Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Encyclopedias
Books of Ezra and Nehemiah

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Search for…
Prev Entry
Booker Taliaferro Washington
Next Entry
Books of Maccabees
Resource Toolbox

In the Old Testament.

The two canonical books entitled Ezra and Nehemiah in the English Bible' correspond to the I and 2 Esdras of the Vulgate, to the 2 Esdras of the Septuagint, and to the Ezra and Nehemiah of the Massoretic (Hebrew) text. Though for many centuries they have thus been treated as separate compositions, we have abundant evidence that they were anciently regarded as forming but one book, and a careful examination proves that together with the book of Chronicles they constitute one single work. The two books may therefore be conveniently treated together.

I. Position and Date. - Origen (Euseb, H.E. vi. 25), expressly enumerating the twenty-two books of the old covenant as acknowledged by the Jews and accepted by the Christian church, names "the First and Second Ezra in one book"; Melito of Sardis (Euseb. H.E. iv. 26) in like manner mentions the book of Ezra only. So also the Talmud (in Baba bathra, 14.2), nor can it be supposed that Josephus in his enumeration ( c. i. 8) reckoned Nehemiah as apart from Ezra. That the Jews themselves recognized no real separation is shown by the fact that no Massoretic notes are found after Ezra x., but at the end of Nehemiah the contents of both are reckoned together, and it is stated that Neh. iii. 22 is the middle verse of the book. Their position in the Hebrew Bible before the book of Chronicles is, however, illogical. The introductory verses of Ezra i. are identical with the conclusion of 2 Chron. xxxvi., whilst in the version of I Esdras no less than two chapters (2 Chron. xxxv. sq.) overlap. The cause of the separation is probably to be found in the late reception of Chronicles into the Jewish canon. Further proof of the unity of the three is to be found in the general similarity of style and treatment. The same linguistic criteria recur, and the interest in lists and genealogies, in priests and Levites, and in the temple service point unmistakably to the presence of the same hand (the so-called "chronicler") in ChroniclesEzra-Nehemiah. See Bible (sect. Canon); Chronicles.

The period of history covered by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah extends from the return of the exiles under Zerubbabel in 537-536 B.C. to Nehemiah's second visit to Jerusalem in 432 B.C. In their present form, however, the books are considerably later, and allusions to Nehemiah in the past (Neh. xii. 26, 47), to the days of Jaddua (the grandson of Nehemiah's contemporary Joiada; ib. xii. II), to Darius (Nothus 423 B.C. or rather Codomannus 336 B.C., ib. v. 22), and the use of the term "king of Persia," as a distinctive title after the fall of that empire (33 2 B.C.), are enough to show that, as a whole, they belong to the same age as the book of Chronicles.

2. Contents. - Their contents may be divided into four parts: - (a) The events preceding the mission of Ezra (i. -vi.). - In the first year of his reign Cyrus was inspired to grant a decree permitting the Jews to return to build the temple in Jerusalem (i.); a list of families is given (ii.). The altar of burnt-offering was set up, and in the second year of the return the foundations of the new temple were laid with great solemnity (iii.). The "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" offered to assist but were repulsed, and they raised such opposition to the progress of the work that it ceased until the second year of Darius (521520 B.C.). Aroused by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah the building was then resumed, and despite fresh attempts to hinder the work it was completed, consecrated and dedicated 1 References to I Esdras in this article are to the book discussed above as Ezra, Third Book Of.

in the sixth year of that king (vi.). The event was solemnized by the celebration of the Passover (cf. 2 Chron. xxx., Hezekiah; xxxv. Josiah).

(b) An interval of fifty-eight years is passed over in silence, and the rest of the book of Ezra comprises his account of his mission to Jerusalem (vii. -x.). Ezra, a scribe of repute, well versed in the laws of Moses, returns with a band of exiles in order to reorganize the religious community. A few months after his arrival (seventh year of Artaxerxes, 458 B.C.) he instituted a great religious reform, viz. the prohibition of intermarriage with the heathen of the land (cf. already vi. 21). In spite of some opposition (x. 15 obscurely worded) the reform was accepted, and the foundations of a new community were laid.

