“Point of View in Ezra,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (July-Sept 2005): forthcoming
Every narrative reflects, whether with conscious intent or not, some point of view, and Ezra is no exception to the rule. A literary analysis of Ezra would, therefore, be incomplete without consideration of its point of view and the implications of its point of view for the book’s theological message.
Point of view refers to how a story is told.224 It is the perspective from which an author presents the setting, characters, actions, and events of a narrative.225 Traditionally, literary critics distinguish two elements in point of view: person and position.226 Person refers to the one who tells the story, the narrator.227 The narrator may speak in the first person or third person. In first-person narration, the narrator tells his story using first-person personal pronouns. In third-person narration, the narrator recounts events “in the manner of an impersonal historical account.”228
Position, on the other hand, refers to the vantage point from which the narrator tells his story.229 The narrator’s position involves both his knowledge and his values.230 In terms of knowledge, the narrator may be either omniscient or limited. A first-person narrator invariably operates from a limited point of view since the story filters though his eyes or consciousness and is restricted to his knowledge.231 On the other hand, a third-person narrator may be omniscient, knowing everything inside-out,232 or limited in knowledge, ranging from less than divine to more ignorant than his audience.233 In terms of values, every narrator has an ideological standpoint from which he approaches his material. His evaluations of events and characters will reflect his value system. Not only does the narrator’s value system play a role in the text’s formative background, shaping its selection, arrangement, and presentation, but it also constitutes a crucial aspect of the message he desires to communicate to the reader.
Apart from its important literary functions,234 point of view has direct bearing on the Biblical theologian’s search for the intended meaning of Scripture.235 In Biblical narrative, as in most narratives, authorial intent is mediated through the narrator.236 Therefore, the narrator controls the reader’s impression of everything.237 His inspired views are normative,238 and he establishes the ideological framework for the narrative.239 His comments also insure that the reader gets the point of the story or the specific purpose of a given event.240 As a result, attention to the narrator’s voice and his point of view is crucial to interpret properly the message of Biblical narratives.241
The intent of this chapter is not to apply a specific literary theory of point of view to the Book of Ezra. Its two-fold aim is rather to pay attention to those elements of the text that announce or suggest, as the case may be, the narrator’s perspective, and to observe how the narrator uses point of view techniques to communicate and reinforce his message.
The narrator in the Book of Ezra shares many of the characteristics typical of Old Testament narrators.242 However, there are a number of ways in which Ezra’s narrator diverges strikingly from Biblical narratorial style. The techniques that distinguish Ezra’s narrator are narratorial intrusion, shifts between third- and first-person narration, use of internal perspectives, and direct characterization.
Biblical narrators are normally reticent and unobtrusive, preferring to communicate through character action and dialogue rather than overt commentary.243 The narrator of Ezra,244 however, breaks this pattern, by inserting elaborations and explanations into his narrative.245 His intrusiveness indicates the strength of his desire for the reader to understand his message. It also provides a convenient point of departure for discerning his concerns and the point of view from which he approaches them.246
The primary subject of narratorial elaboration in Ezra is the Returnees’ careful adherence to divinely prescribed worship procedures. In chapter three, the narrator repeatedly notes that the sacrificial offerings were reinstated exactly as the law prescribes: burnt offerings were offered “as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God” (3:2 ); the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated “as it is written” (3:4 ); daily burnt offerings were offered “in number according to the custom” (3:4 ); and the appointed times of Yahweh, “the ones which had been sanctified,” were kept (3:5 ).247 Worship at the founding of the temple was conducted “according to the hand of David the king of Israel” (3:10 ). This concern surfaces again in chapter six. There the re-establishment of the priestly divisions and classes of Levites was done “according to the writing of the book of Moses” (6:18 ).248 This concern for exactitude, while typical of times of renewal,249 nonetheless shows that the people were conscious of their relationship to the law and of its binding authority in matters of worship. It also indicates that they saw themselves in continuity with the people of God from the time of Moses. The fact that the narrator takes the time to render this scene with an emphasis on the people’s concern for the details of the law implies that his point of view in this matter coincides with theirs.250
In the process of describing the Returnees’ careful adherence to the law, the narrator also reveals his view of the law. He designates it “the law of Moses, the man of God” in Ezra 3:2 , and “the writing of the book of Moses” in Ezra 6:22 . In chapter seven, the narrator extends his description of the law to “the law of Moses, which Yahweh, the God of Israel gave” (7:6 ), referring to it later as simply “the law of Yahweh” (7:10 ) or “the commandments of Yahweh and His statutes” (7:11 ). In chapter nine, Ezra bewails the abandonment of Yahweh’s “commandments, which [He] commanded by the hand of [His] servants the prophets” (9:10-11 ). The narrator further exhibits his view of the law’s importance by highlighting the prominent role the law played in the life of the narrative’s hero. Ezra’s personal devotion to studying and teaching the law (7:6 , 10 , 11 ) was so evident that Artaxerxes never mentions him by name without an accompanying reference to the law (7:12 , 21 , 25 ). The narrator also makes strategic use of Artaxerxes’ letter to reinforce his view of the law. Artaxerxes refers to the law as “the commands of the God of Heaven” (7:23 ) and “the wisdom of your God which is in your hand” (7:25 ).
As one pieces together these descriptive elaborations, the narrator’s view of the origin, authority, and importance of the law comes into focus. He clearly believes that the law was given by Yahweh, the God of Israel, and that Moses is the primary person associated with the law. His conception of the law extends beyond Moses and includes the commandments given by God through the prophets (9:10 ).251 From the narrator’s perspective, the law, because of its divine origin, is the binding standard according to which God’s people must conduct their worship and their lives.
The first instance of overt narratorial comment, which occurs in Ezra 3:6 b, also adds to the picture of the narrator’s concern with careful obedience to the law. After recounting the renewal of burnt offerings and the Feast of Tabernacles (3:1-5 ), the narrator interjects “but the temple of Yahweh was not founded.”252 The explanation commonly given for the placement of this comment is that it serves as a transition to the next narrative topic: the founding of the temple.253 The use of a simple statement to introduce a new topic, however, is not typical of the narrator’s style,254 and, at best, it is only a partial answer. A more adequate explanation may be found in this comment’s relation to the preceding verses. The seventh month was a special month of celebration in the national life of Israel. God ordained that the first day be a day of rest on which trumpets were blown (Lev. 23:24 ).255 On the fifteenth of the month was the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, commemorating their wilderness wanderings (Lev. 23:34 ; Ezra 3:4 ). However, in between these two celebrations, on the tenth day of the month, was the all important Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27 ).256 In view of the scrupulous attention given to reestablishing the altar and sacrifices precisely as ordained, the omission of this special day is glaring. However, the essence of the ceremony on the Day of Atonement revolved around the Holy of Holies. Since the temple had not yet been founded, much less rebuilt, it was impossible to perform the rituals required on the Day of Atonement. The narrator, therefore, adds his comment in Ezra 3:6 b to provide an implicit explanation for why no mention is made of the Day of Atonement.
