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

Commentary on Ezra–Nehemiah

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The Edict of Cyrus and Preparations to Return (Ezra 1 )

( 1:1–12 )

vv. 1–3 , the opening scene of the book of Ezra connects clearly to the end of 2 Chronicles ( 36:22 ), which is taken by many (Rudolph 1949: 2–3) to be another indication of the original unity between the books of Chronicles and Ezra/Nehemiah (contra Japhet). The emphasis of this introduction is on the first year of the reign of Cyrus of Persia (b. 590/589, d. 530). However, this must certainly refer to the first year of his rule of the Babylonian territory, thus 539. The reference to the predictions of Jeremiah is an indication of the beginnings of a textual canon, and its interpretation. The term ‘to fulfil/accomplish’ can refer to completed time (Gen 41:53, Jer 8:20; Isa 10:25; 24:13; Ruth 2:23; 2 Chr 29:28 ) or to finished work (1 Kings 6:38; 1 Chr 28:20; 2 Chr 8:16 . Note especially Dan 11:36 , ‘period of wrath is completed’). Williamson (1985) argues that the fulfilment of the word refers not to Jeremiah's ‘seventy years’ but rather to Deutero-Isaiah's prediction of a victor from the east (Isa 41:2, 25; 45:13 ). God's ‘stirring’ of Cyrus ought not to be taken as sympathetic to Persian rule—rather it represents God's control of what appears to be human events (see Isa 41:2; 45:13 ). This is also clear in the use of the term p-q-d. That God ‘entrusts/charges’ the Emperor can be seen as some kind of endorsement of Cyrus, but it can also be a somewhat subversive statement about who is, in fact, in charge despite appearances (note also Neh 7:1; 12:44 ).

The use of ‘God of heaven’ has been taken by some to be a Persian equivalent of the concept of Ahura-Mazda, the central deity in Zoroastrianism, although it is controversial whether Cyrus was already Zoroastrian (Boyce 1975–82 ). The phrase ‘God of heaven’ is only used in Persian contexts in the Bible, thus affirming a possible parallel in the Persian mind between the two deities. Finally, the mention of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin is probably based only on the fact that they are the majority group here.

v. 4 , on the possibilities of š-᾽-r as a technical term see Hasel (1972). nādab ǁ nĕdābâ is a reference to freewill-offerings of the temple (Ex 35:29; 36:3; 2 Chr 31:14; Ezra 8:28 , and negatively in Am 4:5 ). Japhet (1993: 503–5) notes the emphasis on these freewill-offerings in the Chronicler (1 Chr 29:5, 6, 9, 14, 17 ) as part of the Chronicler's emphasis on the whole-heartedness of the community.

It is widely accepted that Ezra 1 represents an oral form of the edict of Cyrus, which appears in written form in ch. 6 . The latter is the more historically reliable text, ch. 1 being a summary (Bickermann 1976; Smitten 19724:171 ).

v. 5 , interest in the temple had significant economic implications (Weinberg 1992 ). v. 6 , śĕgîgîm (lit. the ones around) means ‘foreign peoples’ (Ps 50:3; 76:12; 97:2; Jer 48:17; Lam 1:17; Ezek 16:57; 28:24; Dan 9:16 ). This is part of the ‘despoiling Egyptians/new Exodus’ motif of Ezra 1–6 (Williamson 1985: 16; Blenkinsopp 1988: 135–9). An awareness of the watchful eyes of the surrounding peoples is prominent in exilic and post-exilic writings. This awareness of wider society, of the presence of others who may laugh or ridicule, is a significant aspect of colonized societies who are sensitive to all aspects of their humiliation (Fanon 1963; Memmi 1965 ). v. 7 , the humiliation theme continues with the mention of Nebuchadnezzar's placing of the vessels ‘in the house of his gods’, suggesting that even the gods of the defeated peoples are subservient to Marduk (2 Chr 36:10, 18 suggested that all the temple vessels were taken).

v. 8 , Cyrus releases the vessels to a certain Mithredath (Persian) who is called gizbār (treasurer? from the Persian ganzabara (Fensham 1982: 46)). There are problems with interpreting the inventory. References to gold and silver basins and bowls are followed by ‘knives’(?)—a difficult translation. The total does not match the enumerated items. The numbers are corrected in 1 Esd 2:2–11 . Here is the first mention of Sheshbazzar, who remains the somewhat enigmatic leader of the first group of returnees soon after Cyrus's conquest of Babylon. Most scholars reject the equation of Sheshbazzar with Zerubbabel, simply considering Sheshbazzar to be the leader of the earliest, and unsuccessful, mission back to Judah (but see Galling 1961 ). Sheshbazzar is called here nāśî᾽, which is not necessarily a royal figure (but cf. Ezek 40–8 ). Moreover, it is probable that many different journeys have been collapsed into one Exodus-type return in chs. 1–2 .

( 2:1–70 ) The Golah List

v. 1 , the term š-b-h (take captive) and šěbî (captivity) are used in combination with gôlâ (exile) also elsewhere (Nah 3:10, Ezek 12:11 ). The LXX is sometimes confused as to pointing of the term šĕbî which can be either ‘exiles’ or ‘elders’ in the Aramaic sections. In this context, the meaning is clearly a reference to exiles, but in other cases it is not so clear, since the leaders of the community are also referred to. The reference to hammĕdînâ has provoked a continued debate with regard to the nature of the geographical/political entity in question. Was this a province of the Persian empire, or were the Jews administratively under the province of the much larger land-area of Samaria (Abernahara, ‘Across the River’)? Was ‘Yehud’ officially designated?

vv. 3–58 , the list of the leaders of the community is arranged differently in Neh 7:7 . There are suggestions that there was an intention to list leaders in parallel columns, as if to indicate the two leaders of various time periods, e.g. Zerubbabel (political leader) with Jeshua (priestly leader), and Nehemiah (political leader) with Seraiah (Ezra?), but such a plan breaks down because of our lack of knowledge of other periods of time. Who, for example, are ‘Reelaiah ǁ Ramiah’ or ‘Mordecai ǁ Nahumiah’? Alternatively, 1 Esd 5:8 understands the names following Zerubbabel and Jeshua to be proēgoumenōn (those who go before) (in Deut 20:9 they are officials who address troops). This is a term used in later Christian literature of exemplary individuals.

When we get into the list of bêt᾽ ābôt (lit. house of the Fathers) itself, there is further confusion between the parallel accounts in Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 Esdras. The total numbers are problematic as well. The grand total of the laity alone is 24,141 in Ezra, 25,406 in Nehemiah, ‘not unreasonable’ for a population of the province of Yehud (Blenkinsopp 1988: 85). Galling (1964: 89–108) had earlier argued that this list represented many groups of returnees. Carter (1991) has proposed a small population for Yehud at 17,000. The Golah List, in such a case, must represent not only a succession of time periods added together, in Carter's estimation, but also population from outside the confines of his proposed ‘Yehud’. Note, however, that precise numbers may not be as important as the mere fact of counting, as a significant concern in itself. Galling, noting the struggle with those who sought to assist the returning community, wants to add elements of racial consciousness, or racial continuity with the past, on the part of the the returning community (‘the purified community’, so Galling 1951 ).

vv. 59–63 , the words ‘and these’ clearly mark this section as separate from the list as a whole. It is possible that further reflection on this episode may help to determine the original meaning of the list. For whom are such lists of significance? ‘Counting’ is administrative, suggesting responsibility to higher officials—occupied peoples are familiar with the ubiquity of forms, numbers, rolls, registrations, etc. The terms used to describe these people in addition to those related to priestly families, are all place-names. The terms Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan occur only here. Immer refers elsewhere to a priestly family (Jer 20:1; Neh 3:29; Ezra 10:20 ). The presence of those claiming priestly descent would be an unusual claim if it were not authentic (2 Sam 17:27; 19:31–4, 39; 21:8; 1 Kings 2:7 ). The final decision awaits the re-establishment of the high priest.

It is often pointed out that the numbers do not tally (totals are: 31,351 in Ezra 2 ; 31,089 in Neh 7 ; and 30,142 in 1 Esdras). Would women make up the difference? If so, does this partially explain the mixed marriage crisis? Rudolph (1949: 25) suggests that few women travelled with the returning community, leading some of the exiles to seek marriage partners among the people left in the land.

Two different forms of authority and power are contrasted in the early chapters of Ezra. The political leaders are the Persians and those delegated by them (‘governors’, tirshata, etc.), who represent the military élite, but of greater importance for the returned community of exiles is charismatic authority—the divinatory authority of the Urim and Thumim, and the prophets (on magic and myths among occupied people, see Fanon 1963: 55)

vv. 64–7 note the relative value of the animals that are listed, when divided amongst the total people counted in this list: 736 horses represents one for every 57 community members; 245 mules, one for every 172; 435 camels, one for every 97; 6,720 donkeys, one for every 6. Mules are associated with royalty in the Bible, and are the prized and rare possession among the community members (2 Sam 13:29; 18:9; Isa 66:20; Zech 14:15; 1 Kings 10:25 ǁ 2 Chr 9:24 , mules among gifts to Solomon). Horses, interestingly, are most frequently associated with warfare (pulling chariots only, stirrups were not used in the ancient Near East), so the number of horses would be of obvious interest to Persian officials. Most of the community members could not afford the long-distance trade animal, the camel (Firmage 1992: vi. 1136–7). Donkeys are clearly the common person's pack animal of choice.

vv. 68–9 , the enumeration of financial gifts to the temple is intended to repeat the attitude of freewill-offerings noted already in ch. 1 . It is often claimed that this amount of money indicates a wealthy community who had possibly benefited from financial success in the Persian heartland. However, there is reason to question this. These verses tell us that the community managed to donate 61,000 darics of gold, and 5,000 minas of silver to the work of rebuilding the temple. Is the mention of ‘daric’ anachronistic? Dandamaev believes that ‘it is completely possible’ that Cyrus issued coins (Dandamaev and Lukonin 1989: 196; and cf. Davies 1994 ).

