Lessing, R. Reed & Andrew E. Steinmann. Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. Chapter 14, “Ezra and Nehemiah” pp. 243-266.
Lessing notes that as well as being a narrative about rebuiilding in Jerusalem, Ezra and Nehemiah speak of God’s work through his chosen leaders (Lessing 2014, 243). Lessing considers four views of authorship. First, a traditional view finds Ezra as the author of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles (Lessing 2014, 243). The texts of Chronicles and Nehemiah, however, bring events to about 90 years after Ezra was sent back to Jerusalem. Second, there is a suggestion that Ezra wrote Ezra and Nehemiah wrote Nehemiah. Lessing considers that the switches between first and third person make this seem unlikely (Lessing 2014, 24). A third view suggests that the unknown author of Chronicles also wrote Ezra and Nehemiah. This view dates from the 1830s and has fairly wide acceptance (Lessing 2014, 245). This view is heavily dependent on the accuracy of information in 1 Esdras and on a common vocabulary and syntax. Lessing does not consider this adequately convincing (Lessing 2014, 246). Lessing concludes that a more recent view is correct. “An unknown editor or editors composed Ezra and Nehemiah, relying heavily on source documents, including Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s personal memoirs” (Lessing 2014, 246). Chronicles is not as likely to be tired directly to the same editor.
Lessing notes that Ezra and Nehemiah are counted as one book in the Jewish canon. They can easily be viewed together. The books can also be considered independently, creating a lack of consensus (Lessing 2014, 248). Lessing dates Ezra any time after March 27, 457 BC and Nehemiah probably after 336 BC due to events presented in the books (Lessing 2014, 248). He then provides a narrative summary of political and historic events helpful in dating the return from exile (Lessing 2014, 249). He concludes that there were several years between the proclamation of release from captivity and Ezra’s actual arrival in Jerusalem. A majority view sees it as 458 BC (Lessing 2014, 251). The evidence for the wall being completed in 445 BC is a bit more conclusive (Lessing 2014, 253). Nehemiah’s dates are more clearly laid out in the texts, with an arrival in 445 and governorshp until 433 (Lessing 2014, 253).
Lessing also discusses documents from the island of Elephantine. These documents largely date from the 5th century BC and were released into the antiquities market in the last 150 years (Lessing 2014, 54). The documents, including Aramaic political documents, show stylistic similarity to the Aramaic portions of Ezra.
From a literary perspective, Lessing notes there is “extensive use of source documents” (Lessing 2014, 254). The author(s) mostly compiled information, rather than writing original material. Ezra 1-6 deals with the return to Jerusalem and building the temple. Cahpers 7-10 speak of attempts to return to a trust in Torah and Moses (Lessing 2014, 256). There is an emphasis on the concept of God working in his people. Nehemiah 1-6 speaks of the restoration of the wall around Jerusalem. Cahpters 7-13 speak of the restoration of faith in God (Lessing 2014, 257). Again, the theme of God’s protection and provision is at the forefront.
Theologically the texts are most interested in worship, in Scripture, and in marriage (Lessing 2014, 257). Festivals for worship feature prominently. The worship is centered around Scripture, which is referred to frequently as the norm for God’s people. Marriage is important as God gathers a people who are faithful to His covenant (Lessing 2014, 261). Marrying outside of the covenant normally led people to worship of other gods. This was unacceptable in God’s people.
Ezra and Nehemiah are very concerned with God’s people being separate from the world round them. By grace they have been returned to their homeland. They are to live in grace there (Lessing 2014, 262). This means a rejection of sin. The work of building the temple shows a means of grace and forgiveness of sin (Lessing 2014, 263).
Lessing sees this restoration to the land and access to the temple as a promise of Christ and his forgiveness (Lessing 2014, 263). In Ezra and Nehemiah God is preserving a people who will look to the Christ.