It is difficult to determine the precise relationship between the persons of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is understandable that Nehemiah is not mentioned in the memoir of Ezra in Ezra 7–10, because Nehemiah had not yet begun his mission. It is, however, difficult to understand why Ezra is not explicitly referred to in the memoir of Nehemiah, especially after his activities in teaching the Law, especially as it pertained to intermarriage. Because of the paucity of evidence this problem is hard to solve. (See also Ezra, The Book of.)

Historical Background.

It is generally accepted that Nehemiah came from Susa (Map 6:J4) in Persia to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 445/444 BCE. As the cupbearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes (probably Artaxerxes I, 465–424 BCE), Nehemiah held a high office of some influence at court. It is also probable that Nehemiah, serving in the presence of the queen, was a eunuch; this may explain why he was unwilling to flee to the Temple of the Lord as protection against his enemies (Neh. 6.10–14). It is clear that Shemaiah tried to lure him to the Temple in order to get him to transgress the stipulation forbidding eunuchs to enter the sanctuary (cf. Deut. 23.1; Lev. 21.17–24). If he had done so, he could have lost his influence with the people and their trust.

After Nehemiah heard of the plight of his people in Jerusalem and that the city was in ruins without a wall of defense against their enemies, he asked the Persian king's permission to go to Jerusalem in order to see what could be done. This was granted; Nehemiah was sent out as a governor of Judah with all the privileges pertaining to the post of governor of a province in the satrapy of Trans‐Euphrates. To secure his safety he was granted an escort of soldiers to accompany him; this stands in contrast to the mission of Ezra, in which no such escort was requested. It is, however, noteworthy that the mission of Nehemiah was of a political nature while that of Ezra was religious.

Artaxerxes's friendly gesture to Nehemiah was made just after a serious revolt broke out in the satrapy of the Trans‐Euphrates. Megabyzus, the Persian general in Egypt, who put down the revolt in Egypt in 456 BCE, was also the satrap of the Trans‐Euphrates. Megabyzus had generously promised the captured Egyptian king Inarus and certain Greek generals their release after the war. Artaxerxes, however, listened to his mother, the wife of Xerxes, the former king, and commanded their execution. This was a heavy blow to the pride of Megabyzus, and in 449 he fomented a rebellion against the Persian king, which Artaxerxes was unable to put down. Later, however, Megabyzus stopped the revolt and once again became a loyal subject of the king. It was thus politically expedient for Artaxerxes to send out Nehemiah, obviously one of his loyal officials, to Judah, one of the smaller but important provinces of the satrapy.

The Work of Nehemiah.

After Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he conducted a secret inspection of the walls of the city. It seems that he tried to hide his true intentions from the people so that news about his plans would not reach neighboring enemies. After the inspection Nehemiah decided to organize the Jews and to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah allotted sections of the walls to various persons and groups of persons to rebuild. Some scholars think the period of fifty‐two days too brief to rebuild the walls, but if we keep in mind that a significant part of the wall needed only restoration, this time was not too short for such repairs. It has been pointed out that in similar circumstances the Athenians built a wall around Athens in just a month, and, in the face of an imminent attack on Constantinople by Attila after the wall was destroyed by an earthquake, the Eastern Romans restored it in sixty days.

With the building of the wall two serious problems developed for Nehemiah and the Jews. The first was a well‐orchestrated attack of psychological warfare to stop building. This was done by neighboring nations, led by Sanballat I, governor of Samaria, and assisted by Tobiah, probably a Persian official of the Ammonites; somewhat later, these were joined by Geshem (Gashmu), chieftain of the Nabateans or Arabs to the south and southeast of Judah, as well as by the Ashdodites of the old Philistine territory to the west. With Samaritans to the north and Ammonites to the east, Judah was nearly encircled by its enemies. They made use of rumors and threats to discourage Nehemiah and the Jews. But Nehemiah did not hesitate to take strong measures to ensure the safety of the workers on the walls. The last resort for his enemies was to try to divide the Jewish people by infiltrating their ranks with false rumors and to induce prophets to give false prophecies. But Nehemiah saw through all these attempts. In the end, the wall was completed and his enemies conceded that they had failed to achieve their goal.