Working with weights and measures in the HB is a vexed problem (see Betylon 1992: vi. 1076–89; Zograph 1977; Morkholm 1991 ), but we can generalize to get the following picture. Basing our calculations on a Persian gold daric at 8.4 g., and a mina as 50 shekels of silver (but 60 in the Babylonian standard), we can convert to metric weights: 512,400 g. of gold and 1,337,500 g. (Babylonian standard, 1,605,000 g.) of silver. This results in an average of 8.04 to 9.64 silver shekels per person, and 1.96 darics of gold per person (the relative value of gold to silver would have been 13. 3:1 ). Is this a great amount of wealth? Zech 11:12 refers to 30 shekels paid to a shepherd, presumably for an entire season of work, and Jeremiah bought the field in Anathoth for 17 shekels (Jer 32:9 ). Hosea bought his wife (presumably Gomer) for 15 shekels of silver. As late as 1 Macc 10:42 , there is a reference to a 5,000 shekel tax on the temple (which would be a significant percentage of the total given in Ezra 2 ). The donations, when calculated per person, are rather meagre. A question remains, however, whether we are to consider these figures as donations to the work of the temple, or intended for the wider economic life of the community.

The dimensions of the inner sanctum (Holy of Holies) were 20 × 20 × 20 cubits (1 Kings 6 ). A cubit is generally held to be approx. 50 cm., and thus, in order to even begin to reproduce Solomon's temple, they needed sufficient gold to gild 500 sq. m. of wall space in the inner sanctum alone. Both Ezra 6 (Darius's instructions) and 1 Kings 6 (Solomon's temple) suggest that the stone walls were first lined with wood and then gilded. Gold, with a basic weight of 18.88 g. per cu. cm., could be applied to a thickness of .001 cm. (based on Egyptian art; thanks to Dr David Scott, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, for figures on gilding). A square metre of gilt, therefore, requires at least 188.9 g. of gold. Just the inner sanctum would minimally require 94,450 g.—about one-fifth—of the 512,400 g. available. However, are we to believe that this community had over a ton of gold available to it (about 1⅔ cu. m. of gold) besides Persian gifts? The disparity between silver and gold resources in this list, given their relative values, would otherwise seem hard to explain.

We obviously cannot be confident about the historicity of these figures, but the general indications of both the amounts and the tasks required indicate a relatively modest budget with which to try and reproduce Solomon's great achievement. Clearly, we are not dealing with a tremendously wealthy group of returning exiles, and probably must think in terms of a smaller percentage of those able to give larger amounts to achieve the per-capita average that we have indicated.

( 3:1–13 ) The Beginning of the Temple Reconstruction under Zerubbabel

Some scholars have suggested that ch. 3 is an independent account of the reconstruction of the temple (combined with 6:19–22 ? Blenkinsopp 1988: 96). The work establishes the altar, the sacrificial system, and then the shrine that housed it, in that order. The writer wishes to emphasize continuity with what had gone on before. Clines (1984) even writes of the community described here as ‘reactionaries’ and ‘conservatives’. Surely this comes close to blaming the victims! The obsession with rules and regulations may reflect a certain conservatism bordering on reactionary attitudes, but it more probably reflects the fear of taking an unauthorized step. The unity of the people is represented by acting ‘as one’ or ‘as one person’ (as the Heb.; also at Judg 20:11; Neh 8:1 ). The indication ‘seventh month’ may be left over from the Golah List (ch. 2 ) being originally from the Nehemiah materials, and transposed to its present location in Ezra. v. 3 , related to the community's sense of urgency is the theme of fear of foreigners—‘dread’ (᾽êmâ) of the neighbours—enemies (gĕ᾽ ēbâ) (see Gen 15:121; Ex 15:16; Isa 33:18; Josh 2:9; Prov 20:2; Ps 55:5 ); but ‘neighbours’ can mean ‘enemies’ as the LXX adds: ‘for all the peoples of the land were hostile to them, and were stronger than they’ (1 Esd 5:50 ). v. 7 , there are echoes of Solomon's project here, particularly in the specific mention of dealings with Sidonians and Tyrians (cf. Solomon and Hiram of Tyre, 1 Kings 5 ).

vv. 11–13 , the throngs give a great shout (tĕrû῾ â gĕdôlâ). This exact phrase occurs at the battle of Jericho (Josh 6:5, 20 ). Although it can be read as shouts of joy in connection with the movements of the ark (1 Sam 4:5, 6 and 2 Sam 6:15 ), the ark as war palladium would render these passages much closer to the more frequent reference to such great shouts as acts of warfare (Am 1:14; 2:2; Zeph 1:16; Ps 27:6; 47:6 ). When seen in the context of the fear of their enemies, the dedication of the temple was thus an act of spiritual warfare—they are shouts to God their Divine Warrior—and the shouts were heard ‘far away’ (as the Philistines heard the shouts around the ark, 1 Sam 4:5–6 ). Such a theme of deliverance from enemies fits with the predominant use of ḥesed, the delivering love of God.

Although it is not expressly stated, it is widely assumed that some elders wept at the sight of the new temple because of great disappointment (cf. Hag 2:3; Zech 4:9–10 ). Sociologists haved noted the phenomenon of exiles whose memory of home becomes quite stylized over the years, with streets paved with gold, and valleys perpetually green and inviting (Baskauskas 1981 ). The return home is inevitably a disappointment—and we know that the temple was definitely a subject of exilic imagination and longing (Ezek 40–8 ).

( 4:1–24 ) History of Opposition to the Temple

vv. 2–3 , other people approach Zerubbabel and Jeshua and say that they, also, ‘seek’ (d-r-š) God. Their reference to a deportation during the time of Esar-haddon may be credible (Williamson 1985: 49; Fensham 1982: 66; cf. Oded 1979 ). But the leaders make claim to the exclusive right to build the temple. The ‘adversaries’ appeal on the basis of religion, and the Israelites respond on the basis of permission. In any case, we must reject the identification of these people as ‘the Samaritans’, a much later Jewish sect who do not emerge until the Hellenistic period (and would be noted for their conservatism, and interest in an alternative temple site!). Blenkinsopp (1988: 105) argues that an emphasis in Ezra on external problems may effectively avoid mentioning the internal struggles that are noted elsewhere (Hag 1:2–4; Isa 58:4; Zech 8:10; Isa 66:1–2 ).

vv. 4–5 , the response of the surrounding peoples was to discourage the Jews from building their temple, particularly through bribery to ‘frustrate/break’ (p-r-r) the work (2 Sam 15:4; 17:14; Ps 33:10; Isa 14:27 ). The means used by the opposition is more explicit here than in 1 Esdras, which gives a somewhat more startling series of terms that appears to intensify the conflict: epiboulas (plots); episustaseis (insurrections); dēmagōgias (lit. leading crowds/mobs of people). This suggests far more social instability surrounding the activities of the Jewish community than does the MT of Ezra. Fensham (1982: 68) thinks that the text is speaking of Persian-appointed officials who were bribed, and we know that bribery was a significant Persian tactic (Darius boasted that, ‘I will conquer Greece with my archers’, an ironic reference to the archers appearing on gold darics and silver sigloi (Davies 1994: 66)). v. 6 , Xerxes, we know, moved large numbers of troops through Judah to quell a major revolt in Egypt in 485. v. 7 , from 1 Esd 2:16 , we read Beelteemos (NRSV: Beltethmus), from Aramaic ‘one who issues decrees’, as a signatory of the letter. At this point the book of Ezra switches to the imperial language of the Persian empire, Aramaic, and continues until 6:18 . This section deals largely with correspondence between local officials in Judah and the royal court. vv. 8–10 , Rehum is called b῾lš῾m (NRSV: royal deputy; from Akkadian, ‘official in charge’), an office which turns up regularly in Persian period biblical literature (Ezr 5:5; 6:14; 7:23; Dan 3:10 and 6:3 ), perhaps a civilian leader or chancellor (Blenkinsopp 1988: 112). The word used for ‘letter’ is ᾽igrâ, a term used only in Ezra. The list of peoples involved in sending the letter is difficult. The first term, for example, ᾽ăparsatkāyē᾽, is taken to be ‘Persians’ or ‘generals/envoys’. The ending y᾽ in Aramaic came to be understood as Gentilic, instead of referring to officials, which in the first three cases is more likely (e.g. generals, envoys, secretaries, then Erechians, as well as Babylonians, Susians, Elamites). The impression given is of a large number of peoples arrayed in opposition to the returning Jewish exiles, perhaps even implying the threat of insurrection or instability in the region. The list of various officials could also be a typical Persian-period guarantee against subversion by having all witnesses indicate their presence and agreement and confirm the contents.

vv. 12–13 , Jerusalem, this ‘wicked’ and ‘rebellious’ city, is resurrecting itself! If it is completed, the worry is that the empire will lose their collections of ‘tribute, custom, and toll’ (v. 13 ; all Akkadian loanwords, mandattu, biltu, ilku—three types of tax: Fensham 1982: 74), thus ‘the royal revenue will be reduced’ and the king will suffer loss (cf. Dan 6:3b ). The term n-z-q means ‘loss-making’, or ‘unprofitable’ (NRSV: hurtful) (v. 15 ). The greatest treachery in the eyes of imperialism is always loss of profit; despite flowery rhetoric about national interests. Scholars debate whether a precise rebellion is being alluded to here, but the general historical circumstances, including the Inaros Rebellion in Egypt in 460 BCE, and the later rebellions of the satrap Megabyzus in 448, make the accusations all the more dangerous. v. 14 , the reference to eating the salt of the palace is taken by Williamson (1985: 56) to mean, ‘in the pay of the court’. Perhaps it relates to an oath of office (Num 18:19; 2 Chr 13:5 ).

vv. 15–16 , the accusations against Jerusalem continue—this time including a Persian loanword eštaddûr (Rosenthal 1974: 59) which refers to a ‘breach of the peace’. Because of these troublesome activities, the city was ‘laid waste’ (ḥ-r-b). The appeal to the Persian authorities is based on royal interests; historical precedent (note v. 16 , ‘rebuilt’, i.e. built as before); common interest in maintaining authority and order. vv. 19–20 , the suspicions about Jerusalem are confirmed. It was once a rebellious and powerful city—the centre of a regime; for the Persians the implication is clear: it is a dangerous threat. Note the particularly incriminating evidence (v. 20 ): they once collected taxes for themselves. vv. 21–4 , the work stoppage is backed up by military force. The chronology is confused here. Williamson (1985: 57) argues that v. 24 is a resumption of the narrative that was interrupted by vv. 6–23 . The passage inserted was intended to justify the harsh treatment of the foreigners by pointing out that the Jews did, in fact, have some justification in being worried about them. The argument, however, would be strange, justifying their earlier action by what actually happened much later.

