Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
General Editor:—J. J. S. PEROWNE, D.D.
Bishop of Worcester.
THE BOOKS OF
EZRA AND NEHEMIAH
WITH INTRODUCTION, NOTES AND MAPS
HERBERT EDWARD RYLE, D.D.
bishop of exeter.
AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
BY THE GENERAL EDITOR
The General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.
Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.
§1. Ezra and Nehemiah: originally one work
§5. Date and Authorship: Relation to the Books of Chronicles
§6. Outline of History
§8. Aramaic Dialect and Hebrew Characters
§9. Place in the Canon
§10. Relation to other literature
§11. Importance of Ezra and Nehemiah
Environs of Jerusalem
*** The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible. A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press.
§ 1. Ezra and Nehemiah: originally one work
Ezra and Nehemiah are not, as the English reader is apt to suppose, two distinct books, but the two portions into which a single work has been divided. It has been due to what might almost be called a literary accident that the two portions are not even now known as the First and Second Books of Ezra. If the use of that ancient appellation had been retained in the English Bible, the relation between the two portions of the work would more generally have been seen to be the same as that which subsists between the two Books of Samuel, between the two Books of Kings, and between the two Books of Chronicles.
The original unity of the two books appears indeed from a close examination of their contents and structure; and to this it will be necessary to refer later on. But, apart from the internal evidence, the testimony of antiquity is practically conclusive upon the subject. For it leaves us in no sort of doubt that, in the Hebrew Canon of Scripture, our books of Ezra and Nehemiah ranked from the first as one book bearing the title of Ezra.
(a) When Josephus speaks of the Jewish Scriptures as twenty-two books in all, and as containing the Pentateuch, thirteen historical books, and four books of poetry and moral maxims, it is generally admitted that he reckons Ezra-Nehemiah as one of the historical works.
(b) When, again, Melito, Bishop of Sardis, writing about 180 a.d., enumerates the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Scriptures according to a list which he has obtained from Jewish sources in Syria, he mentions “Ezra” alone (ap. Euseb. Hist. Eccl., iv. 26).
(c) The ancient Jewish tradition preserved in the Talmud (Baba bathra fol. 14 c. 2), respecting the order and authorship of the Hebrew Scriptures, mentions “Ezra” alone, and makes no reference to Nehemiah.
(d) The Massoretes, the renowned but nameless Jewish Scholars of the Middle Ages, who appended to each book in the Hebrew Bible notes relating to the number of words, letters, sections &c. in the book, treated Ezra and Nehemiah as a single continuous work. No Massoretic notes are found after Ezra 10:44 till we come to the end of Nehemiah, and then they relate to the contents of our two books reckoned together. For instance, they state Nehemiah 3:22 to be the middle verse of the book.
(e) In the great Jewish Commentaries, e.g. of Rashi, Aben Ezra, the exposition passes directly from Ezra 10:44 to Nehemiah 1:1. The transition is, not that from one book to another, but, as it were, from one paragraph or chapter, in the same author, to another.
(f) In the Hebrew MSS., the earliest of which dates from about the tenth cent. a.d., Ezra and Nehemiah are found as one book. In some instances, slight marks of the division have been introduced, generally by a later hand; they indicate the departure from the customary Hebrew tradition, and have been inserted, by way of concession to the influence of the Christian Bible, and for the sake of facilitating reference.
It is not until the 16th cent. a.d. that the practice of dividing the one book into two is found introduced in Jewish copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. The division appears in the printed Hebrew Bible of Daniel Bomberg (Venice, 1525); and is now generally adopted.
In the Christian Church, the evidence tends to show that the division into two books was not the earliest form in which they were known. In the oldest of the MSS. of the LXX. Version (the Vatican, Sinaitic, Alexandrine) Ezra and Nehemiah are one book: in the Vatican, Nehemiah 1:1 begins in the same line with Ezra 10:44. The Syriac and the Old Latin Versions made no division; and the Fathers, in enumerating the contents of the Old Testament, reckon “Ezra” as a single book, although they accepted its division into two portions.
Origen (ob. 253) is the first who speaks of two books, which he calls the First and Second Ezra. But as he is careful to state that, in the Hebrew, they were one book, his evidence enables us to infer with confidence, (1) that the division into two books did not, in Origen’s opinion, represent the original Hebrew usage, (2) that the division into two books very possibly had its rise in Alexandria, and either originated among the Christians, or was borrowed by them from the Jews, of that city.
The separation into two books came into general use in the Church. The Fathers, however, were careful to reckon them, not as two books, but as two portions of the same book, like the books of Samuel and Kings. It was recognised that the Christian usage differed from that of the Jewish Church (cf. Jerome, Prol. Gal., Esdras qui et ipse apud Graecos et Latinos in duos libros divisus est).
Some scholars, indeed, have made the suggestion that the divided form of the books is the original one. They have pointed out that, according to the tradition, the Twelve Minor Prophets were collected by the Jews into a single volume lest writings of so small a size should be lost sight of, and that they then ranked as one book among the Hebrew Scriptures. On that analogy, it has been asked, may not Ezra and Nehemiah have been similarly treated by the Jews as one work, and by the scribes have been united although originally separate treatises? May not the tradition of the Alexandrian, and, if so, of the Christian usage, be more strictly true to literary history than the tradition of Hebrew usage?
This plea has generally been put forward on the assumption, now generally rejected, that the two books were written, the one by Ezra, and the other by Nehemiah. But while this view as to authorship cannot now, at any rate, be tacitly assumed, the analogy also of the Twelve Minor Prophets proves, on closer inspection, to be most misleading.
(1) Hebrew Tradition, it is true, treated the Twelve Minor Prophets as one book; but Hebrew Tradition never lost sight of the fact that they were twelve distinct literary compositions. On the other hand, there is no indication in Hebrew Tradition, that Ezra was ever regarded as a combination of two books.
(2) The Twelve Minor Prophets were collected into one book because of their brevity, lest they should be lost, and also probably, that, when united, they might rank in size with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. But neither Ezra nor Nehemiah was so small that there could be any fear of their being lost sight of. On such an hypothesis, why should Esther have been left by itself?
(3) The Twelve Minor Prophets, although treated as one book, are obviously distinct from one another, in subject-matter, style, and structure. But with Ezra and Nehemiah, the case is quite different. The same method of treatment runs throughout both books; both are narratives formed by compilation; there is less break between Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 1 than there is between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7.
(4) Finally, it is due to a misconception, to suppose that there is any conflict between Hebrew usage and the Alexandrine or Christian usage. The oldest MSS. of the LXX. agree with the Hebrew use; and the Fathers who adopt the division of Ezra into two books, adopt it as the custom of the Greek and Latin Bible, but make no claim for its superior antiquity to the Hebrew usage.
The only appropriate analogy is that which is offered by the other narrative books of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles ranked each as one book. In the Greek and Latin Bibles, they were each divided into two portions, called First and Second. The parallel is complete. In the Hebrew Bible, “Ezra” was one book; in the Christian Bible, it appears as two books with the names of First and Second Ezra.
When we enquire the reasons that led to the subdivision of Ezra and of the other historical books, we can only conjecture that they were considerations of a purely practical nature, e.g. the desirability of having books uniform in size, more portable, or easier for purposes of reference.
§ 2. Name
Among the Jews, the name of Ezra was invariably given to the work which comprised our Ezra and Nehemiah.
In the Christian Church, there has been a certain amount of variation in the designation employed.
(1) In lists of the Old Testament books, which agreed with the Hebrew Canon of Scripture, the title of “Ezra” was generally adopted; and wherever the division into two books was followed, the two books were called the First and Second of Ezra.
(2) In lists of the Old Testament which include the Apocryphal books, an element of confusion is caused by the Apocryphal “Ezra,” our First Book of Esdras. In the LXX. Version, the Old Latin, and the Syriac, this Apocryphal Greek Book was placed, out of regard probably for chronology, before the Hebrew Ezra, and was called the First of Ezra (Ἔσδρας αʹ), while our Ezra and Nehemiah appeared as one book, with the title of the Second of Ezra (Ἔσδρας βʹ).
(3) In his translation of the Vulgate, Jerome did not recognise the Canonicity of the Apocryphal Books. He translated the Hebrew Ezra (our Ezra and Nehemiah) as one book with the title of Ezra; but he acquiesced in the division of the Canonical Ezra into two books, for he speaks of the Apocryphal books as the Third and Fourth of Ezra. “Nec quemquam moveat quod unus a nobis editus liber est: nec apocryphorum tertii et quarti somniis delectetur: quia et apud Hebraeos Ezrae Nehemiaeque sermones in unum volumen coarctantur; et quae non habentur apud illos nec de viginti quatuor senibus sunt, procul abjicienda” (Praefat. in Ezram). In the Vulgate, accordingly, Ezra and Nehemiah were called the First and Second of Ezra; the Apocryphal Greek Ezra was called the Third of Ezra; the Apocalyptic work, the Fourth of Ezra.
The name of “Nehemiah,” given to the Second Book of Ezra, is first found in the writings of Jerome.
In the Codex Alexandrinus, the title of Ezra and Nehemiah is “Ezra the Priest.”
In the Syriac Version, Ezra is called, “the Book of Ezra the Prophet;” in the Arabic Version, “the First Book of Ezra the Priest, the Scribe.” In the Arabic Version, Nehemiah is called “the Second Book of Ezra the Priest” (cf. Walton’s Polyglott).
The influence of the Vulgate caused the names applied to the books in that version to be generally adopted in the West. At the Council of Trent, Ezra and Nehemiah are called “the first book of Ezra and the second of Ezra which is called Nehemiah” (Esdrae primus et secundus qui dicitur Nehemias).
In the English Bibles, they were, at first, always called, “The First and Second of Ezra.” But the names “Ezra,” “Nehemiah,” gradually came into favour during the latter part of the 16th cent. The following titles will illustrate the change.
In Wycliffe’s Bible, the titles are “The First and Second Books of Esdras.”
In Myles Coverdale’s Translation (1535) Ezra is called, “The first boke of Esdras,” and Nehemiah, “The seconde boke of Esdras, otherwyse called the boke of Nehemias.”
In the first edition of Matthew’s Bible (1537) we find, “The fyrst boke of Esdras the Prophete,” and “The seconde boke of Esdras, otherwyse called the boke of Nehemiah,” but in the edition of 1551 this latter title appears as “The boke of Nehemias, otherwyse called the second booke of Esdras.”
Similarly the title, “The seconde booke of Esdras, otherwise called the booke of Nehemia,” in the 1568 edition of the Bishops’ Bible, appears in the 1595 edition as “The booke of Nehemias, or seconde booke of Esdras.”
In the Geneva Bible (1560) we find the titles “Ezra” and “Nehemiah.”
The Douay Bible (1609) has “The First Booke of Esdras,” and “The Booke of Nehemias which is also called The Second of Esdras.”
The discontinuance of the Titles, “The First and Second of Ezra,” is not so much due to any controversial desire for a departure from the custom of the Vulgate version as to the influence of the principle that the translation of the Old Testament was to be taken from the Hebrew text; and, as has been shewn, the old Hebrew text knew nothing of the division into a First and a Second Book of Ezra. But the alternative title of “Nehemiah” had been in common ecclesiastical use; it seemed to be sanctioned by the great authority of Jerome; and the superscription at the head of the second portion of the Hebrew book had caused this name to be attached to it in the more modern Hebrew Bibles. “Ezra,” therefore, was the name reserved for the first portion of the Hebrew book, “Nehemiah” was the name given to the second. The two Apocryphal books, being distinguished from the Canonical, by the Latin name for Ezra, ‘Esdras,’ received in the English Bible the titles which, in the Vulgate, belong to the two Canonical Books.
§ 3. Contents
The period of history, comprised in the books Ezra and Nehemiah, extends over a little more than a century. Ezra opens with the Decree of Cyrus (538). The last chapter of Nehemiah records incidents which occurred in 432 b.c. (13:6). It is true that lists in Nehemiah 12 contain the names of personages who flourished in the 4th cent. (12:10, 22). But the narrative proper is concerned with events that took place in a particular period of less than a hundred and ten years (538–432). The occurrence of names belonging to a later generation only proves that the formation of the whole work, in its present form, dates from a period, in all probability, subsequent to the lifetime of the individuals referred to, and therefore very considerably later than the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
In neither book do we find a continuous history of any large number of years. Indeed, no attempt is made to supply a consecutive narrative. For the most part, the books Ezra and Nehemiah consist of records containing the narrative of two most important epochs in the history of the people, (1) the Return from the Captivity, and the Building of the Temple, (2) the Reforms of Ezra, and the Governorship of Nehemiah. It is, however, particularly noteworthy that the interval of nearly 60 years which separates these epochs is passed over in complete silence, save for the reference in Ezra 4:6 and Nehemiah 12:26, and that shorter intervals, one of 15 years, 536–521 b.c., one of 13 years, 458–445 b.c. (save for the misplaced episode of Ezra 4:7-23), and another of 12 years, 444–432 b.c., are practically omitted from the history.
This treatment of the narrative points to the following rough analysis of the contents of the two books, the longest interval of silence being treated as the main natural division.
A. The Restoration, 538–516 b.c.
Ezra 1-6 (except Ezra 4:7-24).
(a) 538–536 b.c. The Return from Babylon, the Dedication of the Altar, the Laying of the Temple Foundations (Ezra 1-3).
(b) 536, 521–516 b.c. Samaritan Opposition; Resumption of the work, and Completion of the Temple (Ezra 4:1-6; Ezra 4:5-6).
B. The Foundation of Judaism, 458–432 b.c.
Ezra 7-10, Ezra 4:7-24. Nehemiah.
(a) 458–457 b.c. The Mission of Ezra, and the Expulsion of the Foreign Wives (Ezra 7-10).
(b) 456–445 b.c. (?) Hostility to the Jews (Ezra 4:7-24); an unknown disaster.
(c) 445–444 b.c. Nehemiah’s Governorship, the Rebuilding and Dedication of the Walls, the Covenant of the Law, Reforms (Nehemiah 1-12).
(d) 432 b.c. Nehemiah’s Second Visit to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13).
This brief analysis is enough to show that the contents of these books are not so much a continuous history as a selection of incidents which illustrate the beginnings of Judaism. The loose manner in which the incidents follow one another arises from the character of the work. Our two books, like the other historical books of the Hebrew Scriptures, are, in the main, a compilation from various sources, and, in their preparation, little effort has been made to connect the materials together artistically. The Jewish historian was not careful to conceal the composite structure of his narrative.
