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Introduction to A Literary and Theological Analysis of the Book of Ezra

“There is a time to break and a time to build … a time to rend and a time to sew.”1 With such words the Preacher summarizes the balancing tensions of life under the sun. Even within the narrow compass of Ezra’s ten chapters, this Solomonic merismus proves true. Constructing the temple, restoring the worship of Yahweh, and building national spiritual integrity necessitated breaking cultural and even marital bonds. Beyond those challenges, the Book of Ezra engages the existential tensions implicit in post-exilic Israel. Being “in the world, but not of the world” and trusting the “good hand of God” when confronted with the secular fist were among the more prominent problems the Israelites faced. Above and behind, yet provoking and controlling these antitheses, resides the center point of Ezra’s narrative, the God of Heaven. A narrative account of the first and second returns from exile, the Book of Ezra addresses these issues with a distinctly theological message that deserves careful attention.


Not unexpectedly, the student of Ezra’s theological message encounters a daunting array of difficulties in matters introductory, textual, theological, and methodological. Questions concerning the authorship and compositional relationship of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah surface more frequently than any others. Running a close second are issues surrounding the dates of Ezra and Nehemiah and their chronological position within Persian history. The historical progress of the text’s development into its present form and the disparate materials of Ezra’s narrative—lists, historical details, autobiography, court records, prayers—also pose problematic questions of literary coherence and theological intention. Other challenges include the absence of an explicit theological orientation, such as one finds in Chronicles, and the presence of theologically anomalous material: mandated divorce in Ezra 9-10. Perhaps the most formidable task confronting this dissertation is methodological: it must wed harmoniously two lines of inquiry, the literary and the Biblical-theological, that have typically been separated both in presupposition and in development.


Despite the compelling challenges attending the Book of Ezra, no one has written a full-length treatment of its theological message and literary structure. This deficiency stems primarily from the consensus of OT scholarship, liberal and conservative alike, that Ezra is a component of a single literary work: Ezra-Nehemiah.2The primary reason advanced in support the literary unity of Ezra-Nehemiah is the fact that most ancient manuscripts, rabbinic literature, and early church fathers attest to this unity. In Codex Alexandrinus, the Aleppo, Codex and Leningrad Codex, Ezra-Nehemiah forms a single book. The Talmud (Babba Bathra 14b, 15a, and B. Sanh. 93b) as well as Melito of Sardis appear to view them as a unity. Tamara. C. Eskenazi, In An Age of Prose (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 11-12. For a thorough recitation and review of this evidence, see H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, vol. 16 of Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1985), xxi-xxiii. Conservatives who regard Ezra and Nehemiah as distinct literary compositions generally cite the presence of the list of Returnees in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 as indicative of separate composition. To this may also be added the clear evidence that the plot of Ezra 7-10 reaches its denouement in chapter ten. Hypotheses concerning the rationale for the early combination of these two book may be found in Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952), 369. Nonetheless, all who outline Ezra-Nehemiah recognize Ezra as a distinct unit of thought development. It possesses an undeniable integrity that merits its own theological analysis. That Ezra is not designed to be a historical chronicle of the post-exilic period, or even the rebuilding of the temple, is also recognized by conservative and liberal scholars alike.3 Its selectivity alone warrants this conclusion. The Book of Ezra presents, rather, a theologically charged narrative. The choice of this historiographic mode and the narrative poetic it invokes makes understanding its communicative strategies a prerequisite for grasping its theological message. Though the narrative form does not control the content of Ezra’s message, it does distribute meaning along unique lines—lines to which one must attend lest he read less than the author wrote, or infer more than the author meant.4

Theologically, the Book of Ezra possesses a dual significance. Together with Nehemiah, it forms the capstone of Old Testament history, yielding the only coverage of the post-exilic returns from Cyrus to Artaxerxes I. Looking forward, it also contributes to the last span of the bridge extending into intertestamental silence. As such, it helps lay the groundwork for the revelation of God’s final word, the Messiah. Apart from its challenging literary character, the universal nature of the problems Ezra addresses should impel one to study this book for the normative theology it contains.