( 5:1–17 ) Clarification of Persian Permission to Rebuild

v. 3 , a certain Tattenai is considered paḥat (governor), and supported by another official, Sĕtar Bozenai (NRSV: Shethar-bozenai). The questions appear to be directed at the use of timber rather than religious matters: structures, money, and authority, and ultimately the threat of a competitive power centre. v. 4 , the officials' request for the names implies a threat. Indeed, when Tattenai asks for the names of the people, this is the only occasion in Ezra–Nehemiah when a reason is given for drawing up a list of names. Perhaps commentators have missed this clue for the presence of lists running throughout Ezra–Nehemiah. Lists serve the occupying power by keeping constant record of every move, and reveal an atmosphere of control and caution, particularly where there are threats of punishment and warnings that orders must be carried out ‘diligently’. They also give a sense of unity and cohesion, of pedigree and authenticity, to the people themselves.

v. 5 , the ‘eye of … God’ was on the exiled community. Williamson (1985) trenchantly suggests that the eye of God is to be contrasted to the famous Persian spies throughout the empire known as ‘the king's eyes’ (cf. ‘eye of God’ in Ps 33:16–18; Ps 34; Job 36:7 ). Some classical scholars argue that the ‘king's eye’ existed only in Greek imagination, although that does not prevent Israelites from having a similar imagination (Hirsch 1985: 101–31). vv. 8–10 , Tattenai refers only to elders, which led Zucker (1936: 20) to state that Zerubbabel must not have been appointed governor as yet. The leaders of the apparent insurrection in Jerusalem were questioned. The empire would be interested in removing the apparent cause of the trouble, i.e. the leaders. As with empires everywhere, it is assumed that the leaders are responsible for inciting the otherwise obedient and peaceful masses, apparently incapable of comprehending a people's movement based on principles other than hierarchy. vv. 11–12 , in response to this challenge, the exiles respond with their understanding of power—‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth’. The political question is given a theological answer. The phrase ‘God of heaven and earth’ is telling when one recalls a common claim of ancient Near Eastern emperors to be ‘Kings of the four corners of the earth’, of ‘all the lands’, etc. Thus, the Persian officials are taught a lesson in religious and Jewish history—in effect, ‘we were taken away because of our sin, and not because of the powers of this world’.

vv. 13–17 , only now do we arrive at the issue that the local governors are truly interested in—permission, documents, and authority. A probable impatience with religious notions gives way to attention when Cyrus and an exchange of commodities is mentioned. The real issue, for the Persian officials, is whether Cyrus wrote such a document or not. A search must be made. This is a matter of the ‘pleasure’ (cf. Kraeling (1953), AP 27:21, 22; 30:23 ) of the king. Like St Paul (Acts 22:25–6 ) finally appealing to his Roman citizenship, official wheels are set in motion with this claim.

The disappearance of Zerubbabel without explanation is often grounds for speculation. Was Zerubbabel the centre of an attempt to restore a Davidic leader to the Jewish community, and eventually deposed in disgrace by the Persians? (Waterman 1954: 73–8; Galling 1961: 80–4; Sauer 1967; Fensham 1982: 78). Others deny a conspiracy, and speak only of a mystery surrounding Zerubbabel's fate (Williamson 1985: 76). The speculation is heightened by the confusing language in Zech 6:9–14 , which seems to imply the crowning of a king, although the high priest Jeshua has replaced Zerubbabel (a move possibly aimed at hiding the messianic speculation of the original passage).

( 6:1–22 ) Search of the Archives and Completion of the Temple

vv. 1–4 , Darius makes the search (cf. the legendary Persian obsession with unchangeable law: Dan 3:28; 6:8, 15 ) and the document is found. Xenophon noted that Cyrus wintered in Babylon, spent the spring in Susa, and summered in Ecbatana (Cyr. 8.6.22). Many scholars now insist, on the example of Elephantine letters (Kraeling 1953: AP 30) that the Persians would have been interested in exact details (Blenkinsopp 1988: 124; Williamson 1985: 80–1, especially citing Hallock (1960) where payments are carefully noted; Fensham 1982: 87–9). v. 6 , the local officials are told, ‘keep away’. Although Williamson (1985: 81) protests that local officials must surely have retained rights of inspection, the authoritarian nature of this order is certainly in keeping with Persian style (Olmstead 1933: 159–60) and seems in the same spirit as the language of threat in the rest of this communiqué. v. 8 , the response was surely a humiliating reversal for the local officials, whose initiative stopped this work in the first place. Now they appear to be insubordinate to the authority of Cyrus himself! Furthermore, these ‘insurrectionist Jews’ are even to be supported from the tax coffers.

vv. 9–10 , the provisions emphasize ‘whatever … the priests…require…given day by day without fail’. One reason for the Persian interest in the religious life of the subordinate peoples is clear: they insist on ‘pleasing [soothing] sacrifices’ to accompany prayers offered for the Persian royal family (contrast this with the behaviour of Cambyses with regard to the Apis Bull: see Depuydt (1995), who concludes that Cambyses did kill the Apis Bull, as Herodotus suggested). Williamson (1985: 82), citing Jer 29:7 and AP 30 (Kraeling 1953 ), claims that the Jews would not have been ‘averse to complying with such a request’. And Blenkinsopp (1988: 129) adds, ‘The author…accepts the possibility of a genuine religious life under foreign rule’. Both statements, however, are constructed out of a telling silence in the text on this matter. If the Jews were so sanguine about such prayers, where are they in the biblical tradition?

v. 11 , the benevolence of Persian rulers is ironically backed by the threat of powerful military response if the Persian ruling is disobeyed. Now we recognize the rhetoric of power—anyone who transgresses this law will have a beam pulled from his home, and he will be impaled on it, and his house becomes a refuse heap. v. 12 , the message is not subtle, the warning is not merely to individuals. The second part seems cleverly aimed at preventing the Jews themselves from having any independent ambitions, as well as at other political entities in the area. To whom is it directed? Foreign kings? Usurpers? Keep in mind that the Persian authorities have not necessarily forgotten that Jeruselem was ‘that rebellious and wicked city’, and that all around them is the threat of rebellion. v. 13 , the king's orders are carried out ‘with all diligence’. The term ῾osparna (exactly, perfectly: Rosenthal 1974: 58) is the language of obedience, translated variously as ‘without delay’, ‘in full’, ‘with all diligence’—the message is clear—a powerful authority has spoken (Ezra 5:8; 6:8, 12, 13; 7:17, 21, 26; cf. Deut 4:6; 5:1; 6:3 ). vv. 14–15 , if the temple was completed in 515, as is widely argued, then it was completed some 70 years after its destruction in 587–6, and thus perhaps comes close to Jeremiah's predicted seventy years of exile. v. 17 , the impressive array of sacrifices is supplied by Persian order, at Persian expense, and thus should moderate hasty conclusions about the alleged wealth of the exiled community.

vv. 19–21 , the text reverts to Hebrew at this point, and we find the reference to the ‘sons of the exile’ (bĕnê-hagôlâ) (NRSV: returned exiles) for the first time here (see Smith 1989: 197). The emphasis on the rededication of the temple now shifts to a celebration of the main Exodus event—the Passover rites. v. 21 specifically notes that some from the surrounding peoples separated themselves from the ‘pollutions of the nations of the land (gôyê-hā᾽ āres)’ (the use of gôy is somewhat less typical than that of ῾am, ‘people’), and joined with the returned exiles. That there were proselytes among the exiles may mitigate harsh judgements about their xenophobia (Fensham 1982: 96; Blenkinsopp, 1988: 133), although they may simply have been Jews who had ‘joined them’. v. 22 , the festival of Unleavened Bread is celebrated in the context of God's ‘turn[ing] the heart’ of the king of Assyria. The MT lacks an explicit air of friendliness here—God was acting in the interests of the Jews. Many scholars have noted the Chronicler's arrangement of important celebrations of Passover to mark deliverance from threat (2 Chr 30, 35 , in the context of deliverance from Assyrian threat).

( 7:1–28 ) Ezra Given Permission to Return to Jerusalem

vv. 1b–5 , the story of Ezra begins with a geneaology, in the classic Priestly tradition. Part of the significance is the association of Ezra with Moses. Note that Ezra is from Babylonia, a different source community from Nehemiah. We are left to speculate about the precise nature of Ezra's role vis-à-vis the Persian authorities. Fensham argues that spr is an official Persian title (Fensham 1982: 99; Williamson 1985: 100 sees the phrase ‘Scribe of the Law of God in Heaven’, from v. 12 as the title); while Blenkinsopp (1988) is cautious, suggesting on the basis of Herodotus 3. 128 (dealing with officials under the Persian authorities) and AP 17 (Kraeling 1953 ), that Ezra may have occupied an office in the Babylonian satrapal court. It is going too far, however, to argue with Fensham (1982: 98) that the fact that ‘Ezra was entrusted with such an important mission indicates that the Jews prospered in Babylon and were well educated’. It can be argued, on the contrary, that Ezra's relationship with the Persian authorities is left vague precisely to contrast his authority with that of Nehemiah, who was an insider. vv. 6–8 , Ezra is described as māhîr (skilled). Note that this is from the root m-h-r (hasten) (cf Ps 45:1 (HB 2); Prov 22:29 ). Ezra is ‘skilled in the law of Moses’. Since the ‘hand of … God was upon him’ (a phrase that typically expresses good fortune in relation to the occupying powers) he was granted what he sought from the Persian authorities. 1 Esd 8:4 , typically, goes further by stating that Ezra was held in ‘honour’ and ‘favour’. The third-person account states that the king granted all that Ezra asked for, although there is no narrative account of Ezra appearing before the Persian monarch (as in Nehemiah). The seventh year of Artaxerxes would be c. 458 if we presume this to be Artaxerxes I. The occasional suggestion of 398 (thus a later Artaxerxes) raises more questions than it answers.

vv. 10–13 , note ‘statutes and ordinances’ as a way of referring to the laws of Moses (Ex 15:25; Josh 24:25; Deut 4:1, 5, 8, 14; 5:1; 1 Chr 7:17 ). Ezra's pre-eminent concern with Mosaic law, not Persian backing, is the source of his authority. Note, in v. 13 , the implications of power in the ironic terms used to describe the composition of Ezra's travelling part+y: Jews are authorized to ‘freely offer’ by the ones who command! v. 14 , Artaxerxes' authority is vested in the ‘seven counsellors’. The reference here is to the seven aristocratic ruling families or houses of the Achaemenid period that supported Darius's rise to power (Berquist 1995: 51–2; however, we note in Xen. An. 1.6.4–5 that Cyrus also had seven counsellors). vv. 15–16 , silver and gold are found in Babylon for the express purpose of the temple in Jerusalem. In addition to the ‘despoiling the Egyptians’ theme, perhaps operating here, is a sense of compensation. After all, Babylon's gold consisted in part of the gold and silver stolen by Nebuchadnezzar from Jerusalem in 586, and provided for by tax payments ever since (according to Herodotus 3.90–1, the annual tax for the entire satrapy of Abernahara is 350 talents of silver)—a matter hardly to be missed by writers of the post-exilic community. vv. 17–21 , the emphasis on the temple and temple rites is further elaborated in the instructions to provide sacrificial materials, ‘bulls, rams, lambs … grain-offerings and drink-offerings’ which are to be offerred to ‘your God in Jerusalem’. The apparent nonchalance about the remaining funds is clarified by vv. 19–20 —any withdrawal from the king's treasury would obviously have required careful accounting.

