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Chapter 1: Temporal Ordering In Ezra: Part I

"Chronological Anomalies in Ezra,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (Jan-Mar 2005): 68–84

With its very first words, Ezra rivets the narrative to the line of time: “In the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia … .”42 At each successive turn of events, temporal markers point the way. In all, more than 40 of these signs of time line the textual highway, and the text ends its story with yet another temporal pinpoint, “And they finished … upon the first day of the first month” (10:17 ).43 Beginning, middle, and end—every part of the Book of Ezra reflects the author’s careful attention to time.

At the same time, however, the prominence of these dates creates something of a problem. Since dates are characteristic of historical narrative, and “for narrative to make sense as narrative, it must make chronological sense,”44 the reader has a double sense that Ezra’s narrative should unfold in just the sequence that things happened. But it does not. After covering more than 80 years of post-exilic history (538-457 B.C.; 1:1-4:23 ), without skipping a beat, Ezra jumps back 63 years to 520 B.C. (4:24 ) and picks up the account of the temple’s completion where he left it (4:5 ). With the rebuilding of the temple complete in 516 B.C. (4:24-6:22 ), an almost offhanded “after these things” transports the reader forward over more than 57 years of largely undisclosed history and lands him in 458 B.C., the seventh year of Artaxerxes (7:1 , 7 ).

In contrast to the first section’s 80-year span (538-457 B.C.), the last section (7:1-10:44 ) covers precisely one year to the day (1/1/458 B.C. to 1/1/457 B.C.).45 The narrative’s temporal disproportions match its equally variable pace in the telling of its story—sometimes moving moderately, sometimes at a gallop, other times inching genealogically name-by-name. These textual factors in combination with the unalterable temporality of narrative—time as the matrix of events within a narrative, and time as the matrix of the reader in reading a narrative—underscore the importance of time in Ezra, important not only in constructing the narrative but also in discerning its message.

Ezra’s use of narrative temporality constitutes his most obvious yet complex literary technique. Bridging temporal gaps, manipulating temporal

Figure 1 — A Comparison of Chronological Order and Narrative Order in Ezra

pace and proportion, maneuvering between chronology and anachrony46—Ezra makes use of these (and other) strategies of time throughout his narrative.47 This chapter will analyze how Ezra develops and deploys these temporal strategies in the construction of the narrative’s key theological themes.

Temporal Notations

The most prominent aspect of Ezra’s focus on time is the frequency and variety of temporal markers throughout the text. No major juncture in the narrative is without an accompanying signpost. Depending on the criteria used to identify temporal markers, one will find between forty to forty-three in the Book of Ezra. The temporal markers charted in Table 1 meet one or more of the following criteria: (1) specific mention of a year, month, or day; (2) reference to time-specific events (e.g., “the evening sacrifice,” 9:5 ); (3) association of an historical figure with a span of time’s beginning, end, or duration; and (4) use of temporal adverbs (e.g., “when,” “after”). The one phrase in italics failed to meet any of the above criteria, yet it too seemed to mark time’s passing in a more subtle fashion.

Table 1 — Temporal Notations in Ezra

Ezra’s temporal markers range across a continuum from highly specific dates to ambiguous time references. Four categories of dates suggest themselves from the data: (1) specific names and dates, (2) specific points in time or specific lengths of time, (3) markers that delimit a general time period without specifying a point within that period, and (4) general consecutive indicators (“after,” “when”) that do not precisely identify the temporal relations between the events they mark and those that precede them. The great majority of Ezra’s temporal markers refer to a specific point in time, either with a name and a date or with a simple date. Of the eight clear references to a general time period, six locate their associated events within the reign of a Persian or Assyrian king. The other two involve references to the “days of old.” Though only two ambiguous time references occur in Ezra (7:1 ; 9:1 ), as will be shown, they are by no means insignificant.

Temporal Notations and Narrative Structure

The value of analyzing Ezra’s temporal notations lies primarily in the relationships that exist between the distribution of these temporal signposts and the structure of the narrative.48 At least four levels of narrative structure, ranging from micro- to macro-structures, exist in Biblical narrative: (1) verbal structure, (2) narrative technique structure, (3) narrative world structure, and (4) conceptual structure.49 Temporal notations exist at the level of the verbal structure; however, their contributions to the structure of the narrative are most perceptible at the other three levels.

Unanimous agreement exists among Biblical and literary scholars that Ezra’s “narrative world structure” divides into two major sections: chapters 1-6 and chapters 7-10.50 While a greater diversity of treatment exists below this sectional level, each section naturally subdivides into two episodes:51 chapters 1-2 cover the first return;52 chapters 3-6 cover the building of the
temple and opposition to God’s people; chapters 7-8 cover the second return under Ezra, and chapters 9-10 cover the problem of mixed marriages.53

As Table 2 shows, episodes one and two both begin with specific temporal notations (1:1 ; 3:1 ), whereas episodes three and four both begin with ambiguous time references and are preceded by temporal gaps (7:1 ; 9:1 ). Ezra marks the end of his narrative’s action with another specific date (10:17 ). Thus temporal notations demarcate both the beginning and the end of the narrative action, and each of the sections within the book begins with a temporal reference.

Both episodes one and three recount a return of God’s people, but the contrast in temporal detail could hardly be greater. Section one begins with its first and only temporal notation; no mention is made of the first return’s starting time, ending time, or duration. The temporal details of the first return are not significant. Its occurrence in fulfillment of the word of Yahweh through the prophet Jeremiah, not its details, constitutes its signal feature. On the other hand, the second section contains highly specific dates that mark precisely the second return’s beginning, duration, and ending. The specificity of Ezra’s temporal notations regarding the second return, as well as the anachronous order of their presentation, serves a distinctly rhetorical function which in turn supports the theological point being made in that section.

Table 2 — Narrative Structure and Temporal Notations

Ezra’s “narrative technique structure” primarily involves the relationships between the four kinds of material incorporated into the book: narration, written decrees and letters,54 lists, and dialogue.55 A correlation between Ezra’s placement of temporal signposts and these materials reveals that the majority of Ezra’s temporal notations occur in narration.56 At this level the temporal markers play a crucial role in creating and maintaining narrative continuity. Through their linkage, the book’s sections and episodes are brought into chronological or thematic coherence.

Temporal notations make an indirect contribution to the final and most significant structural level, conceptual structure, through their role in chronology, anachrony, temporal pace, and temporal proportion, for it is these strategies that help create the thematic structure of the book.

Table 3 — Narrative Technique Structure and Temporal Notations





Written material














1:9-11 a


1:11 b









































































































Note: TN indicates temporal notations. The number in the “Totals” row reflects how many temporal notations occur in each section.

