Thursday, 22 November 2018

The book of Nehemiah

Nehemiah fact file

Author Uncertain. Tradition suggests the scribe Ezra, but the evidence is rather shaky. Whoever was its first author, the book has been heavily edited since by several unknown hands.

Date of Writing A consensus date suggests about 450 BC.

Key verse ‘I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” ’ (Neh 6:3)

The Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament is named after its author and central character. It describes the prophet’s work of rebuilding Jerusalem and purifying the Jewish community.
The ancient walls of Jerusalem

      Nehemiah lived in the second half of the fifth century BC. His book describes events that took place at the same time as those in the Book of Ezra, and represents the final portion in the historical narratives of the Hebrew Bible.
The author Nehemiah was the son of Hachaliah (Neh 1:1) and probably came from the tribe of Judah. He was employed in the court of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. That he was allowed into the Queen’s presence (Neh 2:6) may suggest he was a eunuch. Certainly, in the early Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible he is des cribed as such: eunochos (eunuch), rather than the similar-sounding oinochoos (wine-cup bearer). If so, his enemy Shemaiah’s attempt to trick him into entering the Temple is aimed at making him break Jewish laws, rather than simply hide from assassins (Neh 6:10).
The story The historical context of Nehemiah's mission was the Persians’ need for increased security in the Levant and enhancement of Imperial control; in context, Egypt had recently suffered a serious revolt.
      The Bible story starts in the twentieth year of the king’s reign (so 445 or 444 BC). Nehemiah learnt how the walls of Jerusalem were broken and therefore useless, and asked the king for permission to return and rebuild them. Artaxerxes sent him to Jerusalem as provincial governor of Judah, with the principal mission of rebuilding the walls. Once there, he defied Judah’s many enemies — the Samaritans, Arabs, Ammonites and Philistines — and rebuilt the walls during a period of 52 days (Neh 7).
      Nehemiah then took measures to repopulate the city. He also sought to purify the Jewish community, enforced the cancellation of debt, and helped Ezra to spread the law of Moses. He also enforced the divorce of all Jewish men who had married wives who were Gentiles (non-Jews).
He returned to the king in Susa after twelve years as governor, during which he ruled with exemplary justice and righteousness. Slightly later, after more time in Susa, he returned to Jer usalem and was appalled to find the people had lapsed back into their evil ways: for example, gentiles were allowed to do business inside Jerusalem on the Sabbath and to keep rooms in the Temple. He was so angry that he purified the Temple, priests, and Levites, and enforced the observance of the law of Moses.
The book The book of Nehemiah is told largely in the form of a first-person memoir, and there is general agreement that it is based on fact, and contains genuine letters and first-hand memories. The process of editing started soon after this original report of Nehemiah's wall-building activities with an account of the restoration and reform of the community of Israel. Most scholars now
believe the basic autobiography can be dated no earlier than about 400 BC, when the original core of the book was combined with the parts of the Book of Ezra. Yet further editing may have continued afterwards.

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