Ezra and Nehemiah are two books of the Old Testament of the Bible, originally one work in the Hebrew canon. Written between 450 and 250 BC and named for two political and religious reformers in the postexilic Jewish community, they relate aspects of Jewish history from 538 BC to about 420 BC. Because of the confused organization of the books, the chronology of the two reformers and their work is uncertain.
With some rearrangement of contents, the purposes of scribe Ezra's mission to Jerusalem from the Persian court in 458 BC may be seen to have been to introduce stricter observance of the Law and to dissolve marriages with foreigners; the purposes of Governor Nehemiah's two missions to Jerusalem in 445 BC and 432 BC may be seen to have been to fortify and resettle the city, reform temple organization, oppose mixed marriages, and secure loyalty to these reforms by a covenant. To many scholars, however, the accounts of the reforms seem intelligible only on the assumption that Nehemiah preceded Ezra, whose arrival they date 428 or 397 BC. Some scholars believe Ezra and Nehemiah were prepared as a supplement to 1 and 2 Chronicles and written by the same hand. This view is challenged by others.
|BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects|
J Blenkensop, Ezra - Nehemia: A Commentary (1988); J M Myers, ed., The Anchor Bible: Ezra and Nehemiah (1965).
Book of Nehemiah
Ezra, help. (1.) A priest among those that returned to Jerusalem under Zerubabel (Neh. 12:1). (2.) The "scribe" who led the second body of exiles that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem B.C. 459, and author of the book of Scripture which bears his name. He was the son, or perhaps grandson, of Seraiah (2 Kings 25:18-21), and a lineal descendant of Phinehas, the son of Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5). All we know of his personal history is contained in the last four chapters of his book, and in Neh. 8 and 12:26. In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus (see DARIUS), he obtained leave to go up to Jerusalem and to take with him a company of Israelites (Ezra 8). Artaxerxes manifested great interest in Ezra's undertaking, granting him "all his request," and loading him with gifts for the house of God. Ezra assembled the band of exiles, probably about 5,000 in all, who were prepared to go up with him to Jerusalem, on the banks of the Ahava, where they rested for three days, and were put into order for their march across the desert, which was completed in four months.
His proceedings at Jerusalem on his arrival there are recorded in his book. He was "a ready scribe in the law of Moses," who "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." "He is," says Professor Binnie, "the first well-defined example of an order of men who have never since ceased in the church; men of sacred erudition, who devote their lives to the study of the Holy Scriptures, in order that they may be in a condition to interpret them for the instruction and edification of the church. It is significant that the earliest mention of the pulpit occurs in the history of Ezra's ministry (Neh. 8:4).
He was much more of a teacher than a priest. We learn from the account of his labours in the book of Nehemiah that he was careful to have the whole people instructed in the law of Moses; and there is no reason to reject the constant tradition of the Jews which connects his name with the collecting and editing of the Old Testament canon. The final completion of the canon may have been, and probably was, the work of a later generation; but Ezra seems to have put it much into the shape in which it is still found in the Hebrew Bible. When it is added that the complete organization of the synagogue dates from this period, it will be seen that the age was emphatically one of Biblical study" (The Psalms: their History, etc.). For about fourteen years, i.e., till B.C. 445, we have no record of what went on in Jerusalem after Ezra had set in order the ecclesiastical and civil affairs of the nation. In that year another distinguished personage, Nehemiah, appears on the scene.
After the ruined wall of the city had been built by Nehemiah, there was a great gathering of the people at Jerusalem preparatory to the dedication of the wall. On the appointed day the whole population assembled, and the law was read aloud to them by Ezra and his assistants (Neh. 8:3). The remarkable scene is described in detail. There was a great religious awakening. For successive days they held solemn assemblies, confessing their sins and offering up solemn sacrifices. They kept also the feast of Tabernacles with great solemnity and joyous enthusiasm, and then renewed their national covenant to be the Lord's. Abuses were rectified, and arrangements for the temple service completed, and now nothing remained but the dedication of the walls of the city (Neh. 12).
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
This book is the record of events occurring at the close of the Babylonian exile. It was at one time included in Nehemiah, the Jews regarding them as one volume. The two are still distinguished in the Vulgate version as I. and II. Esdras. It consists of two principal divisions: (1.) The history of the first return of exiles, in the first year of Cyrus (B.C. 536), till the completion and dedication of the new temple, in the sixth year of Darius Hystapes (B.C. 515), ch. 1-6. From the close of the sixth to the opening of the seventh chapter there is a blank in the history of about sixty years. (2.) The history of the second return under Ezra, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, and of the events that took place at Jerusalem after Ezra's arrival there (7-10). The book thus contains memorabilia connected with the Jews, from the decree of Cyrus (B.C. 536) to the reformation by Ezra (B.C. 456), extending over a period of about eighty years. There is no quotation from this book in the New Testament, but there never has been any doubt about its being canonical. Ezra was probably the author of this book, at least of the greater part of it (comp. 7:27, 28; 8:1, etc.), as he was also of the Books of Chronicles, the close of which forms the opening passage of Ezra.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
Nehemiah, comforted by Jehovah. (1.) Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:7. (2.) Neh. 3:16. (3.) The son of Hachaliah (Neh. 1:1), and probably of the tribe of Judah. His family must have belonged to Jerusalem (Neh. 2:3). He was one of the "Jews of the dispersion," and in his youth was appointed to the important office of royal cup-bearer at the palace of Shushan. The king, Artaxerxes Longimanus, seems to have been on terms of friendly familiarity with his attendant. Through his brother Hanani, and perhaps from other sources (Neh. 1:2; 2:3), he heard of the mournful and desolate condition of the Holy City, and was filled with sadness of heart. For many days he fasted and mourned and prayed for the place of his fathers' sepulchres. At length the king observed his sadness of countenance and asked the reason of it. Nehemiah explained it all to the king, and obtained his permission to go up to Jerusalem and there to act as tirshatha, or governor of Judea.
He went up in the spring of B.C. 446 (eleven years after Ezra), with a strong escort supplied by the king, and with letters to all the pashas of the provinces through which he had to pass, as also to Asaph, keeper of the royal forests, directing him to assist Nehemiah. On his arrival he set himself to survey the city, and to form a plan for its restoration; a plan which he carried out with great skill and energy, so that the whole was completed in about six months. He remained in Judea for thirteen years as governor, carrying out many reforms, notwithstanding much opposition that he encountered (Neh. 13:11). He built up the state on the old lines, "supplementing and completing the work of Ezra," and making all arrangements for the safety and good government of the city. At the close of this important period of his public life, he returned to Persia to the service of his royal master at Shushan or Ecbatana.
Very soon after this the old corrupt state of things returned, showing the worthlessness to a large extent of the professions that had been made at the feast of the dedication of the walls of the city (Neh. 12. See EZRA). Malachi now appeared among the people with words of stern reproof and solemn warning; and Nehemiah again returned from Persia (after an absence of some two years), and was grieved to see the widespread moral degeneracy that had taken place during his absence. He set himself with vigour to rectify the flagrant abuses that had sprung up, and restored the orderly administration of public worship and the outward observance of the law of Moses. Of his subsequent history we know nothing. Probably he remained at his post as governor till his death (about B.C. 413) in a good old age.
The place of his death and burial is, however, unknown. "He resembled Ezra in his fiery zeal, in his active spirit of enterprise, and in the piety of his life: but he was of a bluffer and a fiercer mood; he had less patience with transgressors; he was a man of action rather than a man of thought, and more inclined to use force than persuasion. His practical sagacity and high courage were very markedly shown in the arrangement with which he carried through the rebuilding of the wall and balked the cunning plans of the 'adversaries.' The piety of his heart, his deeply religious spirit and constant sense of communion with and absolute dependence upon God, are strikingly exhibited, first in the long prayer recorded in ch. 1:5-11, and secondly and most remarkably in what have been called his 'interjectional prayers', those short but moving addresses to Almighty God which occur so frequently in his writings, the instinctive outpouring of a heart deeply moved, but ever resting itself upon God, and looking to God alone for aid in trouble, for the frustration of evil designs, and for final reward and acceptance" (Rawlinson).
Nehemiah was the last of the governors sent from the Persian court. Judea after this was annexed to the satrapy of Coele-Syria, and was governed by the high priest under the jurisdiction of the governor of Syria, and the internal government of the country became more and more a hierarchy.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
The author of this book was no doubt Nehemiah himself. There are portions of the book written in the first person (ch. 1-7; 12:27-47, and 13). But there are also portions of it in which Nehemiah is spoken of in the third person (ch. 8; 9; 10). It is supposed that these portions may have been written by Ezra; of this, however, there is no distinct evidence. These portions had their place assigned them in the book, there can be no doubt, by Nehemiah. He was the responsible author of the whole book, with the exception of ch. 12:11, 22, 23. The date at which the book was written was probably about B.C. 431-430, when Nehemiah had returned the second time to Jerusalem after his visit to Persia.
