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Ezra from Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum
Site traditionally described as the tomb of Ezra at Al Uzayr near Basra.

Ezra (; Hebrew: עזרא, Ezra;[1] fl. 480–440 BC), also called Ezra the Scribe (Hebrew: עזרא הסופר, Ezra ha-Sofer) and Ezra the Priest in the Book of Ezra. According to the Hebrew Bible he returned from the Babylonian exile and reintroduced the Torah in Jerusalem (Ezra 7–10 and Neh 8). According to 1 Esdras, a Greek translation of the Book of Ezra still in use in Eastern Orthodoxy, he was also a high priest.

His name may be an abbreviation of Azaryahu, "God-helps". In the Greek Septuagint the name is rendered Esdras (Greek: Ἔσδρας), from which Latin: Esdras.

The Book of Ezra describes how he led a group of Judean exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem (Ezra 8.2-14) where he is said to have enforced observance of the Torah and to have cleansed the community of mixed marriages.[2][3]

Ezra, known as "Ezra the scribe" in Chazalic literature,[4] is a highly respected figure in Judaism.[5]


  • In the Hebrew Bible 1
  • In later Second Temple period literature 2
    • 1 Esdras 2.1
    • Josephus 2.2
    • The apocalyptic Ezra traditions 2.3
  • Ezra in rabbinic literature 3
  • Ezra in Christian traditions 4
  • Ezra in Islam 5
  • Academic view 6
    • Historicity and genealogy 6.1
    • Timeline 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

In the Hebrew Bible

The canonical Book of Ezra and Book of Nehemiah are the oldest sources for the activity of Ezra,[3] whereas many of the other books ascribed to Ezra (First Esdras, 3-6 Ezra) are later literary works dependent on the canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Book of Ezra–Nehemiah

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one scroll. (Nehemiah 3:32, footnote)[6] Later the Jews divided this scroll and called it First and Second Ezra. Modern Hebrew Bibles call the two books Ezra and Nehemiah, as do other modern Bible translations. A few parts of the Book of Ezra (4:8 to 6:18 and 7:12-26) were written in Aramaic, and the majority in Hebrew, Ezra himself being skilled in both languages.[7][8] Ezra, a descendant of Seraiah the high priest, was living in Babylon when in the seventh year (~ 457 BCE) of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, the king sent him to Jerusalem to teach the laws of God to any who did not know them. Ezra led a large body of exiles back to Jerusalem, where he discovered that Jewish men had been marrying non-Jewish women. He tore his garments in despair and confessed the sins of Israel before God, then braved the opposition of some of his own countrymen to purify the community by enforcing the dissolution of the sinful marriages. Some years later Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah (a Jewish noble in his personal service) to Jerusalem as governor with the task of rebuilding the city walls. Once this task was completed Nehemiah had Ezra read the Law of Moses (the Torah) to the assembled Israelites, and the people and priests entered into a covenant to keep the law and separate themselves from all other peoples.

In later Second Temple period literature

1 Esdras

1 Esdras, probably from the late 2nd/early 1st centuries BCE, preserves a Greek text of Ezra and a part of Nehemiah distinctly different from that of Ezra–Nehemiah – in particular it eliminates Nehemiah from the story and gives some of his deeds to Ezra, as well as telling events in a different order. Scholars are divided on whether it is based on Ezra–Nehemiah, or reflects an earlier literary stage before the combination of Ezra and Nehemiah accounts.


The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, deals with Ezra in his Antiquities of the Jews. He preferred 1 Esdras over the canonical Ezra–Nehemiah and placed Ezra as a contemporary of Xerxes son of Darius, rather than of Artaxerxes.[9]

The apocalyptic Ezra traditions

The apocalyptic fourth book of Ezra (also called the second book of Esdras) was written c.AD 100, probably in Hebrew-Aramaic. It was one of the most important sources for Jewish theology at the end of the 1st century. In this book, Ezra has a seven part prophetic revelation, converses with an angel or God three times and has four visions. Ezra, thirty years into the Babylonian Exile (4 Ezra 3:1 / 2 Esdras 1:1), recounts the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon's Temple.[2] This would place these revelations in the year 557 BC, a full century before the date given in the canonical Ezra. The central theological themes are "the question of theodicy, God's justness in the face of the triumph of the heathens over the pious, the course of world history in terms of the teaching of the four kingdoms,[10] the function of the law, the eschatological judgment, the appearance on Earth of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Messianic Period, at the end of which the Messiah will die,[11] the end of this world and the coming of the next, and the Last Judgment."[2] Ezra restores the law that was destroyed with the burning of the Temple in Jerusalem. He dictates 24 books for the public (i.e. the Hebrew Bible) and another 70 for the wise alone (70 unnamed revelatory works).[12] At the end, he is taken up to heaven like Enoch and Elijah.[2] Ezra is seen as a new Moses in this book.[2]

There is also another work, thought to be influenced by this one, known as the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra.