Temporal Notations and Narrative Chronology

Temporal markers also play a crucial role in establishing Ezra’s narrative chronology.57 This role involves two key functions: (1) genre indication, and (2) establishment of reader expectation. As in life, so in literature, first impressions are important. The Book of Ezra initiates the reader to the world of its narrative not with scenic depiction or vivid action, but with a date, a temporal locator planting itself firmly in the Persian world of Cyrus, the first king of Medo-Persia. That initial date produces certain immediate effects upon the reader and his reading. First, it suggests that the Book of Ezra belongs to the genre of history.58 Further reading confirms this idea, showing Ezra to be narrative prose history59—narrative because it tells a story, prose because it uses non-poetic language, and history because it is a record of the past.60 Historical narrative by representational necessity moves sequentially from early to late in imitation of time’s march. Chronology is its guiding principle; and so the reader, introduced to a historical notation in the first line of the narrative, anticipates finding the same principle at work in the rest of the narrative.

The second effect of Ezra’s first temporal notation is the establishment of reader expectation. Every narrative establishes a “perceptual set” or framework by which the reader understands the norms of the world he is entering.61 Ezra’s opening date contributes a significant element to the reader’s perceptual framework by establishing a temporal precedent. As in geometry where two points form a line, so in narrative two successive dates conform to time’s line, and three such dates generate movement in time’s direction. Ezra gives not two or three, but many successive dates throughout his narrative. Out of Ezra’s forty-some time references, only two or three sets of temporal points openly deviate from time’s order.62 The composite result of Ezra’s temporal notations is a strong sense that this narrative will be in chronological order.

Temporal markers alone, however, are not sufficient to develop a narrative chronology.63 There is more to Ezra’s use of time than explicit road signs, for what good are signs without a road? They mark progress, give direction, and indicate location. Yet they are only points along the story’s line, and it is the story that unfolds. Ezra paves his narrative highway with a consistent flow of cause-effect sequences that generates a strong chronological primacy-effect.64 Yahweh stirs Cyrus, and he decrees God’s will (1:1-4 ). Levites are appointed to supervise the founding of the temple, and the work progresses (3:8-10 ). The Jews repulse the offer of a helping hand, and opposition ensues (4:1-24 ). God acts; men react. Kings command; subjects obey. From beginning to end, Ezra’s temporal markers work in conjunction with the narrative’s causal sequences to generate a sense of chronological movement through history.

The significance of this chronological primacy-effect will become evident later, but at this point it is sufficient to note the ubiquitous presence of chronology throughout the narrative. Each episode, except the second, begins early and ends late. The first episode covers approximately the first seven months of Cyrus’s reign (1:1-3:1 ). The third episode begins the first day of the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ reign (1/1/458 B.C.; 7:1 , 9 ) and ends sometime after the fourth day of the fifth month of the same year (5/4/458 B.C.; 8:33 ). The last episode starts four months later in the ninth month and finishes out on the first day of the following year (1/1/457 B.C.; 10:17 ). Though the second episode does not end at its latest point, its two blocks of material run according to time’s sequence: Ezra 3:1-4:23 begins in the seventh month of Cyrus’s first year (7/1/538 B.C.), moves through the reigns of Darius (4:5 ) and Ahasuerus (4:6 ), and ends sometime during the reign of Artaxerxes (465-424 B.C.; 4:7-8 ); and Ezra 4:24-6:22 opens in the second year of Darius (520 B.C.) and closes on the twenty-first day of Darius’s seventh year (515 B.C.; 6:19 , 22 ).


Ezra’s strategic use of chronology throughout his narrative accomplishes a cluster of functions. Historically, Ezra provides us with the primary Biblical coverage of Israel’s reformation in the post-exilic period. The calculated placement of dates at significant junctures throughout the narrative sustains its historical significance. By pinpointing events to definite times and specifically named individuals, the narrative’s chronology also provides objectively verifiable data that anchor the narrative to the real world.65 Rhetorically, chronological development gives the reader a sense of movement and enables him to mark his progress through the narrative. It also forms a background against which deviations from chronology stand in marked contrast. Theologically, the narrative’s chronological framing sets a stage for God’s work. God participates in the world of time and space, working His will through its inhabitants. In this way chronology supports the text’s revelation of God’s immanence in human history. Also, it provides the framework for demonstrating the temporal fulfillment of God’s word through Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1 ).

Anachrony: Chronological Anomalies

Although chronology is a prime ordering principle in the Book of Ezra, it is not the controlling principle of the narrative’s order. This becomes increasingly evident as the reader finds temporal notations that mark deviations from a strict chronology. This section first discusses the historical order in which the narrative’s events occurred;66 second, it explores four instances in which Ezra departs from a chronological presentation and his purposes for these deviations. Chapter Two will review how scholars have handled these temporal anomalies, comparing and contrasting the results of a literary-analytical approach with other approaches.

The Chronology of Ezra’s Events

One must know the true order of a series of events if he is to discern when an author deviates from that order. Ezra’s temporal notations give the reader sufficient evidence to establish the actual order in which the events occurred. Table 4 charts the chronological order of the events in Ezra’s narrative. As Table 4 shows, chapter four is at the heart of Ezra’s strategic use of anachrony. Of the four significant departures from chronology that occur in this book, two of them involve chapter four. The other two chronological anomalies involve Ezra 6:14 and the order in which the events of the second return are narrated in Ezra 7.

Anomaly One: Artaxerxes then Darius

The first temporal anomaly occurs between 4:23 and 4:24 , where the narrative switches from the time of Artaxerxes back to the time of Darius.

The first two chapters of Ezra recount Cyrus’s decree to rebuild the house of Yahweh in Jerusalem and the people’s return to the land of Israel. Chapter

Table 4 — The Chronological Order of Ezra





The first return under Cyrus



The rebuilding of the altar and founding of the temple


post 538

The refused offer of help, ensuing opposition



Temple reconstruction hindered until Darius’s second year, Work revived under Haggai & Zechariah, Tatnai’s investigation, Darius’s support, and Rebuilding of the temple



Opposition during the reign of Ahasuerus



Opposition during the reign of Artaxerxes67



Return of Ezra with imperial grant



Problem of mixed marriages exposed and resolved


post 458

Successful opposition to rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls during the reign of Artaxerxes68


three begins with all the sons of the exile gathering to Jerusalem on the first day of the seventh month of Cyrus’s reign to restore the altar and reestablish sacrificial worship. Roughly two years later,69 Jeshua and Zerubbabel bestir the people to lay the foundation of the temple and commence its reconstruction (3:8 ).70 After refusing their adversaries’ request to help rebuild the temple, the Jews faced fifteen years of organized opposition and resistance until the reign of Darius (4:1-3 ). During the reign of Ahasuerus (486-465) their enemies lodged another complaint against them (4:6 ). The rest of chapter four (4:7-23 ) records two instances of opposition during the reign of Artaxerxes (465-424), the second of which resulted in an imperial decree authorizing the cessation of all Jewish building activity on the city walls.

