Song of Solomon :, can have no force of argument except for a criticism which confines its operations to the words and letters of the text of Scripture, because incapable of entering into its spiritual meaning. If the two public documents 4:8-23 differ from what precedes and follows them, by the fact that they speak not of the building of the temple but of the building of the walls of Jerusalem, the reason may be either that the adversaries of the Jews brought a false accusation before King Artachshashta, and for the sake of more surely gaining their own ends, represented the building of the temple as a building of the fortifications, or that the complaint of their enemies and the royal decree really relate to the building of the walls, and that section 4:8-23 is erroneously referred by expositors to the building of the temple. In either case there is no such discrepancy between these public documents and what precedes and follows them as to annul the single authorship of this Chaldee section; see the explanation of the passage. Still less does the circumstance that the narrative of the continuation and completion of the temple-building, Ezra 5:1-6:15, is in a simply historical style, and not interspersed with reflections or devotional remarks, offer any proof that the notice, Ezra 4:24, “Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem, so it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia,” and the information, Ezra 6:16-Job :, that the Jews brought offerings at the dedication of the temple, and appointed priests and Levites in their courses for the service of God, cannot proceed from the same historian, who at the building of the temple says nothing of the offerings and ministrations of the priests and Levites. Still weaker, if possible, is the argument for different authorship derived from characteristic expressions, viz., that in Ezra 4:8, Ezra 4:11, Ezra 4:23; Ezra 5:5-Judges :, Ezra 5:13-2 Chronicles :, Ezra 5:17, and Ezra 6:1, Ezra 6:3, Ezra 6:12-1 Chronicles :, the Persian kings are simply called “the king,” and not “king of Persia,” as they are designated by the historian in Ezra 4:7, Ezra 4:24, and elsewhere. For a thoughtful reader will scarcely need to be reminded that, in a letter to the king, the designation king of Persia would be not only superfluous, but inappropriate, while the king in his answer would have still less occasion to call himself king of Persia, and that even the historian has in several places - e.g., Ezra 5:5-Joshua :; Ezra 6:1 and Ezra 6:13 - omitted the addition “of Persia” when naming the king. Nor is there any force in the remark that in Ezra 5:13 Coresh is called king of Babylon. This epithet, דּי־בבל , would only be objected to by critics who either do not know or do not consider that Coresh was king of Persia twenty years before he became king of Babylon, or obtained dominion over the Babylonian empire. The title king of Persia would here be misleading, and the mere designation king inexact, - Cyrus having issued the decree for the rebuilding of the temple not in the first year of his reign or rule over Persia, but in the first year of his sway over Babylon.
In Part II. (Ezra 7-10), which is connected with Part I. by the formula of transition האלּה הדּברים אחר , it is not indeed found “striking” that the historian should commence his narrative concerning Ezra by simply relating his doings (Ezra 7:1-2 Samuel :), his object being first to make the reader acquainted with the person of Ezra. It is also said to be easy to understand, that when the subsequent royal epistles are given, Ezra should be spoken of in the third person; that the transition to the first person should not be made until the thanksgiving to God (Ezra 7:27); and that Ezra should then narrate his journey to and arrival at Jerusalem, and his energetic proceedings against the unlawful marriages, in his own words (Ezra 8 and Ezra 9:1-:). But it is said to be “striking,” that in the account of this circumstance Ezra is, from Ezra 10:1 onwards, again spoken of in the third person. This change of the person speaking is said to show that the second part of the book was not composed by Ezra himself, but that some other historian merely made use of a record by Ezra, giving it verbally in Ezra 8 and Ezra 9:1-:, and in Ezra 7 and 10 relating Ezra's return from Babylon, and the conclusion of the transaction concerning the unlawful marriages, in his own words, but with careful employment of the said record. This view, however, does not satisfactorily explain the transition from the first to the third person in the narrative. For what could have induced the historian, after giving Ezra's record verbally in Ezra 8 and Ezra 9:1-:, to break off in the midst of Ezra's account of his proceedings against the unlawful marriages, and, instead of continuing the record, to relate the end of the transaction in his own words? Bertheau's solution of this question, that the author did this for the sake of brevity, is of no force; for Ezra 10 shows no trace of brevity, but, on the contrary, the progress and conclusion of the affair