§ 4. Structure
The process by which the contents of these books were compiled, is rendered apparent by
(1) The abruptness of transition from one incident or subject to another, e.g. in Ezra 2:1; Ezra 5:1; Ezra 7:1; Ezra 9:1; Nehemiah 1:1; Nehemiah 7:73 b, Nehemiah 12:27; Nehemiah 13:4;
(2) The intermittent usage of the 1st Person without any words to explain the cause of its introduction or its disuse;
(3) The insertion of two considerable sections written in the Aramaic dialect, i.e. Ezra 4:8 to Ezra 6:18, Ezra 7:12-26;
(4) The abrupt introduction of lists without any immediate relevance to the context in which they occur, e.g. Nehemiah 7:6-73; Nehemiah 11:3-36; Nehemiah 12:1-26;
(5) And the mention of important names, without explanation, as if they had occurred in the foregoing context, e.g. Zerubbabel, Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:2; Ahasuerus, Darius, Ezra 4:5-6; Ezra 6:15, Nehemiah 12:22; Hoshaiah, Nehemiah 12:32.
The various writings included in the compilation of Ezra and Nehemiah may be roughly classified as follows:
A. Extracts from the personal memoirs of
(1) Ezra, Ezra 7:27 to Ezra 8:34, Ezra 9:1-15.
(2) Nehemiah, Nehemiah 1:1 to Nehemiah 7:73, Nehemiah 12:27-43, Nehemiah 13:4-31.
B. Lists, &c., presumably obtained from official sources, of
(1) The vessels of the Temple, (Ezra 1:9-11).
(2) The Jews that returned with Zerubbabel, (Ezra 2:1-70; Nehemiah 7:6-73).
(3) Those that married strange wives, (Ezra 10:20-44).
(4) Those that builded the wall, (Nehemiah 3).
(5) Those that sealed the Covenant, (Nehemiah 10:1-27).
(6) The dwellers in Jerusalem and in other cities, (Nehemiah 11:3-36).
(7) Priests and Levites, (Nehemiah 12:1-26).
C. Extracts, with certain adaptations, from Aramaic writings.
(1) An Aramaic historical work, Ezra 4:7 to Ezra 6:18.
(2) The royal rescript in Ezra 7:12-26.
D. Extract from, or adaptation of, a contemporary chronicle, Nehemiah 7:73 b – Nehemiah 7:10.
E. The Compiler’s own writing, Ezra 1:1-8, Ezra 3:1 to Ezra 4:6, Ezra 6:19-22, Ezra 7:1-11 (Ezra 8:35-36), Ezra 10:1-19; Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:3.
A. (1) The extracts quoted above from the Memoirs of Ezra are distinguishable by the use of the 1st pers. sing., Ezra 7:27-28; Ezra 8:1; Ezra 8:15-17; Ezra 8:21-26; Ezra 8:28; Ezra 8:31-32; Ezra 9:1; Ezra 9:3-8, where Ezra is clearly the spokesman. The authorship of these extracts has never been disputed. They have a fairly distinct style. Where the 3rd person is resumed, the Compiler probably abridges Ezra’s Memoirs, or follows another source of information. Characteristic of Ezra’s writing are Ezra 7:28, “according to the hand of the Lord my God upon me,” Ezra 8:18 “according to the good hand of our God upon us,” Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:31 (cf. Nehemiah 2:8); the mention of “males” in the list contained in Ezra 8:3-14; the description of acts of worship, Ezra 8:21-23; Ezra 9:3-6; the mention of details of locality, e.g. Ezra 8:15 “the river that runneth to Ahava”; Ezra 8:17 “at the place Casiphia”; 21, 31 “at the river Ahava”; of time, e.g. Ezra 8:15 “three days”; Ezra 8:31 “the twelfth day of the first month”; Ezra 8:32 “three days”; Ezra 8:33 “the fourth day.”
(2) The extracts from the Memoirs of Nehemiah may also be recognised by the use of the 1st pers. sing throughout Nehemiah 1:1 to Nehemiah 7:5. The style, moreover, of Nehemiah, is more distinct and vigorous than that of Ezra. It is marked by his fondness for particular expressions, e.g. “my God,” Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:12; Nehemiah 2:18, Nehemiah 5:19, Nehemiah 6:14, Nehemiah 7:5, Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22; Nehemiah 13:29; Nehemiah 13:31; “God of heaven,” Nehemiah 1:4, Nehemiah 2:4; Nehemiah 2:20; “the nobles and the rulers,” Nehemiah 2:16, Nehemiah 4:19, Nehemiah 5:7, Nehemiah 7:5 (Nehemiah 12:40), Nehemiah 13:11; Nehemiah 13:17; “my servants” lit. “young men” Nehemiah 4:23, Nehemiah 5:10; Nehemiah 5:16, Nehemiah 13:19. His language brings the writer’s character vividly before us; the somewhat self-complacent tone of the prayer for personal recompense, Nehemiah 5:19; Nehemiah 13:14; Nehemiah 13:22; Nehemiah 13:31; the energetic vigour of the man, e.g. Nehemiah 2:12-15, Nehemiah 4:13-23, Nehemiah 5:13, Nehemiah 6:10, Nehemiah 13:8; Nehemiah 13:19-21; Nehemiah 13:25; his hatred of the Samaritans, Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 2:19-20, Nehemiah 4:1-5, Nehemiah 6:14, Nehemiah 13:29.
B. Respecting the Lists embodied in these Books, it may be said that they are generally of a kind which we should expect to be kept in a public record office, and that the abruptness with which they are introduced is an indication of their being genuine extracts.
The practical identity of Ezra 2:1 &c. with Nehemiah 7:6 &c. is noteworthy. It is clear from Nehemiah 7:5, that Nehemiah, finding this list of those that returned with Zerubbabel, deemed it of such importance that he transcribed it into his own memoirs. The Compiler, either copying from the same original list, or extracting it from Nehemiah’s Memoirs, introduced it in Ezra 2 at the suitable point in his narrative.
It appears probable that the lists, and extracts from lists inserted into the narrative, were considerably abridged by the Compiler, or modified to suit his purpose. In illustration of this, the reader should compare the genealogy of Ezra in Ezra 7:1-5, with that in 1 Chron. 5:29–41, and the lists of the Priests and Levites in Nehemiah 11 with those in 1 Chronicles 9 Even Nehemiah’s list of those that cooperated in the Restoration of the Walls bears signs of being incomplete. (See the notes on Nehemiah 3) Whether the list had become mutilated or the Compiler was not careful to transcribe it in its entirety, we cannot attempt to say. The fact also that it is often very difficult to distinguish in these lists whether the names indicate individuals or houses, e.g. in Ezra 10:20-43, Nehemiah 11, 12, suggests that the names are derived from ancient lists which were often copied and often probably epitomised. At any rate, the same ambiguity does not present itself in the Memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, and is very probably to be accounted for by the curt and technical language of official registers.
C. The Aramaic portions (Ezra 4:8 to Ezra 6:18, Ezra 7:12-26) are an interesting feature in the Book of Ezra. It is to be observed that the use of the Aramaic language is not confined to the contents of the official letters (Ezra 4:11-22, Ezra 5:7-17, Ezra 6:3-12, Ezra 12:11–26), but is employed also in the narrative setting in which the letters stand (Ezra 4:8-10, Ezra 4:23 to Ezra 5:7, Ezra 6:1-3; Ezra 6:13-18). It is not, therefore, correct to say that the Aramaic portions are merely the exact reproduction of public documents written in the official language of the day. The use of the Aramaic by itself is no proof that the actual documents are reproduced. For the Aramaic employed is the Hebrew variety of that dialect; and it is not probable that this would be the type of speech adopted at the court of Susa, as well as by the officials of the Samaritans. The most probable explanation seems to be that the Compiler has, in the former passage, and possibly, also, in the latter, availed himself of an historical work written in Aramaic, from which he has made extracts. But he does not appear to have considered himself bound to reproduce the extracts with any rigid exactness. The Compiler himself could write in Aramaic with as much freedom as in Hebrew, and there seems good reason to suppose that he has interpolated his own sentiments into the Aramaic extract, and even expanded it in order to make it harmonize with the rest of the work. Thus, Ezra 4:24, in the Aramaic section, clearly refers back to Ezra 4:5 in the Hebrew; the transition from the Aramaic Ezra 6:18 to the Hebrew Ezra 6:19 is unaccompanied by any change in subject or even in style, and the whole passage (Ezra 6:1-18), which precedes the resumption of the Hebrew, if based on the Aramaic source, reflects the modifying influence of the Compiler’s own style, e.g. Ezra 6:9 compared with Ezra 3:4; Ezra 6:9-10 the title “God of heaven,” cf. Ezra 1:2; Ezra 6:12 “the God that hath caused his name to dwell there”; Ezra 6:14 “the king of Persia”; Ezra 6:16-18, the description of Levitical worship.
D. Nehemiah 7:73 b – Nehemiah 10:39. The introduction of this section interrupts the Memoirs of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:1 to Nehemiah 7:73 a). Both Ezra and Nehemiah are referred to in the 3rd pers. sing. Ezra 8:1-6; Ezra 8:9; Ezra 8:13; Ezra 8:18, Ezra 10:2), while the use of the 1st pers. plur. in chap. Ezra 10:1; Ezra 10:31; Ezra 10:33; Ezra 10:40, suggests the writing of an eye-witness, or of a contemporary, but not of Nehemiah or Ezra. The characteristic style of Nehemiah disappears. Nehemiah himself suddenly recedes into the background, and is only mentioned twice (8:9, 10:1), and then as Tirshatha, a title he himself never uses in his undisputed Memoirs.
There is nothing to justify the theory that the section comes from Ezra’s pen. If it contained his “Memoirs” we should expect the use of the 1st pers. sing. as in Ezra 7:27 to Ezra 9:15. The possibility may be admitted that the Compiler has here, instead of incorporating extracts from Ezra’s Memoirs, contented himself with summarizing their contents, as in Ezra 10.
But the most probable opinion is that Nehemiah 7:73 b – Nehemiah 10:39 is derived from a distinct historical source, from a narrative composed at, or shortly after, the time of the events described.
From the prominence given to the Levites throughout the section, and from many similarities in style and language, it is perhaps natural to compare Nehemiah 7:73 to Nehemiah 10:39 with Chronicles. But the details which characterize this section suggest a much earlier date for its composition than the age of the Chronicler. And the similarity of style is due, partly to the presence of the prevalent features of post-Exilic writing, partly to the process of editing, in the course of which the Compiler doubtless introduced many of his own later turns of expression.
E. The remaining sections of these Books (Ezra 1:1-8, Ezra 3:1 to Ezra 4:6, Ezra 6:19-22,Ezra 7:1-11 (Ezra 8:35-36), Ezra 10:1-19; Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:3), bear a very scanty proportion to the whole. Even of these it is difficult to say how far the Compiler is basing his narrative on existing historical material, and how far they are his own composition and rest on oral tradition. They are marked by certain clear characteristics of style and language, which, coupled with a general resemblance in the treatment of the narrative, have given such great probability to the view that the Compiler of Ezra and Nehemiah is identical with the Chronicler or Compiler of the Books of Chronicles. (For the statement of this theory, see below.)
It has often been maintained that Ezra 7:1-11; Ezra 10:1-19, were written by Ezra, and Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:3 by Nehemiah.
Respecting Ezra 7:1-11; Ezra 10:1-19, it should be enough to point out the use of the 3rd pers. when Ezra is spoken of, and to compare it with the undisputed extract from Ezra’s writing (Ezra 7:27 to Ezra 9:15) in which he employs the 1st person. Moreover, it is not consistent with what we should expect from Ezra’s authorship, either that he should begin his genealogy, not with his father, but with an ancestor who had died more than a century before (Ezra 7:1, “Ezra, the son of Seraiah”); or that he should refer to himself in such terms of eulogy, as in Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:10; or that in Ezra 7:7-9, by the mention of his journey to Jerusalem, he should anticipate in the 3rd pers. the full autobiographical memoir of the same event contained in chap. 8.
In Ezra 10:1-19 the sudden resumption of the 3rd pers. sing. in reference to Ezra, indicates unmistakably that the Compiler ceases to reproduce the memoir. The theory that Ezra speaks of himself in the 3rd person because he describes himself as acting in an official capacity seems to carry its own refutation with it; and the Memoirs of Nehemiah the Governor, indeed of Ezra himself, in chaps. 8 and 9, are a conclusive argument against its correctness. On the other hand, from the strangely unfinished character of the narrative in Ezra 10 (e.g. Ezra 10:15; Ezra 10:19), as compared with chap. 9, and from the interval that clearly intervenes between the arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem and the arrival of Nehemiah, we might reasonably infer that the Compiler had no longer before him the actual Memoirs of Ezra, or that he had been relying upon a narrative in which those Memoirs suddenly failed.
Another solution proposed, is, that the remainder of Ezra’s Memoirs contained a record of disaster and disappointment which the Compiler was not willing to incorporate into his narrative.
The short passage, Nehemiah 12:44 to Nehemiah 13:3, which refers generally to the period of Nehemiah as “that day” should probably be ascribed to the Compiler. In style and phraseology it stands in fairly evident contrast to the vigorous style of Nehemiah’s Memoirs.
§ 5. Date and Authorship: Relation to the Books of Chronicles
The date to be assigned to the compilation of Ezra and Nehemiah can hardly be earlier, and is very possibly later, than 320 b.c.
This, at any rate, is the inference from the language used in Nehemiah 12. In Nehemiah 12:26 “These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe,” and in Nehemiah 12:47 “in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah,” the period of Nehemiah is regarded as one that is already long past; while from Nehemiah 12:10-11; Nehemiah 12:22 we certainly are led to conclude that at least two generations had elapsed since the generation of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 12:10-11 we read “Eliashib begat Joiada, and Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua”; in Nehemiah 12:22 we find mentioned “the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua.” Now, undoubtedly, these names are the names of High Priests. In Nehemiah’s time, the High Priest was Eliashib (Nehemiah 13:4; Nehemiah 13:28); in the time of Alexander the Great, the name of the High Priest, according to Josephus (Ant. xi. 7, 8), was Jaddua. The reference to “the days of” Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua is obviously an attempt to reckon the chronology of former times by the Jewish High-Priesthood. The use of the expression, “in the days of … Jaddua,” suggests that Jaddua’s High-Priesthood was already past history at the time when this chapter was compiled.
In confirmation of this late date should be mentioned (a) the reference in Nehemiah 12:23 to “the book of the Chronicles,” a work which seems to have contained the register of the Levites down to the High-Priesthood of Johanan, if not of Jaddua; (b) the mention in Nehemiah 12:22 of Darius the Persian, who, in all probability, is to be identified with Darius Codomannus (335–330 b.c.), the contemporary of Jaddua, who was overthrown by Alexander the Great.
The use of the formula “the King of Persia” in Ezra 1:1-2; Ezra 1:8; Ezra 3:7; Ezra 4:3; Ezra 4:5; Ezra 4:7; Ezra 4:24; Ezra 6:14; Ezra 7:1, as compared with the simple appellation of “the King” used in the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah (e.g. Ezra 8:1; Nehemiah 2:1; Nehemiah 5:14) is also very possibly to be regarded as an indication that the compiler, whose hand is unmistakable in these portions of the narrative, wrote at a time when the Empire of Persia had been broken up and the defining words “of Persia” would not be superfluous.
