Lesson 1 of 6
In Progress

Summary of Ezra


Ezra begins (Ezra 1:1-4) where 2 Chronicles ends (2 Chronicles 36:22-23): Cyrus of Persia released the exiles from Babylon so that they could return to Jerusalem and reconstruct the “house(s)” of the Lord. Three remigration and reconstruction projects follow: return and reconstruction of the temple under Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:5–6:22); return and reconstruction of the community (read: house) – according to Torah – under Ezra (7-10); and then, under Nehemiah, return and reconstruction of the walls of the city (Nehemiah 1:1–7:73a). In each episode, the remigration and reconstruction projects are opposed, within the community and by neighboring peoples. In the book of Ezra, policies based on Torah are delivered to rein in the community (house of Israel).


Ezra and Nehemiah are our only biblical account of the restoration, 538 to 430 B.C.E. The postexilic period witnessed the reestablishment of the Jewish religious community in Jerusalem and the implementation of the Torah. Both Ezra and Nehemiah provide many examples of hard work coupled with prayer, faith, and submission as a formula for reconstruction and restoration of the “houses” of the Lord (that is, both the temple and the community).


Ezra is the 15th book of the Old Testament, coming immediately after 2 Chronicles and before Nehemiah. In the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (the Jewish ordering of the books), Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles are the three books that conclude the collection.


Jewish tradition identifies Ezra as the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. However, some scholars argue that Ezra and Nehemiah come from the same hand (hence Ezra-Nehemiah) while Chronicles comes from a different hand. Moreover, there are texts in Ezra-Nehemiah that come from older traditions, which have been gathered and edited by a postexilic editor, and there is an autobiographical section believed to have been written by Ezra (7:27–8:34; 9:15).


The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, separate works in English Bibles, appear as a single book in the earliest manuscripts, suggesting that they are best read and interpreted as a literary unit. Uncertain dates for Ezra and differing understandings of the compositional history of this material make precise dating impossible, though recent scholarship seems to favor a date somewhere in the first quarter of the fourth century B.C.E.


As the remnant of Israel, the returned exiles rebuild the temple (house of the Lord), the community (house of Israel), and the walls of Jerusalem (city/house of David), and seek to understand the Torah (law of Moses) in the midst of old neighbors (Israelites not taken in the exile) and foreign peoples.


Ezra-Nehemiah should be read as a theological, rather than a chronological, presentation of the return of Israel after the exile to Babylon. The theological agenda is evident in the flow of the narrative: the rebuilding of the temple, followed by the purification of the people; the rebuilding of the walls, followed by the reading of the Torah. This was a formative period for biblical Israel’s nation building, religious institutionalization, and scriptural development.