In addition to his elaborations and comments, the narrator also intrudes theological explanations into his narrative for why certain events took place. The first of these explanations is given in chapter five. Under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah, the temple restoration begins again. When Tatnai, the governor of Beyond the River, learns of the project, he personally investigates, demanding proof of permission to build. The Jewish elders claim that Cyrus granted them permission, and Tatnai then permits them to continue building until he receives confirmation from Darius. The fact that Tatnai did not place a moratorium on their work is amazing, given the disputed nature of the Jews’ claims. The narrator, therefore, supplies the reason for this turn of events: “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews” (5:5 ). Clearly, the narrator regarded their good fortune as a direct consequence of God’s sovereign intervention in their favor.257
The narrator gives his second theological explanation in Ezra 6:14 . As he brings his account of the temple project to a conclusion, he states, “and they built and they finished from the command of the God of Israel and from the command of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes, the king of Persia” (6:14 b). On first reading, the narrator appears to be citing two unrelated commands that were responsible for the rebuilding of the temple: God’s and the kings’. The order in which the commands are presented, however, suggests that, rather than simple coordination of two causes, the narrator intends the reader to regard them as cause and effect.258 God’s command prompted the command of the Persian kings. This interpretation gains support from Cyrus’s proclamation that Yahweh had appointed him to build a house for Him in Jerusalem (1:2 ).259 From this statement, the narrator’s view of God’s sovereign relation to the Returnees’ Persian masters is evident: the Persian kings were mediators of God’s decree.260
The third theological explanation by the narrator is in Ezra 6:22 . Concluding his first plot, the narrator explains the reason for the great joy with which they celebrated the feast of unleavened bread: “for Yahweh had caused them to rejoice and had turned the heart of the king of Asshur to them to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”261 If it was not clear before that the narrator believed Darius to be acting in accord with God’s command, it should be at this point. The narrator does not view Darius’s favorable treatment of the Jews as evidence of his benevolence. Darius’s favor was the result of God’s work on his heart, turning it to favor His people.
The number of explanatory theological comments more than doubles in the second half of Ezra, and there is a corresponding increase in the explicitness of the narrator’s viewpoint. The most frequent of the narrator’s comments is that “the good hand of God” was upon His people. The phrase “the (good) hand of God,” with minor variations, occurs six times in chapters seven and eight. As a result of God’s good hand, Artaxerxes gave Ezra everything he requested (7:6 ), Ezra arrived in Jerusalem safely (7:9 ), Ezra was empowered by the Persians (7:28 ), Sherebiah and his relatives were willing to join the second return (8:18 ), and the Returnees were delivered from their enemies on their journey (8:31 ).262 In Ezra 7:27 , the narrator-turned-character praises the Lord because He put it in Artaxerxes’ heart to beautify the house of Yahweh and because He extended favor to him through the king (7:28 a). These comments reveal that from the narrator’s point of view, God was behind everything good that happened to His people.
A second literary feature that contributes to Ezra’s uniqueness among Biblical narratives is the shifts between third- and first-person narration that occur in chapters 7-10 .263 Rather than maintaining the third-person omniscient stance customary in most Biblical narratives, the narrator shifts from a third-person introduction of Ezra (7:1-26 ) into a first-person autobiographical account of the second return (7:27-9:15 ), and then returns to the third-person to conclude the narrative (10:1-44 ).
Two distinct rationales have been proposed to explain these shifts in point of view: source-oriented and literary.264 Source-oriented explanations regard the shifts in point of view as secondary, resulting from the editorial process responsible for the current form of the text. For example, Otto Eissfeldt proposed that two narrative accounts, one first-person and one third-person, were later edited to produce a single narrative.265 Taking the opposite view, H. G. M. Williamson regards “the changes in person [as] a reflection of editorial work exerted over a consistently first-person account.”266
Sigmund Mowinckel was among the earliest interpreters to approach these shifts in point of view from a literary perspective. Citing examples from the annals of Sargon, the Kamose Saga, the book of Ahiqar, Tobit, and others, Mowinckel argues that the shifts reflect conscious literary intention on the part of the author and that the practice was not uncommon in the ancient near east.267 According to Mowinckel , the purpose of the change between persons was to dramatize and enliven the material so as to edify the believing community.268 More recently, Tamara Eskenazi , building on Mowinckel ’s observations, argues that “the book employs this technique specifically to identify Ezra as a reliable [first-person] narrator, one who embodies the book’s ideology.”269
Though these rationales are distinct, they need not be mutually exclusive. The proposal asserted here is that Ezra deliberately included his personal account of the second return within his third-person narrative history to communicate his message more forcefully and convincingly.270 Beyond the functions identified by Mowinckel and Eskenazi , the inclusion of this first-person account affects the literary dynamics of Ezra 7-10 in a number of ways. First, the shift from third-person into first-person narration transforms the reader’s perception of the narrator. Omitting any third-person introduction,271 the narrator transitions seamlessly into his own narrative, praising God in the first person for the favor extended to him: “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of our fathers, who put this in the heart of the king … and has extended favor to me before the king … .” (7:27-28 ). The previously unnamed narrator turns out to be the very person around whom the narrative’s second half revolves: Ezra the scribe. This unusual merger of narrator and narrating character272 grants the interpreter direct access to the narrator’s perspective on the major issues of this section of the book. Ezra’s enunciation of his perspective on the issues he confronts permits the interpreter to gain a greater understanding of the narrator’s ideological point of view not just in chapters 7-10 but throughout the entire book.273
Second, hearing the story from its main character permits the reader to come into greater emotional and perspectival alignment with Ezra.274 Ezra’s first-person account generates the most immediacy in chapter nine where the nature of the action permits the reader to share Ezra’s experience—shocked anguish at Israel’s sin—and invites the reader to share his viewpoint as well—the necessity of repentance and prayer for mercy. In addition to immediacy, Ezra’s first-person account also lends credibility and reality to the narrative. Eyewitness accounts, though not without their limitations, consistently rank high in evidential firmness. Ezra’s use of autobiography thus adds credibility not only to the factual content of his narrative but to its evaluative content as well.
