(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Ezra is mentioned in the Bible in Ezra 7-10 and Nehemiah 8. According to Ezra 7-8, he led a group of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem under the authority of the Persian emperor Artaxerxes, probably Artaxerxes I (r. 464-424 b.c.e.), in the seventh year of his reign or 458 b.c.e. Ezra’s two recorded activities were to read the “law” to an assembly of Jewish people in Jerusalem and to require Jewish men, particularly priests and Levites, who had married “foreign wives” to divorce them. The law read by Ezra appears to have been the law of Moses, that is, Genesis through Deuteronomy, or the legal texts included within those books, though Nehemiah 8:15 refers to a law not actually found in those books. It may have been an inference from Leviticus 23:40-42, which reflected later practice. The issue of divorce in Ezra 9-10 (and Nehemiah 10 and 13) perhaps arose from the perceived need of Jews who came from Babylon to keep themselves separate from others in Palestine to ensure purity in worship and theology.


Rabbinic Judaism viewed Ezra as a second Moses, who passed on the law to later scribes. By the first century c.e., he was seen as the one entrusted by God with preserving seventy secret books.

Further Reading:

Bossman, D. “Ezra’s Marriage Reform: Israel Redefined.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 9 (1979): 32-38. The focus of this article is the intermarriage problem addressed by...

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