Hebrew Bible Monographs, 17

Series Editors
David J.A. Clines, J. Cheryl Exum, Keith W. Whitelam

Editorial Board
A. Graeme Auld, Marc Brettler, Francis Landy,
Hugh S. Pyper, Stuart D.E. Weeks


Edited by

Mark J. Boda and Paul L. Redditt



Copyright © 2008 Sheffield Phoenix Press

Published by Sheffield Phoenix Press
Department of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2TN


All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
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Printed on acid-free paper by Lightning Source UK Ltd, Milton Keynes

ISBN 978-1-906055-40-0

ISSN 1747-9614



List of Contributors vii
Abbreviations ix

Mark J. Boda and Paul L. Redditt


Richard J. Bautch

Mark J. Boda

Margaret Cohen

Lisbeth S. Fried

Hannah K. Harrington

David Janzen

Christiane Karrer-Grube

Kyung-jin Min

Douglas J.E. Nykolaishen

vi Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
Juha Pakkala

Paul L. Redditt

Titus Reinmuth

Armin Siedlecki

Jacob L. Wright


Joseph Blenkinsopp

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi

H.G.M. Williamson

Bibliography 344
Index of References 362
Index of Authors 380



Jacob L. Wright


In Gen. 25.22-23 Rebecca has finally conceived, but now notices something
amiss. In order to understand the strange movements within her womb, she
goes ‘to inquire of YHWH’ (′¯¯¯× c¯¯¯ _¯¯:) and learns that she was bearing
two nations (Gen. 25.22-23). In the sapiential work 4QInstruction (4Q415-418,
4Q423) we also read about someone ‘inquiring’ (c¯¯). This time it is not a
pregnant mother soliciting that is a divine oracle, but rather students ‘search-
ing’ for wisdom in texts.

In the centuries between the composition of Genesis and 4QInstruction, the
terminology of divination (c¯¯ and c¸z) underwent a semantic shift according
to which it signified more frequently the study of the written word.
This devel-
opment has been noticed and studied at length by Michael Fishbane. Drawing
upon the work of Max Weber, he points to the emergence of the Israelite state

* Because of space constraints, unfortunately I cannot enter into a detailed discussion
with all the works of my fellow scholars and the reviewers for this volume. I would like,
however, to emphasize here that my work is deeply indebted to their many rich insights.
1. Cf. ‘She went to inquire at the beth midrash of Shem’ in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan
and Yerushalmi, Aggadath Bereshit 73, and Rashi. For more instances of the semantic
shift in Qumran writings, see 1QS and CD, and the article by A. Steudel, ‘“Bereitet den
Weg des Herrn.” Religiöses Lernen in Qumran’, in B. Ego and H. Merkel (eds.), Religiöses
Lernen in der biblischen, frühjüdischen und frühchristlichen Überlieferung (WUNT,
1/180; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), pp. 99-116. For a classic treatment of Hebrew
exegetical terminology in general, see M. Gertner, ‘Terms of Scriptural Interpretation: A
Study in Hebrew Semantics’, BSO(A)S 25 (1962), pp. 1-27.
2. See Isa. 34.16 (:ׯ¸: ′¯ ¯cz¯¯:o :c¯¯), one of the rare biblical passages wherein
c¯¯ is used for textual study, as well as Deut. 17.8-13 and the comments by B.M. Levinson,
Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1997), pp. 127-30. The transition from prophetical oracle to text can be observed in
2 Kgs 22. After the discovery and reading of the ¯¯:¯¯ ¯cz, Josiah commands Hilkiah and
company to ‘seek’ a prophetical oracle (′¯¯¯× :c¯¯ :z¯). Once the term is validated by the
prophetess Huldah, it assumes the authoritative role in the remaining narrative. For obvi-
ous reasons, the mantic term ¯×c was less suited to this semantic development.
278 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
and ‘the administrative consolidation’ of Israelite society, rather than the post-
exilic period, as the formative period for this ‘new stage of legal rationality’.

The formation of the bureaucratic and economic infrastructure of the ancient
Israelite state was, however, not the only factor affecting the semantic devel-
opment of c¯¯ and related terms. Also the demise of the state served as an
impulse. In his condemnation of the priests and house of Israel, Hosea pro-
claims the nation’s doom: ‘They shall go with their flocks and herds to seek
YHWH (′¯¯¯× c¸z¯), but they shall not find (:×so' ׯ:). He has withdrawn
himself from them’ (5.6).
Hosea’s prophecy was fulfilled: the state’s infra-
structure—with its cultic and divinatory apparatus supported by ‘their flocks
and herds’—collapsed in the wake of foreign imperial expansion. But as the
state—and Hosea himself—had vanished from the scene, the record of the
′¯¯¯z¯ represented by Hosea’s book remained. And it was this book of divine
words among others which, in the process of rebuilding a new societal infra-
structure, could serve as ‘an oraculum for rational-exegetical inquiry’.
reader of Hosea’s book, which already identifies the prophetical ′¯¯¯z¯ (4.1)
with the book itself (1.1), now ‘seeks and finds’ the word of God in the writ-
ten tradition.

3. M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1988), p. 244. See also his article ‘Torah’ in Encyclopedia Miqra’it (Jerusalem: Bialik,
1982), VIII, cols. 469-83. On the administrative-bureaucratic origins of writing, see A.L.
Oppenheim, ‘On an Operational Device in Mesopotamian Bureaucracy’, JNES 18 (1959),
pp. 121-28, and D. Schmandt-Besserat, ‘The Earliest Precursor of Writing’, Scientific
American 6 (1978), pp. 38-47. For a broad perspective on the cultural impact of this new
administrative-bureaucratic technology, see the articles collected in A. and J. Assmann
and C. Hardmeier (eds.), Schrift und Gedächtnis: Archäologie der literarischen Kommuni-
kation, I (Munich: Willhelm Fink, 1983), and most recently S. Sanders (ed.), Margins of
Writing, Origins of Cultures: New Approaches to Writing and Reading in the Ancient
Near East (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2006).
4. Compare this verse with Hos. 2.8; 5.6, 15; 12.9; 14.9; Amos 8.11-12; and esp. Jer.
5. Fishbane, Interpretation, p. 245, which refers in its original context to Ezra 7.10.
That the book of Hosea was indeed read in this way is demonstrated by the Hosea Pesh-
arim (4QpHosea and 4Qfrag.). In this regard, see the innovative work of R. Vielhauer,
‘Materielle Rekonstruktion und historische Einordnung der beiden Pescharim zum
Hoseabuch (4QpHos(a) und 4QpHos(b))’, RevQ 20 (2001), pp. 39-91.
6. W.M. Schniedewind, has studied this phenomenon from the perspective of Chron-
icles. See his The Word of God in Transition: From the Prophet to Exegete in the Second
Temple Period (JSOTSup, 197; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1995), pp. 130-38, as well as his
recent work, How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). The problem of the cessation of prophecy is
directly connected to these developments: ‘After the demise of the last (biblical) prophets—
Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi—the holy spirit (viz., prophetic inspiration) departed from
Israel’ (t. SoÓa, ed. Zuckermandel, p. 318, 21-23; b. SoÓah 48b; b. Sanh. 11a); ‘From now
on incline your ear and listen to the instructions of the Sages’ (Seder ‘Olam Rabbah 6 [ed.
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 279
The book of Ezra-Nehemiah portrays in more than ten passages how the
protagonists of Judah’s restoration ‘seek and find’ in various written tradi-
tions. Ezra–Nehemiah not only presupposes the innovative identification of
the ′¯¯¯z¯ with the writings of the Prophets and the Torah, but also witnesses
to the administrative origins of what Fishbane designates ‘rational-exegetical
inquiry’. The present paper examines these passages. Its aim is to show that
seeking-and-finding, while constituting a literary topos and unifying motif, is
not a mere narrative conceit.
Rather, it is an administrative procedure that
contributed to Judah’s success as she redefined her political identity in a new
era, and it is a method of exegesis that produced the book itself.

