Ezra & Nehemiah


  • A Levite & teacher of Torah who exhibits a range of talents as an archivist, editor, and author. Focus on Levites & Torah reform.
  • Ezra = a priestly scribe (writer + interpreter of Law), son of Aaron,  who is well versed in the law of Moses. “The hand of the Lord was upon him” = a type of prophet. Denounces mixed marriages. Religious Leader. 3 fold paradigm of priest: study, keep it yourself, teach it to others.
  • Nehemiah = Jewish eunuch, layperson, member of Jewish court as a cupbearer for the King, whose main work is the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem. Deep faith (mourns destruction of Temple). Able politician (gets papers & military support to rebuild). Powerful speaker. Anti-Samaritan sentiment. Protector of the poor (gets them to forgive debts of poor). Completes project. Administrator Leader. Selfless server of the people – did NOT eat food allowance from the governor b/c of his fear of God & acquired NO land to build wall + feeds 150 men daily.


  • 375 BC according to Duggan (based on sketchy late addition of Jaddua ref. as high priest around 325 BC)
  • Ezra = between 458BC / 398 BC to 200 BC (Chronicles final redaction after).


  • Ezra and Nehemiah taken together give us a continuation of Israelite history into the post exilic period, the period when the Jews in Babylonia were allowed to return to the land of Israel to rebuild their Temple and their city. His purpose to outline the continuity b/w the pre-exilic and post-exilic community… ie. the new temple is the spiritual descendant of the old temple (thread spanning the whole history)
  • Last words of Chronicles first words of Ezra –> from “let him go up” (Chr) to actually what must be done = rebuild temple (Ezra). Cyrus’ decree 538 BC = Cyrus, a gentile, speaks as new Solomon = received divine commission from Lord to construct a holy place in accordance with Lord’s covenant to David.
  • Overall Progression =  from restoring Temple –> restoring moral (putting away wives) –> restoring walls –> restoring Covenant in line with Torah.
  • “The Persian Period”.
  • E & N form a single book. Addresses issue of religious & ethnic identity that arose in Judah in the aftermath of the Exile.
  • Ezra = rebuild Temple.
  • Nehemiah = rebuild Wall.


  1. Ezra 1-6 = 538-515 BC –> Reconstruction of temple –> from Cyrus’ decree to rededication of Temple and Passover 515.  Sheshbazzar / Zerubbabel / Joshua –> both civic and religious rulers. Period of Roots. Genealogies to legitimize people.
  1. Ezra 7 – Neh 13 = 458-433 BC –> Missions of E & N to build the community –> from Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem until some time period after Persian admin. reappoints Nehemiah as governor of Judah in 433. Nehemiah / Ezra  –> both civic and religious rulers (shows continuity).

General Outline

Goal –> How to build a community =  Ezra (priest & scribe) + Nehemiah (layman) = priest & laymen must work together to rebuild society.

  1. ROOTS (E 1-6)
      1. Rebuilding the Temple = The roots of renewal under Ezra and Nehemiah reach back to the reconstruction of the Temple supervised by Zerubbabel and Joshua. The leaders imitate David by first building the altar and offering sacrifices on it even before erecting the Temple walls. Mention of the tradesmen, the Levites, the trumpets, and the singing recall the scenes of David placing the ark in Jerusalem and of Solomon building and dedicating the Temple. The mixture of weeping and praise makes it clear that the first Temple is foremost in the minds of the people working on the reconstruction + remnant 42,000 returning fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy.
  1. REPENTANCE (E 7-10)
      1. Ezra’s marriage reform – is the stage when Ezra begins to mold the people into a community by calling the leaders to repentance. Ezra, presented as a priest and interpreter of the Law. Temple: Ezra brings the people to the newly enhanced Temple first to call them to repentance and later to celebrate the feast of Shelters (Tabernacles) as the climax of instructing them in the study of the Law.
  1. RENAISSANCE (N 1-7)
      1. Rebuilding walls of Jerusalem (N 1-7) — the renaissance of Jerusalem is symbolized in the reconstruction of its walls when Nehemiah’s leadership skills motivate the people to express their interior change by working together. Remnant: Neh persuades the wealthy Jews to cancel the debts of their poorer brothers. He himself cancels the governor’s tax and opens his home.
  1. RE-EDUCATION (N 8-9)
      1. Covenant renewal  – Next, the reeducation of the people begins when Ezra steps forward again to strengthen the interior life by taking the people through a study of the Law of Moses. Law: Ezra is learned in the Scriptures. He preaches people to repentance, and then teaches them the Law.
  1. REINFORCEMENT (N 10-13)
      1. Repopulating Jerusalem and dedicating city walls (N 11-12) + Nehemiah’s later reforms (N 12-13) = The reinforcement of Ezra’s teaching occurs when the people, using the practical skills of Nehemiah, apply the Law to daily life in Jerusalem. Temple: Neh wants payment of proper tithes, the dedication of the first-born, and the provisions for the priests. He also purges the sacred precincts of unsavory characters and rekindles the morale of the Levites at the Temple. Law: Under Nehemiah’s administration, the Torah governs daily life in Jerusalem. People are moved to weeping after hearing Ezra’s call to repentance. This sorrow is transformed into joy as the choirs led by Ezra and Nehemiah march around the walls of Jerusalem.