Previous Works

The thesis that comes the closest to a theology of Ezra is a 1991 Ph.D. dissertation by Felisi Sorgwe , “The Canonical Shape of Ezra-Nehemiah and its Theological and Hermeneutical Implications.”5 Sorgwe discusses historical-critical, canonical, and Masoretic approaches to interpretation, the authorship of Ezra-Nehemiah, similarities and dissimilarities between the canonical shapes of Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles, and the theological interrelations between Ezra-Nehemiah and the rest of the OT canon. However, he devotes only one chapter to the isolation of nine theological themes whose composite message is “the calling and molding of Israel by God to be a worshiping community.”6 His brevity and combined treatment of Ezra and Nehemiah limit this chapter’s value as a theological analysis of Ezra. At present the only full-length treatment of Ezra from a literary perspective is Tamara Eskenazi ’s Ph.D. dissertation, “In An Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah.”7 She examines Ezra-Nehemiah’s narrative structure, use of repetition, characterization, and interaction of viewpoints to locate its central ideology. She does not, however, deal with Ezra’s use of dialogue or informational gapping, and her choice to bracket all historical questions appears to have blinded her to one of Ezra’s most prominent literary strategies: temporal ordering. Her work also suffers from the assumption that Ezra and Nehemiah were not contemporaries, thus skewing her analysis of perspective and characterization.8 Other theses discuss topics tangential to Ezra’s theology and literary character,9 but none develop these aspects of Ezra proper.

Historically, Old Testament theologians have approached their task along thematic lines, attempting to distill the Old Testament’s theological essence from its disparate parts. Not surprisingly, then, relatively few OT theologies develop the theological message of OT books. The advent of Brevard S. Childs ’s canonical approach to OT studies,10 coincident with burgeoning interest in “the Bible as literature,” has provided impetus to understanding the communicative intent of scriptural texts in their canonical form.11 Despite the large number of OT theologies produced in the wake of this interest, only two devote any serious attention to the theology of Ezra. Eugene H. Merrill offers an insightful chapter on “The Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament.12 Merrill ’s theology develops two themes from Ezra-Nehemiah: the person and actions of God, and the people of God. In his Old Testament Theology, Paul R. House dedicates a chapter to the theology of Ezra-Nehemiah.13 Despite his hyphenated title, he formulates his theological themes sectionally,14 rather than treating Ezra-Nehemiah as a literary complex with a pervasive theological unity. As is apparent from the foregoing chapter titles, no OT theology provides an analysis of the theology of Ezra proper. House ’s sectional treatment comes nearest this mark, but its survey approach limits the depth of its theological sounding.

A few OT introductions give brief summaries of the literary features and theology of Ezra. Raymond Dillard and Tremper Longman present a short analysis of Ezra’s generic features and its “theological message.”15 William Lasor , David Hubbard , and Frederic Bush note the literary effects of Ezra’s thematic concerns on his presentation of chronology (specifically in chapter four). Their theological summary suggests four themes spanning both Ezra and Nehemiah.16 In Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Brevard Childs proposes an overarching literary structure and three theological themes that support the integrity of Ezra-Nehemiah’s canonical shape.17

The number of periodical articles that deal with Ezra’s theology or literary character can be counted on one hand. William Dumbrell attempts to demonstrate how Ezra-Nehemiah preserves the “theological tenor” of post-exilic eschatological expectation in relation to the restoration of the temple, the return from captivity as a “second Exodus,” and the rebuilding of Jerusalem.18 F. C. Fensham examines several themes in Ezra and Nehemiah as a means of understanding how the “Chronicler” uses his sources theologically.19 J. G. McConville ’s study highlights Ezra-Nehemiah’s use of prophecy to engender hope for the future of Israel despite her unsatisfactory condition at present.20 Writing from a literary perspective, Tamara Eskenazi discusses the literary structure of Ezra-Nehemiah and its implications for the book’s integrity.21