Ezra 1–6

The first movement in Ezra–Nehemiah treats the construction of the Temple
(Ezra 1–6). Its subject, however, is not solely the history of this building pro-
ject, but also—and perhaps even more so—the fate of a certain text.
And in
recounting the story of this text, the narrator highlights the activity of seeking-

In Ezra 1.1 the story begins by introducing this text and its author. YHWH
‘stirs up the spirit’ of Cyrus the king of Persia to issue a decree, ‘which was
also in writing’ (z¯zoz¯z::). In response to his decree (1.2-4), ‘all whose spirit
God had stirred’ make aliyah and begin building the Temple (1.5–3.15).
After hearing of the building project, their ‘adversaries’ approach them with

Ratner, p. 2]). Along with the semantic shift of c¯¯ and the identification of ′¯¯¯z¯ with
the written—not oral, prophetic—word, the term ¯×:z. originated. See E.E. Urbach, ‘'¯o
¯×:z.¯ ¯¸zc’, Tarbiz 17 (1946), pp. 1-11; F. Greenspahn, ‘Why Prophecy Ceased’, JBL
108 (1989), pp. 37-49; B. Sommer, ‘Did Prophecy Cease? Evaluating a Reevaluation’,
JBL 115 (1996), pp. 31-47. The study of prophecies (in written form) is not common
among the societies of the ancient Near East. According to M. Nissinen, the only analogy
is to be found in Esarhaddon’s oracles, which were collected and became ‘a part of written
tradition transcending specific historical situations and retaining its relevance in changing
circumstances’. See P. Machinist and M. Nissinen (eds.), Prophets and Prophecy in the
Ancient Near East (Society of Biblical Literature. Writings from the Ancient World Series,
12; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), p. 98.
7. The terminology for seeking and finding in Ezra–Nehemiah is usually ¯¸z/¯zc in
the Aramaic sections and c¸z/×so in the Hebrew sections. c¸z is replaced by c¯¯ in Ezra
7.10 and 10.16, by ¯zc in Neh. 8.13-14, and by ׯ¸ in 13.1-3. Occasionally, one part of
the word-pair can be elliptically omitted, as in Ezra 7.10 and Neh. 7.5.
8. For the role of texts in Ezra 1–6 and throughout Ezra–Nehemiah, see T.C. Eskenazi,
In an Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra–Nehemiah (SBLMS, 36; Atlanta: Schol-
ars Press, 1988).
9. With regard to seeking-and-finding in Ezra 1–6, see the insightful comments of
T. Schaack, Die Ungeduld des Papiers (BZAW, 262; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998),
pp. 116-57.
280 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
the petition to participate in the project (4.1-2). The leaders in Jerusalem
reject these offers by appealing to the orders of Cyrus (4.3). In their anger, the
rebuffed petitioners attempt to thwart the progress on the Temple throughout
the years that follow (4.4-5). During the reign of Artaxerxes they write to the
king, advising him to search in the royal annals and find Jerusalem’s rebelli-
ous record (4.6-16). The king follows this advice, commands a search to be
made, and sure enough finds what he was looking for. He then orders the con-
struction of the city to cease (4.17-22). Surprisingly this time the Judean lead-
ers do not appeal to the Cyrus Edict, which allows the officials of the province
to interpret Artaxerxes’ orders as a prohibition of all building-activities (4.23-
24). In the reign of Darius,
the work on the Temple later resumes with the
encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah (5.1-2), but is again impeded until
the imperial court undertakes another ‘library search’. The officials of the
province approach the builders and inquire whether the construction project
had been authorized (5.3-9). In response the Judean elders provide a general
overview of their history, now appealing explicitly to the Cyrus Edict (5.9-
16). In order to verify their account of Judah’s history, the local officials peti-
tion the king to search the geniza in Babylon for the decree of Cyrus (5.17).
Following Artaxerxes’ precedent, Darius orders that a search be made (6.1).
Instead of in Babylon, however, the long-lost writing referred to in 1.1 was
finally found in Ecbatana (6.2). After it is quoted (6.3-5), Darius issues a new
edict (6.6-12), and without further delay the work on the Temple is brought
to completion (6.13-22).

According to the opinio communis, this tightly drafted narrative, which is
sustained by the theme of the Cyrus Edict, has at its core historical, authentic
sources. Although one should not rule out this possibility, it is important to
observe the extent to which these sources have been tailored to fit the

10. Here I am following the narrative, not the historical, succession.
11. The literary topos of seeking-and-finding in a writing (or geniza), which is employed
in Ezra–Nehemiah, is related to—yet probably should be distinguished from—the topos of
the (accidental) discovery of a book, which we encounter elsewhere. See W. Speyer,
Bücherfunde in der Glaubenswerbung der Antike (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1970); B.J. Diebner and C. Naurereth, ‘Die Inventio in 2 König 22: Struktur, Intention
und Funktion von Auffindungslegenden’, Dielheimer Blätter zum Alten Testament 18
(1984), pp. 95-118; H. Schaudig, ‘Nabonid, der “Archäologe auf dem Königsthron”. Zum
Geschichtsbild des ausgehenden neubabylonischen Reiches’, in G.J. Selz (ed.), Festschrift
für Burkhart Kienast zu seinem 70. Geburtstage dargebracht von Freunden, Schülern und
Kollegen (AOAT, 274; Munster: Ugarit, 2003), pp. 447-97; and K. Stott, ‘Finding the
Lost Book of the Law: Re-reading the Story of “The Book of the Law” (Deuteronomy–
2 Kings) in Light of Classical Literature’, JSOT 30 (2005), pp. 153-69.
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 281
With respect to rhetorical technique, the depictions of seeking-and-finding
function as literary hinges at pivotal points in the story. For example, Arta-
xerxes’ letter picks up where Rehum’s and Shimshai’s concludes. The king
writes, ‘I commanded, they searched and found that…’ (:¯¸z: z:z z'c '.o:
'¯ :¯zc¯:, 4.19). In order to know what he commanded and where they
searched, one must read the letter in tandem with Rehum’s and Shimshai’s
petition (v. 15).
In this way, the letters form a running narrative. It is even
more difficult to isolate independent sources in Ezra 6. We are told that
Darius follows the advice of Tattenai and Shethar-boznai and commands a
search to be made (6.1-2). The Cyrus Edict is found and quoted (6.3-5). In
6.6 Darius then begins speaking with the epistolary transition marker ¦:z.
The narrative here flows seamlessly into the quotation of edict and then into a
new edict.

Ezra 1–6 also poses a problem when one reads it as a historically factual
account. Why do the Achaemenid rulers consistently consult their royal annals
before making a decision? If Darius was determined to bolster the loyalty of
his Judean subjects by allowing them to rebuild the Temple, why did he first
need to know whether one of his predecessors had done the same? This point
applies all the more to Ezra 4. That Jerusalem was rebellious and destroyed
by the Babylonians would have certainly been of interest to him. And the
Achaemenids as a whole were often concerned to draw on precedents estab-
lished by earlier rulers.
But ultimately Artaxerxes’ policies, as those of any
good ruler, were motivated by contemporary concerns. Thus, when he later
decides to allow his cupbearer to rebuild the city-ramparts (Neh. 2), he sig-
nificantly does not undertake any historical research.

12. Although this style—with elliptical omission of the lengthy object—is not antici-
pated in official Aramaic correspondence, it is quite customary in Hebrew narrative. See,
e.g., Neh. 8.16a and D. Janzen, ‘The “Mission” of Ezra and the Persian-Period Temple
Community’, JBL 119 (2000), pp. 619-43, and R.C. Steiner, ‘The mbqr at Qumran, the
episkopos in the Athenian Empire, and the Meaning of lbqr’ in Ezra 7:14: On the Relation
of Ezra’s Mission to the Persian Legal Project’, JBL 120 (2001), pp. 623-46.
13. For a formal analysis of the Aramaic letters in Ezra 4–6, see most recently
D. Schwiderski, Handbuch des nordwestsemitischen Briefformulars: Ein Beitrag zur
Echtheitsfrage der aramäischen Briefe des Esrabuches (BZAW, 295, Berlin: Walter de
Gruyter, 2000).
14. See, e.g., A. Kuhrt ‘The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid Imperial Policy’, JSOT
25 (1983), pp. 83-97.
15. Although the institution of ‘the Laws of the Persians and the Medes’ (see Schaack,
Ungeduld, pp. 198-256) may have informed the use of the seeking-and-finding motif in
Ezra 5–6, it has nothing to do with the use of the motif in Ezra 4 and the rest of Ezra–
Nehemiah. Ezra 4–6 depicts administrative seeking-and-finding, which may be compared
to Est. 6.1-2. For extra-biblical parallels, cf. the Story of Wenamun 2.8-9, the Arad
ostracon ‘Letter of Gemaryahu and Nechemyahu’, as well as the Elephantine papyrus C
7.1. The closest parallel to Ezra 1–6 is found in 4Q550, which resembles Est. 6.1-2. See
282 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
As to why the authors of Ezra–Nehemiah portray the Persian rulers as dili-
gent students of their archival records, I suggest that the literary depiction was
dictated less by actual Achaemenid policies than by the ideological agenda of
Ezra 1–6. An important clue to understanding this agenda is found in 2.62,
which reports that certain priests sought yet could not find their genealogical
register (z'c¯'¯o¯ zz¯z); they were therefore excluded from the priest-
In defining the boundaries of the community and its leadership, the
Judeans first search in their historical records. As in Ezra 4–6, the written
word is here absolutely final or unassailable. Thus the Judeans follow the
example of the empire in mimetic fashion.
On the basis of this analogy, one can begin to appreciate why Ezra–
Nehemiah focuses on the fate of a text when it depicts the construction of the
Temple. After the end of the monarchy, Judah faced the challenge of coming
to terms with new institutions of political power (imperial representatives,
gubernatorial and priestly leadership, etc.). The authors of Ezra–Nehemiah,
in seeking to underscore the continuity of these institutions with those from
the past, identify the source of authority with the written word.
By present-
ing the Persian kings first seeking and finding in their archives before making
political decisions, they illustrate the point that Judah does not require a mon-
archy of its own: The construction project progressed and succeeded not
because of a Judean king and the prophet whom he consults for the ‘word of
God’, but rather by a virtue of an authority mediated through texts.