(c) Twelve years elapse before the return of Nehemiah, whose description of his work is one of the most interesting pieces of Old Testament narrative (Neh. i.-vi.). In the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (445 B.C.), Nehemiah the royal cup-bearer at Shushan (Susa, the royal winter palace) was visited by friends from Judah and was overcome with grief at the tidings of the miserable condition of Jerusalem and the pitiful state of the Judaean remnant which had escaped the captivity. He obtained permission to return, and on reaching the city made a secret survey of the ruins and called upon the nobles and rulers to assist in repairing them. Much opposition was caused by Sanballat the Horonite (i.e. of the Moabite Horonaim or Beth-horon, about 15 m. N.W. of Jerusalem), Tobiah the Ammonite, Geshem (or Gashmu) the Arabian, and the Ashdodites, whose virulence increased as the rebuilding of the walls continued. But notwithstanding attempts upon the city and upon the life of Nehemiah, and in spite of intrigues among certain members of the Judaean section, in fifty-two days the city walls were complete (Neh. vi. 15). The hostility, however, did not cease, and measures were taken to ensure the safety of the city (vi. 16 - vii. 4). A valuable account is given of Nehemiah's economical reforms, illustrating the internal social conditions of the period and the general character of the former governors who had been placed in charge (v., cf. the laws codified in Lev. xxv. 35 sqq.).

(d) The remaining chapters carry on the story of the labours of both Ezra and Nehemiah. The list of those who returned under the decree of Cyrus is repeated (Neh. vii.), and leads up to the reading of the Law by Ezra, a great national confession of guilt, and a solemn undertaking to observe the new covenant, the provisions of which are detailed (x. 28-39). After sundry lists of the families dwelling in Jerusalem and its neighbourhood (xi. I sqq., apparently a sequel to vii. I-4), 2 and of various priests and Levites, an account is given of the dedication of the walls (xii.

2 7-43), the arrangements for the Levitical organization (vv. 4447), and a fresh separation from the heathen (Moabites and Ammonites, xiii. 1-3; cf. Deut. xxiii. 3 seq.). The book concludes with another extract from Nehemiah's memoirs dealing with the events of a second visit, twelve years later (xiii. 4-31). On this occasion he vindicated the sanctity of the temple by expelling Tobiah, reorganized the supplies for the Levites, took measures to uphold the observance of the Sabbath, and protested energetically against the foreign marriages. In the course of his reforms he thrust out a son of Joiada (son of Eliashib, the high-priest), who had married the daughter of Sanballat, an incident which had an important result (see Samaritans).

That these books are the result of compilation (like the book of Chronicles itself) is evident from the many abrupt changes; the inclusion of certain documents written in an Aramaic dialect (Ezr. iv. 8 - vi. 18, vii. 12-26) 3; the character of the name-lists; the lengthy gaps in the history; the use made of two distinct sources, attributed to Ezra and Nehemiah respectively, and from the varying form in which the narratives are cast. The With Neh. xi. 4-19 cf. I Chron. ix. 3-17; with the list xii. I-7 cf. vv. 12-21 and x 3-9; and with xii. Io sq. cf. I Chron. vi. 3-15 (to which it forms the sequel). See further Smend, Listen d. Esra u. Neh. (1881).

3 Sometimes wrongly styled Chaldee; see Semitic Languages.

chronicler's hand can usually be readily recognized. There are relatively few traces of it in Nehemiah's memoirs and in the Aramaic documents, but elsewhere the sources are largely coloured, if not written from the standpoint of his age. Examples of artificial arrangement appear notably in Ezr. ii.-iii. i compared with Neh. vii. 6-viii. i (first clause); in the present position of Ezr. iv. 6-23; and in the dislocation of certain portions of the two memoirs in Neh. viii.-xiii. (see below). It should be noticed that the present order of the narratives involves the theory that some catastrophe ensued after Ezr. x. and before Neh. i.; that the walls had been destroyed and the gates burnt down; that some external opposition (with which, however, Ezra did not have to contend) had been successful; that the main object of Ezra's mission was delayed for twelve years, and, finally, that only through Nehemiah's energy was the work of social and religious reorganization successful. These topics raise serious historical problems (see JEws: History, § 21).