More recently published commentaries often contain summary discussions of the theological and literary features of Ezra (or Ezra-Nehemiah). Commentary authors who provide some limited discussion of these features include Edwin Yamauchi , F. C. Fensham , and Charles Wilson .22 Derek Kidner ’s concise treatment, although using systematic theological categories, reflects careful attention to the theological data of Ezra.23 Mervin Breneman ’s nine page section on the theology of Ezra-Nehemiah treats seven theological topics and also offers brief modern applications for each topic.24 H. G. M. Williamson presents a theological reading of Ezra-Nehemiah that attempts to do justice to its narrative form. His treatment comes the closest of any author to synthesizing the literary and theological elements of Ezra-Nehemiah.25 Two commentaries that focus entirely on the theological significance of Ezra are noteworthy as well: Mark Throntveit ’s Ezra-Nehemiah and J. G. McConville ’s Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.26 Both commentaries offer valuable theological observations, though McConville focuses primarily on exposing the relevance of Ezra for modern Christianity. Literary “commentaries” on the text of Ezra are few and far between. The earliest, by Buckner Trawick , offers a source-critical reading of Ezra-Nehemiah.27 Much more focused on genuinely literary elements, Shemaryahu Talmon briefly discusses narrative composition, structural devices, and the use of chronology in Ezra-Nehemiah.28 Douglas Green ’s chapter in A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible provides the most valuable overview of Ezra-Nehemiah’s literary character. He outlines the major themes of Ezra-Nehemiah and then analyzes the use of characterization and style in the development of those themes.29

Bible encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks offer, in general, somewhat meager treatments of Ezra’s theology or literary character. However, the articles in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, and the Holman Bible Handbook deserve honorable mention.30 Each presents some analysis of Ezra’s theological message. The most substantive offerings in this category are the articles in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis and the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.31 Unique in its approach, the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery examines the primary image patterns in Ezra, giving noteworthy attention to the details of the text.32 Beyond recognizing Ezra’s diverse generic elements or macroscopic structural patterns, none of the surveyed encyclopedia, dictionary, or handbook articles offer an examination of the literary character of Ezra.


In keeping with the nature of this dissertation, certain delimitations necessarily apply. As a Biblical theology, it does not interact with or rebut critical theories of authorship, date, or textual history. It does not address textual critical issues or crux interpretum unless pertinent to the exegesis of a specific passage. It does not provide a verse-by-verse commentary on the text, nor does it treat all theological issues relevant to systematic theology. As a literary analysis, it does not attempt to rehearse or refute the protean forms of modern and post-modern literary criticism such as New Criticism, Structuralism, Reader-Response, or Deconstructionism.33 Although acknowledging the legitimacy of studying the purely aesthetic features of a narrative, this dissertation focuses solely on those narrative strategies that contribute to the reader’s understanding of Ezra’s message. The final delimitation involves Ezra’s historical background. One must understand Ezra’s message within the historical and prophetic context of the post-exilic period. Recent dissertations and monographs, however, provide more than adequate treatment of this material.34 Thus, historical materials are introduced only in those instances where they illuminate specific aspects of Ezra’s literary or theological character.

Subject and Methodology

This dissertation attempts to fill the need for a full-length analysis of the literary and theological character of the Book of Ezra. More specifically, it seeks to discern what Ezra’s theological message is and how Ezra communicates that message through his narrative. The tools for pursuing the separate analyses incorporated here, the literary analysis35 and the book theology,36 have received much attention over the past three decades. Typically, studies focus on the literary or the theological aspect of a book and make only passing mention of the other. How these analytical modes cooperate and complement each other in ascertaining narrative meaning remains, therefore, relatively uncharted territory.37 In order to achieve a holistic understanding of the Biblical text of Ezra, this study has employed the following methodology. The original text of Ezra (Hebrew and Aramaic) was translated and read repeatedly, and modern English versions were frequently consulted. Since Ezra’s literary form both precedes and embodies its theological function, literary analysis precedes Biblical-theological analysis. After summarizing the book’s central theological message, the dissertation concludes by demonstrating how Ezra develops this message along the narrative course.