This evidence for the late date to which the compilation of Ezra and Nehemiah should be assigned, has sometimes been discredited on the ground that it consists chiefly of words and phrases which might easily have been interpolated by scribes, or introduced at some late revision of the work. But the existing authorities for the text fail to show variations of reading in connexion with the words and phrases in question. And it is evident that the allegation of their recent insertion is only put forward with the object of upholding or rendering possible the traditional views of authorship.
According to Jewish tradition, “Ezra wrote his own book,” i.e. the whole Hebrew work which comprises Ezra and Nehemiah. But in the Christian Church, it has been the opinion most commonly held that Ezra and Nehemiah wrote the books to which their names are given. Yet this traditional opinion rests on no trustworthy evidence, and is very largely based upon the accident of the title.
In the case of the book of Ezra, Ezra’s own share in the work is unmistakable. But there is no appearance of his being the writer of the remainder, and no such claim is made on his behalf. The events which he describes as an eye-witness relate to a few months only. His personal narrative breaks off abruptly at a point very shortly after his arrival at Jerusalem. Had Ezra himself been the Compiler of the book, it is inconceivable that he should have passed over the interval between 516 b.c. and 458 b.c. without a word: for the events of that interval would have been well known to him, and would probably have explained the purpose of his mission. Had Ezra himself been the Compiler, he would surely not have devoted so much space to the preliminaries of his mission, and then have recorded but one incident of his administration.
Again, had Ezra been the Compiler there was no need for him to pass from the 3rd Pers. to the 1st, and then again from the 1st to the 3rd, in the description of scenes in which he himself was an actor.
All, however, is explained when the book of Ezra is viewed as a compilation made at a much later date. The narrative is not continuous, because the Compiler’s object is to preserve particular records, not to weave an artistic history. Ezra’s autobiographical Memoirs are sometimes transcribed verbatim, and then the 1st Person remains; at other times, they are only summarised, and then the 1st Person is changed to the 3rd.
In the case of the book of Nehemiah, the claim that Nehemiah was himself the Compiler is equally improbable. The extracts from his Memoirs are, from their marked characteristics of style, more easily separable from the rest of the work. Had Nehemiah himself been the Compiler, he would never have interrupted his own narrative by the section Nehemiah 7:73 b – Nehemiah 10:39, leaving the substance of Nehemiah 7:1-5 incomplete; nor should we have been left in ignorance as to the length of his Governorship, nor, as has before been pointed out, would the reference in Nehemiah 12:26; Nehemiah 12:47 to “the days of Nehemiah” have been found on either side of a passage (Nehemiah 12:27-43) containing the autobiographical words of Nehemiah himself.
The attempts however to identify the Compiler of this book with Nehemiah have led to the most fanciful explanations of the mention of the name of Jaddua (330 b.c.) in Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22. Thus it has been conjectured, that the Artaxerxes whom Nehemiah served was Artaxerxes II. Mnemon (404–361 b.c.); that Nehemiah was governor so late as 371 b.c.; and that Jaddua is referred to not in his capacity of High-priest, but as the youngest member of the High-priestly family in direct succession. Others have preferred the simpler but more violent remedy of condemning the obnoxious passages in Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22-23; Nehemiah 12:47 as later interpolations.
But these conjectures are not needed. The claim of authorship advanced for Ezra and Nehemiah rests on no foundation. The difficulties presented by the structure are capable of a natural explanation upon the view that the books are the result of compilation, and that the Compiler did his work at the close of the fourth or the beginning of the third century b.c. This is the conclusion to which an investigation of the structure and contents irresistibly impels us. And this conclusion leads to another enquiry by which the unknown Compiler is possibly to be more closely identified. At this point therefore is to be noticed the interesting question of the connexion of our books, Ezra and Nehemiah, with the Books of Chronicles. The close resemblance which exists between them has long attracted the observation of Biblical students. The opinion has become increasingly prevalent that such a resemblance cannot be accidental. And indeed a careful investigation of the evidence shows how strong is the probability that the compiler of Chronicles is the same as the compiler of Ezra and Nehemiah.
1. The general character of the books is the same. The historical narrative consists chiefly of extracts compiled from different sources, and especial prominence is given to genealogical lists.
2. The historical treatment is the same. The narrative is concerned with great crises in the religious history of the people. The so-called “Levitical tendency,” which characterizes the Books of Chronicles, is conspicuous also in Ezra and Nehemiah, although there the insertion of continuous extracts from contemporary memoirs offers by comparison less scope.
Under this head, the following points may be noticed:
(a) In Ezra and Nehemiah there is the same fondness for statistical and genealogical lists as in the Books of Chronicles.
Ezra 1:9-11, the list of sacred vessels and implements; 2 the list of those who returned with Zerubbabel; 7:1–6, the genealogy of Ezra 8:1-14; Ezra 8:18-20, the list of those who returned with Ezra 10:20-44, the list of those who “married strange women.”
Nehemiah 3 the list of those who took part in the restoration of the walls; Nehemiah 7:6-73, the same list as Ezra 2; Ezra 10:1-27, the list of those “that sealed” the covenant; Nehemiah 11:3-36, the list of the dwellers in the cities of Judah and Benjamin; Nehemiah 12:1-26, the lists of priests and Levites.
(b) In Ezra and Nehemiah, as in the Books of Chronicles, religious festivals and observances are described with great minuteness.
Ezra 3:1-7, the dedication of the altar of burnt offering; Ezra 3:8-13, the foundation of the Temple; Ezra 6:15-18, the dedication of the Temple; Ezra 6:19-22, the celebration of the Passover; Ezra 8:35, the burnt offerings; Ezra 10:1-14, the people’s confession of guilt.
Nehemiah 7:73 to Nehemiah 8:12, the reading of the Law; Nehemiah 8:13-18, the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles; Nehemiah 9:1-5; Nehemiah 9:38, the Confession and the Covenant; Nehemiah 10:29-39, the provisions of the Covenant; Nehemiah 12:27-43, the dedication of the city walls. Cf. 1 Chronicles 13, 15, 16, 2 Chronicles 5:1 to 2 Chronicles 7:10, 2 Chronicles 29-31.
(c) In Ezra and Nehemiah, as in the Books of Chronicles, particular prominence is given to the mention of the Levites and other attendants of the Temple. Thus the Levites, who are only twice mentioned in the Books of Samuel (1 Samuel 6:15, 2 Samuel 15:24) and but once in the Books of Kings (1 Kings 8:4) are referred to by name more than 60 times in Ezra and Nehemiah, and about 100 times in the Books of Chronicles. See Ezra 2:41-42; Ezra 2:70; Ezra 3:8-12; Ezra 6:16; Ezra 6:20; Ezra 7:7; Ezra 7:13; Ezra 7:24; Ezra 8:20; Ezra 8:29-30; Ezra 10:5; Nehemiah 7:1; Nehemiah 7:44; Nehemiah 7:73; Nehemiah 8:7-13; Nehemiah 10:9-28; Nehemiah 10:34-38; Nehemiah 11:15-18; Nehemiah 12:8; Nehemiah 12:22-24; Nehemiah 12:30; Nehemiah 12:44-47; Nehemiah 13:5; Nehemiah 13:10; Nehemiah 13:13; Nehemiah 13:22; Nehemiah 13:30.
The Singers, in connexion with the Temple worship, so often referred to in Ezra and Nehemiah (cf. Ezra 2:41; Ezra 2:65; Ezra 2:70; Ezra 7:7; Ezra 10:24; Nehemiah 7:1; Nehemiah 7:44; Nehemiah 7:73, Nehemiah 10:28; Nehemiah 10:39, Nehemiah 11:22-23; Nehemiah 11:28-29, Nehemiah 13:5; Nehemiah 13:10) are similarly mentioned in the Books of Chronicles; but elsewhere they are scarcely ever, if ever (cf. 1 Kings 10:12; Ezekiel 40:44), certainly spoken of as Temple servants.
The Porters, again, are not referred to in other books of the Old Testament as forming part of the Temple staff except in Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:42; Ezra 2:70; Ezra 7:7; Ezra 10:24; Nehemiah 7:1; Nehemiah 7:45; Nehemiah 7:73; Nehemiah 10:28; Nehemiah 10:39; Nehemiah 12:25; Nehemiah 12:45; Nehemiah 12:47; Nehemiah 13:5) and (some 18 times) in the Books of Chronicles.
The Nethinim, so often mentioned in Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:43; Ezra 2:58; Ezra 2:70; Ezra 7:7; Ezra 7:24; Ezra 8:17; Ezra 8:20; Nehemiah 3:26; Nehemiah 3:31; Nehemiah 7:46; Nehemiah 7:60; Nehemiah 7:73; Nehemiah 10:28; Nehemiah 11:3; Nehemiah 11:21), are nowhere save in the Books of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 9:2) mentioned in the Old Testament.
3. The close similarity in style and diction will be more apparent to the Hebrew student than to the English reader. But the degree of resemblance may be understood from selected examples; and the force of the argument from resemblance in diction is greatly increased when it is observed that the great majority of the examples are found in those portions of Ezra and Nehemiah which belong to the writing of the compiler himself.
1. “fathers’ houses,” Ezra 2:59; Ezra 10:16; Nehemiah 7:61; Nehemiah 10:35, and more than 20 times in the Books of Chronicles.
2. “heads of fathers’ houses,” Ezra 1:5; Ezra 2:68; Ezra 3:12; Ezra 4:2-3; Ezra 8:1; Ezra 10:16; Nehemiah 7:70-71; Nehemiah 8:13; Nehemiah 11:13; Nehemiah 12:12; Nehemiah 12:22-23, and more than 20 times in the Books of Chronicles.
3. “the house of God,” frequently in Ezra and Nehemiah (e.g. Ezra 1:4; Ezra 2:68; Ezra 3:8; Ezra 6:22; Ezra 10:6; Nehemiah 6:10; Nehemiah 8:16; Nehemiah 11:16; Nehemiah 12:40; Nehemiah 13:7; Nehemiah 13:11), and more than 30 times in the Books of Chronicles.
4. “people of the countries,” “peoples of the lands,” e.g. Ezra 3:3; Ezra 9:1-2; Ezra 9:7; Ezra 9:11; Nehemiah 9:30; Nehemiah 10:28, and more than 12 times in the Books of Chronicles.
5. the Hebrew words rendered “courses” (Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 11:36; cf. 2 Chronicles 35:5), “cymbals” (Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:27), “genealogy” (Ezra 2:62; Ezra 8:1; Ezra 8:3; Nehemiah 7:5; Nehemiah 7:64).
“joy” (Ezra 6:16; Nehemiah 8:10; cf. 1 Chronicles 16:27).
“in their place” (Nehemiah 8:7; Nehemiah 9:3; Nehemiah 13:11; 2 Chronicles 30:16).
The examples quoted above occur in the Hebrew Bible only in the Books of Chronicles and in Ezra and Nehemiah. As characteristic of the Chronicler’s style, may also be noted the Hebrew phrases rendered as follows:
“to have the oversight of the work &c.” Ezra 3:8-9; cf. 1 Chronicles 15:21 (= ‘to lead’).
“after the order of king David” Ezra 3:10; cf. 1 Chronicles 25:2; 1 Chronicles 25:6; 2 Chronicles 23:18.
“day by day” Ezra 3:4; Nehemiah 8:18; cf. 1 Chronicles 12:22.
“afar off” Ezra 3:13; Nehemiah 12:43; cf. 2 Chronicles 26:15.
“morning and evening” Ezra 3:3; cf. 1 Chronicles 16:40, 2 Chronicles 2:3.
“make a proclamation” Ezra 1:1; Ezra 10:7; Nehemiah 8:15; cf. 2 Chronicles 30:5; 2 Chronicles 36:22.
“willingly offer” Ezra 1:6; Ezra 2:68; Ezra 3:5; Nehemiah 11:2; cf. 1 Chronicles 29:5-6; 1 Chronicles 29:9; 1 Chronicles 29:14; 1 Chronicles 29:17, 2 Chronicles 17:16.
“with joy,” “great joy” Ezra 3:12; Ezra 6:22; Nehemiah 8:17; Nehemiah 12:43; cf. 1 Chronicles 15:25, 2 Chronicles 29:30; 2 Chronicles 29:36; 2 Chronicles 30:21; 2 Chronicles 30:23; 2 Chronicles 30:26.
“as it is written” Ezra 3:2; Ezra 3:4; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 8:14-15; Nehemiah 10:34; Nehemiah 10:36; cf. 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 30:5; 2 Chronicles 30:18; 2 Chronicles 35:12, &c.
“praise and give thanks” Ezra 3:11; Nehemiah 12:24; cf. 1 Chronicles 16:4; 1 Chronicles 23:30, &c.
§ 6. Outline of History
i. The Decree of Cyrus. In the year 538 b.c. Babylon fell. The great Babylonian Empire, whose western frontier was washed by the waters of the Mediterranean, passed almost without a blow from Nabonidus, the last of the Babylonian dynasty, into the hands of Cyrus, king of Elam and Persia.
The conqueror’s first act was to conciliate an important element in the population of his new possessions. With the view of weakening resistance to their authority, the kings of Babylon had followed the policy of forcibly removing from their homes the inhabitants of whole towns and districts, and of transplanting them either to regions recently desolated by this process or to the vast area included within the walls of Babylon. The temper of colonists forcibly torn from their own country was little favourable to the central government, and they were ready to welcome an invader as a deliverer and avenger. The successes of Cyrus had doubtless been assisted by the secret intrigues of this numerous class. The Jewish captives in Babylon had eagerly looked for the coming of Cyrus.
The Decree of Cyrus granted permission to those who had been carried away captive to return to their own land, and to carry back with them the sacred images of their gods which Babylonian armies had taken from their native shrines. It was a measure of true wisdom and clemency; for it removed from the centre of the empire a dangerous source of disaffection, and dispersed into every quarter subjects who were gratified by the action of their new monarch, and who felt themselves rewarded for their own share of peril in having supported his invasion. The Jews were not the only people to benefit by the Decree. But, in their case, especial consideration may have been shown. The captives of other races carried home the images of their gods. The worshipper of Jehovah had no images. The Jews were commissioned to build again the Temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem, and the sacred vessels were given back to them that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away.
With natural patriotic vanity later Jewish tradition considered that their nation alone had been singled out to receive the favour of the great conqueror: and the story ran that Cyrus, having learned from Daniel the prophecies of the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28) concerning him, felt constrained, in recognition of their fulfilment, to pronounce a Decree of restoration for the people of Jehovah.
By a misapprehension of a totally different character, Cyrus’ action toward the Jewish community in Babylon has in modern times been thought to have been dictated by purely strategic motives. It has been supposed that he restored the Jews to Jerusalem, in order to strengthen his frontier on the south-west by a garrison of men devoted to his cause by the strongest ties of gratitude.
