In the Hebrew Bible the books of Ezra and Nehemiah formed a single scroll or book and were positioned toward the end of the Hebrew Bible (just before Chronicles) as one of the later Hebrew Bible books to be written. They were kept together in the Greek Septuagint Bible but were positioned after 2 Chronicles to pick up on the theme of the return from exile introduced at the end of that book and then carry Israel's historical narrative forward. The Latin Vulgate Bible presents Ezra and Nehemiah as two books but follows the Septuagint tradition of positioning them among the Historical books. The KJV continues the Vulgate tradition. Importantly, Ezra and Nehemiah contain the only narrative record of the post-exile rebuilding era included in the Hebrew Bible.
Nehemiah had achieved the position in the Persian royal court of cupbearer to the king (1.11b), but his ancestry was Judean and when he saw reports of poor results in the early rebuilding efforts in Jerusalem he sought and received approval from the Persian king, Artaxerxes, to return to Jerusalem and administer the rebuilding himself. He tells what happened in a first-person “memoir” style and, unlike Ezra, Nehemiah relates the administrative aspects of the restoration work. He faced considerable opposition from without and from within the rebuilding community and even survived plots against his life (6.1-14). But his disciplined approach enabled the city walls to be (almost fully) rebuilt in fifty-two days (6.15-19). In the reconstruction both the temple and city walls were successfully rebuilt, but the replacements were much less grand or extensive than their originals from Solomon's day. The Persian rulers took an interest in these restoration projects in remote Judah because this was a time when Egypt was restless and trying to revolt against Persian control, and it was in the Persian king's interest to have a stable and sympathetic kingdom of Judah as a buffer.
Chapters 8–10 record a significant ceremony led by Ezra, marking the completion of the rebuilding work and the renewal of the community's spiritual life in Judah. Ezra read to the assembled people the whole Torah. That was followed by observance of the “feast of the seventh month” (Feast of Booths) as called for in the Torah. Following a corporate confession of sin (chapter 9) the people pledge to keep the Torah precepts in their daily lives, and the book concludes with a report of Nehemiah's further actions as the chief administrator of the Jerusalem restoration.
Nehemiah Returns to Administer the Rebuilding of the Walls (1.1—7.73)
The Torah Is Read to the Community and the Covenant Renewed (8.1—10.39)
Nehemiah's Further Work (11.1—13.31)
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