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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
From the NIV Study Bible, Introductions to the Books of the Bible, Ezra
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