To this point the narrative has followed a strictly chronological line despite the numerous gaps left in the history. All the temporal signposts in Ezra point forward until the final verse of chapter four, where the reappearance of Darius’s name indicates that time has been warped, and what was long past is present again. The 35-year gap between 4:5 and 4:6 is abruptly reopened, and the story flips back and down into that temporal opening to spend over 700 words filling in the gapped information concerning the temple’s completion during the reign of Darius.

The anomalous order of the narrative evokes a barrage of questions. What really happened? Who comes first? Why tell about opposition to the building of Jerusalem’s walls, opposition that happened years after the rebuilding of the temple, before one tells how the temple was rebuilt? The chronological facts of the matter are that the opposition instigated by the Samarians71 succeeded in hindering the reconstruction of the temple until Darius’s second year (4:24 ). At that time Haggai and Zechariah deliver God’s message and stir the people to work (5:1 ). Tatnai, the governor, investigates the building activity, sends a report to Darius for confirmation of the Jew’s claims, and requests instructions about how to proceed (5:3-17 ). Darius supports the work, and the rebuilding of the temple is completed (6:1-15 ). Some time later, during the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes, opposition resumes (4:6-7 ).

Ezra’s reasons for telling history out of order are complex, involving both local and global plot development as well as the development of his overarching themes. An adequate explanation of authorial intent must answer both why Ezra omitted these events from their proper historical location and why he placed them where he did.72 To appreciate the significance of the text’s order, one must recognize the effects it has upon the reader. Despite the fact that Ezra alerts the reader that he is returning to an earlier period of history (4:24 ), the momentum of the narrative’s chronology and the continuance of chapter four’s opposition theme maintains the reader’s sense of narrative continuity through the temporal transition. This sense of continuity is augmented by the temporal particle that begins 4:24 73 as well as by the repetition of the verb, to cease, in verses 23 and 24 .74 As the reader moves into chapter five, it appears that the Samarians had won (4:23 ), and the Jews were in for another beating, this time from Tatnai. However, Darius’s substantive support for the Jewish endeavor radically alters the dynamic of the situation, both historically and literarily (6:1 ff). Historically, Darius’s decree transformed the reconstruction from a beleaguered effort to an imperially supported project with more than adequate resources and authority. Literarily, the placement of this incident after all the previously recounted opposition creates a far greater sense of reversal than its historical placement ever could. Darius’s decree effectively reverses the frustration that mounted into despair as chapter four ends. Hostility is turned into help. The “bad guys” lose; the “good guys” win. And theologically, God comes through for His people. The episode’s closing comment summarizes Ezra’s theological point: “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” (6:22 ).

This reversal is the thematic fulcrum for the first half of the book. Ezra’s audience is living in the aftermath of the Samarians’ heavy-handed enforcement of Artaxerxes’ decree to stop all work on the city walls (4:23 ). They had been prospering under Artaxerxes’ favor mediated through Ezra’s administration. Apparently, they were actively rebuilding Jerusalem when their enemies successfully exploited the king’s financial concerns to gain an injunction against them. If 4:23 forms the background to Hanani’s report to Nehemiah (Neh. 1:3 ), Nehemiah’s reaction gives a picture of the sorrow and gloom that must have engulfed God’s people. A significant part of Ezra’s purpose for writing is to revive the people’s hope for the future by looking back at how God had caused His people to triumph over persistent opposition. Implicit in Ezra’s strategic use of anachrony is the concept that what God has done in the past, He can do again in the future. Ezra skillfully orders the narrative events to create hope for the future, a hope firmly rooted in observable evidences of God’s sovereign providence.75

Anomaly Two: “After these things …”

The second temporal anomaly occurs in Ezra 7:1 . Chapters 1-6 begin with Cyrus’s first year and end with Darius’s seventh year, a 21-year span. The total time span covered in the first six chapters, however, stretches over 80 years—from Cyrus to an unspecified time during the reign of Artaxerxes (4:6-23 ). Chapter seven introduces the second section of the narrative with the words “After these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes … .” Clearly Ezra intends to establish a sequence of events. The events of chapters 7-10 are said to follow certain things. But to which “things” does Ezra refer? Two mutually exclusive options are open to the reader. The first and simplest view takes the narrative words at face value and assumes that all the events of chapters 1-6 precede those of chapters 7-10 . Historically, this would mean that sometime within the first seven years of Artaxerxes’ reign, the Samarians finally succeeded in shutting down the Jewish building operation. The natural result was discouragement on the part of the people. The rubble of Jerusalem’s Babylonian destruction has now been compounded by the Samarians’ malice.76 The coming of Ezra with an extraordinarily generous grant from the very king who had ordered them to stop building the city walls would then be evidence of God’s gracious hand working in their behalf.

The second interpretation, which is followed here, arises from an attempt to correlate the timing of Artaxerxes’ first appearance (4:7 ) with his second appearance (7:1 ). Ezra firmly fixes the events of chapter seven in the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ reign (7:7 ), but the temporal location of Artaxerxes’ first appearance in 4:7-23 is less clear. The text merely states that those events transpire “in the days of Artaxerxes” (4:7 ). The letter from Rehum and Shimshai, however, contains a clue to its date (4:8-16 ). Rehum and Shimshai state that certain Jews had come up from “near you to us” (4:12 ).77 The prima facie implication of these words is that the “coming up” of the Jews was contemporary with both the writers and the king. The only recorded migration from Babel to Jerusalem during the reign of Artaxerxes (in sacred or secular history) is that led by Ezra.78 The conclusion naturally follows that the events of 4:8-23 took place subsequent to Ezra’s return and precede the devastated condition of Jerusalem’s walls and gates reported to Nehemiah (Neh. 1:3 ). The phrase “after these things …” refers not to the totality of the preceding narrative, but specifically to chapters 5-6 —Tatnai’s investigation, Darius’s support, and the rebuilding of the temple.

Again, questions concerning the omission of these events from their proper historical order and the reasons for their present placement require an answer. Four reasons for Ezra’s omission of the events of 4:24-6:22 and chapters 7-10 from their proper historical order become evident as one examines the narrative’s order: (1) justification of the term “enemies”;79 (2) defense of the rejection of the Samarians’ help; (3) prospective justification of mandated divorce; and (4) magnification of God’s gracious sovereignty.

In chapter four Ezra distills from history a concentrated account of the Samarians’ persistence in opposing God’s work. His intention is to present a case that justifies his characterization of the Samarians as “enemies” by revealing their unrelenting opposition to the work of God’s people (4:1 ). They had created problems not just once or twice, but over the course of seventy years they had repeatedly demonstrated the gross hypocrisy of their claim “for as you, we are seeking your God” (4:2 ). Had Ezra included chapters 5-10 in their proper place, the effect of this concentrated presentation would be significantly dissipated.