are related with the same circumstantiality and attention to details exhibited in its commencement in 8 and 9. To this must be added, that in other historical portions of the Old Testament, in which the view of different authorship is impossible, the narrator, as a person participating in the transaction, frequently makes the transition from the first to the third person, and vice versa. Compare, e.g., Isaiah 7:1. (“Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, Go forth,” etc.) with Isaiah 8:1 (“Moreover, the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll,” etc.); Jeremiah 20:1-Joshua :, where Jeremiah relates of himself in the third person, that he had been smitten by Pashur, and had prophesied against him, with Jeremiah 20:7., where, without further explanation, he thus continues: “O Lord, Thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded;” or Jeremiah 28:1 (“Hananiah ... spake unto me ... the Lord said to me ”) with Jeremiah 28:5 (“Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah”), and also Jeremiah 28:6; while in Jeremiah 28:7 immediately following, Jeremiah writes, “Hear thou now this word which I speak in thine ears.” As Jeremiah, when here narrating circumstances of his own ministry, suddenly passes from the third to the first person, and then immediately returns to the third; so, too, might Ezra, after speaking (Ezra 7:1-2 Samuel :) of his return to Jerusalem in the third person, proceed with a subsequent more circumstantial description of his journey to and arrival at Jerusalem, and narrate his acts and proceedings there in the first person (Ezra 8 and Ezra 9:1-:), and then, after giving his prayer concerning the iniquity of his people (Ezra 9:1-:), take up the objective form of speech in his account of what took place in consequence of this prayer; and instead of writing, “Now when I had prayed,” etc., continue, “Now when Ezra had prayed,” and maintain this objective form of statement to the end of Ezra 10. Thus a change of author cannot be proved by a transition in the narrative from the first to the third person. As little can this be inferred from the remark (Ezra 7:6) that “Ezra was a ready scribe in the law of Moses,” by which his vocation, and the import of his return to Jerusalem, are alluded to immediately after the statement of his genealogy.
The reasons, then, just discussed are not of such a nature as to cast any real doubt upon the single authorship of this book; and modern criticism has been unable to adduce any others. Neither is its independence impeached by the circumstance that it breaks off “unexpectedly” at Ezra 10, without relating Ezra's subsequent proceedings at Jerusalem, although at Ezra 7:10 it is said not only that “Ezra had prepared his heart ... to teach in Israel statutes and judgments,” but also that Artaxerxes in his edict (Ezra 7:12-Ezekiel :) commissioned him to uphold the authority of the law of God as the rule of action; nor by the fact that in Neh 8-10 we find Ezra still a teacher of the law, and that these very chapters form the necessary complement of the notices concerning Ezra in the book of Ezra (Bertheau). For though the narrative in Neh 8-10 actually does complete the history of Ezra's ministry, it by no means follows that the book of Ezra is incomplete, and no independent work at all, but only a portion of a larger book, because it does not contain this narrative. For what justifies the assumption that “Ezra purposed to give an account of all that he effected at Jerusalem?” The whole book may be sought through in vain for a single peg on which to hang such a theory. To impute such an intention to Ezra, and to infer that, because his ministry is spoken of in the book of Nehemiah also, the book of Ezra is but a fragment, we should need far more weighty arguments in proof of the single authorship of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah than the defenders of this hypothesis are able to bring forward. In respect of diction, nothing further has been adduced than that the expression עלי אלחי כּיד , so frequently recurring in Ezra (Ezra 7:28; compare Ezra 7:6, Ezra 7:9; Ezra 8:18, Ezra 8:22, Ezra 8:31), is also once found in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:8). But the single occurrence of this one expression, common to himself and Ezra, in the midst of the very peculiar diction and style of Nehemiah, is not the slightest proof of the original combination of the two books; and Nehemiah 2:8 simply shows that Nehemiah appropriated words which, in his intercourse with Ezra, he had heard from his lips. - With respect to other instances in which the diction and matter are common to the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, we have already shown, in the introduction to Chronicles, that they are too trifling to establish an identity of authorship in the case of these three books; and at the same time remarked that the agreement between the closing verses of Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra does but render it probable that Ezra may have been the author of the former book also.
