Book of Esdras

Summary of the Book of Ezra

This summary of the book of Ezra provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Ezra.

Ezra and Nehemiah

Although the caption to Ne 1:1, "The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah," indicates that Ezra and Nehemiah were originally two separate compositions, they were combined as one very early. Josephus (c. a.d. 37-100) and the Jewish Talmud refer to the book of Ezra but not to a separate book of Nehemiah. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT) also treat Ezra and Nehemiah as one book.

Origen (c. a.d. 185-253) is the first writer known to distinguish between two books, which he called 1 Ezra and 2 Ezra. In translating the Latin Vulgate (c. a.d. 390-405), Jerome called Nehemiah the second book of Esdrae (Ezra). The English translations by Wycliffe (1382) and Coverdale (1535) also called Ezra "I Esdras" and Nehemiah "II Esdras." The same separation first appeared in a Hebrew manuscript in 1448.

Literary Form and Authorship

As in the closely related books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, one notes the prominence of various lists in Ezra and Nehemiah, which have evidently been obtained from official sources. Included are lists of (1) the temple articles (Ezr 1:9-11), (2) the returned exiles (Ezr 2, which is virtually the same as Ne 7:6-73), (3) the genealogy of Ezra (Ezr 7:1-5), (4) the heads of the clans (Ezr 8:1-14), (5) those involved in mixed marriages (Ezr 10:18-43), (6) those who helped rebuild the wall (Ne 3), (7) those who sealed the covenant (Ne 10:1-27), (8) residents of Jerusalem and other towns (Ne 11:3-36) and (9) priests and Levites (Ne 12:1-26).

Also included in Ezra are seven official documents or letters (all in Aramaic except the first, which is in Hebrew): (1) the decree of Cyrus (1:2-4), (2) the accusation of Rehum and others against the Jews (4:11-16), (3) the reply of Artaxerxes I (4:17-22), (4) the report from Tattenai (5:7-17), (5) the memorandum of Cyrus's decree (6:2b-5), (6) Darius's reply to Tattenai (6:6-12) and (7) the authorization given by Artaxerxes I to Ezra (7:12-26). The documents are similar to contemporary non-Biblical documents of the Persian period.

Certain materials in Ezra are first-person extracts from his memoirs: 7:27-28; 8:1-34; 9. Other sections are written in the third person: 7:1-26; 10; see also Ne 8. Linguistic analysis has shown that the first-person and third-person extracts resemble each other, making it likely that the same author wrote both.

Most scholars conclude that the author/compiler of Ezra and Nehemiah was also the author of 1,2 Chronicles. This viewpoint is based on certain characteristics common to both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. The verses at the end of Chronicles and at the beginning of Ezra are virtually identical. Both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah exhibit a fondness for lists, for the description of religious festivals and for such phrases as "heads of families" and "the house of God." Especially striking in these books is the prominence of Levites and temple personnel. The words for "singer," "gatekeeper" and "temple servants" are used almost exclusively in Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles. See Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author, Date and Sources.

Date

The Ezra memoirs (see note on 7:28) may be dated c. 440 b.c. and the Nehemiah memoirs c. 430. These were then combined with other materials somewhat later. See Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author, Date and Sources.

The Order of Ezra and Nehemiah

According to the traditional view, Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the seventh year (Ezr 7:8) of Artaxerxes I (458 b.c.), followed by Nehemiah, who arrived in the king's 20th year (444; Ne 2:1,11).

Some have proposed a reverse order in which Nehemiah arrived in 444 b.c., while Ezra arrived in the seventh year of Artaxerxes II (398). By amending "seventh" (Ezr 7:8) to either "27th" or "37th," others place Ezra's arrival after Nehemiah's but still maintain that they were contemporaries.

These alternative views, however, present more problems than the traditional position. As the text stands, Ezra arrived before Nehemiah and they are found together in Ne 8:9 (at the reading of the Law) and Ne 12:26,36 (at the dedication of the wall).