3. Criticism of Ezra i.-vi. - The chronicler's account of the destruction of Jerusalem, the seventy years' interval (2 Chron. xxxvi. 20 sq.; cf. Jer. xxv. 11, xxix. io, also Is. xxiii. 17), and the return of 42,360 of the exiles (Ezr. ii. 64 sqq.) represent a special view of the history of the period. The totals, as also the detailed figures, in Ezr., Neh. and i Esdr. v. vary considerably; the number is extremely large (contrast Jer. lii. 30); it includes the common people (contrast 2 Kings xxiv. 14, xxv. 12), and ignores the fact that Judah was not depopulated, that the Jews were carried off to other places besides Babylon and that many remained behind in Babylon. According to this view, Judah and Jerusalem were practically deserted until the return. The list in Ezr. ii. is that of families which returned "every man unto his city" under twelve leaders (including Nehemiah, Azariah [cf. Ezra], Zerubbabel and Jeshua); it recurs with many variations in a different and apparently more original context in Neh. vii., and in i Esdr. v. is ascribed to the time of Darius. The families (to judge from the northwards extension of Judaean territory) are probably those of the population in the later Persian period, hardly those who returned to the precise homes of their ancestors (see C. F. Kent, Israel's Hist. and Biogr. Narratives, p. 379). The offerings which are for the templeservice in Neh. vii. 70-72 (cf. i Chron. xxix. 6-8) are for the building of the temple in Ezr. ii. 68-70; and since the walls are not yet built, the topographical details in Neh. viii. z (see i Esdr. v. 47) are adjusted, and the event of the seventh month is not the reading of the Law amid the laments of the people (Neh. viii.; see vv. 9-1 i) but the erection of the altar by Jeshua and Zerubbabel under inauspicious circumstances (cf. Ezr. iii. 3 with Esdr. v. 50) .

The chronologically misplaced account of the successful opposition in the time of Ahasuerus (i.e. Xerxes) and Artaxerxes (the son and grandson of Darius respectively) breaks the account of the temple under Cyrus and Darius, and is concerned with the city walls (iv. 6-23) 1; there is some obscurity in vv. 7-9: Rehum and Shimshai evidently take the lead, Tabeel may be an Aramaized equivalent of Tobiah. A recent return is implied (iv. 12) and the record hints that a new decree may be made ( v. 21). The account of the unsuccessful opposition to the temple in the time of Darius (v. sq.; for another account see Jos. Ant. xi. 4, 9) is independent of iv. 7-23, and throws another light upon the decree of Cyrus (vi. 3-5, contrast i. 2-4). It implies that Sheshbazzar, who had been sent with the temple vessels in the time of Cyrus, had laid the foundations and that the work had continued without cessation (v. 16, contrast iv. 5, 24). The beginning of the reply of Darius is wanting (vi. 6 sqq.), and the decree which had been sought in Babylon is found at Ecbatana. Chap. vi. 15 1 Its real position in the history of this period is not certain. Against the supposition that the names refer to Cambyses and Pseudo-Smerdis who reigned after Cyrus and before Darius, see H. E. Ryle, Camb. Bible, " Ezra and Neh.," p. 65 sq. Against the view that Darius is D. ii. Nothus of 423-404 B.C., see G. A. Smith, Minor Prophets, ii. 191 sqq. The ignorance of the compiler regarding the sequence of the kings finds a parallel in that of the author of the book of Daniel; see C. C. Torrey, Amer. Journ. of Sem. Lang. (1907), p. 178, n. 1.