3. Composition and Historical Character of the Book of Ezra
If this book is a single one, i.e., the work of one author, there can be no reasonable doubt that that author was Ezra, the priest and scribe, who in Ezra 7-10 narrates his return from Babylon to Jerusalem, and the circumstances of his ministry there, neither its language nor contents exhibiting any traces of a later date. Its historical character, too, was universally admitted until Schrader, in his beforenamed treatise, p. 399, undertook to dispute it with respect to the first part of this book. The proofs he adduced were, first, that the statement made by the author, who lived 200 years after the building of the temple, in this book, i.e., in the chronicle of the foundation of the temple in the second year after the return from Babylon, concerning the cessation of the building till the second year of Darius, and its resumption in that year, is unhistorical, and rests only upon the insufficiently confirmed assumption that the exiles, penetrated as they were with ardent love for their hereditary religion, full of joy that their deliverance from Babylon was at last effected, and of heartfelt gratitude to God, should have suffered fifteen years to elapse before they set to work to raise the national sanctuary from its ruins; secondly, that the accounts both of the rearing of the altar, Ezra 3:2 and Ezra 3:3, and of the proceedings at laying the foundations of the temple, together with the names, dates, and other seemingly special details found in Ezra 3:1-1 Chronicles :, Ezra 4:1-Deuteronomy :, Ezra 4:24; Ezra 6:14, are not derived from ancient historical narratives, but are manifestly due to the imagination of the chronicler drawing upon the documents given in the book of Ezra, upon other books of the Old Testament, and upon his own combinations thereof. This whole argument, however, rests upon the assertion, that neither in Ezra 5:2 and Ezra 5:16, in Haggai 1:2, Haggai 1:4, Haggai 1:8, Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:12, nor in Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 4:9; Zechariah 6:12-1 Chronicles :; Zechariah 8:9, is the resumption of the temple building in the second year of the reign of Darius spoken of, but that, on the contrary, the laying of its foundations in the said year of Darius is in some of these passages assumed, in others distinctly stated. Such a conclusion can, however, only be arrived at by a misconception of the passages in question. When it is said, Ezra 5:2, “Then (i.e., when the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied) rose up Zerubbabel and Jeshua ... and began to build the house of God” ( שׁריו למבנא ), there is no need to insist that בּנא often signifies to rebuild, but the word may be understood strictly of beginning to build. And this accords with the fact, that while in Ezra 3:1-1 Chronicles : and 4 nothing is related concerning the building of the temple, whose foundations were laid in the second year of the return, it is said that immediately after the foundations were laid the Samaritans came and desired to take part in the building of the temple, and that when their request was refused, they weakened the hands of the people, and deterred them from building (Ezra 4:1-Deuteronomy :). Schrader can only establish a discrepancy between Ezra 5:2 and Ezra 3:1-1 Chronicles : and 4 by confounding building with foundation-laying, two terms which neither in Hebrew nor German have the same signification.
