Introduction to Ezra




The books of Ezra and Nehemiah bear the names of the key person in each of the books. Until the third century AD, though, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were regarded as a single book. Each contains material found in the other, and they complete each other. The separation of the book in the Christian community took place through the influence of the Vulgate, the Latin translation prepared by Jerome, who, following Origen before him, separated Ezra-Nehemiah into two distinct books. In the Jewish community, Ezra and Nehemiah were not separated into two distinct books until the fifteenth-century printing of the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra-Nehemiah is part of the third division of the canon, called the Writings (Hb ketuvim).

The Euphrates River. The difficult journey from exile back to Judah was approximately a thousand miles and likely proceeded along the trade route that ran parallel to the Euphrates River from Mesopotamia to Aleppo. Sheshbazzar led the first groups between 538 and 522 BC and Ezra the second group, 458 BC.

The Euphrates River. The difficult journey from exile back to Judah was approximately a thousand miles and likely proceeded along the trade route that ran parallel to the Euphrates River from Mesopotamia to Aleppo. Sheshbazzar led the first groups between 538 and 522 BC and Ezra the second group, 458 BC.


AUTHOR: Ezra and Nehemiah are anonymous. Ancient Jewish sources usually credit Ezra as the author of Ezra-Nehemiah. More likely Ezra-Nehemiah was written by the “Chronicler,” the person (or persons) responsible for 1 and 2 Chronicles. Not only is Ezra-Nehemiah linked to Chronicles at its introduction (Ezr 1:1-2 = 2Ch 36:22-23), it also shares many similarities in language, terminology, themes, and perspective.

BACKGROUND: It is probably safe to assume that Ezra-Nehemiah was written soon after the conclusion of Nehemiah’s ministry. Most likely the book was written no later than 400 BC.

In Ezra-Nehemiah it is clear that Ezra came to Jerusalem first, probably in 458 BC, and that Nehemiah followed him thirteen years later, probably in 445 BC. Nehemiah made no mention of Ezra, his ministry, or his reforms. Ezra and Nehemiah appear together in only two texts (Neh 8:9; 12:36). The two events in which Ezra and Nehemiah were together were significant. In Nehemiah 8, the context is the reading of the law to the people, while in Nehemiah 12 the two joyous processions walking around the city walls in the dedication ceremony include Ezra (Neh 12:36) and Nehemiah (Neh 12:38).


Ezra continues where 2 Chronicles left off. While it provides us with key historical insights, it is rich in messages for God’s people.

THE CONTINUITY OF GOD’S PEOPLE: The events in Ezra-Nehemiah connect the Israelites with the preexilic community. The returning exiles experienced a new exodus and remained a part of God’s redemptive plan. God even used pagan leaders like Cyrus and Artaxerxes to restore his people.

HOLINESS: For the people to continue the covenant relationship with God, it was important for them to separate and remain pure in matters of doctrine, ethics, and customs. Prior to the exile, the people experienced judgment because of their inability to remain consistently faithful and single minded in their relationship to their covenant God. Ezra-Nehemiah shows us a renewed interest in remaining separated unto God.

SCRIPTURE: Ezra and Nehemiah reaffirm the centrality of the law to the life and practice of the Israelite community. They knew the authority of Scripture, but they were called back from their neglect of its teachings. Multiple times they showed that the people worked and behaved in accordance with what Moses had written (Ezr 3:2; 6:18; Neh 8:14-15; 13:1-3). Ezra and Nehemiah may give us the best example of the power of God at work through the written Word.

WORSHIP: The returning exiles built an altar to sacrifice to God before they rebuilt the temple. Only after the place of worship was finished did they rebuild the walls. They got the projects in proper order because worship and a proper relationship with God precede everything else.

PRAYER: Alongside worship is an abundance of prayer in these books. Two extensive prayers are recorded (Ezr 9; Neh 9). Prayer and fasting are mentioned multiple times as they set out on tasks, and the whole rebuilding of the wall was bathed in prayer. Prayer is combined with action throughout Nehemiah, and both books underscore the need to approach God in prayer constantly.


The events which occurred in Ezra and Nehemiah, the rebuilt temple, the stabilizing of Jerusalem, and the Jewish community that developed, all played key roles in the life and ministry of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. The rebuilt temple may have paled in comparison to the temple that Solomon built, but it would serve the Jews for centuries until Christ removed the need for a physical temple.


Ezra-Nehemiah was written in two related but distinct languages—Hebrew and Aramaic. The Hebrew sections generally reflect the style of the postexilic era with some evidence of the impact of Aramaic on the language. Aramaic, a Semitic language similar to Hebrew, occurs in two sections in the book of Ezra (4:8-6:18; 7:12-26). During the Persian period (ca 540 to 330 BC), Aramaic was the official language of diplomacy and commerce.

Ezra-Nehemiah is similar to Samuel and Kings, and especially Chronicles, in that many sources were utilized in its composition. These include two major types of sources. Much of Ezra-Nehemiah consists of material from the Ezra Memoir and the Nehemiah Memoir. The Ezra Memoir, usually written in the first person, includes Ezra 7-10, along with Nehemiah 8 and probably chap. 9 as well; embedded in this memoir are lists and records from other sources used by Ezra. The composition of the Nehemiah Memoir is regarded as including Nehemiah 1-7 as well as 11-13. But here also Nehemiah incorporated lists and records in his memoir. Ezra-Nehemiah also contains many lists, genealogies, inventories, letters, and census records. For a community attempting to reestablish itself after the disaster of 586 BC and the subsequent exile to Babylon, this material was crucial in reordering their life as a community.


