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The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, treated here as one larger work, continue the story of Israel’s experience begun in the biblical books of I and II Chronicles. In the wake of Persia replacing Babylon as the ruling empire in the ancient Near East, the Judahites exiled in Babylon find reason to hope again. Their hope is rooted in the fulfillment of the prophetic promises that they would one day return to their homeland. Not only do the exiles return from Babylon with the support of the Persian ruler, but they renew their commitment to God.
Two remarkable personalities – with strikingly different approaches to the same objective – are the architects of this rebuilding of a people so long without roots. Ezra, “the second Moses,” bases the renewal on the Torah and spiritual reform. Nehemiah, the accomplished politician and diplomat, keeps the renewal alive with his deft administrative hand.
For all its usefulness in painting the historical picture, Ezra-Nehemiah presents an exceedingly complex textual jigsaw puzzle. The heart of the matter lies not in reconciling all the parallel lists, quotes, and different accounts of the same story, but in coming to a better understanding of how and when the Bible came to be written. The factors of spiritual renewal, national reconstruction, and biblical composition make Ezra-Nehemiah a key to biblical interpretation then and now.
Jacob M. Myers was Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, until his death in 1991. He is also the author of the Anchor Bible commentaries on II Chronicles and I & II Esdras.
THE ANCHOR YALE BIBLE COMMENTARY SERIES is a project of international and interfaith scope in which Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish scholars from many countries contribute individual volumes. The project is not sponsored by any ecclesiastical organization and is not intended to reflect any particular theological doctrine.
The Anchor Yale Bible is committed to producing commentaries in the tradition established half a century ago by the founders of the series, William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman. It aims to present the best contemporary scholarship in a way that is accessible not only to scholars but also to the educated nonspecialist. Its approach is grounded in exact translation of the ancient languages and an appreciation of the historical and cultural context in which the biblical books were written supplemented by insights from modern methods, such as sociological and literary criticism.