That Cyrus may have been under special obligations to the Jews, whose prophets had heralded his advance against Babylon, is very probable. But the subsequent course of Jewish history quite forbids us to suppose that the restoration of the Jews was in any way connected with the military defences of the empire. It is equally clear both from Ezra 4 and from Nehemiah 1, 2, that the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was not at first contemplated by the Persian rulers as necessary, or even as desirable.
The Decree of Cyrus was universal in application to communities that had suffered forcible ‘deportation’ under Babylonian kings. It was religious in character. The restoration of captives to their homes was incomplete without the restoration of the images and the rebuilding of shrines. The propitiation of the offended deities all over the kingdom was to be secured by the conqueror’s first edict.
The Jews received permission to return, but it was with the express command to rebuild the famous sanctuary of Jehovah at Jerusalem. The religious purpose of the Decree, if further proof were needed, is shown both by the action of the Jews on their return, and by the large proportion of the priests who took part in it.
ii. The Return from Babylon. The first great band of Jews who availed themselves of the Decree of Cyrus, was led by Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8; Ezra 5:14), who is probably the same as Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:8; Zechariah 4:6). The identification is disputed by some who lay stress on the improbability of the two names in Ezra 1:8; Ezra 2:2 and Ezra 5:2; Ezra 5:14 being used in the same context of the same person without any note of explanation. The difficulty would be more serious, if the narrative were given in the form of a homogeneous history. But the narrative is taken from different sources: a second name assumed under altered circumstances offers no insurmountable objection, cf. 2 Kings 23:34; 2 Kings 24:17; Daniel 1:7 : one of the kinsmen of Zerubbabel appears in 1 Chronicles 3:18 with the very similarly formed name of Shenazzar. If therefore the Jewish Chronicler be correct in calling Sheshbazzar a Jewish Prince (Ezra 1:8), there is no reason to doubt that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are two names for the same person. Sheshbazzar, which is possibly a contracted form for Shamash-bil-usur (= may Shamesh protect the son), was then the name by which the Jewish Prince was known in Babylon—the name perhaps denoting his royal descent. The objection that Cyrus would not have entrusted a Jew with the work of restoring the Jewish community is an assumption which carries no weight: while the probability that he would have selected for the work a Babylonian Jew of the seed royal, born in the Exile, and bearing a Babylonian name might be pleaded with much greater force.
If the two names represent different persons, we must suppose that Sheshbazzar’s position was of a temporary character, and that Zerubbabel, arriving perhaps at the head of a second contingent, received the position of resident governor which we find him occupying in Ezra 3, 5 and in the writings of Haggai and Zechariah.
The official list of those who returned speaks of them as numbering 42,360. Some have supposed this figure to represent only the heads of families; in which case the total must have amounted to a number considerably exceeding 100,000. They settled themselves in Jerusalem and the neighbouring towns and villages.
The first act of the Jews was to rebuild the altar of burnt offering (Ezra 3:1-6); the next was to lay the foundations of the Temple (Ezra 3:8-13). The account of the laying of the foundations of the Temple “in the second year of their coming unto the house of God” (Ezra 3:8), that is, in all probability, in the year 536, has been condemned as unhistorical by some Biblical scholars, on the threefold ground (1) that the beginning of the work on the Temple is apparently assigned in Ezra 5:2 (cf. 4:24) to the second year of the reign of king Darius, (2) that the contemporary prophet Haggai assigns the laying of the foundation of the Temple to the 24th day of the 9th month in the second year of king Darius (Haggai 2:18), (3) that the Governors in their letter (Ezra 5:16) speak of the work as having been carried on without interruption.
(1) But there is nothing intrinsically improbable in the account given in Ezra 3:8-13; nor need there be any contradiction involved in Ezra 5:2. For the expression “began to build” except on the supposition of a very precise use of words, in no way excludes the interpretation that the work of building the Temple, which had ceased for a number of years, was now actively resumed; that hitherto only the foundations had been laid, and that now the building itself was begun. A similar distinction between the work of “laying the foundations” and that of “building” is found in Ezra 5:16. Again, the testimony of the Governors, in the same verse (v. 16), is explicit to the effect that Sheshbazzar laid this foundation of the Temple.
(2) With regard to the language of Haggai 2:18, it seems to be a mistake to suppose that it fixes the date of the laying of the foundations for the 24th of the 9th month in the 2nd year of Darius—(a) That date is the date of the prophet’s utterance: hitherto, he says, ever since the foundations of the Temple were laid, the condition of the people had been one of dearth and destitution (vv. 15, 17, 19, cf. 1:2): and why? the work on God’s house had been neglected; hence His wrath had fallen on the people. Now, however, the work was again set forward, and henceforth, from that 24th day, God’s blessing is promised. (b) From a previous passage in the same prophet (Haggai 1:14-15) we learn that Zerubbabel and Jeshua “came and did work” (i.e. on the house of God), “in the four and twentieth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.” In Haggai 2:1-9, the prophet’s comparison between the old and the new building, a comparison made in the seventh month of the same year, presupposes some previous work of restoration. (c) The supposition that the ceremony of laying the foundation would take place in the 9th, the most inclement month in the year (cf. Ezra 10:9), is in itself most improbable.
-3Ezra 5:16 “And since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not completed” cannot fairly be adduced to show that Ezra 3:8-13 is unhistorical. For the passage assumes that the foundations had been laid by Sheshbazzar, and that he undertook the work at the command of Cyrus (v. 14). As to the Governors’ assertion that the work had gone on continuously, we must bear in mind that their information was probably derived from sources hostile to the Jews; and that they would not have taken pains to be minutely accurate. The three points on which they insisted were, first, that the work had been begun by Sheshbazzar in the reign of Cyrus, secondly, that it was still unfinished, thirdly, that it was now being actively pushed on. Whether there had been interruptions or not, was a mere detail.
There is therefore no sufficient reason to call in question the general accuracy of the Compiler’s statements in Ezra 3:8-13.
iii. The Samaritans. The work of rebuilding the Temple received a sudden check through the opposition of the Samaritans. The Samaritan community was of very mixed origin, but the two chief elements in it were (a) foreign colonists, and (b) descendants of Israelites who had escaped the captivity of the Northern Kingdom. (a) The foreign colonists are enumerated in detail in Ezra 4:9-10. They included three distinct “strata” of deportation from other countries. (i.) Sargon, after removing 27,280 inhabitants of Samaria (b.c. 722), is described in 2 Kings 17:24 as introducing into the depopulated district men of Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. (ii.) From Ezra 4:2 we gather that a second importation of colonists was carried out by Esar-haddon (681–668). (iii.) From Ezra 4:10 it is probable that a third colonization of Samaritan territory took place in the reign of Assurbanipal (Asnapper) 668–626 b.c.; and the mention of “Babylonians, Susanchites, and Elamites” (v. 9) agrees with this supposition. For Assurbanipal crushed a great rebellion in Babylon, and reduced the kingdom of Elam to subjection after a sanguinary war. His captives would be transported to other districts in the empire in accordance with the custom adopted by kings of Babylon. (b) At the time of the overthrow of the Northern Kingdom a large number of Israelites remained behind. Their presence is implied in the tradition that the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah extended far into the territory of the former Northern Kingdom (cf. 2 Kings 23:15 &c.; 2 Chronicles 30:10-11; 2 Chronicles 30:18; 2 Chronicles 31:1; 2 Chronicles 34:6); and in the mention of devout Israelites bringing offerings to the site of the ruined Temple of Jerusalem from Shiloh, Sichem, and Samaria (Jeremiah 41:5), and maintaining themselves pure from idolatrous corruptions (Ezra 6:21).
No doubt the mass of the Northern Tribes who had been suffered to remain in their own homes had become inextricably mixed up with the Assyrian colonists. The religion of Samaria had always been largely tinged with the forms of Phoenician idolatry; and contact with the practices of Assyrian worship conduced to bring about the observance of a religion as different as possible from that which the pious Babylonian Jews cherished.
The Samaritan community may have worshipped Jehovah, but they also “served their graven images” (2 Kings 17:41). According to their own account, they had worshipped Jehovah since the days of Esar-haddon (Ezra 4:1 &c.). On the strength of this bond of union they appeared before the Jews at Jerusalem, and offered to assist them in the work of rebuilding the Temple.
The Jews rejected the offer. Probably they had good reasons to doubt its sincerity. In any case, the sudden alliance with semi-idolatrous neighbours would have quickly obliterated the good impressions of the Captivity, with its strong reaction from idolatry, its ardent Messianic hope, and its devotion to Jehovah as the One God. Had the offer been one merely of political friendship, there would have been no need to reject it. But the Jewish community existed at Jerusalem by virtue of its distinctive religious faith: it was charged with the duty of restoring the worship of Jehovah.
The Decree of Cyrus granted to the Babylonian Jews privileges which could not be extended to others. Something of the old tribal hostility, which was so potent a factor in the disruption of the kingdom after the death of Solomon, may possibly be recognised under the emphatic rejection of the Samaritan offer. But their policy was also one of self-preservation. The Jews would have been rendered powerless by any formal act of amalgamation with neighbours, probably far their superiors both in numbers and strength.
The Samaritans, on finding their offers repelled, shewed themselves in their true colours: they became the implacable foes of Jerusalem. The restoration of the Temple would doubtless bring with it the revival of some of the ancient city’s prosperity. The attraction of the national shrine would bring Jews from far and wide. The Samaritans perceived in this prospect a menace to their own supremacy in Palestine. They resolved to check, if possible, the progress of the Jews. They complained to the local Persian officials that the Jews were plotting rebellion. Their representations were successful. Perhaps they availed themselves of the confusion which followed the death of Cyrus (529), to inspire the Satrap of Syria with the belief that the activity of the Jewish community was seditious. Perhaps, they found the suspicious temperament of Cambyses himself useful for their purpose. Perhaps, the new king was less inclined than his illustrious father to tolerate so great a variety of worship and to encourage such freedom of religion. Perhaps, the less settled condition of the empire enabled the leaders of the neighbouring tribes forcibly to deprive the Jews of their coveted privileges, and to harass them, with impunity.
Whatever the precise causes may have been, the work of the restoration of the Temple ceased during the latter part of the reign of Cyrus and during the reign of Cambyses and the Pseudo-Smerdis. For nine years and more the Jews were compelled to remain inactive. The first zeal of the returned exiles wore off. Their expectations had been bitterly disappointed. The result was seen in the dejection of some and the open indifference of others.
iv. The Completion of the Temple. The accession of Darius (522) to the throne of Persia was the signal for a renewed effort on the part of the Jews. The year 520 was signalised by the energetic appeals of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who saw their opportunity in the change of rule (Ezra 5:1; Haggai 1:1 &c.; Zechariah 1:1). The people responded with enthusiasm. The work was resumed. The Persian officials in the country west of the Euphrates permitted the building to go on pending an appeal to the king’s decision. The royal archives were searched; the Edict of Cyrus was found at Ecbatana (Ezra 6:2). Darius at once gave orders that the building should be permitted to go on, and, according to the Jewish account of the royal rescript, that State assistance should be granted both for the construction of the Temple and for the maintenance of the sacrifices (Ezra 6:8-10). The Temple was completed and dedicated in the 6th year of king Darius (516 b.c.) amidst great rejoicings.
v. The Silence of Sixty Years. After the dedication of the Temple there follows a period of nearly 60 years, during which the history of the Jewish community at Jerusalem is almost a complete blank. The generation to which Zerubbabel and Jeshua, Haggai and Zechariah belonged passes completely from our view. When the curtain lifts again, the chief power among the Jews has passed from the family of David. Zerubbabel was dead; and his sons (1 Chronicles 3:19-20) had not succeeded him. The disappearance of the royal Dynasty and the marked preponderance of the priestly power in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah have given occasion to the theory that Zerubbabel or his sons fell before the intrigues of a jealous priesthood. But there is no ground for supposing that Zerubbabel’s governorship was hereditary. On the contrary, it would be the policy of the empire to check any tendency towards the rise of dynastic power in the subject provinces. The governors of Jerusalem who succeeded Zerubbabel were, if we may judge from Malachi 1:8; Ezra 8:36; Nehemiah 5:15, foreigners; and, if foreigners, they would not have sympathised with the policy of religious exclusiveness that had been expressed in the repulse of the Samaritan overtures by Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
There can be no doubt that from some cause or another, which may well have been the reversal of Zerubbabel’s action towards neighbouring races, the religious energy of the new community became enfeebled.
The untiring antagonism of the Samaritans was exhibited in the reign of Xerxes (Ezra 4:6), and the overthrow of the great Persian Armada was a disaster in which the Jewish community must have suffered equally with other portions of the empire.
But there were internal causes at work which will amply account for the general decrepitude of the people at this period. The priests, into whose hands the chief authority had come, were inclined to relax the stern policy of religious exclusiveness initiated by Zerubbabel and Jeshua. They sought to conciliate the neighbouring peoples. Intermarriage with the heathen was tolerated, the priests themselves were foremost offenders. Advantages, social, commercial, and political, were doubtless thus to be obtained. Faith began to wax cold. The upper classes forgot the brotherhood of their own race. They oppressed the poor, and exacted usurious interest. The distinctive badge of Judaism, the observance of the Sabbath, was neglected. In the matter of offerings for the maintenance of the worship at the Temple, laxness and indifference prevailed. Tithes were withheld from the priests. The supply of wood for the sacrifices was suffered to run short.
vi. The Mission of Ezra. In the 7th year of Artaxerxes (458 b.c.) Ezra the Priestand Scribe, received the royal permission to return from Babylon to Jerusalem, with absolute control in all things religious. Ezra was of the house of Aaron, and was a descendant of the High-priest Seraiah, who met his death at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18). But, what was of still greater importance, Ezra was deeply versed in “the law.” Both by rank and by virtue of his preeminent acquaintance with the sacred traditions, he was well fitted—and he may on that account have been selected by his brethren in Babylon—for the task of renovating the religious life of the community in Jerusalem, and of rescuing it from the danger with which it was menaced of being absorbed, through neglect of its distinctive precepts, among “the peoples of the land.”
Ezra was the bearer of rich offerings to the Temple of Jerusalem from his fellowcountrymen and from the king himself (Ezra 8:25-27). The king Artaxerxes was also said to have given him a commission in writing, expressed in terms of lavish generosity and amongst other things granting exemption to Jewish priests and Levites from the usual toll or tribute.
The king’s object does not appear. He may have wished to return some favour to Jews of Babylon who had rendered him some special service. He may have wished to show his interest in a province on his extreme western frontier, and to propitiate the Divine Power whose temple was at Jerusalem. If his object was to strengthen the fidelity of the Jews, he may have availed himself of the opportunity which presented itself in Ezra’s application for safe conduct.
Ezra’s mission was a religious one; but Artaxerxes may have endeavoured to make use of it for the purpose of conciliating the Jews in Babylon or of strengthening his own hold over their countrymen in Jerusalem. In the 7th year of his reign his own throne was endangered by the revolt of Egypt; he could not afford to pass unnoticed any sign of discord in a district of Syria.
