Introduction to Ezra

Ezra is identified as “a ready scribe in the law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). He is also called “Ezra the priest” (Ezra 7:11), a descendant of “Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest” (Ezra 7:1-5). Although not all conservative scholars agree, it is reasonably certain that Ezra himself wrote the book, as well as the two books of Chronicles. The last two verses of II Chronicles are almost the same as the first two verses of Ezra, the author thereby indicating that the one was intended as a continuation of the other.

The combined accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah, along with the prophetic books of Haggai and Zechariah, tell the story of the returning remnant of Jews after their seventy-year captivity in Babylon, undertaking to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, its walls and the temple.

It is interesting that, just as the exile from the land took place in three separate stages (II Chronicles 36:5-7; 36:8-10; 36:11-20), so the return took place in three stages. First, the returning remnant was led by Zerubbabel, as governor, together with Jeshua the high priest. They rebuilt the temple and reestablished the ancient worship. This story is recounted in the first six chapters of Ezra. It was during this period, extending over about eighty years, that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah exercised their ministry, encouraging the people to continue the work in spite of much opposition. The decree of the Persian emperor Cyrus, in about 536 B.C., initiated this phase.

The second group came under Ezra, in about 458 B.C. following a decree by Artaxerxes that gave Ezra both political and religious authority over Jerusalem, as well as financing to furnish the rebuilt temple and restore it to some measure of its former dignity and beauty.

The third wave came after another decree by Artaxerxes in about 445 B.C. given to Nehemiah, whose main commission was to rebuild the walls of the city. This mission is described in the book of Nehemiah.

There are two sections of Ezra (4:8–6:18; 7:12-26) that were written in Aramaic. These were essentially letters and decrees, and presumably Ezra simply copied them as they were, without translating them into Hebrew (Aramaic was the diplomatic language of the Near East at the time).

It is also worth noting that one of the apocryphal books, I Esdras, purports to have been written by Ezra. However, it contains a number of contradictions with the canonical book of Ezra, with the latter rather obviously providing the true record.

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