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1. Name. 2. Object 3. Plan 4. Unity 5. Sources 6. Literary Character 7. Languages 8. Historicity 9. Text


1. Name:

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, by whomsoever written, are properly so named according to analogy from the principal persons mentioned in them. In the Hebrew Bibles, the former is headed simply, Ezra, and the latter, Nehemiah. The two books are counted in the Talmud, in Josephus, and in the Canon of Melito, 171 AD, as one, and are so treated also in the subscription of the Massoretic Text, which reads: "The totality of the verses of Ezra and Nehemiah is 688, and its sign is `Remember, Yahweh, the reproach of thy servants,’ and its two parts (are at the sentence) `unto the ascent of the corner’ (Ne 3:31) and its chapters (sedharayw) are ten, and its sign is `Upon a high mountain get thee up, O thou that announcest good tidings to Zion.’ " In the Septuagint, Ezra-Nehemiah is called Esdras B, while an apocryphal Book of Ezra is called Esdras A (see below). In the catalogues of the Old Testament writings handed down to us by the Fathers (Origen, Cyril, Melito, Jerome and the Council of Laodicea) our Ezra is called 1 Ezra; Nehemiah, 2 Ezra; the apocryphal Greek Ezra, 3 Ezra; and an apocalyptic book, falsely called a book of Ezra, is denominated 4 Ezra.

2. Object:

The object of the books is to show that God fulfilled His promise, or prophecy, to restore His exiled people to their inheritance, through the instrumentality on the one hand of the great heathen monarchs, Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, and on the other hand by stirring up the spirit of such great men among the chosen people as Joshua and Zerubbabel, Haggai and Zechariah, and Ezra and Nehemiah, through whom the altar, the temple, the houses and walls of Jerusalem, and finally the worship and ceremony of the Jewish people were reestablished, the people being separated from foreign admixtures, customs and idolatry, and their religious observances purified and fixed for all time.

3. Plan:

The object of the work justifies the selection and arrangement of the material and the plan pursued by the composer, or composers; all matter being stringently excluded which does not bear directly upon the purpose in view. However much we may wish that other historical records had been included, it is not proper to criticize the work because of these omissions, nor is it fair to argue that the writer was ignorant of what he has not seen fit to record.

4. Unity:

The unity of the combined work is shown by the fact that they have the same common object, the same plan, and a similarity of language and style; that they treat, for the most part, of the same period of time; and that Ezra is one of the most prominent persons in both. It is not fair to deny the essential unity on the ground that the list of priests and others found in Ezr 2 is repeated in Ne 7; for there is no doubt that Ezra was the compiler of parts at least of the book called after him, and that Nehemiah also was the original writer of parts of the book that bears his name. Whoever was the final editor of the whole work, he has simply retained the two almost identical lists in their appropriate places in the documents which lay before him.

5. Sources:

The Books of Ezr and Ne are a compilation of genealogical lists, letters and edicts, memoirs and chronicles. We cannot be certain as to who was the composer of either or both books. Many think that Ezra compiled both the books out of preexisting materials, adding parts of his own composition. Others, suppose that Ezra wrote the book named after him, while Nehemiah composed the Book of Nehemiah. Others, again, are of the opinion that neither Ezra nor Nehemiah, but some other unknown editor, most probably the compiler of the Books of Chronicles, put together the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, using largely the memoirs of the two great men who are the principal persons in the records. While there is still much difference of opinion as to who was the final redactor, there is a general agreement as to the composite character of the whole, and that the person who wrote the parts that bind together the original sources was the same as he who wrote the canonical books of Chronicles.