The book, which may historically be regarded as a continuation of the book of Ezra, consists of four parts. (1.) An account of the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, and of the register Nehemiah had found of those who had returned from Babylon (ch. 1-7). (2.) An account of the state of religion among the Jews during this time (8-10). (3.) Increase of the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the census of the adult male population, and names of the chiefs, together with lists of priests and Levites (11-12:1-26). (4.) Dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the arrangement of the temple officers, and the reforms carried out by Nehemiah (12:27-ch. 13). This book closes the history of the Old Testament. Malachi the prophet was contemporary with Nehemiah.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
To consider chapter seven in detail, the Artaxerxes of verse one is considered as identical with the Ahasuerus of Esther's time, and Anstey regards him as identical also with the Darius Hystaspes named above. Ezra was a priest as well as a scribe (vv. 1-5). The "Seraiah" whose son (great grandson perhaps) he was, was the high priest slain by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18). Jeshua, with whom we got acquainted in the last lesson, was also his grandson, but probably in another branch of the family. "Scribe" is the same as doctor, teacher, or rabbi, one learned in the law of Moses and Jewish traditions and customs (v. 10). How this Persian king came to be so interested is not known, unless, as some think, Esther had already become his queen, which would explain it. Others believe that after the death of the leaders of the earlier company, Zerubbabel and his associates, matters became so disordered in the province that leading Jews in Persia pleaded with the king to appoint this reform commission.
Observe the power granted Ezra to study conditions, as we now say (v. 14), to collect funds (vv. 15, 16), levy tribute (vv. 21, 22), appoint magistrates and judges (v. 25), and execute penalties (v. 26). As to chapter 8, the number of male adults accompanying Ezra was but 1,754, but there should be added women, children and servants, making perhaps three or four times that number. Attention is called to verses 21 and 23. The danger of such caravans from the marauding Arabs was so great as to make a military escort necessary. But Ezra's sensitive regard for God's honor before the heathen would not permit his asking for one. It was a strong test of faith to which he and his companions were equal, and which God honored. May the principle of its lesson not to be lost upon the reader.
Study the prayer carefully (vv. 5-15). The suppliant's attitude (v. 5), his sense of shame (v. 6), his unqualified confession (v. 7), his gratitude (vv. 8, 9), his deep conviction of sin (vv. 10-14), and his dependency only on divine mercy (v. 15). Observe how God answered the prayer by graciously working on the people's hearts, the leaders first, and then the people generally. Shecanaiah (10:2), was a brave man in the attitude he took, for while his name does not appear in the subsequent list of offenders, yet those of his near relatives do (v. 26).
Note the phrase (v. 2): "There is hope in Israel concerning this thing." Hope only, however, along the line of thorough repentance. Here is a text and subject-matter for a revival sermon. Note the radical step taken by the leaders (v. 6-8), and its prompt result (v. 9). Also the judicious method of procedure as necessitated by the circumstances (vv. 10-17). This justifies the belief that provision was made for the unlawful wives and children that were put away.
Questions 1. Have you familiarized yourself with the Persian kings of this period? 2. Who was Ezra? 3. What is a "scribe"? 4. How many were in Ezra's company of returning exiles? 5. How was their strong faith shown? 6. What illustration of the progress of a revival is found in this lesson? 7. What feature of Ezra's prayer most impresses you?
I. ESDRAS THE MAN
Esdras is a famous priest and scribe connected with Israel's restoration after the Exile. The chief sources of information touching his life are the canonical books of Esdras and Nehemias. A group of apocryphal writings is also much concerned with him, but they can hardly be relied upon, as they relate rather the legendary tales of a later age. Esdras was of priestly descent and belonged to the line of Sardoc (Ezra 7:1-5). He styles himself "son of Saraias" (vii, 1), an expression which is by many understood in a broad sense, as purporting that Saraias, the chief priest, spoken of in 2 Kings 25:18-21, was one of Esdras's ancestors. Nevertheless he is known rather as "the scribe" than as "priest": he was "a ready scribe [a scribe skilled] in the law of Moses", and therefore especially qualified for the task to which he was destined among his people. The chronological relation of Esdras's work with that of Nehemias is, among the questions connected with the history of the Jewish Restoration, one of the most mooted. Many Biblical scholars still cling to the view suggested by the traditional order of the sacred text (due allowance being made for the break in the narrative -- Ezra 4:6-23), and place the mission of Esdras before that of Nehemias. Others, among whom we may mention Professor Van Hoonacker of Louvain, Dr. T.K. Cheyne in England, and Professor C.F. Kent in America, to do away with the numberless difficulties arising from the interpretation of the main sources of this history, maintain that Nehemias's mission preceded that of Esdras. The former view holds that Esdras came to Jerusalem about 458 B.C., and Nehemias first in 444 and the second time about 430 B.C.; whereas, according to the opposite opinion, Esdras's mission might have taken place as late as 397 B.C. However this may be, since we are here only concerned with Esdras, we will limit ourselves to summarizing the principal features of his life and work, without regard to the problems involved, which it suffices to have mentioned.
Many years had elapsed after permission had been given to the Jews to return to Palestine; amidst difficulties and obstacles the restored community had settled down again in their ancient home and built a new temple; but their condition, both from the political and the religious point of view, was most precarious: they chafed under the oppression of the Persian satraps and had grown indifferent and unobservant of the Law. From Babylon, where this state of affairs was well known, Esdras longed to go to Jerusalem and use his authority as a priest and interpreter of the Law to restore things to a better condition. He was in favour at the court of the Persian king; he not only obtained permission to visit Judea, but a royal edict clothing him with ample authority to carry out his purpose, and ample support from the royal treasury. The rescript, moreover, ordered the satraps "beyond the river" to assist Esdras liberally and enacted that all Jewish temple officials should be exempt from toll, tribute, or custom. "And thou, Esdras, appoint judges and magistrates, that they may judge all the people, that is beyond the river" (Ezra 7:25). Finally, the Law of God and the law of the king were alike to be enforced by severe penalties. The edict left all Jews who felt so inclined free to go back to their own country. Some 1800 men, including a certain number of priests, Levites, and Nathinites, started with Esdras from Babylon, and after five months the company safely reached Jerusalem. Long-neglected abuses had taken root in the sacred city. These Esdras set himself vigorously to correct, after the silver and gold he had carried from Babylon were brought into the Temple and sacrifices offered. The first task which confronted him was that of dealing with mixed marriages. Regardless of the Law of Moses, many, even the leading Jews and priests, had intermarried with the idolatrous inhabitants of the country. Horror-stricken by the discovery of this abuse -- the extent of which was very likely unknown heretofore to Esdras -- he gave utterance to his feelings in a prayer which made such an impression upon the people that Sechenias, in their names, proposed that the Israelites should put away their foreign wives and the children born of them. Esdras seized his opportunity, and exacted from the congregation an oath that they would comply with this proposition. A general assembly of the people was called by the princes and the ancients; but the business could not be transacted easily at such a meeting and a special commission, with Esdras at its head, was appointed to take the matter in hand. For three full months this commission held its sessions; at the end of that time the "strange wives" were dismissed.
What was the outcome of this drastic measure we are not told; Esdras's memoirs are interrupted here. Nor do we know whether, his task accomplished, he returned to Babylon or remained in Jerusalem. At any rate we find him again in the latter city at the reading of the Law which took place after the rebuilding of the walls. No doubt this event had rekindled the enthusiasm of the people; and to comply with the popular demand, Esdras brought the Book of the Law. On the first day of the seventh month (Tishri), a great meeting was held "in the street that was before the watergate", for the purpose of reading the Law. Standing on a platform, Esdras read the book aloud "from the morning until midday". At hearing the words of the Law, which they had so much transgressed, the congregation broke forth into lamentations unsuited to the holiness of the day; Nehemias therefore adjourned the assembly. The reading was resumed on the next day by Esdras, and they found in the Law the directions concerning the feast of the Tabernacles. Thereupon steps were at once taken for the due celebration of this feast, which was to last seven days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-second day of Tishri. Esdras continued the public reading of the Law every day of the feast; and two days after its close a strict fast was held, and "they stood, and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers" (Nehemiah 9:2). There was a good opportunity to renew solemnly the covenant between the people and God. This covenant pledged the community to the observance of the Law, the abstention from intermarriage with heathens, the careful keeping of the Sabbath and of the feasts, and to various regulations agreed to for the care of the Temple, its services, and the payment of the tithes. It was formally recited by the princes, the Levites, and the priests, and signed by Nehemias and chosen representatives of the priests, the Levites, and the people (strange as it may appear, Esdras's name is not to be found in the list of the subscribers -- Nehemiah 10:1-27). Henceforth no mention whatever is made of Esdras in the canonical literature. He is not spoken of in connection with the second mission of Nehemias to Jerusalem, and this has led many to suppose that he was dead at the time. In fact both the time and place of his death are unknown, although there is on the banks of the Tigris, near the place where this river joins the Euphrates, a monument purporting to be Esdras's tomb, and which, for centuries, has been a place of pilgrimage for the Jews.