The Application of Literary Analysis

Literary analysis is the careful examination of how an author’s compositional methods communicate his intended message.38 As such, it complements and provides guidance to the Biblical theologian’s search for a book’s theological message. The first step in literary analysis involves ascertaining the genre of the text under consideration. A text’s genre determines the general rules by which one should interpret it. Despite the diversity of its compositional elements, the Book of Ezra fits within the narrative genre. Therefore, the second step will focus on analyzing Ezra’s narrative strategies.39 The approach employed here moves from structural strategies that frame the narrative, such as temporal ordering and plot, to those that flesh out the narrative, such as characterization, dialogue, and point of view.Sternberg, 39-40, makes a strong point that none of the 8 “dimensions of Biblical form” are “differentiae of literary narrative”; i.e., features that distinguish literary narrative from other types of narrative. So I’m not making a facile assumption regarding the literariness of the Bible based on the inclusion of these element. Sternberg’s thesis is that the dominance/pervasiveness of the poetic function determines Scripture’s literariness. These elements are traced, not primarily to appreciate Ezra’s literary genius or his rhetorical control of reader interest, but rather with an eye to the ideological or theological constraints these strategies place on the reader.40 In other words, the controlling question of this literary analysis is, “What theological themes are being advanced, developed, or highlighted by the author’s narrative techniques?”

The Application of Biblical-Theological Analysis

Following the analysis of the peculiar themes advanced by Ezra’s narrative techniques, the Biblical-theological method is applied to the text. This method involves two main processes: (1) isolating and developing Ezra’s theological subthemes, and (2) summarizing the book’s central theological message. The first step proceeds by using the tools of historical-grammatical exegesis to extract any thematic material not discerned through literary analysis. The dissertation then arranges and develops these themes logically, employing categories suggested by the text rather than borrowing systematic theological categories. Once the subthemes have been clarified, the central message of the book is summarized. This summary exposes how the central theme relates to Ezra’s historical setting and incorporates the book’s subthematic material.

Hearing the Message in the Reading Process

Having unraveled the intricate theological weavings of a book and separated the various themes into piles, most book theologies consider their task complete.41 However, the unraveling process obscures the vital relationship between the precisely analyzed thematic piles and the book’s textual tapestry. The discerning reader may identify individual themes as he reads through the text, but a critical question remains unanswered: if that is the theological message, why did the author not say it that way? In other words, why did the author write a narrative and not a thematic essay?

Consider attending a lecture on “The Messiah” by Handel in which the lecturer discusses the oratorio’s musical instrumentation, dynamics, and harmonies. He analyzes Handel’s compositional techniques, answering such questions as did Handel utilize counterpoint, what melodic repetitions occur, and how do Handel’s juxtapositions, combinations, and isolations of instruments and vocal lines contribute to the overall mood and texture of his work. The lecturer then offers an insightful summary of the theological themes and central message of the oratorio. If, however, the lecturer were to close without demonstrating how all the oratorio’s parts cooperate in the process of communicating that central message, his analysis would be incomplete. In the same way, the Biblical theologian has not finished his task until he gains an understanding of how the book’s message emerges in the process of reading. In other words, the Biblical theologian does not fully appreciate a book’s theological message until he understands how to hear that message in the process of reading the book.


In keeping with this methodology, this dissertation proceeds according to the following plan. Chapters One and Two deal with macroscopic structuring in Ezra: genre and temporal ordering. Chapter Three analyzes plot composition and dialogue. Chapter Four examines Ezra’s use of point of view and characterization. Chapters Five through Seven delineate the themes Ezra develops regarding Yahweh’s character, the importance of holiness, the Returnees’ continuity with pre-exilic Israel, and hope for the Returnees’ future. Chapter Seven concludes by showing how these themes meld into the central theological message of Ezra’s book. By tracing the emergence of Ezra’s theological message in the reading process, Chapter Eight provides a reader’s guide to the theological message of Ezra. Chapter Nine summarizes the conclusions made throughout the dissertation and then offers suggestions for further study and the homiletical use of Ezra.

1 Ecclesiastes 3:3 , 7 . All Scripture quotations will be the author’s translation, unless otherwise noted.

2 For a full recitation and discussion of the evidence supporting this position, see H. G. M. Williamson , vol. 16 of Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1985), xxi-xxiii. For contrary argumentation supporting the distinct literary compostion of Ezra, see David Kraemer , “On the Relationship of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah,” JSOT 59 (1993): 74-76, or C. F. Keil , “Ezra,” in vol. 4 of Commentary on the Old Testament, trans. Sophia Taylor (1866-91; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 5-7.

