The last four books of the Hebrew canon are Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, in that order. At one time, however, Ezra and Nehemiah followed 1 and 2 Chronicles and were generally considered to be the work of one and the same author known as “the Chronicler.” In recent years, however, the question of the authorship of Ezra and Nehemiah is seen to be more complex. While some scholars still maintain unity of authorship, others prefer to speak of the influence of a “Chronistic school” on the formation of Ezra-Nehemiah as a single book. The treatment of Ezra-Nehemiah as a single book by the earliest editors was undoubtedly due to the fact that in ancient times the two books were put under the one name, Ezra. The combined work Ezra-Nehemiah is our most important literary source for the formation of the Jewish religious community in the province of Judah after the Babylonian exile. This is known as the period of the Restoration, and the two men most responsible for the reorganization of Jewish life at this time were Ezra and Nehemiah.

In the present state of the Ezra-Nehemiah text, there are several dislocations of large sections so that the chronological or logical sequence is disrupted. The major instance is Ezra’s public reading of the law in Neh 8; others will be pointed out in the footnotes. Since arguments in favor of the chronological priority of Nehemiah to Ezra are indecisive, we accept the order in the text according to which Ezra’s activity preceded that of Nehemiah.

What is known of Ezra and his work is derived almost exclusively from Ezr 710 (the “Ezra Memoirs”) and Neh 89. Strictly speaking, the term “Ezra Memoirs” should be used only of that section in which Ezra speaks in the first person, i.e., Ezr 7:279:15. Compare the “Nehemiah Memoirs” in Neh 1:17:72a; 11:1, 2; 12:2743; 13:431. The author combined this material with other sources at his disposal. The personality of Ezra is not so well-known as that of Nehemiah. Ben Sira, in his praise of the fathers (Sir 4449), omits mention of Ezra, perhaps for polemical reasons. The genealogy of Ezra (7:15) traces his priesthood back to Aaron, brother of Moses. This was the accepted way of establishing the legality of one’s priestly office. He is also called a scribe, well-versed in the law of Moses (7:6), indicating Ezra’s dedication to the study of the Torah, which he sought to make the basic rule of life in the restored community. It was in religious and cultic reform rather than in political affairs that Ezra made his mark as a postexilic leader. Jewish tradition holds him in great esteem. The apocryphal 2 Esdras, sometimes included as an appendix to the Vulgate, where it is known as 4 Esdras, transforms him into a prophet and visionary. The Talmud regards him as a second Moses, claiming that the Torah would have been given to Israel through Ezra had not Moses preceded him.

Ezra is sometimes accused of having been a legalist who gave excessive attention to the letter of the law. His work, however, should be seen and judged within a specific historical context. He gave to his people a cohesion and spiritual unity which helped to prevent the disintegration of the small Jewish community settled in the province of Judah. Had it not been for the intransigence of Ezra and of those who adopted his ideal, it is doubtful that Judaism would have so effectively resisted Hellenism in later centuries. Ezra set the tone of the postexilic community, and it was characterized by fidelity to the Torah, Judaism’s authentic way of life. It is in this light that we can judge most fairly the work of Ezra during the Restoration.

The Book of Ezra is divided as follows:

  1. The Return from Exile (1:16:22)
  2. The Work of Ezra (7:110:44)

The following list of the kings of Persia, with the dates of their reigns, will be useful for dating the events mentioned in Ezra-Nehemiah:

Cyrus539–530 B.C.
Cambyses530–522 B.C.
Darius I522–486 B.C.
Xerxes I486–465 B.C.
Artaxerxes I465–424 B.C.
Darius II423–404 B.C.
Artaxerxes II404–358 B.C.
Artaxerxes III358–337 B.C.
End of the Persian Empire (Defeat of Darius III)331 B.C.



The Decree of Cyrus. 1a In the first year of Cyrus,* king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: 2“Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven,* has given to me, and he has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3Those among you who belong to any part of his people, may their God be with them! Let them go up to Jerusalem in Judah to build the house of the LORD the God of Israel, that is, the God who is in Jerusalem. 4Let all those who have survived, in whatever place they may have lived, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, together with voluntary offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.’”

5Then the heads of ancestral houses* of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites—everyone, that is, whose spirit had been stirred up by God—prepared to go up to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. 6b All their neighbors gave them help in every way, with silver, gold, goods, livestock, and many precious gifts, besides all their voluntary offerings. 7c King Cyrus, too, had the vessels of the house of the LORD brought forth that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his god. 8Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought forth by the treasurer Mithredath, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar, prince of Judah.* 9This was the inventory: baskets of goldware, thirty; baskets of silverware, one thousand and twenty-nine; 10golden bowls, thirty; silver bowls, four hundred and ten; other vessels, one thousand. 11Total of the gold and silver vessels: five thousand four hundred.* All these Sheshbazzar took with him when the exiles were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

* [1:1] In the first year of Cyrus: the first regnal year of Cyrus was 539 B.C., but his first year as ruler of Babylon, after the conquest of that city, was 538 B.C., the year in which he issued an edict, replicated on the famous Cyrus cylinder, permitting the repatriation of peoples deported by the Babylonians.

* [1:2] The God of heaven: this title, used as in 7:12, 21, 23, corresponds to a title of the Zoroastrian supreme deity Ahura Mazda, though it is not certain that Cyrus was a Zoroastrian.