The return to third-person narration in chapter ten generates its own contrasting set of literary effects. The third-person narration distances the reader from Ezra and the events immediately surrounding him, creating a sense of a more objective point of view. After Ezra’s perspective has dominated the narrative for thirteen verses (9:3-15 ), the return to a third-person omniscient stance also permits the multiple perspectives involved in the mixed-marriage incident to come into focus. In addition to Ezra’s perspective, the text presents four other points of view: the princes’ (9:1-2 ), that of those who “tremble at the words of the God of Israel” (9:4 ),275 Shecaniah’s (10:2-4 ), and the entire congregation’s (10:12-14 ). The inclusion of these other points of view strengthens Ezra’s in at least two ways. First, it reveals the people’s perspective of Ezra: he is their spiritual leader. The fact that the princes report to him shows that they regarded him at the ultimate authority. Second, it reveals that Ezra was not alone in his opinion. Perhaps the most striking aspect of these various points of view is their unanimity. Without exception, every person or group views the intermarriages as an act of unfaithfulness.276
Another effect of Ezra’s third-person narration relates to the penalty for being involved in a mixed marriage: divorce. Though Ezra leads the process of dealing with Israel’s sin, Shecaniah is the first to suggest that the penalty be divorce. This method of presentation makes it clear that though Ezra is at the center of things, he is not the one making them happen. In fact, the procedure and penalty for dealing with the issue is agreed upon first by the princes of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel, is then confirmed by the entire male population of Judah and Benjamin (10:12-14 ),277 and is finally executed by committees in each city (10:16 ). The shift into third-person narration implies that the narrator was concerned to show the concerted nature of the decisions leading up the mandated divorces.
Characterization refers to how an author portrays the characters in his narrative.278 The basic modes of characterization in Biblical narrative are showing a character’s actions and speech, contrasting or comparing characters with one another, describing or applying epithets to a character,279 and revealing a character’s inner life.280 In addition to its primary function—providing information about the motives, attitudes, and moral nature of characters,281 characterization is also a means by which the narrator expresses his own point of view and shapes his reader’s perspective.282 Of the various modes of characterization used in Ezra, the two that most clearly reveal the narrator’s point of view are internal perspective and direct characterization.
An omniscient narrator may enter a character’s mind, exposing to the reader’s view his thoughts and emotions. The resulting internal perspective illumines the character and at the same time yields clues that suggest the concerns of the narrator. There are at least four instances in which the narrator of Ezra gives the reader information about the inner state of his characters. The first instance is located in Ezra 3:3 . Having settled into their cities, the Returnees gather at Jerusalem on the first day of the seventh month to keep the appointed sabbaths and feasts. Jeshua and Zerubbabel along with their brothers rebuild the altar so that the required burnt offerings may be offered (3:2 ). When the altar is finished, they “placed it upon its place” (3:3 ). At this point the narrator inserts a puzzling statement: “for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands” (3:3 ).283 Two questions arise immediately: why are they afraid of their neighbors? and what prompts the use of such a strong term as “terror”?284 The narrator never supplies a direct answer to these questions, leaving the answers to the reader’s inference. Brief as this inner view is, the “terror” it reveals creates such a negative impression that the reader cannot help being suspicious of the unseen terrorists. By laying bare the Returnees’ fear, the narrator subtly foreshadows the coming problems and initiates a series of narrative strategies designed to set the reader entirely against the peoples of the lands. When the narrator again notes the debilitating fear created by the people of the land (4:4 ), the two inner views link into pattern, and the reader’s suspicions are justified fully.
The second instance of internal perspective occurs in Ezra 3:13 . Nearly seven months after the altar was restored,285 the temple reconstruction commences with the founding of its cornerstone. The founding is accompanied by as much pageantry and praise as can be mustered. With priests in full garb, trumpets blaring, and cymbals crashing, they extol Yahweh for His goodness and lovingkindness. Yet the response to this occasion is not unmixed. Some weep while others shout, and the narrator concludes with a comment reflecting the inner perspective of the people: “and the people could not distinguish the voice of joyful shouting from the voice of the weeping of the people” (3:13 ). To this point, the Returnees have acted in concert, virtually as a single entity.286 The mixed response to the temple founding, however, reveals multiple points of view within the people. They are not as purely enthusiastic as they appeared. The people are joyful, but some of the leaders are weeping. This subtle exposure of dissonance between the laity and certain leaders may suggest one of the reasons the work on the temple stalled: the leadership was not united in its enthusiasm for the project.287 It may also foreshadow the unfaithfulness of the leaders to be revealed in chapter nine. The unmitigated joy at the completion of the temple project (6:16 ), some twenty years later, is a notable contrast to the mixed response at its commencement.
The remaining instances of internal perspective all involve the character Ezra. The first internal view comes in the narrator’s explanation of why God was blessing Ezra: “For Ezra had fixed his heart to seek the law of Yahweh and to do and to teach in Israel statute and judgment” (7:10 ).288 Ezra’s inner determination to gain a thorough knowledge of the law reflects the intensity of his spiritual commitment. The wholesome nature of his relationship to Yahweh emerges through his own words of praise in 7:27-28 . Ezra’s doxology vocalizes his view of God’s relation to the affairs of his life. In Ezra 8:22 , Ezra opens a window to the internal struggle that he underwent in facing the return to Israel. He was well aware of their need for protection from the potential hazards lying along the route. Yet recalling his confident assertion about God’s active intervention on behalf of those who seek Him, he is ashamed to ask the king for protection (8:22 ) and instead calls for fasting and prayer. His inner turmoil testifies to his humanity, and his response demonstrates his view that he is entirely dependent upon God. The last view of Ezra’s inner life comes in his reaction to the report of mixed marriages. He speaks of being appalled (9:3 , 4 ), humiliated (9:5, 6 ),289 and ashamed (9:6 ). Ezra exposes his inner response to the people’s sin in order to provide a model for the proper emotional response to sin.
Biblical characters are primarily depicted through word and action. Only rarely does a narrator employ direct characterization.290 When such description does occur, it usually involves the narrator’s evaluation or judgment of the character(s) involved.291 There are two instances of direct characterization by the narrator in Ezra. The first involves the peoples of the lands. They first appear in the narrative as the objects of the Returnees’ terror (3:3 ). Before the reader ever gets a chance to see them or to hear a word from their mouths, the narrator labels them “enemies”: “And the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the sons of the exile were building the temple of Yahweh, the God of Israel” (4:1 ).292 When they do speak, their words sound amiable enough: “Let us build with you, for as you, we are seeking your God, and we have been sacrificing to him from the days of Eshar Haddon, king of Asshur, who brought us up here” (4:2 ). Yet they are sharply rejected: “Not to you and to us to build the house of our God, for we alone will build to Yahweh, the God of Israel” (4:3 ). One might easily wonder what could be wrong with letting fellow Yahweh-seekers and worshippers join in the reconstruction. That is precisely the question Ezra seeks to preempt through his direct characterization.
