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Ezra the Scribe

Ezra the ScribeNo man since Moses has played so important a part in the literary tradition of the Jews as Ezra the Scribe. By the newer criticism, Ezra the Scribe was the father of Judaism, the author of the priestly laws, the redactor of the Pentateuch. The "Documentary Hypothesis" is the notion that the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, were not written all at once, but were assembled from at least four major sources composed at different times and under different circumstances. The "Documentary Hypothesis" stands in contrast with the idea of "divine origins" of the Torah. Source Criticism was a rearguard action against Enlightenment attacks on the Bible, instead of seeking to undermine the historical truth of the bible.

In formative power on the Israelitish nation he is made to stand next to, if not instead of, the lawgiver himself. While an extensive lyrical authorship is ascribed to David; and the prophets, from Samuel to Malachi, were honored as religious instructors and guides of the nation, communicating from time to time those broader views of truth which the people needed and had come to be capable of understanding, and introducing and directing to no little extent important changes in national organization and policy; it is to a man who was neither poet nor prophet; was not the recognized intermediary between God and the people to announce and expound the Divine will, or to be the interpreter of the deepest religious feeling; to a priest whose character and position is described by the unpretentious name "scribe," that was assigned the work of gathering together and putting into final shape those writings which were to be for all time the guide and controller of the national life of Israel. Such a man, even if he should not be credited with creative genius, is yet the author of the most important work of organization in the religious history of his people. Ezra's labors are not, however, confined to this; he is said to be the author of several books of the Canon, and to have brought about changes of importance in the literary and religious history of the Israelites.

On one point in Ezra's life, its chronology, there is agreement among many but not all critics. It is held, with some exception, that the prince from whom he received his commission is Artaxerxes Longimanus, and that therefore his first journey to Jerusalem (seventh year of Artaxerxes, Ezra vii. 8) occurred BC 458 or 459 and his second appearance on the stage (twentieth year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah i. 1, viii. 1) 445 or 446. How long after this he lived or labored, there is no means of determining, though, as twelve years later, 433 (thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah xiii. 6), Nehemiah in his descriptions of the religious and moral abuses which existed in Jerusalem, and his own vigorous proceedings against them, makes no mention of Ezra (whose position would have given him prominence in such a work), we may probably infer that the latter was then either dead or absent from Jerusalem. Other scholars assume that Ezra arrived in the seventh year of the rule of Artaxerxes II (r. 404-359 BC)., i.e. some 50 years after Nehemiah.

The last four books of the Hebrew canon are Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles, in that order. Originally, however, Ezra and Nehemiah followed the Books of Chronicles, and formed with them a unified historical work so homogeneous in spirit that one usually speaks of a single author for the four books. He is called "the Chronicler." This view is almost universally accepted. The Jewish Babylonian Talmud identifies Ezra the Scribe as the author who "wrote the genealogy of Chronicles unto himself" or down unto his own time. As the chief architect of the spiritual and moral revival of the Second Commonwealth, he would have had every incentive to produce a historical survey of this sort. As a Levite from the priestly line, his viewpoint would have been in perfect agreement with that of the author of this work. But attempts to identify the Chronicler with Ezra appear inadvisable to others because of significant differences in style, historical and theological perspective, the treatment of source material, and the basic metaphysic of history as exhibited in the two compositions. However, these objections are not determinative since Chronicles seems to be a completely different genre than that of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Most conservative scholars date the book Chronicles between 450-400 BCE. Some scholars have named the third century BCE as the time of the Chronicler. Without being more exact, is possible to place the work earlier than 400-380 BCE. By one account, Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah was written either between 350 and 250, or else about 350, continuing to be added to as late as 250.

The method pursued by the Chronicler in writing his history, from Adam to the Exile, incorporates documentary sources entire, so far as practicable, not rewriting them or working them over, but enriching them occasionally with an added clause or inserted paragraph; and supplements them with considerable narrative matter of his own composition. The older documents incorporated by him are of much less extent than had been generally supposed. The question of the trustworthiness of the Chronicler's narrative thus gains considerably in importance.