* [1:5] Heads of ancestral houses: the ancestral house was the basic organizational unit of the postexilic community, consisting of an extended kinship group claiming descent from a common ancestor. The patriarchs of these units played an important role in civic government.

* [1:8] Sheshbazzar, prince of Judah: often identified with Shenassar, fourth son of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, exiled in 598 B.C. (see 1 Chr 3:1718), and therefore the uncle of Zerubbabel (Ezr 3:24). This identification is uncertain.

* [1:11] Five thousand four hundred: either this figure or the figures given for one or more of the items listed have been corrupted in the transmission of the text.

a. [1:1] Ezr 6:35; 2 Chr 36:2223; Jer 25:1112; 29:10; Zec 1:12.

b. [1:6] Ex 3:2122; 11:2; 12:35.

c. [1:7] 2 Kgs 25:1415.


A Census of the Returned Exiles. 1* a These are the inhabitants of the province who returned from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had carried away to Babylon, and who came back to Jerusalem and Judah, to their various cities 2(those who returned with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah):

The census of the people of Israel: 3descendants of Parosh, two thousand one hundred and seventy-two; 4descendants of Shephatiah, three hundred and seventy-two; 5descendants of Arah, seven hundred and seventy-five; 6descendants of Pahath-moab, who were descendants of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand eight hundred and twelve; 7descendants of Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty-four; 8descendants of Zattu, nine hundred and forty-five; 9descendants of Zaccai, seven hundred and sixty; 10descendants of Bani, six hundred and forty-two; 11descendants of Bebai, six hundred and twenty-three; 12descendants of Azgad, one thousand two hundred and twenty-two; 13descendants of Adonikam, six hundred and sixty-six; 14descendants of Bigvai, two thousand and fifty-six; 15descendants of Adin, four hundred and fifty-four; 16descendants of Ater, who were descendants of Hezekiah, ninety-eight; 17descendants of Bezai, three hundred and twenty-three; 18descendants of Jorah, one hundred and twelve; 19descendants of Hashum, two hundred and twenty-three; 20descendants of Gibeon, ninety-five; 21descendants of Bethlehem, one hundred and twenty-three; 22people of Netophah, fifty-six; 23people of Anathoth, one hundred and twenty-eight; 24people of Beth-azmaveth, forty-two; 25people of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty-three; 26people of Ramah and Geba, six hundred and twenty-one; 27people of Michmas, one hundred and twenty-two; 28people of Bethel and Ai, two hundred and twenty-three; 29descendants of Nebo, fifty-two; 30descendants of Magbish, one hundred and fifty-six; 31descendants of the other Elam, one thousand two hundred and fifty-four; 32descendants of Harim, three hundred and twenty; 33descendants of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred and twenty-five; 34descendants of Jericho, three hundred and forty-five; 35descendants of Senaah, three thousand six hundred and thirty.

36The priests: descendants of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred and seventy-three; 37descendants of Immer, one thousand and fifty-two; 38descendants of Pashhur, one thousand two hundred and forty-seven; 39descendants of Harim, one thousand and seventeen.

40b The Levites: descendants of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the descendants of Hodaviah, seventy-four.

41The singers:* descendants of Asaph, one hundred and twenty-eight.

42The gatekeepers:* descendants of Shallum, descendants of Ater, descendants of Talmon, descendants of Akkub, descendants of Hatita, descendants of Shobai, one hundred and thirty-nine in all.

43The temple servants: descendants of Ziha, descendants of Hasupha, descendants of Tabbaoth, 44descendants of Keros, descendants of Siaha, descendants of Padon, 45descendants of Lebanah, descendants of Hagabah, descendants of Akkub, 46descendants of Hagab, descendants of Shamlai, descendants of Hanan, 47descendants of Giddel, descendants of Gahar, descendants of Reaiah, 48descendants of Rezin, descendants of Nekoda, descendants of Gazzam, 49descendants of Uzza, descendants of Paseah, descendants of Besai, 50descendants of Asnah, descendants of the Meunites, descendants of the Nephusites, 51descendants of Bakbuk, descendants of Hakupha, descendants of Harhur, 52descendants of Bazluth, descendants of Mehida, descendants of Harsha, 53descendants of Barkos, descendants of Sisera, descendants of Temah, 54descendants of Neziah, descendants of Hatipha.

55Descendants of Solomon’s servants: descendants of Sotai, descendants of Hassophereth, descendants of Peruda, 56descendants of Jaalah, descendants of Darkon, descendants of Giddel, 57descendants of Shephatiah, descendants of Hattil, descendants of Pochereth-hazzebaim, descendants of Ami. 58The total of the temple servants together with the descendants of Solomon’s servants was three hundred and ninety-two.

59The following who returned from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer were unable to prove that their ancestral houses and their descent were Israelite: 60descendants of Delaiah, descendants of Tobiah, descendants of Nekoda, six hundred and fifty-two. 61c Also, of the priests: descendants of Habaiah, descendants of Hakkoz, descendants of Barzillai (he had married one of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was named after him). 62These searched their family records, but their names could not be found there, and they were excluded from the priesthood. 63d The governor* ordered them not to partake of the most holy foods until there should be a priest to consult the Urim and Thummim.

64The entire assembly taken together came to forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty, 65not counting their male and female servants, who numbered seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven. They also had two hundred male and female singers. 66Their horses numbered seven hundred and thirty-six, their mules two hundred and forty-five, 67their camels four hundred and thirty-five, their donkeys six thousand seven hundred and twenty.