6. Literary Character:

The diversified character of the style, languages and other literary peculiarities of the books is accounted for by the large number and the variety of sources. From the style and contents of the first chapter it has been argued with great plausibility that it was written by Daniel; for similar reasons it has been argued that the portion of Ezra from 3:2 to 4:22 inclusive was written by Haggai the prophet. All admit that the parts of Ezra and Nehemiah in which the 1st person is employed were written by Ezra and Nehemiah respectively. As to who it was who added the other connecting portions there is and must always be great doubt arising from the fact that the author is not mentioned. The style points to the same hand as that which composed the Book of Chronicles. Those who believe that Ezra compiled the Book of Chronicles will believe that he most probably composed also the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The principal objection to his authorship arises from the inexplicable change from the 1st to the 3rd person occurring in both Ezr and Neh. Inasmuch as the 3rd person is the proper form to use in the best style of Biblical historical composition; inasmuch as Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon often employ it in their histories; inasmuch as some of the Bah monuments mingle the 1st and 3rd persons in the same document; and finally, inasmuch as the prophets and psalmists of Israel likewise interchange the persons in what is for us often an unaccountable manner: this characteristic of the style of Ezra-Nehemiah seems an insufficient reason upon which to base the denial of the claim that Ezra may have been the author.

The facts that there is unevenness in the treatment of the history, and that there are long periods on which the narrator is silent, do not militate against the authorship of Ezra nor do they imply a date long after his age; for the author is perfectly consistent in his purpose to stick to the object and plan which he had in view for himself, that is, to give an account of the reestablishment of the Israelite people and of their Divinely given institutions. That he has omitted other matters-does not imply that he was ignorant of them.

7. Languages:

The language of the books is Hebrew, except Ezr 4:7-6:18 and 7:12-26, which is written in Aramaic. The Hebrew closely resembles that of Daniel, Haggai and Chronicles, much more so than it does that of Ecclesiasticus, which was written probably about 180 BC. The Aramaic (formerly called Chaldee) is very much like that of the Egyptian papyri which are dated in the 5th century BC. It closely resembles also the Aramaic in Daniel.

8. Historicity:

Neither language nor style can be assigned as a ground for asserting a date later than the 5th century BC as the time of the composition of the book. A much stronger reason against placing the final redaction of the books at so early a time is the mention of a Jaddua among the high priests in Ne 12:11,22, it being assumed that this is the same Jaddua whom Josephus mentions (Ant., XI, viii, 4) as having filled the high-priestly office in the time of Alexander the Great. In view of the fact that Josephus is the only source of information as to the period between 400 and 300 BC, it seems unfair to accept what he says as to the existence of this Jaddua, while rejecting substantially all the rest of the same chapter in Josephus which tells about Sanballat, Manasseh and Alexander’s meeting with Jaddua. Inasmuch as the Sachau papyri, written in the 17th year of Darius Nothus, that is, in 410-408 BC, mention the sons of Sanballat the governor of Samaria, the Sanballat who was their father must have lived about 450 BC. The same papyrus mentions Jehohanan (Johnnan of Ne 12:22) as the high priest of the temple at Jerusalem, and Bagohi (Bagoas) was the Persian governor of Jerusalem in 410-408 BC. Since, according to Ne 13:6, Nehemiah was governor in 434-433 BC, the 32nd year of Artaxerxes, Bagoas would be perhaps his immediate successor. If we are to put any confidence in the story of Josephus, then there must have been at least two Sanballats, and probably two Jadduas, and at two different times a son of a high priest must have married a daughter of a Sanballat. While this is not impossible, it seems better to suppose that Josephus has confused matters beyond any possibility of disentanglement, and we might be justified in throwing over entirely his account of a Sanballat, a Manasseh, and a Jaddua as living in the year 330 BC, when Alexander conquered Syria. As far, of course, as the Jaddua of Ne 12:11,22 is concerned, he may well have been high priest as early as 406 BC, and have continued to serve till 330 BC. On the other hand, another of the same name, probably a grandson, may, for all we know to the contrary, have been high priest in 330 BC. In view of the numerous Oniases, Simons, and Johns who served in that position between 600 and 150 BC, and in view, further, of our almost absolute lack of information as to the history of this period, it will be a bold man who will dare to deny, on the ground of the Jaddua of Josephus, that Ezra-Nehemiah might have been written as early as 4OO BC.