With v. 22 , we are back to the detailed accounting, although the constant use of ‘one hundred’ probably intends merely to convey large amounts (100 talents of silver is a massive amount, greater by far than the amount mentioned in the Golah List). Williamson (1985: 103), considering this to be about a two-year supply, wonders if that was the original length of Ezra's mission, while Blenkinsopp (1988: 149) considers the mention of wheat, wine, and oil to be ‘clear indication of a Jewish redaction’ in the light of Num 15:1–16 . v. 24 , included in this purchase of the loyalty of religious leaders is a release of taxation on the major parties involved in the temple. This would support Weinberg's (1992) arguments about the economic centrality of the temple in the community. v. 26 , if Ezra's authority is rooted in scholarship of the religious literary tradition, the Persian's basis for authority is the threat of: death; banishment (šěrōš, uprooting); confiscation of property (note Nebuchadnezzar's confiscation: cf. Wiseman (1956: 35); ANET 546; cf. 1 Kings 21:13–15 ); and imprisonment (᾽ĕsûrîn) (on imprisonment as a late form of punishment in the ancient Near East, usually associated with debt, cf. Smith 1989: 171–4). vv. 28–9 , lest one be overly sanguine about what has occurred in v. 27, vv. 28–9 add a darker colour—Ezra was protected by God's ḥesed before the king, counsellors, and the ‘mighty officers’. The suggestion here is clearly the contrast of apparent Persian power, and God's actual power.

( 8:1–36 ) The Journey to Jerusalem, Delivery of Royal Funds

vv. 1–14 , in this list, we are intended to see a parallel with the famous Golah List of Ezra 2 ǁ Neh 7 . Note the predominance of priestly associations before any Davidic identification. The mention of Hattush as a Davidide makes any other date than 458 difficult (he would be the fourth generation after Zerubbabel, cf. Blenkinsopp 1988: 162). v. 15 , the gathering camped by the River Ahava. The camp (associated with the Exodus in Ex 13:20; 14:2; Num 9:18–20 ) is also used in connection with military campaigns (Josh 10:5; 2 Kings 25:1 ). vv. 16–17 , the absence of Levites is a matter of concern—a note revealing an interesting openness on the part of a Zadokite priest such as Ezra. Two of the leaders (Joiarib and Elnathan) are selected, according to the LXX, as ‘men of understanding’ (almost always used of Levites, so Blenkinsopp 1988: 165). There is considerable speculation on the nature of ‘the place’ at Casiphia. Scholars widely assume that some form of institution for worship, or perhaps religious instruction, must have existed there. In Deuteronomic thought, the ‘place’ (māqôm) often refers to the temple.

vv. 21–4 , Ezra is clearly contrasted with Nehemiah, who accepted an armed guard. Ezra proclaims God's protection (cf. 2 Kings 6:17; Mt 26:53 ). Contemporary scholarly attempts to belittle Ezra's faith at this point (‘embarrassing’, ‘humiliating’, ‘he made a mistake’, and similar) miss the context of divine warfare of the type indicated in Ex 14:14 and illustrated in Judg 7 (Lind 1980 ). v. 21 , the fast (ṣom) was proclaimed in order to call on God, an action frequently associated with preparations for warfare or preparing to face crises (1 Chr 16:11; 2 Chr 11:16; 15:4; 20:3–4; Ps 40:16 ǁ Ps 70:5; Jer 29:13; 50:4; Jon 3:5; Zech 8:21, 22 ). God will provide ‘a straight path’ (NRSV: safe journey), a term associated with second Exodus themes of the return from exile (Isa 26:7–19; 40:3; Jer 31:9; Ps 107:6–7 ).

v. 22 , who are the ones who ‘forsake’ God? In Judg 10:10 it refers to apostasy—by those who serve Baal (cf. Deut 28:20; 31:16; Jer 1:16; 2:19; 5:19; 17:13; 22:9 ). The formulaic saying is intended to mean, in paraphrase, ‘If we call on God, God will protect us, but if we forsake him, his anger will be on us (by means of enemies, ambushes, etc.)’. Given the association of so many of these terms with YHWH war language, it is clear that what we have here is another element in spiritual warfare—i.e. the necessity to believe in the protection of God. Ezra's fast was part of his belief in God's miraculous fighting on the side of those who trust in God's protection, as opposed to the faithlessness of depending on actual armaments (see Smith-Christopher 1993: 269–92). vv. 23–30 , the actual amounts given in vv. 26–7 are dramatically higher than the amounts of silver and gold in the Golah List: 650 talents of silver and 100 talents of gold. The reality of these figures can be questioned when they are translated into contemporary weights and measures—the amount of gold mentioned in the Golah List was already nearly a ton—1⅔ of a cubic metre of metal. Either there is corruption in the amounts given here, or they are totally fanciful. In any case, these are Persian resources, not Jewish. Dandamaev and Lukonin (1989: 205) note that, at the time of the fall of the Achaemenid state, Alexander seized no less than 7,000,000 kg. of gold and silver hoarded in the official treasuries. vv. 30–4 , the travel is reported carefully, as well as the distribution of the financial assets of the mission, with proper notification that all has been written down. It is hard to escape the strong sense of Persian officials looking over the shoulders of the Jewish officials. v. 35 , the twelve sets of animals are symbolically offered ‘for all Israel’, i.e. representing the twelve tribes (bulls and goats; cf. 2 Chr 29:20–4 ). v. 36 , the satrap was the highest official of the province. More likely some lower officials, perhaps ‘governors’ is intended here.

( 9:1–15 ) Ezra Discovers the Problem of Mixed Marriage: The Prayer of Confession

vv. 1–2 , it is likely that Neh 8 originally appeared between Ezra 8 and 9 . The actions and reactions in ch. 9 ought to follow a reading of the law, as in Neh 8 (Williamson 1985: 127; Fensham 1982: 123).

No sooner had Ezra cleared his royal obligations, than he faces a crisis. The complaint here is that the people have not ‘separated themselves’ (b-d-l) from the ‘peoples of the lands’. The term ‘separation’ is deeply significant to the heightened purity consciousness of the Holiness Code/Priestly redaction of the Bible (Smith 1989: 139–51). The priesthood was committed to separation of pure from impure, and the people themselves are violating this passionate concern.

The ‘peoples of the lands’, are associated with tô῾ĕbōt (abominations), the most common cultic term for idolatrous practices, but also of objectionable actions and behaviour. Note, however, the list of peoples: Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, Amorites. Portions of this list are clearly anachronistic (Jebusites and Perizzites) and are intended to refer, with obvious revulsion, to the peoples traditionally driven out of the promised land by Joshua. The implication is that the planned second exodus is not being carried out with the same attention to purified peoples as the original Exodus. An argument can be made that Ezra is referring as much to fellow Jews who are not part of the ‘sons of the Golah’ as any ethnic non-Hebrews at this point (Smith-Christopher 1994 ). Blenkinsopp (1988: 175–6) comments that Ezra has combined ideas from Deut 7:1–5 with regard to the seven nations, and Deut 23:4–8 with regard specifically to Ammonites and Moabites, although Egyptians and Edomites are allowed after a minimum amount of time. Williamson (1985: 130), too, protests that many heroes of the faith contracted mixed marriages: Gen 16:3; 41:45; Ex 2:21; Num 12:1; 2 Sam 3:3 . To understand this action, we must think in terms of minority consciousness of perceived threat and the response to insulate themselves from threatening influences. Mal 2:10–16 even suggests that some of the Jewish women were first abandoned so that the men could take on the foreign wives (presumably they were not economically wealthy enough simply to take on a second wife), which has led some modern feminist readers of this episode to note the interesting silence of the Jewish women of the exiled community, who may well have sided with Ezra!

v. 3 , Ezra's attitude is that he is ‘appalled (š-m-m, desolated: a strong term). Ezra's behaviour is to violate the carefully prescribed decorum of priests, who must not, according to Lev 10:6 , unbind their hair or tear their clothing (cf. Lev 21:10 and Ezek 44:20; 2 Sam 13:19; 2 Kings 22:11 ). Ezra's abandonment of proper behaviour, rather like Ezekiel's, is a measure of his reaction to the events at hand. His actions have been compared to mourning for a death (Williamson 1985: 133; Blenkinsopp 1988: 177). vv. 5–6 , Ezra rose from fasting: the position of praying on one's knees begins only in the exile (Blenkinsopp ibid.). Ezra's great prayer of confession begins with his recognition of the ‘iniquities’ of the people (cf. Ps 38:4; 40:12; 79:8 ). The prayer of confession is reminiscent of other famous prayers of confession known in Hebrew literature—Ps 78, 106, Dan 9 , and 4QDibHam. v. 7 , reflecting Deuteronomic theology of blaming sins especially on the leadership of monarchical Israel, Ezra refers to the kings and priests of the past. Their sin led to the following threefold punishment—the people given over to the sword; exile and captivity; plunder (b-z-z: to spoil, plunder, cf. Ezek 5:12 ). vv. 8–9 , the Jewish community are called ‘slaves’ (Deut 6:21; Esth 7:4; 1 Sam 8:17; Add Esth 7:4/14:8 ). This starkly negative term represents one of the most forthright judgements on Persian rule that we have in post-exilic literature (except Neh 9:36 ). The ‘little sustenance in our slavery’ is surely ironic in Ezra, although once again, the LXX transforms this into much more positive language, speaking of the Persians ‘giving us food’ (1 Esdr 8:80 ). Finally, to refer to God not ‘forsak[ing] us in our slavery’ clearly compares the Persian period to the Egyptian period before the Mosaic liberation. Fensham (1982: 130) clarifies that the ḥesed is from God, not the Persian rulers. It is often objected that all Persians considered themselves slaves to the emperor as a mere euphemism (the Gk. sources use doulos: Cook 132, 249 n. 3) but the context of this use in Ezra 9 is clearly not encouraging us to read this as a neutral term.