The omission of these events also creates a focused defense and exoneration of the Jewish leaders’ rejection of the Samarian offer to help (4:3 ). The response of Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the rest of the heads of the fathers of Israel sounds curt, perhaps even harsh, upon first reading: “Not to you and to us to build the house of our God; for we alone will build to Yahweh” (4:3 ).80 As the narrative progresses, however, the sagacity of the Jewish elders becomes evident. They were rejecting an offer made not by Yahweh-fearing neighbors but by syncretistic pagans (cf. 2 Kings 17:24 -41) whose rancor grows increasingly apparent. Third, the wicked opposition of the Samarians establishes the background for understanding why Ezra takes such drastic steps to resolve the problem of mixed marriages.81 As Ezra’s fourth chapter clearly show, the peoples of the land had only malevolence for Yahweh and His people.

The final reason for Ezra’s omissions involves his narrative development of God’s gracious goodness. The distilled account of the Samarians’ malice stands in stark contrast to the following manifestations of God’s gracious favor in turning the hearts of the Persian kings to His people (6:22 ; 7:27 , 28 ; 9:8-9 ).82 The contrast reveals the doubly heinous nature of the people’s sin in marrying foreign women: not only have they intermarried with those who hate Yahweh, but they have done so in the face of Yahweh’s repeated overtures of grace.

The choice to omit certain material from its chronological setting does not necessarily entail its inclusion elsewhere in the narrative. Therefore, Ezra’s inclusion of previously omitted material as well as the location of its placement within the narrative order are both significant. Several things stand out about the placement of this material. The first is the structural division created by chapter seven’s opening words: “After these things … .” As noted before, there is unanimous agreement among OT scholars that Ezra divides into two sections: 1-6 and 7-10 . The unity of this scholarly analysis testifies to the effectiveness of Ezra’s temporal notation, despite its chronological artificiality. This division allows Ezra to accomplish two objects simultaneously. Locally, he maintains thematic continuity with chapters five and six in order to reinforce the reader’s sense of reversal. The text progresses from Darius’s support to Artaxerxes’ grant to Ezra. Since the narrative has already presented the negative developments that took place under Artaxerxes, this subsequent display of Persian favor appears to be a reversal of policy. Again, Ezra exploits the temporal rearrangement created by his thematic development in order to generate hope in his readers that such a reversal can happen again. Just as God has turned the hearts of Persian kings to favor His people in the past, He can do it again.

On the global level, Ezra creates thematic parallelism between the two sections of his narrative. Ezra’s return in chapters 7-8 parallels the return of chapters 1-2 . The external problems and resolutions of chapters 3-6 parallel antithetically the internal problem and resolution of chapters 9-10 . The ordering of this antithetic narrative parallelism contributes directly to the theological focus of Ezra’s message. By relating chapters 7-10 out of order, Ezra isolates all the Returnees’ external problems to chapters 1-6 so that he can direct the reader’s undivided attention to the most serious problems faced by God’s people—internal problems. The Returnees believed that the primary problems they faced were external: case in point, the Samarians had just squashed their efforts to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Ezra, however, recognizes that external opposition was not his people’s main problem. Returning to the promised land, renewing worship, rebuilding the altar and temple—all these external aspects of the Judean restoration were vain without worshippers whose hearts were pure and whose lives were obedient to the Law. Disobedience would ruin them as surely as it had their fathers.

Anomaly Three: “Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes”

The third chronological anomaly occurs in Ezra 6:14 . Having confirmed the authenticity of Cyrus’s decree at the request of Tatnai, governor of Beyond the River (6:3-5) ,83 Darius ordered that all necessary funds and supplies for rebuilding the temple be placed at the Jews’ disposal. Ezra encapsulates the results of Darius’s decree this way:

Then Tatnai, the governor of Beyond the River, Shethar Bozenai and their colleagues did exactly and thoroughly what Darius the king had sent. And the elders of Judah were building and prospering through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo; and they built and they finished from the command of the God of Israel and from the command of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes, king of Persia. And this house was brought to an end on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king (Ezra 6:13-15 ).

The unexpected and anachronistic appearance of Artaxerxes’ name in 6:14 momentarily jolts the reader back into the time of Ezra, immediately raising two questions: why is Artaxerxes mentioned in conjunction with Cyrus and Darius when they had both died before he was born; and why does the narrator imply that Artaxerxes was a co-contributor to the building of the temple when he had nothing to do with the actual building of the temple? The complete homogeneity of the textual evidence for this verse renders speculations about editorial activity needless.84 Instead, recognition that Ezra purposely relates things out of order should prompt a search for his purpose for including this reference at this point in the narrative.

Ezra’s use of anachrony signals that thematic development is again overriding chronological presentation. The inclusion of Artaxerxes’ name in 6:14 brings into one compass all the Persian kings who contributed to the temple—from initial rebuilding to final beautification—and unites the entire preceding narrative around one of the narrative’s theological centerpoints: Yahweh’s sovereign control of history. Again, Ezra’s thematic treatment serves both narrative development and his theological purpose. In terms of narrative development, this verse summarizes all that has transpired in the process of rebuilding the temple and anticipates, by mentioning Artaxerxes, what is yet to come. Theologically, the syntax of 6:14 is significant. Ezra explicitly attributes the successful completion of the temple project to the command of God first and then to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. This order of presentation forges a causal-chronological link between the decree of God and the separate decrees of these three kings. God’s command effects Cyrus’s, Darius’s, and Artaxerxes’ commands.85 The singular form [<u@f=] subsumes the three commands into one,86 implying that the Persian decrees were merely extensions of the sovereign will of God. His was the command, and they were its publishers.

Anomaly Four: The End Before the Beginning

The magnitude of the chronological challenges associated with “after these things” in 7:1 has so overshadowed Ezra’s rearrangement of the dates associated with his own return that most scholars and commentators have given it no notice. Contrary to normal history-telling practice, Ezra’s temporal notations mark his journey’s end before they mark its beginning. Ezra begins with the ending date. “That Ezra went up from Babel … and he entered Jerusalem in the fifth month—it was the seventh year of the king” (7:6 , 8 ). The next verse then specifies when he began: “For on the first day of the first month was the beginning of the going up from Babel …” (7:9 ). This end-before-beginning arrangement holds true for the entire second return episode. The reader knows the day, month, and year that Ezra and the people arrive in Jerusalem before he is told anything of the journey’s background, preparations, or the potential hazards that may intervene.

Having given the ending and beginning dates, Ezra spends most of his time narrating the antecedents to the journey: Artaxerxes’ grant (7:12-26 ), the gathering of the people (8:1-14 ), the search for Levites (8:15-20 ), the prayer for protection (8:21-23 ), and the care of the temple vessels (8:24-30 ). The events of the nearly four-month-long journey are entirely omitted, except for one comment to reinforce his theological point: “And the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the palm of the enemy and ambusher along the road” (8:31 ). Interestingly, Ezra does not return again to the dates with which he began. Having said when the exiles arrived (7:8-9 ), he merely states that they arrive and how long they rest after the arrival (8:32 ).

