the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Nehemiah, Book of
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
the latest of all the historical books of Scripture, both as to the time of its composition and the scope of its narrative in general, and as to the supplementary matter of chapter 12 in particular, which reaches down to the time of Alexander the Great.
1. Authorship. — This book, which bears the title דַּבְרֵי נְחֶמְיָה Nehemiah's Words, was anciently connected with Ezra, as if it formed part of the same work (Eichhorn, Einleitung, 2:627). This connection is indicated by its first word, וִיְהַי, "And it came to pass." It arose, doubtless, from the fact that Nehemiah is a sort of continuation of Ezra (q.v.). Some ancient writers called this book the second Book of Ezra, and regarded that learned scribe as the author of it (Carpzov, Introductio, etc., page 336). There can, however, be no reasonable doubt that it proceeded from Nehemiah, for its style and spirit, except in one portion, are wholly unlike Ezra's. Here we find no Chaldee documents, as in Ezra, though we might expect some from chapters 2, 7, 8, 9, and chapter 6:5; and here also the writer discovers a species of egotism never manifested by Ezra (Nehemiah 5:14-19; Eichhorn, Einleitung ins A. Test. 2:619).
While the book as a whole is considered to have come from Nehemiah, it consists in part of compilation. He doubtless wrote the greater part himself, but some portions he evidently took from other works. It is allowed by all that he is, in the strictest sense, the author of the narrative from Nehemiah 1 to Nehemiah 7:5 (Havernick, Einleitung, 2:304). The account in Nehemiah 7:6-73 is avowedly compiled, for he says in Nehemiah 7:5, "I found a register," etc. This register we find also in Ezra 2:1-70, hence it might be thought that our author borrowed this part from Ezra; but it is more likely that they both copied from public documents, such as "the Book of the Chronicles" (דַּבְרְי הִיָּמַים ), mentioned in Nehemiah 12:23. Had Nehemiah taken his list from Ezra, we might expect agreement, if not identity, in the contents; but the two records vary much in details, and are only reconciled with difficulty. "The second part (chapters 8, 9, 10) is said to be marked by a strong Levitical or priestly bias, different from the tone of the rest of the book, whose interests all tend in the direction of civil society; also by different words and phrases, and by the use of the third person, instead of the first, when speaking of Nehemiah. Hence critics differ in their opinions, some ascribing these chapters to Ezra, some making them the composition of an unknown author in a later age. The third portion (chapters 9, 12, 13) is again pronounced to be the work of Nehemiah, though with certain additions, which (in the estimation of these critics) are seen to be excrescences, or which betray a different authorship, chiefly on account of chronological facts which are irreconcilable with the supposition that Nehemiah wrote them.
"The most of the supposed difficulties vanish, or rather give place to a conviction of the unity of the book, as soon as we take the proper position for looking at the events narrated, as they would appear to Nehemiah, the narrator of his own feelings and transactions. Such a person does not write exactly in the order of time; nor do events seem in the same proportion to each other in his eyes and in the eyes of many of his readers. This is notorious to every reader of memoirs and biographies, particularly autobiographies. If at times there be something peculiar in the arrangements of this book of Nehemiah, as we have indicated that there is also in Ezra, this ought to be admitted as a consequence of the writer's own state of mind or circumstances. Certainly those who have written later than the date of these books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and have endeavored to arrange their details in a different order to suit their own purposes, have effected little as to the point of consecutiveness. This is seen in the case of the tolerably respectable compiler of the third Book of Esdras, which is preserved in the Apocrypha.
