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The old testament book of Ezra tells the story of the Jewish return from Babylonian exile, covering a period of about 80 years, from 538 BCE to about 457 (or possibly 397), and can be dated approximately according to the kings of Persia named in it.

The book of Ezra is a companion to the book of Nehemiah. Originally these two were treated as a single book, called in the Greek and Latin Vulgate versions, "Esdras." The name Ezra means "help" and it may be short for "Azaryah" (God helped).

The book of Ezra may be viewed as two separate narratives. The first part tells the story of the return from exile and rebuilding of the temple, almost, but not quite in chronological order, while the second concentrates on events of a single brief period about 457 (or 397), during which Ezra instituted extensive reforms in Jewish life.

The reforms begin with Ezra's arrival in Jerusalem, which is dated in the reign of Arataxerxes. However it is not specified whether this was Artaxerxes I or Artaxerxes II, and therefore it is not entirely certain whether Ezra arrived in 457 or 397.

The first part begins with a decree of Cyrus, allowing the return of the Jews in 538 BC under Zerubavel, and the rebuilding of the temple. The work meets opposition from local inhabitants, the Samaritans, and perhaps for that reason it is apparently left off. It is resumed under Darius, when the decree of Cyrus is rediscovered and the temple is completed about 516.


Ezra: Rebuilding the temple in the book of Ezra
Book of Ezra:  Rebuilding the temple.
The narrative of the book of Ezra then skips to about 457 (or 397), when Ezra arrives in Jerusalem from exile, and  begins his reforms, causing people to cast off their foreign wives, and apparently instituting several changes in Jewish law, and reforming the calendar as well. The book of Ruth may have been a protest against the policy of non-intermarriage.

Chronological difficulties with the book of Ezra are due to discrepancies between the reigns of the named kings of ancient Persia known from different sources, and the sequence of events in the book of Ezra. According to the book of Ezra, the Jews returned under Cyrus, the temple work was stopped under Artaxerxes, and was resumed under Darius. However, Darius the great ruled before Artaxerxes the first. Perhaps 

The narrative of events is as follows:

Ezra 1: (About 538) Cyrus issues a decree allowing the Jews to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem, and returns the golden vessels looted by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Ezra 2: Description of the captives returning with Zerubavel.

Ezra 3: Yeshua ben Yozadak and Zerubavel build the altar, and celebrate the Feast of Sukkoth (Tabernacles). Dedication of the foundation of the temple

Ezra 4: The local inhabitants, especially the Samaritans, interfere with the rebuilding of the Temple. Samaritans write to kings Ahaseurus (Apparently Xerxes I) and Artaxerxes to stop the work.

Ezra 5: In the second year of Darius (519 or 421) Yeshua ben Yozadak and Zerubavel, inspired by the prophets  Haggai and Zechariah, start rebuilding the temple.  Tatnai, the governor reports to king Darius.  Darius I, however, ruled before Artaxerxes I.

Ezra 6: Darius finds the decree of Cyrus in the archives of Achmetha (Hamadan), and directs Tatnai not to disturb the Jews in their work. He also exempts them from tribute, and supplies everything necessary for the offerings. The Temple is finished in the month of Adar, in the sixth year of Darius (515? or Darius II - 417), and is dedicated with great solemnity.

Ezra 7: Artaxerxes gives Ezra a commission to return to Jerusalem with all the exiled Jews of Babylon.

Ezra 8: Lists the heads of families who returned with Ezra.

Ezra 9: Ezra learns that many Jews have taken foreign wives. .

Ezra 10.: The foreign wives are divorced.

The chronology of the kings of Persia below helps to date the events, but also illustrates the problem of the order of kings of Persia:

559-530 Cyrus the Great
529-522 Cambyses
522 Smerdis (Bardia)
521-486 Darius I the Great
485-465 Xerxes I
464-424 Artaxerxes I
424 Xerxes II
424 Sogdianus
423-405 Darius II
404-359 Artaxerxes II
358-338 Artaxerxes III
337-336 Arses
335-330 Darius III

The peculiar chronology of the book of Ezra may indicate that the first, longer historical part of the narrative was a justification or authority for the reforms related in the latter part. The issue of intermarriage is raised again in the book of Nehemiah at a later date. Either the problem was not solved by the first reform, or the second part of the book of Ezra may have been written into the narrative to justify later reforms that were actually carried out by Nehemiah.

Ezra is called "Ezra Hasofer," the scribe, and was credited by some with writing the books of Chronicles. Though he may have redacted a part of the books of Chronicles, it is unlikely that the book of Ezra and the books of Chronicles were written by the same person, because the Hebrew style is different and the theological orientation is different.

Ami Isseroff

Copyright - This introduction is copyright by the author and may not be reproduced in any form.

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The Bible, the Old Testament, has become a mainstay of human culture, but it is first and foremost a historical document of the Jewish people and our culture. It tells the story of our ancient kingdoms and civilization in the Land of Israel, and therefore it kept alive the tie of the people of Israel to the land of Israel for 2000 years. It forms the moral and cultural basis of Zionist ideology and aspirations.

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Book of Ezra