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Ezra, Book of

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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EZRA, BOOK OF . Our present Book of Ezra, which consists of 10 chapters, is really part of a composite work, Ezra-Nehemiah, which, again, is the continuation of Chronicles. The entire work Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah is a compilation made by the Chronicler. See, further, Nehemiah [Book of], § 1 .

1. Analysis of the book . The Book of Ezra falls into two main divisions: ( a ) chs. 1 6; ( b ) chs. 7 10.

( a ) Chs. 1 6 give an account of the Return and the re-building of the Temple. Ch. 1 tells how Cyrus, after the capture of Babylon in b.c. 538, issued an edict permitting the exiles to return; of the latter about 40,000 availed themselves of the opportunity and returned to Judæa under Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel, a member of the royal Davidic family, who was appointed governor ( pechah ) by Cyrus (b.c. 538 537). Ch. 2 contains a list of those who returned and their offerings for the building of the Temple. Ch. 3 describes how in October 537 the altar of burnt-offering was re-erected on its ancient site, the foundation-stone of the Temple laid (May 536), and the work of re-building begun. Ch. 4 tells that, owing to the unfriendly action of neighbouring populations, the building of the Temple was suspended during the rest of the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses. It contains the correspondence between Rehum, Shimshai, and their companions, and king Artaxerxes. In Ezra 5:6-12 we are informed that, as a consequence of the earnest exhortations of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the building of the Temple was energetically resumed in the second year of Darius I. (b.c. 520). In Ezra 5:6 to Ezra 6:12 we have the correspondence between the satrap Tattenai and Darius. We read in Ezra 6:13-22 of how the Temple was successfully completed on the 3rd March 515 b.c. [An interval of silence, lasting nearly sixty years, ensues, of which there seems to be little or no record elsewhere.]

( b ) Chs. 7 10 deal with Ezra’s personal work. In ch. 7 the silence of nearly sixty years is broken in the year b.c. 458, when Ezra, the teacher of the Law , at the head of a fresh band of exiles, leaves Babylonia bearing a commission from Artaxerxes I. to bring about a settlement in the religious condition of the Judæan community. Ch. 8 gives a list of the heads of families who journeyed with him, and tells of their arrival in Jerusalem. Ch. 9 describes the proceedings against the foreign wives, and contains Ezra’s penitential prayer. In ch. 10 we read that an assembly of the whole people, in December 458, appointed a commission to deal with the mixed marriages. The narrative abruptly breaks off with an enumeration of the men who had married strange women .

2. Sources of the book . In its present form the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah is, as has been pointed out, the work of the Chronicler. The compilation, however, embraces older material. The most important parts of this latter are undoubtedly the autobiographical sections, which have been taken partly from Ezra’s, partly from Nehemiah’s, personal memoirs.

( a ) Extracts from Ezra’s memoirs embodied in the Book of Ezra . The long passage Ezra 7:27 to Ezra 9:15 (except Ezra 8:35-36 ) is generally admitted to be an authentic extract from Ezra’s memoirs. The abrupt break which takes place at Ezra 9:15 must be due to a compiler. ‘The events of the next thirteen years were clearly of too dismal a character to make it desirable to perpetuate the memory of them’ (Cornill). [It is probable that an even larger excerpt from these memoirs is to be seen in Nehemiah 9:6 to Nehemiah 10:39 .]

It seems probable that these memoirs were not used by the Chronicler in their original form, but in a form adapted and arranged by a later hand, to which Ezra 10:1-44 is due. This latter narrative is of first-rate importance and rests upon extremely good information. It was probably written by the same hand that composed the main part of Nehemiah 8:1-18; Nehemiah 9:1-38; Nehemiah 10:1-39 (see Nehemiah [Book of], § 2 ).

The Imperial firman an Aramaic document (Ezra 7:12-26 ) the essential authenticity of which has now been made certain is an extract from the memoirs preserved in the same compiler’s work, from which Ezra 2:1-70 (= Nehemiah 7:6-73 ) was also derived. The introductory verses ( Ezra 7:1-11 ) are apparently the work of the Chronicler.

( b ) Other sources of the book . The other most important source used by the Chronicler was an Aramaic one, written, perhaps, about b.c. 450, which contained a history of the building of the Temple, the city walls, etc., and cited original documents. From this authority come Ezra 4:8-22; Ezra 5:1 to Ezra 6:16 (cited verbally).

The Chronicler, however, partly misunderstood his Aramaic source. He has misconceived Ezra 4:6 , and assigned a false position to the document embodied in Ezra 4:7-23 .

( c ) Passages written by the Chronicler . The following passages bear clear marks of being the actual composition of the Chronicler: Ezra 1:1-11; Ezra 3:2 to Ezra 4:7; Ezra 4:24; Ezra 6:16 to Ezra 7:11; Ezra 8:35-36 .

3. Separation of Ezra from Chronicles . It would appear that after the great work of the Chronicler had been completed (1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah), the part which contained narratives of otherwise unrecorded events was first received into the Canon. Hence, in the Jewish Canon, Ezra-Nehemiah precedes the Books of Chronicles. In the process of separation certain verses are repeated ( Ezra 1:1-3 a = 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ); 2 Chronicles 36:23 seems to have been added in 2 Chronicles 36:1-23 to avoid a dismal ending ( 2 Chronicles 36:21 ).

For the historical value of the book cf. what is said under Nehemiah [Book of], § 3 .

G. H. Box.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ezra, Book of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​e/ezra-book-of.html. 1909.
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