Introduction
In the Hebrew Bible the books of Ezra and Nehemiah formed a single scroll or book. They were also kept together as a single book in the Greek Septuagint Bible, but were separated into two books in the Latin Vulgate Bible and similarly kept separate in the KJV. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Ezra-Nehemiah is the next-to-last book, which is not unexpected since it is one of the latest books to be written. Importantly, these books of Ezra and Nehemiah are the only narrative record of the post-exile rebuilding era in Jerusalem and the Judean region that is included in the Hebrew Bible.
The first six chapters of Ezra relate the return of groups of Judeans from their exile in Babylonia, freed by official decree by Cyrus the Great, the Persian conqueror of Babylonia. The decree even allows the initial returnees to take with them the sacred temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken as booty when the Babylonian forces had looted and destroyed Jerusalem. The official decree also authorized rebuilding by the returnees, and these chapters describe the rebuilding of the altar on the ruined site of the old temple and the first sacrifices offered there. The section from 4.7 to 6.18 of Ezra is written in Aramaic, at the time the official and diplomatic language of the Persian Empire. Aramaic is used here because citation of these official documents in their original language, instead of in Hebrew translation, is more authoritative. The narrative reveals that construction work on the rebuilding of the temple is repeatedly delayed by political and societal problems and at one point work grinds to a halt until a new Persian king, Darius I (522–486 b.c.) takes the throne and orders the work to resume. The completion and dedication of the rebuilt temple in the year 515 b.c. is described in chapter 6.
Chapter 7 tells of the arrival of Ezra, a priest and learned Torah scholar (“scribe” in KJV), who has royal authorization to restore authentic worship in Jerusalem and to instruct the people there in Torah in such ways that will preserve and purify Israel's true spiritual heritage. The most controversial aspect of Ezra's renewal program is the ban he imposes on marriage to non-Jewish persons (chapters 9–10).
Outline
The First Jewish Exiles Return to Judea from Babylonia (1.1—2.70)
Rebuilding the Altar and the Temple (3.1—6.22)
Ezra Returns and Begins a Renewal Program (7.1—10.44)
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