We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

Nehemiah - Introduction

The Access Bible treats Ezra-Nehemiah as a single work; for convenience the introductory material from Ezra is repeated here.

In the form found in most English Bibles, Ezra and Nehemiah are divided into two separate books. This format follows a tradition established in the early centuries of the Christian church, when the Vulgate * (the Bible in Latin) divided these two works. It was only in the fifteenth century CE that Hebrew manuscripts adopted the same custom. In actuality, the most ancient tradition we can trace kept these two works together as one. Most of the ancient lists of books of the Hebrew Bible list them together. Moreover, the two share a number of literary elements, suggesting that they are related.

It has become commonplace in scholarship to see Ezra-Nehemiah as a continuation of the same narrative * as 1 and 2 Chronicles, all these works having been written by the same hand. The reasons are many, but some of the main points are that Ezra-Nehemiah opens with a repetition of 2 Chr 36.22–23 , that Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 and 2 Chronicles share vocabulary for Temple * personnel and objects that are not found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, and that both 1 and 2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah have extended genealogical * lists. While this view may still predominate, the last two decades have seen the emergence of a serious challenge from scholars who argue for the independence of Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 and 2 Chronicles. They have sought to base this conclusion on a number of differences in vocabulary, theology, and ideology between the two works. The issue is complex, but here we will look at Ezra-Nehemiah as if it is an independent composition on its own terms.

In literary form, Ezra-Nehemiah is difficult to characterize. The author has employed citations of documents, lists of personnel or community members, historical narratives, and first-person narratives that are often termed “memoirs.” Some of the more notable portions are Rehum's correspondence with King Artaxerxes (Ezra 4.7–22 ), Tattenai's correspondence with King Darius ( 5.6–17; 6.6–12 ), a list of those who returned from Babylon (Ezra 2.1–67 , repeated in Neh 7.6–68 ), the “Ezra memoir” (Ezra 7–10 ), and the “Nehemiah memoir” (mainly Neh 1.1–7.5 ).

The normal approach to the work has been to read it as a historical narrative, but throughout the work elements appear dislocated and far off the mark for history writing. Given the lack of chronological flow to the work, it would be better to consider it a historical apologetic, * or a defense of a particular position or viewpoint, loosely using the events of the community to support a theological perspective.

Squarely set in the midst of the Persian empire, the work focuses on two imperial functionaries, Ezra and Nehemiah, and the reforms they attempted. If Ezra is placed before Nehemiah, as seems the intent of the author, then Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 BCE, and Nehemiah's first stint as governor was in 445 BCE. When scholars examine the lists of names, they can determine that the latest names on some lists date from a generation or so after the time of the mid fifth century. They therefore conclude that the work was written around 400 BCE.

Both Ezra and Nehemiah as literary figures are portrayed as disturbed by intermarriage with “foreigners” in the community, and both condemn this activity using a language loaded with religious connotations. This concern hardly seems to fit with Ezra 1–6 , where the struggle to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem almost a century earlier dominates.

Linking the various parts of the work together is the theme of the “house of God.” Beginning with the rebuilding of the physical structure of the Temple, the work moves through to the reformation of the community as the “house of God.” A subsidiary theme is the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, which would separate the community from the surrounding region, both physically and religiously. These themes are cast in highly religious language, leading the reader to the inevitable assessment of the righteousness of this redefinition of the community.

The Persian empire faced troubled conditions in the mid fifth century as a serious revolt in Egypt, coupled with the assistance of the Greek city-states, openly challenged the empire's control of the Mediterranean. The territory of Yehud, as the region of Jerusalem and the surrounding area was called, suddenly had strategic importance for the empire. One of the techniques the Persian empire used to control subject populations was controlling their access to the land. Since most of the population was engaged in farming or farming-related employment, access to the land was essential for survival, and thus the empire maintained control over the peoples they had conquered. The ability to control land access was threatened when adjacent communities began to intermarry, since this blurred the definition of who had access to what lands. The narratives of Ezra-Nehemiah present two individuals who are charged directly by the Persian king to undertake vaguely described missions, the result of which is the strengthening of the community boundaries by directly attacking the practice of intermarriage. Such a redefinition of the community probably met with strong opposition, and the present literary work of Ezra-Nehemiah sought to provide a theological rationale for accepting what was essentially an imperial dictate.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2018. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice