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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Ezra, Book of

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This is manifestly a continuation of the books of Chronicles, as, indeed, it is called by Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, Sermones dierum Esdrae (ap. Cosin's Canon of Script. page 51), and as was early conceded (Huetius, Dem. Evaen. 4:14, page 341). (See CHRONICLES (BOOKS OF).)

I. Contents. The book of Ezra contains ἀπομνημονεὑματα, memorabilia, or records of events occurring about the termination of the Babylonian exile. It contains accounts of the favors bestowed upon the Jewms by the Persian kings; of the rebuilding of the Temple; of the mission of Ezra to Jerusalem, and in regulations and reforms. Such records forming the subject of the book of Ezra, we neust not be surprised that its parts are not so intimately connected with each other as we might have expected if the author had set forth his intention to furnish a complete history of his times (see Pebeble, Persian Monarchy, in his storks, Lond. 1635, page 345). The events narraated. in thee book of Ezra are spread over the reigns of

 

Cyrus....................................

Years.

7

Months.

0

Cambyses ..............................

7

5

Magums, or Pseudo-Sneerdis ...........

0

17

Darius Hystaspis ....................

36

0

Xerxes .............................

190

5

Artaban................................

0

7

Artaxerxes (in the eighth year of whose)

8

 

reign the records of Ezra tease).

 

0

Total .............................

79

0

The arrangement of the facts in the book of Ezra is chronological. The book may be divided into twoportions. Thefirst consists of chapters 1-6, and contains the history of the returning exiles and of their rebuilding of the Temple, and comprises the period from the first year of Cyrus, B.C. 536, to the sixth year of Darius Hystaspis, B.C. 515. The second portion contains the personal history of the migration of Ezra to Palestine, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes. This latter portion, embracing chapters 7-10, is an autobiography of Ezra during about twelve or thirteen months, in the seventh and eighth years of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimantis.

II. Plan. The course of events recorded in these ten chapters appears to be as follows: First, the decree of king Cyrus, putting an end to the Babylonish captivity, and instructing the returning Israelites to rea build the Temple and restore the worship of Jehovah (Ezra 1). Second, the consequent proceedings of the people (Ezra 2, 3). Third, the hinderances to which they were exposed by the jealousy of the Persian government, stimulated as this was by the hatred of the neighbors of the Jews, until Darius discovered the original decree of Cyrus, and confirmed and, extended it, so that the Temple was fully rebuilt, and the worship restored according to the law (Ezra 4 :l-6). Fourth; the mission of Ezra, who was both a priest and a scribe, and was empowered by king Artaxerxes not only to maintain the prescribed worship; but, greatly more than that, to restore the entire theocratic administration only reserving the temporal supremacy of the Persian monarchy (Ezra 7:7). Lastly, the reconstruction of this theocratic state, which Ezra effected so completely that he carried the people with him in remodelling the family relations by the law against intermarriage with certain races (Ezra 9:10).

III. Utility. This is a complete narrative in itself; and there is no room for the hypothesis that chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, taken together, form one great historical work. The arguments for this hypothesis are of no weight in themselves for establishing the conclusion; but in so far as they are statement of fact, they are willingly put forward by us as circumstances worthy of consideration in themselves, and apart from the illogical purpose to which they have been applied.

1. The three books have a large number of words and phrases in common, which are parts of Scripture. This agrees well with their composition at a new epoch in the history of the Hebrew nation and its literature, by men who had been brought up together at the same Persian court, Ezra and Nehemiah being also most intimate friends and fellow workers. The opinion is also probable that the chronicles were a compied bu Ezra, as well as the book to which his own name has been given.

2. There is a redilection from genealogical details running through all these books. This seems to have been characteristic of the age; and it was probably necessary, considering the efforts to restore the old arrangements as to the holding of property, the administration of governing, all of which objects were likely to force genealogical questions upon the notice of men.

3. There is a similar prominence given to details about the priests and Levites. This is unavailable in any treatment of the people of Israel, unless their character as the church of God is to be overlooked. Especially, in whatever proportion must the greater attentuion have been given to its ecclestiastical arrangements.