sqq. follow more naturally upon v. 1-2, but v. 14 with its difficult reference to Artaxerxes now seems to presuppose the decree in iv. 21 and looks forward to the time of Ezra or Nehemiah. As regards this section (Ezr. i.-vi.) as a whole, there is little doubt that i. iii. 1-iv. 5, vi. 15-22 are from the chronicler, whose free treatment of his material is seen in the use he has made of ch. ii. Notwithstanding the unimpeachable evidence for the tolerant attitude of Persian kings and governors towards the religion of subject races, it is probable that the various decrees incorporated in the book (cf. also i Esdr. iv. 42 sqq.) have been reshaped from a Jewish standpoint. A noteworthy example appears in the account of the unique powers entrusted to Ezra (vii. 11-26), the introduction to whose memoirs, at all events, is quite in the style of the chronicler.

4. Memoirs of Nehemiah and Ezra. - The memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah do not appear to have been incorporated without some adjustment. The lapse of time between Neh. i. i and ii. i is noteworthy, and with the prayer in i. 5-11 cf. Ezr. ix. 6-15, Dan. ix. 4 sqq. (also parallels in Deuteronomy); chap. i. in its present form may be a compiler's introduction. The important topographical list in ch. iii. is probably from another source; the style is different, Nehemiah is absent, and the high-priest is unusually prominent. 2 Chap. v., where Nehemiah reviews his past conduct as governor, turns aside to economic reforms and scarcely falls within the fifty-two days of the building of the walls. The chapter is closely associated with the contents of xiii. and breaks the account of the opposition. Anticipated already in ii. io, the hostility partly arises from the repudiation of Samaritan religious claims (ii. 20; cf. Ezr. iv. 3) and is partly political. It is difficult to follow its progrees clearly, and the account ceases abruptly in vi. 17-19 with the notice of the conspiracy of Tobiah and the nobles of Judah. The chronicler's style can be recognized in vii. 1-5 (in its present form), where steps are taken to protect and to people Jerusalem; the older sequel is now found in ch. xi. Whilst the account of the dedication of the walls is marked by the use of the pronoun "I" (xii. 31, 38, 40), it is probably now due as a whole to the chronicler, and when the more trustworthy memoirs of Nehemiah are resumed (xiii. 4 sqq.) the episodes, although placed twelve years later (ver. 6), are intimately connected with the preceding reforms (cf. xii. 44-xiii. 3 with xiii. 10 sqq., 23 sqq.). 3 Nehemiah's attitude towards intermarriage is markedly moderate in contrast to the drastic measures of Ezra, whose mission and work the simpler and perhaps earlier narratives of Nehemiah originally ignored, and the relation between the two is complicated further by the literary character of the memoir of Ezra.

To the last mentioned are prefixed (a) the scribe's genealogy, which traces him back to Aaron and names as his immediate ancestor, Seraiah, who had been slain 130 years previously (Ezr. vii. 1-5), and (b ) an independent account of the return (vv. 6-10) with a reference to Ezra's renown, obviously not from the hand of Ezra himself. Whatever the original prelude to Ezra's thanksgiving may have been (vii. 27 seq.), we now have the essentially Jewish account of the letter of Artaxerxes with its unusual concessions. 4 The list of those who returned amounts to the moderate total of 1496 males (viii., but 1690 in Esdr. viii. 30 sqq.). Ezra's mission was obviously concerned with the Law and Temple service (vii. 6, 10, 14 sqq., 25; viii. 17, 2 4 - 3 0, 33 sq.), but four months elapse between his return in the fifth month (vii. 9) and the preparations for the marriage reforms in the ninth (x. 9), and there is a delay of twelve years before the Law is read (Neh. viii.). The Septuagint version (1 Esdr. ix.; cf. Josephus, Antiq. xi. 5.5 and some modern scholars) would place 2 See further H. G. Mitchell, Journ. of Bibl. Lit. (1903), pp. 88 sqq.