The second problem was the poverty of the Jews. At that stage Judah had a weak economic infrastructure and the burden of taxes was heavy. The satrap collected taxes for the royal treasury, and both the satrap and his officials from the different provinces of the satrapy had to be paid. Furthermore, the governor and his officials collected taxes for their work. (Nehemiah, however, well aware of his subjects' poverty, did not collect taxes for himself and his officials.) Beyond these expenses, there were the tithes that the Jews were obliged to pay for the maintenance of the service in the Temple. It is thus not surprising that they had to go into debt and often were forced into debt‐slavery in order to meet their obligations. After becoming aware of this problem, Nehemiah canceled all debts.

Nehemiah served for twelve years as governor of Judah and then returned to the royal court in Persia. After a few years, ca. 430 BCE, he went once more to Jerusalem, and was shocked by what he saw. The principles he had laid down during his previous service as governor had been neglected. Nehemiah was so dismayed that he took strong action (Neh. 13). Having discovered that a place was furnished in the Temple for Tobiah the Ammonite by Eliashib the priest, Nehemiah threw the furniture of Tobiah out of the room and commanded that the place be purified. As a result of heavy taxes, the paying of tithes had been neglected; Nehemiah reinstituted the levy. Another problem was the desecration of the Sabbath by foreign traders in Jerusalem; he forbade them to do any business on the Sabbath within or outside the walls of Jerusalem. Finally, Nehemiah vehemently confronted the issue of marriages with foreigners. He even assaulted some of the men and pulled out their hair.

The book of Nehemiah ends abruptly without telling the reader what happened to either Nehemiah or Ezra. Nothing is said of the success of the measures taken against certain Jews described in Nehemiah 13.

Author, Composition, and Sources.

As with the book of Ezra, the great majority of modern scholars consider the book of Nehemiah to have been composed by the later Chronicler sometime in the fourth century BCE. The composition of the book of Nehemiah is, however, full of problems. Nehemiah 1.1–7.5 contains part of the memoir of Nehemiah written in the first person; we may accept this as verbatim quotation by the Chronicler. In Nehemiah 7.6–72, we find a list of returnees to Judah which is essentially the same as the list in Ezra 2. Probably these lists came from the same source, but it remains unexplained why the Chronicler should have repeated it. Nehemiah 8–10 is problematic because it likely represents Ezra's memoir. Several scholars have proposed that these chapters are displaced and must be added after Ezra 10 or must be inserted between Ezra 8 and 9. From a modern point of view this is logical, but it is difficult for a modern scholar to determine what motivated the arrangement of material by an ancient compiler. Nehemiah 9 in the Ezra memoir is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for his guidance of Israel through history, a typical addition of the Chronicler; however, the sense of guilt expressed in this hymn is uncharacteristic of the Chronicler.

In Nehemiah 11–13, we have a variety of sources intermixed by the Chronicler and furnished with commentary, and it is difficult to determine what precisely was taken over from Nehemiah's memoir. Among a variety of proposals made by scholars, it seems possible that Nehemiah 11.1–3; 12.31–43 and 13.4–31 are to be regarded as part of the memoir. In Nehemiah 11.1–3, the third person is used for Nehemiah, but in 12.31–43 and 13.4–31 the first person is used. In 12.31–43, we have the description of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem. In 13.4–31, the second visit of Nehemiah to Jerusalem is described along with the measures he took to combat certain abuses. It is obvious from the work of the Chronicler in Nehemiah 11–12 that he had a preference for genealogical lists, as we also know from the books of Chronicles. In the list of high priests in 12.10–11 (which supplements that in 1 Chron. 5.27–41), we are brought to a time well after 400 BCE. Some even regard the high priest Jaddua as a contemporary of Alexander the Great late in the fourth century BCE. One thing, however, is clear: the late Chronicler who did the final editing of this book was active well into the fourth century BCE.

Theology of the Book.

Because the book is for the most part derived from Nehemiah's memoir, one can form an excellent idea of his beliefs. The most important feature in the religion of Nehemiah is his sense of a living relationship with God. Despite his high regard for the Law, he did not regard it as the only form of mediation between humans and God. If we accept the authenticity of the prayers of Nehemiah, it becomes evident that he believed in immediate contact with God through prayer. As did other Jews in postexilic times, he believed in the dominant role of the Lord as the God of history: God could move the Persian king to give Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem; God determined every step that Nehemiah took after his arrival in Jerusalem. Although the work of Nehemiah was mainly political (see Sir. 49.13), a close relationship between politics and religion was presumed. Nehemiah never doubted that God was on his side and would finally grant him victory over his adversaries.

F. Charles Fensham