the superb article by R. Steiner: ‘Bishlam’s Archival Search Report in Nehemiah’s Archive:
Multiple Introductions and Reverse Chronological Order as Clues to the Origin of the
Aramaic Letters in Ezra 4-6’, JBL 125 (2006), pp. 641-85. This study appeared after the
completion of this manuscript and could only be inserted in the final edits.
16. For the use of texts in relation to priestly lineages, see Josephus, Apion 1.6; 1QS
5.23; 6.22-23; 8.19; CD 13.11-12; 14.3-6; M. Weinfeld, The Organizational Pattern and
the Penal Code of the Qumran Sect: A Comparison with Guilds and Religious Associ-
ations of the Hellenistic–Roman Period (NTOA, 2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1986); and F. Nötscher, ‘Himmlische Bücher und Schicksalglaube in Qumran’, RevQ 1
(1958–59), pp. 405-11.
17. This idea is to be sure not new. It is found throughout the Tanakh, perhaps expressed
most poignantly in Deut. 17.18.
18. In Ezra–Nehemiah textuality does not replace orality. The prophets play a supporting
role (Ezra 1.1; 5.1; and 6.14; cf., however, Neh. 6.10-14). The text is also read aloud (see
Neh. 8 and 13.1-3). So too, the oral word is necessary in order to publish the fulfillment of
prophecy (Ezra 1.1) and the findings of Torah-study (Ezra 10.7; Neh. 8.15) to the commu-
nity. Moreover, before the mention of seeking-and-(not)finding in a text (Ezra 2.61-62), we
are told of a group that could not ‘tell’ (¯':¯¯) whether they belonged to the seed of Israel
(2.59-60). Ezra 2.63 then follows the mention of textual searching in 2.61-62 with a refer-
ence to charismatic divination. According to the provision for the excluded priests to eat of
the ‘most holy things’, a priest with the Urim and Thummim must first serve (¦¯z ¯o: ¯:
z'o¯¯: z'¯:ׯ). The authors of Ezra–Nehemiah never report the appearance of such a
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 283
Yet it is not just any text which has authority, and the Judeans cannot dis-
pense with kingship entirely. In Ezra 1.1 the written word that guarantees the
success of the building-project is published by ‘the king of Persia’. Moreover,
this royal publishing house receives its commission from YHWH, who ‘stirs
up’ the spirit of Cyrus in order to fulfill the divine word spoken by Jeremiah
(¯'o¯' 'co ′¯¯¯z¯ ¯:¯z¯). Taking their departure from Deutero-Isaiah,

many literary works from the Second Temple period present foreign imperial
rulers as direct successors to the Davidic kings.
By means of these divinely
ordained rulers, God providentially realizes a plan for the welfare of Israel.
Thus, when Nebuchadnezzar blesses God in Dan. 4.31-37, he acknowledges
that the divine kingdom is eternal and represents the indispensable basis for
his own transient reign (see Dan. 6.26-28 and Ezra 1.1; 6.12; 7.23). Similarly,
the Chronicler often alters his Vorlage in order to transform David’s kingdom
into a divine kingdom.
For example, in 2 Chron. 9.8 the queen of Sheba fol-
lows her royal counterparts in the book of Daniel and blesses the God of
Israel. Yet instead of the throne of Israel as in 1 Kgs 10.9, it is ‘his (God’s)
throne’ which Solomon occupies. Most importantly for the present study, this
transformation of David’s throne to God’s throne is closely tied to the con-
struction of the Temple(s). David, in his role as one who makes all the neces-
sary preparations for the construction of the Temple, and Solomon, in his role
as Temple builder, are mere incumbents on a throne that also can be occupied
by foreign rulers who likewise engage in Temple-construction. Thus, the
work concludes in 2 Chron. 36.20-23 with Cyrus assuming the throne and
ordering the Temple to be built. Ezra–Nehemiah contributes to this concept
by presenting the Persian kings as God-appointed rulers whose decisions to
build and ‘beautify’ the Temple are divinely inspired (Ezra 1.1 and 7.28).

priest; instead, they allow textual study—and in Neh. 8, ‘the iconic text’—to fill the gap
left by these mantic objects.
19. See R.G. Kratz, Kyros im Deuterojesaja-Buch: Redaktionsgeschichtliche Unter-
suchungen zu Entstehung und Theologie von Jes 40–55 (FAT, 1; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck,
1991), pp. 183-91. This conception can be traced to kingship ideologies that prevailed
throughout the ancient Near East (e.g. the proclamation at Asshurbanipal’s investiture-
ceremonies, ‘The God Asshur is the king, and Asshurbanipal is his representative [waklu /
uklu]’). See also M. Liverani, ‘The Fall of the Assyrian Empire: Ancient and Modern Inter-
pretations’, in Susan E Alcock et al. (eds.), Empires: Perspectives from Archaeology and
History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 374-99.
20. See R.G. Kratz, Translatio imperii: Untersuchungen zu den aramäischen Daniel-
erzählungen und ihrem theologiegeschichtlichen Umfeld (WMANT, 63, Neukirchen–
Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991), pp. 161-225; and Kratz, Das Judentum im Zeitalter
des Zweiten Tempels (FAT, 42; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), pp. 157-311.
21. 1 Chron. 17.14; 28.5; 29.11, 23; 2 Chron. 6.2, 18, 21, 30, 33, 39; 9.8; 13.6, 8;
18.18; etc.
22. In this way the authors can present kings building the Temple in Jerusalem, in
284 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
Finally, as a divinely inspired document, the Cyrus Edict is not a static
entity, but rather a rich source which requires interpretation to reveal its full
message. Ezra 1–6 is accordingly a history of its interpretation and impact
(Rezeptions- und Wirkungsgeschichte). In 3.7 we learn that Cyrus had granted
the Judeans the building materials for the Temple. In 4.3 the Judeans interpret
the edict in line with the exclusive nature of the building-project.
In 5.11-16
they interpret it anew and within a larger historical framework.
The Persian
rulers also interpret the edict. When Darius seeks and finds, the reader learns
that Cyrus gave specific directions for the location, materials, and size of the
Temple, as well as for the financial funding of the building project (6.3-5).
Moreover, his discovery inspires him to supplement the edict by making a
new decree sponsoring not only the building project but now even the Temple
The Artaxerxes correspondence in Ezra 4 interprets the Cyrus
Edict by prohibiting the construction of the Wall until after the completion of
the Temple.
In each instance, the edict expands in its meaning as the inter-
pretations are put into writing.
Yet they are not put into just any form of

keeping with a ubiquitous tradition in the ancient Near East that assigns the task of temple-
construction to pious monarchs. The difference is that instead of a Judean king it is Persian
rulers who build the Temple, and above all the most beloved of the Achaemenids, Cyrus
the Great. Similarly the Marduk priests in Babylon acclaimed Cyrus, their patron, 'King of
Babylon.’ While the authors of Ezra 1–6 seem to follow the Chronicler in his portrayal of
the divine throne occupied by Temple builders, they differ from him insofar as they do not
champion the vision of a militarily fortified Judah. Instead, they are content with a prov-
ince centered around the Temple.
23. In Ezra 1, the edict does not contain this exclusivity. Indeed, there Cyrus encour-
ages others to support the builders.
24. Here we learn e.g. that Sheshbazzar was both the governor of the province and the
one who laid the Temple-foundation. In 4.1-3, the adversaries refer, like the Judeans in
5.11-16, to their past history, yet are dismissed on the basis of the edict.
25. Moreover, it defines the purpose of his donations and contains penalties and curses
for those who would interfere (6.11-12).
26. The word ‘Wall’ is capitalized since in Ezra–Nehemiah it represents a symbol and
institution comparable to the Temple. Other symbols in the book are the Torah in Neh.
8.1-12, which is moveable, and ‘Ezra the scribe’ in Neh. 8.13, which is spatial (cf. Ezra
3.1 with Neh. 8.1, 2; 9.1). Below I offer an explanation for the tension between Temple
and Wall in Ezra 1–6. Because the Judeans fail to cite the Cyrus Edict in response, the
Artaxerxes correspondence effects the cessation of the work on the Temple (4.24). In this
way, the authors can explain why the Temple was not built before Darius’s reign.
27. That Ezra 1–6 itself expands in a gradual process of interpreting this edict is argued
in my dissertation, ‘Nehemiah’s Account of the Restoration’, PhD Dissertation, University
of Göttingen, 2002), pp. 202-11 (see n. 41). According to the analysis, the earliest edition
of these chapters comprised a brief narrative consisting primarily of the Darius-correspon-
dence (5.6–6.15). The bracketing of this Aramaic narrative with the material in 1.1–4.5 and
6.16-22 intends to explain why the Temple was not completed until the reign of Darius
when Cyrus had decreed it to be built already in the first year of his reign. Finally, the
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 285
writing; rather they constitute official documents. As such, these interpreta-
tions represent historical sources for future generations to discover and study.