v. 11 , the language of impurity is reminiscent of Ezekiel ( 18:6; 22:10; 36:17; cf. Lev 12:2; 15:19, 20, 24 ). As all of these earlier Priestly references are to the impurity of women during menstruation, the sexual innuendo may foreshadow the issue of mixed marriages. v. 12 , the prohibitions against mixed marriage are taken beyond their textual validity (Deut 7:2–3 ). In none of the older passages prohibiting mixed marriages is there the further command not even to seek the peace of these peoples. Do we have here an argument with the more open legacy of Jeremiah's letter to the exiles in Jer 29 , where the exiles were instructed to ‘seek the šālôm of the city’? A major concern with mixed marriage is the problems of inheritance and the economic survival of the exclusive community (Eskenazi and Judd 1994: 266–85). This event, so obviously distasteful for modern commentators, must be read within the context of sociologically informed suspicions about perceived advantages of ‘marrying up’ into wealthier local families, and our further suspicions that the ‘foreigners’ may have been Jews who were not part of the exilic community.

( 10:1–44 ) The Mass Divorce of Foreign Wives by Group Covenant

v. 2 , sections of ch. 10 appear to have been displaced. Blenkinsopp (1988: 187) wonders why 10:1–5 would contain the oath of the assembly to act on Ezra's concerns, yet in vv. 6–8 Ezra continues to complain. Williamson (1985: 148), too, notes that the differences between the first-person and the third-person narratives suggest a later editor of the Ezra memoir material. The phrase ‘broken faith’ (been treacherous) has Priestly, and other late use (Lev 5:21; 26:40; Num 5:6; Josh 22:16; 1 Chr 10:13; 2 Chr 28:19; Ezek 17:20; 20:27; 39:26; Dan 9:7 ). Despite this, ‘there is hope’ (Ps 33, 119 , esp. 147:11 ). v. 5 , Ezra makes the leaders, priests, Levites, and all Israel ‘swear’ to abide by this covenantal agreement. Despite the fact that Ezra has apparently been given Persian authority, his actions reflect internal politics, unlike Nehemiah, whose tendency is to command and order. v. 6 , an interesting debate in the secondary literature involves the person Eliashib named here. It is often argued by those who assign Ezra to a later date (e.g. 398, following the missions of Nehemiah) that this is the Eliashib of Neh 3:1 , and thus Ezra is in Judah when this Eliashib's son, Jehohanan, is active. But Blenkinsopp (1988: 190) points out that the Eliashib in Nehemiah is condemned by Nehemiah for defiling the priesthood—and thus one wonders if Ezra would associate himself with a family with such a reputation. Williamson (1985), on the other hand, notes that Neh 13:4 seems carefully to identify the Eliashib related to Tobiah as a different person. Names are often repeated and can become fashionable in an era, and so it is hazardous to assume that all occurrences of a person with the same name are, in fact, the same individual.

v. 8 , the threat to those who do not participate in the community reformation is serious—they are to be banned ḥ-r-m (using the strong term of total annihilation from the period of conquest) and forfeit their rĕkûš (property). That the temple contingent can take such steps implies their economic power in the community. vv. 11–12 , the community agrees to these conditions en masse, but then proceeds to ask for clarifications, stipulations, and conditions. Some members ask for more time, better weather conditions, and patience with the problems created by the number of people involved. v. 15 , we are not privy to the basis of the objection by some who protested, and whether it was an objection to the process, or the entire issue of breaking up the mixed marriages. As we have evidence of more open-minded attitudes to foreigners elsewhere in the HB (Smith-Christopher 1996 ) it seems quite likely that they opposed the entire action. On the other hand. Blenkinsopp (1988: 194) refers to these as ‘rigorists’, because they oppose the delay in taking action that the process agreed upon implies. 1 Esdr 9:14 transformed the opposition into a passage about those who carried out the work!

vv. 25–43 , the secondary literature carries on an extended discussion about attempts to work out the names in this list toward the expected twelve. v. 44 , the foreign women are sent away with the children. Children, of course, are the main threat in the issue of inheritance, much more so than the women themselves. This ending of the book of Ezra appears to many commentators to be abrupt, leaving the reader with an uncomfortable sense of reading a book with missing pages.

Nehemiah's Memoirs (Neh. 1–8 )

( 1:1–2:9 ) The Court Narrative of Nehemiah

1:1 , Ezra uses the nomenclature of the Torah—that is, numbered months, while Nehemiah uses Babylonian calendrical names (Demke 1996 ). 1:2 , ‘brothers’ is to be taken figuratively, given the context of Nehemiah's presence in a foreign court, but Williamson (1985: 171), noting Neh 7:2 , takes this literally. 1:3 , the news of the state of Jerusalem is troubling to Nehemiah partly because of the ‘shame’ (ḥerpâ) of this circumstance (on taunts of foreigners, Ps 69:20, 21; 71:13; 89:51; 119:22; Isa 51:7; Jer 51:51; Lam 3:61; Zeph 2:8 ). But what is the devastation that Nehemiah is reacting to? It seems unlikely that he would be shocked to hear about the destruction that remained from the Babylonian conquest in 586, so perhaps he is hearing about the results of the events described in Ezra 4:23 . It is possible, on the other hand, that we should infer from Nehemiah's reaction that he is surprised that the walls are still down, even after the temple has been rebuilt. 1:6 , ‘let your ear be attentive and your eyes open’ (cf. Ezra 5:5 ). Requests for God to hear and see are common. There are appeals to the ear of God at Ps 5:1; 17:1, 6; 31:2; 54:2 ; mention of the eye and ear in Isa 37:17; Lam 3:56 , and note the special emphasis on the eyes of God in Ezek 5:11; 7:4, 9; 8:18; 20:17; Zech 12:4 . Attention to the eyes of God, especially in time of exile, is further indication of awareness of other eyes of a more hostile nature. For a courtier, the ‘agents of the secret police’ (Dandamaev and Lukonin 1989: 111) would be all too familiar.

1:10–11 , restoration from exile: see also Jer 31:11; Zech 10:8; Isa 35:10 = 51:11 . The phrase ‘this man’ has engendered considerable discussion. Its disrespectful tone contradicts the generally held assumption that Nehemiah's relationship with Artaxerxes was something other than the conquered to the conqueror. Given the realities of Persian rule, Nehemiah's disdain is understandable and his fear is prudent. ‘I was cupbearer’ (see also Gen 40:1; 41:9 ) gave rise, in the LXX, to a variant that suggests Nehemiah was a eunuch—cf. oinochoos of Alexandrinus to eunouchos found in Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Venetus—all strong texts. Most scholars reject the variant tradition, and Williamson (1985: 174) further argues that being a eunuch would have created difficulties in exercising authority in Jerusalem. Many scholars suggest that ‘cupbearer’ meant one who tasted wine for poison (Xen. Cyr. 1.3.9; see Yamauchi 1990: 259), and note that Ahiqar was also a cupbearer (Tob 1:22 ). It must be said, however, that the arguments against Nehemiah's physical mutilation tend to be motivated, once again, by the myth of Persian beneficence. Isa 56:4–5 , for example, suggests that the notion should not be dismissed lightly, and sociological studies lend further weight to the probable folklore elements involved in the Nehemiah court tale, including the tradition of his being a eunuch (see Balch 1985; Cozer 1972 ).

( 2:1–2 )

The words of the emperor strike fear in Nehemiah. He is worried about offending the king, despite what sounds like comforting concern. The emperor asks why he appears this way. Fensham (1982: 160), among others, comments that this concern is a ‘reflection of his humane character’. Humane indeed! If Nehemiah is the official wine-taster, then the emperor might well be worried if Nehemiah looks sick! 2:3–6 , burial in Jerusalem is associated with kings (2 Kings 21:26; 23:30; 2 Chr 16:14; 35:24 ). The association with tombs of ancestors and Jerusalem strongly suggests royalty, and Nehemiah's reference to ‘the place of my ancestors' graves’ further supports the royal implications of Nehemiah's concern with Jerusalem (Kellermann 1967: 156–9). In any case, the story seems less compatible with the idea of Nehemiah as governor of a province than a courtier being allowed to run an errand. 2:8 , the word translated ‘king's forest’ is ‘paradise’ (from Persian), and would normally refer to royal woodland or a forest reserve. Dandamaev (1989: 144–5) concludes that paradises were parks with fruit trees, animals, and other agricultural resources that could belong to king or nobility. 2:9 , in stark contrast to Ezra, there is no description of the journey or elaborate preparations. Nehemiah has letters and a military escort consisting of officers (sārê), army (ḥayil), and cavalry (pārāšîm). That Persian soldiers were certainly present in Judah is proven by the presence of cist-type tombs otherwise found in Persian archaeological sites (Stern 1982 ).