Esdras's role in the restoration of the Jews after the exile left a lasting impression upon the minds of the people. This is due mostly to the fact that henceforth Jewish life was shaped on the lines laid down by him, and in a way from which, in the main, it never departed. There is probably a great deal of truth in the tradition which attributes to him the organization of the synagogues and the determination of the books hallowed as canonical among the Jews. Esdras's activity seems to have extended still further. He is credited by the Talmud with having compiled "his own book" (that is to say Esd.-Nehem.), "and the genealogies of the book of Chronicles as far as himself" (Treat. "Baba bathra", 15a). Modern scholars, however, differ widely as to the extent of his literary work: some regard him as the last editor of the Hexateuch, whereas, on the other hand, his part in the composition of Esdras-Nehemias and Paralipomenon is doubted. At any rate, it is certain that he had nothing to do with the composition of the so-called Third and Fourth books of Esdras. As is the case with many men who played an important part at momentous epochs in history, in the course of time Esdras's personality and activity assumed, in the minds of the people, gigantic proportions; legend blended with history and supplied the scantiness of information concerning his life; he was looked upon as a second Moses to whom were attributed all institutions which could not possibly be ascribed to the former. According to Jewish traditions, he restored from memory -- an achievement little short of miraculous -- all the books of the Old Testament, which were believed to have perished during the Exile; he likewise replaced, in the copying of Holy Writ, the old Phoenician writing by the alphabet still in use. Until the Middle Ages, and even the Renaissance, the crop of legendary achievements attributed to him grew up; it was then that Esdras was hailed as the organizer of the famous Great Synagogue -- the very existence of which seems to be a myth -- and the inventor of the Hebrew vocal signs.
II. THE BOOKS OF ESDRAS
Not a little confusion arises from the titles of these books. Esdras A of the Septuagint is III Esdras of St. Jerome, whereas the Greek Esdras B corresponds to I and II Esdras of the Vulgate, which were originally united into one book. Protestant writers, after the Geneva Bible, call I and II Esdras of the Vulgate respectively Ezra and Nehemiah, and III and IV Esdras of the Vulgate respectively I and II Esdras. It would be desirable to have uniformity of titles. We shall follow here the terminology of St. Jerome.
(Gr. Esdras B, first part; A.V. Ezra). As remarked above, this book formed in the Jewish canon, together with II Esdras, a single volume. But Christian writers of the fourth century adopted the custom -- the origin of which is not easy to assign -- of considering them as two distinct works. This custom prevailed to such an extent that it found its way even into the Hebrew Bible, where it has remained in use. On the other hand, the many and close resemblances undeniably existing between Esd.-Neh. and Par., and usually accounted for by unity of authorship, have suggested that possibly all these books formed, in the beginning, one single volume, for which the title of "Ecclesiastical Chronicle of Jerusalem" has been proposed as fairly expressing its contents. Should these books be regarded as independent, or as parts of a larger work? There is little discussion as to the union of I and II Esdras, which may well be considered as a single book. As to the opinion holding Esd.-Neh. and Par. to be only one work, although it seems gaining ground among Biblical students, yet it is still strongly opposed by many who deem its arguments unable to outweigh the evidence in the opposite direction. We should not expect to find in I Esdras, any more than in II Esdras, a complete account of the events connected with the Restoration, even a complete record of the lives of Esdras and Nehemias. The reason for this lies in the author's purpose of simply narrating the principal steps taken in the re-establishment of the theocracy in Jerusalem. Thus, in two parallel parts, our book deals
with the return of the Jews under the leadership of Zorobabel;
with the return of another band commanded by Esdras.
In the former, with the decree of Cyrus (i, 1-4) and the enumeration of the most prominent members of the caravan (ii), we read a detailed account of the rebuilding of the Temple and its successful completion, in spite of bitter opposition (iii-iv). The events therein contained cover twenty-one years (536-515). The latter part deals with facts belonging to a much later date (458 or 397). Opening with the decree of Artaxerxes (vii) and the census of the members of the party, it briefly relates the journey across the desert (viii), and gives all the facts connected with the enforcement of the law concerning marriages with foreign women (ix-x).
I Esd. is a compilation the various parts of which differ in nature, in origin, and even in language. At least three of the parts may be recognized:
the personal memoirs of Esdras (vii, 27-ix, 15);
lists very likely taken from public documents (ii, 1-70; vii, 1-5);
Aramaic writings (iv, 7-vi, 18; vii, 12-26), supposed with some probability to be a portion of "a more comprehensive history of the restored community" (Stade).
These the compiler put together into the present shape, adding, of course, now and then some remarks of his own, or some facts borrowed from sources otherwise unknown to us. This compilatory character does not, as some might believe, lessen in any way the high historical value of the work. True, the compiler was very likely not endowed with a keen sense of criticism, and he has indiscriminatingly transcribed side by side all his sources "as if all were alike trustworthy" (L.W. Batten); but we should not forget that he has preserved for us pages of the highest value; even those that might be deemed of inferior trustworthiness are the only documents available with which to reconstruct the history of those times; and the compiler, even from the standpoint of modern scientific research, could hardly do anything more praiseworthy than place within our reach, as he did, the sources of information at his disposal. The composition of the work has long been attributed without discussion to Esdras himself. This view, taught by the Talmud, and still admitted by scholars of good standing, is, however, abandoned by several modern Biblical students, who, although their opinions are widely at variance on the question of the date, fairly agree, nevertheless, that the book is later than 330 B.C.
See the Book of Nehemiah.
(Gr. Esdras A; Protestant writers, I Esdras) Although not belonging to the Canon of the Sacred Scriptures, this book is usually found, ne prorsus intereat, in an appendix to the editions of the Vulgate. It is made up almost entirely from materials existing in canonical books. The following scheme will show sufficiently the contents and point out the canonical parallels:
III Esdras, i and II Par., xxxv, xxxvi -- History of the Kingdom of Juda from the great Passover of Josias to the Captivity.
III Esdras, ii, 1-15 (Greek text, 14) and I Esdras, i -- Cyrus's decree. Return of Sassabasar.
III Esdras, ii, 16 (Gr. 15)-31 (Gr. 25) and I Esdras, iv, 6-24 -- Opposition to the rebuilding of the Temple.
III Esdras, iii, 1-v, 6 -- Original portion. Story of the three pages. Return of Zorobabel.
III Esdras, v, 7-46 (Gr. 45) and I Esdras, ii -- List of those returning with Zorobabel.
III Esdras, v, 47 (Gr. 46)-73 (Gr. 70) and I Esdras, iii, 1-iv, 5 -- Altar of holocausts. Foundation of the Temple laid. Opposition.
III Esdras, vi, vii and I Esdras, v, vi -- Completion of the Temple.
III Esdras, viii, 1-ix, 36 and I Esdras, vii-x -- Return of Esdras.
III Esdras, ix, 37-56 (Gr. 55) and II Esdras, vii, 73-viii, 12 -- Reading of the Law by Esdras.
The book is incomplete, and breaks off in the middle of a sentence. True, the Latin version completes the broken phrase of the Greek; but the book in its entirety probably contained also the narrative of the feast of Tabernacles (Nehemiah 8). A very strange feature in the work is its absolute disregard of chronological order; the history, indeed, runs directly backwards, mentioning first Artaxerxes (ii, 16-31), then Darius (iii-v, 6), finally Cyrus (v, 7-73). All this makes it difficult to detect the real object of the book and the purpose of the compiler. It has been suggested that we possess here a history of the Temple from the time of Josias down to Nehemias, and this view is well supported by the subscription of the old Latin version. Others suppose that, in the main, the book is rather an early translation of the chronicler's work, made at a time when Par., Esdras, and Neh. still formed one continuous volume. Be this as it may, there seems to have been, up to St. Jerome, some hesitation with regard to the reception of the book into the Canon; it was freely quoted by the early Fathers, and included in Origen's "Hexapla". This might be accounted for by the fact that III Esd. may be considered as another recension of canonical Scriptures. Unquestionably our book cannot claim to be Esdras's work. From certain particulars, such as the close resemblance of the Greek with that of the translation of Daniel, some details of vocabulary,etc., scholars are led to believe that III Esd. was compiled, probably in Lower Egypt, during the second century B.C. Of the author nothing can be said except, perhaps, that the above-noted resemblance of style to Dan. might incline one to conclude that both works are possibly from the same hand.
Such is the title of the book in most Latin manuscripts; the (Protestant) English apocrypha, however, give it as II Esdras, from the opening words: "The second book of the prophet Esdras". Modern authors often call it the Apocalypse of Esdras. This remarkable work has not been preserved in the original Greek text; but we possess translations of it in Latin, Syriac, Arabic (two independent versions), Ethiopian, and Armenian. The Latin text is usually printed in the appendix to the editions of the Vulgate; but these editions miss seventy verses between vii, 35, and vii, 36. The missing fragment, which was read in the other versions, was discovered in a Latin manuscript by R.L. Bensly, in 1874, and has been since repeatedly printed. In the Latin the book is divided into sixteen chapters. The two opening (i, ii) and the two concluding (xv, xvi) chapters, however, which are not to be found in the Eastern translations, are unhesitatingly regarded by all as later additions, foreign to the primitive work.