Ezra 7–10

After Ezra 6 reports the completion of the Temple and the celebrations that
accompanied it, the Cyrus Edict appears to have been fulfilled. However, the
story goes on. Israel has not yet completely returned to the Land. So too, in
the middle of the Temple-building account, Artaxerxes had interrupted the
construction of the Wall and prohibited any further work ‘until I issue a new
decree’ (4.21). Before he (implicitly) issues that decree in Nehemiah 2, the
second movement of the book conveys the reader back to the imperial court,
where the king, following in the footsteps of Cyrus, orders Ezra to make
aliyah with his compatriots and transport generous funds in order ‘to beau-
tify’ (¯×c¯, 7.27) the Temple.

Ezra 7–10 consists of two parts that are in tension: chs. 7–8, in which the
Temple and its personnel are at the forefront, and chs. 9–10, in which the
Temple moves to the background and the priests constitute the chief offend-
ers in a major scandal. What holds these two parts together is the person of
Ezra, who follows the example of the kings in Ezra 1–6 as he engages in the
activity of seeking-and-finding. By focusing on his person, the authors of
Ezra 7–10 can fill in the gaps left in the preceding section and construct the
identity of one who seeks-and-finds.

According to 7.1-5, Ezra is a priest in the Aaronite-Zadokite line. But in
the Golah he had also become a ‘scribe expert in the Torah of Moses’ (7.6),
and ‘had dedicated himself to study (c¯¯¯) the Torah of YHWH, and to per-
form and teach laws and rules to Israel’ (7.11).
Due to his commitment to

Artaxerxes correspondence was inserted between these two sections. By beginning with
the Cyrus Edict yet not quoting the text in Ezra 1.1-4, the authors gradually disclose its
contents to the reader.
28. That Ezra 1–6 is older than chs. 7–10 is argued by R.G. Kratz, Die Komposition der
erzählenden Bücher des Alten Testaments: Grundwissen der Bibelkritik (UTB, 2157;
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), pp. 56-68.
29. Insofar as Ezra is allowed to speak for himself, he can also tell his readers what
motivated him. A thorough description of the way the authors construct his identity cannot
be provided here. The most interesting work in this regard is a little-known Yiddish Büch
by Israel Schur, z'c¯¯o ¦: z'¯:o¯¯,_״.¯ z':¯ .¯c:z¯×¯ì: (Riga: Bicher for Alemen, 1931).
For recent work on Ezra’s function as a scribe, see Y. Avishur and M. Heltzer, ‘The Scribe
and Priest Ezra: A Leader under Achaemenian Rule’, Transeuph 29 (2005), pp. 17-36.
30. See Fishbane’s comment (Interpretation, p. 245) on this verse: ‘For whereas the
expression ‘to inquire (c:¯¯¯) of YHWH’ occurs in a mantic context of prophetic inquiry in
1 Kgs 22.8, for example, and the expression ‘to inquire of Elohim’ occurs in a mantic
context of legal inquiry in Exod. 18.15, the expression used in Ezra 7.10 is significantly
286 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
seeking in the Torah, he also receives a royal commission to ‘inspect’ (ׯ¸z¯)
Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of his God (_¯¯× ¯¯z), which was
entrusted to him (7.14).

In comparison to the foregoing section, the depiction of seeking-and-find-
ing in this chapter contains both similarities and differences. As in Ezra 1–6,
the written word is the ultimate source of authority, and a foreign ruler has
replaced the Davidic king as the one who enforces it (7.26). Now, however,
we are presented with a new figure, namely a person of Judahite origins who
is officially authorized to seek-and-find in the written word. In both chs. 1–6
and 7–10, seeking-and-finding is an administrative procedure. Yet in contrast
to the foregoing account, the text wherein Ezra seeks and which he uses to
inspect Judah is not ‘the word of God’ mediated through the Cyrus Edict, but
the Torah.
The imperial court thus now turns its attention away from its
archives to a body of texts transmitted solely by Judean hands.
Beginning in Ezra 7, the theme of the book thus shifts from Temple to
Torah. The shift is, to be sure, a gradual one insofar as Ezra 7–8 focuses pri-
marily on the former. Following in the footsteps of Cyrus the Temple builder,
Artaxerxes promotes the position of this institution by making large dona-
tions. In ch. 8 Ezra tells how he transported these donations to Jerusalem
without even mentioning the Torah in his hand.
So too, in his blessing
(7.27-28), he interprets the royal decree solely in reference to the Temple.

In the decree itself, Artaxerxes devotes the greatest amount of space to the
Temple and its maintenance; indeed, the decree can be read as an apologia
for this institution.
Finally, the few verses in ch. 7 that emphasize the posi-
tion of the Torah appear to have been added at a later point.
Yet in pre-
paring the reader for Ezra’s activities in chs. 9–10 and Nehemiah 8, these
verses have made the deepest impact on the character of the book.

‘to inquire (c:¯¯¯) of the Torah of YHWH’. Here the text of divine words serves, as it were,
as an oraculum for rational-exegetical inquiry’ (Interpretation, p. 245).
31. ¯¸z is the same lexeme used for ‘seeking’ in 4.15, 19; 5.17; 6.1.
32. When building the Temple, the Judeans seek-and-find in the Torah so that all their
actions merit the approbation z:¯zz (3.2, 4; 6.18; on this formula, see Fishbane, Inter-
pretation, pp. 213-16). In ch. 7, however, the source for seeking-and-finding is more
directly identified with the Torah.
33. The _¯o¯ '¯¯ in 8.36 seems to be something different from the ‘law’ in 7.14, 25-26.
34. Cf. _¯o¯ z¯z ¯×ìz ¦¯. in 7.27 with the comparable expression _¯o…¯:¯¯¯× ′¯ ¯':¯
in 1.1, which also refers to plans for the Temple.
35. See the newest work on this edict from S. Grätz, Edikt des Artaxerxes: Eine Unter-
suchung zum religionspolitischen und historischen Umfeld von Esr 7, 12-26 (BZAW, 337;
Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004).
36. Verses 6abb-8, 10, 11b, 14 (_¯o¯ in v. 13 connects better to ¯¯z'¯¯: in v. 15), and
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 287
Whereas Ezra 7 presents the Torah as the legal basis for Judah, chs. 9–10
address the difficulties that arise when this ‘theory’ is put into practice. Great
optimism and excitement had accompanied the aliyah depicted in chs. 7–8.
Yet once the donations for the Temple had been delivered and the sacrifices
had been made, Ezra learns much to his dismay that the inhabitants of Judah
did not share his understanding of the Torah’s requirements. For the small
and weak Judah, the specific problem—mixed-marriages—was one of ‘exis-
tential’ proportions, as Ezra demonstrates in his reaction (vv. 3-5) and prayer
(vv. 6-15). The Judeans, their kings and priests had ‘been delivered into the
hand of the kings of the lands’ (v. 7). Yet a small remnant had remained, and
they had been given a foothold (‘tent-peg’) in ‘this holy place’ (v. 8). They
were still subject to foreign rule, but had also found favor with the kings so
that they could build the Temple and erect a ‘fence’ in Judah and Jerusalem
(v. 9). From this poignant presentation of Judah’s fragile position in both
time and space, one can appreciate the gravity of the problem posed by
intermarriage. In turning to the present (vv. 10-15), Ezra proves that he had
learned to seek-and-find in the Torah (cf. 7.10) by blending Deut. 7.1-3, 23.4-
9 and Leviticus 18, and appropriating them for the situation at hand.
interpretation is remarkably lax. For example, he passes over the references
to destruction and z¯¯ in Deuteronomy 7,
focusing instead on the prohibi-
tions of intermarriage.