Still less can it be inferred from the statement of the Jewish elders ( Ezra 5:16), when questioned by Tatnai and his companions as to who had commanded them to build the temple, “Then came the same Sheshbazzar and laid the foundation of the house of God, which is in Jerusalem, and since that time even until now hath it been in building,” that the building of the temple proceeded without intermission from the laying of its foundations under Cyrus till the second year of Darius. For can we be justified in the supposition that the Jewish elders would furnish Tatnai with a detailed statement of matters for the purpose of informing him what had been done year by year, and, by thus enumerating the hindrances which had for an interval put a stop to the building, afford the Persian officials an excuse for consequently declaring the question of resuming the building non-suited? For Tatnai made no inquiry as to the length of time the temple had been in building, or whether this had been going on uninterruptedly, but only who had authorized them to build; and the Jewish elders replied that King Cyrus had commanded the building of the temple, and delivered to Sheshbazzar, whom he made governor, the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away to Babylon, whereupon Sheshbazzar had begun the work of building which had been going on from then till now. Moreover, Schrader himself seems to have felt that not much could be proved from Ezra 5:2 and Ezra 5:16. Hence he seeks to construct the chief support of his theory from the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. In this attempt, however, he shows so little comprehension of prophetic diction, that he expounds Haggai's reproofs of the indifference of the people in building the temple, Hagg. Haggai 1:2, Haggai 1:4, Haggai 1:8, as stating that as yet nothing had been done, not even the foundations laid; transforms the words, Haggai 1:14, “they came and did work in the house of the Lord” ( יעשׂוּ מלאכה בב ), into “they began to build;” makes Hagg. Ezra 2:18, by a tautological view of the words למן היּום אשׁר יסּד , mean that the foundations of the temple were not laid till the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of the second year of Darius (see the true meaning of the passage in the commentary on Haggai); and finally, explains the prophecies of Zechariah (Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 4:9; Zechariah 6:12; Zechariah 8:9) concerning the rearing of a spiritual temple by Messiah as applying to the temple of wood and stone actually erected by Zerubbabel. By such means he arrives at the result that “neither does the Chaldee section of Ezra (Ezra 5), including the official documents, say anything of a foundation of the temple in the second year after the return from Babylon; nor do the contemporary prophets Haggai and Zechariah make any mention of this earlier foundation in their writings, but, on the contrary, place the foundation in the second year of Darius: that, consequently, the view advocated by the author of the book of Ezra, that the building of the temple began in the days of Cyrus, and immediately after the return of the exiles, is wholly without documentary proof.” This result he seeks further to establish by collecting all the words, expressions, and matters (such as sacrifices, Levites, priests, etc.) in Ezra 3:1-1 Chronicles : and 4 and Ezra 6:16-Song of Solomon :, to which parallels may be found in the books of Chronicles, for the sake of drawing from them the further conclusion that “the chronicler,” though he did not indeed invent the facts related in Ezra 3:1-Deuteronomy :, and Ezra 6:16-Song of Solomon :, combined them from the remaining chapters of the book of Ezra, and from other books of the Old Testament, - a conclusion in which the chief stress is placed upon the supposed fact that the chronicler was sufficiently known to have been a compiler and maker up of history. Such handling of Scripture can, however, in our days no longer assume the guise of “scientific criticism;” this kind of critical produce, by which De Wette and his follower Gramberg endeavoured to gain notoriety sixty years ago, having long been condemned by theological science. Nor can the historical character of this book be shaken by such frivolous objections. Three events of fundamental importance to the restoration and continuance of Israel as a separate people among the other nations of the earth are contained in it, viz.: (1) The release of the Jews and Israelites from the Babylonian captivity by Cyrus; (2) The re-settlement in Judah and Jerusalem, with the rebuilding of the temple; (3) The ordering of the re-settled flock according to the law of Moses, by Ezra. The actual occurrence of these three events is raised above all doubt by the subsequent historical development of the Jews in their own land; and the narrative of the manner in which this development was rendered possible and brought to pass, possesses as complete documentary authentication, in virtue of the communication of the official acts of the Persian kings Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes-acts of which the whole contents are given after the manner, so to speak, of State papers-as any fact of ancient history. The historical narrative, in fact, does but furnish a brief explanation of the documents and edicts which are thus handed down.
For the exegetical literature, see Lehrb. der Einleitung, p. 455; to which must be added, E. Bertheau, die Bücher Esra, Nehemia, und Ester erkl., Lpz. (being the seventeenth number of the kurzgef. exeget. Handbuchs zum A. T.).
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17