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The Return Home

The Book of Ezra/Nehemiah

In most Bibles Ezra and Nehemiah are counted as two separate books, but originally they were one. Under Era’s spiritual leadership and Nehemiah’s political leadership a religious revival takes place as the exiles return home.

Cyrus king of Persia gives the Jews permission to return to their land (they may now be called “Jews” since most come from the main surviving tribe of Judah). They rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, at the same time fighting opposition from the local population that had displaced them during their absence. Those who oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem nearly succeed in getting the work stopped, but with the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah the people persist and the work is completed.

As part of the religious reformation Ezra introduces an important institution: the public reading of the law. As he read from the scriptures, interpreters would explain the meaning of each passage to all the people who gathered to hear. Long before the age of the printed book, the concern was to make the text accessible to the general population.

And so we conclude the main thread of the Hebrew Bible. The book of Chronicles, the last book, summarizes the entire history and ends with the edict of King Cyrus that all the Jews who were exiled from their land may now return. The Hebrew scriptures end with the people returning to their home: to their land, but more importantly, to their God.

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