Having been told that the “enemies” of Judah and Benjamin are approaching, the reader is inclined to view their smooth words with suspicion. There must be more to their words than meets the eye or ear. The abrupt rebuff of the Jews, apart from the characterizing epithet of the first verse (4:1 ), would seem unduly harsh and antagonistic. Filtered through the knowledge that they are “the enemy,” however, the Jews’ response seems at worst more bark than necessary and, perhaps, exactly what the case required.
The narrator does not require the reader to depend solely upon his labeling, however. After relating the conversation, he supports his epithet with two sets of evidence. The first is the fear tactics of the people of the land after being rebuffed (4:4-5 ), and the second is the letter of Rehum the chancellor (4:12-16 ). In a brilliant reversal, Ezra uses Rehum’s characterization of the Jews as evidence supporting his designation of them as enemies.
Rehum’s letter to Artaxerxes is a carefully crafted piece of political rhetoric. Taking advantage of the king’s political vulnerabilities,293 Rehum builds his case with well-chosen epithets. Jerusalem, he writes, is a rebellious (4:12 , 15 ) and evil city (4:12 ) that causes injury to kings and provinces (4:13 , 15 ) and that is prone to revolt (4:15 ). Rehum’s direct characterization, although accurate in its historical references, is groundless with regard to the city’s current occupants. As the reader senses the inequity of Rehum’s charge, he moves more solidly behind Israel in alignment against her mendacious neighbors. In this way Rehum’s own literary skills serve unwittingly to substantiate the narrator’s direct characterization and to justify the Jews.
The second instance of direct characterization by the narrator occurs in Ezra 7:6 : “That Ezra went up from Babel and he was a scribe294 skilled in the law of Moses which Yahweh, the God of Israel, gave … .” By defining Ezra as skilled in the law, the narrator asserts Ezra’s superior ability to understand and interpret the law.295 The importance of establishing this point of view becomes apparent when the reader finds Ezra mandating divorce, a practice obviously contrary to God’s intentions for marriage as well as to human sentiment. By establishing Ezra’s expertise early in the story, the narrator weights the scales sufficiently in Ezra’s favor so that it is unlikely the reader will reject or condemn the solution that Ezra sanctions.
The conclusion with perhaps the greatest significance for understanding the theological message of the Book of Ezra derives from the foregoing analysis of the narrator’s shifts between third- and first-person narration: the narrator is Ezra. The Book of Ezra is not, therefore, a patchwork of viewpoints, but the entire book is controlled by a single point of view.296 More specifically, the point of view that Ezra expresses in his autobiographical section (7:27-9:15 ) provides a theological center for clarifying the narrator’s point of view throughout the preceding narrative as well as in chapter ten. Since Ezra is the narrator, Ezra’s concerns are the concerns of the narrator. This conclusion also provides a control by which the interpreter may evaluate his analysis of the narrator’s point of view. Any analysis suggesting narratorial concerns that are at odds with the point of view expressed by Ezra should be considered invalid.297
Close attention to the narrator’s voice, besides supporting the previous conclusion that the sovereignty and goodness of God are two of the book’s major themes, also reveals his concern with keeping the law. Combining these themes with the recognition that Ezra the scribe is the narrator leads to the further conclusion that the overarching perspective from which he approaches his narrative is that the Lord rules over the kingdoms of men and that His law is the key to knowing Him and receiving His favor. A proper relation to Him depends upon a proper relationship to His law. The narrator, therefore, seeks to convince the reader that the peoples of the land are enemies not just because they have opposed God’s people but because they pose a real and present danger to the holiness God’s law requires. At the same time, the narrator presents Ezra as a model of positive holiness whose example, if emulated sincerely, will result in God’s blessing.
224 Among the works treating point of view in narrative fiction, perhaps the two most helpful are by Grard Genette , Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 161-90; and Seymour Chatman , Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), 146-262. For valuable treatments of point of view in Biblical narrative, see Adele Berlin , Poetics and Biblical Interpretation (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1983; reprint, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 43-82; Shimon Bar-Efrat , Narrative Art in the Bible, trans. Dorothea Shefer-Vanson, 2d ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 13-45; and Meir Sternberg , The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 129-185.
225 M. H. Abrams , A Glossary of Literary Terms, 4th ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981), 142. Gerald Prince defines point of view as “the perceptual or conceptual position in terms of which the narrated situation and events are presented.” Dictionary of Narratology (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), 73.
226 In his discussion of narrative perspective, Grard Genette isolates two questions that highlight the dual nature of point of view: “Who is the narrator?” (the question of person) and “Who is the character whose point of view orients the narrative perspective?” (the question of position) (186). Most treatments of point of view recognize this distinction, whether it is stated explicitly or not.
227 Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg broaden the concept of person to include both the characters and the readers as persons having a point of view. “In any example of narrative art there are, broadly speaking, three points of view—those of the characters, the narrator, and the audience.” The Nature of Narrative (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), 240. In a similar vein, Meir Sternberg contends that “narrative communication involves no fewer that four basic perspectives: the author who fashions the story, the narrator who tells it, the audience or reader who receives it, and the characters who enact it. Where the narrator is practically identical with the author as in Homer or Fielding or indeed the Bible, the discourse therefore operates with three basic relationships that constitute the point of view: between narrator and characters, narrator and reader, reader and character” (Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 130). While some mention of these points of view will be made, the focus of this chapter is specifically on the narrator’s point of view.
228 Ronald A. Horton , Companion to College English, 2d ed. (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 2000), 304.
229 Literary critics have studied this aspect of narrative point of view from many different angles. For a comprehensive summary of the various schemata of narrative point of view, see Prince , Dictionary of Narratology, 73-76. Of the various critical approaches, only two appear to have gained any currency in Biblical studies. The first is that proposed by Boris Uspensky and followed, among others, by Adele Berlin , Tremper Longman III, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987); and Grant Osborne , The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove:: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991). Uspensky distinguishes four “planes of investigation in terms of which point of view may be fixed”: ideological, phraseological, spatial and temporal, and psychological. A Poetics of Composition, trans. Valentina Zavarin and Susan Wittig (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1973), 6. The ideological plane examines the question: “Whose point of view does the author assume when he evaluates and perceives ideologically the world which he describes?” (8). The phraseological plane examines the “speech characteristics” of the narrative to identify whose point of view is being expressed (17-20). The spatial and temporal plane constitutes the narrator’s spatial location(s) in relation to the characters and his temporal location in relation to the story’s time (58, 66). The psychological plane involves the use of internal versus external perceptions of the narrative world. In other words, the narrator may perceive events through the eyes of a character or characters (internal), or view the events from his own objective vantage (external) (83-84).