68When they arrived at the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the heads of ancestral houses made voluntary offerings for the house of God, to rebuild it in its place. 69According to their means they contributed to the treasury for the temple service: sixty-one thousand drachmas of gold, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priestly robes. 70The priests, the Levites, and some of the people took up residence in Jerusalem; the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants settled in their cities. Thus all the Israelites settled in their cities.

* [2:167] As it now stands, this list, which also appears at Neh 7:672, is an expanded form of lists of Babylonian repatriates from the sixth century B.C. It served to establish membership in the reconstituted Temple community; civic status and perhaps also title to property depended on this membership.

* [2:41] The singers: the term covers the composition as well as the rendition of liturgical music. Since they are listed as distinct from Levites (2:40), they had not yet attained levitical status, as in Chronicles (e.g., 1 Chr 9:3334; 23:36).

* [2:42] The gatekeepers: their principal task was to protect the ritual purity of the temple area (e.g., 2 Chr 23:19). The author assumes that they were established by David as a distinct levitical category (1 Chr 15:18; 26:119).

* [2:63] The governor: the honorific title was also held by Nehemiah (Neh 8:9; 10:2). The identity of the governor is unknown; both Sheshbazzar (Ezr 5:14) and Zerubbabel (Hg 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21) are identified as governors of Judah in the early Persian period. Mal 1:8 refers to an unnamed governor, and the names of other occupants of the office (Yehoezer, Ahzai, Elnathan) occur on seal impressions, though their date is uncertain. Urim and Thummim: cf. Ex 28:30.

a. [2:1] Neh 7:672.

b. [2:40] Neh 12:23.

c. [2:61] 2 Sm 17:27; 19:3233; 1 Kgs 2:7.

d. [2:63] Nm 27:21; Dt 33:8; 1 Sm 14:4142; 28:6.


Restoration of Worship. 1a Now when the seventh month* came, after the Israelites had settled in their cities, the people gathered as one in Jerusalem. 2Then Jeshua, son of Jozadak, together with his kinsmen the priests, and Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, together with his kinsmen, began building the altar of the God of Israel in order to offer on it the burnt offerings prescribed in the law of Moses, the man of God. 3b They set the altar on its foundations, for they lived in fear of the peoples of the lands,* and offered burnt offerings to the LORD on it, both morning and evening. 4c They also kept the feast of Booths in the manner prescribed, and they offered the daily burnt offerings in the proper number required for each day. 5Thereafter they offered regular burnt offerings, the sacrifices prescribed for the new moons and all the festivals sacred to the LORD, and those which anyone might bring as a voluntary offering to the LORD.

Laying the Foundations of the Temple. 6From the first day of the seventh month they reinstituted the burnt offering to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid. 7d Then they hired stonecutters and carpenters, and sent food and drink and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians that they might ship cedar trees from the Lebanon to the port of Joppa, as Cyrus, king of Persia, had authorized. 8In the year after their coming to the house of God in Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua, son of Jozadak, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and Levites and all who had come from the captivity to Jerusalem, began by appointing the Levites twenty years of age and over to supervise the work on the house of the LORD. 9Jeshua and his sons and kinsmen, with Kadmiel and Binnui, son of Hodaviah, and their sons and their kindred, the Levites, together undertook to supervise those who were engaged in the work on the house of God. 10e While the builders were laying the foundation of the LORD’s temple, the priests in their vestments were stationed with trumpets and the Levites, sons of Asaph, with cymbals to praise the LORD in the manner laid down by David, king of Israel. 11f They alternated in songs of praise and thanksgiving to the LORD, “for he is good, for his love for Israel endures forever”;* and all the people raised a great shout of joy, praising the LORD because the foundation of the LORD’s house had been laid. 12g Many of the priests, Levites, and heads of ancestral houses, who were old enough to have seen the former house, cried out in sorrow as they watched the foundation of the present house being laid. Many others, however, lifted up their voices in shouts of joy. 13No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shouting from the sound of those who were weeping; for the people raised a mighty clamor which was heard far away.

* [3:12] The seventh month: Tishri (September–October), apparently of the first year of the return (538 B.C.), followed by events in the second year (v. 8). In that case it was Sheshbazzar who laid the foundations of the Temple (5:16), and it was in the second year of Darius I (520 B.C.) that Jeshua and Zerubbabel resumed work on the Temple that had been temporarily interrupted (Ezr 4:245:1; Hg 1:1; 2:1). The author, or a later editor, has set the construction and dedication of the Temple under Darius I back into the earliest period of the return. Shealtiel was the oldest son of King Jehoiachin (1 Chr 3:1719); Zerubbabel was therefore Jehoiachin’s grandson; see note on Ezr 1:8.

* [3:3] Peoples of the lands: referring either to those who had never left Judah or to neighboring peoples—Edomites, Arabs, inhabitants of Samaria—who opposed those who returned.

* [3:11] “For he is good…forever”: a refrain occurring frequently in liturgies of ancient Israel (cf. Ps 136).

a. [3:1] Neh 7:778.

b. [3:3] Dt 9:25; 1 Kgs 8:64.

c. [3:4] Ex 23:16; Nm 28:38; Dt 16:1315.

d. [3:7] 1 Chr 22:4; 2 Chr 2:9.

e. [3:10] Ezr 2:41

f. [3:11] 1 Chr 16:34; 2 Chr 5:13; 7:3; Ps 106:1; 136:1; Jer 33:11.

g. [3:12] Hg 2:3.


