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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Literary and Historical Problems.

1.

Among the more vexed problems of Ezra–Nehemiah scholarship is the problem of determining the historical relationship of the presumed historical figures of Ezra and Nehemiah: Who came first? Did their time in Judah overlap? Another problem has been the possible relationship to the writings of the Chronicler. We can only briefly review these questions here, beginning with the latter question on the relationship to Chronicles.

2.

Chronicles ends with the same phrases with which Ezra begins—the suggestion has often been made that they are originally intended to be parts of one work. Among modern commentators, Blenkinsopp (1988: 47–54) defends this unity on both lexical and thematic grounds (David as founder of temple, interest in the details of temple construction and worship, etc.). But as Williamson (1985: pp. xx–xxii), in agreement with the arguments of Japhet (1968 ), concludes, there are good historical grounds for considering Ezra–Nehemiah as a single work that predates the creation of 1 Esdras, and therefore 1 Esdras cannot be used as an argument that Ezra–Nehemiah were originally the ending of a large work that included Chronicles. These arguments tend towards surveys of lexical comparisons between the two works, including stylistic features. Williamson further argues that Ezra–Nehemiah was completed in three stages: (1) the writing of the primary memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, close to their actual lifetimes; (2) a combination of materials that resulted in Ezra 7–Neh 13 (with some parts added later); and (3) the final addition of Ezra 1–6 . Although admittedly without great confidence, the presumption of this commentary on Ezra–Nehemiah tends towards reading it separately from Chronicles, except for some thematic and historical similarities which need not depend on common authorship, but simply common historical and sociological circumstances.

3.

The problem of when Ezra and Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem is also complex, and made more so by the number of rulers named Artaxerxes, and the popularity of similar Jewish names among the exilic communities! In short, the same name cannot always be taken to be the same person. For example, the seventh year of Artaxerxes I would be the traditional date for Ezra of 458 BCE, before the date of Nehemiah's opening memoirs, which would be 446 BCE (there is little debate that Nehemiah served under Artaxerxes I). But if it is Artaxerxes II, then the major alternative argument suggests that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem years after Nehemiah, in 398 BCE. Arguments between these options are not decisive, but more recent trends have accepted that Nehemiah's actions make more sense following the precedent of Ezra's legal reforms, rather than preceding them. Nehemiah's reforms on mixed marriage, for example, seem more focused than Ezra's general actions, and tend towards heightening the severity of Nehemiah's judgement against local authorities who still did not comply with what the local population had already dealt with! Williamson (1985: p. xliv), too, notes that Nehemiah's actions did not raise the local controversies that Ezra's actions did, suggesting that by Nehemiah's time these were not generally perceived as controversial actions. Still, Ezra 9:9 raises questions about whether a wall had already been built. Again, risking a position on shifting sands, this commentary will presume that Ezra arrived before Nehemiah, and both engaged in their work (or, to be more precise, the text represents their work) during the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus (465–424 BCE) as opposed to the later Artaxerxes II Arsakes (405–359 BCE).

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