This order of events results in a narrative with a minimum of suspense. The natural opacity of the future creates a degree of suspense in any narrative, and since suspense is a staple of narrative interest,87 Ezra could have easily played up reader interest simply by telling his story in chronological order.88 The fact that enemies lined the road home provided Ezra a prime opportunity to heighten the natural suspense of the unknown. Ezra, however, deliberately undermines his story’s potential for suspense in favor of a temporal strategy which supports his theological purpose.89 Ezra’s third episode is the focal point for his theological development of God’s gracious goodness. At least nine times throughout this episode, Ezra inserts narratorial references to God’s personal activity.90 Whereas magnified narrative suspense would have provided an opportunity to focus on faith, Ezra’s minimal suspense maximizes the reader’s awareness of God’s prevenient grace at work on behalf of His people.


The most prominent aspect of Ezra’s temporal strategies is his use of temporal notation. In cooperation with the narrative’s causal sequences, temporal notations identify the narrative’s literary genre, define its structural divisions, mark its temporal progression, establish its chronology, and indicate its anachronous twists and turns. Theologically, the chronological character of the narrative creates the historical framework, which highlights Yahweh’s immanence and His fulfillment of His word. The dominance of chronology in the narrative also serves to highlight the instances in which Ezra employs anachrony. Each of Ezra’s four chronological deviations contributes to the development of one or more of the narrative’s theological motifs: opposition to God’s people, hope for the future, the importance of obedience to the law, Yahweh’s sovereign control of history, and His gracious goodness.

42 No compelling reason exists that renders authorship by Ezra either impossible or improbable. Since chapters 7-10 clearly imply his authorship, this dissertation assumes Ezra the scribe to be the final author of the Book of Ezra in its entirety. A detailed discussion of the issues surrounding the authorship of Ezra lies beyond the scope of this chapter. In sum, three views emerge from the literature as the major contenders. The first view holds that the “Chronicler” wrote Ezra. For a review and analysis of this position, see Tamara C. Eskenazi ’s published dissertation, In An Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 17-36. The second view is that Ezra the Scribe wrote Ezra. The majority of conservative scholars, including R. K. Harrison , Gleason Archer , and E. J. Young , maintain this position. Edwin M. Yamauchi provides a helpful synopsis of this viewpoint in “Ezra-Nehemiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 4:573-79. The third major view contends that a later hand edited the original material, whether written by the “Chronicler” or Ezra. For a thorough statement of this view, see H. G. M. Williamson ’s introduction and associated bibliography in Ezra, Nehemiah, vol. 16 of Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1985), xxiii-xxxv.

43 See Table 1 - Temporal Notations on page 18 for the distribution of Ezra’s temporal markers throughout the narrative.

44 Meir Sternberg , “Time and Space in Biblical (Hi)story Telling: The Grand Chronology,” in The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory, ed. Regina Schwartz (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, Inc., 1990), 81.

45 For a comparison of the chronological order of the events covered in Ezra with the order in which those events are presented in the narrative, see Figure 1 on page 16. Quite clearly Ezra does not follow the historical order of the events he narrates.

46 Anachrony denotes a temporal arrangement of events in which an author presents later events before earlier events. The term does not imply or connote anachronism—the frequent liberal indictment of Scripture as ignorantly or deceptively placing what is historically late in a much earlier setting.

47 Sternberg presents a valuable analysis of the resources available to a chronological narrative for variety in presentation in the article, “Telling in Time (I): Chronology and Narrative Theory.” Poetics Today 11 (1990): 940-41. In sum he states that a “chronological narrative’s resources for multiformity [divide] into three categories:” (1) “gradation … between the poles of chronology and anachrony,” (2) “closer or looser modes of linkage and transition, length of discourse or of span and perspective, representational ratios and pacing, cut-off points, homology or disparity between macrosequence and microsequence,” and (3) a range of other “ordering forces” including the treatment of simultaneity, functional sequencing, and suprasequential form.

48 Shimon Bar-Efrat defines narrative structure as “the network of relations among the parts of [the narrative].” “Some Observations on the Analysis of Structure in Biblical Narrative,” VT 30 (1980): 155-69.

49 Bar-Efrat defines these levels of narrative structure as follows: “verbal structure” is the result of an author’s uses of words and phrases, “unusual grammatical and syntactical constructions,” metaphors, similes, and other stylistic features; “narrative technique structure” is a function of an author’s “variations in narrative method, such as narrator’s account as opposed to character’s speech (dialogue), scenic presentation versus summary, narrations as against description, explanation, comment, etc.”; “narrative world structure” involves an author’s use of characters, to some extent, but primarily the use of events, in other words, plot structure; “conceptual content structure” arises from “the themes of the narrative units or the ideas contained therein” (157-68). For a display of the narrative’s structure in relation to the distribution of temporal markers, see Table 2 — Narrative Structure and Temporal Notations on page 22.

50 No work consulted proposed an alternative division to the Book of Ezra as it currently exists in the Masoretic Text.

51 An episode is “a portion of a narrative that relates an event or a series of connected events and forms a coherent story in itself.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3d ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992).

52 Because of the uncertainty surrounding the identity of Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel, some have postulated that more than one return is involved in chapters 1-2 . There is nothing in the text, however, to support this hypothesis. Ezra mentions Sheshbazzar four times in his narrative (1:8 , 11 ; 5:14 , 16 ) and states that Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah (hdwhyl aycnh; 1:8 ), was appointed by Cyrus as “the governor” (hjp; 5:14 ). Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel figures more prominently as a leader of the Returnees, but no official title is associated with his name. At most, Ezra 4:3 implies that he was one of the “heads” of Israel. Haggai, however, clearly states that Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah at the time of the temple’s founding (hdwhy tjp; Hag. 1:1 ), and Zechariah credits Zerubbabel with laying the temple’s foundation (Zech. 4:9 ). On the other hand, Ezra credits Sheshbazzar with bringing up the temple vessels with the exiles from Babel (1:8 , 11 , 5:15-16 ) and laying the temple’s foundation (5:16 ). The most natural conclusion from the Biblical data is that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel are two names for the same person. For contrary argumentation, see Williamson , 17-19. If Sheshbazzar and Zerubabbel are not the same person, then they may have been co-governors and joint participants in founding the temple. Derek Kidner provides a lucid discussion of the major issues and views on this difficulty in his commentary, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 139-42. For a more extended discussion of this issue of identity, see Sara Japhet ’s two articles, “Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel: Against the Background of the Historical and Religious Tendencies of Ezra-Nehemiah,” ZAW 94 (1982): 66-98; and “Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel: Against the Background of the Historical and Religious Tendencies of Ezra-Nehemiah. Pt. 2,” ZAW 95 (1983): 218-229; and Johan Lust , “The Identification of Zerubbabel with Sheshbassar,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis 63 (1987): 90-95.