Outside Interference. 1When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, 2a they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of ancestral houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God just as you do, and we have sacrificed to him since the days of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria,* who brought us here.” 3But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of ancestral houses of Israel answered them, “It is not your responsibility to build with us a house for our God, but we alone must build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as Cyrus king of Persia has commanded us.” 4Thereupon the local inhabitants* discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them off from building. 5They also bribed counselors to work against them and to frustrate their plans during all the years of Cyrus, king of Persia, and even into the reign of Darius,* king of Persia.

Later Hostility. 6In the reign of Ahasuerus,* at the beginning of his reign, they prepared a written accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

7* Again, in the time of Artaxerxes, Tabeel and the rest of his fellow officials, in concert with Mithredath, wrote to Artaxerxes, king of Persia. The document was written in Aramaic and was accompanied by a translation.

8* Then Rehum, the governor, and Shimshai, the scribe, wrote the following letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes: 9“Rehum, the governor, Shimshai, the scribe, and their fellow officials, judges, legates, and agents from among the Persians, Urukians, Babylonians, Susians (that is, Elamites), 10and the other peoples whom the great and illustrious Osnappar* transported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in the province West-of-Euphrates, as follows….” 11This is a copy of the letter that they sent to him:

“To King Artaxerxes, your servants, the men of West-of-Euphrates, as follows: 12Let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have arrived at Jerusalem and are now rebuilding this rebellious and evil city. They are completing its walls, and the foundations have already been laid. 13Now let it be known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls completed, they will no longer pay taxes, tributes, or tolls; eventually the throne will be harmed. 14Now, since we eat the salt of the palace* and it is not fitting for us to look on while the king is being dishonored, we have sent this message to inform the king, 15so that inquiry may be made in the historical records of your fathers. In the historical records you will discover and verify that this is a rebellious city, harmful to kings and provinces; its people have been acting seditiously there since ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed. 16We therefore inform the king, that if this city is rebuilt and its walls completed again, you will thereupon not have a portion in the province West-of-Euphrates.”

17The king sent this answer: “To Rehum, the governor, Shimshai, the scribe, and their fellow officials living in Samaria and elsewhere in the province West-of-Euphrates, greetings: 18The communication which you sent us has been read in translation in my presence. 19When at my command inquiry was made, it was verified that from ancient times this city has risen up against kings and that rebellion and sedition have been fostered there. 20Powerful kings once ruled in Jerusalem who controlled all West-of-Euphrates, and taxes, tributes, and tolls were paid to them. 21Give orders, therefore, to stop these men. This city may not be rebuilt until a further decree has been issued by me. 22Take care that you do not neglect this matter. Why should evil increase to harm the throne?”

23b As soon as a copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter had been read before Rehum, the governor, Shimshai, the scribe, and their fellow officials, they immediately went to the Jews in Jerusalem and stopped their work by force of arms. 24As a result, work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased. This interruption lasted until the second year of the reign of Darius,* king of Persia.

* [4:2] Esarhaddon, king of Assyria: the enemies represent themselves as descendants of foreigners forcibly resettled in the Samaria region after the incorporation of the Northern Kingdom into the Assyrian empire (722 B.C.; cf. 2 Kgs 17:24). We have no record of a settlement under Esarhaddon (681–669 B.C.); the Aramaic source (Ezr 4:10) refers to a different resettlement under Osnappar/Ashurbanipal (668–627 B.C.).

* [4:4] Local inhabitants: lit., “the people of the land.”

* [4:5] Darius: Darius I (522–486 B.C.). The Temple-building narrative continues in v. 24. In between (vv. 623) is a series of notices about opposition to the returned exiles voiced at the Persian court in the early fifth century B.C., after the Temple had been built.

* [4:6] Ahasuerus: Xerxes (486–465 B.C.); the early years of his reign were occupied with revolts in several parts of the empire.

* [4:7] There is a note placed in the original text to indicate a change from Hebrew to Aramaic. The Aramaic section beginning here ends with 6:18; in 7:1226 a royal letter is cited in Aramaic.

* [4:823] The letter to Artaxerxes I (465–424 B.C.) deals with the building of the fortification walls of Jerusalem, not the building of the Temple. The interruption of the work on the city wall some time before 445 B.C. was the occasion for the arrival of Nehemiah in the province (Neh 1:14; 2:15).

* [4:10] Osnappar: probably Ashurbanipal; see note on 4:2.

* [4:14] Eat the salt of the palace: the idiom signifies sharing in the benefits of the palace.

* [4:24] The second year…of Darius: that is, 520 B.C.; it marks the beginning of the successful restoration of the Temple, completed within the five years following (5:16:18).

a. [4:2] Ezr 4:10.

b. [4:23] Neh 1:3.


The Work Resumed Under Darius; Further Problems. 1a Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah,* son of Iddo, began to prophesy to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel. 2Thereupon Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua, son of Jozadak, began again to build the house of God in Jerusalem, with the prophets of God giving them support. 3At that time Tattenai, governor of West-of-Euphrates, came to them, along with Shethar-bozenai, and their fellow officials, and asked of them: “Who issued the decree for you to build this house and complete this edifice? 4What are the names of the men who are building this structure?” 5But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, and they were not delayed during the time a report went to Darius and a written order came back concerning this matter.