The objection against the books having been composed in the Persian period, based upon the use of the titles of the kings of Persia, is fully answered by the fact that the same titles as those used in these books are found to have been used by the Persian kings themselves. (See the articles of the present writer in the Presbyterian Reformed Review for 1905-6.) The "Darius the Persian" of Ne 12:22 is shown by the Sachau papyri to have been Darius Notbus, as Keil long ago suggested. The author may have called him "the Persian" to distinguish him from Darius the Mede. At any rate, it is best for us to remember that our inability to explain why the author called him by this title does not prove that he did not do so. Of all the Dariuses known to history, any one might have been called "the Persian," except Darius the Mede, because all but he were Persians. The assertion that a king of Persia could only have been called a Persian "after the Persian period was past" involves, on the one hand, the assumption of such thorough knowledge of the possibilities of the usus loquendi of that time, and, on the other hand, such real ignorance of the usage of all times in such matters, as well as of the usage of the Persian and Babylonian monuments of the Persian era, as almost to cause one to believe that it can scarcely have been seriously made. (See the writer’s articles cited above.) Josephus, it is true, apparently confuses in his account Darius II and Darius III.

The phrase "the days of Nehemiah" (Ne 12:26) certainly implied that the final redactor "looked back upon them as past." But there is no intimation as to how long they were past. According to Ne 5:14, Nehemiah returned to Babylon in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes, that is, in 434 BC. As Bagoas was already governor of Jerusalem, and Johnnan high priest in 408 BC, a writer living about 400 BC can very well have referred to what happened "in the days of Joiakim .... and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest and the scribe" as having occurred "in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah" (Ne 12:47). From all we know it appears that these were the only Jews who were ever governors of Jerusalem under the Persian domination. Certainly Bagoas is not a Hebrew name any more than Sanballat, and it looks as if on the death of Nehemiah his place as governor of Jerusalem had been filled by a native Persian just as the governorship of Samaria was held by Sanballat, a Cuthean. If we can trust Josephus, Bagoas treated the Jews with harshness and even desecrated the temple itself (Ant., XI, vii, 1). Already, then, in 405 BC, any patriotic and pious Israelite may have justly looked back upon the days of their native governors with longing and pride, and have written with appropriate eulogy of the days of Zerubbabel, Nehemiah and Ezra--the time of his people’s semi-independence and of the glorious and unforgetable restoration of the temple and city, just as we today refer to the time of Bismarck, Victoria, or Lincoln (compare 1Ch 13:3). Waiving the discussion of the probability of Ezra’s having called himself "a ready scribe in the law of Moses," and one who had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, etc., it certainly cannot be denied that someone writing in 405 BC may have employed the language here used. There is not the slightest proof that any of Ezra- Nehemiah is unhistorical, nor the least indication that all of it may not have been written as early as 405 BC. The section Ezr 4:1-6 presents difficulties of date and composition. The section may have been misplaced. It may be episodical. It may be explained, as suggested by Klostermann, as having been inserted here as a sort of resume which is later expanded. But however explained, it is a literary rather than a historical or linguistic problem which it presents, and may safely be left for solution to those who think that everything in literature whose purpose or meaning they cannot perceive is therefore inexplicable.

In conclusion, we Would say in the words of Professor Cornill, that since Ed. Meyer’s demonstration of the authenticity of the documents in Ezr 4-7, the hypercritical reconstruction of the books "has lost all claim to serious consideration, and we may rest assured that in Ezra-Nehemiah we have every reason to recognize an essentially trustworthy recital of the events narrated therein."

9. Text:

The most thorough investigation of the text of Ezra-Nehemiah has been made by Professor A. Klostermann, his results being published in the 3rd German edition of RE. After an examination of the Arabic, Syriac, Greek and Latin versions and a comparison of them with the Hebrew Massoretic Text, he comes to the conclusion that our Hebrew text as a whole is of more value than that represented by the versions. The writer of this article has noted a wonderful accuracy in the transmission of the Aramaic part of Ezra, the spelling or writing of the words resembling in many of the smallest particulars that of the Aramaic papyri of Elephantine, which date from the 5th century BC.


Commentaries and Introductions: A, Introductions: Sayce, Introduction to Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Angus-Suen, The Cyclopedic Hand-Book to the Bible; Rarnu, Introduction to the Old Testament; Keil, Old Testament Intro. B, Commentaries: Keil, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther; Rawlinson, in the Speaker’s Comm., and in the Pulpit Commentary; and in Ezra and Nehemiah ("Men of the Bible" series); Lange’s Comm.; Meyer, Entstehung des Judenthums; OTJC2; RE2.

R. Dick Wilson