(Hebrews [except in] Ezra', עֶזרָא, the help, a Chaldee emphatic for Ezer), the name of three or four men.
I. (1Ch 4:17.)
II. (Sept. ῎Εζοα v.r. Εσδρας) (Vulgate Esdras.) A leading priest among the to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel (Nehemiah B.C. 536. His son Meshullam was chief of in the time of the high-priest Joiakim (Ne 3:12). In the somewhat parallel list of Ne 10:2-8, the name of the same person is written עֲזֲריָּה, AZARIAH, as it is probably in Ezr 7:1.
III. (Sept. ῎Εσδρας v.r. ῎Εζρα, Josephus ῎Εσδρας,Vulg. Esdras.) The celebrated Jewish scribe (סֹפֵר) and priest (כֹּהֵן), who, in the year B.C. 459, led the second expedition of Jews back from the Babylonian exile into Palestine, and the author of one of the canonical books of Scripture.
1. Parentage. — Ezra was a lineal descendant from Phinehas, the son of Aaron (Ezr 7:1-5). He is stated to be the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah; which Seraiah was slain at Riblah by order of Nebuchadnezzar, having been brought thither a captive by Nebuzaradan (2Ki 25:18-21). SEE SERAIAH. But, as 130 years elapsed between the death of Seraiah and the departure of Ezra from Babylon, and we read that a grandson of Seraiah was the high-priest who accompanied Zerubbabel on the first return to Jerusalem, seventy years before Ezra returned thither, we may suppose that by the term son here, as in some other places, the relationship of great-grandson, or of a still more remote direct descendant, is intended. SEE FATHER. All that is really known of Ezra is contained in the last four chapters of the book of Ezra, and in Ne 8; Ne 12:26. In addition to the information there given, that he was a "scribe," a "ready scribe of the law of Moses," "a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord and of his statutes to Israel," "a scribe of the law of the God of heaven," and "a priest," we are told by Josephus that he was high-priest of the Jews who were left in Babylon; that he was particularly conversant with the laws of Moses, and was held in universal esteem on account of his righteousness and virtue (Ant. 11:5, 1).
2. Scriptural History. — The rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been decreed by Cyrus in the year B.C. 536, was, aftei much powerful and vex" atious opposition, completed in the reign and by the permission of Darius Hystaspis, in the year B.C. 517.
The origin of Ezra's influence with the Persian king Artaxerxes Longimanus does not appear, but in the seventh year of his reign, B.C. 459, in spite of the unfavorable report which had been sent by Rehum and Shimshai, he obtained leave to go to Jerusalem, and to take with him a company of Israelites, together with priests, Levites, singers, porters, and Nethinim. Of these a list, amounting to 1754, is given in Ezra 8; and these, also, doubtless form a part of the full list of the returned captives contained in Nehemiah 7, and in duplicate in Ezra 2. Ezra and his companions were allowed to take with them a large free-will offering of gold and silver, and silver vessels, contributed not only by the Babylonian Jews, but by the king himself and his counselors. These offerings were for the house of God, to beautify it, and for the purchase of bullocks, rams, and the other offerings required for the Templeservice. In addition to this, Ezra was empowered to draw upon the king's treasurers beyond the river for any further supplies he might require; and all priests, Levites, and other ministers of the Temple were exemnpted from taxation. Ezra had also authority given him to appoint magistrates and judges in Judaea, with power of life and death over all offenders. The reason of the interest for the worship of God at this time evinced by Artaxerxes appears to have been a fear of the divine displeasure, for we read in the conclusion of the decree to the treasurers beyond the river, "Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven; for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?" We are also told (Ezr 7:6) that the king granted Ezra all his request; and Josephus informs us that Ezra, being desirous of going to Jerusalem, requested the king to grant him recommendatory letters to the governor of Syria (Ant. 11:5, 1). We may therefore suppose that the dread which Artaxerxes entertained of the divine judgments was the consequence of the exposition to him by Ezra of the history of the Jewish people. Some writers suppose that this favor shown to the Jews was consequent upon the marriage of Esther with Ahasuerus; but this could not be, even if we should grant, what is unlikely, that the Artaxerxes of the book of Ezra and the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther were the same person, because Ezra set out for Jerusalem in the first month in the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, and Esther was not taken into the king's house until the tenth month in the seventh year of the reign of Ahasuerus, and did not declare her connection with the Jewish people, and obtain favor for them until after the plot of Haman, in the twelfth year of Ahasuerus. SEE AHASUIRUS.