The body of the Fourth Book, the unity of which appears to be unquestionable, is made up of seven visions which Esdras is supposed to have seen at Babylon, the thirtieth year after the destruction of Jerusalem (the date given is wrong by about a century).
In the first vision (iii, 1-v, 20), Esdras is lamenting over the affliction of his people. Why does not God fulfil his promises? Is not Israel the elect nation, and better, despite her "evil heart", than her heathen neighbours? The angel Uriel chides Esdras for inquiring into things beyond his understanding; the "prophet" is told that the time that is past exceeds the time to come, and the signs of the end are given him.
In another vision (v, 21-vi, 34), he learns, with new signs of the end, why God "doeth not all at once".
Then follows (vi, 35-ix, 25) a glowing picture of the Messianic age. "My son" shall come in his glory, attended by those who did not taste death, Moses, Henoch, Elias, and Esdras himself; they shall reign 400 years, then "my son" and all the living shall die; after seven days of "the old silence", the Resurrection and the Judgment.
Next (ix, 26-x, 60) Esdras beholds, in the appearance of a woman mourning for her son who died on his wedding day, an apocalyptic description of the past and future of Jerusalem.
This vision is followed by another (xi, 1-xii, 39) representing the Roman Empire, under the figure of an eagle, and by a third (xiii) describing the rise of the Messianic kingdom.
The last chapter (xiv) narrates how Esdras restored the twenty-four books of the Old Testament that were lost, and wrote seventy books of mysteries for the wise among the people.
The Fourth Book of Esdras is reckoned among the most beautiful productions of Jewish literature. Widely known in the early Christian ages and frequently quoted by the Fathers (especially St. Ambrose), it may be said to have framed the popular belief of the Middle Ages concerning the last things. The liturgical use shows its popularity. The second chapter has furnished the verse Requiem æternam to the Office of the Dead (24-25), the response Lux perpetua lucebit sanctis tuis of the Office of the Martyrs during Easter time (35), the introit Accipite jucunditatem for Whit-Tuesday (36-37), the words Modo coronantur of the Office of the Apostles (45); in like manner the verse Crastine die for Christmas eve, is borrowed from xvi, 53. However beautiful and popular the book, its origin is shrouded in mystery. The introductory and concluding chapters, containing evident traces of Christianity, are assigned to the third century (about A.D. 201-268). The main portion (iii-xiv) is undoubtedly the work of a Jew -- whether Roman, or Alexandrian, or Palestinian, no one can tell; as to its date, authors are mostly widely at variance, and all dates have been suggested, from 30 B.C. to A.D. 218; scholars, however, seem to rally more and more around the year A.D. 97.
Publication information Written by Charles L. Souvay. Transcribed by Sean Hyland. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
Also called the second Book of Esdras (Ezra), is reckoned both in the Talmud and in the early Christian Church, at least until the time of Origen, as forming one single book with Esdras, and St. Jerome in his preface (ad Dominionem et Rogatianum), following the example of the Jews, still continues to treat it as making one with the Book of Esdras. The union of the two in a single book doubtless has its origin in the fact that the documents of which the Books of Esdras and Nehemiah are composed, underwent compilation and redaction together at the hands probably, as most critics think, of the author of Paralipomenon about B.C. 300. The separation of the Book of Nehemiah from that of Esdras, preserved in our editions, may in its turn be justified by the consideration that the former relates in a distinct manner the work accomplished by Nehemiah, and is made up, at least in the great part, from the authentic memoirs of the principal figure. The book comprises three sections:
Section I (Chapters 1-6);
Section II (Chapters 7-13:3);
Section III (Chapter 13:4 - Chapter 31).
Sections I and III will be treated first, and section II, which raises special literary problems, will be discussed at the end.
SECTION I: CHAPTERS 1-6
(1) comprises the account, written by Nehemiah himself, of the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem. Already in the reign of Xerxes (B. C. 485-65), and especially during the first half of the reign of Artaxerxes I (B. C. 465-24), the Jews had attempted, but with only partial success, to rebuild the walls of their capital, a work, up to then, never sanctioned by the Persian kings (see Ezra 4:6-23). In consequence of the edict of Artaxerxes, given in I Esd., iv, 18-22, the enemies of the Jews at Jerusalem forcibly stopped the work (ibid., 23) and pulled down a part of what had already been accomplished.
(2) With these events the beginning of the Book of Nehemiah is connected. Nehemiah, the son of Helchias, relates how, at the court of Artaxerxes at Susa where he fulfilled the office of the king's cup-bearer, he received the news of this calamity in the twentieth year of the king (Nehemiah 1), and how, thanks to his prudence, he succeeded in getting himself sent on a first mission to Jerusalem with full powers to rebuild the walls of the Jewish capital (Nehemiah 2:1-8). This first mission lasted twelve years (v, 14; xiii, 6); he had the title of Perah (v, 14; xii, 26) or Athersatha (viii, 9; x,1). It had long been the opinion of most historians of Israel that the Artaxerxes of Nehemiah was certainly the first of that name, and that consequently the first mission of Nehemiah fell in the year B. C. 445. The Aramaic papyri of Elephantine, recently published by Sachau, put this date beyond the shadow of a doubt. For in the letter which they wrote to Bahohim, Governor of Judea, in the seventeenth year of Darius II ( B. C. 408), the Jewish priests of Elephantine say that they have also made an application to the sons of Sanaballat at Samaria. Now Sanaballat was a contemporary of Nehemiah, and the Artaxerxes of Nehemiah, therefore, was the predecessor, and not the successor, of Darius II.
(3) On his arrival at Jerusalem, Nehemiah lost no time; he inspected the state of the walls, and then took measures and gave orders for taking the work in hand (ii, 9-18). Chapter iii, a document of the highest importance for determining the area of Jerusalem in the middle of the fifth century B.C., contains a description of the work, carried out at all points at once under the direction of the zealous Jewish governor. The high priest Eliasib is named first among the fellow workers of Nehemiah (iii, 1). To bring the undertaking to a successful termination the latter had to fight against all sorts of difficulties.
(4) First of all, the foreign element had great influence in Judea. The Jews who had returned from captivity almost a century before, had found the country partly occupied by people belonging to the neighbouring races, and being unable to organize themselves politically, had seen themselves reduced, little by little, to a humiliating position in their own land. And so, at the time of Nehemiah, we see certain foreigners taking an exceedingly arrogant attitude towards the Jewish governor and his work. Sanaballat the Horonite, chief of the Samaritans (iv, 1, 2), Tobias the Ammonite, Gossem the Arabian, claim to exercise constant control over Jewish affairs, and try by all means in their power, by calumny (ii, 19), scoffs (iv, 1 ff), threats of violence (iv, 7 ff), and craft (vi, 1 ff), to hinder Nehemiah' work or ruin him. The reason of this was that the raising up again of the walls of Jerusalem was destined to bring about the overthrow of the moral domination, which for many years circumstances had secured for those foreigners.
(5) The cause of the foreigners was upheld by a party of Jews, traitors to their own nation. The prophet Noadias and other false prophets sought to terrify Nehemiah (vi, 14); there were some who, like Samaia, allowed themselves to be hired by Tobias and Sanaballat to set snares for him (vi, 10-14). Many Jews sided with Tobias on account of the matrimonial alliances existing between his family and certain Jewish families. Nehemiah, however, does not speak of the mixed marriages as if they had been actually forbidden. The father-in-law of Tobias' son, Mosollam, the son of Barachias, on the contrary, was a fellow worker of Nehemiah (vi, 18; iii, 4). The law of Deuteronomy only forbade marriages between Jews and Chanaanites (Deut. vii, 1, 3).
(6) Difficulties of a social nature, the result of the selfish treatment of the poor by the rich, who misused the common distress for their own ends, likewise called for the energetic intervention of Nehemiah (v). On this occasion Nehemiah recalls the fact that previous governors had practised extortion, while he was the first to show himself disinterested in the discharge of his duties (v, 15 ff).
(7) In spite of all these difficulties the rebuilding of the wall made rapid progress. We learn from vii, 15 that the work was completely finished within fifty-one days. Josephus (Ant., V, 7, 8) says that it lasted two years and four months, but his testimony, often far from reliable, presents no plausible reason for setting aside the text. The relatively short duration of the work is explained, when we consider that Nehemiah had only to repair the damage wrought after the prohibition of Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:23), and finish off the construction, which might at that moment have been already far advanced [see above (1)].
SECTION III: CHAPTER 13:4 TO CHAPTER 31)
After the expiration of his first mission, Nehemiah had returned to Susa in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes (B. C. 433; 13:6). Some time after, he was charged with a fresh mission to Judea, and it is with his doings during this second mission that xiii, 4-31 is concerned. The account at the beginning seems mutilated. Nehemiah relates how, at the time of his second arrival at Jerusalem, he began by putting an end to the abuses which Tobias, the Ammonite, supported by the high priest Eliasib, was practising in the temple in the matter of the depository for the sacred offerings (xiii, 4-9). He severely blames the violation of the right of the Levites in the distribution of the tithes, and takes measures to prevent its occurrence in future (xiii, 10-14); he insists on the Sabbath being strictly respected even by the foreign merchants (xiii, 15-22). Finally he dealt severely with the Jews who were guilty of marriages with strange wives, and banished a grandson of Eliasib who had married a daughter of Sanaballat (xiii, 23-28). To this son-in-law of Sanaballat is generally attributed the inauguration of the worship in the temple of Garizim. It is plain that Nehemiah' attitude during his second mission with regard to mixed marriages differs greatly from his attitude at the beginning of his first stay in Jerusalem [see section I, (5)].