Ezra’s caravan numbered 1596 men besides a certain number of priests. On mustering them at Ahava, probably a canal or tributary of the Euphrates, he found no Levites in his company; the march was delayed, until he had succeeded in obtaining the support of a considerable contingent of Levites and Nethinim from a Jewish colony settled at Casiphia (8:16–20).
The arrival of Ezra and his company in Jerusalem must have kindled the enthusiasm of the religious-minded Jews. It was not long before he made known the true purpose which he had in view. The first opportunity presented itself upon his receiving intelligence of the prevalence among the Jews of intermarriage with the people of the land.
Ezra’s open expression of horror at this discovery excited general alarm and excitement. A true forerunner of the Scribes, Ezra put an interpretation upon the Law which was more rigorous than its actual letter required. Any intermarriage with a foreigner was a pollution of “the holy seed,” it endangered the existence of the people. A commission of elders was instituted; and a court of enquiry held in all the country of Judea occupied by the Jews. The policy of repudiation of all foreign marriages was approved by the people. A party of opposition no doubt existed. But against the wave of popular feeling only a very few, if any, dared to raise a protest (Ezra 10:15).
This first measure probably typified the uncompromising severity with which Ezra applied himself to the promotion of religious reform, and with which in particular he opposed any policy of alliance with the people of the land. Unfortunately his Memoirs break off abruptly at this point. The narrative is resumed with an extract of the Memoirs of Nehemiah relating to events that occurred at least 12 years later (445).
What had taken place during this interval, we have no means of deciding with any certainty. We are indeed left more or less to conjecture. But the nature of our conjecture will depend upon the explanation of the Episode in Ezra 4:7-23, and of the description of Jerusalem and of Jewish affairs in Nehemiah’s Memoirs. From these sources we deduce the following facts: (1) That not long before 445 b.c. the walls of Jerusalem had been dismantled, and her gates burned (see note on Nehemiah 1:3); (2) that the Samaritans and their allies had bitterly opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, and had exerted themselves with success to cause the project to be stopped (Ezra 4:7-23); (3) that the restoration and dedication of the walls were carried out by the energy of Nehemiah, the new governor; (4) that Ezra, who then apparently held no official position, is only mentioned in connexion with the reading of the Law, the celebration of the Feast of Tables, and the religious procession at the dedication of the walls; (5) that not until this juncture, twelve years after his own expedition, was Ezra able to give the people instruction upon the requirements of the Law.
It has been customary to suppose that Ezra’s comparative obscurity in the period of Nehemiah’s governorship was owing to the failure which had attended the excessive severity of his efforts for a religious reform. The policy of repudiating the mixed marriages had raised up vehement hostility against him. The dominant priestly aristocracy were supported by the malcontents outside the walls. He was powerless to carry out the work which he had wished to accomplish. For 12 years his opponents in Jerusalem made common cause with the Samaritans, who would join in alliance on condition of no attempt being made to fortify Jerusalem and restore her to independence.
According to another view Ezra, having accomplished the abolition of mixed marriages and certain other reforms no record of which has been preserved, left the city; whether of his own accord, or under compulsion from his enemies, may pass undetermined. During his absence the evils which he had striven to check once more took root among the people. The work had to be done over again during the governorship of Nehemiah. Ezra returned in time to take part in the Dedication of the Walls and in the religious reforms which commenced with the reading of the Law.
A combination of these two hypotheses presents a great degree of likelihood. Ezra’s success was at first complete. He obtained the popular assent to the measures he first proposed. But he needed to make sure of the independence of his people, and undertook the fortification of the city and the restoration of the walls. Then came a sudden calamity. Ezra’s foes within the walls made common cause with the neighbouring races whom his policy had bitterly incensed. It was the time of the repression of the great Egyptian rebellion (455 b.c.). On the ground of their recent fortifications the Jews were accused by their foes, the Samaritans, of harbouring mutinous designs. The king had granted Ezra no such powers. Full of suspicion he stopped the work (Ezra 4:17-23).
Jerusalem was handed over to the mercy of her enemies, who made the Jews to cease by force and power (Ezra 4:23); her walls were razed to the ground; and those who like Ezra had been foremost champions of Jewish liberty were expelled from their homes. This was the condition of things at the time of Nehemiah’s arrival. The recent destruction of the city defences, and the state of dejection into which the loyal citizens had been thrown, receive from this theory a complete explanation. What must have added to the humiliation of the catastrophe, was the consciousness that it had been partly brought about by disloyal Jews.
This hypothesis may in some measure account for the fact that Ezra’s name does not appear in the description of the rebuilding of the walls, and only comes into prominence at their Dedication and at the reading of the Law.
vii. The Governorship of Nehemiah. The arrival of Nehemiah entrusted with a special commission from the Persian king put a new complexion upon affairs. The Memoirs of Nehemiah show him to have been a man of strong feeling, resolute perseverance and great energy. He was a man whose character would easily have excited the respect and the sympathy of the court at Susa. He had evidently won the affection of Artaxerxes.
In reply to his favourite cupbearer’s request the king granted him permission to proceed to Jerusalem as Governor and to rebuild the walls of the city. He further provided him with a body-guard of Persian troops, and with letters of introduction to the Satraps and other officials on the W. of the Euphrates.
All the energy and resolution of Nehemiah were needed to carry the proposed task to a satisfactory completion. He was vehemently opposed by the Samaritans, who doubtless felt that a last effort must be made to prevent a fortified Jerusalem from overshadowing every rival town in Palestine. Threats of force, hints of royal displeasure, and treacherous overtures, alike failed to divert Nehemiah from his purpose. They only succeeded in revealing to him how seriously disaffection prevailed within the city, and how few shared to the full that stricter view of the Jewish religion, which he, in common with Ezra, deemed to be required of every sincere worshipper of Jehovah.
Appealing to the patriotism of his countrymen, he vehemently pressed on the work. In the extraordinarily short space of 52 days the wall was completed. The whole population had been engaged upon it night and day. The work of restoration was systematically distributed among the chief families and guilds. The excellence of this organization, the ardour of the people for the restoration of their defences, coupled with the fact that in all probability the walls were in many places only partially in need of repair, will account for the rapidity with which the work was done. But it is an event in history, which may be ranked with the building of the Long Walls of Athens, as an instance of patriotic fervour and universal cooperation. Its importance was recognised by the solemn service of Dedication (Nehemiah 12:27).
The walls were no sooner restored, than Nehemiah turned his attention to other matters, in which reform was urgently needed. The work on the wall had indeed brought some evils prominently into view (Nehemiah 5).
Nehemiah attempted to redress the distress, which arose from the oppression of the poor by their more wealthy brethren. The Persian tribute was felt as a great burden by the labouring class. Many were compelled to borrow in order to pay it. They borrowed from their own wealthier countrymen, who exacted an extortionate interest, and, in default of payment, seized the little holdings, or took as slaves the children of their debtors.
The seriousness of the crisis is reflected in the measures by which Nehemiah attempted to restore the national equilibrium. He (1) abolished usury between Jew and Jew (Nehemiah 5:10), and (2) obtained from the wealthy money-lenders an engagement to restore the mortgaged property which had changed hands (Nehemiah 5:11).
In order to obtain a greater degree of stability and confidence within the city walls, he took measures to provide for an increased number of residents (Nehemiah 7:4-5; Nehemiah 11:1-2).
But even more important were the steps Nehemiah seems to have taken—not probably without the advice and assistance of Ezra—to establish the national life of the Jews upon the basis of the written Law. Before that time, if we may judge from the complete ignorance of the priestly Law among the people generally (Nehemiah 8:9; Nehemiah 8:13-17), its enactments could only have been known by a defective oral tradition. So far as it had existed in writing, it must have been held in the possession of the priests.
The importance then of the religious reform initiated by Nehemiah and Ezra lay in the removal of “the law” from the exclusive possession of the priest. Its publication put an end to what had been a priestly monopoly. The requirements of “the law” were now placed within the reach of every pious Jew. The open reading of “the book of the law” was a new departure. It marked the beginning of a new dispensation.
It denoted not merely a reverence for the sacred traditions of the past, but the erection of a new centre of national life. “The book of the law” could be a protection against idolatry, a standard of social life and religious doctrine, as well to the Jew of the Dispersion as to the Jew at Jerusalem.
The Covenant to which Nehemiah and the heads of the people set their seal in recognition of the obligatory character of the Law that Ezra had read to his countrymen, was decisive for the future of the nation.
It determined finally the preeminence of “the Law.” It set on foot the system which has enabled the Jewish race to maintain themselves separate and distinct in the midst of other races, and to outlive every imaginable disaster. The policy of Ezra and Nehemiah was the triumph of “Judaism.”
Besides the general observance of the Law, the obligations to which the people now bound themselves to submit, included (a) the prohibition of marriage with foreigners, (b) the strict observance of the Sabbath, (c) the observance of the Sabbatical year and its remission of debt, (d) the payment of a tax of ⅓ shekel to defray the expenses of the Temple worship, (e) the payment of tithes and firstfruits to the Levites (Nehemiah 10).
viii. Nehemiah’s Second Visit to Jerusalem 432 b.c. After a period of rule which, according to some, lasted for 12 years (Nehemiah 5:14), Nehemiah had returned to the Persian Court. In his absence the old abuses and irregularities quickly revived. He was forced to visit Jerusalem once again during the lifetime of Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 13:6). Vigorous measures were once again necessary. He found that the policy of foreign alliances had been renewed. Eliashib, the High-priest, had allied himself closely with the Ammonite, Tobiah, and had assigned to him a chamber in the precincts of the Temple itself.
The Jews had once more begun to contract mixed marriages. Now, as at the time when Ezra returned to Jerusalem, the priests were prominent offenders. The High priest’s own grandson had married the daughter of Sanballat the Samaritan.
The effects of such laxity were only too apparent. Jewish children had almost lost the use of their native dialect. The sanctity of the Sabbath was forgotten in the interest of trade with foreigners. Nehemiah made no attempt to conceal the vehemence of his indignation.
The closing words of his Memoirs describe the summary measures he took to purify the holy city.
The strange sentence of self-congratulation with which he sums up his autobiographical sketch indicates the triple line of internal reform to which he had devoted himself, (1) the separation of the Jews from idolatrous strangers, (2) the systematisation of the religious service at the Temple, (3) the adequate provision for the maintenance of the priests and Levites.
§ 7. Antiquities
i. The Persian Government
(a) The King. The Persian king possessed absolute power. Nothing is commoner in the inscriptions of Persian kings than the assertion of their supreme dominion over all the world. “King of countries” is one of their favourite appellations. The language of the decree of Cyrus in Ezra 1:2, “all the kingdoms of the earth &c.,” though expressed in the Hebrew form, is quite in keeping with the style of their proclamations. The Persian monarch was ‘The King,’ ‘The Great King;’ he assumed also other titles, such as ‘King of Babylon, King of Sumir and Accad.’ The title therefore, ‘King of Babylon,’ which we find in Ezra 5:13, Nehemiah 13:6, is strictly accurate. “Evidently the title ‘King of Babel’ [= Babylon] had somewhat the same meaning to the inhabitants of Western Asia after the time of Nebuchadnezzar as the epithet ‘Roman emperor’ had for the nations of the Middle Ages. It was not until the Persian Empire broke up, and during the period of Greek domination, that the title ‘King of Persia’ became current even in Western Asia.” (Schrader’s Cuneiform Inscriptions and the O.T. vol. ii. 67, Eng. Trans.) The expression therefore “Darius the Persian” in Nehemiah 12:22 was used by one who was writing after the collapse of the Persian Empire.
The title “King of Assyria” is possibly a Hebrew variation of the “King of Babylon,” having the same meaning with reference to the Persian monarch.
The Persian Empire was enormous in extent. It included Afghanistan on the E., and Asia Minor on the W.; to the N. it reached as far as the Caucasus; on the S. it included Egypt among its provinces, and was washed by the Indian Ocean.
The royal capitals of the Persian Empire were Persepolis, in Persia (not mentioned in Scripture), Babylon, in the valley of the Euphrates, Susa or Shushan in Susiana or Elam (Nehemiah 2:1), and Ecbatana or Achmetha, in Media (Ezra 6:2).
The whole time (530–334 b.c.) that Judea was a subject-province to the Persian Empire the reigning dynasty was that of the Achaemenidae. Five of its kings are alluded to in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Cyrus, 559 (Capture of Babylon, 538–529). Cf. Ezra 1:1, &c.
2. Cambyses, 529–522.
3. Pseudo-Smerdis (Bardiya), 522–521, not mentioned in Scripture.
Darius I., the son of Hystaspes, 521–485. Cf. Ezra 4:5; Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:6-7; Ezra 6:1, &c.
Xerxes I. = Ahasuerus, 485–465. Cf. Ezra 4:6.
Artaxerxes I. Longimanus 465–424. Cf. Ezra 7:1, &c.; Nehemiah 2:1, &c.
7. Xerxes II., reigned two months.
8. Sogdianus, reigned seven months.
9. Darius II. Nothus, 423–405.
10. Artaxerxes II. Mnemon, 405–358.
11. Artaxerxes III., Ochus, 358–337.
12. Arses, 337–335.
Darius III. Codomannus, 335–331. Cf. Nehemiah 12:22.
(b) The Council. The king was assisted in the task of government by a Council of Seven, referred to in Ezra 7:14. Cf. Esther 1:14.
(c) The Satraps. Under Darius Hystaspes the Persian Empire was divided into great provinces, over which were placed “Satraps.” More than 20 of these satrapies were established. The majority of the Satraps were members of the reigning family, or its attached adherents.
Each Satrap was in the position of a vassal king. His province paid a fixed sum as a tribute to “the great king;” and out of the central treasury he himself, his staff of officials, and his army received payment. The power of the Satraps was checked in two ways. (1) To the staff of each Satrap was attached an official scribe, whose duty it was to remit to “the great king” a report of the administration in the satrapy. (2) The command of a sufficient number of troops to maintain order was vested in each Satrap. But the imperial armies were commanded by generals appointed by the king.
The word “Satrap” appears in its Hebrew transliterated form in Ezra 8:36, and in Esther 3:12; Esther 8:9; Esther 9:3.
The Satrap of the province W. of the Euphrates in the reign of Darius I., seems to have been Tattenai, “the governor beyond the river” (Ezra 5:6; Ezra 6:6). Cf. Nehemiah 2:7.
According to one conjecture, Rehum “the chancellor” (Ezra 4:8), was the royal official scribe attached to the satrapy in which Judea was included.
(d) Governors. Beneath the Satraps were the governors of districts, or smaller provinces. Each satrapy was probably divided up into districts, or petty provinces, of which the governors were called Pekhahs. The Satrap resembled the modern Pasha, the Pekhah resembled the modern Mudir.