I.Return from Exile (1:1-6:22)

A.The decree of Cyrus (1:1-11)

B.Exiles who returned (2:1-70)

C.Restoration of worship (3:1-13)

D.Opposition (4:1-24)

E.Rebuilding the temple (5:1-6:22)

II.Reform through Ezra (7:1-10:44)

A.Ezra’s arrival (7:1-10)

B.Artaxerxes’s letter (7:11-28)

C.Returnees with Ezra (8:1-14)

D.Search for Levites (8:15-20)

E.Preparing to return (8:21-30)

F.Arrival in Jerusalem (8:31-36)

G.Sin and confession (9:1-10:44)

615-590 BC

Neco II of Egypt commissions Phoenician sailors to be the first to sail around the continent of Africa. 615-595

Nebuchadnezzar’s three invasions of Judah 605, 597, 586

Events in Obadiah 605-586?

Daniel is among those taken from Jerusalem to Babylon. 605

Temple of Solomon is destroyed. 586

590-560 BC

Events in Ezekiel 593-571

Athens has two years with no archon (ruler), hence the term anarchy. 589

Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, is born. 581

Aesop, slave of Xanthus of Samos, is credited with collecting and creating fables. They were probably committed to writing at a later time. 570

Nebuchadnezzar II’s successor, Evil-merodach, releases Judah’s King Jehoiachin, who had been a prisoner for 36 years. 561

560-530 BC

Battle of Thymbra between Cyrus the Great and Croesus, commander of the Lydian army 546

Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall for Belshazzar. Cyrus captures Babylon without resistance. 539

Cyrus’s decree allows return of Jews from exile. 538

Events in Ezra 538-457

Second temple construction under Zerubbabel’s and Joshua’s leadership 536-515

530-500 BC

Cambyses, son of Cyrus 530-522

Aeschylus, Greek tragedian (525-456) many of whose plays dealt with the Persian invasion of Greece, participated in the Greek victories at Marathon and Salamis.

Darius I or Darius the Great 521-486

Events in Haggai 520

Events in Zechariah 520-518

Second temple dedicated 515

500-480 BC

Greeks develop instruments for surveying. 500

Sugar cane cultivated in India 500

Greeks, outnumbered almost five to one, defeat Persians in Battle of Marathon through superior military intelligence and strategy, forestalling Persian expansion into Europe. 490

Events in Esther 486-465

Greek victory over Persians in Battle of Salamis, 480, and Plain of Plataea, 479, thwarted Persian expansion into Europe.

480-445 BC

Xerxes I, Ahasuerus, husband of Esther 486-465

Esther’s reign 479-465?

Esther saves the Jews within the Persian Empire. 474?

Ezra goes to Jerusalem. 458

Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes, learns of the disrepair of Jerusalem’s walls and leads an effort that restores the walls. 445


Cyrus II

(The Great)

559-530 Permitted return of the Jews from exile; facilitated rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem (Ezr 1:1-4; 6:3-5); “his anointed” (Is 45:1) King of Anshan, 559 BC; conquered kingdom of Media (550 BC) and Lydian kingdom (546 BC); conquered Babylon, 539 BC.
Cambyses II 530-522 Not mentioned in the Bible Son of Cyrus the Great; conquered Egypt, 525 BC; his death (suicide?) in 522 BC lead to two years of fighting between rival claimants to the throne
Darius I Hystaspes 522-486 Haggai and Zechariah preached during the second year of Darius I (520 BC); temple rebuilt and dedicated (515 BC; cp. Ezr 6:13-15) Member of a collateral royal line; secured the throne ending the unrest following the death of Cambyses; reorganized the Persian Empire into satrapies; established royal postal system; began building Persepolis; invaded Greece and was defeated at Marathon, 490 BC; revolt in Egypt
Xerxes I 486-465 Possibly Ahasuerus of the book of Esther Son of Darius I; continued building Persepolis; encountered numerous rebellions at the beginning of his reign (Egypt, Babylon); invaded Greece; sacked Athens (480 BC), but was defeated by the Greeks in a revolt engagement (Salamis, 480 BC), and on land (Plataea and Mycale, 479 BC); killed in a palace coup in 455 BC.
Artaxerxes I Longimanus 465-425 Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes; came to Judah (444 BC.; cp. Neh 2:1; 13:6); traditional date of Ezra’s mission in the seventh year of his reign (458 BC; cp. Ezr 7:7) Faced revolt in Egypt; completed major buildings at Persepolis; made peace with the Greeks (Peace of Callas, 449 BC); died of natural causes
Xerxes II 423 Not mentioned in the Bible Ruled less than two months

Darius II


423-404 Not mentioned in the Bible; Jews in Egypt appealed to Samaria and Jerusalem for help in rebuilding their temple about 407 BC. Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BC; Persia recovered several Greek cities in Asia Minor

Artaxerxes II


404-359/8 Some scholars place Ezra’s mission in the seventh year of Artaxerxes II, about 398 BC. Egypt regained freedom from Persia for a time; revolt of the Satraps, 366-360 BC.
Artaxerxes III Ochus 359/8-338/7 Not mentioned in the Bible Philip II of Macedon; rises to power about 359 BC; Alexander the Great born 356 BC; Persia reclaims Egypt, 342 BC.
Arses 338/7-336 Not mentioned in the Bible Son of Artaxerxes III; became king when his father and most of his family were murdered

Darius III


336-330 Alexander subdues the Levant; Tyre and Gaza besieged, 332 BC; conquest of Egypt by Alexander, 332 BC. Philip assassinated, 336 BC; Alexander the Great invades the Persian Empire, 334 BC; Darius III defeated by Alexander at Issus, 333 BC and Gaugamela, 331 BC; death of Darius, 330 BC.