IV. Authgorship. A late ingeniuos writer (Reverend and Lord Hervey, in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, s.v.) thus pronounces on this question: "Like the two books of Chronicles, it consists of the contemporary historical journals kept from time to time by the prophets, or other authorised persons, who were eye witnesses for the most part of what they record, and whose several narratives were afterward strung together, and either abridged or added to as the case required by a later hand. That later hand, in the book of Ezra, was doubtedly Ezra's as put together by him, yet strictly only the last four chapters are his original work. Nor will it be difficult to point out with tolerable certainty several of the writers of whose writings the first six chapters are composed. Accordingly, that writer, in limitation of any relationship proceeds to dissect the book for this purpose. He regards as a parenthetic addition made in the reign of Artaxerxes Ezra's own production. A still later critic (Dr. Davidson in the new edition of Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Bible Lit s.v.) is even bolder in distributing various portions to "the Chronist" as he designates the unkown interpolater after Ezra.

It is a sufficient refutation of all such attempts to note their extremely subjective character, depending chiefly upon the caprice or conjecture of the critic himself; for the peculiarities cited, when closely examined, are found to be too general and accidental to be relied uponas proofs of authorship, especially in view of the foregoing remarksrespecting the scheme of the book. Moreover, if all admit, Ezra did incorporateolder documents into his history (so even Mosesdoes in the Pentateuch), yet, as he moulded them into a homogenous narrative, this does not mitigate against his claim to be regarded as the proper author, and not simply as the editor of the book ythat bears his name. (See the Einleitungen of Havernick and Keil.) V. Personality of the Writer. In the first six chapters the use of the third person predominates in the narrative, except in passages where, by synecdoche, occurs אמרנא, Hebrews אמרנו we said, or where the narrative contains abstracts from documents to which Ezra had access. In these abstracts the Aramiac or Chaldee language of the original documents has been preserved from Ezra 4:8 to Ezra 6:8 and Ezra 7:12-26. These portions exist in Kennicott's Cod page 240, in a collateral Hebrew translation, reprinted in Knnicott's edition of the Hebrew Bible, and separately in Chaldaicorum Danielis et Eraroe capitum interpretatio Hebraica (Ludovicus Schulze, Halae, 1782, 8vo). An argument has been raised against the opinion that Ezra wasd the author of the whole book that bears his name from the use of the first person pluralin the 4th verse of the 5th chapter, which would seem to imply that the narrative was present on the occasion described; but, setting aside other replies to this argument, it appears that the word we refers to Tatnai and his companions, and not at all to the Jews.Ezra speaks from Ezra 7:27, to Ezra 9:15, in the first person. "There is an essential difference between public events which a man recollects, though only as in a dream, to have heard of at the time when they occurred, and those which preceeded his birth. The former we think of with reference to ourselves, the latter are foreign to us. The epoch and duration of the former we measure by our own life; the latter belong to a period for which our imagination has no scale. Life and definiteness are imparted to all that we hear or read with respect to the events of our own life." (Niebuhr, On the distincton between Annals and History). These remarks, which Niebuhr made in reference to Tacitus, are in a great measure applicable also to Ezra. Instances of similar change of person are so frequent in ancient authors that rhewtorians have introduced it among the rhetorical figures under the name of enallages personarum. The prophetical writings of the Old Testament furnish examples of such ἐναλλαγή . For instance, Ezekiel 1:1-3; Zechariah 1:1; Zechariah 6:1; Zechariah 7:1; Zechariah 4:8; Jeremiah 20:1 sq., comp. with Jeremiah 5:7 sq.; Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 28:1-5; Jeremiah 32:1-8; Hosea 1:2-3; Hosea 3:1. So also in Habakkuk, Daniel, etc. The frequency of this ἐναλλαγή especially in the prophetical parts of the Old Testament, arises from either the more objective or more subjective tendency of the style, which of course varies with the contents of the chapter. (See Fromman, Disq. Qua Orientis regibus plurium numero de se loque non inusitatum fuisse, probabiliter ostenditur, Cob. 1762). We express our opinion that even Havernick does not rightly set forth the truth of the matter when, in the Einleitung, he says that this ἐναλλαγή arose from Ezra's imitationof the prophetic usage, and when he approvingly quotes Schirmer's Observationes exegeticoe et criticoe in librum Esdroem 2:8 (Vratisl. 1830). There was certainly as little imitation of the prophets if we change from the first to the third person in our own communications. Ε᾿ναλλαγή never arises from imitation but only from imitation, but only from the more subjective or more objective turn of our mind, and from that vivacity of style which renders it incumbent upon the reader rather than upon the writer to supply that וִיּאֹמֶר, which, as in Jonah 2:3, forms the transition from the use of the third to the adoption of the first person.