3 F. U. Schultz states, “The books of Ezra and Nehemiah by no means intend to narrate the history of the entire period which they embrace… . This is clear not only from what they narrate, but also from that which they omit.” The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, trans. and ed. by Charles A. Briggs, vol. 7 of Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. Philip Schaff (1871; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.), 3. For similar comments by a liberal commentator, see Joseph Blenkinsopp , Ezra-Nehemiah (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1988), 41.

4 As Ronald A. Horton so aptly states, “Because God saw fit to give supernatural character to human verbal materials, the Bible must be studied as human communication that uses the same verbal resources available to writers not supernaturally inspired. We can study its poetry as poetry, its allegory as allegory, its irony as irony, its artful structuring as artful structuring… . To know the Bible as a work of literature is to have … expanded our abilities to appropriate its truth.” Companion to College English, 2d ed. (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 2000), 254.

5 (Ph.D. diss., Baylor University, 1991), 133-76.

6 Sorgwe , 175. The author’s abstract expands his statement of Ezra-Nehemiah’s message, adding the phrase “so that the people might become an instrument of blessing to all the nations” (v). He fails, however, to provide any data to substantiate his claim that Ezra-Nehemiah presents Israel as an agent of universal blessing.

7 Tamara C. Eskenazi , “In An Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah” (Ph.D. diss., Illiff School of Theology and The University of Denver [Colorado Seminary], 1986). Eskenazi’s dissertation has been revised and published as In An Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988). All subsequent references to In An Age of Prose will refer to this book.

8 Eskenazi admits the potential weakness of her analysis: “If it could be proven that Ezra and Nehemiah were, in fact, contemporaries, the significance of the pairing in the book would have to be reevaluated.” In an Age of Prose, 176-77.

9 For example, Doug Nykolaishen examines “The Use of Jeremiah 31 in the Book of Ezra” (M.A. thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1991); Timothy D. Lehman explores “The Role of the Priest in the Education of Post-Exilic Israel: Educational Insights from the Life of Ezra” (M.Div. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1984).

10 Brevard S. Childs , Biblical Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1970). Childs develops his approach further in Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979) and Old Testament Theology in Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986). This approach was “new” only in the sense that an accepted voice within critical circles was now advocating what conservative scholars have been practicing for years: taking the canonical form of Scripture as a serious object of theological study.

11 What properly is a part of the canon is a discussion usually resolved in favor of accepting, for the Old Testament, the Masoretic Text as the “received text” of the Hebrew Bible. For a concise discussion of this issue, see Robert Alter and Frank Kermode , “General Introduction,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987), 1-8.

12 Eugene H. Merrill , “A Theology of Ezra-Nehemiah and Esther,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, ed. Roy B. Zuck (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 189-201.

13 Paul R. House , Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 512-18. House makes a distinctive contribution to OT Theology. Following the Masoretic canon both in order and book division, he exposes each book’s theological perspective on the person and works of God and offers a “canonical synthesis” that traces the relations of the parts to the whole of Scripture.

14 House sees Ezra 1-6 revealing “the God who restores the remnant to the land,” and Ezra 7-10 revealing “the God who purifies the remnant.”

15 Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 184-86.

16 Their four themes are (1) religious continuity, (2) temple and torah, (3) the importance of documents, and (4) future divine interventions. William S. Lasor , David A. Hubbard , and Frederic W. Bush , Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 557-65.

17 Childs contends that a deliberately manipulated chronology provides the structure in which “author or editor” of Ezra-Nehemiah develops the following themes: (1) Divine “use of foreign rulers,” (2) continuing opposition, and (3) separation from foreigners (624-38).

18 William J. Dumbrell , “The Theological Intention of Ezra-Nehemiah,” Reformed Theological Review 45 no. 3 (1986): 65-72.

19 F. C. Fensham , “Some Theological and Religious Aspects in Ezra and Nehemiah,” JNSL 11 (1983): 59-68. He examines five themes: the divine names, God as the Lord of history, religious discipline, a sense of guilt, and a living relationship with God.