Ezra assembled the Jews who accompanied him on the banks of the river Ahava, where they halted three days in tents. Here Ezra proclaimed a fast, as an act of humiliation before God, and a season of prayer for divine direction and safe conduct; for, on setting out, he "was ashamed to require a band of soldiers and horsemen to help them against the enemy by the way," because he had asserted to the king that the hand of his God is upon all them that seek him for good. Ezra next committed the care of the treasures which he carried with him to twelve of the chief priests, assisted by ten of their brethren, appointing these to take charge of the treasures by the way, and deliver them safely in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem. On the twelfth day from their first setting out Ezra and his companions left the river Ahava, ant arrived safely at Jerusalem in the fifth month, having been delivered from the hand of the enemy and of such as lay in wait by the way. Three days aftel their arrival the treasures were weighed and delivered hiato the custody of some Levites. The returning exiles offered burnt- offerings to the Lord. They delivered also the king's commissions to the viceroys and governors, and gave needful help to the people and the ministers of the Temple.
Ezra's ample commission had been granted him at his own request (verse 6), and it appears that his great design was to effect a religious reformation among the Palestinian Jews, and to bring them back to the obserrance of the law of Moses, from which they had grievously declined. His first care, accordingly, was to enforce a separation from theirwives of all who had iade heathen marriages, in which number were many priests and Levites, as well ass other Israelites. For this an. opportunity soon presented itself.
When he had discharged the various trusts comannitted to him, the parincesa of the Jews came to him and complained that the Jewish people generally who had returned from the captivity, and also the priests and Levites but especially the rulers and princes, had not kept themselves sepapate from the people of the land, but had done according to the abominations of the remhant of the nations whom their forefathers had driven out, and married their daughters and allowed their children to intermarry with them. On this report Ezra evinced his deep affliction, according to the Jewish custom, by rending his mantle and tearing the hair of his head and beard. There gathered round him all those who still feared God, and dreaded his wrath for the transgression of those whom he had brought back from captivity. Having waited till the time of time evening sacrifice, Ezra rose up, and, having again rent his hair and his garments, made public prayer and confession of sin. The assembled people wept bitterly, and Shechaniah, one of the sons of Elam, came forward to propose a general covenant to put away the foreign wives and their children. Ezra then arose and administered an oath to the people that they would do accordingly. Proclamation was also made that all those who had returned from the captivity should within three days gather themselves together to Jerusalem, under pain of excommunication and forfeiture of their goods. The people assembled at the time appointed, trembling on account of their sin and of the heavy rain that fell. Ezra addressed them, declaring to them their sin, and exhorting them to amend their lives by dissolving their illegal connections. The people acknowledged the justice of his rebukes, and promised obedience. They then requested that, as the rain fell heavily, and the number of transgressors was great, he would appoint times at which they might severally come to be examined respecting this matter, accompanied by the judges and elders of every city. A commission emas therefore formed, consisting of Ezra and some others, to investigate the extent of the evil. This investigation occupied three months. Josephus relates the affecting scene which occurred on the reading of the law by Ezra (Ant. 11:5, 5). The account given by Josephus agrees with that of Nehemiah in all leading particulars, except that Josephus places the date and occasion in the reign of Xerxes (Ant. 11:5, 1).