SECTION II: CHAPTERS 7 TO 13:3
(1) contains accounts or documents relating to the work of politico-social and religious organization effected by Nehemiah, after the walls were finished. Here we no longer have Nehemiah speaking in the first person, except in vii, 1-5, and in the account of the dedication of the walls (xii, 31, 37, 39). He relates how, after having rebuilt the walls, he had to proceed to erect houses, and take measures for bringing into the town a population more in proportion to its importance as the capital (vii, 1-5; cf. Ecclus., xlix, 15).
(2) He gives (vii, 5 ff.) the list of the families who had returned from captivity with Zorobabel. This list is in I Esd., ii. It is remarkable that in the Book of Nehemiah, following on the list we find reproduced (vii, 70 ff.) with variants, the remark of I Esd., ii, 68-70 about the gifts given towards the work of the temple by Zorobabel's companions, and the settlement of these latter in the country; and again that Neh., viii, 1 resumes the narrative in the very words of I Esd., iii. This dependence is probably due to the redactor, who in this place gave a new form to the notes supplied him by the Jewish governor's memoirs which also explains the latter's being spoken of in the third person, Neh., viii, 9.
(3) There is a description of a great gathering held in the seventh month under the direction of Nehemiah (viii, 9-12) at which Esdras reads the Law (viii, 13). They then kept the Feast of Tabernacles (viii, 13-18). When this feast is over, the people gather together again on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month (ix, 1 ff.) to praise God, confess their sins, and to bind themselves by a written covenant faithfully to observe their obligations. Chapter X after giving the list of the subscribers to the covenant, sets forth the obligations, which the people bind themselves to fulfil; in particular the prohibition of mixed marriages (verse 30); the keeping of the Sabbath, especially in their treatment of foreign merchants (verse 31), the yearly tribute of a third part of a sicle for the Temple (verse 32), and other measures to ensure the regular celebration of sacrifices (verses 33-34), the offering of the firstfruits and of the first born (verses 35-37), and the payment and the distribution of the tithes (verses 35-39). After chapter x it is advisable to read xii, 43-xiii, 1-3; the appointment of a commission for the administration of things brought to the Temple, and the expulsion of foreigners from among the community. Chapter xi, 1, 2, recalls the measures taken to people Jerusalem; verses 3-36 give the census of Jerusalem and of other towns as Nehemiah' measures left it. In chapter xii, 27-43, we have the account of the solemn dedication of the walls of Jerusalem; Esdras the scribe is mentioned as being at the head of a group of singers (verse 35). The list in xii, 1-26, has no connexion whatever with the events of this epoch.
(4) The proceedings set forth in viii-x are closely connected with the other parts of the history of Nehemiah. The obligations imposed by the covenant, described in x, have to do with just the very matters with which Nehemiah concerned himself most during his second stay (see above, section III). The regulation concerning the providing of the wood for the altar (x, 34) is recalled by Nehemiah in xiii, 31, and the very words used in x, 39 (end of verse), we find again in xiii, 11. The covenant entered into by the people during Nehemiah' first mission was broken in his absence. At the time of his second mission he put down the abuses with severity. For instance, the attitude he takes towards mixed marriages is quite different from his attitude at the beginning of his first stay [see above section I (5); section III]. This change is explained precisely by the absolute prohibition pronounced against these marriages in the assembly described in ix-x. The view has been put forward that viii-x gives an account of events belonging to the period of the organization of worship under Zorobabel, the names of Nehemiah (viii, 9; x, 1) and Esdras (viii, 1 ff.) having been added later. But there was certainly sufficient reason for the reorganization of worship in the time of Nehemiah (cf. the Book of Malachi and Nehemiah 13). Others on the contrary would regard Neh., viii-x, as the sequel to the narrative of I Esdras, ix-x, and they likewise hold that Nehemiah' name has been interpolated in Neh., viii, 9, and x, 1. This theory is equally untenable. It is true that in the Third Book of Esdras (the Greek I Esdras) the narrative of Neh., viii, is reproduced immediately after that of Esdras, ix-x; but the author of the Third Book of Esdras was led to do this by the fact that Neh., viii, presents his hero as reader of the Law. He has moreover preserved (III Ezra 9:50) the information of Neh., viii, 9, about the intervention of the Athersatha (Nehemiah), Esdras' superior, which clearly proves that this account does not refer to the epoch when Esdras had returned to Jerusalem entrusted by the king with full powers for the administration of the Jewish community. See, moreover, the following paragraph.
(5) according to our view the return of Esdras with his emigrants and the reform effected by him (Ezra 7-10) ought, chronologically, to be placed after the history of Nehemiah, and the Artaxerxes, in the seventh year of whose reign Esdras returned to Jerusalem, is Artaxerxes II (B. C. 405-358). As a matter of fact, Esdras finds the wall of Jerusalem rebuilt (Ezra 9:9), Jerusalem well populated (x, 1 ff.), the Temple treasure under proper management (viii, 29 ff.), Jonathan, son of Eliasib, high priest (10:6; cf. Nehemiah 12:23, Hebrew text), and the unlawfulness of mixed marriages recognized by every one (ix, 1 ff.). The radical reform, which Esdras introduced in this matter without being troubled by foreigners who still held the upper hand at the time of Nehemiah' first coming, definitively put an end to the abuse in question which had proved rebellious to all preventive measures (x). The politics and social situation described in the first six chapters of Nehemiah [see above, section I (4), (5), (6)], the religious situation to which the proceedings of the gathering in Neh., x, bear witness [see above, section II (3)], do not admit of being explained as immediately following after the mission of Esdras, who particularly, in virtue of the king's edict, disposed of very valuable resources for the celebration of worship (Ezra 7-8:25 ff.). Esdras is again entirely unnoticed in Neh., i-vi, and in the list of the subscribers to the covenant (x,1 ff.). He is mentioned in Neh., viii, 1 ff., and in xii, 35, as fulfilling subordinate functions.
Considering the singular number of the verbs in Neh., viii, 9, 10, it is probable that in the former of these two verses "Esdras and the Levites" being named as part of the subject of the phrase is due to a later hand. At the epoch of Nehemiah, therefore, Esdras was at the beginning of his career, and must have gone a little later to Babylonia, whence he returned at the head of a band of emigrants n the seventh year of Artexerxes II (B. C. 398).
(6) Many critics have maintained that in Neh., viii, we have the history of the first promulgation of the "Priestly Code" by Esdras, but the narrative in question does not authorize such an interpretation. Esdras was probably still a very young man at this time, and all he does is to read the Law before the assembled people. It is quite true that in I Esd., vii, there is made mention in the royal edict of the Law of his God which Esdras has in mind (verse 14), but besides the fact that we hold the events related in I Esd., vii, to be posterior to Neh., viii [see above (5)], these words must not be understood literally of a new document of which Esdras was the bearer. In the same terms mention is made of the wisdom of his God which Esdras has in mind (verse 25), and in this same passage it is supposed that Esdras' compatriots already know the Law of their God.
Publication information Written by A. Van Hoonacker. Transcribed by Sean Hyland. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Published 1911. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Synopsis of Contents.
Varying Character of Composition.
The contents of the book are as follows:
Synopsis of Contents.
Ch. i.: Cyrus, inspired by Jehovah, permits the Israelites to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem, and returns to them the golden vessels which had been carried off by Nebuchadnezzar. Ch. ii.: The number of the captives that returned from Babylon to Palestine with Zerubbabel is stated as 42,360, besides 7,337 men servants and women servants and 200 singing men and women. Ch. iii.: Jeshua ben Jozadak and Zerubbabel build the altar, and celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. In the second year the foundations of the Temple are laid, and the dedication takes place with great rejoicing.
Ch. iv.: The adversaries of the Jews, especially the Samaritans, make efforts to hinder the Jews from building the Temple. A letter is written by the Samaritans to Artaxerxes to procure a prohibition of the construction of the Temple, and the work is interrupted till the second year of Darius.
Ch. v.: Through the exhortations of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel and Jeshua ben Jozadak recommence the building of the Temple. Tatnai, the governor "on this side the river," sends to the king a report of their action.
Ch. vi.: Darius finds the decree of Cyrus in the archives of Achmetha (Hamadan), and directs Tatnai not to disturb the Jews in their work. He also exempts them from tribute, and supplies everything necessary for the offerings. The Temple is finished in the month of Adar, in the sixth year of Darius, and is dedicated with great solemnity.
