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Lesson 3 of5
In Progress

Background of Ezra

Though written a century later to help the Jewish community in Jerusalem understand their identity by describing the beginnings of Second Temple Judaism, the book of Ezra is situated in two separate historical settings that align with the two major sections of the book:

First, Ezra 1-6 describes the events of 539-515 B.C.E. Following his defeat of the Babylonians in 539, Cyrus II of Persia gave permission to the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. Not all were eager to return. Those who did return rebuilt the altar and resumed the prescribed sacrifices, but the rebuilding of the temple lagged behind, despite offers of assistance from the surrounding peoples (Ezra 1-3). In 520 B.C.E., however, under the governorship of Zerubbabel and the prophetic leadership of Haggai and Zechariah, temple reconstruction was begun and finally completed in 515 (Ezra 4-6).

Then, Ezra 7-10 describes the activity of Ezra the scribe (458-430 B.C.E.), a priest commissioned by Artaxerxes I to rebuild the spiritual life of the Jewish community in the Persian province/satrapy of “Beyond the River”–Yehud (Judah)–and bring it into conformity with the law of Moses (Ezra 7). Two aspects of Ezra’s mission are lifted up, the reading of the law that took place shortly after his arrival in 458 (Nehemiah 8) and his efforts to deal with the problem of mixed marriages (Ezra 9-10).