With the detailed account of this important transaction Ezra's autobiography ends abruptly, and we hear nothing more of him till, rheja- teen was afterwards, in the twentieth of Artaxerses, we find him again at Jerusalem with Nehemiah the "Tirshatha." B.C. 446. It is generally assumed that Ezra had continued governor till Nehemiah superseded him; but as Ezra's comemission was only of a temporary nature, "to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem" (Ezr 7:14), and to carry thither "the silver; and gold which the king and his counselors had freely offered unto the God of Israel" (verse 15), and as there is no trace whatever of his presence at Jerusalem between the eighth and the twentieth of Artaxerses, it seems probable that after he had effected the above-named reformation, and had appointed competent judges and magistrates, with authority to maintain it, he himself returned to the king of Persia. This is in itself what one would expect, and what is borne out by the parallel case of Nehemiah, and it also accounts for the abrupt termination of Ezra's narrative, and for that relapse of the Jews into their former irregularities which is apparent in the book of Nehemiah. Such a relapse, and such a state of affairs at Jerusalem in general, could scarcely have occurred if Ezra had continued there. Whether he returned to Jerusalem with Nehemiah, or separately, does not appear certainly, but as he is not mentioned in Nehemiah's narrative till after the completion of the wall (Ne 8:1), it is perhaps probable that he followed the latter some months later, having, perhaps, been sent for to aid him in his work. The functions he executed under Nehemiah's government were purely of a priestly and ecclesiastical character, such as reading and interpreting the law of Moses to the people during the eight days of the feast of Tabernacles, praying in the congregation, and assisting at the dedication of the wall, and in promoting the religious reformation so happily effected by the Tirshatha. But in such he filled the first place, being repeatedly coupled with Nehemiah the Tiliathba (8:9; 12:26), while Eliashib the high-priest is not mentioned as taking any part in the reformation at all. In the sealing to the covenant described in Nehemiah 10, Ezra perhaps sealed under the patronymic Seraiah or Azariah (verse 2). In Nehemiah we read that, on the occasion of the celebration of feast of the seventh month, subsequently to Nehemiah's numbering the people, Ezra was requested reading the book of the law of Moses; and that he was herein standing upon a pulpit of wood, which rose him above all the people. As Ezra is not mentioned after Nehemiah's departure for Babylon in the thirty-second, of Artaxerxes, and as everything fell into confusion during Nehemiah's absence (Nehemiah 13), it is not unlikely that Ezra may have again returned to Babylon before that year. SEE NEHEMIAH.
3. Traditionary Acts. — Josephus, who should be our next best authority after Scripture, evidently knew nothing about the time or the place of his death. He vaguely says, "He died an old man, and, was buried in a magnificent manner at Jerusalem" (Ant. 11:5, 5), and places his death in the high-priesthood of Joacim, and before the government of Nehemiah! According to some Jewish chroniclers, he died in the year in which Alexander came to Jerusalem, on the tenth day of the month Tebeth (that is, the lunation in December), in the same yesear in which took place the death of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, and in which prophecy became extinct. According to other taditions, Ezra returned to Babylon and died there at the age of 120 years. 'The Talmudic statement is that he died at Zamzumu, a town on the Tigris, while on his road from Jerusalem to Susa, whither he was going to converse with Artaxerxes about the affairs of the Jews. Thus Benjamin of Tudela says of Nehar- Samorah (apparently Zamuza, otherwise'Zamzumu): "The sepulcher of Ezra the priest and scribe is in this place, where he died on his journey fromr Jerusalem to king Artaxerxes" (Travels, 1:116). A tomb said to be his is siuomin on the Tigris, near its junction with the Euphrates (Layard, Nin. and Bab. page 428, note). An interesting description of this tomb is given by Kitto (Pict. Bible, note at the end of Ezra).