No fact of Old Testament criticism is more firmly established than this: that the Chronicler, as a historian, is thoroughly untrustworthy. He distorts facts deliberately and habitually; invents chapter after chapter with the greatest freedom; and, what is most dangerous of all, his history is not written for its own sake, but in the interest of an extremely one-sided theory.

The Chronicler stresses the importance of the Davidic dynasty and Temple of Jerusalem, to root hope for the future in continuity with the divine institutions of the past. The emphasis is on Temple worship, Torah observance, and separation of Israel from surrounding nations. His historical material parallels (and supplements) part of the narrative of First and Second Samuel and First and Second Kings, but from the point of view of one who adheres strictly to the house of David and to the worship in the Temple. Though David and his house failed to mediate the blessings of living under God's rule, the hope is that the restoration of the Jews after the exile and the rebuilding of the Temple will mean both the restoration of Davidic religion and the guarantee of divine blessing. Of all that transpired prior to David's reign, he found it necesary to show-chiefly through genealogical lists (chs. 1-9) - only how the divine purpose had cenetered first on Israel, then on the pivotal tribes of Judah and Levi. His overriding interest in the Jerusalem temple, especially the Levitical priests and their functions, prompted him to omit crucially significant phases of the Davidic history itself in favor of long, legendary accounts attributing the entire plan of the temple cult to David.

Ezra was not the author of any of the historical books of the Bible, except, perhaps, of the portion II Kings from xvii. 6 to the end, as those various books are distinguished by various styles, of centuries apart, and different arrangements of the historical material. Judges and Kings are brevaria, Joshua and Samuel are extensive narratives. Joshua, Judges, and the best part of Samuel, are democratic; while the closing chapters of Judges are royalistic, anti-Saul and anti-Benjamin, and Kings is royalistic, pro-Judaic and antiIsraeli tish. In style, Joshua is Pentateuch-like; Judges (except the closing chapters), antique and unfinished; Samuel, independent and accomplished; Kings, from iii. to II. Kings xvii. monotonous and exact. Cotemporary chronography is noticed in Kings and Chronicles, from David to the end of those books, like the lost books of the various prophets.

The Book of Judges is a popular democratic text book, and appears to be the work of Samuel (Baba Bathra, 14 b), to which, in after times, the pro-Davidian, royalistic, anti-Saul and anti-Benjamin chapters, were added. Samuel to I. Kings iii. 3, is an extensive history of the founder of the Davidian dynasty, and must have been written shortly after David's death, perhaps by the Prophet Nathan (I. Chronicles xxix. 29; II. Chronicles ix. 29); anyhow, by one acquainted with all the details of David's life and reign. The book of Kings, to II. Kings xvii. is a brevarium which points everywhere to its sources, and was written before the destruction of the temple of Solomon, by one of the prophets (12), to which Ezra added the closing chapters. All these books and fragments were compiled by Ezra and the Great Synod in two books, to which they added, occasionally, their own notes. It was necessary to connect with the law the history of the nation, as the former without the latter is unintelligible.

Under Second Temple Judaism the religion of the Talmudic rabbis developed from the religion of biblical Israel. Rabbinic Judaism was not a radical break with the religion of ancient Israel, but rather a logical development of that faith. A concomitant view is that while this period brought forth several different approaches to the Jewish religion, they all basically reflected one, as opposed to several, Judaisms, from the time of return from Babylon (about 560 BCE) to the closing of the Talmud (about 200 CE). The deuteronomistic history is a centrally important biblical composition. Its scope, design, and interconnectedness are proleptic and retrospective design. The deuteronomist sets up a model of perfection in the first part of his account of the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 1-10), seen as an ideal realization of the divine promise to David and his dynasty, allowing for one king under a single deity. Much of Israel's history was fabricated for political purposes and exaggerated the Southern Kingdom's significance. Even Solomon's very existence is questionable - he may be a fairly minor king whose exploits and building projects were greatly enhanced by later scribal embellishment.

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Page last modified: 29-09-2011 18:37:20 ZULU