Ezra in rabbinic literature

Woodcut for Die Bibel in Bildern, 1860, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

Traditionally Judaism credits Ezra with establishing the Great Assembly of scholars and prophets, the forerunner of the Sanhedrin, as the authority on matters of religious law. The Great Assembly is credited with establishing numerous features of contemporary traditional Judaism in something like their present form, including Torah reading, the Amidah, and celebration of the feast of Purim.[13]

In Rabbinic traditions, Ezra is metaphorically referred to as the "flowers that appear on the earth" signifying the springtime in the national history of Judaism. A disciple of Baruch ben Neriah, he favored study of the Law over the reconstruction of the Temple and thus because of his studies, he did not join the first party returning to Jerusalem in the reign of Cyrus. According to another opinion, he did not join the first party so as not to compete, even involuntarily, with Jeshua ben Jozadak for the office of chief priest.[13]

According to tradition, Ezra was the writer of the Books of Chronicles.[13] There is a slight controversy within rabbinic sources as to whether or not Ezra had served as Kohen Gadol. [14]

In the Syrian village of Tedef, a synagogue said to be the place where Ezra stopped over has been venerated by Jews for centuries. Another tradition locates his tomb near Basra, Iraq.

Ezra in Christian traditions

Early Christian writers occasionally cited Ezra as author of the apocalyptic books attributed to him. Clement of Alexandria in his Stromata referred to Ezra as an example of prophetic inspiration, quoting a section from 2 Esdras.[15]

Ezra in Islam

In Islam he is known as Uzair (Arabic: عزير). He was mentioned in the Qur'an. Although he was not mentioned as one of the Prophets of Islam, he is considered as one of them by some Muslim scholars, based on Islamic traditions.[16][17] His tomb at Al-ʻUzair on the banks of the Tigris near Basra, Iraq, is a pilgrimage site for the local Marsh Arabs.[18][19] Many Islamic scholars and modern Western academics do not view Uzair as "Ezra"; for example Professor Gordon Darnell Newby associates Uzair with Enoch and Metatron. On this Timothy Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad) and Gordon Darnell Newby [1] associate Uzair (عُزَيْرٌ) again with Enoch (ancestor of Noah) and by extension Metatron the creator-angel or "lesser Yahweh".[2].

Academic view

Historicity and genealogy

Mary Joan Winn Leith in The Oxford History of the Biblical World believes that Ezra was a historical figure whose life was enhanced in the scripture and given a theological buildup.[20] Gosta W. Ahlstrom argues the inconsistencies of the biblical tradition are insufficient to say that Ezra, with his central position as the 'father of Judaism' in the Jewish tradition, has been a later literary invention.[21] Those who argue against the historicity of Ezra argue that the presentation style of Ezra as a leader and lawgiver resembles that of Moses. There are also similarities between Ezra the priest-scribe (but not high priest) and Nehemiah the secular governor on the one hand and Joshua and Zerubbabel on the other hand. The early 2nd century BCE Jewish author Ben Sira praises Nehemiah, but makes no mention of Ezra.[20]


Scholars are divided over the chronological sequence of the activities of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra came to Jerusalem "in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the King".[22] The text does not specify whether the king in the passage refers to Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE) or to Artaxerxes II (404-359 BCE).[23][24] Most scholars hold that Ezra lived during the rule of Artaxerxes I, though some have difficulties with this assumption:[3] Nehemiah and Ezra "seem to have no knowledge of each other; their missions do not overlap", however, in Nehemiah 12, both are leading processions on the wall as part of the wall dedication ceremony. So, they clearly were contemporaries working together in Jerusalem at the time the wall and the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt in contrast to the previously stated viewpoint.;."[25] These difficulties have led many scholars to assume that Ezra arrived in the seventh year of the rule of Artaxerxes II, i.e. some 50 years after Nehemiah. This assumption would imply that the biblical account is not chronological. The last group of scholars regard "the seventh year" as a scribal error and hold that the two men were contemporaries.[3][26]