As regards the traditional history of Ezra, it is extremely difficult to judge what portion of it has any historical foundation. The principal works ascribed to him by the Jews, and, on the strength of their testimony, by Christians also, are the following:
(1.) Some traditions assert that Ezra was, about A.M. 0113, the president of the כנסר הגדולה, Synagoga Magna, and the father of all Mishnic doctors. SEE SYNAGOGUE, GREAT. In piety and meekness he was hike Moses' (Yuchasin, page 13. See Zeusach David). When he went from Babylon to Jerusalem, he took with him all persons whose descent was either illegitiemate or unknown, so that the Jews left in Babylon should be נקי כסולת pure like flour (Kiddushin, c. 4, 1, Gem.). Ezmia is said to have introduced the present square Hebrew character, and, in conjunction emith some other elders, to heave made the Masora (q. .), the punctuation, and accentuation of the whole Bible (Abarbanel, Praefat. ad Nachalath Aboth Elias, Praef. 3 Masor.). Ezra is also said to have vigorously resisted the sect of the Sadducees, which sprang up in his days; and therefore to have put the words העולם עד עולם מן a seculo in seculam, at the head of all prayers, as a symbol by which the orthodox could be distinguished (Blb. Berachoth, fol. 54). Since the people, during the Babylonian captivity or exile, had become accustomed to the Aramaic languages and scarcely understood Hebrew Ezra established the office of turgomtan, תירגמו dragoman, or interpreter, ewho stood near the public reader in the synagogue, and translated every verse after it weas read (Megillah, fol. 74). Hence he is usually regarded as the founder of the synagogue worship. SEE SYNAGOGUE. Ezra ordained that the year of jubilee should be reckoned from the seventh year after the rebuilding of the Temple (Alimnonides, Hal. Jobel. cap. 10).
(2.) Ezra is considered to be the author of the canon, and worthy to have been the lawgiver, if Moses had not preceded him (Bab. Sanhal. c. 2, f. 21 comp. the art. SEE CANON ). He is even said to have rewritten the whole of the Old Testament from memory, the copies of which had perished by neglect. To him is also ascribed the authorship of the hooks of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and, some add, Esther; and, many of the Jews say, also of the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve prophets; to which we may with more probability perhaps add the 119th Psalm. (See each book in its place.) Tischendorf has lately published (Apocalypses Apocrypha, Lips. 1861-3) an editio princeps of the Greek text of an "Apocalypsis Esdem." SEE REVELATIONS (SPURIOUS).
But we must abstain from recounting all the traditional amplifications of the doings of Ezra, since, if sin were to be received, it would be difficult to say what he did not do so strong has been the inclination to connect important facts with his person (comp. 2 Esdr. 14; Irenaeus, adv. Heares. 3:25; Clem. Alexandr. Strom. 1, page 142, Augustin. De Mirabil. Script. 2:23; Jerome, ad Halrid. page 212; Buxtorf Tiberias, page 88 sq, Bertholdt, Einleit. 1:69 sq.; De Wvette, Einleit. 17 sq.; Sauer, Dissert. in canonem Vet. Test. etc., Altorf; 1792; Sanhedrin, fol. 21:1; Rau, De Synag. Magna, pages 31, 89; Hartmann, Verbindung des Altensund Neuen Testamentes, page 114 sq.). Of most of the above acts of Ezra a full account is given in Prideaux's Connexion, 1:308-348, and 355-376; also in Otho's Lex. Rabb. page 208 sq. A compendious account of the arguments by which most of these Jewish statements are proved to be fabulous is given in Stehelin's Rabbin. Literat. pages 5-8; of which the chief are drawn from the silence of the sacred writers themselveas, of the apocryphal books and of Josephus and it might be added, of Jerome and from the fact that they may be traced to the author of the chapter in the Mishna called Pirke
Aboth. Arabian fables about Ezra are mentioned in Hottinger's Thes. Philo. page 113, and in Herbelot, Bibl. Orientale, pages 697, etc.