( 2:10–20 ) Reconnaissance and Opposition

vv. 10–12 , the local resentment recalls Ezra 1–6 . Sanballat is called ‘the Horonite’. Blenkinsopp (1988: 216) argues that this is undoubtedly a reference to Beth-Horon (Josh 16:3, 5 ), northwest of Jerusalem (not the Horonaim of Moab, Isa 15:5; Jer 48:3 ), and that Sanballat would have considered himself a YHWH worshipper after a fashion (Blenkinsopp 1988: 216). There is considerable evidence for Tobiad connections to Ammon. Perhaps this opposition explains Nehemiah's concern for secrecy. vv. 13–15 , there is an interesting amount of detail in the locations mentioned by Nehemiah, which invites attempts at close analysis. The Valley Gate would have led west (500 m. from the Dung Gate), and Nehemiah would then have turned south. The Dragon Gate is often associated with the Serpent Stone which is known also as Job's Well, 200 m. south of Ophel. The Fountain Gate would be the south-east corner towards En-rogel, and the King's Pool could be a reference to the Pool of Shelah or the Lower Pool, although Williamson (1985) identifies the King's Pool with the Pool of Solomon. In any case, the tour would have consisted largely of the south-east and south-west sections of the wall. Nehemiah is not able to traverse portions of the wall. Are we to presume that he rode on the wall, and therefore could not go further? Nehemiah travels by night to complete his survey. With Nehemiah, however, the reader is also left in the dark with regard to whether Jerusalem was in this state from the devastation of 587/6—the Babylonian destruction—or whether this is the result of a more recent difficulty.

v. 19 , the enemies now include Geshem the Arab. A bowl from Ismailia mentions a Geshmu—King of Kedar (for Kedarites see Gen 25:13; Isa 21:16–17; 42:11; 60:7 ; a ‘King of the Arabs’ is noted in Herodotus 3.4.88). Thus, Blenkinsopp (1988: 225–6) notes that Nehemiah is surrounded by opponents: Samaria to the north, Tobiads to the east, and Kedarites in the south. They ‘mocked and ridiculed’ (l-῾-g, Ps 59:9; Isa 37:22 , and b-z-h, Ps 15:4; 119:141 ) but their tangible accusation is that Nehemiah is inciting a revolution against Persian authority. Note the number of times that forms of the verb m-r-d (to rebel) will appear in the discussions between Nehemiah, Sanballat, and Tobiah (see NEH 6:4 and following). v. 20 , the term ‘share’ (2 Sam 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16 ) refers to political association, ‘claim’ suggests jurisdiction, or legal rights, and ‘historic right’ (zikkôr) refers to a traditional claim resulting from participation in the cult (Williamson 1985: 192). Although neither Sanballat nor Tobiah has asked to participate in building, one notes the influence of the events in ch. 4 . There is a significant suggestion, then, that Nehemiah is finishing what Zerubbabel started—and both have messianic associations.

( 3:1–32 )

v. 1 , Eliashib and the priests rebuild the Sheep Gate. Williamson (1985: 195; following Ehrlich 1914 ) reads not qidĕšûhû (they consecrated), but qirĕšûhû (they boarded it). Commentators have noted that vv. 1–15 , working on the north and west sections, have names linked by ‘next to’, with locations given. But in vv. 16–32 , on the east and south sections of the wall, the link is ‘after him’, and groups are given according to places in the city. Blenkinsopp (1988: 232) speculates that vv. 16–32 focus on the more devastated part of the wall. Indeed, twenty-one work details were on the east side of the wall, and workers on the Fish Gate ‘built’ rather than ‘repaired’ the wall. The north would have suffered the brunt of most attacks on Jerusalem, for those arriving from Mesopotamia (famously, Jer 1:13–15 ).

v. 7 , the names of Gibeon and Mizpah, territories apparently outside the parcel of land-area granted to the exilic community, are mentioned as under the authority of the governor of Beyond the River. The term of authority is literally, ‘to the throne’ (lĕkissē᾽) (NRSV ‘under jurisdiction’). Ch. 3 presents us with six districts: Jerusalem, Beth-zur, Keilah, Beth-haccherem, Mizpah, which was the administrative centre of the area after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, and obviously retained its importance to this time, and Jericho. (Simons (1959: 392–3) warns that mentioning a place-name need not imply actual residence, but merely the use of a location as a group identification.) v. 16 , the ‘house of warriors’ (bēt haggibbōrîm) may be the Persian garrison.

( 4:1–23 ) Militarizing the Wall Building

v. 1 , Sanballat was ‘greatly enraged’ and ‘mocked the Jews’ (cf. Ps 44:14; Ezek 23:32 ). ‘What are these feeble Jews doing?’ The adjective here is rare; ĕmēlāl is usually translated ‘languish/ed’: 1 Sam 2:5; Isa 16:8; 24:4; 33:9; Jer 15:9; Hos 4:3; Nah 1:4 . v. 3 , the language about the fox on the wall has been troublesome. Some see the term as a reference to a siege weapon, but Williamson (1985: 214) sees it as a sarcastic reference to a small animal being able to break apart what the Jews are putting together. vv. 4–7 , after asking God to ‘hear’ Nehemiah says that the Jews are being ‘despised’ (b-z-h); the focus moves to their ‘taunt’ and reproach (cf. 1 Sam 17:26; Ps 69:20, 21; 71:13; 89:51; 119:22; Prov 18:3; Isa 51:7; Ezek 21:33 ). They are to be given over as ‘plunder’ (bizzâ) in a land of captivity. In short, the curse calls for a reversal of fortune—God, do to them what they did to us! The opposition includes traditional enemies.

vv. 10–13 , the fear, it appears, comes from the threat of guerrilla-type assassinations amongst the piles of rubble, not from large-scale attacks. The murmurings get so serious among the ‘Jews who lived near them’ (i.e. enemies), that Nehemiah arms the population. vv. 14–15 , ‘Do not be afraid’ (᾽al tîrĕ᾽û: fear not!). This is the great battle-cry of ancient Israelite YHWH War (Deut 20; von Rad 1991; Lind 1980 ). But as quickly as the crisis builds, it disappears in a single sentence. v. 16 , more than mere hand weapons are referred to here: there are shields and body armour (‘Persian weapons’, Blenkinsopp 1988: 252). vv. 17–18 , the concern for defence is emphasized—one hand on a tool, one hand on a weapon. Nehemiah also keeps the trumpeter close at hand so that he can rally the troops at a moment's notice. v. 20 , with the blowing of the shofar, a YHWH War was declared—complete with the belief that ‘Our God will fight for us’ (cf. Judg 3:27; 6:34; 7:18; 1 Sam 13:3 ). vv. 21–3 , there continues the great emphasis on preparation for war. The final phrase (lit. ‘a man his weapon the water’) is quite impossible. If hammayim (water) is emended to hayyamîn (right hand), then it makes sense! ‘each [man] kept his weapon in his right hand’.

( 5:1–19 ) Nehemiah's Reforms

v. 1 , ṣa῾ăqât hā῾ām (outcry of the people), the cry of oppression against their Jewish neighbours. The cry against Pharaoh, the cry against enemies, is here raised up against their own people (cf. Ex 14:10; 22:23 , the cry to God for deliverance from injustice and abuse; Ps 107:6, 19–20 ). Some have suggested (Neufeld (1953–4 ) that the time of the wall building was before the olive and grape harvest, and thus hit local society at an economically weak point. We also know that the imperial tax burden went up during the time of Darius, and again in the time of Xerxes, in order for the latter to pursue his military campaigns against the Greeks (Blenkinsopp 1988: 257). But the bitterness here seems directed towards fellow Jews. vv. 2–3 , ‘With our sons and daughters, we are many’, and in 5:3 ‘We are having to pledge our fields, our vineyards, and our houses in order to get grain during the famine’ (cf. Gen 47:13–26 ). Besides the obvious connection to the enslavement narratives of the Exodus, there is also close parallel in image to the laws of divine warfare in Deut 20 where Israelites are exempt from warfare if they have not yet enjoyed the fruits of peace: namely marriage, gardens, and houses. The implication, then, is a protest against Nehemiah's militant enlistments for his building campaign: ‘How can we carry on your battles, when we haven't even enjoyed the fruits of peace?’ vv. 4–5 , now the accusation is directed at the emperor. The Persian tax requirements are also oppressive. The tax had to be paid in silver by the time of Darius (on the exploitative result of using silver for taxation, see Kippenburg 1982 ). This suggests that the main danger is from fellow Jews who would exploit the condition of the the new administration. vv. 6–8 , Nehemiah ‘brought charges’ (r-y-b ‘disputes’, suggests legal action; cf. Ex 23:2, 3, 6; Deut 21:5; 25:1 ). On the theme of the ‘sold ones’, ‘our Jewish kindred…sold to other nations’, (cf. Gen 37:27; Lev 25:47–55; Ps 105:17; Isa 50:1; 52:3; Jer 34 ). The accusation of Nehemiah seems tantamount to saying, ‘you are exiling your fellow Hebrews at precisely the time we are trying to ransom the exiles back from foreign control’. v. 10 , Nehemiah points out that these exploiters are even taking advantage of the fact that they have been helped from his funds as a royal representative. Fensham (1982: 194–5), on the other hand, sees this as a confession by Nehemiah that he, too, was involved in this financial exploitation.

v. 15 , the previous governors took bread, wine, and ‘forty shekels of silver’. This per-diem amount places Nehemiah in a social category far above the per-capita holdings of silver of the average Israelite, if the numbers in Ezra ch. 2 are to be taken seriously at all. This passage has been taken to prove the existence of Judah before Nehemiah, with previous governors before him (the case is hardly closed. See McEvenue 1981; Lapp and Lapp 1974: 81; Stern 1982; for an earlier Judah, Blenkinsopp 1988: 264; Williamson 1985: 243). v. 16 , the work on the wall is implied to be of benefit to all the people, but this point can be questioned. Note that in Lev 25:29–31 , the year of Jubilee and redemption does not apply to houses in walled cities! There, a person has only one year to redeem a house. The monied rights of the urban aristocracy defeated even the radical measures of the Jubilee redistribution of land (Weinfeld 1995: 176). By rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah also guarantees the financial rights of the wealthy class of Jerusalem—in a sense creating economic opportunity zones within the boundaries of the administrative city that he is trying to rebuild (as a royal figure?). Note the similar impact of Josiah's reforms in 2 Kings 23 (see Nakasone 1993 ). vv. 17–19 , it is so with all the privileged in history—their over-indulgence is justified by their presumed self-importance, and further, the claim that their exploitative practices are for the good of all.