The second approach, followed by Shimon Bar-Efrat , Meir Sternberg , and Jean Louis Ska , “Our Fathers Have Told Us”: Introduction to the Analysis of Hebrew Narratives (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1990), merges consideration of person and position, concentrating primarily on the narrator’s ideological viewpoint. Bar-Efrat suggest a set of five distinctions for evaluating the point of view of the Biblical narrator: omniscient vs. limited; overt vs. covert; scene vs. summary; external vs. internal; apparently neutral vs. obviously motivated (14-15). This chapter follows neither approach strictly, borrowing from both to obtain the most fruitful methodology.
230 J. P. Fokkelman makes this helpful distinction between knowledge and values in his book Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide, trans. Ineke Smit (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 123ff.
231 The one exception to the limitations of first-person narration occurs when God narrates in the first person. For example, the Lord gives a first-person omniscient narrative account of His marriage to Israel in Ezekiel 16 .
232 From an omniscient perspective, “the story may be seen from any or all angles at will: from a godlike vantage point beyond time and place, from the center, the periphery, or front. There is nothing to keep the author from choosing any of them, or from shifting from one to the other as often or rarely as he pleases.” Norman Friedman , Form and Meaning in Fiction (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1975), 146. The omniscient narrator also “has access to a character’s thoughts and feelings and motives, as well as to his overt speech and actions” (Abrams , 143).
233 Horton , 304. “The advantage, for an author, of omniscient point of view is freedom and the possibility of dramatic irony. The author can enter the mind of any character at any time and contrast the character’s thoughts with actualities of which he is unaware. The advantage of limited point of view is realism, for narrowing the angle of observation increases the reader’s sense of actuality and personal involvement in the action.” Ibid.
234 Bar-Efrat lists four functions point of view performs in a narrative: (1) It contributes to a work’s unity by blending “the multiplicity of [the] viewpoints of the characters within one general vista”; (2) it “dictates what will be narrated and how, what will be related from afar and what from close to”; (3) it “can make a crucial contribution to enhancing the interest or suspense of the narrative”; and (4) it “is one of the means by which the narrative influences the reader, leading to the absorption of its implicit values and attitudes… . The effectiveness of the narrative is, therefore, dependent to a considerable extent on the technique of the viewpoint” (15-16).
235 As Tamara C. Eskenazi states, “Point of view provides a decisive clue for the intention of a work because a narrative typically makes its evaluation by its mode of presentation.” In an Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 129.
236 “Standing silently behind every wayeh and wayy’mer, the narrator’s mediation of all descriptions and quotation in the narrative is a constant reminder of his intermediary position between the story and the reader.” Lyle Eslinger , “Viewpoints and Point of View in 1 Samuel 8-12,” JSOT 26 (1983): 68.
237 Scholes and Kellogg do not overstate their case in claiming that point of view controls “the reader’s impressions of everything,” and that “in the relationship between the teller and the tale, and … between the teller and audience, lies the essence of narrative art” (The Nature of Narrative, 275, 240).
238 Sternberg deals at length with the Bible’s explicit and implicit claims to inspiration. Recognition and acceptance of those claims is key to reading the Bible as it was intended to be read, regardless of one’s extra-textual belief system (Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 32-34). One of the corollaries of the narrator’s inspired status is that “the Bible always tells the truth in that its narrator is absolutely and straightforwardly reliable” (Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 51). In contrast to some fictional literature, “the Bible knows nothing of the so-called unreliable narrator.” Tremper Longman III, “Biblical Narrative,” in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 75.
239 “In the Bible the ideological viewpoint is that of the narrator. It is he, according to his conceptual framework, who evaluates. Occasionally the ideological views of characters are present, but in general these are subordinated to that of the narrator” (Berlin , 55-56). Eslinger makes the same observation: “It is the narrator’s voice … that provides the overarching framework to which all elements of the story are subordinated” (“Viewpoints,” 68).
240 When a narrator “stops the narrative and adds explanations or clarifications … it shifts the readers out of the stratum of the plot and transfers them to the narrator’s own sphere. Explanations of events are a powerful tool in the hands of the narrator, enabling clear and unequivocal messages to be conveyed to the readers” (Bar-Efrat , 26). For similar comments, see Robert Alter , The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 116-17.
241 Berlin , 82: “Discovering the point of view of the [narrator] … is the first step in discovering the meaning and purpose of the story.” Osborne , 156: “point of view points to the force or significance of the story.”
242 David Rhoads and Donald Richie ’s description of the narrator in Mark captures well the typical features of Old Testament narrators: the narrator “speaks in the third person; is not bound by time or space in the telling of the story; is an implied invisible presence in every scene, capable of being anywhere to ‘recount’ the action; displays full omniscience by narrating the thoughts, feelings, or sensory experiences of many characters, … and narrates the story from one over-arching ideological point of view.” Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 36. Commenting specifically on narratorial omniscience, Bar-Efrat says, “The narrator in most Biblical narratives appears to be omniscient, able to see actions undertaken in secret and to hear conversations conducted in seclusion, familiar with the internal workings of the characters and displaying their innermost thoughts to us… . The evidence par excellence of [narratorial omniscience] … is undoubtedly what is reported about God … . The narrator does not often provide us with information about God’s inner feelings. In consequence, we can assume that when such information is given, the matter is of special importance.” Interestingly, the narrator in Ezra gives no information about God’s feelings directly. The characters do, however, ascribe (correctly) certain emotions to God: wrath ([zgr] 5:12 ; [[xq] 7:23 ), favor ([hnjt] 9:8 ), and anger ([[a] 8:22 ; 9:14 ; 10:14 ).
243 Alter , 183-84: “Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the role played by the narrator in the Biblical tales is the way in which omniscience and inobtrusiveness are combined… . The practical [ramification] … is that the reticence of the Biblical narrator, his general refusal to comment on or explain what he reports, is purposely selective.” Similar observations are made by Longman , A Complete Literary Guide, 75; Bar-Efrat , 24; and Ska , 45.
244 It has become common in literary criticism to distinguish six participants who are involved in any narrative communication: real author, implied author, narrator, narratee, implied reader, and real reader. Of these six, the first three have the most relevance to point of view analysis. The real author is the person who actually wrote the text; the implied author is the person whom the text’s features and contents imply wrote it; and the narrator is the ‘voice’ who tells the story (Longman , 145-47). Although the distinction between implied author and narrator may be useful in evaluating fictional literature, as Sternberg argues, it “does not quite apply in the Biblical context … because the implied author and the narrator to whom he delegates the task of communication practically merge into each other” (Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 75; cf. also Eslinger , 2; Longman , 146; Ska , 41). Sternberg goes on to argue, however, that “in contrast to the merging [of implied author and narrator], the distance between the historical writer and the implied author/narrator is so marked, indeed unbridgeable, that they not only can but must be distinguished” (75). While granting the naivet of regarding the implied author and real author as necessarily identical, one should also note that it is equally naive to regard their dissociation as a literary necessity. In the case of Ezra (and Nehemiah), “the narrator and the protagonist are identical” (Bar-Efrat , 24). Since neither the text nor its transmissional history suggest otherwise, there is no reason not to regard Ezra the Scribe as real author, implied author, and narrator of the Book of Ezra. In order to highlight the point of view of the intra-textual narrator, however, the term “narrator” will be used wherever the text does not identify the narrating voice.