Ch. vii.: Artaxerxes gives Ezra a commission to bring with him to Jerusalem all the captives that remain in Babylon. Ch. viii.: Contains a list of the heads of families who returned with Ezra to Palestine. Ezra institutes a fast while on his way to Jerusalem.
Ch. ix.: The princes of Israel inform Ezra that many have not repudiated their foreign wives.
Ch. x.: Those who have taken strange wives are compelled to send them away and to bring each a sin offering.J. M. Sel.
The canonical Book of Ezra commences where the Chronicles leave off, and indeed with slight variation repeats the last two verses of II Chron. What follows consists of three portions: (1) an account of the return of the exiles, and a brief survey of the fortunes of the Jewish community down to the reign of Xerxes; (2) ch. iv. 7-vi. 22, extracts from a collection of historical documents in Aramaic, illustrating the fortunes of the community in the reigns of Artaxerxes I. and Darius, with a short appendix in Hebrew; (3) ch. vii. to end, a record of the enterprise of the author of the book, including a copy of the decree granted to him by Artaxerxes II., with an account of the author's work at Jerusalem. The first section includes a document also transcribed in Neh. vii. 6-73a, called by Nehemiah a genealogical table of the first return.
A third copy is to be found in the apocryphal I Esdras.
Varying Character of Composition.
The documents embodied in the second section are described as "written in Aramaic and 'targumed' in Nehemiah Aramaic" (iv. 7). Since a work can not be translated into the same language as that in which it is composed, the expression "targumed" must mean "described," a sense which corresponds closely to the sense of the Arabic word "tarjamah," which, used of a tradition, signifies the heading in which its contents are described. This phrase, then, implies that the contents of this section were transcribed from a collection of documents and accompanied with a commentary, probably made for the benefit of the Eastern community. In these extracts there is evidently a chronological transposition; for the correspondence with Artaxerxes I. (ch. iv.) is placed before the correspondence with Darius (ch. v., vi.), who is certainly Darius I. This may be due to momentary confusion on the author's part between Darius I. and Darius II.; but it is surprising, since in iv. 5-7 he shows himself well acquainted with the order of the Persian kings. Thus the period covered by the commentary on the documents in ch. v. and vi. is earlier than that covered by the documents in ch. iv.
The authenticity of the documents is a matter on which there is difference of opinion, the most recent critics (E. Meyer excepted) being disposed to regard all of them as forgeries, whereas before the time of Graetz they were generally thought to be genuine. The custom in use among ancient historians of illustrating their histories by speeches and letters of their own composition makes the treatment of such questions exceedingly difficult. The edict of Cyrus, said to have been found at Achmetha (vi. 3-5), is the boldest of these fabrications, if they be such; but the mention of that ancient capital implies some very remarkable knowledge on the part of the author here excerpted. Some other reasons for believing these documents genuine are alleged by Herzfeld ("Geschichte des Volkes Israel," i. 125). The character of the Aramaic in which they are couched agrees fairly well, both in vocabulary and in grammar, with that of early inscriptions and papyri; and there would be nothing surprising in successive compilers having assimilated the language somewhat to the dialect with which they were most familiar. It is also possible that these Aramaic texts are translations of documents in Old Persian, and were accommodated to the taste of those whom they were intended to reach.
The third part of the book appears to be a personal memoir; and the decree there given (vii. 11-26), coming from an Artaxerxes whom the author distinguishes by spelling from Artaxerxes I., can not be regarded as spurious without seriously shaking the writer's credit. The narrative which he proceeds to give of his journey, however, contains little which might have been invented for the purpose of edification, though it might be open to any one to regard viii. 22 as written by one who had Neh. ii. 7 before him. The narrative of Ezra's doings at Jerusalem is also not marked by exaggeration. Ch. ix. records a lengthy prayer offered by him on receipt of the intelligence of the mixed marriages, and ch. x. the measures taken by him to separate the erring couples, with a list of the persons affected. The objection urged by some critics that so severe a measure would not have been obeyed, seems insufficient to justify the condemnation of this part of the narrative as unhistorical; since the author may well have supposed it would be more effective than it turned out to be. Nor indeed does the recurrence to the subject in Neh. x. 31 and xiii. 23 render it improbable that severe measures were taken years before in the same direction.
Supposing the king to have been Artaxerxes II., Ezra's arrival in Palestine may be considered to have taken place in 397 B.C. From the mention in Neh. xiii. 13 of Zadok as scribe, whereas in Neh. viii. 9 Ezra has that title, it is perhaps to be inferred that Ezra predeceased Nehemiah: in that case his death probably occurred between 370 and 360 B.C.
The question of the historical character of the Book of Ezra is concerned chiefly with the last section; since in the first two sections the scribe is not speaking as an eye-witness, whereas in the third there is either an authentic narration or a fiction. The latter view is taken by C. C. Torrey in Stade's "Zeitschrift," 1896, Supplement.
Joseph Jacobs, M. Seligsohn, Morris Jastrow Jr., David Samuel Margoliouth
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Ezra, in the introductions to the Old Testament of Driver, Cornill, Kuenen, König, Wellhausen-Bleek, Ryle, Wildeboer, Baudissin; the commentaries of Bertheau-yssel, Oettli, Ryle; Sayce, Introduction to Ezra and Nehemiah; Kosters, Het Herstel van Israel, 1894; (also German translation, Die Wiederherstellung Israels in der Persischen Periode, 1895); Meyer, Die Entstehung des Judenthums, Halle, 1896; Van Hoonacker, Nouvelles Etudes sur la Restauration Juive, 1896; Etude Chronoloyique des Livres d'Esdras et Néhémie, Paris, 1868; Sigmund Jampel, Die Wiederherstellung Israel's unter den Achäemeniden, in Monatsschrift, xlvi. (1902).J. Jr. D. S. M.
Returns to Jerusalem.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
A descendant of Seraiah the high priest (Neh. viii. 13; Ezra vii. 1 et seq.; II Kings xxv. 18-21); a member of the priestly order, and therefore known also as Ezra the Priest (: Ezra vii. 11; x. 10, 16). The name, probably an abbreviation of "Azaryahu" (God helps), appears in Greek (LXX., Apocrypha, Josephus) and in Latin (Vulgate) as "Esdras." Though Ezra was one of the most important personages of his day, and of far-reaching influence upon the development of Judaism, his biography has to be reconstructed from scanty material, furnished in part by fragments from his own memoirs (see Ezra, Book of). The first definite mention of him is in connection with a royal firman granting him permission to lead a band of exiles back to Jerusalem (Ezra vii. 12-26). This edict was issued in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes, corresponding to 458 B.C. There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the document as incorporated in Aramaic in the Book of Ezra, though Jewish coloring may be admitted. The arguments advanced for the opposite view (Cornill, "Einleitung in das Alte Testament," p. 264; Driver, "Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament," 10th ed., p. 550) at their utmost reflect on the verbal, not the virtual, accuracy of the decree. Nor is there any ground for holding that the king in question was any other than Artaxerxes Longimanus. A. van Hoonacker's contention ("Néhémie et Esdras," etc., Paris, 1890) that Ezra came to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes II. (397 B.C.; comp. Winckler, "Altorientalische Forschungen," ii. 2; Cheyne, in "Biblical World," Oct., 1899), is untenable (see Guthe, "Gesch. des Volkes Israel," p. 252; Piepenbring, "Histoire du Peuple d'Israel," p. 537; Kuenen, "Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur Bibl. Wissenschaft," ed. Budde, pp. 239 et seq.).
Returns to Jerusalem.
Though received with greater favor, the assumption of Kosters (in "Het Herstel van Israel," German ed. by Basedow, pp. 103 et seq.) that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem only during the second visit of Nehemiah (433 B.C.), can not be maintained (see Ed. Meyer, "Die Entstehung des Judenthums," 1896, pp. 60, 89, 199 et seq.; Wellhausen, "Die Rückkehr der Juden," pp. 3 et seq.). Probably the reputation he enjoyed for learning (hence "the ready scribe": Ezra vii. 6) stood him in good stead with the king, who in the firman appears to have conferred upon him extensive authority to carry his intention into effect. To the number of about 1, 500, mostly from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Ezra viii. 1-14), not counting the women and children, the companions of Ezra assembled at the river flowing toward Ahava. But no Levite being among them, Ezra induced 38 Levites and 220 Nethinim to join his expedition. After observing a day of public fasting and prayer, on the twelfth day of the first month (Nisan = April), without military escort but with due precaution for the safeguarding of the rich gifts and treasures in their keeping, they set out on their journey, and arrived without mishap at Jerusalem in the fifth month (Ab = August).
