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Friday Bible Blogging - Ezra 1 to Ezra 10

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleChapters 1 through 10 constitute the entirety of Ezra. However, Ezra was originally part of a larger book - Ezra-Nehemia, combined with, as is obvious from the name, Nehemia (which immediately follows it in the Bible). These were about repopulating and rebuilding Judah after the Babylonian exile. However, as the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) points out, it's difficult to figure out the chronology just from Ezra-Nehemiah as it's not very clear. In fact, there are multiple anachronisms throughout the book, and its depiction of events contrasts with the books of Haggai and Zechariah (I'm not going to point out the anachronisms and conflicts in my review, but you can read a bit more about them here). Additionally, as with so much of the Bible, the archaeological evidence indicates that whatever actual events the story might be based on, it wasn't as grand as the Biblical narrative would indicate, "Archaeological studies suggest only limited development in the province of Judah during the Persian period. This raises questions about the extent and effectiveness of the reconstruction that Ezra-Nehemiah describes." However, that is still development. A footnote in the NOAB in chapter 2 also noted that there was development at some of the sites mentioned in the book. So, there probably is some truth to the stories, just a little more humble than what's written here.

There's one very interesting aspect of these books that gets lost in translation - they're written in multiple languages. This is because they quote different sources, such as letters to and from kings. So, there are passages in both Hebrew and Aramaic. But this gets lost when you read an English translation.

Ezra, Chapter 1

The first few verses of this chapter were nearly identical to the last few verses from 2 Chronicles - the part where King Cyrus of Persia sent out a decree to the Jews to go back to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. The NOAB notes that despite this, there are enough differences elsewhere to indicate separate authorship for the two books. It seems that one of the authors copied from the other.

While it may seem a bit strange for a king to fund the rebuilding of a temple for an outside religion, the NOAB notes that there are records of King Cyrus doing this. I suppose that if you're a polytheist rather than a monotheist, then it's not really so strange - just one more god you're supporting. It could also be more political than religious, garnering support from your subjects by helping them out.

The remainder of the chapter was about the surviving Jews getting together to return.

Ezra, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 was little more than a long list of how many people were returning, listing specific numbers for each family. For example:

The number of the Israelite people: 3the descendants of Parosh, two thousand one hundred and seventy-two. 4Of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy-two. 5Of Arah, seven hundred and seventy-five. 6Of Pahath-moab, namely the descendants of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve.

A few notable people were listed by name, particularly priests, Levites, and temple servants. This section and the numerous 'begat' sections from other books show just how important genealogy and bloodlines were to the Israelites. In fact, there's a passage in this chapter related to this that I found interesting:

These looked for their entries in the genealogical records, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean; 63the governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.

The community was so concerned about heredity (and scared of Yahweh), that they wouldn't let unconfirmed priests practice, at least until they could break out their magic divination tools.

The last few verses announced their arrival in Jerusalem, and how a few of them immediately made freewill-offerings to God.

Ezra, Chapter 3

Now that they were back in their homeland, the Jews began to rebuild the temple. Much of this chapter described the offerings that were made to accompany different stages of the construction. There was a mention of "the law of Moses the man of God", which according to the NOAB, this might have been some form of the Pentateuch. The chapter closed with the foundation for the temple being laid, and a mixed reaction from the people:

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house.

Ezra, Chapter 4

When the "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" learned that the Jews had returned and were rebuilding the temple, they at first approached them asking to help, "for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here." So apparently, these were the remnant of the settlers from 2 Kings 17. Though they could also be composed partly from Judeans who had escaped the exile. At any rate, the returning Jews rejected their help so that they could do it on their own. This upset their adversaries, who subsequently gave them problems throughout the rest of the reconstruction process, from bribing officials to sending letters of accusation to the king. In fact, the remainder of the chapter dealt largely with one of their letters to King Artaxerxes and his response. The letter accused the Jews of being a rebellious people, and that they would revolt as soon as they finished rebuilding the city. Artaxerxes had officials search the country's archives, and found evidence "that this city has risen against kings from long ago, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it." So, he put a stop to the reconstruction. The final verse of the chapter notes that this stoppage lasted until the reign of King Darius of Persia.

Ezra, Chapter 5

With the start of chapter 5, the Jews were back to rebuilding the house of God. The governor of the region, Tattenai, questioned their actions, and sent a letter to the then current king, Darius. Most of this chapter was Tattenai's letter. It wasn't accusatory like in the previous chapter, but merely questioning the story he'd heard from the Jews about Cyrus's decree.

Ezra, Chapter 6

King Darius had the Babylonian archives searched, "But it was in Ecbatana, the capital in the province of Media, that a scroll was found ..." This scroll confirmed the decree from Cyrus, and even said "let the cost be paid from the royal treasury". So Darius gave the Jews his support, instructing Tattenai to give them whatever they needed to complete the temple.

