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

Purpose and Theology.

1.

The most important feature of 1 Esdras is the concept of historical continuity. 1 Esdras bridges the gap between the periods of the First Temple and the Second by the flow of the story, with destruction, exile, and restoration fully integrated into the historical sequence. As a result, the fall of Jerusalem loses the severe meaning it had in Kings, and Cyrus's decree becomes one in a series of events rather than a decisive turning-point. It no longer marks, as in Ezra-Nehemiah, the beginning of the new period nor, as in Chronicles, is it the springboard toward a new future. The realization of the concept of continuity can be seen as the motive for the book's structure. The author does not show any interest in the history of the interim period, as he does not ‘fill in’ the bridged gap with any additional data—not even ready materials that he may have found in 2 Kings 25 or Jer 39–45, 52 . Nor are theological explanations given for the transition from destruction to restoration. A direct and uneventful path leads from the one to the other, through the decree of Cyrus and beyond it.

2.

A different historical perspective is seen also in the understanding of the restoration itself. According to Ezra-Nehemiah the restoration was achieved in two distinct phases, the building of the temple during the reigns of Cyrus and Darius, in which Zerubbabel was the most prominent figure, and the building of the city, initiated and carried out by Nehemiah in the time of Artaxerxes. 1 Esdras ‘condensed’ this history so that the restoration applied from the outset to both the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Both were undertaken under the same orders of the Persian kings (see e.g. 2:18–20; 4:43–5 ), and completed together. Therefore, after having transferred Nehemiah's main undertaking, the building of Jerusalem, to the time of Zerubbabel, 1 Esdras had no need for the story of Nehemiah and omitted it—but not before he had moved Nehemiah himself to the time of Zerubbabel (e.g. 5:40 ), and borrowed motifs from his story for the history of Zerubbabel (e.g. 4:47–8 ). The result is a different periodization, which is also expressed in the view of the political order in Judah during the restoration period.

3.

According to Ezra-Nehemiah, during the two generations of the restoration Judah was ruled by pairs, a secular and a clerical ruler working together (Zerubbabel and Joshua for the first period, Nehemiah and Ezra for the second). This is changed in 1 Esdras in three ways: For the first period of the restoration 1 Esdras augments the role of Zerubbabel without doing the same for the priest Joshua; Joshua is no longer Zerubbabel's equal but acts very much in his shadow. The omission of the story of Nehemiah leaves Ezra as the sole protagonist of his time, following immediately after Zerubbabel. Finally, by beginning the story with Josiah, the entire periodization of Ezra-Nehemiah has been changed.

4.

Perhaps the best-known feature of 1 Esdras is his presentation of Zerubbabel, who becomes the major protagonist of the restoration. Although we find in Ezra-Nehemiah a tendency to extend the span of Zerubbabel's office from the time of Darius back to that of Cyrus, we do not find therein any form of glorification of his figure (Japhet 1982–3 ). This is modified in 1 Esdras in several ways. The Davidic descent of Zerubbabel, which is totally absent in Ezra-Nehemiah, is reaffirmed in 1 Esdras by an explicit genealogy tracing his descent to the tribe of Judah and the house of David ( 5:5 ). He is also explicitly referred to as the governor of Judah, a fact that is suppressed in Ezra-Nehemiah, and he is connected with the completion of the temple ( 6:27 ). With the introduction of the story of the three guards, Zerubbabel is presented as full of wisdom and piety, devoted to the welfare of his people. He is unquestionably the central figure, ‘the governor’, perhaps the symbol, of the restoration.

5.

On the other hand, while 1 Esdras follows Haggai in calling Zerubbabel ‘my servant’ ( 6:27; Hag 2:23 ), he does not adopt the eschatological perspectives of the restoration prophets. Zerubbabel is not the bearer of any eschatological expectations, not even the hope of political renewal and independence. In this respect, 1 Esdras follows Ezra-Nehemiah, seeing in the Persian rule the ‘good hand’ of the Lord towards his people. Thus, Zerubbabel's office is subordinate to the foreign rulers and there is no political independence. Nevertheless, he is presented as the legitimate heir of the earlier monarchy and in some way the continuation of the Davidic kings.

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