  • Renewal & Restoration: Return and restoration of past institutions – New Temple restores official sacrificial worship to YHWH. Sabbath focus. 70 years restored. Restore priests & Levites along with Temple. Old Temple of Solomon still standard of Temple (elders wept when Temple erected b/c small). Rebuild community has specifications of who belongs to the community. 
  • New Exodus – in returning from Babylon – Cyrus gives help to those returning – take back what Nebuchadnezzar took.
  • Reform = to re-establish authentic traditions of Moses in land of Judah.
  • Repentance = renewal also in purity of heart. Ezra’s & Nehemiah’s prayers to God.
  • Opposition, hostility, suffering
  • Concern for imperial authority – also Cyrus as ruler who favours religious freedom of subjects (YHWH’s anointed = Isaiah + fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy = after 70 yrs rebuild). God uses pagan rulers to carry out His plan.
  • Re-education = The written Law – in the renewal, you have re-education. Israel learns to identify with spiritual heritage. Built the altar in ch.3 according to law of Moses.
  • Exclusion of outsiders from cult and community
  • Assembly of Israel (Qahal) –>  The great assembly… the ‘qahal’ (in Septuagint = ‘synagogue’ or ‘ekklesia’)… important community gatherings, often having a liturgical aspect… more so for just common decisions (ie. Ezra asking the rich to support their poorer brethren). Ezra… in later Jewish tradition → like a 2nd Moses… 1st Moses gave the Torah, Ezra read the Torah to the people.
  • National confession of guilt & profession of obedience to the Law – interest in Exodus & Sinai tradition.
  • Protection of poor within community – Nehemiah Ch. 5 – social reform through fidelity to the Law.


  1. Exclusivism and legalism – banish foreigners. Ezra denounces mixed marriages. Jewish faith protection eclipses care for other humans.
  2. Law – interest in Exodus & Sinai tradition. Studying of the LAW became a substitute for sacrificial aspect of priesthood (cf. Ez 40-48 + Lev 17-23).
  3. Temple – New Temple restores official sacrificial worship to YHWH. Temple completed and dedicated 515 BC.
  4. Religious assembly (Qahal) – Whole people assemble to acknowledge guilt, proclaim determination to end oppression of poor, listen to reading of Law, celebrate feast of booths, exclude foreigners, …. reflects great assembly at Horeb with Moses (Deut. theology)… lays foundation for great congregational stress of later Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Nehemiah gets whole people to back him for the protection of the poor reform.
  5. Hope – Out of utter destruction and rubble comes new life… life out of death becomes pattern for God’s grace.

Literary Form:

  • Cut and paste / choppy autobiographical work (VS. Chronicles composed and flowing kind of work).
  • Based on decrees of Persian admin, letters & edicts in Aramaic, Ezra memoir, Nehemiah memoir, Temple inventories, roster of Temple personnel, divorce records, covenant signatures.
  • 3 penitential psalms are theological gems of the book *. 1 in E, 2 in N.
  • Unpolished compared to Chronicles. Allows many voices to come out.