245 An elaboration, as used here, is additional information about an element in the narrative that has no necessary connection to the plot.
246 Narratorial intrusion is not entirely unique to Ezra among Biblical narratives. Kings and 2 Chronicles, particularly, are noted for their frequent theological evaluations. The most frequent of these evaluations, occurring 58 times, is that a given person did “right (or evil) in the sight of the LORD.” See, for example, 1 Kings 11:6 ; 2 Kings 15:28 ; and 2 Chronicles 33:22 . Nonetheless, the frequency and nature of the narrator’s comments in Ezra bring them into special prominence.
247 The phrase hwhy yduwm occurs elsewhere only in Leviticus 23:2 , 4 , 37 , 44 and 2 Chronicles 2:3 . The additional descriptive modifier <yvdqmh in Ezra 3:5 makes the language uniquely Levitical.
248 The fact that David, not Moses, was responsible for the division of the priests and Levites into various classes raises questions about the narrator’s intention at this point. Sara Japhet contends that the narrator credits Moses in a “programmatic” expression of his desire that the community “build its life in the strictest conformity with the will of God; and that the written ‘Book of Moses’ [be] regarded as the embodiment of God’s will in his laws.” “Law and ‘The Law’ in Ezra-Nehemiah,” in Proceedings of the Ninth World Congress of Jewish Studies, ed. Moshe Goshen-Gottstein (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1988), 114-15. Japhet , however, fails to account for the narrator’s accurate notice of David’s responsibility for the temple worship methodologies in 3:10 . George Rawlinson provides a more satisfactory explanation for this apparent discrepancy: “This arrangement [mentioned in 6:18 ] was based upon the respective offices of the two orders, as given in the Book of Numbers (3:6-10 ; 8:6-26 ), and, so far, was ‘according to the writing of the book of Moses.’” Ezra, vol. 7 of The Pulpit Commentary, ed. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., n.d.; reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), 87-88. The Davidic divisions built upon the distribution of labor already established by Moses. Ezra could, therefore, legitimately cite the book of Moses as the source of the divisions. An alternate solution would be to take the phrase in question as referring only to the division of the Levites, which was instituted by Moses, and not the classes of the priests.
249 Similar language occurs in 2 Chronicles 23:18 and 31:3, where the author of Chronicles recounts the reforms of Josiah and Hezekiah.
250 This observation underscores the multi-dimensional nature of historical narrative. The fact that the people were scrupulous in their adherence to the law reveals their concerns. The fact that the narrator recounts their scrupulosity in detail reveals his own similar concerns.
251 The commandments given by God through the prophets would implicitly include the Davidic directions concerning priestly worship and Levitical divisions, for, according to 2 Chronicles 29:25 , David was acting in obedience to the command of Yahweh through Gad and Nathan: “He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps, and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets” (NASB).
252 dsy al hwhy lkyhw—The verb “founded” has been the subject of a good deal of discussion. Older critics frequently denied the accuracy of Ezra’s account of the temple’s founding, asserting that Haggai 2:18 precludes the possibility of any previous work on the temple. For example, see Robert H. Pfeiffer , Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1941), 821. More recent critics have abandoned this position, joining conservatives in recognizing that the verbs dsy (3:6 , 10 , 11 , 12 ) and bhy (Aramaic; 5:16 ) may mean “repair, restore, rebuild” as well as “to found.” A. Gelston , “The Foundations of the Second Temple,” VT 16 (1966): 232-35; W. E. Hogg , “The Founding of the Second Temple,” PTR (1927): 457-61; F. I. Andersen , “Who Built the Second Temple?,” ABR 6 (1958): 10-19. The apparent discrepancy between the accounts in Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra may be resolved in a number of ways that do not deny the accuracy of Ezra’s account. For complementary discussions of the possible resolutions, see Joseph Blenkinsopp , Ezra-Nehemiah, The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1988), 98-104, and Mervin Breneman , Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, vol. 10 in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 112.
253 C. F. Keil , “Ezra,” in vol. 4 of Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. Sophia Taylor (1866-91; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 33; Blenkinsopp , Ezra-Nehemiah, 98; and H. G. M. Williamson , Ezra, Nehemiah (Waco: Word Books, 1985), 47.
254 Transitions between topics are usually marked by temporal notations or by semantic links. The author’s propensity for bridging topics by beginning the new section with a word or phrase that concluded the previous section is most noticeable in the first half of the book. For example, the phrases hlgh twluh … hlwgh ybvm <yluh connect chapters one and two; <hyrub larcy connects chapters two and three; and the verb umv connects chapters three and four.
255 This was probably the reason the people gathered together on the first day of the seventh month (Ezra 3:1 , 6 ).
256 L. H. Brockington , Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd, 1969; reprint, Oliphants, 1977), 63.
257 The sequence in which the narrator gives his explanation supports this interpretation. Normally explanations are given after the facts that are being explained. In Ezra 5:5 , however, the narrator places the explanation before the event it explains: “And the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews and they did not stop them until the report could go to Darius and then a letter could be returned concerning this.” This order implies that God intervened on behalf of his people, giving them favor in Tatnai’s eyes.
258 Eskenazi regards 6:14 “as a linchpin for the whole book” and argues that “the edict of God and the edict of the three kings combine to explain the success of the Judeans … . Divine command and royal decree, spanning various eras and persons, are, in a fundamental way, one” (59-60).
259 The fact that Cyrus made similar statements about Marduk’s appointing him to restore his worship in Babylon may indicate the limited extent of Cyrus’s true spiritual perception. T. Fish , “The Cyrus Cylinder,” in Documents from Old Testament Times, ed. D. Winton Thomas (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1958), 92-94. It does not, however, undermine the narrator’s use of his statement. The omniscient narrator adds his own authoritative stamp upon Cyrus’s words in his preface: “Yahweh stirred the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia.” This removes any question as to whether God actually appointed Cyrus.
260 It is noteworthy that Ezra includes no explicit account of God’s command that the temple be built. In addition to his interpretation of Cyrus’s decree, he may also have in mind God’s command mediated through Haggai the prophet: “Go up to the mountain, bring wood, and build the house …” (Hag. 1:8 ).