6A copy of the letter which Tattenai, governor of West-of-Euphrates, along with Shethar-bozenai and their fellow officials from West-of-Euphrates, sent to King Darius; 7they sent him a report in which was written the following:

“To King Darius, all good wishes! 8Let it be known to the king that we have visited the province of Judah and the house of the great God: it is being rebuilt of cut stone and the walls are being reinforced with timber; the work is being carried out diligently, prospering under their hands. 9We then questioned the elders, addressing to them the following words: ‘Who issued the decree for you to build this house and complete this edifice?’ 10We also asked them their names, in order to give you a list of the men who are their leaders. 11This was their answer to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house built here many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and completed. 12But because our ancestors provoked the wrath of the God of heaven, he delivered them into the power of the Chaldean, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who destroyed this house and exiled the people to Babylon. 13b However, in the first year of Cyrus, king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree for the rebuilding of this house of God. 14Moreover, the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and carried off to the temple in Babylon, King Cyrus ordered to be removed from the temple in Babylon, and they were given to a certain Sheshbazzar, whom he named governor. 15He commanded him: Take these vessels and deposit them in the temple of Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its former site. 16Then this same Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. Since that time to the present the building has been going on, and is not yet completed.’ 17Now, if it please the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to discover whether a decree really was issued by King Cyrus for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And may the king’s decision in this matter be communicated to us.”

* [5:1] The prophets Haggai and Zechariah: Haggai and Zechariah were active during the early years of Darius I. They document the rebuilding of the Temple and the messianic expectations associated with the Davidic descendant Zerubbabel.

a. [5:1] Hg 1:142:9; Zec 4:9.

b. [5:13] Ezr 1:15.


The Decree of Darius. 1* Thereupon King Darius issued an order to search the archives in which the treasures were stored in Babylon. 2a However, a scroll was found in Ecbatana, the stronghold in the province of Media, containing the following text: “Memorandum. 3In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus issued a decree: With regard to the house of God in Jerusalem: the house is to be rebuilt as a place for offering sacrifices and bringing burnt offerings. Its height is to be sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits. 4It shall have three courses of cut stone for each one of timber. The costs are to be borne by the royal house. 5Also, let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple of Jerusalem and brought to Babylon be sent back; let them be returned to their place in the temple of Jerusalem and deposited in the house of God.”

6“Now, therefore, Tattenai, governor of West-of-Euphrates, and Shethar-bozenai, and you, their fellow officials in West-of-Euphrates, stay away from there. 7Let the governor and the elders of the Jews continue the work on that house of God; they are to rebuild it on its former site. 8I also issue this decree concerning your dealing with these elders of the Jews in the rebuilding of that house of God: Let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay from the royal revenue, deriving from the taxes of West-of-Euphrates, so that the work not be interrupted. 9Whatever else is required—young bulls, rams, and lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the requirements of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let that be delivered to them day by day without fail, 10that they may continue to offer sacrifices of pleasing odor to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. 11I also issue this decree: if any man alters this edict, a beam is to be taken from his house, and he is to be lifted up and impaled on it; and his house is to be reduced to rubble for this offense. 12And may the God who causes his name to dwell there overthrow every king or people who may undertake to alter this decree or to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have issued this decree; let it be diligently executed.”

The Task Finally Completed. 13Then Tattenai, the governor of West-of-Euphrates, and Shethar-bozenai, and their fellow officials carried out with all diligence the instructions King Darius had sent them. 14The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building, supported by the message of the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, son of Iddo. They finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius, and of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. 15They completed this house on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. 16The Israelites—priests, Levites, and the other returned exiles—celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17For the dedication of this house of God, they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs, together with twelve he-goats as a sin offering for all Israel, in keeping with the number of the tribes of Israel. 18Finally, they set up the priests in their classes and the Levites in their divisions for the service of God in Jerusalem, as is prescribed in the book of Moses.

The Passover. 19b The returned exiles kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. 20The Levites, every one of whom had purified himself for the occasion, sacrificed the Passover for all the exiles, for their colleagues the priests, and for themselves. 21The Israelites who had returned from the exile and all those who had separated themselves from the uncleanness of the Gentiles in the land shared in it, seeking the LORD, the God of Israel. 22c They joyfully kept the feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days, for the LORD had filled them with joy by making the king of Assyria* favorable to them, so that he gave them help in their work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

* [6:12] Babylon was the capital city of the satrapy to which Judah belonged; it was therefore the natural place to look. The decree was discovered eventually, however, in Ecbatana (Hamadan), the former capital of the Medes and summer residence of the Persian kings. Cf. the Hebrew version of the decree (1:24).

* [6:22] The king of Assyria: “Assyria” is perhaps used in a broad sense for the Persian empire; or the editor may have in mind the account of Hezekiah’s Passover which refers to those who had escaped the hand of the king of Assyria (2 Chr 30:6).

a. [6:2] Ezr 1:411.

b. [6:19] Ex 12:120; 2 Chr 30:1427; 35:119.

c. [6:22] 2 Chr 30:6.



Ezra, Priest and Scribe. 1* a After these events, during the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, Ezra, son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, the high priest— 6b this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a scribe, well-versed in the law of Moses given by the LORD, the God of Israel. The king granted him all that he requested, because the hand of the LORD, his God, was over him.

7Some of the Israelites and some priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants also came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. 8Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month of that seventh year of the king. 9On the first day of the first month he began the journey up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he arrived at Jerusalem, for the favoring hand of his God was over him. 10c Ezra had set his heart on the study and practice of the law of the LORD and on teaching statutes and ordinances in Israel.