Languages

Ezra and Nehemiah were written in a form of late Hebrew with the exception of Ezr 4:8 -- 6:18; 7:12 -- 26, which were written in Aramaic, the language of international diplomacy during the Persian period. Of these 67 Aramaic verses, 52 are in records or letters. Ezra evidently found these documents in Aramaic and copied them, inserting connecting verses in Aramaic.

Major Theological Themes

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah relate how God's covenant people were restored from Babylonian exile to the covenant land as a theocratic (kingdom of God) community even while continuing under Gentile rule. The major theological themes of this account are:

    1. The restoration of Israel from exile was God's doing. He moved the hearts of Persian emperors; he moved the hearts of the repatriates and those who supported them; he raised up prophets to prod and support the repatriates; he protected them on the way and delivered them from their opponents; he stirred up Ezra and Nehemiah to perform their separate ministries; he prospered the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem.
    2. The restoration of the covenant community was complete -- even though political independence was not attained. "All Israel" was repatriated through a representative remnant; the temple was rebuilt and its services (daily sacrifices, priestly ministries, Levitical praise, annual feasts) revived in accordance with the Law of Moses and the regulations instituted by David; the Law was reestablished as regulative for the life of the community; the "holy city" (Jerusalem) was rebuilt and inhabited; the people were purged; the covenant was renewed.
    3. Just as God used the world powers to judge his people, so he used them to restore his people to their land; imperial action and authority directly and indirectly initiated, protected and sustained every aspect of the restoration.
    4. Israel's restoration evoked fierce opposition, but that opposition was thwarted at every turn.
    5. The restored community was a chastened people, yet they were also in need of frequent rebuke and reformation. Israel remained a wayward people. They still awaited the "new covenant" of which Jeremiah had spoken (ch. 31) and the renewal to be effected by God's Spirit as announced by Joel (ch. 1) and Ezekiel (ch. 36).

Outline

  • First Return from Exile and Rebuilding of the Temple (chs. 1-6)
    • First Return of the Exiles (ch. 1)
      1. The edict of Cyrus (1:1-4)
      2. The return under Sheshbazzar (1:5-11)
    • List of Returning Exiles (ch. 2)
    • Revival of Temple Worship (ch. 3)
      1. The rebuilding of the altar (3:1-3)
      2. The Feast of Tabernacles (3:4-6)
      3. The beginning of temple reconstruction (3:7-13)
    • Opposition to Rebuilding (4:1-23)
      1. Opposition during the reign of Cyrus (4:1-5)
      2. Opposition during the reign of Xerxes (4:6)
      3. Opposition during the reign of Artaxerxes (4:7-23)
    • Completion of the Temple (4:24;6:22)
      1. Resumption of work under Darius (4:24)
      2. A new beginning inspired by Haggai and Zechariah (5:1-2)
      3. Intervention of the governor, Tattenai (5:3-5)
      4. Report to Darius (5:6-17)
      5. Search for the decree of Cyrus (6:1-5)
      6. Darius's order for the rebuilding of the temple (6:6-12)
      7. Completion of the temple (6:13-15)
      8. Dedication of the temple (6:16-18)
      9. Celebration of Passover (6:19-22)
  • Ezra's Return and Reforms (chs. 7-10)
    • Ezra's Return to Jerusalem (chs. 7-8)
      1. Introduction (7:1-10)
      2. The authorization by Artaxerxes (7:11-26)
      3. Ezra's doxology (7:27-28)
      4. List of those returning with Ezra (8:1-14)
      5. The search for Levites (8:15-20)
      6. Prayer and fasting (8:21-23)
      7. The assignment of the sacred articles (8:24-30)
      8. The journey and arrival in Jerusalem (8:31-36)
    • Ezra's Reforms (chs. 9-10)
      1. The offense of mixed marriages (9:1-5)
      2. Ezra's confession and prayer (9:6-15)
      3. The people's response (10:1-4)
      4. The calling of a public assembly (10:5-15)
      5. Investigation of the offenders (10:16-17)
      6. The list of offenders (10:18-43)
      7. The dissolution of mixed marriages (10:44)

From the NIV Study Bible, Introductions to the Books of the Bible, Ezra
Copyright 2002 © Zondervan. All rights reserved. Used with permission.