"On the other hand, the book appears from the course of the life of Nehemiah (see below) to be a continuous record, written in a lively, distinct, and energetic manner, such as is admitted, by every one to be very suitable to the circumstances in which it is said to have been composed. This is a fact which strikes us in reading all the accounts-the building of the ruins, the earlier and the later reforms, and the sacred services at the feast of tabernacles. Of course such different subjects are not described in the self-same words or style; and this diversity illustrates the working of Nehemiah's mind as that of a man deeply interested in the affairs in which he took an active part. It is only a perverted ingenuity which would make these differences an evidence that chapters 8, 9, 10 have come from a different author. Those who wish to go into the particulars of a verbal criticism may find the materials in Keil's Introduction to the Old Testament. He shows how the difference in the use of the names of God is suitable to the different circumstances in which they are used; how the language of the Levites in prayer is naturally more akin to the language of the law of Moses and of the Psalms than to that of plain history; how the expression, 'the nobles and the rulers,' which is frequent elsewhere, is wanting in this section; while instead of it we once meet with the Mosaic term, 'chief of the fathers,' or rather, 'heads of the fathers' houses' (chapter 8:13); though he might have mentioned that still a different expression is found in this disputed section, and in a passage which is confessedly genuine (chapter 10:29, and 3:5); and that Ezra is not named among those who signed the covenant, because he acted the part of 'mediator' in the transaction, as Moses had done before. This pre-eminent position assigned to Ezra necessarily threw even Nehemiah somewhat into the background, and led him to speak of himself in the third person instead of in the first, as in the rest of his book. Indeed this was the more natural and more distinct, because the first person plural, 'we,' 'our,' is used throughout the account of the sealing (chapters 9, 10), which sufficiently marks the writer as an eye- witness and party in the transaction, yet one who wished not to appear singled out from his countrymen, except where this was unavoidable on account of his official capacity. When he does so mention himself it is with the addition, 'the Tirshatha,' a peculiar word, of uncertain origin and meaning, though unmistakably an attributive title of the governor. Perhaps he may have used this title rather than another, in these descriptions of ecclesiastical affairs, because of the title being given to Zerubbabel, the governor whom God had so greatly honored in the restoration of the church, while it occurs nowhere else.'
The mention of Jaddua as a high-priest (Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22) has occasioned much perplexity. This Jaddua appears to have been in office in B.C. 332, when Alexander the Great came to Jerusalem (Joseph. Ant. 11:8) how then could he be named by Nehemiah? Some (e.g. Vitringa, Rambach) suppose the: 10th and 11th verses to be a later addition, which seems to be the only reasonable solution; others (Havernick, Keil) endeavor to show that Nehemiah wrote it, supposing that he lived to be an old man, so as possibly to see the year B.C. 370; and that Jaddua had at that time entered on his office, so that he filled it for about forty years, i.e., till B.C. 332 (see especially Havernick's Einleitung, 2:320-324). But this Davidson rightly thinks improbable (see Horne's Introd. 2:694). Some finally resort to the belief that Jaddua is only mentioned here as having been born, but not as yet an incumbent of high-priesthood. It is difficult in that case to see why he is named at all, as the writer could not have foreseen that he would ever fill the office. (See JADDUA).
A similar addition by a still later hand, probably some member of the so-called "Great Sanhedrim," perhaps Simon the Just, its president, has evidently been made in the list of the Davidic line (1 Chronicles 3:23-24), which comes down to the 3d century B.C. (See GENEALOGY OF OUR LORD).
This leads to a presumption of an occasional interpolation of these few genealogical items, which (as in the case of the notice of the death of Moses in Deuteronomy 34:5-12) do not affect the general authorship of the book. (See EZRA, BOOK OF).
2. As to the date of the book, it is not likely that it came from Nehemiah's hand till near the close of his life. Certainly it could not have been all written before the expulsion of the priest recorded in chapters 13:23-29, which took place about the year B.C. 413.
3. The canonical character of Nehemiah's work is established by very ancient testimony. It should be noticed, however, that this book is not expressly named by Melito of Sardis (A.D. 170) in his account of the sacred writings; but this creates no difficulty, since he does mention Ezra, of which Nehemiah was then considered but a part (Eichhorn, Einleitung, 2:627). Thus the Book of Nehemiah has always had an undisputed place in the Canon, being included by the Hebrews under the general head of the Book of Ezra, and as Jerome tells us in the Prolog. Gal. by the Greeks and Latins under the name of the second Book of Ezra. (See ESDRAS, FIRST BOOK OF).