Rather than pointing his finger at the offenders, Ezra prays, and his
prayer—perhaps the most beautiful text in the book—evokes deep remorse
from the community. Their reaction is told in the third-person account in
Ezra 10. On the basis of both stylistic and conceptual differences, Y. Dor has
convincingly argued for different authors in chs. 9–10.
Although I agree, it
seems that these chapters were not compiled at the same time. I think it is
more plausible that ch. 9, which draws upon distinctive features of Neh. 1.1-
11 and 13.23-29, has been composed as a new introduction to Nehemiah’s
Before the insertion of the third-person passage of Ezra 10, it is

37. Deut. 7, for example, could have been disregarded, since it refers explicitly to the
first occupation of the Land. By means of sophisticated exegesis, Ezra renders it applicable
to his own situation. See Fishbane, Interpretation, pp. 114- 21.
38. z¯¯ occurs in Ezra 10.8, but there it functions in a different manner .
39. That Ezra does not consider the possibility of integration does not have to be read
as if he were dismissing the alternative presented in Trito-Isaiah or Ezek. 47.22-23. Rather
it may simply suggest that the issue was more ‘cultural’ than cultic or religious. Cf., how-
ever, Fishbane, Interpretation, pp. 119-21.
40. Y. Dor, ¯'o¯.¯×¯ì: ¯czz ¯:'¯z:.¯ z'c.¯ ¯c¯c (PhD dissertation, Hebrew Univer-
sity, 2001), pp. 130ff.
41. See Kratz, Komposition, pp. 85-86, and J.L. Wright, Rebuilding Identity: The
Nehemiah-Memoir and its Earliest Readers (BZAW, 348, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter 2004),
pp. 253-55.
288 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
Nehemiah who with his Wall-building project constructs the physical and
conceptual boundaries wherein the remnant of Israel can separate itself from
the surrounding nations and survive (Ezra 9.14).

With the insertion of Ezra 10, a later author depicts Ezra and the commu-
nity tackling the problem of mixed-marriages before the construction of the
Their aim is to solve this problem ‘according to the Torah’ (¯¯:¯z:
¯c:'), and those whom they commission to interpret the Torah are Ezra and
the z'¯¯¯ (v. 3).
The procedures taken include making ‘a proclamation
throughout Judah and Jerusalem’ (z¯c:¯': ¯¯:¯'z ¯:¸ :¯'z:':, v. 7). Precisely
this expression is what Ezra and his students later find when they search in
the Torah in Neh. 8.15.
Ezra and the leaders also sequester themselves ‘to
examine the matter’ (¯z¯¯ c:'¯¯¯, 10.16).
The exact method of examina-
tion is not reported,
but the authors seem to indicate that the members of the
commission searched in a text, such as the register of the genealogies later
discovered by Nehemiah (7.5-69).
The names are then found (×so':) and

42. This point is developed below.
43. In contrast to Ezra 9 and most of the book, Ezra 10 (or at least portions of it) seems
to describe a sectarian view of the community (a community within a community; see e.g.
¯¯::¯ ¯¯¸ in Ezra 10.8). Its depiction should not be confused with Judah’s actual polity in
the Persian period, as is done for example by the model of the Tempel-Bürger-Gemeinde.
The closest parallels to this conception are found in the writings of the Qumran community
(see n. 16), which suggests that Ezra 10 should be interpreted in light of developing sec-
tarian ideas in the Hellenistic period. The development allows the community to adopt a
stricter interpretation of the Torah, with penal consequences for the failure to adhere to the
decisions of the community (see Ezra 10.8). Here the influence of the guilds and religious
associations from the Greco-Roman period studied by M. Weinfeld (see n. 16) is apparent.
Contrasting with this, Nehemiah as the political leader of Judah does not punish the
offenders in ch. 13. He only preaches. The most he can do when enforcing the observance
of the Sabbath is to give orders for the closing of Jerusalem’s gates (13.19-22). In ch. 4 he
uses the sword only to defend Jerusalem. With regard to cultic affairs, he takes a more
physical approach (13.4-9, 28-29).
44. The MT replaces ‘my lord’ (Ezra) with ‘the Lord’.
45. Deut. 31.12, 28 may be the source here. See also Judg. 21, 1 Chron. 13, 2 Chron.
30, Neh. 5, etc., for evidence that the procedures for invoking an assembly and for the
assembly itself were not an unimportant matter.
46. The spelling of ‘to examine’ (instead of c:¯¯¯) is difficult to explain. Perhaps it is a
play on the name of Darius and his activities in Ezra 6.
47. In contrast to the administrative character of seeking-and-finding in Ezra 1–6, the
account in Ezra 10 uses the language of seeking-and-finding to describe legal-juridical
activities. This persists today in the expression ‘to be found guilty/innocent’. See Fishbane,
Interpretation, pp. 188-92, 241-44. Est. 2.19-23 portrays the judicial method of seeking-
and-finding in order to prepare the reader for the administrative method in 6.1-2.
48. See Fishbane, Interpretation, p. 115. Cf. also the method of determining lineage
described in Neh. 7.64, Ezra 2.62. Further evidence is found in Ezra 8.15a-20, where Ezra
reviews the people and priests (z'.¯zz: z:z ¯.'z×:), does not find ('¯×so¯×¯) any Levites,
and takes measures to correct this deficiency. Insofar as the expression ¦'z + z is used in
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 289
then written in a long list that concludes the chapter (vv. 18-44). This passage
illustrates how the procedure of seeking-and-finding not only is ascribed to
the Torah itself but also once again leads to writing—and thus the formation
of Ezra–Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 7

Ezra 9–10 is occupied with issues related to the population of Israel. The
same concern governs Nehemiah 7.
Once the Wall had been erected, Nehe-
miah commences the second phase of his restoration project during which he
turns to the task of repopulating the city.
‘Now the city was large and great,
but the people were few therein, and the houses were not yet built’ (¦'×:
z':.z z'¯z, v. 4). The statement that Jerusalem was devoid of any houses con-
tradicts the immediately preceding verse.
Nevertheless, it serves an important
literary function inasmuch as it empties the city so that Nehemiah can tell how
he populated it: ‘And I found a register of the genealogy of them who came
up in the beginning, and I found written in it’.

As in 2 Kings 22 with regard to the Torah scroll which Hilkiah ‘found’
and which provokes both a deep transformation in Josiah and radical changes

Dan. 9.2 to describe textual study, it quite likely that Ezra is here inspecting the genealogi-
cal record quoted in vv. 1-14, and is registering the names of the Levites. That vv. 1-14
purport to represent an independent literary document seems likely when one compares its
heading (8.1) and format with Ezra 2//Neh. 7. See also ¯:ocz :z¸. z¯z in 8.20b and z¯z:
¯:ocz in 10.16.
49. Y. Kaufmann perceptively noted that Nehemiah comes close here to taking the stance
of Ezra. See his History of the Religion of Israel. IV. From the Babylonian Captivity to the
End of Prophecy (New York: Ktav, 1977), p. 377. Kaufmann’s insight may be compared
to the interpretation of Moses Kimhi (usually attributed to Ibn Ezra) when the latter adds
zo:co from Ezra 9.3b, 4b to '¯zc' in Neh. 1.4. In view of Kimhi’s general reading of
Ezra–Nehemiah, this blending of Ezra 9 and Neh. 1 seems to suggest—in Kimhi’s typically
allusive manner—that what troubles Nehemiah is the very problem faced by Ezra. The
relationship of Ezra 9 to Neh. 1 is developed in Wright, Rebuilding Identity, pp. 253-57.
50. That the repopulation constitutes a second phase of the building project is indicated
by the use of the phrase 'z¯¯¯× '¯¯× ¦¯': in 7.5. This statement appears earlier in 2.12 in
reference to the plans to build Jerusalem, which God was beginning to inspire within Nehe-
miah ('z¯¯¯× ¦¯. '¯¯× ¯o). Cf. the use of this expression in Ezra 7.27 with reference to
Artaxerxes himself and his plans to build the Temple!
51. ‘…and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and
everyone over against his house’ (7.3b; cf. 4.8 with 4.17). It also contradicts Hag. 1.4.
52. The structure of the text resembles Ezra 10 insofar as a lengthy list follows the
activity of seeking-and-finding. In contrast to the administrative-bureaucratic and legal-
juridical character of seeking-and-finding elsewhere in Ezra–Nehemiah, the account in
Neh. 7, by not referring to a prior search, resembles accounts in other literary works of
adventitious book-discoveries. See n. 11.
290 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
in Judah,
Nehemiah expands his historical consciousness after he ‘finds’ a
book and studies its contents. His stated intention in studying the record was
‘to enroll the people according to their genealogies’ (c¯'¯¯¯). What seems to
have originally concerned Nehemiah was the political welfare and honor of
the Judeans,
and when attempting to motivate them to build, he significantly
does not appeal to their history (2.17-18). The only time he does address the
issue of the Judeans’ origins is in 1.1-3, yet there he only refers to ‘the rem-
nant that had survived the captivity’ ('zc¯¯¦o :¯×c.¯¯c× ¯z'¯c¯ z'¯:¯'¯) and
remained in the Land, not the Golah. Now, after the Wall is finished, he
discovers a book and learns about the origins of the builders.
Whether the text implies that all the Judeans were none other than the
z'¯::, or that Nehemiah is now including the z'¯:: (7.5) with the z'¯×c.¯
(1.3) who originally concerned him, is not clear.
Help is provided in 11.1ff.
This text appears to have been originally connected to 7.1-3 and to have come
to its present literary position after a gradual process of expansion beginning
with 7.4-72.
The insertion of 7.4-72 presents Nehemiah establishing the
demographic pool from which the community in 11.1ff. casts lots in order to
offer a ‘human tithe’ of inhabitants in Jerusalem.
O. Lipschits has shown that