The Pekhah, whose Persian title seems to have been “the Tirshatha” (Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65; Nehemiah 7:70; Nehemiah 8:9), was appointed by the king, as appears from the instances of Zerubbabel (Ezra 5:14; Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:14) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:14). The king seems to have supplied the Pekhahs with troops to serve as a body-guard (Nehemiah 2:9).
The Pekhah administered justice in a rough patriarchal fashion. He was probably held responsible to the Satrap for the amount of the tribute at which his district was assessed. In the exaction of the tribute he was wont to be tyrannical and rapacious. Nehemiah states that the governors of Jerusalem who preceded him took of the people “bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver” (Nehemiah 5:15), probably the daily supply. In addition, it seems to have been customary to make presents to the governor (Malachi 1:8).
Other officers in the Persian Administration, of whom we read in these books, are “the treasurer” (Ezra 1:8), who was what we might call “the privy purse” of the great king; “the keeper of the king’s forest” (Nehemiah 2:3), an officer, to whose special charge was entrusted the management of the trees and the disposal of the timber in any large forest, of which the wood was a royal monopoly; “the treasurers” (Ezra 7:21), the financial officers in the staff of the Satrap; “cup-bearers” (Nehemiah 1:11), or eunuchs in personal attendance upon the king.
(e) Tribute. The tribute exacted from each province was collected and remitted to the king by the Satrap (cf. Ezra 6:8). The amount at which a satrapy was assessed varied considerably. Syria sent 350 talents, or about £100,000 annually to the king. The levying of “the king’s tribute” pressed very heavily upon a poor community like that of the Jews (Nehemiah 5:4).
Besides the tribute in money, there was also tribute in kind, especially in grain (cf. Ezra 7:22). “Custom” and “toll” (Ezra 7:25) were exacted upon merchandise, monopolies, and the like. And to the burdens of the central authority should also be probably added those imposed by the local governor and the officials of his staff.
ii. The Jewish Community. The chief power rested undoubtedly in the hands of the Pekhah; and the Pekhahs seem generally to have been foreigners (Nehemiah 5:15), or natives who had been in the king’s service (cf. Nehemiah 2:19 ‘Tobiah the servant’). Zerubbabel and Nehemiah were exceptions. It does not appear that Ezra was ever in the position of Pekhah. The task which he was appointed to carry out was connected with the religious, not the civil condition of the Jews (Ezra 5:11 ff.). The exceptional powers entrusted to him can only be explained on the supposition that religious matters had notoriously given rise to apprehensions of civil strife.
The Jews who had returned from Babylon were primarily a religious community. The Temple was the centre of their national life. Accordingly, in internal policy, the High-priest stood at the head of the community, and exerted the chief influence.
The High-priests mentioned in these books are
Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, Ezra 1-6.
Joiakim, Nehemiah 12:10; Nehemiah 12:26.
Eliashib, Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 13:4.
Joiada, Nehemiah 12:10; Nehemiah 12:22.
Jonathan or Johanan, Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22.
Jaddua, Nehemiah 12:11; Nehemiah 12:22.
Josephus mentions that Joiakim died just after the reforms of Ezra narrated in Ezra 10; but, as he also assigns Ezra’s death to the same date, although Ezra appears in the book of Nehemiah, we cannot put much confidence in the accuracy of the tradition (Ant. 11:5, 6). Josephus (Ant. 11:7. 1) records that Eliashib was succeeded by his son Judas; and that Judas was succeeded by his son John, who slew his own brother, Jesus, in the Temple; and that John was succeeded by his son Jaddua. Of Jaddua he relates the famous legend of the High-priest’s meeting with Alexander the Great outside the walls of Jerusalem. According to the Jewish historian, Onias followed Jaddua, Ant. 11:8, 5–7.
The High-priesthood was an hereditary office. There arose therefore a kind of religious dynasty. In the course of time, after the break-up of the Persian Empire, the High-priest became practically a petty Jewish monarch.
He did not possess such supreme authority in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra does not even mention the High-priest. Nehemiah carried out his reforms relating to firstfruits, tithes, &c. (10:33) independently, so far as can be seen, of the High-priest; and, as some would suppose from the absence of Eliashib’s name in Nehemiah 12, and the policy attributed to him in Nehemiah 13:4; Nehemiah 13:28, even acted in direct opposition to the High-priest’s wishes.
Local officers, of whose functions we have no definite record, seem to have been appointed, presumably by the Pekhah, to whom they would be held responsible. Two such officers divided between them the administration of Jerusalem (cf. Nehemiah 3:9; Nehemiah 3:12), and we have mention of similar officials in connexion with other districts, cf. Nehemiah 3:14; Nehemiah 3:17. A ‘Governor of the castle’ is mentioned in Nehemiah 7:2.
A council of “Twelve,” representing the typical unity of the tribes of Israel, seems to be implied in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7. They perhaps are “the elders of Judah,” referred to in Ezra 5:5; Ezra 6:7-14.
But besides these responsible officers, there remains to be considered the important aristocratic body, consisting of “the heads of fathers’ houses.” Whether they formed a recognised “house of notables” cannot be determined. More probably they assembled together informally, and were recognised as the leaders of their households or clans, and as representatives of special interests and guilds. In every step of internal policy, it would be necessary to make sure of their support. Judging from the lists of the Jews who returned from Babylon (Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7, Nehemiah 12:1-9), very many of “the heads of fathers’ houses” were of priestly lineage. The oligarchy which formed itself under the presidency of the High-priest was mainly priestly and aristocratic; compare the mention of the priests, Ezra 9:1; Nehemiah 2:16, and the position assigned to them in the public lists. The same body is probably intended by “the princes of the fathers’ houses of Israel” (Ezra 8:29), and “the princes,” sarim (Ezra 9:1-2; Ezra 10:8; Ezra 10:14), must be identified with “the nobles,” hôrim, of Nehemiah 2:16; Nehemiah 4:19; Nehemiah 5:7; Nehemiah 6:17; Nehemiah 7:5; Nehemiah 13:17. With the latter are also commonly associated the rulers or deputies, segânim (Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 2:16), who probably occupied subordinate offices under the governor, or held posts of dignity as magistrates and judges. The “rulers” are thus to be distinguished from the “nobles,” whose position was hereditary. The two classes seem to be alluded to in the phrase, “the elders of every city and the judges thereof” (Ezra 10:14).
iii. Social condition of the Jews
Under the Persian rule the Jews do not seem to have been severely treated. But at no time during the period of their history, which is related in these books, do they seem to have enjoyed prosperity.
During the first few years after the return from captivity, they suffered from bad harvests (see Haggai 2:19). From a very early time they were harassed by the hostility of the Samaritans (Ezra 4:1). Like the rest of the provinces of the Empire, the Jews supplied contingents to the great armies of the Persian kings. Herodotus speaks of ‘Syrians of Palestine,’ who formed part of the army of Xerxes, and were overwhelmed at Salamis and Platæa. A further conscription both of men and animals (Nehemiah 9:37) was probably required from the Jews after these tremendous reverses. The rebellion which greeted Artaxerxes on his succession to the throne, must have entailed fresh sacrifices of men and money upon the impoverished district. The distress of the lower orders was increased by the avarice of the Jewish money-lenders (Nehemiah 5:1; Nehemiah 5:5).
The majority of the community seem to have been agriculturists, and to have dwelt in the country. The difficulty was to induce any but the upper classes to take up their abode in the city (cf. Nehemiah 11:1; Nehemiah 12:28-29).
In the city itself a considerable trade went on. Those of the same industry occupied the same street or bazaar. We have especial mention of “goldsmiths” (Nehemiah 3:8; Nehemiah 3:32), and “perfumers” (Nehemiah 3:8), and “merchants” (Nehemiah 3:31-32). And Phoenician merchants from Tyre evidently found a good market at Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:16).
We read of interest at the rate of 12 per cent. per annum being exacted by the Jewish usurers of their own countrymen (Nehemiah 5:11).
Payments were made either in money or in kind, e.g. corn, wine, oil (Nehemiah 5:11).
Coined money is first referred to after the Exile. The Persian Daric came into general use in the reign of king Darius. It was a gold coin weighing 130 grs. (See note on Ezra 2:69.)
See Ridgeway’s Origin of Currency and Weight Standard (Camb. 1892), chap. x.
iv. Religious organization among the Jews
A. The High-priest. In the Memoirs of Nehemiah we find the title of “the High (literally, “the great”) Priest” Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:20; Nehemiah 13:28. In Ezra 7:5, Ezra’s genealogy is traced back through the descendants of Aaron to Aaron himself, who is called “the chief (literally “the head”) priest,” an expression that is not found in the Pentateuch.
He is simply called “the priest” in Nehemiah 13:4; and this designation is perhaps implied in Ezra 3:2, “Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests.” The term ‘priest’ where we should expect ‘high-priest’ is found also in Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65 “until there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim.”
The sentence just quoted expresses the inferiority of a High-priest after the Exile as compared with an occupant of the same position before the Exile. What precisely this inferiority consisted in, we cannot now say.
Some have supposed that the expression “ruler of the house of God” is a title of the High-priest (Nehemiah 11:11; 1 Chronicles 9:11, and 2 Chronicles 31:13), but in all probability it was the name given to a subordinate, cf. Jeremiah 20:1, like the “second priest” in 2 Kings 25:18.
B. The Priests. Generally throughout these two books the priests are clearly distinguished from the Levites; they represent a superior class, and are named before the ‘nobles’ and ‘rulers’ by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:16), and immediately after ‘kings’ and ‘princes’ in Nehemiah 9:32; Nehemiah 9:34.
The distinctive title of ‘sons of Aaron’ is applied to them in Nehemiah 10:39; Nehemiah 12:47.
On the other hand, the expression “the priests the Levites,” which occurs so frequently in Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 17:9-18; Deuteronomy 18:1; Deuteronomy 21:5 &c.) is found in Ezra 10:5, as also in Malachi 3:3, and 2 Chronicles 5:5; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 30:27. And in one passage, Ezra 8:20, it is even possible that the name ‘Levites’ is employed as equivalent to that of ‘priests.’
At the time of the return from the Captivity the priests represented a tenth of the whole company, being 4289 in number. They comprised, however, only four families, Jedaiah, Immer, Pashur and Harim (Ezra 2:36-39). It is a proof of the strictness of the time that, even at that crisis, the representatives of three other families were refused admission to the ranks of the priesthood, because their genealogical descent could not be certified (Ezra 2:61-62).
The number of families was increased, partly by later accession, partly by subdivision. In the High-priesthood of Jeshua, and afterwards in that of Joiakim, we find the number has grown to twenty-two (Nehemiah 12:1-7; Nehemiah 12:12-21).
When Ezra arrived at Jerusalem he brought with him two priestly families, the one descended from the line of Eleazar, the other from the line of Ithamar (Ezra 8:2).
The mention of this latter house is of importance. For, while it is true that the Chronicler speaks of sixteen families belonging to the line of Eleazar and eight to that of Ithamar (1 Chronicles 24:1-7), Ezekiel, writing during the Exile, restricted the priesthood to the “sons of Zadok,” and apparently only acknowledged the priestly claims of the houses that were descended from one branch of the Eleazar line.
C. The Levites
(a) By comparison with the large number of the priests who returned from the Captivity the number of the Levites is strikingly small. There returned with Zerubbabel 4289 priests, but only seventy-four Levites (Ezra 2:36; Ezra 2:40; Nehemiah 7:43). Ezra, by direct entreaty, with difficulty obtained thirty-eight Levites to accompany him (Ezra 8:15-19). In the list of those who sojourned in Jerusalem, we find 1192 priests, but only 284 Levites (including singers) (Nehemiah 11:10-18).
(b) In the oldest portions of these books, e.g. in the lists contained in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7, and in the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Levites are carefully distinguished from “the singers” and “the porters” and “the Nethinim.” See Ezra 2:40-43; Ezra 2:55; Ezra 10:23-24; Nehemiah 7:1; Nehemiah 7:43-46; Nehemiah 10:28; Nehemiah 12:47; Nehemiah 13:5; Nehemiah 13:10.
(c) In other portions, which the Compiler has probably written, we find “the singers” identified with “the Levites” (cf. Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 11:17; Nehemiah 11:22; Nehemiah 12:8; Nehemiah 12:24; Nehemiah 12:27). The “porters” are not perhaps expressly identified in these books with “the Levites” (Nehemiah 13:22 is no exception; see note); but in the Books of Chronicles the identification is asserted (e.g. 2 Chronicles 34:9), and it can also be inferred from Nehemiah 12:25, where Mattaniah and Bakbukiah, who in 11:17 figure as “singers,” are mentioned among the “porters.”
In Chronicles, however, it is clear from such a passage as 1 Chronicles 23:3-5 that the writer contemplated other Levites besides the “singers” and the “porters.” Possibly in Nehemiah 10:39 we should understand by “the children of Levi” those Levites who were settled in the rural districts who were neither porters nor singers. Possibly from Nehemiah 11:18-19, compared with Nehemiah 12:27-29, we should infer that, though the singers were included among Levites, there were also Levites who were neither “singers” nor “porters;” for Nehemiah 11:18-19 mentions 289 Levites, exclusive of porters, residing in Jerusalem, and Nehemiah 12:27-29 suggests that the majority of the singers dwelt outside the walls.
It appears then that at the time of the Return and in the lifetime of Ezra and Nehemiah, there were three inferior orders subordinate to the priests, i.e. (1) Levites, (2) singers and porters, (3) Nethinim; but that, at a later time, the distinction no longer existed which separated Levites from singers and porters.
The question arises how ‘Levites’ could ever be treated as a separate order from singers and porters. And, in a certain measure, it is answered by the evidence that there were other duties discharged by the assistants of the priests besides those of singers and porters. But this answer only partially meets the objection. For we require to know why the generic name should have been given to a special class of Temple assistants, and what the reasons were that seem to have deterred this particular class from joining in the Return to Jerusalem.
The difficulty has been recently met by the supposition that the ‘Levites’ in the lists of Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7, and in the Memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, were not only Temple assistants (exclusive of singers and porters), but also included the descendants of those numerous priests of the high-places who, having been dispossessed of their dignified local position temporarily by Hezekiah, and more completely by the reforms of Josiah, had been allotted a subordinate position at the central sanctuary.
It should be remembered how in Josiah’s reign “the priests of the high-places came not up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem, but they did eat unleavened bread among their brethren” (2 Kings 23:9). And with this passage we must connect in our minds the testimony of the Prophet Ezekiel, who recognised as the only true members of the priesthood “the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me” (Ezekiel 44:15; cf. Ezekiel 40:16, Ezekiel 43:19). Referring to those who were not Zadokites and had served at the high-places the same prophet says, “But the Levites that went far from me, when Israel went astray, which went astray from me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in my sanctuary, having oversight at the gates of the house, and ministering in the house: they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister unto them.… Yet will I make them keepers of the charge of the house, for all the service thereof, and for all that shall be done therein” (Ezekiel 44:10-11; Ezekiel 44:13); see also Numbers 18:23.