53 Below the episodic level there appears to be little consensus on the divisions of the text. The variety of treatment below the sectional level reflects not the difficulty of outlining Ezra but the differing outline criteria used by the authors. Some simply follow the chapter divisions of Ezra for ease of use. Others divide the book into minute pieces. None of the commentaries surveyed offered an outline based upon literary criteria such as plot continuity or episodic and scenic division. For an analysis of the structure of Ezra’s episodes, phases, and scenes, see Chapter Three.

54 The letters used by Ezra belong to a specific genre in their own right. A thorough discussion of this subgenre lies beyond the scope of this chapter. However, Williamson ’s summary comment on this topic bears repetition: “We may thus conclude that the documents on which our author drew took the form of official Aramaic correspondence as commonly practiced in Achaemenid times” (60). For a discussion of Aramaic epistolography, see R. A. Bowman , “An Aramaic Journal Page,” AJSL 58 (1941): 302-13; L. V. Hensley , The Official Persian Documents in the Book of Ezra, (Ph.D. diss., University of Liverpool, 1977); P. S. Alexander , “Remarks on Aramaic Epistolography in the Persian Period,” JSS 23 (1978): 155-70; J. A. Fitzmyer , “Some Notes on Aramaic Epistolography,” JBL 93 (1974): 201-25; B. Porten , “Aramaic Papyri and Parchments: A New Look,” BA 49 (1979): 74-104; “Structure and Chiasm in Aramaic Contracts and Letters,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity, ed. J. W. Welch (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg Verlag, 1981), 169-81; J. L. White , ed., Studies in Ancient Letter Writing, Semeia 22 (1982); J. D. Whitehead , “Some Distinctive Features of the Aramaic Arsames Correspondence,” JNES 27 (1978): 119-40; J. C. Greenfield , “Aramaic Studies and the Bible,” Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, vol. 32, ed. J. Emerton (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 110-130.

55 The term dialogue, as used here, includes the monologues (8:22, 28-29), prayers (8:21-23 ; 9:6-15 ), and dialogues (4:2-3 ) that occur in Ezra. See Chapter Three under Presentation of Events for an analysis of Ezra’s use of dialogue.

56 See Table 3 — Narrative Technique Structure and Temporal Notations on page 25.

57 Though the thesis that chronology functions as a primary ordering principle in Ezra’s narrative is a significant part of this chapter, as Menakhem Perry observes, “even when [an ordering] principle is a global one, it does not involve all the semantic elements in the text but merely a selection of them, leaving a residue to be organized by other, complementary or even competing ordering principles.” “Literary Dynamics: How the Order of a Text Creates its Meaning,” Poetics Today 1, no. 1-2 (1979): 36. For an extended discussion of the other ordering principles by which Ezra arranges his narrative, see Chapter Three.

58 Rising above the definitional morass in which genre criticism is currently mired, common sense recognizes that any piece of literature that is not entirely unique invokes a set of interpretive expectations shared with other similar texts. These expectations guide and shape the reader’s understanding in the process of reading. Such generic guidance operates both externally and internally. Externally, genre locates a text’s basic position within the broad range of written materials. Internally, it establishes norms to which the reader expects the text to adhere. For an introductory discussion of the complexity of genre criticism, see V. Philips Long , The Art of Biblical History, vol. 5 in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 306-307. For a more detailed discussion of genre and interaction with the major theories in genre criticism from an evangelical perspective, see Grant R. Osborne , “Genre Criticism—Sensus Literalis,” Trinity Journal 4 (1983): 1-27.

59 Contra Robert Alter who prefers to speak of the Bible as “historicized prose fiction” or “fictionalized history.” By this he means not that the Biblical authors created stories with the appearance of history, but that the authors took the basic facts of historical events and then applied their imagination in inventing verbatim dialogue or interior monologues, ascribing “feeling, intention, or motive” to their characters in harmony with the thematic purposes they were pursuing. The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 24-35. Literary critics who hold this or a similar view of Biblical narrative include Herbert Chanan Brichto , Toward a Grammar of Biblical Poetics: Tales of the Prophets (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), see esp. 247-55; Frank Kermode , The Genesis of Secrecy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980); Adele Berlin , Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994). Although not necessarily affirming the Biblical text’s historicity, Meir Sternberg argues cogently that “[Biblical] narrative is historiographic, inevitably so considering its teleology and incredibly so considering its time and environment” (Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 30).

60 At present there is no literary consensus on the definition of narrative or even “story.” For example, Gerald Prince defines a story as consisting of “three conjoined events [e.g., ‘He was unhappy, then he met a woman, then, as a result, he was happy’]. The first and third events are stative, the second is active. Furthermore, the third event is the inverse of the first. Finally, the three events are conjoined by the three conjunctive features in such a way that (a) the first event precedes the second in time and the second precedes the third, and (b) the second even causes the third.” A Dictionary of Narratology (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), 53. Prince , however, distinguishes a narrative from a story, defining narrative as “the representation of at least two real or fictive events and situations in a time sequence, neither of which presupposes or entails the other.” Narratology: The Form and Functioning of Narrative (Berlin: Mouton Publishers, 1982), 4. For the purposes of this chapter, “story” and “narrative” are synonymous. One has to agree with Sternberg ’s wondering “why the distinction between ‘story’ and ‘narrative’ needs to be made in the first place.” “Telling in Time (II): Chronology, Teleology, Narrativity.” Poetics Today 13.3 (1992): 466. Sternberg follows his incisive critique of the current muddle in narratology with an insightful theory of narrative (529-39).

61 Meir Sternberg , Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 132. Perry explains the creation of a perceptual set in this way: “In the process of reading the reader constructs … a set of frames which can motivate the convergence of as many of the various details in the text as possible… . even when the text-continuum does not preserve the order of [its] frame, the text is still read in confrontation with that order. The frame serves as a guiding norm in the encounter with the text, as a negative defining principle, so that deviation from it becomes perceptible and requires motivation by another frame or principle” (36-37).

62 Ezra 4:23 , 24 ; 6:14 ; 7:1-9 .

63 “Time is not denoted in Biblical narratives solely by explicit temporal expressions, however, nor even primarily by them… . The full fabric of time is woven primarily through the events presented in the narrative rather than by direct indications of time.” Shimon Bar-Efrat , Narrative Art in the Bible, trans. Dorothea Shefer-Vanson, 2d ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 145.