See also


  1. ^ "God helps") -"Jewish Encyclopedia", Emil G. Hirsch, Isaac Broydé, "Ezra the Scribe", Jewish Encyclopedia (Online)
  2. ^ a b c d e Liwak, Rüdiger; Schwemer, Anna Maria "Ezra." Brill's New Pauly.
  3. ^ a b c d Ezra." Encyclopædia Britannica.2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  4. ^ Edward Kessler, Neil Wenborn, A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge University Press, p.398
  5. ^ The New Encyclopedia of Judaism, Ezra
  6. ^ In the margin of the Masoretic Hebrew text opposite this verse is written the Hebrew expression meaning "half of the book," indicating that this is the middle verse of the 685 Hebrew verses of the combined books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and that in Masoretic text the two were one book. (New World Translation Reference Bible – Nehemiah 3:32, footnote)
  7. ^ Ezra – All Scripture Is Inspired of God – Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. – International Bible Students Association, Brooklyn New York, USA – 1963, 1990, pg 85.
  8. ^ James H. Charlesworth – "Announcing a Dead Sea Scrolls Fragment of Nehemiah" – The Institute for Judaism and Christian Origins – Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  9. ^ "Esdras, First Book of." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  10. ^ Daniel 2:1, Daniel 7:1, Daniel 8:1
  11. ^ 4 Ezra (Apocrypha), chapter 7, verse 29
  12. ^ Howard H. Cox, The Pentateuch: History Or Story?, p.101
  13. ^ a b c Emil G. Hirsch, Isaac Broydé, "Ezra the Scribe", Jewish Encyclopedia (Online)
  14. ^ HaQoton, Reb Chaim "Was Ezra a High Priest" also printed in the Jewish Bible Quarterly (July 2013)see also [3]
  15. ^ The Apocryphal Apocalypse: the reception of the second book of Esdras Alastair Hamilton – 1999 p22 "that were part of the canon.13 Although Clement of Alexandria, who was writing in the late second and early third century, showed more interest in 1 Esdras, he cited 2 Esdras in his Stromata, referring to Esdras as an example of prophetic inspiration..."
  16. ^ But the Qur'an 9:30 quotes Jews as saying that he is the "son of God" Ashraf, Shahid (2005). "Prophets ’Uzair, Zakariya and Yahya". Encyclopaedia of Holy Prophet and Companions ( 
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Environmental and Cultural Terrorism --The Destruction of Iraqi Marshes and Their Revival: Some Personal Reflections
  19. ^ Ezra's Tomb
  20. ^ a b Winn Leith, Mary Joan (2001) [1998]. "Israel among the Nations: The Persian Period". In Michael David Coogan (ed.). The Oxford History of the Biblical World ( 
  21. ^ Gosta W. Ahlstrom, The History of Ancient Palestine, Fortress Press, p.888
  22. ^ Ezra 7:7
  23. ^ Porter, J.R. (2000). The Illustrated Guide to the Bible. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. pp. 115–116.  
  24. ^ The dates of Nehemiah's and Ezra's respective missions, and their chronological relation to each other, are uncertain, because each mission is dated solely by a regnal year of an Achaemenian King Artaxerxes; and in either case we do not know for certain whether the Artaxerxes in question is Artaxerxes I (465-424 B.C.) or Artaxerxes II (404-359 B.C.). So we do not know whether the date of Ezra's mission was 458 B.C. or 397 B.C.' Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, vol.12 (1961) Oxford University Press, 1964 pp.484-485 n.2
  25. ^ Winn Leith, Mary Joan (2001) [1998]. "Israel among the Nations: The Persian Period". In Michael David Coogan (ed.). The Oxford History of the Biblical World ( 
  26. ^ John Boederman, The Cambridge Ancient History, 2002, p.272

Further reading

  • Bossman, D. (1979). "Ezra's Maniage Reform: Israel Redefined". Biblical Theology Bulletin 9: 32–38.  
  • Bright, John (1981). A history of Israel (3rd ed.). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.  
  • Fensham, F. Charles (1983). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.  
  • LaSor, William Sanford; Hubbard, David Allan; Bush, Frederick William (1982). Old Testament survey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.  
  • Williamson, H.G.M. (1987). Ezra and Nehemiah. Sheffield: JSOT for the Society for Old Testament Study.  

External links

  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Ezra the Scribe
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: Esdras
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