Lesson 4 of5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Ezra

Date of Ezra’s mission

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 thirteen years later in the twentieth 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 thirteen 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.” Recent opinion leans toward the traditional dating and order.

Order of the material

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 seek to restore its proper placement in the Ezra memoir between Ezra 8 and 9, which better suits the chronological sequencing. While these verses probably have been taken from their original setting in Ezra and inserted into Nehemiah, scholars now ask theological rather than historical questions, such as why the move was made, and attempt to deal with the text as it now stands.

Original language

Ezra is unusual in that it 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 suggest that Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah are separate literary entities.