64 The terms “primacy-effect” and “recency-effect” were coined by a group of psychologists experimenting with the persuasive effects that varying orders of informational presentation had upon readers. The essence of their findings is that information given first tends to control a reader’s perception of later information (primacy-effect), though later information, if of sufficient strength, may alter or overturn (recency-effect) an audience’s first impression. Abram S. Luchins , “Primacy-Recency in Impression Formation,” in The Order of Presentation in Persuasion, ed. Carl I. Hovland (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957). See the fourth chapter of Meir Sternberg ’s Expositional Modes, where he develops the implications of this principle of impressions for literature and specifically for narrative exposition.

65 It may at first appear strange to note verisimilitude as a characteristic of Scripture, since the believing reader already accedes to its verity. Yet an awareness of what is “real” and what is not helps the interpreter recognize that Jotham’s story of the trees (Jud. 9:1-20 ), while narrative in form, is not intended to be understood as historically accurate. The “realness” of the narrative forms an essential foundation for the theological truth it seeks to convey through its treatment of history. As Erich Auerbach has so well observed, the aim of Biblical stories “is not to bewitch the senses, and if nevertheless they produce lively sensory effects, it is only because the moral, religious, and psychological phenomena which are their sole concern are made concrete in the sensible matter of life. But their religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth… . Without believing in Abraham’s sacrifice, it is impossible to put the narrative of it to the use for which it was written… . The world of the Scripture stories is not satisfied with claiming to be a historically true reality—it insists that it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy… . The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels.” Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 14-15.

66 “Historical order” here reflects this dissertation’s most basic premise: all Scripture is God-breathed. Therefore, when Scripture explicitly states that certain events took place, history in its truest sense is being revealed. This does not imply that Scripture reveals all that is historically true, but what it does reveal is a priori the truth.

67 The text does not supply sufficient information to determine the temporal relationship between this first letter to Artaxerxes and the events of chapters 7-10 with certainty . Whether it came before Ezra’s return, after his return but before chapters 9-10 , or entirely after chapters 7-10 is impossible to determine. The lack of information about the official positions of Bilsham, Mithredash, and Tabe’el obscures the issue further.

68 The anachronous transition from the reign of Artaxerxes (4:8-23 ) back to the reign of Darius (4:24-6:22 ) occupies such a prominent place in discussions of Ezra’s chronology that the fact that the events in Ezra 4:8-23 actually took place after the events in Ezra 7-10 receives scant notice. The commentators who do note the historical location of these events usually place them after Ezra’s return, c. 448 B.C., often with the suggestion that Ezra 4:23 may form the background of Neh. 1:1-3 . Gustav Oehler credits Ernst Bertheau with “having first … assigned the paragraph Ezra iv. 7 sqq. to its right place” (i.e., after chapter 10). Theology of the Old Testament, ed. George E. Day (1883; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.), 430. Other scholars who concur with this historical placement include Derek Kidner , 52; J. Barton Payne , 118; Edwin Yamauchi , 634; H. G. M. Williamson , 63; Mervin Breneman , 103; Joseph Blenkinsopp , 113-14; and Leon Wood , A Survey of Israel’s History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), 397-98. For a contrary proposal placing the events of Ezra 4:8-23 “within the context of the transition of power from the assassination of Xerxes to the point when Artaxerxes I was secure on the Achaemenid throne, around the year 464 BCE,” see Kenneth G. Hoglund , Achaemenid Imperial Administration in Syria-Palestine and the Missions of Ezra and Nehemiah (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), 119-27, 163, 211.

69 The phrase “in the second year after they came to the house of God” in Ezra 3:8 is difficult to interpret. Its earliest reference would be to the second year of Cyrus, and at the latest it would reference Cyrus’s third year.

70 A number of commentators have argued that Ezra 3 has been arranged anachronously and does not reflect the historical order of events. Williamson , following the lead of Shemaryahu Talmon , suggests that “no temple construction took place from Cyrus till Darius’s second year” (44). Shemaryahu Talmon , “Ezra, Book of,” The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Supplementary Volume (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979), 322-23. Williamson bases his contention on the attribution of the temple founding to Zerubbabel by Haggai and Zechariah (Hag. 1:14 ; Zech. 4:9 ) and on the reference to the “second year” in Ezra 3:7 . He takes the “second year” to be Darius’s second year. Ezra 3:7-4:3 , therefore, “describes the start of the work in the time of Darius,” and Ezra 4:4-5 explains why there was no work from the rebuilding of the altar (3:1-6 ) until Darius’s second year (ibid.). Various reasons for this anachrony have been advanced. Blenkinsopp suggests that the “C[hronicler] has simply telescoped events … and backdat[ed] the laying of the foundation to the reign of Cyrus to emphasize the exclusive role played by the golah group immediately after its return to the homeland … [and to explain] the unconscionable delay in implementing the royal decree” (100, 108). In a different vein, Williamson argues that the “verbal parallels” between Ezra 3:7-13 and 1 Chron. 22:2-4 ; 2 Chron. 2:7-15 —“(the shipment by sea to Joppa; the payment of food, drink, and oil; the bracketing of the Sidonians and the Tyrians)”—are sufficiently striking to conclude that Ezra’s account was written as “a typological account of the founding of the second temple” (45, 47). Baruch Halpern , after rejecting Williamson ’s arguments for viewing the section typologically, suggests that in fact all of 2:1-4:3 refers to the time of Darius. In his view, there were actually two returns, one under Sheshbazzar in Cyrus’s reign and another under Zerubbabel in Darius’s reign. The reason the text presents the founding of the temple as occurring under Cyrus is “to suggest that work on the temple started and continued. The ‘people of the land’ obstructed it.” “A Historiographic Commentary on Ezra 1-6: Achronological Narrative and Dual Chronology in Israelite Historiography,” in The Hebrew Bible and Its Interpreters, ed. William Henry Propp, Baruch Halpern, and David Noel Freedman (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 108-111.
There are several reason to reject this view of Ezra 3 and to regard Ezra 3 as a chronologically straightforward presentation. First, if one compares the dates given in Haggai and Zechariah with those in Ezra, it is clear that Haggai and Zechariah prophesied on the first of the sixth month of Darius’s second year (6/1/520 B.C.) and that work commenced on the temple by the twenty-fourth of the month (6/24/520 B.C.). Ezra, however, records Zerubbabel and Jeshua as beginning their work on the temple in the second month of “the second year of their coming to the house of God, to Jerusalem” (3:8 ). Appeal to a difference in civil and religious calendars will not suffice to explain the conflict between Haggai’s sixth month and Ezra’s second month, for the second month of the civil calendar is the eighth month of the religious calendar, not the sixth. Second, Williamson ’s proposal does not account for the statement in Ezra 4:5 that the people of the land hindered the Returnees all the reign of Cyrus unto Darius. If the temple reconstruction was not initiated before Darius’s second year, this statement by the narrator (who is reliable at all other times) is bogus. There was nothing for the people of the land to hinder. Third, although Ezra 3:10 says the temple was “founded” in the second year after the return and Haggai 2:18 indicates that it was “founded” in the second year of Darius, as Eugene Merrill notes, the verb yasad may refer to the “resumption of work recounted in [Ezra] 5:1-5 … . One must remember that there are no separate Hebrew verbs to distinguish between build and rebuild or even found and refound.” Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 51. For a further discussion of yasad, see Chapter Four, note 252. The explanation that best fits all of the biblical data is that the temple was founded during Cyrus’s reign (3:6-13 ) and then recommenced in the second year of Darius (5:1-3) .