( 6:1–19 ) Continued Opposition, Internal and External

vv. 1–2 , the suggested meeting-place, the plain of Ono, is surely either on the border (Fensham 1982: 200, Blenkinsopp 1988: 268), or outside Judah altogether, although Williamson places it in Judean territory (Williamson, 1985: 255). vv. 4–7 , a rebellion must have a leader, and Sanballat writes that Nehemiah proposes to ‘become their king’. Sanballat is well aware of the possibility that popular sentiment will stand behind a claim to restore an independent Judah, and accuses Nehemiah of sponsoring prophetic support (note the importance of prophetic authority in Ezra-Nehemiah). The reason for the open letter is now clear. Sanballat warns that the Persian monarch will soon hear of these plans. We have seen that Nehemiah's activities mirror royal authority and activities to such a degree that Sanballat's accusation, to say the very least, is rational and well founded! v. 10 , scholars have suggested that Shemaiah proposes that Nehemiah openly proclaim his kingship by closing the doors of the temple (Ivry 1972: 35–45; cf. 2 Chr 23 ). The temple, it must be recalled, is the administrative centre of the Judean settlement under the Persians. To close the doors of the temple is to declare oneself in charge over that institution, which would apparently declare open sedition against the Persian authorities. Yadin (1963: 95) also notes that the temple was often fortified as a final retreat after the walls of a city were broken. Others have argued that the temple was a site for asylum, and that Nehemiah was being warned of a conspiracy. This would seem to square with his reply about being afraid. A certain Noadiah is also named as a female prophet hired by Sanballat (this accusation, however, is doubted by Carroll 1992 ). Nehemiah, in his report to God (rather like a report to the Persian monarch) names those who sought to do him harm. v. 17 , ‘nobles’ (ḥōrîm) of the Jews continued to correspond with Tobiah, apparently because they were actually intermarried with Tobiah's family. While Sanballat appears defeated by the completion of the wall, Tobiah continues to be a threat, indicating that Tobiah is more closely related to the people with whom Nehemiah must deal (see Neh 13 ).

(Ch. 7 ) The Golah List

v. 2 , the joint appointments of Hanani and Hananiah over Jerusalem ‘and the citadel (military garrison?)’ raises some questions. Is Nehemiah preparing to complete his work and return to the Persian heartland? v. 3 , the verse is difficult. Many commentators cite the practice of the siesta which is typical in warm climates. Thus, it would be a time for particular vigilance. v. 5 , the second appearance of the Golah List is introduced by the idea that Nehemiah wanted to register everyone by their lineage. The editor is clearly aware of this secondary use by his introduction. Many scholars believe that the original purpose of the list is best tied to its location in Nehemiah rather than in Ezra chs. 1–6 . In vv. 43–5 , gatekeepers and singers are enumerated with the Levites. This serves as one of a few reminders that not all difficulties with the list are solved by dating it to 460–430 BCE.

( 8:1–18 ) The Study of the Law

v. 1 , the presence of Ezra and the virtual absence of Nehemiah support the argument that ch. 8 is among the displaced chapters from the Ezra material. According to the date given, the ‘seventh month’, this episode is often placed before the marriage crisis in the ninth month as noted in Ezra 9–10 . Thus, the original place for ch. 8 would logically have been between Ezra 8 and 9 . The action of bringing ‘the book of the law of Moses’ (Torah) (note 2 Chr 23:18; 30:16; Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Dan 9:11, 13; Mal 3:22; Ps 119 , ‘Torah of YHWH’) and reading from it reminds many contemporary scholars of the later synagogue service, and suggests that some aspects of the later service have their roots in a formal ceremony of reading and teaching Torah (on the presence of a service format here see Blenkinsopp 1988: 285, and the variant in Fensham 1982: 215; Clines 1984: 183 and Williamson 1985: 281 disagree). v. 2 , the phrase ‘hear with understanding’ (lit. understood to hear) (Neh 10:28; Ps 119:10, 32, 34, 73 ) can be compared to the teaching of the wise in Dan 10:12; 11:33 —the wise who give understanding to the many. v. 3 , Ezra reads facing the square: ‘In a society defined by ethnicity and nationality, the square concentrates a potentially diffuse, and therefore, difficult to control, population into a small geographical space. From this place, the royal/governmental power may keep its hegemony over the elite, while creating an ideology of participation and equality’ (Wright 1990 ). Cf. Josiah's hearing of the law, 2 Kings 22–3 .

v. 6 , there is an interesting series of actions described here, which reminded Rudolph (1949: 147) of Islamic prayer rites. v. 8 , yet another term is used here: ‘the book, the law of God (᾽ĕlōhîm)’. The Levites read ‘with interpretation’ (cf. Lev 24:12; Num 15:34; Esth 4:7; 10:2; Ezek 34:12 ). They ‘gave the sense’ (cf. Dan 8:25 ‘cunning’!; 1 Chr 22:12; 2 Chr 2:11; Ps 111:10; Ezra 8:18 ). 1 Esd 9:55 has the people understanding the reading by using emphusiaō (to infuse life into) (cf. LXX Gen 2:7; Wis 15:11 ). v. 9 —‘The governor[tirshata]…said’, MT adds Nehemiah's name here, but the LXX omits it. Some scholars have noted that the use of the singular verb, also at v. 10 , indicates that Ezra acted alone in the original account. vv. 10–13 , this admonition to give to those who are poor may not be simply an obligatory piety, but speak to actual conditions among the returning community (cf. Neh 5 ). As is the pattern, the command is followed by the description of its fulfilment. vv. 17–18 , the reference to Joshua lends further nationalist overtones to the celebrations.

( 9:1–38 ) Ezra's Confessional Prayer; Mixed Marriage Crisis

vv. 1–3 , the people stand and proclaim their sins and iniquities, and those of the fathers—as in v. 3 —‘making confession’ (see Lev 5:5; 16:21; 26:40; Num 5:7; 2 Chr 30:22; Ezra 10:1; Neh 1:6; Dan 9:4, 20 ). vv. 4–6 , the general prayer of confession follows set patterns established throughout the late biblical material. The theme of God as Creator is a theme that is typical of post-exilic theological reflection (Isa 40–8 ; although Amos 4:13; 5:8–9; 9:5–6, see Blenkinsopp 1988: 303). God as Creator effectively trumps the claims of universal rule of the Persian emperors as well—note the same theme in the face of Babylonian claims in Daniel (Dan 9; cf. Baruch 1:15–3:8; 1 Kings 8; Ezra 9 : all post-exilic confessional prayers). v. 7 , the historical events are certainly not chosen arbitrarily. The Persians are presumed to be listening. God is identified as Creator, who exercises the military-political tactic of name-changing—the privilege of the conquerer. vv. 8–11 , note that the beginning of this prayer makes these strong statements: (1) The land is given outside Persian authority (i.e. by God); (2) The claim is based on God's sanction, not Persia's; (3) The claim is prior to Persian claims. Also, note the reference to sinking ‘like a stone’ (Ex 15:15 )—God's defeat of Pharaoh.

v. 15 , for hunger there was manna from heaven (Ex 16; Ps 78; 2 Esd 1:19 ;) and for thirst, water from rock (Num 20; Ps 78; 105; 114; Isa 48; Wis 11:4; 2 Esd 1:20; 1 Cor 10:4 ). By the end of v. 15 , Ezra has established that God was fully capable of delivering the people from physical, earthly rule, ordering their daily lives, and providing their basic necessities. The obvious implication is, ‘What do we need the Persians for?’ v. 16 turns the corner. The people reject God's care because they are ‘determined to return to their slavery’ (v. 17 ). It can hardly mean anything other than the implication that their present circumstances are part of the slavery of rejecting God's good care in the past! The stubbornness of the people is contrasted to the ‘wonders’ performed by YHWH (Ex 3:20; Judg 6:13; 1 Chr 16:9; Jer 21:2; esp. Ps 9:1; 26:7; 105; 106; 107 ).

vv. 22–3 , Sihon and Og (1 Kings 4:19; Neh 9:22; Ps 135:11; 136:19 —note that Ps 135, 136 are passionately nationalist) represent kings that were defeated at the initial stages of the conquest of Canaan. Might we have a historical reference to the territories of Sanballat and Tobiah here? The kings of Heshbon and Bashan are, at the very least, symbols of those who resisted the Jewish conquest under God's leadership (Deut 1:4; 29:7 , and as a saying in current use, cf. Deut 31:4; Ps 135, 136 ). v. 24 , ‘Doing…as they pleased’ is royal prerogative in late biblical literature, often linked with Persian rulers (Esth 1:8; 9:5; Dan 8:4; 11:3, 16, 36 ). vv. 32–4 , ‘hardship’ or weariness is tĕlā῾ â (Ex 18:8; Num 20:14 ; of exile, Lam 3:5; Mal 1:13 ). The use of ‘Assyria’ implies, even if not stated explicitly, ‘that there was not much to choose between the Assyrians and their imperial successors: the Babylonians and Persians’ (Blenkinsopp 1988: 307). These events, including Persian rule, are seen as punishment. vv. 36–7 , the central point is this: ‘we are slaves’ followed by ‘the land’. The people and the land are in slavery. The rich yield (Lev 25:20; Prov 10:16; 14:4; 15:6; 16:8 ) goes to foreign kings. As one might expect in a prayer of confession, the central theology here is Deuteronomic ‘God's punishment’ theology. There is a possible wordplay on rāṣôn, the king's ‘pleasure’, and the ṣārâ (difficulty) of the Jews—in other words, their ‘pleasure’ is our ‘pain’. Blenkinsopp (1988: 30) reminds us, ‘One of the worst aspects of imperial policy under the Achaemenids was the draining away of local resources from the provinces to finance the imperial court, the building of magnificent palaces, and the interminable succession of campaigns of pacification or conquest.’