The Decree of Artaxerxes. 11This is a copy of the rescript which King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest-scribe, the scribe versed in matters concerning the LORD’s commandments and statutes for Israel:

12d “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, scribe of the law of the God of heaven, greetings! And now, 13I have issued this decree, that anyone in my kingdom belonging to the people of Israel, its priests or Levites, who is willing to go up to Jerusalem with you, may go, 14for you are the one sent by the king and his seven counselors to supervise Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the law of your God which is in your possession, 15and to bring the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely contributed to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16as well as all the silver and gold which you may receive throughout the province of Babylon, together with the voluntary offerings the people and priests freely contribute for the house of their God in Jerusalem. 17Therefore, you must use this money with all diligence to buy bulls, rams, lambs, and the grain offerings and libations proper to these, and offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem. 18You and your kinsmen may do whatever seems best to you with the remainder of the silver and gold, as your God wills. 19The vessels given to you for the service of the house of your God you are to deposit before the God of Jerusalem. 20Whatever else you may be required to supply for the needs of the house of your God, you may draw from the royal treasury. 21I, Artaxerxes the king, issue this decree to all the treasurers of West-of-Euphrates: Whatever Ezra the priest, scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requests of you, let it be done with all diligence, 22within these limits: silver, one hundred talents; wheat, one hundred kors;* wine, one hundred baths; oil, one hundred baths; salt, without limit. 23Let everything that is decreed by the God of heaven be carried out exactly for the house of the God of heaven, that wrath may not come upon the realm of the king and his sons. 24We also inform you that it is not permitted to impose taxes, tributes, or tolls on any priest, Levite, singer, gatekeeper, temple servant, or any other servant of that house of God.

25e “As for you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God* which is in your possession, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people in West-of-Euphrates, to all, that is, who know the laws of your God. Instruct those who do not know these laws. 26All who will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed upon them with all diligence, whether death, or corporal punishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.”

Ezra Prepares for the Journey. 27Blessed be the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who put it into the heart of the king thus to glorify the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, 28f and who let me find favor with the king, with his counselors, and with all the most influential royal officials. I therefore took courage and, with the hand of the LORD, my God, over me, I gathered together Israelite leaders to make the return journey with me.

* [7:110] The editor’s introduction to Ezra’s autobiographical narrative. The context suggests the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, therefore, 458 B.C., as the date of Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem. The arguments often advanced for 398 B.C., the seventh year of Artaxerxes II, or less often for the thirty-seventh year of Artaxerxes I, that is, 428 B.C., are inconclusive. For Ezra’s descent from Aaron, the editor has drawn selectively on 1 Chr 5:2741. Seraiah, the chief priest executed by the Babylonians after the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kgs 25:1821), cannot be Ezra’s father in a literal sense, and Ezra was not himself high priest.

* [7:22] Kors: see note on Ez 45:14; baths: see note on Is 5:10.

* [7:25] The wisdom of your God: with reference to the law (cf. Dt 4:6). The law in question was certainly not new, since it was assumed to be known by Jews in Judah and elsewhere. It corresponded to Pentateuchal law, though perhaps this had not yet been given its final form.

a. [7:1] 1 Chr 5:2741.

b. [7:6] Ezr 7:28; 8:18; Neh 2:8, 18.

c. [7:10] Ps 119:45.

d. [7:12] Ezr 1:24.

e. [7:25] Dt 4:6; 2 Chr 17:79; Ps 37:3031; 119:98.

f. [7:28] Ezr 7:6.


Ezra’s Caravan. 1These are the heads of the ancestral houses and the genealogies of those who returned with me from Babylon during the reign of King Artaxerxes:

2Of the descendants of Phinehas, Gershon; of the descendants of Ithamar, Daniel; of the descendants of David, Hattush, 3son of Shecaniah; of the descendants of Parosh, Zechariah, and with him one hundred and fifty males were enrolled; 4of the descendants of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai, son of Zerahiah, and with him two hundred males; 5of the descendants of Zattu, Shecaniah, son of Jahaziel, and with him three hundred males; 6of the descendants of Adin, Ebed, son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males; 7of the descendants of Elam, Jeshaiah, son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males; 8of the descendants of Shephatiah, Zebadiah, son of Michael, and with him eighty males; 9of the descendants of Joab, Obadiah, son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males; 10of the descendants of Bani, Shelomoth, son of Josiphiah, and with him one hundred and sixty males; 11of the descendants of Bebai, Zechariah, son of Bebai, and with him twenty-eight males; 12of the descendants of Azgad, Johanan, son of Hakkatan, and with him one hundred and ten males; 13of the descendants of Adonikam, younger sons, whose names were Eliphelet, Jeiel, and Shemaiah, and with them sixty males; 14of the descendants of Bigvai, Uthai, son of Zakkur, and with him seventy males.

Final Preparations for the Journey. 15I assembled them by the river that flows toward Ahava,* where we camped for three days. There I perceived that both laymen and priests were present, but I could not discover a single Levite. 16So I sent for discerning leaders, Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, 17with a command for Iddo, the leader in the place Casiphia, instructing them what to say to Iddo and his kinsmen, and to the temple servants in Casiphia, in order to procure for us ministers for the house of our God. 18a Since the favoring hand of our God was over us, they sent to us a well-instructed man, one of the descendants of Mahli, son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, with his sons and kinsmen, eighteen men. 19They also sent us Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah, descendants of Merari, and their kinsmen and their sons, twenty men. 20b Of the temple servants, those whom David and the princes appointed to serve the Levites, there were two hundred and twenty. All these were enrolled by name.