VI. Date. The reckless assertions of some writers that this composition as a whole must be referred to a period about a century later the Ezra, or more, need not be noticed, because they have not even a pretense of argument in their favor. One writer, Zunz (Die gottesdienstl. Vortrage der Juden, 1832), has indeed alleged that there is some exaggeration about the sacred vessels said to have been restored by Cyrus; but his fellow- unbelievers have refused to agree with him, and have defended the historical credibility of the book throughout. Another critic, Bertheau, sees an evidence of the composition of Ezra 6:22 under the Greek successors of Alexander, because the king of Persia is called the king of Assyria; an argument which might have been left to its own weakness, even though we had been unable to give the parallels 2 Kings 23:29; Lamentations 5:6, as Keil has done.

On the contrary, critics who rely upon their internal arguments might have seen evidence in favor of its early composition in the fact that its chronology is clear and exact; while the accounts of Jewish affairs under the Persian monarchy, a given by Josephus from apocryphal writers and other sources unknown to us, present extreme confusion and some palpable mistakes. The book begins with the decree to rebuild the Temple, B.C. 536. It narrates the difficulties and hinderances before this was accomplished in the sixth year of Darius, the son of Hystaspes, about B.C. 516. It passes in silence over the rest of his reign, 31 years, and the whole of the reign of Xerxes, 21 years, proceeding directly to the work of Ezra, who received his commission in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, B.C.459. If the whole of the events narrated in the closing chapter took place almost immediately, as is understood, we believe, by all commentators, then the extreme length of time embraced in the narrative is not above 80 years; and the order is strictly chronological, though it is not continuous, but leaves a blank of almost sixty years. (See Hilgenfeld, Ezra und Daniel, und ihre neueste Bearbeitungen, Halle, 1863.)

VII. Language. The book is written partly in Hebrew and partly in Chaldee. The Chaldee begins at Ezra 4:8, and continues to the end of Ezra 6:18. The letter or decree of Artaxerxes, Ezra 7:12-26, is also given in the original Chaldee.

VIII. Canonicity. There has never been any doubt about Ezra being canonical, although there is no quotation form it in the New Testament. Augustine styles Ezra "rather a writer of transactions than a prophet" (De Cix. Dei, 18:36).

IX. Apocryphal Additions. We have spoken thus far of the canonical book of Ezra; there are, however, four books that have received this name, viz, the book noticed above, the only one which was received into the Hebrew canon under that name, the book of Nehemiah, and the two apocryphal books of Esdras, concerning which last (See ESDRAS).

X. Commentaries. The following are special exegetical works on the entire book, the most important being denoted by an asterisk (*) prefixed: *Aben Ezra, פֵּרוּשׁ (in Buxtorfs Rabbinical Bible, Basle, 1618-19 fol.); Bede, Erposito (in Works, 8:360); *Rashi, פֵּרוּשׁ (Naples, 1487, 4to; Venice, 1517, fol.; in Latin, with other books, Goltha, 1714, 4to); *Kimchi, פֵּרוּשׁ (in Bomberg's Rabbinical Bible, Ven. 1549, fol.); Simeon, פֵּריּשׁ (in the Bible, Venice, 1518, fol.); Jachya, פֵּרוּשׁ (Bologna, 1538, fol.); Jaabez, חֶסֶד תּורָת (Belvedere, n.d. fol.); Trapp, Commentary (London, 1656, fol.); De Oliva, Commentarii (Leyden, 1564, 4to; 1679, 2 volumes, fol.); *Strigel, Commentarius (Tigur. 1570, 1584, fol.); also Scholia (Lips.1571); Wolphius, Commentarii (Tigur. 1584, fol.); Sanctius, Commentarii (Leyd. 1628, fol.); Lombard, Commentarius (Par. 1643, fol.); Jackson, Explanation (London, 1658, 4to); Lee, Discourse (London, 1722, 8vo); *Rambach, Notae (in Grotii et Clerici Adnot. in Hagiogri); *Schirmer, Observationes (Vratislav. 1817, 8vo; 1820, 450); *Keil, Apologet. Vers. etc. (Berl. 1833, 8vo); Kleinert, Enstehung, etc. (in the Dorpt. Beitr. 1:1-304; 2:1-232); Jeitteles, עֶזְרָא, etc. (Vienna, 1835, 8vo); *Bertheau, Erklar. (in the Kurzgef. Exeg. Hdb. Lpz. 1862, 8vo). 4. (Sept. ῎Εζρα v.r. ῎Εσδρας, Vulg. Esdras.) One of the chief Israelites who formed the first division that made the circuit of the walls of Jerusalem when reconstructed (Nehemiah 12:33). B.C. 446.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ezra, Book of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/ezra-book-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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