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

The Religious Teaching.

The main issue in Ezra and Nehemiah is the restoration of the post-exilic Judean community. There is a contrast established between the ‘official’ methods and attitudes of Nehemiah, whatever his title or authority may have actually been, and the more theologically based authority of the priest/scribe Ezra. Nehemiah's focus is on the physical infrastructure—particularly the city wall around Jerusalem. Ezra, on the other hand, is intent on the restoration of the Mosaic law as the spiritual centre of the post-exilic community. Otherwise, both are Jewish officials or leaders (Ezra 7:1–10; Neh 2:1–2 ) who become concerned about the state of affairs amongst the Jews in Jerusalem; both seek permission from the Persian monarch to carry out their mission (Ezra, implied in 7:6; Neh 2:1–4 ); both preside over a number of significant reforms in the Jewish communities in Jerusalem; both write of their experiences in the first person. Noting this, Eskenazi (1988 ) points out that the editorial tendency is towards a preference for Ezra: ‘The Omniscient narrator…corroborates Ezra's assessment of reality by repeated references to divine support for Ezra’ (ibid. 134). The contrast between the two figures can, however, be taken in other directions. Kapelrud (1944 ) based his doubts about the very existence of a historical Ezra on this same literary parallelism. Smitten (1973: 88; echoing the earlier work of Torrey ( 1970 )) agrees, considering Ezra a pious fiction created from priestly imagination in order to contrast proper religious conduct against that of Nehemiah (objections include Williamson 1985: 115–16, and Blenkinsopp 1988: 216).

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