Soon after his arrival Ezra was compelled to take strenuous measures against marriage with non-Hebrew women (which had become common even among men of high standing), and he insisted in a very dramatic manner upon the dismissal of such wives (Ezra ix. and x.); but it was only after the arrival of Nehemiah (444 B.C.; comp. Neh. viii. 1 et seq.) that he published the "book of the law of Moses" which he had brought with him from Babylon, and made the colony solemnly recognize it as the basis of their religious and civil code. Ezra is further mentioned as the leader or one of the two choirs singing hymns of thanksgiving at the dedication of the wall (Neh. xii. 36 et seq.), but this note is suspected of being a gloss of questionable historical value. E. G. H.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
Ezra marks the springtime in the national history of Judaism. "The flowers appear on the earth" (Cant. ii. 12) refers to Ezra and Nehemiah (Midr. Cant. ad loc.). Ezra was worthy of being the vehicle of the Law, had it not been already given through Moses (Sanh.21b). It was forgotten, but Ezra restored it (Suk. 20a). But for its sins, Israel in the time of Ezra would have witnessed miracles as in the time of Joshua (Ber. 4a). Ezra was the disciple of Baruch ben Neriah (Cant. R.); his studies prevented him from joining the first party returning to Jerusalem in the reign of Cyrus, the study of the Law being of greater importance than the reconstruction of the Temple. According to another opinion, Ezra remained behind so as not to compete, even involuntarily, with Jeshua ben Jozadak for the office of chief priest. Ezra reestablished the text of the Pentateuch, introducing therein the Assyrian or square characters, apparently as a polemical measure against the Samaritans (Sanh. 21b). He showed his doubts concerning the correctness of some words of the text by placing points over them. Should Elijah, said he, approve the text, the points will be disregarded; should he disapprove, the doubtful words will be removed from the text (Ab. R. N. xxxiv.). Ezra wrote the Book of Chronicles and the book bearing his name (B. B. 16a). He is regarded and quoted as the type of person most competent and learned in the Law (Ber. R. xxxvi.). The Rabbis associate his name with several important institutions. It was he who ordained that three men should read ten verses from the Torah on the second and fifth days of the week and during the afternoon ("Minḥah") service on Sabbath (B. Ḳ. 82a); that the "curses" in Leviticus should be read before Shabu'ot, and those in Deuteronomy before Rosh ha-Shanah (Meg. 31b; see Bloch, "Die Institutionen des Judenthums," i. 1, pp. 112 et seq., Vienna, 1879). He ordained also that courts be in session on Mondays and Thursdays; that garments be washed on these days; that garlic be eaten on the eve of Sabbath; that the wife should rise early and bake bread in the morning; that women should wear a girdle (B. K. 82a; Yer. Meg. iv. 75a); that women should bathe (B. Ḳ. 82a); that pedlers be permitted to visit cities where merchants were established (B. Ḳ. 82a; see Bloch, l.c. p. 127); that under certain contingencies men should take a ritual bath; that the reading at the conclusion of the benedictions should be "min ha-'olam we-'ad ha'olam" (from eternity to eternity: against the Sadducees; see Bloch, l.c. p. 137). His name is also associated with the work of the Great Synagogue (Meg.17b). He is said to have pronounced the Divine Name (Yhwh) according to its proper sounds (Yoma 69b), and the beginnings of the Jewish calendar are traced back to him (Beẓah 6a; Rashi, ad loc.).
According to tradition, Ezra died at the age of 120 in Babylonia. Benjamin of Tudela was shown his grave on the Shaṭṭ al-'Arab, near the point where the Tigris flows into the Euphrates ("Itinerary," i. 73). According to another legend, he was at the time of his death in Babylon, as a courtier in the retinue of Artaxerxes (see Vigouroux, "Dictionnaire de la Bible," ii. 1931). Josephus, however, relates that Ezra died at Jerusalem, where he was buried ("Ant." xi. 5, § 5). In the seliḥah for the 10th of Ṭebet the date of Ezra's death is given as the 9th of Ṭebet (see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 580).E. C. E. G. H. I. Br.
The historical character of the Biblical data regarding Ezra the Scribe (after Ed. Meyer, "Die Entstehung des Judenthums," p. 321) is generally conceded. But the zeal of Ezra to carry out his theory that Israel should be a holy seed (), and therefore of absolutely pure Hebrew stock, was not altogether effective; that his views met with opposition is indicated in the books of Ruth and Jonah. The "book of the law" which he proclaimed at the public assembly (Neh. viii.-x.) is substantially identified with the Priestly Code (P), which, though containing older priestly ordinances ("torot"), came to be recognized as the constitutional law of the congregation (Judaism) only after Ezra's time and largely through his and Nehemiah's influence and authority. E. G. H.
Emil G. Hirsch, Executive Committee of the Editorial Board. Isaac Broydé
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Solemn League and Covenant.
A work ascribed to Nehemiah, but bearing in some canons the title Esdras II. or Esdras III., having been attributed to Ezra on the ground that Nehemiah's self-assertion deserved some punishment (Sanh. 93b), or because, having ordinarily been written on the same scroll with the Book of Ezra, it came to be regarded as an appendix to it. The book consists ostensibly (i. 1) of the memoirs of Nehemiah, compiled, or at any rate completed, toward the close of his life, since he alludes to a second visit to Jerusalem "at the end of days" (xiii. 6, A. V. margin), which must mean a long time after the first. In xiii. 28 he speaks of a grandson (comp. xii. 10, 11) of the high priest Eliashib as being of mature years; whence it appears that the latest event mentioned in the book, the high-priesthood of Jaddua, contemporary of Alexander the Great (xii. 11, 22), may have fallen within Nehemiah's time. The redaction of his memoirs occurred probably later than 360 B.C., but how much later can not easily be determined. The first person is employed in ch. i.-vii. 5, xii. 31-42, xiii. 6 et seq. Sometimes, however, Nehemiah prefers to speak in the name of the community (ii. 19, iii. 33-38, x.), and in some places he himself is spoken of in the third person, either with the title "tirshatha" (viii. 9, x. 2) or "peḥah" (xii. 26, claimed by him in v. 14; A. V. "governor"), or without title (xii. 47). The style of these last passages implies somewhat that Nehemiah is not the writer, especially that of the third and fourth: "in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra"; "in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah." The portions of the book in which the first person is used are marked by repeated prayers for recognition of the author's services, and imprecations on his enemies (iii. 36, 67; v. 19; vi. 13; xiii. 14, 22, 29, 31), which may be taken as characteristic of an individual's style; and indeed the identity of the traits of character which are manifested by the writer of the opening and closing chapters can not escape notice. Moreover, the author's enemies, Sanballat and Tobiah, figure in both parts.
The unity of the book is marred by the insertion of a variety of documents, chiefly lists of names. These are the following:
(1) Ch. iii. 1-32, a list of persons who helped to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This document agrees with ch. xii. in exhibiting remarkable acquaintance with the topography of Jerusalem; and it also gives some curious details about the persons who took part in the work, some of whose names figure in other contexts. It is, however, observable that Eliashib is said to have been high priest at the time of Nehemiah's first visit; and the same is suggested by xiii. 7, whereas in Ezra x. 6 it is suggested that Eliashib's grandson (Neh. xii. 11, 12) was in office thirteen years before Nehemiah came. If the list of high priests in ch. xii. be correct, it is clear that Eliashib could not have been in office in Nehemiah's time; and this fact discredits the historical character of the document, at any rate to a certain extent; for the possibility of Nehemiah, at a great distance from the scene of the events, having mistaken some of the details, can not be quite excluded. The account of the building given in this chapter represents it as more elaborate and national than would be imagined from iii. 33-38.
(2) Ch. vii. 6-73, a list of the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel. This is a document which Nehemiah says he discovered (vii. 5); and it is embodied in the narrative of Ezra also (Ezra ii.). The difference between the copies is such as can be attributed to the not overstrict ideas of accuracy current in antiquity. Some difficulty is occasioned by the fact that the narrative which deals with the days of Zerubbabel is continued without break into ascene which ostensibly took place in Nehemiah's own time; in other words, though the document is introduced as extraneous, it is not clear at what point it ends. Indeed, the purpose for which Nehemiah says he gathered the people, namely, to discover their genealogies (vii. 5), does not appear to have been realized, but instead the reader is taken into a scene at which the Law is publicly read by Ezra. Here again resort may be had to the hypothesis of carelessness on the author's part, or to that of compilation by an unscientific collector.
(3) If the Septuagint be believed, ch. ix. contains a discourse delivered by Ezra.
Solemn League and Covenant.
(4) Ch. x., containing a solemn league and covenant, bearing eighty-four signatures of persons who undertook to observe the Law of Moses and discharge certain duties. The number of signatories is evidently a multiple of the sacred numbers 7 and 12, and the list is headed by Nehemiah himself. Of the signatories some are persons about whom something definite is learnt in either Ezra or Nehemiah (e.g., Sherebiah, Ezra viii. 18; Hanan, Neh. xiii. 13; Kelita, Ezra x. 23), but those called "the heads of the people" appear all to be families, their names occurring to a great extent in the same order as that in which they occur in the list of ch. vii. This mixture of family names with names of individuals excites suspicion; but the unhistorical character of this document, if proved, would greatly mar the credit of the whole book. The framing of such a document at a time of religious revival and excitement has no a priori improbability.