The chronological difficulties will be seen from xiii. 6 ("before this"), which would imply that the dedication of the walls was on the occasion of Nehemiah's later visit (see G. A. Smith, Expositor, July 1906, p. 12). His previous departure is perhaps foreshadowed in vii. 2.

See Ency. Bib. col. 2480. Papyri from a Jewish colony in Elephantine (407 B.C.) clearly show the form which royal permits could take, and what the Jews were prepared to give in return; the points of resemblance are extremely interesting, but compared with the biblical documents the papyri reveal some striking differences.

the latter after Ezr. x., but more probably this event (dated in the seventh month) should precede the great undertaking in Ezr. ix.' That the adjustment was attended with considerable revision of the passages appears from a careful comparison of Neh. viii. sq. with Ezr. ix. sq. With Ezra's confession (ix. 6 sqq.) compare the prayer in Neh. ix. 5 sqq., which the Septuagint ascribes to him. In Ezr. x. (written in the third person) the number of those that had intermarried with the heathen is relatively small considering the general trend of the preliminaries, and the list bears a marked resemblance to that in ch. ii. It ends abruptly and obscurely (x. 44; cf. 1 Esdr. ix. 36), and whilst as a whole the memoirs of Ezra point to ideas later than those of Nehemiah, the present close literary connexion between them is seen in the isolated reference to Johanan the son of Eliashib in Ezra x. 6, which seems to be connected with Neh. xiii. 7, and (after W. R. Smith) in the suitability of ib. xiii. i, 2 between Ezr. x. 9 and io. The list of signatories in Neh. x. 1-27 should be compared with the names in xii. and 1 Chron. xxiv.; the true connexion of ix. 38 is very obscure, and the relation to Ezr. ix. seq. is complicated by the reference to the separation from the heathen in Neh. ix. 2. The description of the covenant (Neh. x. 28 sqq., marked by the use of "we") is closely connected with xii. 43-xiii. 3 (from the same or an allied source), and anticipates the parallel though somewhat preliminary measures detailed in the more genuine memoirs (Neh. xiii. 4 sqq.). Finally, the specific allusion in xiii. 1-3 to Ammon and Moab is possibly intended as an introduction to the references to Tobiah and Sanballat respectively (vv. 4 seq., 28).

5. Summary

The literary and historical criticism of EzraNehemiah is closely bound up with that of Chronicles, whose characteristic features it shares. Although the three formed a unit at one stage it may seem doubtful whether two so closely related chapters as 1 Chron. ix. and Neh. xi. would have appeared in one single work, while the repetition of Neh. vii. 6-viii. 1 in Ezr. ii.-iii. i is less unnatural if they had originally appeared in distinct sources. Thus other hands apart from the compiler of Chronicles may have helped to shape the narratives, either before their union with that book or after their separation.2 The present intricacy is also due partly to specific historical theories regarding the post-exilic period. Here the recension in 1 Esdras especially merits attention for its text, literary structure and for its variant traditions. 3 Its account of a return in the time of Darius scarcely arose after Ezr. i.-iii. (Cyrus); the reverse seems more probable, and the possibility of some confusion or of an intentional adjustment to the earlier date is emphasized by the relation between the popular feeling in Ezr. iii. 12 (Cyrus) and Hag. ii. 3 (Darius), and between the grant by Cyrus in iii. 7 (it is not certain that he held Phoenicia) and the permit of Darius in i Esdr. iv. 47-57 (see v. 48). To the latter context belongs the list of names which reappears in Ezr. ii. (Cyrus).

But from the independent testimony of Haggai and Zechariah it is doubtful whether the chronicler's account of the return under Cyrus is at all trustworthy. The list in 1 Esdr. v., Ezr. ii., as already observed, appears to be in its more original context in Neh. vii., i.e. in the time of Artaxerxes, and it is questionable whether the earliest of the surviving detailed traditions in Ezra-Nehemiah went back before this reign. It is precisely at this age that there is evidence for a return, apparently other than that of Ezra or Nehemiah (see Ezr. iv. 12), yet no account seems to be preserved unless the records were used for the history of earlier periods (cf. generally Ezr. iii. 12 sq. with Neh.

