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

The Sociology of Reading Ezra and Nehemiah.

1.

Recent work on Ezra and Nehemiah has focused on the presumed relationship between the post-exilic returning Golah community, and the Persian administration. Nehemiah's mission was part of Persian attempts to shore up their western flank in the face of growing Greek involvement in Egyptian rebellions (Hoglund 1992 ). Berquist (1995 ) goes further in arguing that the Jewish officials were enthusiastic supporters of Persian goals, and that the court of Darius may have been the workroom for the Torah itself as a civil code for the Jewish subjects. Related to this, Richards (forthcoming) argues for a recognition of ‘the ideological collusion of the Ezra-Nehemiah text with Persian colonial ideology’. To a greater or lesser degree, these recent statements share an assumption of complicity with Persian imperial policy in both Ezra and Nehemiah. But it is possible to read Ezra, particularly, in a different light.

2.

If one reads from an assumption of the social realities of occupied Judah under Persian imperial power, then one ought to read with attention to the vastly underestimated varieties of ways in which subordinated peoples resist a militarily superior force other than open confrontation (cf. Scott 1985 ). Reading Ezra's prayer (Neh 9 ) surely gives one pause (‘Here we are, slaves in our own land!’). Further, the only occasion in Ezra–Nehemiah that actually gives us a reason for drawing up a list of personal names is Ezra 5:4 , where the situation is of a Persian official wanting to report specific names because he suspects them of rebellious activity. When read in the context of minority strategies of resistance and circumstances of colonialism (see also Fanon 1963; Raboteau 1978; White 1983; Lanternari 1963, and Memmi 1965 ), Ezra and Nehemiah can be understood quite differently, and it is precisely this post-colonial sociology of resistance that informs the critical reading of Ezra and Nehemiah that is presumed in this commentary.

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