20 J. G. McConville , “Ezra-Nehemiah and the Fulfillment of Prophecy,” VT 36 (1986): 203-24.

21 Tamara C. Eskenazi , “The Structure of Ezra-Nehemiah and the Integrity of the Book,” JBL 107 (1988): 641-56.

22 Edwin M. Yamauchi , “Ezra-Nehemiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 4:565-98; F. Charles 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), 16-19; Charles R. Wilson , “Joshua-Esther,” vol. 1, pt. 2 of The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, ed. Charles W. Carter (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 436.

23 Derek Kidner , Ezra and Nehemiah, The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 20-27.

24 Mervin Breneman , Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, vol. 10 of The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 50-58.

25 Ezra, Nehemiah, xlviii-lii.

26 Mark A. Throntveit , Ezra-Nehemiah, in Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992); J. G. McConville , Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, The Daily Study Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1985).

27 Buckner B. Trawick , “Establishment of a Church State after the Exile,” in The Bible as Literature, ed. Buckner B. Trawick, 2d ed. (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1970), 137-49. Trawick’s chapter rearranges the text and then summarizes the books’ contents, adding a few explanatory glosses. His brief discussion of differences between Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 Esdras, an apocryphal account of the return from exile, is the chapter’s one redeeming feature.

28 Shemaryahu Talmon , “Ezra and Nehemiah,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987), 357-64. Although Talmon argues for the possibility of the separate authorship of Ezra and Nehemiah, he combines them in his analysis.

29 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), 206-13.

30 David Noel Freedman, ed., “Ezra-Nehemiah, Books of,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:731-41; F. Charles Fensham , “Ezra, The Book of,” The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 219-21; D. C. Martin , “Ezra,” Holman Bible Handbook. ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 465-66. Martin’s article gives helpful, though brief, attention to Ezra’s “Purpose and Theology” as well as its “Theological and Ethical Significance.”

31 P. E. Satterthwaite focuses on the themes of restoration, the returnee’s solidarity with pre-exilic Israel, and God’s initiative in the return. “Ezra: Theology of,” NIDOTTE, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:635-37. Paul Ferguson discusses the following themes: God’s sovereignty, works, immanence, grace, and holiness; Scripture; the people of God; the means of grace; leadership and ministry; and, ethics and congregational polity. “Ezra, Theology of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 233-35

32 Leland Ryken , James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds., “Ezra, Book of,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 257-58.

33 While each of these theories builds on a few valid observations about literature, they all ramify in ways that deny other literary essentials. For example, Reader-Response criticism begins with a recognition that every reader brings to a text a pre-understanding, yet it concludes that such a pre-understanding renders authorial intention irrelevant and that every reader creates his own meaning in interaction with the text. For an introductory critique of these theories see Tremper Longman III, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, vol. 3 of Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed. Moiss Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 103-23. Grant R. Osborne gives a more rigorous analysis of these theories and their implications for hermeneutics in The Hermeneutical Spiral (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1991), 365-415. For an extended historical treatment of literary approaches to Scripture, see David Norton , A History of the Bible as Literature, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

34 Consult Timothy W. Berrey , “A Theological Analysis of the Book of Zechariah” (Ph.D. diss., Bob Jones University, 1999), 17-40, for a helpful treatment of the period from Cyrus’s edict through the reign of Darius I. For a survey of the Persian Empire and its relation to the Bible, see Edwin M. Yamauchi , Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990); K. G. Hoglund , Achaemenid Imperial Administration in Syria-Palestine and the Missions of Ezra and Nehemiah (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992); Ephraim Stern , Material Culture of the Land of the Bible in the Persian Period 538-332 B.C. (Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, Ltd., 1982); J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire (New York: Schocken Books, 1983). Edwin M. Yamauchi discusses archeology’s contributions to Ezra studies in his article, “The Archaeological Background of Ezra,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980): 195-211. For a helpful bibliography on the archeological background of Ezra and Nehemiah, see Shemaryahu Talmon , “Ezra and Nehemiah (Books and Men),” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Suppl. vol., ed. Keith Crim (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976), 328.

