Lesson 4 of 6
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Ezra

Historiographical ambiguities

The presence of two kings named Artaxerxes in Persia in the fifth century and the biblical text’s ambiguity regarding them has led to a number of reconstructions of the ordering of the two reformers. The traditional view places Ezra in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I (458 B.C.E., Ezra 7:8), with Nehemiah arriving 13 years later in the 20th year of Artaxerxes’s reign (445 B.C.E., Nehemiah 2:1). Others reverse this order to better explain certain difficulties in the text, such as why it took Ezra 13 years to implement the mission designated by Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:25-26; 8:1-14) or how Nehemiah can be the contemporary of the high priest Eliashib (Nehemiah 3:1; 12:22; 13:4) when Ezra is a contemporary of Jehohanan, a priest who is also Eliashib’s grandson (Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 12:11). In this view, Nehemiah still arrives in 445, but Ezra comes later in the seventh year of Artaxerxes II (398 B.C.E.). Still others place Ezra’s arrival before Nehemiah’s but suggest that their missions overlapped. This is accomplished by altering the text of Ezra 7:8-9 from the “seventh year of the king” to the “twenty-seventh” or the “thirty-seventh.” The historiographical (writing of history) debate is ongoing.

Textual migration

Many commentators are troubled by the placement of Ezra’s reading of the law in the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:73b–8:18) and propose to relocate it to the Ezra memoir between Ezra 8 and 9, which better suits the chronological sequencing. While the original setting of these verses was probably in Ezra, some scholars also ask theological questions, such as why the move was made, and attempt to deal with the text as it now stands. How one reads this textual dislocation depends on the method and lens (e.g., historical, theological, political) that one uses.

Original language

Ezra contains sections written in the imperial Aramaic of the Persian Empire in addition to the standard Hebrew of the postexilic period. The Aramaic sections include the official correspondence of the Persian rulers Artaxerxes and Darius about Jerusalem (4:8–6:18) and Artaxerxes’s commission to Ezra (7:12-26).

Relation to Chronicles

Theological differences between Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah have caused a revision of the view that Ezra, Nehemiah, and the books of Chronicles share common authorship and comprise the so-called “Chronicler’s History.” These differences include Chronicles’ inclusive attitude toward the people of the northern kingdom; emphasis upon the Davidic monarchy; and concern with retributive justice–all essentially absent from Ezra-Nehemiah–as well as the differing understanding of “Israel” in the two works. In Chronicles, Israel is defined as all twelve tribes; Ezra-Nehemiah, however, limits Israel to Judah and Benjamin. Currently, most scholars read Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah as separate literary entities.