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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Nehemiah, Book of

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NEHEMIAH, BOOK OF. The two books, separated in our Bible and appearing there as Ezra and Nehemiah , originally formed a single book (as appears from the Talmud, the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , and from internal evidence), which was the sequel to Chronicles . In fact Ezra verbally continues the narrative of 2 Chronicles 36:1-23 (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 with Ezra 1:1-2 ), and the whole work 1 and 2 Chron., Ezra, and Nehemiah forms a single continuous narrative from Adam to Nehemiah’s second visit to Jerusalem, and was probably compiled by the Chronicler. That part of this voluminous work which now bears the title Nehemiah is so called because it deals largely with the career of the Jewish patriot whose name it carries, and embodies excerpts of considerable extent from his personal memoirs.

1. Extracts from the memoirs embodied in Nehemiah . ( a ) Nehemiah 1:1 to Nehemiah 7:5 . At the outset we meet with a long section where the first person sing, is used throughout, viz. Nehemiah 1:1 to Nehemiah 7:6 . These chapters are indubitably authentic extracts from Nehemiah’s personal memoirs. They are distinguished by individual characteristics which help us to form a distinct idea of the writer’s personality. Enthusiasm for a great idea, and unstinting and unselfish devotlon to its realization, are marked features. From Nehemiah 5:14 it is clear that the narrative can not have been put into its present form till some years after the events recounted. Doubts have been raised as to the authenticity of Nehemiah 6:15 (the walls finished in 52 days), but the objection is not a fatal one. It should be noted, however, that according to Josephus ( Ant . XI. Nehemiah 6:8 ) the building of the walls lasted 2 years and 8 months. On what authority Josephus bases this assertion is not known. ( Nehemiah 3:1-32 , a llst of persons who helped to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, has also been the subject of doubt.)

( b ) Nehemiah 7:6-73 a. This section contains a list of the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel, which Nehemiah ( Nehemiah 7:5 ) says he ‘found’: it also appears in Ezra’s memoirs ( Ezra 2:1-70 ), with slight differences. It forms a natural and easy continuation to Nehemiah 7:5 , and probably from the very first stood as a constituent element in Nehemiah’s memoirs.

( c ) Ch. 11. This chapter, which contains a list of persons who drew lots to reside at Jerusalem, and other details regarding the settlement of the capital, probably also stood in the original memoirs. The list which partly recurs in 1 Chronicles 9:3-17 is to be regarded as the immediate continuation of ch. 7 (with Ewald), and refers to measures taken by Zerubbabel. Doubtless it was followed in the memoirs by an account of what Nehemiah did to resume and complete these measures (cf. Nehemiah 7:4 ; Nehemiah 7:6 ), but this has, unfortunately, not been preserved to us.

( d ) Nehemiah 12:27-43 . Account of the dedication of the walls. Notice the resumption of the 1st pers. sing, ( Nehemiah 12:31 ; Nehemiah 12:38 ; Nehemiah 12:40 ). This passage is an excerpt from the memoirs, but has been abridged and revised by the compiler.

( e ) Nehemiah 13:4-31 . Another extract from the memoirs, giving details of a time some 12 or more years later than that referred to in the earlier extracts. It deals with Nehemiah’s second visit.

2. Passages in Nehemiah not derived from the memoirs . ( a ) Neh 7:73 b 10:40 (39). This long section breaks the connexion which it is generally agreed exists between Nehemiah 7:73 a and ch. 11. In its present form it is doubtless due to the compiler; but it contains so many details of an apparently authentic character, its representation is often so vivid, that it is probable that the work of an eye-witness has been used and worked up by the compiler in producing the present narrative. Probably Nehemiah 9:6-38 ; Nehemiah 10:1-39 has been taken over directly from the memoirs of Ezra (the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ascribes the prayer beginning in Nehemiah 9:6 ” to Ezra: ‘And Ezra said’). The whole section, therefore, can be regarded as of first-rate authority.

( b ) Nehemiah 12:1-26 . A list of priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel. Notice how the priestly genealogy is carried far down below Nehemiah’s time, as far, in fact, as the reign of Darius the Persian ( Nehemiah 12:22 ), i.e . Darius iii. Codomannus (reigned b.c. 335 331). The high priest Jaddua mentioned in Nehemiah 12:11 is known from Josephus to have been a contemporary of Alexander the Great.

3. Historical value of the Book . On the whole, recent criticism has been favourable to the older view as to the essential trustworthiness of the narrative of events given in Ezra-Nehemiah. Reference has already been made in the previous article to the view that the Artaxerxes mentioned is the second of that name. If this is accepted, Ezra’s visit and work of reform fall in the year 398. Kosters goes much further than this.

‘According to him, a return of exiles in the second year of Cyrus did not take place at all; the building of the Temple and the walls was rather the work of the population that had remained behind in the land (2 Kings 25:12 ), of whom Zerubbabel and Nehemiah were governors; Ezra’s visit and work of reform fall in the second governorship of Nehemiah, after the events narrated in Nehemiah 13:4-31 . Ezra arrived for the first time after 433; first of all the community was reconstituted by the dissolution of the mixed marriages, and then solemnly bound to the observance of the Law which had been brought with him by Ezra: the first return-journey under Zerubbabel, with all those who joined themselves with him, has been invented by the Chronicler, who reversed the order of events. Finally, according to Torrey, the “I” passages, with the exception of Nehemiah 1:1-11 ; Nehemiah 2:1-20 (mainly) and Nehemiah 3:32 to Nehemiah 6:19 (mainly), have been fabricated by the Chronicler, who in them created his masterpiece: and Nehemiah also belongs to the reign of Artaxerxes ii. (Cornill).

Kosters’ theory has been energetically opposed by Wellhausen, and since Ed. Meyer’s demonstration of the essential authenticity of the documents embodied in Ezra 4:1-24 ; Ezra 5:1-17 ; Ezra 6:1-22 ; Ezra 7:1-28 , the extreme form of the critical theory may be regarded as having lost most of its plausibility.

G. H. Box.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nehemiah, Book of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/n/nehemiah-book-of.html. 1909.


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