261 For a helpful analysis of the various theories regarding the narrator’s reference to Darius as “the king of Asshur,” see Blenkinsopp , 133.
262 This phrase also occurs in Ezra’s statement concerning God’s protection of those who seek Him: “The hand of our God is upon all those who are seeking Him for good, and His strength and His wrath are against all those abandoning Him” (8:22 ).
263 Though Biblical poetry reflects a broad “repertoire of … selves, voices, viewpoints, personae, [and] situational contexts of utterance,” as Sternberg observes, this range of voices and viewpoints marks “an important distinction between [Biblical] poetry and narrative, … [for Biblical narratives] conform to a single model of narration, whereby the narrating persona wields powers not just different from but closed to his historical maker, whoever he may be. It is exactly here that Ezra (in part) and Nehemiah, both late works from the Persian period, break with the tradition” (72-73).
264 Williamson , 145-49, provides a helpful overview and discussion of the range of views on this issue. His discussion incorporates Mowinckel ’s earlier overview and extends it.
265 Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. Peter R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1965), 544.
266 Williamson , 147. Both Blenkinsopp , 187, and F. C. Fensham , The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. R. K. Harrison (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 2-3, follow a similar line of reasoning.
267 “Wir knnen somit feststellen, da der Wechsel von 1 und 3 Person in der jüdischen wie in andern altorientalischen Literaturen ein bewet benutzte Stilform war. Hinter dem Wechsel liegt grundstzlich nicht Willkür, sondern bewute literarische Absicht.” “‘Ich’ und ‘Er’ in der Ezrageschichte,” in Verbannung und Heimkehr: Beitrge zur Geschichte und Theologie Israels im 6. und 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr., ed. A. Kuschke (Tübingen: J. C. G. Mohr, 1961), 223. In an extended discussion of Mowinckel ’s theory, Williamson rejects his evidence as insufficient, noting that whereas third- to first-person shifts are abundant in ancient near east literature, shifts from first- to third-person are rare, Tobit being among the few examples (146). C. F. Keil , on the other hand, argues that shifts between first- and third-person narration are not so unusual in Biblical literature and need not indicate multiple authorship. He cites Jeremiah 28 , for example, which begins in the first person, “Hananiah … spoke to me” (28:1 ), then shifts to the third person in verse five, “Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah.” The same phenomenon also occurs in Nehemiah where chapters 1-7 are first-person narration, chapters 8-11 are third-person, and chapters 12-13 return to first-person narration. While none of these examples are undisputed, in every case those who regard the shifts as indications of editorial activity have no solid evidence to support their claim, and the shifts may more readily be regarded as part of the author’s literary strategy.
268 “Der Verfasser der EG ist gar nicht an der Geschichte als solcher interessiert. Er ist an der Geschichte nur insofern interessiert, als sie erbaulich ist—oder gemacht werden kann. Er schreibt, um einen modernen Ausdruck zu benutzen, ‘Kirchengeschichte für das glubige Volk’” (Mowinckel , 231).
269 Eskenazi , 133-34. Eskenazi bases this conclusion on the narrator’s repetition in Ezra 10:1 of what Ezra had said in chapter nine. She goes on, however, to contrast this support of Ezra with her analysis that the narrator of Nehemiah undermines the reader’s confidence in Nehemiah’s perspective. Although her analysis of the narrator’s view of Nehemiah is dubious, her observation that the narrator of Ezra and the character Ezra are united in point of view is accurate for no less a reason than that they are one and the same person.
270 Admittedly, Ezra could have composed the first-person section de novo in the process of composing his book. Either way, the literary intention of the inclusion is not undermined by its genesis.
271 In 1 Esdras 8:25 , two manuscripts, Vaticanus (B) and the Lucianic recension (L), insert the words “and Ezra said” before Ezra’s doxology. The majority of Greek manuscripts for 1 Esdras, however, omit the phrase. No Hebrew manuscripts or any other ancient witnesses to canonical Ezra add a third-person introduction to verse 27.
272 “Biblical narrators do not usually mention themselves. The ‘first person’ narratives in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, in which the narrator and the protagonist are identical, can be cited as exceptions” [emphasis mine] (Bar-Efrat , 24).
273 Ezra’s prayer in 9:3-15 clearly presents the most concentrated and objective statement of his point of view, not only regarding the mixed marriage crisis but also on a whole spectrum of theological issues. However, since the theological ramifications of Ezra’s prayer will be developed at length in the following chapters, a detailed analysis of this section is not developed at this point.
274 First-person narration does not necessarily diminish the distance between reader and narrated action. In fact, the reader’s sense of distance may increase if the action is external to the narrating character, and a limited range of vision, like the circled view of binoculars, hinders the reader’s vision. However, when the action is internal or revolves immediately around the character, as is the case in Ezra 9, first-person narration creates a greater sense of immediacy.
275 Ezra 9:4 actually expresses Ezra’s perception of those who gathered around him and thus reflects his point of view. However, because his point of view is normative in the narrative, his perception of their point of view can be accepted as accurate.
276 The precise meaning and implications of the term lum (to be unfaithful) will be covered at greater length in Chapter Six. For this analysis of point of view, however, it is sufficient to note that every point of view expressed explicitly uses this term (9:2 , 4 ; 10:2 , 6 , 10 ), except that of the whole congregation, although even then the congregation implicitly affirms Ezra’s use of the term (10:12 ).
277 It is noteworthy that in the process of demonstrating the unanimous denunciation of the mixed marriages, Ezra does not omit mention of those who opposed the enacted penalty (10:15 ). Though the meaning of the Hebrew phrase twz-lu wdmu is disputed, the general consensus is that the context and syntax together indicate that the four men who are mentioned resisted the decision to send the foreign women away. By not suppressing this dissenting viewpoint, the narrator demonstrates his impartial handling of the facts of the matter, further strengthening the reader’s regard for his integrity. For an analysis and discussion of the standard views on this verse, see Williamson , 156-57. For argumentation that these four men were actually standing in support of Ezra, see Y. Kaufmann , History of the Religion of Israel (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1977), 4:353, n. 30.
278 For helpful overviews of characterization in Biblical narratives, see Berlin , “Characterization,” 23-42; and Ska , “Characters,” 83-94. More substantial treatments that include perceptive analyses of Biblical characters may be found in Alter , 114-130, Bar-Efrat , 47-92, and Sternberg , 321-54.
279 Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Biblical characterization is the complete absence of physical description given for the purpose of realism. In Sternberg ’s words, “The Bible … does not reserve so much as a single characterizing epithet for solidity of specification” (329).