21Then I proclaimed a fast, there by the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions. 22c For I was ashamed to ask the king for troops and horsemen to protect us against enemies along the way, since we had said to the king, “The favoring hand of our God is over all who seek him, but his fierce anger is against all who forsake him.” 23So we fasted, seeking this from our God, and it was granted. 24Next I selected twelve of the priestly leaders along with Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their kinsmen, 25and I weighed out before them the silver and the gold and the vessels offered for the house of our God by the king, his counselors, his officials, and all the Israelites of that region. 26I weighed out into their hands these amounts: silver, six hundred and fifty talents; silver vessels, one hundred; gold, one hundred talents; 27twenty golden bowls valued at a thousand darics; two vases of excellent polished bronze, as precious as gold. 28I addressed them in these words: “You are consecrated to the LORD, and the vessels are also consecrated; the silver and the gold are a voluntary offering to the LORD, the God of your ancestors. 29Watch over them carefully until you weigh them out in Jerusalem in the presence of the chief priests and Levites and the leaders of ancestral houses of Israel, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.” 30The priests and the Levites then took over the silver, the gold, and the vessels that had been weighed out, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.

Arrival in Jerusalem. 31We set out from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God remained over us, and he protected us from enemies and robbers along the way. 32We arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested for three days. 33On the fourth day, the silver, the gold, and the vessels were weighed out in the house of our God and given to the priest Meremoth, son of Uriah, with whom was Eleazar, son of Phinehas; they were assisted by the Levites Jozabad, son of Jeshua, and Noadiah, son of Binnui. 34Everything was in order as to number and weight, and the total weight was registered. At that same time, 35those who had returned from the captivity, the exiles, offered as burnt offerings to the God of Israel twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and twelve goats as sin offerings: all these as a burnt offering to the LORD. 36* Finally, the orders of the king were presented to the king’s satraps and to the governors in West-of-Euphrates, who gave their support to the people and to the house of God.

* [8:15] Ahava: an unidentified location near Babylon; also the name of the river or canal on which it stood (vv. 21, 31). A location near water was dictated by ritual as well as practical reasons (cf. Ps 137:1; Ez 1:1, 3; 3:15).

* [8:36] The story of Ezra’s mission is apparently continued from this point by Neh 7:72b8:18, which may be read before Ezr 9:1.

a. [8:18] Ezr 7:6.

b. [8:20] Ezr 2:43.

c. [8:22] Neh 2:9.


The Crisis of Mixed Marriages. 1a When these matters had been concluded, the leaders approached me with this report: “Neither the Israelite laymen nor the priests nor the Levites have kept themselves separate from the peoples of the lands and their abominations—Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites— 2for they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, thus intermingling the holy seed with the peoples of the lands. Furthermore, the leaders and rulers have taken a prominent part in this apostasy!”

Ezra’s Reaction. 3b When I had heard this, I tore my cloak and my mantle, plucked hair from my head and beard, and sat there devastated. 4c Around me gathered all who were in dread of the sentence of the God of Israel* on the apostasy of the exiles, while I remained devastated until the evening sacrifice. 5Then, at the time of the evening sacrifice, I rose in my wretchedness, and with cloak and mantle torn I fell on my knees, stretching out my hands to the LORD, my God.

A Penitential Prayer. 6* d I said: “My God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to raise my face to you, my God, for our wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven. 7From the time of our ancestors even to this day our guilt has been great, and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered, we and our kings and our priests, into the hands of the kings of foreign lands, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace, as is the case today.

8e “And now, only a short time ago, mercy came to us from the LORD, our God, who left us a remnant and gave us a stake in his holy place; thus our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief in our slavery. 9f For slaves we are, but in our slavery our God has not abandoned us; rather, he has turned the good will of the kings of Persia toward us. Thus he has given us new life to raise again the house of our God and restore its ruins, and has granted us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem. 10But now, our God, what can we say after all this? For we have abandoned your commandments, 11g which you gave through your servants the prophets: The land which you are entering to take as your possession is a land unclean with the filth of the peoples of the lands, with the abominations with which they have filled it from one end to the other by their uncleanness. 12h Do not, then, give your daughters to their sons in marriage, and do not take their daughters for your sons. Never promote their welfare and prosperity; thus you will grow strong, enjoy the produce of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever.

13“After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt—though you, our God, have made less of our sinfulness than it deserved and have allowed us to survive as we do— 14shall we again violate your commandments by intermarrying with these abominable peoples? Would you not become so angered with us as to destroy us without remnant or survivor? 15LORD, God of Israel, you are just; yet we have been spared, the remnant we are today. Here we are before you in our sins. Because of all this, we can no longer stand in your presence.”

* [9:4] All who were in dread…God of Israel: lit., “all who trembled”; these people are also mentioned at 10:3, and a similar designation occurs at Is 66:2, 5, a text more or less contemporary with this passage. The allusion may be to a distinct social group of rigorist tendencies who supported Ezra’s marriage reform.

