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eBook The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press
Published:  2001
Language:  English
Pages:   404

Prepared to work interactively with JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Scholar PDF edition), which can be purchased separately.

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ISBN: 1-59045-188-0

About the Book -- The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah


Ezra and Nehemiah are not, as the English reader is apt to suppose, two distinct books, but the two portions into which a single work has been divided. It has been due to what might almost be called a literary accident that the two portions are not even now known as the First and Second Books of Ezra. If the use of that ancient appellation had been retained in the English Bible, the relation between the two portions of the work would more generally have been seen to be the same as that which subsists between the two Books of Samuel, between the two Books of Kings, and between the two Books of Chronicles.

The original unity of the two books appears indeed from a close examination of their contents and structure […]. But, apart from the internal evidence, the testimony of antiquity is practically conclusive upon the subject. For it leaves us in no sort of doubt that, in the Hebrew Canon of Scripture, our books of Ezra and Nehemiah ranked from the first as one book bearing the title of Ezra.

The importance of the books Ezra and Nehemiah among the Scriptures of the Old Testament Canon has often been overlooked. Their pages indeed record no mighty miracle, no inspiring prophecy, no vision, no heroic feat of arms. Their narrative contains many uninteresting details, and chronicles many disappointments. And yet few books oner such a variety of interest or embrace material of such deep significance.

So far as their composition is concerned, we find here, what is scarcely to be found elsewhere in the narratives of the Old Testament, large portions of undoubtedly contemporary writing in the extracts from the autobiographical memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, and from the official documents.

So far as the history of the Jewish people narrated in these books is concerned, it belongs to the epoch that opens with Cyrus and closes with Alexander the Great; and it describes the foundation of the system of Judaism at a time when the influence of the Aryan races first made itself felt upon the life and culture of the Israelite people.

So far as their religious significance is concerned, the teaching of these books is of especial value in reference to (1) The Faithfulness of the Divine Promise, (2) The Discipline of Disappointment, (3) The Hallowing of Common Life, (4) The Preparation for the Messianic Age.

(l) The book of Ezra opens with an appeal to the words of Jeremiah (Ezra i. 1; cf. Jer. xxv. 12, xxix. 10). The words of prophecy had been fulfilled in judgment (Neh. ix. 30). This last narrative in the Hebrew Canon describes their fulfillment in mercy. The promise of deliverance and restoration is slowly realized in the Return, in the Building of the Temple, and in the Restoration of the City Walls. The signal accomplishment of the word of Promise is a pledge for the future consummation of the nation’s hope.

(2) One expectation after another is frustrated. Through the favor of foreign princes alone, not through Israel’s victories, is the Return from the Captivity brought about. The enthusiasm of the Return is damped by disaster, by opposition, by want, and by discontent. Even after the erection of the sanctuary, the hostility of the heathen is not averted, nor the sincerity of the Jewish community absolutely maintained. Fifty-eight years intervene before the arrival of Ezra; and then the necessity of internal purification is only tardily recognized. Yet twelve more years passed before the city walls protected the independence of the people and their Temple. But neither reforms nor fortifications could hallow the people or insure the fidelity even of their priests.

The recovery of the land, the building of the Temple, the isolation of the people, by the prohibition of inter-marriage with the heathen and by the erection of stout ramparts, failed to bring about any general consciousness of their high calling. There yet remained the ascendancy of “the Law” to give the crowning example of the failure of material hopes.

(3) Whatsoever there is of achievement in the central story of these books is due to the devotion and cooperation of citizen life. Unaided by special revelation or by miraculous agency, Ezra and Nehemiah are conspicuous for their simple trust in God and for their witness of life spent in constant prayerful communion with the Unseen. The motto of such success as these books record might be written in the words of the great prophet who wrought in the first generation of the post-Exilic era, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zech. iv. 6).

(4) These books contain no reference to the Messianic hope of the Jewish nation. And yet the need of some higher Revelation is found expressed in the language of a formal list of those who returned from the Captivity (Ezra ii. 63). We see the chief place in the People passing from the Son of David to the High-priest: we see the influence of the Scribe dawning upon the history of the race. Prophecy is disappearing and giving place to the absolute reign of the written “Law.” The Spirit of Divine Revelation speaks to us in this last chapter of history in the Canon of the Old Testament. The picture of the foundation of Judaism shows the connexion of the new era with the past. The strangely unfinished story (Neh. xiii.) symbolizes the period of transition from which it emanates. The Hebrew Scriptures would have been incomplete, their witness unintelligible, without Ezra and Nehemiah. Legalism is, as it were, left enthroned upon the ruins of the Monarchy. The Sovereignty of the Law knows no frontiers: the Temple draws worshippers from every land. A new Jewish ascendancy with a universal claim begins. Its abuse culminates in the trivialities, the exclusiveness, and the superstition of “the scribes and Pharisees.” Its spiritual power inspires the Maccabees, it educates Apostles and Evangelists. Its failure and its success were alike necessary to the Divine Dispensation.

About the Book



§ 1. Ezra and Nehemiah: originally one work

§ 2. Name

§ 3. Contents

§ 4. Structure

§ 5. Date and Authorship: Relation to the Books of Chronicles

§ 6. Outline of History

§ 7. Antiquities

§ 8. Aramaic Dialect and Hebrew Characters

§ 9. Place in the Canon

§ 10. Relation to other literature

§ 11. Importance of Ezra and Nehemiah

§ 12. Bibliography




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