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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

The Book of Ezra - Introduction

The books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah were originally a single unit which came to be separated (see Introduction to 1 Chronicles ). The Book of Ezra deals with several episodes of the return to Zion by Judeans after the Babylonian Exile (587–539 B.C.E.); these episodes took place in both the sixth and the fifth centuries, and focus on Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, Ezra (who made two trips), and Nehemiah (who made two trips).

The book poses a number of historical and literary problems, the chief of which is that of sources and the sequence of materials. Two main sources used by the author, usually called the Chronicler, are the “Memoirs of Ezra” and the “Memoirs of Nehemiah” (narratives using first person forms). But some of the Nehemiah material appears in the Book of Ezra and some of the Ezra material is in the Book of Nehemiah, suggesting that materials were dislocated in the course of their transmission.

As a consequence, uncertainty attends the effort to determine whether Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries. If they were not, then problems arise as to whose career came first. In the order of the books in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Ezra precedes the Book of Nehemiah, and the general impression suggests that priority belonged to Ezra. But serious doubts have been raised; for example, if Ezra came first, why does Nehemiah seem to ignore him? (See also 10.6 n. ) Hence a frequent view adopted here concludes that Nehemiah preceded Ezra. Accordingly, the king of 7.1 is likely Artaxerxes II (404–359 B.C.E.); the king at the time of Nehemiah was Artaxerxes I (464–424 B.C.E.).

On the date of composition, probably the fourth century B.C.E. is to be adopted; see Introduction to 1 Chronicles .

Chapters 1–6 are not about Ezra but deal with a return from Babylonia led by Sheshbazzar (about 538 B.C.E.), and with further events of the time of Zerubbabel (about 516 B.C.E.); some scholars term these early chapters “The Book of Zerubbabel.”

The material on Ezra himself is in Ezra chs. 7–10 and Neh. chs. 8–9 .

Despite the problems, the prevailing interest in the book is clear. The returned exiles represent to the author the remnant of Israel who must exhibit fullest fidelity to, and conformity with, the Law of Moses. Hence, the community needed to reconstruct Jerusalem and the temple, and to maintain its sanctity in the midst of foreign peoples.

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