53. See Stott, ‘Finding the Lost Book’.
54. Cf. ¯:¯¯ and ¯c¯¯ in 1.3 and 2.17.
55. For a discussion of the issue for the whole of Ezra–Nehemiah, see S. Japhet, ‘The
Prohibition of the Habitation of Women: The Temple Scroll’s Attitude toward Sexual
Impurity and its Biblical Precedents’, JANESCU 22 (1993), pp. 69-87; Japhet, ‘The People
and the Land in the Period of the Restoration’, in D.R. Schwartz (ed.), Studies in Jewish
History of the Second Temple Period (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center for the History of
Israel, 1995), pp. 127-45; Japhet, ‘The Concept of the “Remnant” in the Restoration
Period: On the Vocabulary of Self-Definition’, in F.-L. Hossfeld and L. Schwienhorst-
Schönberger (eds.), Das Manna fällt auch heute noch. Beiträge zur Geschichte und The-
ologie des Alten, Ersten Testaments (Festschrift Erich Zenger; Herders biblische Studien,
44; Freiburg: Herder, 2004), pp. 340-61; and E. Blum, ‘Volk oder Kultgemeinde? Zum
Bild des nachexilischen Judentums in der alttestamentlichen Wissenschaft’, Kirche und
Israel 10 (1995), pp. 24-42.
56. See Wright, Rebuilding Identity, pp. 297-309. The chief reason for claiming an origi-
nal connection between 7.1-3 and 11.1ff. is the emphasis upon the defense of the city in
both of these texts (cf. e.g. ¯¯'z¯ ¯c and the ¯:¯oco in 7.2-3 with z:¯¯'¯c and z'z¯.¯o¯ in
11.1-2; the military sense of the latter term is explicit in Judg. 5.2[9]; 2 Chron. 17.16). See
also the ¯'¯ '¯:z: in Neh. 11.6,14.
57. In analogy to the semantic shift of c¯¯ examined by Fishbane, a ‘charismatic’ pro-
cedure (lot-casting) is here superceded, yet not supplanted, by the more ‘rational’ method
of seeking-and-finding in the textual tradition. The semantic shift is to be sure not merely
an analogy, but the conceptual forerunner, to the precedence given here to seeking-and-
finding over lot-casting.
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 291
the the numbers of Jerusalem’s residents in 11.1ff. corresponds to the subtotals
of Judah’s inhabitants in 7.4-72 as an exact 1:10 ratio.
This means that the
Jerusalemites are exclusively the z'¯::. Are the authors then saying that
everyone else was excluded? Probably not. According to 7.4 the houses had
not been built; nevertheless, there were at least a few people residing in the
city (¯z:¯z z:o z:¯:, cf. 7.1-3 and 11.1a). Insofar as we are never told that
these residents had to leave their homes, Nehemiah seems here to be iden-
tifying the z'¯:: with all the Judeans. Accordingly, the text seems to under-
score Nehemiah’s intention not to exclude any Judean.

Not only does Nehemiah 7 integrate a Golah-oriented understanding of the
community’s identity; it also reflects the notion of heavenly books or divine
book-keeping. This notion is already presupposed by the many short prayers
for remembrance which demarcate passages in the Nehemiah-Memoir.
contrast to these prayers, however, the book referred to in Nehemiah 7 is not
stored away in heaven for future reference; rather it is ‘found’ in the newly
built Jerusalem. In place of the sectarian hopes in a future Temple and a new
Jerusalem, Ezra–Nehemiah emphasizes the here-and-now.
Nehemiah’s use

58. See O. Lipschits, ‘Literary and Ideological Aspects of Neh 11’, JBL 121 (2002), pp.
423-40. Lipschits argues, however, that Neh. 11 has been inserted after Neh. 7.4ff. Although
I would date Nehemiah 11 (or at least its primary stratum) earlier than Neh. 7.4ff., the use
of lot-casting by the Qumran community (see e.g. 1QS 6.22) must be borne in mind when
considering the questions of the dating and social (sectarian?) setting for the composition
of 11.1-2.
59. The passages portraying strict exclusion refer solely to cultic affairs: 7.63-64; 13.1-
3, 4-9, 28-29. In 7.61-62, those who ‘could not tell whether they belonged to Israel’ are
merely listed by name. In 13.23-27 the Judeans are severely reprimanded for marrying
foreign women, but they are not required to divorce them. The ¯¯¯z¯ in Neh. 10.1, 30;
13.3 as well as Ezra 10, in contrast to e.g. Deut. 29.20, may not even intend to suggest a
physical exclusion (see however 10.8), but a legal-ritual ceremony; otherwise it is difficult
to explain why Ezra is also an object of the ¯¯¯z¯ in 10.16. The only clear reference to
banishment is ×'s:¯¯ in 10.3, which resembles the usage of this term in texts such as Num.
15.36; 19.3; Deut. 13.10 and 17.5. In Ezra 10.19, the ones who follow through with this
commitment are priests; the women are sent away probably because the priests live in the
Temple precincts. See n. 55. For a similar view, see the excellent discussion by Dor, ¯c¯c
z'c.¯, pp. 155ff. See also I. Fröhlich, ‘Mamzer in Qumran Texts—The Problem of Mixed
Marriages from Ezra’s Time. Law, Literature and Practice’, Transeuph 29 (2005), pp.
60. Neh. 5.19; 6.13; 13.14, 22, 29 and 31. Nehemiah’s good deeds and the evil deeds of
his enemies are remembered (¯zì) insofar as they are written down. This is clearly indi-
cated by the reference to ‘blotting out’ (¯¯o) in 13.14 (also in 3.37).
61. In response to Ezra–Nehemiah, Daniel (9.2) studies in ‘the books’ and learns that
the rebuilding of Jerusalem will take much longer than expected from Jeremiah’s prophecy,
which introduces the book of Ezra–Nehemiah. The sectarian circles behind Dan. 9 thus
relativize Nehemiah’s efforts to populate Jerusalem properly, and by referring to Jeremiah’s
prophecy they challenge the entire history of the Restoration beginning in Ezra 1.
292 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
of the book he discovered resembles the use of heavenly books insofar as only
those whose names are ‘found’ in this book later inhabit the ‘the Holy City’
(Neh. 11.1; cf. e.g. Dan. 12.1).
Yet once again this passage differs from the
later apocalyptic conception, since the book Nehemiah finds includes the
names of all Judeans.
Where did Nehemiah find this book which he calls z'¯::¯ c¯'¯ ¯cz
¯.:cׯz? According to Baruch Spinoza, whose ideas sparked the historical-
critical interpretation of Ezra–Nehemiah, this is the title Nehemiah gives to
‘the book of Ezra’. Spinoza presumed that ‘Ezra’ originally existed as an inde-
pendent work and that the author of Nehemiah 7 quotes it.
Although not
attributing their view to Spinoza, several scholars have recently followed him
in arguing that Ezra–Nehemiah constitute two literary works,
and their
views have been an impetus for the formation of the present volume.