280 Berlin , 33-41. Robert Alter provides an illuminating analysis of the relation between interpretive certainty and the different modes of characterization: “There is a scale of means, in ascending order of explicitness and certainty, [for accomplishing characterization]… . The lower end of this scale—character revealed through actions or appearance—leaves us substantially in the realm of inference. The middle categories, involving direct speech either by a character himself or by others about him, lead us from inference to the weighing of claims… . With the report of inward speech, we enter the realm of relative certainty about character… . Finally at the top of the ascending scale, we have the reliable narrator’s explicit statement of what the characters feel, intend, desire; here we are accorded certainty, though Biblical narrative … may choose for its own good purposes either to explain the ascription of attitude or state it baldly and thus leave its cause as an enigma for us to ponder” (117).
281 Alter , 116.
282 As Bar-Efrat notes, “characters serve as the narrator’s mouthpiece” (47).
283 The phrase literally reads, “for in terror upon them from the peoples of the lands” twxrah ymum <hylu hmyab yk. The syntactical oddness of this phrase stems from the conjunction yk. If given its normal causal sense, it would indicate that their fear of their neighbors caused them to erect the altar: “These settlers were moved as much by fear as by faith… . The threatening situation had brought home to them their need of help, and therefore of that access to God which was promised at the altar (Ex. 29:43 )” (Kidner , Ezra & Nehemiah, 46). However, the unusualness of this insertion, both in its content as well as in its deviation from the narrator’s norm of external perspective, suggests that rendering yk as a concessive, “despite” or “though,” may communicate the sense of the phrase more adequately. The clause would then read, “They placed the altar upon its place, despite their terror of the peoples of the lands … .” This reading would imply that the Returnees acted courageously in spite of their fear.
284 The term “terror” (hmya) occurs 17 times in the OT, primarily in poetry. In all but one of its occurrences (Jer. 50:38) it denotes a strong sense of fear which may bring confusion (Exo. 23:27 ), cause its possessors to “melt” (Josh 2:9 ), and may be associated with the fear of death (Psa. 55:5 ). Thomas E. McComiskey, “’ema,” TWOT, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:81.
285 This chronology assumes that in the “second year” in the phrase, “in the second year after they come to the house of God, to Jerusalem, in the second month,” refers to the second year of Cyrus’ reign. If one were to take it as meaning two years after the Returnees’ arrival in Jerusalem, then up to two years would have passed before the temple was founded.
286 The narrator’s note that the people gathered to Jerusalem “as one man” (3:1 ) suggests the corporate unity that existed at that time.
287 Two strands of evidence support interpreting the elders’ weeping negatively. First, when Haggai and Zechariah denounce the Returnees’ failure to rebuild the temple, they address the leaders specifically (Hag. 1:1 ; 2:2 ; Zech. 4:6 ). Second, in order to motivate work on the temple, Haggai specifically encourages those who saw Solomon’s temple in its glory, promising that, contrary to appearances, the glory of the second temple would be greater than that of the first (Hag. 2:2-9 ). In view of this evidence, the weeping of some of the elders, “who saw the first house when it was founded” (Ezra 3:12 ), is best interpreted as a sign of their discouragement concerning the present temple.
288 The singular phrase “statute and judgment” occurs only two other times (Exod. 15:25 ; Josh. 24:25 ). A variation on this phrase fpvmlw qjl “for a statute and for an ordinance” occurs in 1 Sam. 30:25 . In Exod. 15:25 and 1 Sam. 30:25 the phrase refers to a specific statute enacted at that time; whereas Josh. 24:24 refers to the renewed covenant to serve Yahweh made by Israel near the time of Joshua’s death. The phrase here may indicate Ezra’s intention to teach the specifics of the law.
289 Two different words occur here. The “humiliation” of 9:5 is a hapax legomenon tynut, derived from the verb hnu. Leonard J. Coppes, “‘anah,” TWOT, 2:682. The second word, <lk, is a term of intense humiliation which is occasioned by such things as being spat upon (Num. 12:14 ), having one’s clothes removed in public and being partially shaved (2 Sam. 10:4-5 ), or recognizing one’s cowardice for fleeing from a battle (2 Sam. 19:3 ).
290 Bar-Efrat , 53. Direct characterization is the use of epithets, descriptions, or evaluations in portraying a character. In Sternberg ’s words, in direct characterization “the whole personality gets crammed into one or two adjectives” (328). The opening lines of Job provide a classic example of direct characterization: “There was a man in the land of Uz, his name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1 ). For a helpful discussion of direct characterization and its use in the Ehud narrative, see Sternberg , 328-341.
291 Another function of direct characterization that often receives attention is its role in plot. Sternberg asserts that “all formal epithets … enter into tight relations with the patterns that surround them, fulfilling at least one role beyond direct characterization. That invariable function consists in laying the ground for plot developments, so as to enhance their predictability or at least their intelligibility after the event” (331). Berlin , 34, and Bar-Efrat , 53, make similar observations.
292 “There is no chance to assess the motivation behind the request, no opportunity to interpret their words as the first subtle elements in a complex characterization… . The narrator is not interested in a subtle portrayal of these leaders; he reduces them to a single epithet: ‘enemies.’” Douglas Green , “Ezra-Nehemiah,” in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Leland Ryken and Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 211.
293 Artaxerxes I spent a good portion of the first ten years of his reign quelling a revolt in Egypt. Shortly after the Persians regained control of Egypt, Megabyzus, the satrap of Beyond the River, revolted against Artaxerxes (449-446 B.C.). Blenkinsopp , 114, and Edwin M. Yamauchi , “Ezra-Nehemiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 4:571. On the assumption that the events of Ezra 4:7-23 took place shortly before Nehemiah’s arrival (445 B.C.), one can easily see how Artaxerxes would be very suspicious of potential fortification in a province already in turmoil.
294 For a helpful discussion of the term “scribe” in the Hebrew Bible, as well as in Persian literature, see Kaufmann , 324-27. Kaufmann rejects the idea that the title “scribe” indicates Ezra’s official position in Persia. He argues convincingly that it denotes Ezra’s “academic attainment” as a specialist in the law (326).
295 For a review of the linguistic and cognate data for defining the term ryjm as “skilled,” see Fensham , 100.
296 This is not a denial of the individual points of view expressed by the characters or in the sources Ezra uses. It is, however, an assertion that those individual points of view are subsumed by the narrator’s viewpoint.
297 For example, Eskenazi argues that one of the three key emphases of Ezra-Nehemiah is “the primacy of the written text over the oral as a source of authority… . Ezra-Nehemiah wrests power from charismatic figures and provides a more publicly accessible, and publicly, negotiable, source of authority” (In An Age of Prose, 2). It is true that Ezra emphasizes the importance of the law, but that emphasis does not constitute a shift in the locus of authority. From Ezra’s point of view, the law encompasses the revelation given through the prophets and has thus always been the final authority.