71 The term “Samarians” is used throughout this dissertation for the people who describe themselves as deported by Asshurbanipal and “settled … in the city of Samaria” (4:10 ). As Blenkinsopp notes, “It would be anachronistic to call these people Samaritans, as Josephus does (Ant. 11:84), since the Samaritans did not exist as a separate religious community in the early Persian period” (107). For a similar conclusion on philological grounds, see John MacDonald , “The Discovery of Samaritan Religion,” Religion: Journal of Religion and Religions 2 (1972): 143-44.

72 To avoid repetition, the reasons for omitting 4:24-6:22 from its proper historical order will be delineated together with those for omitting chapters 7-10 .

73 The particle /ydab normally marks action that is subsequent to the preceding action (e.g., Ezra 6:1 ; Dan. 3:13 , 26 ).

74 The verb lfb occurs once in 4:23 and twice in 4:24 .

75 In H. G. M. Williamson ’s words, “the narrative structure itself points to past achievement as a model for future aspiration” (lii).

76 For the view that the destruction referenced in Neh. 1:3 was only that accomplished by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. and was not compounded by any subsequent violence, see Fensham , 152, and Keil , 100-101.

77 The Aramaic of this phrase reads: anylu itwl-/m. Keil argues that the pronouns “you” and “us” are general geographic designators and that the letter refers to the migration during the time of Cyrus (43, 100-101). Besides ignoring the natural contextual sense of the pronouns, this view also runs counter to the Jews’ and Samarians’ consistent pattern of specifying the monarch during whose reign the events to which they refer took place (4:2 , 10 ; 5:12 , 13 ). One would expect them to indicate that the “coming up” of 4:12 was in the time of Cyrus. The text as it stands supports the conclusion that the members of a Jewish migration during the time of Artaxerxes were in the process of rebuilding the city walls.

78 Some OT scholars have taken 4:12 as an indication that groups had periodically returned to Israel. John Bright , A History of Israel, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972), 377-78. However, this supposition is inevitably founded upon a previous conclusion that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem after Nehemiah in the reign of Artaxerxes II (404-358 B.C.). For example, see Raymond S. Foster , The Restoration of Israel: A Study in Exile and Return (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1970), 187-89.

79 The term used here, rx, differs from that used when describing the enemies lying in wait along Ezra’s return route to Jerusalem (8:22 , 31 ; bya). There does not, however, appear to be any contextual significance to the use of alternate terms for “enemy.”

80 For a discussion of an alternate sense of djy here translated “alone,” see S. Talmon , “The Sectarian djy—A Biblical Noun,” VT 3 (1953): 133-140. Talmon argues that the word yahad in Ezra 4:3 is a noun and has the sense “community, congregation.” Given this understanding, the verse would read “We, the congregation, will build … .” Based on this rendering of yahad, Talmon concludes that the primary motivation behind the elders’ refusal was religious (135-36).

81 See Chapter Seven for an extended discussion of the mixed-marriages and Ezra’s resolution to the crisis.

82 The repetition of the phrase Jrah <u explicitly supports this linkage. This phrase occurs in both sections of the narrative, only in negative contexts. In the first section (chs. 1-6 ) “the people(s) of the land” are first a cause of great fear for the Returnees (3:3 ) and then the instigators of all the opposition to God’s work (4:4 ). In the second section (chs. 7-10 ) these “people(s) of the land” are the very ones with whom the Israelites have intermarried (9:1 , 2 , 11 ; 10:2 , 11 ). For an extended analysis of the referential and connotative significance of this phrase, see Chapter Six, pages 160ff.

83 The Aramaic geographical designator hrhn-rbu occurs fourteen times in Ezra and has been variously translated “Trans-Euphrates” (NIV, NJB), “this side the river” (KJV), “beyond the river” (KJV, NASB), “West-of-Euphrates or west of the Euphrates” (NLT, NAB), “the other side (pera(n)) or west (eJspera") of the river” (LXX). The translation followed here, “Beyond the River,” is an attempt to reflect the literal meaning of the term. The capitalization reflects the fact that hrhn-rbu functions as a proper noun.

84 The BHS fourth edition lists no variants in the MSS at this point. Neither LXX Ezra nor 1 Esdras offers variant readings on this verse (1 Esdras 7:4-5), granting no ground to those who would posit editorial activity at this point. See, for example, Ackroyd , 237, or Batten , 150-51, who excises it from the text despite the unanimous versional evidence. The Septuagint’s transliteration, Arqasasqa, and 1 Esdras’s use of the Greek name
have the same referent and therefore do not constitute variant readings.

85 Eskenazi argues cogently that 6:14 serves as a “retrospective and proleptic summary, encapsulating one of the book’s central points: the building was finished ‘by the command [<uf] of the God of Israel and by the decree [<uf] of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes, King of Persia’” (In an Age of Prose, 40).

86 If one regards the waw on <ufmw as a waw explicativum, this would strengthen this conclusion: in other words, “from the command of God, even the command [of] Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, king of Persia” (6:14). While a construct relationship in which a series of proper nouns follows a singular, construct head-noun is not uncommon (Gen. 14:11 ), it is uncommon for the head noun to be absolute as <uf is here. Williamson suggests that the Massoretes vocalized <uf differently to distinguish the command of God from that of the Persian kings (72). The LXX does not distinguish the forms in its translation (gnwmh").

87 For a compelling presentation of the centrality of curiosity, surprise, and suspense in narrative, see Sternberg ’s article, “Telling in Time (II): Chronology, Teleology, Narrativity,” 529-38. Sternberg makes brilliant application of this theory to various Biblical narratives in The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 264-320.

88 The book of Esther is a prime example of the use of chronological order to generate suspense.

89 He minimizes suspense from the start, but the retardatory effect of Artaxerxes’ letter and the gathering of the people creates enough distance from that initial effect that suspense could easily be brought into play in 8:22 , where Ezra indicates that there were “enemies in the road.” Rather than recording their prayer and then allowing events to demonstrate that God had heard them, he explicitly states that God was entreated on their behalf before they started on the trip. The reader is thereby assured that nothing will happen to them. Ezra 8:31, rather than alleviating suspense, serves as a post-event confirmation that God had, as he said, been entreated for them.

90 7:6 , 9 , 7:27 , 28 ; 8:18 , 22 , 23 , 31 [2x] .

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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