1 C. C. Torrey, Comp. and Hist. Value of Ezra-Neh. (Beihefte of Zeit. f. alttest. Wissens., 1896), pp. 30-34; C. F. Kent, Israel's Hist. and Biog. Narratives, pp. 32, 369. Since Neh. vii. 70-73 is closely joined to viii., the suggested transposition would place its account of the contributions to the temple in a more appropriate context (cf. Ezr. viii. 2 4-3 0, 33 sq.).

2 For linguistic evidence reference should be made to J. Geissler, Die litterarischen Beziehungen d. Esramemoiren (Chemnitz, 1899).

See especially Sir Henry Howorth, Proc. of Society of Bibl. Arch. (1901-1904), passim; C. C. Torrey, Ezra Studies (Chicago, 1910). For the text, see A. Klostermann, Real-Ency. f. prot. Theol. v. 501 sqq.

H. Guthe in Haupt's Sacred Books of Old Testament (1899); and S. A. Cook in R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. viii. 9-11; Ezr. iii. 7 with the special favour enlisted on behalf of the Jews in vi. 7 sq., 13, vii. 21; Neh. ii. 7 sq.). But the account of the events in the reign of Artaxerxes is extremely perplexing. Since the building of the walls of Jerusalem must have begun early in the fifth month (Neh. vi. 15), an allowance of three days (ii. I I) makes the date of Nehemiah's arrival practically the anniversary of Ezra's return (Ezr. vii. 9, viii. 32). Considering the close connexion between the work of the two men this can hardly be accidental. The compiler, however, clearly intends Neh. vi. 15 (25th of sixth month) to be the prelude to the events in Neh. vii. 73, viii. (seventh month), but the true sequence of Neh. vi. sqq. is uncertain, and the possibility of artificiality is suggested by the unembellished statement of Josephus that the building of the walls occupied, not fifty-two days, but two years four months ( Ant. xi. 5.8). The present chronological order of Nehemiah's work is confused (cf. § 4, n. 3), and the obscure interval of twelve years in his work corresponds very closely to that which now separates the records of Ezra's labours. However, both the recovery of the compilers' aims and attempted reconstructions are precluded from finality by the scantiness of independent historical evidence. (See further JEws: History, §21 seq.) BIBLIOGRAPHY. - S. R. Driver, Lit. of the 0. T. (1909), pp. 54 0 sqq.. and the commentaries of H. E. Ryle ( Camb. Bible, 1893), C. Siegfried (1901), A. Bertholet (1902), and T. W. Davies ( Cent. Bible, 1909). Impetus to recent criticism of these books starts with Van Hoonacker Esd. [1890]; see also Expos. Times [ 1 897], pp. 35 1 -354, and M.-J. Lagrange, Rev. biblique, iii. 561-585 [1894], iv. 186-202 [1895]) and W. H. Kosters (Germ. ed., Wiederherstellung Israels, 1895). The latter's important conclusions (for which see his article with Cheyne's additions in Ency. Bib. col. 1473 sqq., 3380 sqq.) have been adversely criticized, especially by J. Wellhausen ( Nachrichten of the Univ. of Göttingen, 1895, pp. 166-186), E. Meyer ( Entstehung d. Judentums, 1896), J. Nikel ( Wiederherstellung d. jiid. Gemein., 1900), and S. Jampel in Monatsschrift f. Gesch. u. Wissens. d. Judentums, vols. xlvi.-xlvii. (1902-1903). The negative criticisms of Kosters have, however, been strengthened by his replies (in the Dutch Theolog. Tijdschrift ), and by the discussions of C. C. Torrey and C. F. Kent (op. cit ) and of G. Jahn (Esra u. Neh. pp. i-lxxviii; 1909), and his general position appears to do more justice to thebiblical evidence as a whole. (S. A. C.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Books of Ezra and Nehemiah'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​b/books-of-ezra-and-nehemiah.html. 1910.
Ads FreeProfile