Ezra (עזרא, Standard Hebrew ʿEzra, Tiberian Hebrew ʿEzrā: short for עזריאל "My help/court is God", Standard Hebrew ʿAzriʾel, Tiberian Hebrew ʿAzrīʾēl) was the "scribe" who led the second body of exiled Israelites that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in 459 BC, and the author of the Book of Ezra in the Bible.
He was the son, or perhaps grandson, of Seraiah (2 Kings 25:18-21), and a lineal descendant of Phinehas, the son of Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5). All we know of his personal history is contained in the last four chapters of his book, and in Nehemiah 8 and 12:26.
In the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus (see also Darius I of Persia), he obtained leave to go up to Jerusalem and to take with him a company of Israelites (Ezra 8). Artaxerxes manifested great interest in Ezra's undertaking, granting him "all his request," and loading him with gifts for the house of God. Ezra assembled the band of exiles, probably about 5,000 in all, who were prepared to go up with him to Jerusalem, on the banks of the Ahava, where they rested for three days, and were put into order for their march across the desert, which was completed in four months. His activities in Jerusalem following his arrival are recorded in his book.
For about fourteen years, (i.e. until 445 BC), we have no record of what went on in Jerusalem after Ezra had set in order the ecclesiastical and civil affairs of the nation. In that year another distinguished personage, Nehemiah, appears on the scene. After the ruined wall of the city had been built by Nehemiah, there was a great gathering of the people at Jerusalem preparatory to the dedication of the wall. On the appointed day the whole population assembled, and the law was read aloud to them by Ezra and his assistants (Neh. 8:3). The remarkable scene is described in detail. There was a great religious awakening. For successive days they held solemn assemblies, confessing their sins and offering up solemn sacrifices. They kept also the feast of Tabernacles with great solemnity and joyous enthusiasm, and then renewed their national covenant to be the Lord's. Abuses were rectified, and arrangements for the temple service completed, and now nothing remained but the dedication of the walls of the city (Neh. 12).
Relation to the Book of Ruth
According to many scholars, the Book of Ruth was originally a part of the Book of Judges, but it was later separated from that book and made into an independent book. Its language and description seem to make the authorship contemporary with that of Judges. On the other hand, the message of the book, which shows acceptance of marrying converts to Judaism, has been used to suggest that the book was written during the early days of the Persian period. At that time, Ezra condemned intermarriages and, according to his eponymous book, forced the Israelites to abandon their non-Jewish wives. According to this theory, the Book of Ruth was written in response to Ezra's reform and in defense of these marriages.
Place in editing the Torah and Bible
According to Rabbinic Jewish tradition, Ezra collected and edited the canon of the Hebrew Bible. Information on his activities in this regard are found in the Talmud and in the midrash literature.
In the view of many modern scholars, these sources provide one set of evidence in favor of the documentary hypothesis. In this view, some midrash compilations retain evidence of the redactional period during which Ezra redacted and canonized the text of the Torah as we know it today. This idea is discussed by Rabbi David Weiss Halivni in his works Revelation Restored: Divine Writ and Critical Responses, Westview Press, 1997, and Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis, Oxford University Press, 1998.
Ezra is also the name of a priest among those that returned to Jerusalem under Zerubabel (Neh. 12:1), believed to be different from the Ezra discussed above.
Ezra is also the name of a comic book character by Arcana Studio.
Last updated: 02-06-2005 03:34:25
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01