Have we not in the descendants of the priests of the high-places a class precisely answering to the order of Levites which we are seeking to identify?
(1) They are inferior to the priests of Jerusalem. They had been prohibited from discharging the sacred office at the Temple. It was not likely that they would be called by the full honorific title of ‘priests.’
(2) Occupying an inferior position, in comparison with the hereditary descendants of the priests of Jerusalem, not many of them would volunteer to return to Judea, since their return would only emphasize their humiliation.
(3) Those that did so would have shared the duties of assistants in the Temple worship; but as descendants of those who had locally been of the highest rank they were at first separated from the guilds of “singers” and “porters,” which probably represented a lower caste. They were designated by the tribal name “Levites,” which in some portions of Scripture is always joined with the name of “priest.”
(4) The distinction which was thus drawn between “Levites” and “singers” or “porters” would tend to lose its significance; and, in the days of the Chronicler, it had become completely lost. The term Levite had become the generic title, including the various branches of subordinate Temple duties.
If this hypothesis be correct, it will further explain the prominent position taken by the Levites in the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Those of the “Levites,” who, descended from the priests of the high-places, returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, must have been moved by a spirit of sincere devotion and religious conviction. Loss of position they incurred, but this they disregarded, if only they might serve God, though in a humble way, in His chosen sanctuary. Few in numbers, they were picked men, devoted patriots, and keen zealots for the Law. The Levites are conspicuous in their support of Ezra on the occasion of the public reading of the Law (Ezra 8).
With regard to the duties of the Levites, it should be noted that, according to the Compiler, the Levites are associated with the priests in the work of “killing the Passover” lamb (Ezra 6:20). In Exodus 12:6 the lamb is to be slain not by priest or Levite but by the head of each household.
In Nehemiah 8:7-9 the Levites are found giving instruction in the Law to the people, a task which in Leviticus 10:10-11 is assigned to the priest.
D. The Singers and Porters. To these subordinate classes of Temple assistants no allusion is made in the Pentateuch. It is clear however that the singers and porters, who returned with Zerubbabel, were the descendants of those who had discharged the same offices in the time of the first Temple. As compared with the ‘Levites,’ they returned in considerable numbers; 128 singers (Ezra 2:41; 148 in Nehemiah 7:44), 139 porters (Ezra 2:42; 138 in Nehemiah 7:45).
In the writings of the Chronicler they occupy a position of importance which it is difficult to reconcile with the absence of allusion to them in the books of Samuel and Kings. If they had been distinguished from the Levites in the days of Zerubbabel, and of Ezra and Nehemiah, they were included among the Levites by the Chronicler.
The prominence given to the order of singers has led to the conjecture that the Chronicler himself belonged to that body, and naturally singled it out for particular notice.
E. The Nethinim. We read of 392 Nethinim and ‘servants of Solomon’ returning to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:58; Nehemiah 7:60): 220 Nethinim accompanied Ezra (Ezra 8:20).
The Nethinim are described in Ezra 8:20 as those “whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites;” and “the servants of Solomon” doubtless belonged to the same class. They represented the lowest order of the ministers of the Temple. They seem to have been slaves, ‘given’ (nethinim, cf. nethunim, Numbers 3:9; 1 Chronicles 6:48) for the service of the priests.
We have no mention of such a class in the Pentateuch. The Gibeonites, who were condemned to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” (Joshua 9:21-27), have often been compared with the Nethinim, in respect both of their origin and of the duties assigned to them.
In the books of Chronicles, the Nethinim are only once mentioned (1 Chronicles 9:2), and are there carefully distinguished from the Levites.
On the other hand, they ranked among the congregation (Nehemiah 10:28), and shared the privileges of priests and Levites (Ezra 7:24). Their special place of residence was on the Ophel mount, in close proximity to the Temple, and over against “the Water-gate” (Nehemiah 3:26; Nehemiah 3:31; Nehemiah 11:21). They were thus posted near to the exit which communicated with the Virgin’s Spring; and if their duties at the Temple at all resembled those of the Gibeonites we can understand why their residence over against the water-gate is thus carefully noted. Similarly their duties may have included the “hewing” and preparation of the wood for the wood-offering, to which Nehemiah alludes (Nehemiah 13:31; cf. Nehemiah 10:34).
Some have seen in the employment of the Nethinim an infraction of the rule laid down in Numbers 1:51; Numbers 3:38, forbidding “a stranger,” i.e. a non-Levite, to have anything to do with the affairs of the Sanctuary. But our information as to the duties which they discharged is not explicit enough to justify any very decided opinion. However it certainly appears as if the Nethinim had been included in the ministrations of the Temple; and, if so, their employment would be an instance of the way in which the actual conditions of Jewish worship fell short of the ideals which the written codes of law set up.
F. The Scribe. Besides Ezra the scribe (Ezra 7:6, &c.), we have mention also of Zadok the scribe (Nehemiah 13:13). The Scribe, or Sopher, was a well-known title for a state official (cf. 2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25), at a royal court. That a similar official was needed in the Jewish commonwealth may readily be allowed. That Ezra, and after him Zadok, may have held such a position is possible.
The extensive organization of the priests and Levites, the succession of their courses of service, and the accounts which recorded the payment of tithes and offerings for the maintenance of the Temple service, must have entailed a considerable proportion of secretarial and accountant work. In 1 Chronicles 24:6 there is mention of such a scribe who was also a Levite.
Tradition has generally connected with Ezra’s work as “scribe” the labours of the transcription of the Scriptures. Ezra is treated as the typical scribe. Undoubtedly his work and influence gave the decisive impulse to the popularization of the Law. But it may be doubted whether Ezra’s life as a scribe had any resemblance to that of “the scribes” of a later era.
He had however “set his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (Ezra 7:10); and this distinguishing characteristic which gave him his influence and his authority for instructing the people (Nehemiah 8:1) supplied the ideal for the patient, and too often pedantic, order, whose whole object in life was to “be deliberate in judgement, and raise up many disciples, and make a fence to the Law” (Mishnah, Pirqe Aboth 1).
§ 8. Aramaic Dialect and Hebrew Characters
The portions of these books, written by Ezra and Nehemiah themselves, and the section Nehemiah 7-10, have a purer, more vigorous, and more independent literary style than those which were added by the Compiler. And, in particular, the Memoirs of Nehemiah, which have suffered less from subsequent revision than the Memoirs of Ezra, have a marked individuality.
In style and idiom they may be compared with the writings of Malachi, who was probably a contemporary of Nehemiah. The decadence in style from the best classical Hebrew is far more conspicuous in the writing of Chronicles a century later.
As might be expected in a period which witnessed the decline of the language and the contact of the Jew with other nations, foreign words began to find their way into the vocabulary: and Aramaisms, i.e. the influence of Syrian dialects, began to infect the idioms as well as the vocabulary.
We find also words of Assyro-Babylonian origin, e.g. Ezra 4:8, “iggereth,” a letter; Ezra 5:14 pekhah, a governor; Ezra 8:27 “daric,” = Ass. dariku; Nehemiah 2:8 “birah,”,” a fortress = Ass. biratu: and others of Persian origin, e.g. Ezra 1:8, gizbar, a treasurer; Ezra 2:63, Tirshatha, governor; Ezra 8:36, akhashdarpan, satrap.
A. The Aramaic Dialect
Certain portions of the book Ezra are written, not in Hebrew, but in the Aramaic dialect. These passages are Ezra 4:8 to Ezra 6:18 and Ezra 7:12-26. They have in all probability been extracted from an Aramaic chronicle, and have received certain additions from the Compiler of the book.
The same dialect appears in two words of Genesis 31:47, in one verse of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:11), and in a considerable section of the Book of Daniel (Daniel 2:4 to Daniel 7:28). It is the dialect moreover in which are written the Targums, those Aramaic renderings of the Hebrew Scriptures that were used for purposes of public reading in the synagogues, when Hebrew ceased to be the language of the people.
In order to understand what this Aramaic dialect was, it is necessary to understand that what are called the Semitic languages can be classified into clearly recognizable groups.
According to one very commonly accepted division, the Semitic languages fall into two main branches, the Northern and the Southern.
Omitting the less known dialects, we find the following principal groups in the Northern Semitic languages:
1. Assyrian and Babylonian in the East and North-east.
2. Aramaic on the North and North-west.
3. Canaanite or Phoenician, and Hebrew on the West.
The Southern groups of Semitic languages are Arabic, South Arabian or Himyaritic, and Ethiopic.
From this analysis it will be seen that the Aramaic dialect was spoken by the northernmost tribes of the Northern Semites, and that it was a sister dialect of Hebrew and Assyrian. It gradually spread southward and eastward, until it became the prevalent dialect, both of Northern Mesopotamia and of the whole country west of the Euphrates, embracing Syria and Palestine. “The Aramaic dialects are divided into two principal groups, the Eastern (including the dialects of Mesopotamia and Babylonia, i.e. Syriac, the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud, and Mandaitic) and the Western (including Biblical Aramaic, as also the dialects of the Jewish Targums, of the Samaritan Targums, of the Christian Palestinian Lectionary, of the Palestinian Talmud, and of the Palmyrene inscriptions),” Bevan’s Daniel, p. 33.
We have next to enquire what is known of the history of the process by which Hebrew was supplanted by Aramaic. We gather from 2 Kings 18:26 that in the year 701 b.c. Aramaic was unknown to the common people of Jerusalem, but that the nobles and courtiers were acquainted with it as the language of diplomacy.
Throughout the Exile, the knowledge of Hebrew was undoubtedly preserved: for the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah (circ. 516), are written in pure Hebrew, and the same may be said of the prophecy of Malachi and the Memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, in the century after the return from the Exile (460–430). The fact that in the reign of Artaxerxes a letter to the king was written in Aramaic is expressly recorded as a thing which called for notice even in an Aramaic record (Ezra 4:7). But the encroachments of Aramaic almost surrounded the Jewish community. Portions of the Samaritan colony had been brought from the regions of Hamath, where Aramaic was the native tongue. The neighbouring dialects were gradually absorbed. One of the results of contracting alliances with other peoples was the gradual extinction of the Hebrew language. This was foreseen by Nehemiah in 432. In the fourth and third centuries b.c. the Hebrews had many of them become bilingual. The Compiler himself after making his extract from an Aramaic record continues in Aramaic, resuming his own characteristic style (see page § 4. C). Greek for a time threatened to dispute the position. But the Aramaic dialect prevailed; and although Hebrew remained as the language of the learned, of the law, of tradition, and of religious literature (cf. Ecclesiasticus, the Book of Enoch, Mishnah, the Book of Jubilees, Psalms of Solomon), the dialect spoken by the Jews in the 1st cent. b.c. was Aramaic.
It should be added that the familiar term Chaldee, popularly applied to Aramaic, is quite incorrect. It is said to have been based upon a misunderstanding of Daniel 2:4, and to have derived support from the supposition, now universally abandoned by scholars, that the Jews brought this dialect back from Babylon. The Cuneiform Inscriptions have shown that the people of Babylon spoke in quite a different dialect from that which is called Chaldee.
B. Archaic and Square Hebrew Characters
The Jews have experienced not only a change of dialect but also a change of alphabet.
The Hebrew characters which are so familiar to us do not possess the forms which the ancient Hebrew letters had.
It is now known that the ancient Hebrew alphabet closely resembled the alphabets of the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, and the Moabites.
The earliest Israelite writing is that of the Inscription found in the Pool of Siloam, which is generally assigned by scholars to the reign of Hezekiah, about the year 700 b.c. The characters of this inscription are very similar to those which are found on the so called Moabite Stone, in an inscription written by command of Mesa, king of Moab, about the year 890 b.c.: they are also very similar to the characters found in Phoenician inscriptions, on coins and gems.
The ancient Hebrew characters, therefore, were of the same general type as the characters employed by the neighbouring nations. They are found on the coins of the Maccabees in the 2nd cent. b.c. The latest forms of this ancient Hebrew character are preserved to us in the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch, in which the archaic letters are retained, although by comparison with the Hebrew inscriptions their shape is much modified.
But some time before the Christian era a change of alphabet gradually took place. A simpler and less intricate type of letter began to find favour. The familiar square characters, which have more resemblance to the Palmyrene than to the Phoenician characters, became universally adopted by the Jews. The process was one of gradual change. The archaic letters were first simplified, and more and more approached the square character.
If we are asked when exactly the square Hebrew forms finally supplanted the old Hebrew characters, we cannot from want of sufficient evidence give any very decided answer. The earliest known specimen of square Hebrew writing is the inscription of Arak el emir, of the date 176 b.c., which is a strange combination of the old Hebrew and the square Hebrew characters, and probably illustrates the transitionary stage. From Matthew 5:18 it is evident that, in our Lord’s time, the square characters were in general use. The latest known use of the ancient Hebrew characters is found on “the Maccabee and other Jewish coins.” It has sometimes been asserted that the Maccabee Princes only employed these characters out of reverence for bygone times. But it is surely not probable that they would have used characters which could not be read by all. Their use of the old letters is rather evidence that the new type had not yet become generally adopted by conservative Jews. The utmost that can be said with confidence is that the ancient Hebrew began to be disused by the Jews before the commencement of our era (see W. Wright’s Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages, p. 39); but that, before that time, all Hebrew writing had been in some form of the Archaic Script. Not only the Israelites, but the Moabites, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians seem to have used varieties of the same ancient Semitic alphabet; and its usage continued into post-Christian times.
For the Jewish tradition that the Jews brought the square letters from Babylon there is no foundation whatever. The legend that Ezra invented them is equally worthless, and only illustrates the tendency of Jewish tradition to ascribe to the influence of Ezra whatever took place among the Jews in the interval between the Exile and the Maccabean age.
The mention in Ezra 4:8 of Syriac or rather Aramaic characters would be sufficient to show that the characters used were not the native Jewish style of writing but that of the foreign officials. The inference to be drawn from the passage is that the old Hebrew alphabet was the one in general use among the Jews at the time the Aramaic Chronicle was composed. What the Aramaic character spoken of in Ezra 4:8 was we can only conjecture. It was very possibly the Aramaic type of alphabet “our knowledge of which commences with some Assyrian weights, which go back as far as the seventh or eighth century before our era. There are also extant some gems and seals of nearly the same age. Among the inscriptions may be mentioned that recently discovered by Prof. Euting at Taimâ, clearly belonging to the Persian period, say from the sixth to the fourth century b.c.” (W. Wright, Comp. Gram., p. 39.)
Mention has already been made of the archaic Hebrew characters of the Samaritan Pentateuch. When indeed the Samaritans received the Pentateuch has been disputed. But most scholars are disposed to think that at the time when the Samaritans erected a temple on Mt. Gerizim and established there a ritual to rival that of Jerusalem they also recognized the Canonical character of the Torah. This probably occurred when Nehemiah ejected the grandson of the High-priest; for, according to Josephus, this renegade of the name of Manasseh was appointed High-priest of the Samaritans.