The new temple was completed "on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius." There was celebration and animal sacrifice, and when the time came, the returned exiles even kept the Passover. The chapter included the statement that the Passover lamb was even eaten "also by all who had joined them and separated themselves from the pollutions of the nations of the land to worship the Lord, the God of Israel." So, even though they'd been rejected from helping in the reconstruction of the temple, they were being allowed to join the community, now.

Ezra, Chapter 7

Chapter 7 introduces the book's namesake, Ezra. I found it a bit amusing as it was so stereotypical of a topic I've already discussed - genealogy:

After this, in the reign of King Artaxerxes of Persia, Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of the chief priest Aaron-- 6this Ezra went up from Babylonia.

Ezra "was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses that the Lord the God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him." King Artaxerxes gave Ezra a letter of support to take with him back to Judah. It authorized Ezra to use royal supplies in rebuilding Jerusalem, and also gave Ezra himself authority over the region. This doesn't fit with the description of Artaxerxes from chapter 4, but like I wrote in the intro, this book is hard to follow.

There was a passage here that I find interesting because of its possible historical significance. It was in the king's edict, "All who will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgement be strictly executed on them, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of their goods or for imprisonment." According to the NOAB, some scholars think this verse suggests that the Torah was compiled by Ezra at this time.

The chapter closed with a first person perspective supposedly written by Ezra himself, thanking God for his good fortune.

Ezra, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 continued with the first person perspective from Ezra. It began with a list of the family heads of those that went with him back to Judah. Then it listed a few details of the trip from Babylon to Judah. One of the details that stood out to me was rejecting an offer from the king of "a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us against the enemy on our way". Ezra thought that would have been an insult to God, since he was supposed to rely on God for protection.

After giving "the silver and the gold and the vessels" to the priests for safekeeping, the exiles continued their journey back to their homeland. Once they arrived, they made a few sacrifices, "twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and as a sin-offering twelve male goats". I suppose this is in agreement with Chapter 2, describing the first return to Jerusalem.

Ezra, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 still continued on from Ezra's perspective, though it's the last chapter to do so. The theme of this chapter was a major crisis - intermarriage with non-Jews, "For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands, and in this faithlessness the officials and leaders have led the way." Ezra was horrified and ashamed of what his people had done, and led some of the faithful ones in a prayer to God asking for forgiveness and mercy. The whole prayer sounds a little pathetic - God, you're so great and merciful, and even though you punished us so harshly, we deserved it. We made you treat us that way.

And of course, the crisis shouldn't even be a crisis, but apparently the tribal mentality made intermarriage with outsiders a big taboo.

Ezra, Chapter 10

While Ezra was busy making a spectacle of himself "weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God", another of the exiles offered a solution, "So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law." So Ezra got up off the ground and made everyone present swear that they would follow the plan.

Ezra called for a meeting of all the exiles, and attendance was compulsory - anyone who didn't show up would have "all their property ... forfeited". At the meeting, everyone was told what must happen. Because the problem was so big, they asked for some time to take care of it. Anyone who'd taken a foreign wife was to meet with the elders of their town at an appointed time, confess their sins, and then, apparently, boot out their wives and kids. Next came a sort of list of shame, so to speak - a list of all the men who had married foreign women.

This whole episode is just horrible. What type of values does this represent? First there's the xenophobia banning intermarriage. And then to make matters worse, once the intermarriages had happened and resulted in children, the solution was for fathers to abandon their families, because that was apparently the less sinful option than the possibility of being tempted by foreign religions. Just try to picture this scene in your mind - a now single mother carrying whatever possessions she might own, kids in tow, walking away from the man she had married, with a bunch of priests looking on disapprovingly to make sure that she actually leaves. If this portion of the narrative is true, it's heartbreaking.

There was an issue with the last verse. The NRSV stated it as, "All these had married foreign women, and they sent them away with their children." However, there was a footnote that the Hebrew was uncertain, and that the verse was taken from the apocryphal book, 1 Esdras. Not all translations translated it that way, however. The King James Version, for example, had "All these had taken strange wives: and some of them had wives by whom they had children." The NIV had a translation in spirit with the KJV, but a footnote with an alternate translation along the lines of the NRSV. At any rate, it's still a horrible story.


Well, last week I was glad to be done with Chronicles. It had gotten tedious and boring, and I was looking forward to whatever book was going to be next. However, once I actually started reading Ezra, I was disappointed. It wasn't particularly good. There were some decent parts, but it was hard to follow with the way it jumped around the chronology of what supposedly happened. And the last chapter was such a horrible story that it left a bitter taste in the mouth. And knowing that many aspects of the Historical books are more likely to have actually happened than the stories in Genesis or Exodus just makes the story that much worse. Oh well, next week is on to Nehemiah. I've already read most of it, and it is better than Ezra*, at least.

*No pun intended.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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