( 10:1–39 ) Crisis Resolved; People's Covenant

vv. 1–27 , the list interrupts a narrative beginning with v. 1 , and continuing with vv. 29–30 . Note that Nehemiah is called ‘tirshata’. Nehemiah may have carried such a title. v. 28 , the people are referred to as ‘the rest’, or remnant, but this includes ‘all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands’. Presumably these are people from the groups that did not go into exile, or from earlier returns. vv. 29–31 , the movement of females is stressed here (lit. ‘our daughters not to them; their daughters not to us’). Foreign daughters coming into the group may result in inheritance passing out of the community on the death of the male. Both directions, however, are an economic threat.

v. 33 , the rows of shewbread are noted in Lev 24:5; 1 Chr 9:32; 23:29; 2 Chr 2:4, 11; 29:18 . The regular burnt-offerings for priests are noted in Num 15:1–10 . The breakdown of the following suggests the divisions of ‘holy time’: sabbaths (weekly); new moons (monthly); and festivals (annually). v. 35 , the casting of lots is clearly to seek fair distribution (1 Chr 24:5, 31; 25:8; 26:13, 14; Ps 125:3 ) of the wood- offering—by ancestral houses. Cf. the emphasis on fair distribution in Ezek 40–8 on land, weights, and finances. vv. 39–40 , the term ‘chambers’ of ‘storehouses’ (NRSV: storerooms) is found in previous texts: 1 Chr 9:26, 33; 23:28; 28:11, 12; see also Deut 28:12; 2 Kings 20:13, 15; 2 Chr 32:28; Job 38:22; Ps 33:7; 135:7; Jer 38:11; Mal 3:10 . Fensham (1982: 241) suggests that we may have a picture of Persian tax collecting policies, with the temple at the centre. The people will not ‘neglect’ (῾-z-b) the house of God, because God has not neglected them.

( 11:1–36 ) Repopulating Jerusalem

v. 1 , the military overtones of this entire episode, surely resulting from Nehemiah's Persian commission, have been noted in the literature (Kellermann 1967; Wright 1990; Hoglund 1992 ). The unusual term for Jerusalem this early (lit. holy city), is found in various forms in 19 other places in the HB, and alluded to in the NT. v. 12 , volunteering to live in Jerusalem continues the military theme (cf. Judg 5:2, 9, and esp. 1 Chr 29:5–6 ). v. 4 , ‘Judahites and…Benjaminites’ become symbolic of the majority, rather than exclusive of those from other tribal backgrounds. vv. 4b–36 , the sources of this list are usually considered early, given that gatekeepers and singers are not yet listed with levitical status (so Williamson 1985: 347; Blenkinsopp 1988: 325–7). The listing of persons follows the order: (1) vv. 4–6 , Judahites; (2) vv. 7–9 , Benjaminites; (3) vv. 10–14 , priests; (4) vv. 15–18 , Levites; (5) v. 19 , gatekeepers; (6) vv. 20–1 , ‘the rest of Israel’, those who live each on naḥălātô ‘his inheritance’. Special mention is made of nĕtînîm (temple servants) (Weinberg 1992: 75–91).

v. 25 , there is an unusual combination of terms used here: ‘villages’ and ‘fields’ (ḥăṣērîm, biśĕdôtām). Generally, Williamson (1985: 350) considers the role of villages to be a utopian view of post-exilic geography, although we have noted that this list is taken from Josh 15 , and thus intended to mimic the conquest of the land (Simons 1959: 393; Blenkinsopp 1988: 330). v. 36 , the term used for ‘divisions’ is typical of the Chronicler (1 Chr 23:6; 24:1; 26:1, 12, 19 ) and almost always of priests and Levites (see, however, Josh 11:23; 12:7; 18:10 ).

( 12:1–47 ) Processional Dedication of the Wall

vv. 1–21 , the first half of this chapter consists of a record of priestly and levitical families, including a record of high priests that, although incomplete, takes us down to the time of Alexander the Great (Jaddua, v. 22 ; see Jos. Ant. 11.302). Nehemiah is mentioned as if the narrator is writing from beyond his time (note the two historical figures David and Nehemiah in v. 46 ). The chapter shows considerable editorial activity, in the late additions found in vv. 6, 19, 22 , and 23 . v. 23 , the importance of records read to the king further supports the view that the lists throughout Ezra–Nehemiah are evidence of the constant watch of the authorities. v. 26 , Joiakim could hardly be Jehoiachim, king after 605 BCE in Judah. v. 27 , the term ḥănukkâ (dedication) is only late, of dedications in P and other later biblical books. All the instruments must have been carried during the procession, which may affect how we imagine the size of the various specific instruments (Williamson 1985: 372). v. 30 , ṭ-h-r (purify), predominately used in P (Lev 13:6, 34, 58 ). Purification, of course, has been a central concern throughout the exile (Smith 1989: 49–65, 139–51).

v. 31 , two or three people abreast could walk on top of Jerusalem's walls, according to Kenyon's excavations (Avigad 1983: 23–63). v. 36 , ‘the scribe Ezra’ is almost certainly a later addition to the text. vv. 38–9 , the places named are confusing: Tower of the Ovens; Broad Wall; Gate of Ephraim; Old Gate; Fish Gate; Tower of Hananel; Tower of the Hundred; Sheep Gate; Gate of the Guard. The number of gates around Jerusalem has always been in flux, and named for either direction, particular event, or destination of those who travel from that gate (e.g. Ephraim Gate—cf. the modern Damascus Gate). In the light of the weakness of gates (H.2) this variation in names and locations for gates and towers is rational. v. 43 , of joy in Jerusalem, cf. 2 Chr 20:27; 30:26; Esth 8:16, 17; Ps 35:37; 105:43; Tob 13:10, 17; esp. Isa 65:18 . The hearing of joyful celebration, especially at a distance by enemies, is an interesting theme (Isa 15:4; 1 Sam 4:6; Ruth 1:6 ; enemies hearing in Ezra 3:13; Neh 2:10, 19; 4:1, 7, 15; 6:16; and 9:9, 27, 28 ; of God hearing, see Isa 66:19; Jer 40:11; 49:21; 50:46; 1 Macc 14 ).

( 13:1–31 ) Nehemiah's Second Visit: Further Reforms

It has often been observed that ch. 13 seems an afterthought—a collection of issues that a later editor considered to be loose ends that required tying up. The chapter easily breaks up into separate episodes: vv. 1–9 , the presence of Tobiah in the temple; vv. 10–14 , levitical duties; vv. 15–22 , concerning trade and commercial activities on the sabbath (‘In those days I saw…’); vv. 23–9 , further concerns on mixed marriage issues (‘In those days I saw…’); vv. 30–1 , summary of entire chapter. It is possible, furthermore, that vv. 6–7 provide the reason—they seem to point to an addition from a second term of Nehemiah's responsibilities in Judah.

v. 1 , the introduction to the reading of the books of Moses leads to the emphasis on the Ammonites and Moabites (Gen 19:38; Deut 23:3; Neh 4:7; Amos 1:13; Zeph 2:8; Jdt 6:5 —a racial slur?). Note, however, that Ruth is a Moabite, and Isa 56:6–8 looked to an era when foreigners would be welcome in the ‘house of prayer’. v. 2 , Balak and Balaam are recalled here (Num 22–3; cf. Isa 15–16; Jer 48 ). The tradition becomes a code to speak of issues of contemporary economic and political tension. v. 4 , Tobiah was ‘close’ (qārôb) in the sense of related by family ties (cf. Lev 21:2, 3; 25:25; 2 Sam 19:43 ). v. 5 , Tobiah's storehouse was a base of operation. Commentators compare the commercial problems in vv. 15–22 , concluding that Tobiah was using a privileged position in the temple economy to pursue advantageous business arrangements (Blenkinsopp 1988: 354; Williamson 1985: 386). v. 6 , notably, Nehemiah is not present, and Artaxerxes is called ‘King…of Babylon’. vv. 8–9 , Nehemiah states that he threw out ‘vessels [NRSV: household furniture] of the house of Tobiah’. The possibility of rendering the term ‘vessels’ suggests that Tobiah had religious utensils in the temple. There are suggestions here of Josiah's (and Hezekiah's) cleansing of the temple (again implying royal activities for Nehemiah). They ‘cleansed [ṭ-h-r] the chambers’ (for Holiness Code see Lev 15:13, 28; 22:4; 13:6 ). The implication is to make clean from idolatry (Jer 13:27; Ezek 24:13 ). v. 14 , Nehemiah's phrase, ‘Remember me, O my God’ is helpfully noted by Eskenazi (1988), who reminds us to contrast this first-person request to be honoured, with the editor's third-person report that God, in fact, honoured Ezra.

v. 16 , the Tyrians (Phoenicians), of course, were renowned tradesmen in the ancient Near East. vv. 17–18 , regarding the sabbath, economic activity is considered polluting in the ritual sense. There is an interesting interrelationship of ritual profanation and economic social issues, here. We must guard against the stereotype that priestly concerns are often ‘empty ritualism’ without connection to justice issues. v. 21 , Nehemiah's threat is to ‘lay hands on’ these sellers! (cf. Esth 3:6; 9:2; Add Esth 6:2; 12:2 .) v. 22 , Levites must purify themselves. Once again, terms of ritual, purity, ‘purify’ and ‘holy’ are used in the arena of finance and economics. v. 23 , there is considerable discussion about the relation of Josephus, Ant. 11:306–12 , to these events. Some have suggested that Josephus is speaking of another event entirely, or at the very least a garbled version of these events. It is now rare for modern commentators to argue that Neh 13 has garbled events of which Josephus has more accurately written.

v. 24 , what was the language of Ashdod? Some have suggested that it simply means ‘foreign language’ and not a specific, known dialect at all, while others argue for an Aramaic or Philistine (or Gk.?) dialect. Blenkinsopp (1988: 363) is surely correct, however, in stating that the real issue is the inability to speak Hebrew, not the specific language they did speak! Political considerations seem predominant in Nehemiah, giving the impression of treacherous power-grabbing in both temple and government through strategic marriages. The example that Nehemiah chooses to illustrate the problems of foreign marriage is an example of political leadership: Solomon. From Nehemiah, much more clearly than from Ezra, we gain the strong impression that the problem of foreign marriages is centrally a political problem, involving the Jewish aristocracy and local governmental leadership. The politics of associating with the descendants of Ammon and Moab is also much more explicitly a reference to local leadership than is the case with Ezra, where the ethnic categories in use seem more pejorative than informative. In the Nehemiah case, the guilty are males who are presumably attempting to ‘marry up’ to exchange their low status of ‘exiles’ for participation in aristocratic society. Sociological inferences lead one to conclude that the mixed marriages are built on the presupposition that the exile community was the relatively disadvantaged one of the two (or more) groups involved in the marriages (cf. Smith- Christopher 1994: 243–65). v. 31 , the final word regards provisions for the temple's wood-offering (cf. Gen 22; Lev 1; 6:12; Jos 9:21–7; Ezek 39:10 ). With the final words, ‘Remember me!’, this additional word about wood supplies must surely qualify as among the least conclusive final sentences of the Bible.

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