"There is no quotation from it in the N.T., and it has been comparatively neglected by both the Greek and Latin fathers, perhaps on account of its simple character, and the absence of anything supernatural, prophetical, or mystical in its contents. St. Jerome (ad Paulinam) does indeed suggest that the account of the building of the walls, and the return of the people, the description of the priests, Levites, Israelites, and proselytes, and the division of the labor among the different families, have a hidden meaning; and also hints that Nehemiah's name; which he interprets consolator a Domino, points to a mystical sense. But the book does not easily lend itself to such applications, which are so manifestly forced and strained that even Augustine says of the whole Book of Ezra that it is simply historical rather than prophetical (De Civit. Dei, 18:36). Those however who wish to see St. Jerome's hint elaborately carried out may refer to the Ven. Bede's Allegorica Expositio in Librum Nehenice, qui et Ezrce Secundus, as well as to the preface to his exposition of Ezra; and, in another sense, to Bp. Pilkington's Exposition upon Nehemiah, and John Fox's Preface (Park. Soc.). It may be added that Bede describes both Ezra and Nehemiah as prophets, which is the head under which Josephus includes them in his description of the sacred books (C. Revelation 1:8)."
4. The contents of the book have been specified above in the biography of the author. The work can scarcely be called a history of Nehemiah and his times; it is rather a collection of notices of some important transactions that happened during the first year of his government, with a few scraps from his later history. The contents appear to be arranged in chronological order, with the exception perhaps of Nehemiah 12:27-43, where the account of the dedication of the wall seems to be out of its proper place: we might expect it rather after Nehemiah 7:1-4, where the completion of the wall is mentioned.
"The whole narrative gives us a graphic and interesting account of the state of Jerusalem and the returned captives in the writer's times, and, incidentally, of the nature of the Persian government and the condition of its remote provinces. The documents appended to it also give some further information as to the times of Zerubbabel on the one hand, and as to the continuation of the genealogical registers and the succession of the high- priesthood to the close of the Persian empire on the other. The view given of the rise of two factions among the Jews — the one the strict religious party, adhering with uncompromising faithfulness to the Mosaic institutions, headed by Nehemiah; the other, the gentilizing party, ever imitating heathen customs, and making heathen connections, headed, or at least encouraged by the high-priest Eliashib and his family sets before us the germ of much that we meet with in a more developed state in later Jewish history from the commencement of the Macedonian dynasty till the final destruction of Jerusalem. Again, in this history as well as in the Book of Ezra. we see the bitter enmity between the Jews and Samaritans acquiring strength and definitive form on both religious and political grounds. It would seem from Nehemiah 4:1-2; Nehemiah 4:8 (A.V.), and Nehemiah 6:2; Nehemiah 6:6, etc., that the depression of Jerusalem was a fixed part of the policy of Sanballat, and that he had the design of raising Samaria as the head of Palestine, upon the ruin of Jerusalem, a design which seems to have been entertained by the Samaritans in later times. The book also throws much light upon the domestic institutions of the Jews. We learn incidentally the prevalence of usury, and of slavery as its consequence, the frequent and burdensome oppressions of the governors (Nehemiah 5:15), the judicial use of corporal punishment (Nehemiah 13:25), the continuance of false prophets as an engine of policy, as in the days of the kings of Judah (Nehemiah 6:7; Nehemiah 6:12; Nehemiah 6:14), the restitution of the Mosaic provision for the maintenance of the priests and Levites and the due performance of the Temple service (Nehemiah 13:10-13), the much freer promulgation of the Holy Scriptures by the public reading of them (Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 9:3; Nehemiah 13:1), and the more general acquaintance with them arising from their collection into one volume, and the multiplication of copies of them by the care of Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah himself (2 Maccabees 2:13), as well as from the stimulus given to the art of reading among the Jewish people during their residence in Babylon, (See HILICIAH); the mixed form of political government still surviving the ruin of their independence (Nehemiah 5:7; Nehemiah 5:13; Nehemiah 10), the reviving trade with Tyre (Nehemiah 13:16), the agricultural pursuits and wealth of the Jews (Nehemiah 5:11; Nehemiah 13:15), the tendency to take heathen wives, indicating, possibly, a disproportion in the number of Jewish males and females among the returned captives (Nehemiah 10:30; Nehemiah 13:3; Nehemiah 13:23), the danger the Jewish language was in of being corrupted (Nehemiah 13:24), with other details which only the narrative of an eye-witness would have preserved to us. Some of these details give us incidentally information of great historical importance.
