What’s New with Ezra-Nehemiah

Posted in: Ancient Near East Today, ASOR
Tags: Bible, Biblical scholar, Christianity, Ezra-Nehemiah, Judaism, Julius Wellhausen, What’s New with Ezra-Nehemiah

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By: Thomas M. Bolin

What’s new with Ezra-Nehemiah? This might not be the most exciting discussion on the Bible you can think of, but give me the chance to convince you otherwise. Granted, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple after the Babylonian Exile has not been the stuff of great biblical epic or Hollywood blockbusters (although it is a favorite of some Christian children’s choirs). There are reasons why many Christian Bible readers who might otherwise know their Old Testament are not familiar, or interested, in Ezra-Nehemiah. Knowing these reasons reveals a story about biblical scholarship and the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.

Nehemiah views the Ruins of Jerusalem. Gustave Doré, 1866.

Ezra is a significant figure in Judaism. In the Talmud, Rabbi Jose says, “Had Moses not preceded him, Ezra would have been worthy of receiving the Torah for Israel” (b. Sanh. 21b). The Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza historicized this rabbinic dictum and claimed that Ezra was the author of the Pentateuch. But the rise of almost exclusively Christian biblical scholarship in the 18th and 19th centuries led to a different view of Ezra, marginalizing him in the picture of Israelite history. (more…)

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