According to the Book of Nehemiah the date of this event was 432 b.c.; according to Josephus, it was a century later.
At so early a date as the 4th or 5th century b.c. there is no reason to suppose that the Jews had begun to give up their old method of writing. The Samaritan Pentateuch, according to the best orientalists, represents the latest form of the old Semitic characters, possibly that in use shortly before the Christian era. In other words its transcription has preserved one of the latest modifications of the old alphabet in use before the square letters were adopted. The strange thing is that the Samaritans were more conservative in their transcription of the sacred text than the Jews. But the reason of this is to be found in the spread of the Jewish synagogues, and in the difficulty in finding those who could read the old characters. When the Jews decided to alter the characters found in the synagogue rolls is not known. Nor do we know whether the alteration was due to an authoritative resolution, or to a gradual but spontaneous change of usage.
§ 9. Place in the Canon
In our English Bibles Ezra and Nehemiah follow the books of Chronicles, whose historical narrative they continue (cf. Ezra 1:1-3 with 2 Chronicles 36:22-23). In the Hebrew Bible Ezra and Nehemiah stand immediately before Chronicles.
The Hebrew Canon of Scripture is divided into three main groups: (1) the Law (Torah), (II) the Prophets (Nebiim), (III) the Writings (Kethubim).
In the third group, that of the Writings, the books in an ordinary Hebrew Bible are arranged in the following order, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles.
The position assigned to Ezra and Nehemiah before Chronicles is probably due to Ezra and Nehemiah having been set apart by the Jewish scribes as authoritative Scripture before Chronicles obtained that recognition. There is reason to suppose that Chronicles, beginning with the genealogy of the Patriarchs and concluding with the Captivity of Babylon, was added as a kind of appendix to the whole Jewish Scriptures. From the reference in Matthew 23:35 it has been conjectured that Chronicles, in our Lord’s time, occupied the last place in the Hebrew Canon of Scripture.
The Wisdom of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, which was written about 180 b.c., contains, in its praise of the famous men, an allusion to the deeds of Nehemiah, “whose renown is great, who raised up for us the walls that were fallen, and set up the gates and the bars, and raised up our ruins again” (Sir 49:13).
In the same context there is a mention of Zerubbabel and Jeshua (Sir 49:11-12) which seems to be based on the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah; and the. complete omission of Ezra’s name is very noteworthy.
The books were probably well known at the beginning of the 2nd cent. b.c.; but it is not probable that they came to be regarded as Scripture until after the Maccabean Revolt. The recognition of the third group, the Kethubim, cannot be shown to have become general until the second half of the 2nd cent. b.c. (cf. Ecclus. Prolog.).
No reference to either Ezra or Nehemiah is found in the writings of the New Testament. Philo, however, quotes from Ezra 8:2 (De Confus. Ling. § 28); Josephus makes use of Ezra and Nehemiah in his history (Ant. xi. 1–5), and undoubtedly reckoned their contents among the Holy Writings (Contr. Ap. c. 8). No objection was ever raised by the Jewish Rabbis against the Canonicity of Ezra and Nehemiah.
§ 10. Relation to other literature
(a) 1 Esdras. The Third Book of Ezra, or as it is called in the English Apocrypha, the 1st Book of Esdras, consists almost entirely of extracts from Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. Thus chapters 1 and 2 are taken word for word from 2 Chronicles 35:1 to 2 Chronicles 36:21; 1Es 4:7-21; 1Es 5:7 to 1Es 9:55 are compiled from Ezra 2:1 to Ezra 4:5, Ezra 5-10, and Nehemiah 7:73 to Nehemiah 8:13.
There remains but one portion, chap. 3:1–5:6, which is not directly borrowed from Canonical Scripture; and this contains a legend describing how Zerubbabel as a page at the Court of Darius obtained great honour and received permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The book possesses therefore no independent historical value. It merely assists the scholar to arrive at a better knowledge of the text, wherever it supplies a parallel Greek version of Canonical Scripture.
The so-called Second (or Fourth) Book of Esdras is an Apocalypse written at the close of the 1st cent. a.d.
(b) Haggai, Zechariah (1–8), Malachi. The writings of these prophets should be carefully studied pari passu with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Haggai and Zechariah stimulated the people to the work of rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 5:1-2), and it is to this epoch that their prophecies relate.
The prophecy of Malachi, in all probability, dates from the age of Nehemiah, and is ascribed by some to the interval between his first and second visit. According to others he wrote shortly before the mission of Nehemiah, since the writer seems to suppose that “the governor” (Malachi 1:8) is not a Jew. The social condition of the people is evidently the same as that described in Ezra 7-10 and in Nehemiah.
(c) Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Bk xi. 1–5. The narrative of the Jewish historian, in dealing with the period covered by these two books, is confused and unsatisfactory. It is derived principally from the Greek (First) Book of Esdras, which he partially supplements with information gleaned from the Canonical Book and from legend.
Zerubbabel, according to Josephus, twice leads a band of his countrymen to Jerusalem, once in obedience to the decree of Cyrus (§ 1), and a second time in the reign of Darius as a reward for the triumph of his wisdom (as 1Es 3:1 to 1Es 5:6). In the one instance the Jews are 42,462 in number, in the other 4,628,000. In both instances the sacred vessels are intrusted to the charge of Zerubbabel.
Josephus, identifying Artaxerxes with Cambyses, relates the contents of Ezra 4:7-23 as intervening between the reigns of Cyrus and Darius.
Darius according to Josephus had, when still a private individual, made a vow that he would restore the sacred vessels to the Temple of Jerusalem: he was also a personal friend of Zerubbabel’s.
The building of the Temple is first stated to have been accomplished rapidly: but when, after mentioning the Samaritan opposition, Josephus says it was finished in seven years, he has clearly misunderstood the “second year” in Ezra 3:8, referring it to the reign of Darius instead of to the reign of Cyrus.
Darius is succeeded by his son Xerxes (the Artaxerxes of Ezra and Nehemiah), who is a personal friend of Ezra’s. Ezra’s mission to Jerusalem, his crusade against mixed marriages, and his public reading of the Law are rapidly described; Josephus then mentions his death at a good old age, occurring at about the same time as the death of the High-priest Joiakim.
Nehemiah’s mission is ascribed to the 25th year of Xerxes’ reign instead of the 20th, as in Nehemiah 2:1; the building of the wall occupies 2 years and 4 months instead of 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). Its completion is celebrated by an eight days’ feast; but there is no mention of the solemn dedication described in Nehemiah 12; and scarcely any allusion either to the reforms carried out by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5-10) or to his second visit mentioned in Nehemiah 13. It is merely stated that Nehemiah urged the priests and Levites to reside in Jerusalem, that he commanded the people in the country to bring their tithes to Jerusalem, and that he died an old man.
(d) Jewish tradition. Many legends arose round the name of Ezra. According to the Apocryphal Second (or Fourth) Book of Esdras, Ezra was miraculously inspired to restore the books of Scripture which had perished when Jerusalem was pillaged by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Esdras 14). According to late Hebrew tradition Ezra is said to have written the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles. He is moreover identified with the prophet Malachi. He is credited with having formed the Canon of Hebrew Scripture, with introducing the square Hebrew characters, and with inventing the vowel-points and the Massorah. He is said to have established an important national council, called the Great Synagogue, over which he presided. His grave was said to be by the banks of the Tigris; but Josephus says he died at Jerusalem. But for none of these legends is there any trustworthy evidence. His name impersonates the age of “Sopherism” or the influence of the scribes. Whatsoever was ascribed to the interval between Nehemiah and the Maccabees is associated in Jewish tradition with Ezra.
Legend has been less busy with Nehemiah. In the spurious epistles prefixed to the 2nd Book of Maccabees two legends respecting Nehemiah are preserved. In the one (2Ma 2:13) he is said to have “founded a library” and to have collected the books that told about “the kings and the prophets, the words of David, and the letters of kings concerning dedicatory gifts.” In the other (2Ma 1:18-36) he figures in a story which told how, when Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans, the holy fire from the altar had been hidden by Jeremiah in a well, and how, by its means, Nehemiah could indicate the spot where the Temple should be built. In both legends he is treated as a representative founder of the Judaism of which the letter of Scripture and the Temple of Jerusalem were the symbols.
§ 11. Importance of Ezra and Nehemiah
The importance of the books Ezra and Nehemiah among the Scriptures of the Old Testament Canon has often been overlooked. Their pages indeed record no mighty miracle, no inspiring prophecy, no vision, no heroic feat of arms. Their narrative contains many uninteresting details, and chronicles many disappointments. And yet few books offer such a variety of interest or embrace material of such deep significance.
So far as their composition is concerned, we find here, what is scarcely to be found elsewhere in the narratives of the Old Testament, large portions of undoubtedly contemporary writing in the extracts from the autobiographical memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, and from the official documents.
So far as the history of the Jewish people narrated in these books is concerned, it belongs to the epoch that opens with Cyrus and closes with Alexander the Great; and it describes the foundation of the system of Judaism at a time when the influence of the Aryan races first made itself felt upon the life and culture of the Israelite people.
So far as their religious significance is concerned, the teaching of these books is of especial value in reference to (1) The Faithfulness of the Divine Promise, (2) The Discipline of Disappointment, (3) The Hallowing of Common Life, (4) The Preparation for the Messianic Age.
1) The book of Ezra opens with an appeal to the words of Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1; cf. Jeremiah 25:12; Jeremiah 29:10). The words of prophecy had been fulfilled in judgement (Nehemiah 9:30). This last narrative in the Hebrew Canon describes their fulfilment in mercy. The promise of deliverance and restoration is slowly realised in the Return, in the Building of the Temple, and in the Restoration of the City Walls. The signal accomplishment of the word of Promise is a pledge for the future consummation of the nation’s hope.
(2) One expectation after another is frustrated. Through the favour of foreign princes alone, not through Israel’s victories, is the Return from the Captivity brought about. The enthusiasm of the Return is damped by disaster, by opposition, by want, and by discontent. Even after the erection of the sanctuary, the hostility of the heathen is not averted, nor the sincerity of the Jewish community absolutely maintained. Fifty-eight years intervene before the arrival of Ezra; and then the necessity of internal purification is only tardily recognised. Yet twelve more years passed before the city walls protected the independence of the people and their Temple. But neither reforms nor fortifications could hallow the people or insure the fidelity even of their priests.
The recovery of the land, the building of the Temple, the isolation of the people, by the prohibition of inter-marriage with the heathen and by the erection of stout ramparts, failed to bring about any general consciousness of their high calling. There yet remained the ascendency of “the Law” to give the crowning example of the failure of material hopes.
(3) Whatsoever there is of achievement in the central story of these books is due to the devotion and cooperation of citizen life. Unaided by special revelation or by miraculous agency, Ezra and Nehemiah are conspicuous for their simple trust in God and for their witness of life spent in constant prayerful communion with the Unseen. The motto of such success as these books record might be written in the words of the great prophet who wrought in the first generation of the post-Exilic era, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
(4) These books contain no reference to the Messianic hope of the Jewish nation. And yet the need of some higher Revelation is found expressed in the language of a formal list of those who returned from the Captivity (Ezra 2:63). We see the chief place in the People passing from the Son of David to the High-priest: we see the influence of the Scribe dawning upon the history of the race. Prophecy is disappearing and giving place to the absolute reign of the written “Law.” The Spirit of Divine Revelation speaks to us in this last chapter of history in the Canon of the Old Testament. The picture of the foundation of Judaism shows the connexion of the new era with the past. The strangely unfinished story (Nehemiah 13) symbolizes the period of transition from which it emanates. The Hebrew Scriptures would have been incomplete, their witness unintelligible, without Ezra and Nehemiah. Legalism is, as it were, left enthroned upon the ruins of the Monarchy. The Sovereignty of the Law knows no frontiers: the Temple draws worshippers from every land. A new Jewish ascendency with a universal claim begins. Its abuse culminates in the trivialities, the exclusiveness, and the superstition of “the scribes and Pharisees.” Its spiritual power inspires the Maccabees, it educates Apostles and Evangelists. Its failure and its success were alike necessary to the Divine Dispensation. Ὁ Νόμος παιδαγωγὸς ἡμῶν γέγονεν εἰς Χριστόν.
§ 12. Bibliography
The following books are accessible to all students.
Commentaries: Canon Rawlinson in ‘The Speaker’s Commentary’ (vol. 3) and in ‘The Pulpit Commentary’: Schultz, edited by Briggs for ‘Ezra,’ and by Crosby for ‘Nehemiah,’ in vol. vii. of Lange’s Commentary; Keil in Clark’s Foreign Theolog. Library; Bertheau, edited by Ryssel (Leipzig 1887); and Öttli (Nördlingen 1889) in Zöckler’s Series of Commentaries.
Introductions: Prof. Sayce’s (Religious Tract Soc.); Prof. Driver’s discussion of the books in Introd. to the Literature of the O. T. (T. T. Clark, 4th ed. 1892); Rawlinson’s ‘Ezra and Nehemiah’ in ‘Men of the Bible Series.’
Minute discussions on the Topography of Jerusalem and on the Genealogical Lists being out of place in the present Series, the reader is referred on the former subject to the Palestine Exploration Soc. Quarterly Statements, the Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archæology, the Encyclopædia Britannica, and the writings of Conder, Wilson, Warren, Guthe, Schick, Socin: on the latter subject to Smend’s famous Monograph Die Listen der Bücher Esr. u. Neh. (Basel 1881).
538. Capture of Babylon and Decree of Cyrus.
536. Foundation of the Temple.
522. Pseudo-Smerdis and Darius Hystaspes.
516. Completion of the Temple.
490. Battle of Marathon.
480. Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis.
479. Battles of Plataea and Mycale.
468. Birth of Socrates.
466. Battle of Eurymedon.
465. Artaxerxes I. Longimanus.
460–455. Egyptian Revolt.
458. Ezra’s Mission to Jerusalem.
455. Nehemiah appointed Governor.
432. Nehemiah’s Second Visit to Jerusalem.
431. First year of Peloponnesian War.
425. Xerxes II. and Sogdianus.
424. Darius II. Nothus.
405. Artaxerxes II. Mnemon.
351–331. Jaddua, High-priest.
336. Darius Codomannus.
332. Conquest of Persian Empire by Alexander the Great.
Part I. THE RETURN UNDER ZERUBBABEL
Ch. Ezra 1:1-4.
The Decree of Cyrus.
The Return under Sheshbazzar.
Ch. Ezra 2.
The Register of the Return.
Ch. Ezra 3:1-6.
The Dedication of the Altar.
The Foundation of the Temple.
Ch. Ezra 4:1-3.
The Rejection of the Samaritans.
The Opposition, in the days of Cyrus, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes.
Ch. Ezra 5:1-2.
The Voice of the Prophets.
The Governor’s Enquiry.
Ch. Ezra 6:1-12.
The Reply of King Darius.
The Completion of the Temple.
The Celebration of the Passover.