* [9:615] The prayer attributed to Ezra is a communal confession of sin, of a kind characteristic of the Second Temple period (cf. Neh 9:637; Dn 9:419; 1QS 1:4–2:1), but adapted to the present situation.

a. [9:1] Dt 7:1; Neh 9:2.

b. [9:3] Ps 119:136.

c. [9:4] Ezr 10:3; Is 66:2, 5.

d. [9:6] Neh 9:637; Ps 38:4; Dn 9:419.

e. [9:8] Is 4:3.

f. [9:9] Ps 106:46.

g. [9:11] Lv 18:2425; Ez 36:17.

h. [9:12] Dt 7:3.


Response to the Crisis. 1While Ezra prayed and acknowledged their guilt, weeping and prostrate before the house of God, a very large assembly of Israelites gathered about him, men, women, and children; and the people wept profusely. 2Then Shecaniah, the son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, made this appeal to Ezra: “We have indeed betrayed our God by taking as wives foreign women of the peoples of the land. Yet in spite of this there still remains a hope for Israel. 3Let us therefore enter into a covenant before our God to dismiss all our foreign wives and the children born of them, in keeping with what you, my lord, advise, and those who are in dread of the commandments of our God. Let it be done according to the law! 4Rise, then, for this is your duty! We are with you, so have courage and act!”

5Ezra stood and demanded an oath from the leaders of the priests, from the Levites and from all Israel that they would do as had been proposed; and they swore it. 6Then Ezra left his place before the house of God and entered the chamber of Johanan, son of Eliashib,* where he spent the night neither eating food nor drinking water, for he was in mourning over the apostasy of the exiles. 7A proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem that all the exiles should gather together in Jerusalem, 8and that whoever failed to appear within three days would, according to the judgment of the leaders and elders, suffer the confiscation of all his possessions, and would be excluded from the assembly of the exiles.

9All the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered together in Jerusalem within the three-day period: it was in the ninth month,* on the twentieth day of the month. All the people, sitting in the open place before the house of God, were trembling both over the matter at hand and because it was raining. 10a Then Ezra, the priest, stood up and said to them: “Your apostasy in taking foreign women as wives has added to Israel’s guilt. 11But now, give praise to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do his will: separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign women.” 12In answer, the whole assembly cried out with a loud voice: “Yes, it is our duty to do as you say! 13But the people are numerous and it is the rainy season, so that we cannot remain outside; besides, this is not a task that can be performed in a single day or even two, for those of us who have sinned in this regard are many. 14Let our leaders represent the whole assembly; then let all those in our cities who have taken foreign women for wives appear at appointed times, accompanied by the elders and magistrates of each city in question, till we have turned away from us our God’s burning anger over this affair.” 15Only Jonathan, son of Asahel, and Jahzeiah, son of Tikvah, were against this proposal, with Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supporting them.

16* The exiles did as agreed. Ezra the priest appointed as his assistants men who were heads of ancestral houses, one for each ancestral house, all of them designated by name. They held sessions to examine the matter, beginning with the first day of the tenth month. 17By the first day of the first month they had finished dealing with all the men who had taken foreign women for wives.

The List of Transgressors. 18Among the priests, the following were found to have taken foreign women for wives: Of the descendants of Jeshua, son of Jozadak, and his kinsmen: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah. 19They pledged themselves to dismiss their wives, and as a guilt offering for their guilt they gave a ram from the flock. 20Of the descendants of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah; 21of the descendants of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah; 22of the descendants of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.

23b Of the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also called Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.

24Of the singers: Eliashib; of the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.

25Of the people of Israel: Of the descendants of Parosh: Ramiah, Izziah, Malchijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malchijah, and Benaiah; 26of the descendants of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah; 27of the descendants of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza; 28of the descendants of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai; 29of the descendants of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth; 30of the descendants of Pahath-moab: Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh; 31of the descendants of Harim: Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, 32Benjamin, Malluch, Shemariah; 33of the descendants of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, Shimei; 34of the descendants of Begui: Maadai, Amram, Uel, 35Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, 36Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, 37Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu; 38of the descendants of Binnui: Shimei, 39Shelemiah, Nathan, and Adaiah; 40of the descendants of Zachai: Shashai, Sharai, 41Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, 42Shallum, Amariah, Joseph; 43of the descendants of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, Benaiah.

44* All these had taken foreign wives; but they sent them away, both the women and their children.

* [10:6] Johanan, son of Eliashib: if this Eliashib is identical with the high priest of that name during Nehemiah’s mission (Neh 3:1), it would be difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ezra followed Nehemiah. But Eliashib is a common name, and, on the hypothesis of Nehemiah’s chronological priority, it would be unlikely that Ezra would consort with a family which had “defiled the priesthood” (Neh 13:2829).

* [10:9] The ninth month: Kislev (November–December), during the first of two rainy seasons in Palestine.

* [10:1617] The work of the committee lasted three months, from the first day of the tenth month, Tebeth (December–January), to the first day of the first month, Nisan (March–April), of the following year.

* [10:44] Some scholars find the continuation of the account of the marriage reform in Neh 9:15, though the date given at Neh 9:1 would fit better after Ezr 10:15; cf. Hg 2:1014. The abrupt conclusion to Ezr 910 suggests that the policy of forced separation from foreign wives, not mandated by any law known to us, did not succeed. Assuming the chronological priority of Ezra, marriage outside the community was still prevalent during Nehemiah’s administration, and the remarkable demographic expansion of Judaism in the following centuries would be difficult to explain if Ezra’s measures had been put into effect.

a. [10:10] Neh 9:2.

b. [10:23] Neh 8:7; 10:11.