(5) Ch. xi. contains a list of persons who drew lots to reside at Jerusalem, with notices of the assignment of offices and of the residences of officials. This document agrees very closely in places with one embodied in I Chron. ix.; indeed, both would appear to be adaptations of a register originally found in a "book of the kings of Israel and Judah" (ib. verse 1). It might seem as if the use of the word "king's" in Neh. xi. 23, 24, having been taken over from the older document, had given rise to the charge of which Nehemiah complains in vi. 6, where his enemies accuse him of making himself king; and indeed the arbitrary character of some of his measures (xiii. 25) would in part justify such a charge. If one may judge by the analogy of Mohammedan states, there would be nothing unusual in a provincial governor taking that title. The purpose of the register must have been seriously misunderstood by either Nehemiah or the Chronicler; but it may be inferred with certainty, from the occurrence of the same document in such different forms in the two books, that the compiler of Nehemiah is not identical with the Chronicler.
(6) Ch. xii. 1-26 gives a list of priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel, carried down, very imperfectly, to Nehemiah's time, or perhaps later. The "book of the chronicles" (verse 23) is cited for parts of it; but this document covers some of the same ground as the last, and it might seem as if both were rough drafts, never finally worked up. It is of course open to the critic to regard the whole work as compiled by Nehemiah, who, where his memory or knowledge failed him, may have inserted these documents, or have ordered his secretaries to insert accounts of scenes. Indeed, the expression "and in all this" (xiii. 6), which reintroduces the personal narrative, implies that the author had before him some matter which he had not himself described.
It is more usual to suppose that Nehemiah's memoirs were utilized by another writer, who did not take the trouble to alter the first person where it occurred; such a supposition involves no impossibility, provided the compiler be not identified with the compiler of Ezra or the compiler of the Chronicles; for the utilization by these authors of documents also incorporated in Nehemiah involves improbabilities calculated to outweigh any arguments that can be urged on the other side. Ben Sira (Sirach [Ecclus.] xlix. 13), in describing Nehemiah's work, evidently refers to the account found in Neh. i.-vii. 1; from the short space that he devotes to each hero no inference can be drawn with regard to the existence of the whole work in his time. The fact of its being contained in his canon would, however, make it probable that it existed in its present form as early as 300 B.C., a date separated by some decades only from the last mentioned in the book, and by less than a century from Nehemiah's first visit to Jerusalem. From the Second Book of Maccabees it is learned that various legends were current about Nehemiah when it was written, to which the Biblical book contains no allusion. Possibly those writers who reduce the credible element to the smallest amount do not sufficiently take into account the rapidity with which events succeed one another, the fragmentary character of modern knowledge of postexilic Israel, and the general complication of political phenomena.
Emil G. Hirsch, David Samuel Margoliouth
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Epochs are marked in the study of the book by the treatise of Hoonacker, Zorobabel et le Second Temple, Paris, 1892; and that of Kosters, Het Herstel van Israel, 1894. Skepticism is carried to its furthest by C. C. Torrey, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1896, 2d Supplement. Comp. also Hoonacker, Nouvelles Etudes sur la Restauration Juive, Paris, 1896. Of importance also are E. Meyer, Die Entstehung des Judenthums, 1896, and J. Geissler, Die Literarischen Beziehungen der Esramemoiren, Chemnitz, 1899, in which the literature is best collected.E. G. H. D. S. M.
Rebuilds the Walls of Jerusalem.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
Son of Hachaliah; rebuilder of the walls of Jerusalem. The sole source of information about Nehemiah is the canonical book that bears his name, parts of which, at any rate, furnished Ben Sira with the matter for the short notice which he gives of Nehemiah. He was cupbearer to Artaxerxes (identified by De Saulcy with Artaxerxes II., whose reign began 404 B.C.). Owing to a painful report that had reached him of the condition of the Jews in Palestine, he, perhaps with the countenance of the queen-mother or queen, obtained permission to visit Jerusalem, and to rebuild the walls, for which purpose he was furnished with firmans and a supply of timber. Incidentally it is mentioned that he had the title "peḥah" or "tirshatha," equivalent to "viceroy," for twelve successive years (384-372), and apparently again at a later period.
Rebuilds the Walls of Jerusalem.
The rebuilding of the walls (a task which had before Nehemiah's time been repeatedly attempted) was commenced by him with caution, and excited enmity and even armed intervention, which latter, however, Nehemiah showed himself able to resist. The account of the details of the building is not, apparently, from Nehemiah's hand, and would seem to represent the work as more of a national enterprise than would be inferred from Nehemiah's own statements. The account of the inaugural ceremony after completion comes rather late in the book, and was probably written some years after the event. Nehemiah's opponents appear to have been wealthy landowners, not themselves Israelites, but allied with leading families within the city. After the completion of the walls Nehemiah had to occupy himself with political reforms also, of which one was the restoration to their original owners of lands taken for debt by the wealthier members of the community-a scheme not unlike the "novæ tabulæ" of the classical republics, and regarded by the owners as an ultra-revolutionary measure; for it meant the abandonment without consideration of much property lawfully acquired. According to Nehemiah's account, it was effected with a minimum of friction, owing to his own disinterestedness in relinquishing his claim to the governor's allowances; and it took the form of a cheerful sacrifice on the part of the moneyed class. He tells, however, almost immediately afterward, of attempts on his own life, which he dexterously escaped, and of endeavors to represent his restoration of the walls as the prelude to a declaration of independence. In these attempts residents of Jerusalem took part, either having conspired with or being in the pay of external enemies. Among these instruments were a false prophet and a false prophetess, whom Nehemiah was able to unmask.
Nehemiah's next measure would appear to have been as aristocratic in tendency as the last was democratic. He instituted an inquiry into the pedigrees of the residents of Jerusalem with the view of degrading aliens, and for this purpose obtained a copy of the roll of the families that returned with Zerubbabel. His narrative, however, breaks off without describing the nature of the measure which he adopted or the smoothness with which it worked. It appears from other parts of the book that priestly families were connected by marriage with the aliens, and, though Nehemiah resumed his inquisition on his second visit to Jerusalem, it required the arbitrary exercise of power to carry it through. It is possible that the danger of offending the humbler classes, whom he had won over by his "novæ tabulæ," prevented him from inquiring too strictly into this matter on his first visit.
The rest of his reforms appear to have been of a religious nature, although, the chapters in which they are recorded being by other hands, there is a want of clearness in the details. He appears with the aid of Ezra to have enforced or reenforced the Mosaic law, especially the provision relating to the sanctity of the Sabbath, which on his second visit he had again to emphasize. He also provided by a regular system of forced contributions for the maintenance of the Temple services and of the various castes who took part in performing them. He writes with unusual naïveté and the accuracy of his personal narrative has rarely been questioned. It seems, however, surprising that the accredited representative of the sovereign court should, in carrying out his commission, have met with fierce opposition, leading to the imminent risk of skirmishesand battles; but the classical historians give no high idea of the administrative capacity of Artaxerxes II. Further, there appears to be some contradiction between the statements that he went to Jerusalem on a visit for a strictly limited time (ii. 6), and that he went to Judea as "peḥah" and held office for twelve years (v. 14 and xiii. 6); but this may also be due to the fragmentary nature of his memoirs.
From Nehemiah's own account of his conduct it may be gathered that he was an adroit politician, a wary leader and soldier, and a skilful organizer, though not free from pedantry and fanaticism; and it is probable that Ben Sira, in naming him after Zerubbabel as one of those to whom the Jews owed their restoration and reconstitution as a nation, only does him justice. For without walls Jerusalem could not, according to ancient ideas, have ranked as a place of importance, and the measure, of which there is an obscure mention (xi. 1), of obtaining a resident population fitted for its size, by drawing lots, would also do much toward restoring its former grandeur. His name was, however, not popular with the tradition which has come down in the Talmuds; but in that which is preserved in the Second Book of Maccabees many services are attributed to him of which the Bible knows nothing. Among these are the miraculous production of fire, celebrated by a feast called "Naphthar" (II Macc. i. 36); the compilation of a sacred library (ib. ii. 13); and even the building of the Temple and the altar (ib. verse 18). These statements are not worthy of credit; and it is evident that Nehemiah's personality was overshadowed by that of Ezra, whose services, though less brilliant, were more lasting.E. G. H. D. S. M.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
Nehemiah is identified in one haggadah with Zerubbabel, the latter name being considered an epithet of Nehemiah and as indicating that he was born at Babylon ("Zera'+ Babel"; Sanh. 38a). With Ezra, he marks the spring-time in the national history of Judaism (Cant. R. ii. 12). A certain mishnah is declared by the Rabbis to have originated in the school of Nehemiah (Shab. 123b). Still, Nehemiah is blamed by the Rabbis for his seemingly boastful expression, "Think upon me, my God, for good" (Neh. v. 19, xiii. 31), and for his disparagement of his predecessors (ib. v. 15), among whom was Daniel. The Rabbis think that these two faults were the reason that this book is not mentioned under its own name, but forms part of the Book of Ezra (Sanh. 93b). According to B. B. 15a Nehemiah completed the Book of Chronicles, which was written by Ezra.W. B. M. Sel.
Emil G. Hirsch, David Samuel Margoliouth, Wilhelm Bacher, M. Seligsohn
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
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