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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.
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