As usually formulated, this thesis is problematic. The presentation of Ezra
in Nehemiah 8 most likely presupposes the introduction of this figure in Ezra
7. On the other hand, most Ezra–Nehemiah scholars maintain that Nehemiah
8–9 were not originally part of Nehemiah 1–13.
If so, Spinoza’s view could

62. See Schaack’s insightful comments on Ezra 2.62 in Ungeduld, pp. 126-44.
63. Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus theologico-politicus, II.10.46-47, 56-81 (Opera [ed. G.
Gawlick and F. Niewöhner. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1979], I,
1670), pp. 133-34. Concluding the point that the writer of Neh. 7 has merely copied a
passage from the book of Ezra, Spinoza censures the attempts of exegetes to harmonize
Scripture: ‘Those, therefore, who explain these passages otherwise, deny the plain meaning
of Scripture—no, they deny Scripture itself. They think it pious to reconcile one passage of
Scripture with another—a pretty piety indeed which accommodates the clear passages to
the obscure, the correct to the faulty, the sound to the corrupt. Far be it from me to call
such commentators blasphemers, if their motives be pure: for to err is human [nam errare
humanum quidem est]. But let me return to my subject…’ (pp. 79-81).
64. See D. Kraemer, ‘On the Relationship of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah’, JSOT
59 (1993), pp. 73-92; B. Becking, ‘Continuity and Community: The Belief System of the
Book of Ezra’, in B. Becking and M.C.A. Korpel (eds.), The Crisis of Israelite Religion.
Transformation of Religious Tradition in Exilic and Post-Exilic Times (OTS, 42; Leiden:
Brill, 1999), pp. 256-75; and J.C. VanderKam, ‘Ezra-Nehemiah or Ezra and Nehemiah?’,
in his From Revelation to Canon: Studies in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple
Literature (Supplements to the JSJSup, 62; Leiden: Brill, 2000), pp. 60-80.
65. See the introduction to this Volume, as well as the contributions of M. Boda, H.
Harrington, and K. Min.
66. I would agree. But instead of speculating that an editor reformulated Neh. 8–9 from
the first to third person and then transposed these chapters from an earlier context in Ezra
9–10, I contend that they were composed ad hoc for their present context. My working
assumption has been that later generations of readers, rather than reformulating, deleting
and transposing the material they were transmitting, respected it to such an extent that
they limited themselves to expanding it with passages which were the product of their
deep reflection on the material and which rendered it more relevant to new circumstances.
That lines have been lost or reduced here or there is quite likely, yet once one allows for
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 293
still be espoused. There is, however, another problem: Ezra 9 appears to have
been drafted with Nehemiah 1–13 in view. Yet also this problem dissipates if
the original Ezra account included only chs. 7–8 and ch. 9 has been added as
literary bridge between Ezra 8 and Nehemiah 1.
Insofar as Nehemiah 8–10
and Ezra 9–10 have been inserted at a late stage in the book’s formation, it is
possible that Spinoza was correct in claiming the ‘book of Ezra’ (chs. 1–8)
was originally transmitted independently of a ‘book of Nehemiah’.
While this is only possible, it is quite probable that Spinoza was correct in
contending that the author of Nehemiah 7 found the quoted list in Ezra 2,
rather than as an independent document in the Temple archives. When
copying the ending of Ezra 2, the author has included the first line of the
narrative in Ezra 3, while making the repetitive three lines in Ezra 2.70, 3.1
into two lines in Neh. 7.73. In view of this and other evidence,
I find it
difficult to accept the claim that Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 were each drawn
from an independent source. Moreover, the list of the returnees in Ezra 2 and
Nehemiah 7, as well as the differences between Nehemiah 8–10 and Ezra 1–
10, have been the main reasons for postulating two books. If Nehemiah 7–10
represent late supplements which develop the storyline of Ezra–Nehemiah,
then one lacks the grounds for questioning the unity of Nehemiah.
Such considerations assist us in appreciating the dynamics of Nehemiah 7.
This chapter contains a threefold sequence of seeking-and-finding. In ensuring
that all the Judeans are included in the lot-casting procedures (described in
11.1-2), Nehemiah tells about his discovery of a book which he designates

large Umstellungen and reformulations, the Pandora’s box is opened to hypotheses that
one can neither confirm nor negate.
67. See Wright, Rebuilding Identity, pp. 248-55. A further problem is posed by the
prayer in Neh. 1.5-11a, which represents, I suggest, one of the latest additions to Ezra–
Nehemiah (see Wright, Rebuilding Identity, pp. 9-23). On the seams of the book, the
prayer binds Neh. 1–13 securely to Ezra 1–10 by recalling the return of the dispersed.
Conversely, it prepares the reader for a major shift in accent, namely from the Temple and
altar in Ezra 1–10 to the Torah and Wall in Neh. 1–13. (This shift is presaged, according
to my analysis, by the amplification of the priestly holiness to the people as a whole in
Ezra 9.) Whether the prayer serves more to connect or to sever Ezra 1–10 and Neh. 1–13
is a difficult question, which presents itself for the literary seams of other books, such as
Gen. 50–Exod. 1 or Josh. 24–Judg. 1–3. (For the former, see J.C. Gertz, ‘The Transition
between the Books of Genesis and Exodus’, in T. Dozeman and K. Schmid [eds.], A
Farewell to the Yahwist [SBL Symposium Series; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature,
2006]); and for the latter, see E. Blum, ‘Der kompositionelle Knoten am Übergang von
Josua zu Richter: Ein Entflechtungsvorschlag’, in M. Vervenne and J. Lust [eds.],
Deuteronomy and Deuteronomic Literature (Festschrift C.H.W. Brekelmans; BETL, 132;
Leuven: Peters, 1997], pp. 181-212). However, if the prayer has indeed been inserted at
the latest stage in the formation of the book, it would not pose a problem for those who
postulate the existence of two separate works (‘Ezra’ and ‘Nehemiah’).
68. See Wright, Rebuilding Identity, pp. 301-307.
294 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
¯.:cׯz z'¯::¯ c¯'¯ ¯cz. He then discovers a passage within this book
(:z z:¯z ×so×:, 7.5). Finally, the passage he quotes reports that several priests
who unsuccessfully searched but did not find their genealogical record (¯¯×
×so. ׯ: z'c¯'¯o¯ zz¯z :c¸z, 7.64). Herewith Ezra–Nehemiah depicts the
‘layered’ nature of seeking-and-finding: The ‘substratum’ is a text, referred to
as z'c¯'¯o¯ zz¯z (Ezra 2.62; Neh. 7.64), which perhaps never existed and
was created by the authors of Ezra–Nehemiah.
Or perhaps it did exist, yet
failed to suit their needs. Whatever the case may be, this ‘imagined’ text
assumes (a new) form as the authors refer to it in their writing. And after
entering the historical record in Ezra 2, it becomes a source for new searches
and discoveries. Thus, the authors of Nehemiah 7 depict the builder of Jeru-
salem later finding this genealogical record and learning about the builders’
origins. The discovery likewise leads to writing insofar as Nehemiah cites the
text—with several minor, yet significant changes.
By forming an inclusio
with Ezra 2, Nehemiah 7, the text finally constructs a new framework for
Ezra–Nehemiah in which future generations of readers can seek and find.

Nehemiah 8–10

What these readers find in their seeking they also write. Working within the
new framework created by Nehemiah 7, they embellish the analogy between
this text and Ezra 2–3 by portraying the cultic activities of the seventh month
in a much different manner than Ezra 3.2-6. This literary complex, wherein
the high priest, altar and sacrifices are conspicuously absent, amplifies its
context by showing that those who cast lots in Nehemiah 11 to decide who
was to reside in Jerusalem both represented all Judah (Neh. 7) and had first
learned to seek-and-find in the Torah.
In the first scene of Nehemiah 8, ‘all the people’ (v. 1), whose names are
listed in Nehemiah 7,
implore Ezra ‘to bring’ the Torah. What follows is a
very precise description of when, where, and how Ezra complies with this
public petition. He stands upon a wooden tower (v. 4). When he opens the
scroll, all the people stand (v. 5). He then pronounces a blessing, and the con-
gregation responds ‘Amen, Amen’ with raised hands. They then prostrate
themselves (v. 6). After the scroll is read and interpreted (vv. 7-8), Nehemiah,

69. See E.W. Conrad, ‘Heard but Not Seen: The Representation of Books in the Old
Testament’, JSOT 54 (1992), pp. 45-59.
70. For example, the numbers have been changed so that Neh. 11 corresponds exactly
in a 1:10 ratio to Neh. 7. See n. 58.
71. The author is of course not saying that all the people mentioned in Neh. 7 were still
living, but that the entire Restoration community, as in Ezra 3, was symbolically present
on this important occasion. See Eskenazi, In an Age of Prose, pp. 88-94.
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 295
Ezra and the Levites pronounce the day holy (vv. 9-11). The people finally
depart to celebrate ‘because they had understood the things declared to them’
(v. 12).

Whereas in Ezra 7–10 the Torah constitutes the legal basis for the commu-
nity and is the object of meticulous study, in this account it has become much
more. One could perhaps best describe its character as an ‘iconic book’.