(a.) The account of the building and dedication of the wall (Nehemiah 3:12) contains the most valuable materials for settling the topography of Jerusalem to be found in Scripture. (See JERUSALEM).
(b.) The list of returned captives who came under different leaders from the time of Zerubbabel to that of Nehemiah (amounting in all to only 42,360 adult males, and 7337 servants), which is given in chapter 7, conveys a faithful picture of the political weakness of the Jewish nation as compared with the times when Judah alone numbered 470,000 fighting men (1 Chronicles 21:5). It justifies the description of the Palestine Jews as 'the remnant that are left of the captivity' (Nehemiah 1:3), and as 'these feeble Jews' (Nehemiah 4:2), and explains the great difficulty felt by Nehemiah in peopling Jerusalem itself with a sufficient number of inhabitants to preserve' it from assault (Nehemiah 7:3-4; Nehemiah 11:1-2). It is an important aid, too, in understanding the subsequent history, and in appreciating the patriotism and valor by which they attained their independence under the Maccabees. "
(c.) The lists of leaders, priests, Levites, and of those who signed the covenant, reveal incidentally much of the national spirit as well as of the social habits of the captives, derived from older times. Thus the fact that twelve leaders are named in Nehemiah 7:7 indicates the feeling of the captives that they represented the twelve tribes, a feeling further evidenced in the expression 'the men of the people of Israel.' The enumeration of twenty-one and twenty-two, or, if Zidkijah stands for the head of the house of Zadok, twenty-three chief priests in Nehemiah 10:1-8; Nehemiah 12:1-7, of whom nine bear the names of those who were heads of courses in David's time (1 Chronicles 24), (See JEHOARIB), shows how, even in their wasted and reduced numbers, they struggled to preserve these ancient institutions, and also supplies the reason of the mention of these particular twenty-two or twenty-three names.
(d.) Other miscellaneous information contained in this book embraces the hereditary crafts practiced by certain priestly families, e.g. the apothecaries, or makers of the sacred ointments and incense (Nehemiah 3:8), and the goldsmiths, whose business it probably was to repair the sacred vessels (Nehemiah 3:8), and who may have been the ancestors, so to speak, of the money-changers in the Temple (John 2:14-15); the situation of the garden of the kings of Judah by which Zedekiah escaped (2 Kings 25:4), as seen in Nehemiah 3:15; and statistics, reminding one of Domesday-Book, concerning not only the cities and families of the returned captives, but the number of their horses, mules, camels, and asses (chapter 7), to which more might be added."
5. In respect to language and style, this book is very similar to the Chronicles of Ezra. Nehemiah has, it s true, quite his own manner, and, as De Wette has observed, certain phrases and modes of expression peculiar to himself. He has also some few words and forms not found elsewhere in Scripture; but the general Hebrew style is exactly that of the books purporting to be of the same age. Some words, as מְצַלְתִּיַם, 'cymbals," occur in Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, but nowhere else. הַתְנִדֵּב occurs frequently in the same three books, but only twice (in Judges 5) besides אַגֶּרֶת or aXn,, "a letter," is common only to Nehemiah, Esth., Ezra, and Chronicles בַּירָה, and its Chaldee equivalent, בַּירָא, whether spoken of the palace at Susa or of the Temple at Jerusalem, are common only to Nehemiah, Ezra, Esth., Dan., and Chronicles: שֵׁגָל to Nehemiah and Dan., and Psalms 45. The phrase אֵֹּלהֵי הִשָּׁמִיַם and its Chaldee equivalent, "the God of Heavens," are common to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Dan. מְפֹרָשׁ "distinctly," is common to Ezra and Nehemiah Such words as פִּרְדֵּס מְדַינָה סָגָן and such Aramaisms as the use of חָבִל Nehemiah 1:7, יַמָּלֵךְ, מַדָּה, Nehemiah 1:5, Nehemiah 1:4, etc., are also evidences of the age when Nehemiah wrote. As examples of peculiar words or meanings, used in this book alone, the following may be mentioned: שָׂבִר ב, "to inspect," Nehemiah 2:13; Nehemiah 2:15; מֵאָה , in the sense of "interest," Nehemiah 5:11; ., (in Hiph.), "to shut," Nehemiah 7:3; מוֹעִל, "a lifting up," Nehemiah 8:6; הֻיְּדוֹת, "praises," or "choirs," Nehemiah 12:8; תִּהֲלוּכָה " a procession," Nehemiah 12:32;
מַקְרָא, in the sense of" reading," Nehemiah 8:8; אֹצְרָה, for אִאֲצַירָה, Nehemiah 13:8, where both form and sense are alike unusual. The Aramsean form, יְהוֹדֶה, Hiph. of יָדָה , for יוֹדֶה , is very rare, only five other analogous examples occurring in the Heb. Scriptures, though it is very common in Biblical Chaldee. The phrase אַישׁ שַׁלְחוֹ הִמִּיַם , Nehemiah 4:17 (which is omitted by the Sept.), is incapable of explanation. One would have expected, instead of בְּיָדוֹ הִמִּיַם, as in 2 Chronicles 23:10. הִתַּרְשָׁתָא, "the Tirshatha," which only occurs in Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65; Nehemiah 7:70; Nehemiah 8:9; Nehemiah 10:1, is of uncertain etymology and meaning. It is a term applied almost exclusively to Nehemiah, and seems to be more likely to mean "cupbearer" than " governor," though the latter interpretation is adopted by Gesenius (Thes. s.v.).
The text of Nehemiah is generally pure and free from corruption, except in the proper names, in which there is considerable fluctuation in the orthography, both as compared with other parts of the same book and with the same names in other parts of Scripture; and also in numerals. Of the latter we have seen several examples in the parallel passages of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7; and the same lists give variations in names of men. So does Nehemiah 12:1-7, compared with Nehemiah 12:12, and. with Nehemiah 10:1-8. A comparison of Nehemiah 11:3, etc., with 1 Chronicles 9:2, etc., exhibits the following fluctuations: Nehemiah 11:4, Athaiah of the children of Perez = 1 Chronicles 9:4, Uthai of the children of Perez,; Nehemiah 5:5, Maaseiah the son of Shiloni = Nehemiah 5:5, of the Shilonites, Asaiah; Nehemiah 5:9, Judah the son of Senuah (Heb. Ha-senuah) = Nehemiah 5:7, Hodaviah the son of Hasenuah; 5:10, Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin Nehemiah 5:10, Jedaiah, Jehoiarib, Jachin; 5:13, Annasai son of Azareel = Nehemiah 5:12, Maasai son of Jahzerah; 5:17, Micah the son of Zabdi = Nehemiah 5:15, Micah the son of Zichri (comp. Nehemiah 12:35). To these many others might be added.
6. Commentaries. — The special exegetical helps on the Book of Nehemiah are not numerous: Bede, In Nehemiae allegorica expositio (in Opp. 4; and Works, by Giles, 1:1); Brenz, Comment. in Nehemiae (in Opp. 2); Wdiplpius, In Nehemiae librum commentaria (Tigur. 1570, fol.); Strigel, Agumentum et Scholia (Lips. 1571, 1572, 8vo); Pilkington, Expositio on certain chapters (Lond. 1585, 4to; also in Works, page 275); Pempel, Explanatio [includ. Ezra and Dan.] (in Works, Lond. 1585); Rambach, Adnotationes (in his work on the O.T. 3:107); Sanctius, Commentarii [includ. Ruth, etc.] (Lugd. 1628, fol.); Ferus, Erklarung (Mayence, 1619, 8vo); Crommius, In hist. Nehemiae, etc. [includ. other books] (Lovan. 1632, 4to); Lombard, Commentarius [includ. Ezra] (Par. 1643, fol.); Trapp, Commentary [includ. Ezra, etc.] (Lond. 1656, fol.); Jackson, Explanation [includ. Ezra and Esth.] (Lond. 1657, 4to); De Oliva, Commentarii [includ. other books] (Lugd. 1664, 1679, 2 vols. fol.); Bertheau, Commentary [includ. Ezra and Esth.] (in the Exeg. Handb. Leips. 1862, 8vo); Barde, Etude critique et exegetique (Ttibing. 1861, 8vo); also, Lange's and Keil and Delitzsch's Bible-works. (See COMMENTARY).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Nehemiah, Book of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​n/nehemiah-book-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.