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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

Smaller Works

Ruth and Esther are both short stories, historical fictions, which are quite different in nature from the works discussed above, but very similar to the books of Tobit and Judith in the Apocrypha. They are more literary than these larger works; that is, their authors self-consciously manipulated their prose for esthetic as well as ideological purposes. For example, part of the structuring of Ruth involves symmetry, whereby an “‘eshet hayil” (“ a worthy woman” [ 3.11 ]), meets and marries a “gibbor hayil” (“a worthy man”; NRSV “a prominent rich man” [ 2.1 ]), and they live happily ever after. The book also opens with an ironic statement that is only apparent in the Hebrew: There is a famine in “the house of bread” (Bethlehem). Esther as well is tightly structured, for example, using dinner parties as a major plot device for the book's progress. Despite the literary artistry of these books, however, they are also history in the sense outlined above: They narrate a past in order to convey lessons relevant to the community. The particular characteristics of these two very different books, each from a distinct country and time period, and each reflecting remarkably different ideologies, may be found in the Introduction to each book.

Ezra differs from these other Historical Books in its use of extensive quotations of official Persian documents (e.g., 7.12–26 ), which many believe to be authentic. Nehemiah lacks these documents but is exceptional in its own way: It is the only book in this collection to narrate history from the first‐person perspective, as in 13.15 : “In those days I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys; and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day; and I warned them at that time against selling food.” In general, Ezra‐Nehemiah is closer to the events that it narrates than any other biblical book, and it is thus possible that it may reflect those events with greater accuracy than other biblical works, which are typically removed by centuries from the events being described. Nevertheless, we must also recognize the strong biases of this book, which is interested in fostering the importance of the Torah as the central document for the postexilic community (see esp. Neh 8–9 ), and in emphasizing the grave dangers of intermarriage (Ezra 9–10, Neh 13 ). Thus, even Ezra‐Nehemiah, which contains archival material and first‐person accounts, and is among the latest of the books in this canonical division, should not be seen as straightforward, representative, and accurate history.

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