–> Vision of a reconstituted community:

  1. Temple: Ezra opens with Cyrus’ intention to rebuild Temple and Nehemiah closes with N securing wood offering for Temple altar. Temple provides institutional continuity between pre and post exilic Judah. 2nd temple built on site of 1st temple + old vessels returned. Person kings rebuild what Babylonian king destroyed = God’s providence. Joshua (high priest) + Zerubbabel (Davidic prince) –> official sacrifice worship of YHWH restored… BUT Ezra & Nehemiah books ignore Zerubbabel & Jeshua once Temple rebuilt and insist Jewish leaderships passes on priestly circles.
  1. Reforms of Ezra & Nehemiah – Authentic Israel in post-exilic era consist of tribal families of Judah & Benjamin who returned from the land of Babylon… so only they build the Temple. Reforms of E & N = aim to institutionalize the separation between the authentic community of the exiles who returned from Babylon and other groups who claimed heritage of pre-exilic Israel. Ezra reads book of the Law of Moses for 6 hours. From this time on, Judaism is a religion of the book – the Torah – which is supposed to bring rejoicing and celebration… N’s reform reinforces E’s reform. –>  E & N = 1 single mission of God’s divine plan to reconstitute the authentic Israel. & set up clear boundaries between authentic Israel & all outsiders.  Ezra uses Torah, Nehemiah uses city walls.  Culmination of their endeavours = Covenant renewal + dedication of city walls.  E & N’s reforms parallel each other and interweave them so it seems they were both there whereas external analysis of text seems not so…
  1. Torah & covenant renewal – Allegiance to Torah = defines the authentic Israel & is synonymous with Ezra. Torah as pattern for new community’s life. Covenant renewal describes transfer of Torah from Ezra to whole community. Book of Moses for whole people. Covenant renewal = culmination of New Exodus. TORAH = Word God speaks to the community (not from any prophet or angel). Torah observance = key to freedom from slavery. Book ends with realistic view of community life = problems… demands daily renewal of Torah. Formation of community can offend a modern reader (banish foreigners).  TORAH showed civic authority that Israel could be self-governed… ALSO preserve religious identification (spiritual heritage).

Comparing Ezra-Nehemiah with 1-2 Chronicles:

  1. filled with lists of names that apparently functioned to give special legal status to those listed.
  2. deeply concerned about the Jerusalem Temple, placing great emphasis on the Levites and liturgical reform.
  3. importance of each generation in solidarity with its leadership taking responsibility for sins and living in fidelity to the Law of God.
  4. public confession of sin.


  1. Unlike Chron, these books give very little attention to the Davidic dynasty.
  2. E&N → interested in the Exodus and Sinai.
  3. The ‘ecumentical’ flexibility found in the story of Hez (2 Chr 17 -20) disappears in the legal rigorism of Ezra and Neh.

The Message of Chroniclers’ History

  1. The Temple – the life of the people revolved around the Temple. The object of the Chroniclers’ love and distinct focus of faith. Temple = place for worship of God, NOT where God was contained. A sacred place to seek God, pray the liturgy as a whole people. Babylon showed God could be experienced outside the Temple. YET the overriding priority once they returned from exile. Temple = symbol of public prayer + unified people + organized worship of God + continuity of faith. Christian perspective = Jesus is Temple (Johannine) + we are temple (Pauline + Petrine).
  1. The Law = Ezra & Nehemiah big focus on Law of Moses. Chronicles = written Law = guide for kings & other officials. Law = supreme guide to individual and national life. We see in Chronicles social effect of the Law. Brought Israel together + gave life to a dead people + source of joy and light + showed God is overseeing things… Law of God = God’s view, decree, order. NT = Law fulfilled by love = Law of the Spirit. Law survives the Temple – way Judaism survived.
  1. The Davidic Dynasty  throne of David + Davidic dynasty dominate Chroniclers’ books. Flawless depiction. Abraham’s promises & Moses’ Exodus & Sinai covenant hardly mentioned… YET Ezra and Nehemiah hardly allude to this King… maybe Persian censorship prevented them? YET rebuilding Temple has messianic tones… Zerubbabel is the son of David too and key figure in rebuilding. Dual messiah idea from this to have priestly messiah as well as kingly messiah.
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