Barnes' Book Notes
Introduction to Ezra
Though the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah were undoubtedly regarded as one book in two parts, both by the Jewish Church and by the early Christian Fathers, yet the judgment of modern criticism that Ezra and Nehemiah were originally two distinct works, seems to be, on the whole, deserving of acceptance.
The object of the writer of Ezra is to give an account of the return from the captivity, and of the subsequent fortunes of the Palestinian Jews until the eighth year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, 457 BC - The matters to which he directs attention are only three:
(1) The number, family, and (to some extent) the names of those who returned from Babylonia with Ezra and with Zerubbabel Ezra 2; 8:1-20;
(2) The rebuilding of the temple and the circumstances connected with it Ezra 1:1-11; Ezra 3-7; and
(3) The misconduct of the returned Jews with respect to mixed marriages, and the steps taken by Ezra in consequence Ezra 9-10.
The Book of Ezra is made up of two completely distinct sections:
(a) In Ezra 1-6, the writer treats of the return from the captivity and of the events following (538-516 BC), or a period of 23 years. It belongs to the time when Zerubbabel was governor of Judaea, Jeshua was high priest, and Zechariah and Haggai were prophets.
(b) Ezra 7-10. This relates the commission given to Ezra by Artaxerxes in the seventh year of his reign (458 BC), the journey of Ezra to Jerusalem, and his proceedings there (April 458 BC - April 457 BC). There is thus a gap of 57 years between the first section of the book and the second; from which it appears that the writer of the second portion cannot well have been a witness of the events recorded in the first.
Jewish tradition ascribes the authorship of the whole book to Ezra. Modern critics generally admit that Ezra was the original and sole author of the entire second section Ezra 7-10, but consider him the compiler of the first Ezra 1-6 from state documents, national records, and lists. It is probable that the Book of Ezra was composed soon after the arrangements with respect to the mixed marriages had been completed; i. e. in 457 or 456 BC.
In character the Book of Ezra is historical, and like Chronicles, it lays great stress on the externals of religion; it gives special prominence to the Levites, and exhibits a genealogical bias; it lays down very distinctly the general principle of a special Providence Ezra 8:22; and it applies this principle to particular points of the history not unfrequently.
In style, Ezra more resembles Daniel than any other book of Scripture, always excepting Chronicles. This may be accounted for by these two writers being both Babylonian Jews. The work contains also a considerable number of proper names and words which are either known or suspected to be Persian, and altogether, the language is such as might have been looked for under the circumstances of the time, when the contact into which the Jews had been brought with the Babylonians and the Persians had naturally introduced among them a good many foreign words and modes of speech.
The text of Ezra is not in a good condition. The general bearing of the narrative is, however, untouched by slight blemishes which affect chiefly such minute points as the names and numbers of those who returned from the captivity, the weight and number of the sacrificial vessels, and the like.