July 15, 2010 David Balzer

Introduction to Ezra and Nehemiah

From Genesis onwards the historical books have traced the rise and fall of the nation of Israel. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah bring the story to an end. (The rest of the Old Testament contains ‘Wisdom Literature’-books like Job, Psalms and Proverbs-and the words of the prophets, like Joel, Amos and Isaiah.)

At the conclusion of 2 Kings/ 2 Chronicles, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were in a state of misery and desolation. Their ingratitude to God, and their constant backsliding and rebellion at last resulted in their defeat and captivity; northern Israel to Assyria, southern Judah to Babylon.

Israel never returned.

In mercy to the faithful remnant of Judah, God had promised (Jer 25:11-12), that after seventy years he would restore them to their own country. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell that story.

Although they were possibly originally two separate documents (see Neh 1:1), Ezra and Nehemiah were combined as one in the earliest Hebrew manuscripts. The oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) also treat Ezra and Nehemiah as one book.

The Literary Style

Both books consist of various documents that have been assembled from a variety of sources. There are numerous lists obtained from official sources;

1.   lists of temple articles,

2.   the returned exiles,

3.   the genealogy of Ezra,

4.   the heads of the clans,

5.   those involved in mixed marriages,

6.   those who helped rebuild the wall

7.   those who sealed the covenant

8.   residents of Jerusalem and other towns

9.   priests and levites

There are also other official documents, all (but the first) of which are in Aramaic – the official trading language of the time;

1.   the decree of Cyrus

2.   the accusation of Rehum and others against the Jews

3.   the reply of Artaxerxes

4.   the report from Tattenai

5.   the memorandum of Cyrus’ decree

6.   Darius’ reply to Tattenai

7.   the authorization given by Artaxerxes

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