35 Helpful works on narrative analysis, more or less approaching the text from a conservative perspective, include Tremper Longman ’s Literary Approaches to Interpreting
the Bible
; Richard L. Pratt , Jr., He Gave Us Stories (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1990); Meir Sternberg , The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); Leland Ryken , Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987). Other significant contributions, whose critical presuppositions occasionally skew their analyses, include Robert Alter ’s The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1983), Adele Berlin , Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1994); and J. P. Fokkelman , Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide, trans. Ineke Smit (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999).

36 While Biblical Theology, as a unique discipline, is over two hundred years old, the proper method for doing book theologies remains a relatively new area of development. In his 1979 dissertation, Terry Rude offered one of the first definitions of a book theology: “The Biblical theology of a scriptural book may … be defined as the analysis of the book as a divinely inspired literary unit in order to discern, set forth, and corroborate its theological message.” “Imperative and Response: A Theology of Deuteronomy” (Ph.D. diss., Bob Jones University, 1979), 5. Gerhard F. Hasel has since championed the book theology as the first step in his “multiplex approach” to doing Old Testament Theology. Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 111-14, 194-208. For further discussion, consult Rodney K. Duke , “A Model for a Theology of Biblical Historical Narratives Proposed and Demonstrated with the Books of Chronicles,” in History and Interpretation: Essays in Honour of John H. Hayes, ed. M. Patrick Graham, William P. Brown, and Jeffrey K. Kuan (Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 1993), 65-77; Elmer A. Martens , “Accessing Theological Readings of a Biblical Book,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 34 (1996): 223-37; and Richard Schultz , “Integrating Old Testament Theology and Exegesis: Literary, Thematic, and Canonical Issues,” NIDOTTE, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 1:185-205. Martens also supplies a helpful bibliography on book theologies in Old Testament Theology, Institute for Biblical Research Bibliographies, no. 13 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), 94-110.

37 Though J. Barton Payne lists “literary studies” as a crucial element in Biblical Theology, by “literary” he refers only to textual criticism and higher critical studies. The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), 20-21. John Sailhamer explicitly addresses the literary nature of OT narratives but limits his comments primarily to its mimetic or representational function. Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 43-54. Grant Osborne , however, recognizes the necessity of both elements in interpreting narrative: “the interpretation of narrative has two aspects: poetics, which studies the artistic dimension or the way the text is constructed by the author; and meaning, which re-creates the message that the author is communicating” (154).

38 Alter defines literary analysis as “the manifold varieties of minutely discriminating attention to the artful use of language, to the shifting play of ideas, conventions, tone, sound, imagery, syntax, narrative viewpoint, compositional units, and much else” (12).

39 In his book, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Meir Sternberg enumerates eight narrative features that comprise the central elements in Biblical poetics: “(1) Temporal ordering, especially where the actual sequence diverges from the chronological; (2) Analogical design: parallelism, contrast, variation, recurrence, symmetry, chiasm; (3) Point of view, e.g., the teller’s powers and manipulations, shifts in perspective from external to internal rendering or from narration to monologue and dialogue; (4) Representational proportions: scene, summary, repetition; (5) Informational gapping and ambiguity; (6) Strategies of characterization and judgment; (7) Modes of coherence, in units ranging from a verse to a book; (8) The interplay of verbal and compositional pattern” (39). While terminology may differ, the literary analysis offered here deal with the majority of these narrative strategies.

40 Sternberg proposes that all narrative is “regulated by a set of three principles: ideological, historiographic, and aesthetic” (41). In the same vein, Leland Ryken speaks of “three impulses that we find intertwined through the Bible”: theology, history, and literature (Words of Delight, 14). How these regulative principles cooperate in Biblical narrative is, as Sternberg notes, “a tricky question” (ibid.). To deal fully with the interrelations of these three narrative controls in the Book of Ezra is beyond the scope of this dissertation. In keeping with its Biblical-theological aim, the literary analysis section of this dissertation focuses specifically on the contribution of the aesthetic principle to the theological message of Ezra.

41 For example, J. Frederick Creason defines a book theology as “an analysis which divorces the components of [a book’s] message from their literary structure, arranges them topically, and lays them open for a careful investigation.” “A Biblical Theology of Judges” (Ph.D. diss., Bob Jones University, 1985), 1-2.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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