How are we to explain this development? Of course one must take into
account the long history of the written word replacing the void left by the ban
on images (e.g. in the form of ¯:ì:ìo and ¦'¯'c¯ in Deut. 11.18ff. or the
¯'¯z¯¯¦:¯× as a military palladium comparable to the statues carried by the
Babylonian army). Nevertheless, one must still explain why the Torah is not
presented in this manner earlier in the book of Ezra–Nehemiah.
A response to this problem should consider the tensions between parti-
cularistic and universalistic tendencies in Ezra–Nehemiah. In Rebuilding
Identity I suggest that the book constitutes a literary discourse corresponding
to the political struggles to redefine Judah’s identity from the mid-Persian to
Hellenistic periods. This discourse takes its point of departure from, and
responds directly to, Nehemiah’s account.
After hearing about the distress
of his people, Nehemiah undergoes a deep personal transformation, and he
realizes that his position of advantage in the imperial court must be used to
bring about change in Judah (ch. 1). Once Artaxerxes grants him a leave of
absence, he comes to Jerusalem and convinces the Judeans to repair the
damaged city ramparts—the cause of Judah’s disgrace and reproach (¯:¯ and
¯c¯¯, 2.17). Each phase in the construction of the Wall is simultaneously a
stage in the rebuilding of Judah’s identity. For example, after accepting
Nehemiah’s initiative, the group of builders face ridicule from Sanballat,
Tobiah and Geshem. Nehemiah’s public response, defining only the builders
as ‘the servants of God’, then fortifies the internal solidarity (2.18-20), and

72. It is no coincidence that in portraying this pivotal point in the history of Second
Temple Judaism the composers of this scene have embellished it with a rich variety of
details and technical vocabulary related to the study of the Torah. The best treatment of
this language is found throughout Fishbane’s Interpretation. For a recent study of the
composition of the account, see G. Steins, ‘Inszenierungen des Lesens und Lernens in
Neh. 8,1-12’, in B. Ego and H. Merkel (eds.), Religiöses Lernen in der biblischen, früh-
jüdischen und frühchristlichen Überlieferung (WUNT, 180; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck,
2005), pp. 83-97.
73. See K. van der Toorn, ‘The Iconic Book: Analogies between the Babylonian Cult of
Images and the Veneration of the Torah’, in his edited volume, The Image and the Book
(Leuven: Peters, 1997), pp. 229-48.
74. For a more accessible presentation of the analyses in the book, see J.L. Wright, ‘A
New Model for the Composition of Ezra–Nehemiah’, in O. Lipschits, R. Albertz and
G. Knoppers (eds.), Judah and the Judeans in the 4th Century BCE (Winona Lake, IN:
Eisenbrauns, 2007), pp. 333-48.
296 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
they can continue until the antagonists contrive a new scheme for the next
building phase.
In ch. 3 Judah’s solidarity is expressed by the long list of
clans and groups who sponsored the construction project.
The Wall thus
consists of a circle of unified people demarcating Judah from its neighbors,
who are equally unified in their animosity and arrogance (3.33ff.; 4.1ff.;
As later generations noticed that political reproach remained after the com-
pletion of the Wall, they updated Nehemiah’s account with passages treating
internal abuses. Now, in the midst of the construction activities, Nehemiah
points his finger at the builders themselves—above all at the aristocracy and
priesthood, who are presented as contributing to Judah’s and Jerusalem’s des-
perate condition.
In these passages he exposes the unholy alliances between
the enemy and the high-priesthood (6.17-19, 13.4-9, 28-29), fails otherwise
to give much attention to the rebuilt Temple, and identifies the construction
of the Wall with the restoration of Judah.
To set the record straight, pro-priestly circles composed Ezra 1–6, which
presents the Temple, not the Wall, as the center of Judean society. In contrast
to the autochthonous conception of the people’s origins in Nehemiah’s
account, these chapters espouse an allochthonous view.
As the ¯:¸—the

75. See the discussion of the building account’s ‘:oc-schema’ in Wright, Rebuilding
Identity, pp. 28-29, 109-18, 130-33.
76. This list contains implicitly the names of those who, in contrast to the opponents of
the building project, have a ‘portion, right and memorial in Jerusalem’ (2.20).
77. See e.g. 5.8-9; 13.18. Before the insertion of the date in 13.6 (as well as the material
in 7.1–13.3), the paragraphs beginning in 13.4ff., which share the form and style of ch. 5,
were probably originally connected to 6.17-19. According to this reconstruction, they
describe additional reforms that Nehemiah instituted during the fifty-two days of construc-
tion referred to in 6.15-16 (cf. ‘in those days’ in 13.15, 23 with 6.17). Beginning with ch.
5, each paragraph ends with a prayer for remembrance (5.19; 6.14; 13.14, 22, 29, 31) and
each paragraph after the notice of completion in 6.15-16 begins with the expression ‘in
those days’ (6.17; 13.15, 23).
78. The tension between autochthonous and allochthonous conceptions of Israel’s
origins is found also in Genesis and 1–2 Samuel versus Exodus–Joshua. According to
the latter, Israel’s collective identity is already formed before it crosses the Jordan. The
stories in Judges represent some of the best evidence of an autochthonous view, but they
have been edited to construct a literary bridge between Joshua and Samuel. See R.G.
Kratz, Die Komposition der erzählenden Bücher des Alten Testaments (UTB, 2157;
Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000), pp. 286-88; and K. Schmid, Erzväter und
Exodus: Untersuchungen zur doppelten Begrundung der Ursprunge Israels innerhalb der
Geschichtsbücher des Alten Testaments (WMANT, 81; Neukirchen–Vluyn: Neukirchener
Verlag, 1999), pp. 56-165. For a helpful discussion of the historical aspects, see P. Mach-
inist, ‘Outsiders or Insiders: The Biblical View of Emergent Israel and its Contexts’, in
L.J. Silberstein and R.L. Cohn (eds.), The Other in Jewish Thought and History: Con-
structions of Jewish Culture and Identity (New Perspectives on Jewish Studies; New
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 297
viva vox—moves throughout Cyrus’s kingdom, it resonates with the Rem-
nant, consolidating them into a unity.
Instead of the motley building crew
that gradually emerges as the Wall is built, the group of Temple builders—
consisting of the entire Remnant—had already been formed in the Golah. The
efficacy of Cyrus’s consolidating voice consists in its call to build the Tem-
When the sacred seventh month comes around (Ezra 3.1), ‘all Israel’
assembles ‘as one man’ (¯¯× c'×z), poised and ready to erect the altar in
Jerusalem so that they can perform the prescribed sacrifices. In Nehemiah’s
account, Judah consists of all those who are willing to build; in Ezra 1–6, the
people, who are already unified before they commence the construction,
spurn groups which wish to join them.

Ezra 1–6 responds to Nehemiah’s account in other ways. Whereas Arta-
xerxes allows the Wall to be built out of sympathy for his cupbearer, Cyrus
needs no prodding (except from YHWH) when he commands the Temple to
be built. By means of the Artaxerxes correspondence (Ezra 4), the authors of
Ezra 1–6 make it clear that the Temple takes precedence over the Wall, which
represents an aspiration for Judah’s political autonomy.
In order to survive
in a new age, Judah must instead rally around the Temple, since this institu-
tion enjoyed the favor of the imperial court.
Conversely, as Nehemiah’s
account matures into its present form, it comes to champion a strong and inde-
pendent Judah. This work highlights the military strength of Judah (4.7-17;
7.1-3; 11.1ff.), the fraternity of the Judeans (5.1-13), a strong ¯¯c (5.14-19),
the threat posed by political alliances with Judah’s neighbors (6.1-4, 17-19;
13.4-9, 28-29), strict observance of the Sabbath throughout the province

York: New York University Press, 1994), pp. 35-60; Machinist, ‘Before Israel: The Canaan-
ites as Other in Biblical Tradition’, in Silberstein and Cohn, The Other in Jewish Thought,
pp. 74-90; Machinist, ‘Negotiating (with) the Natives: Ancestors and Identity in Genesis’,
HTR 96 (2003), pp. 147-66.
79. See also Ezra 10.7 and 2 Chron. 30.5.
80. See the wordplay between ‘to go up’ and ‘to sacrifice’ throughout Ezra 1–6 (and 7–
8). The Remnant must first make ¯:'¯: before they can offer ¯:¯:.
81. For example, Ezra 4.1ff. draws on the vocabulary and form of Neh. 2.19-20 in order
to present the adversaries desiring to build, yet being turned away. Neh. 2.19-20, con-
versely, describes how a group of builders is formed as they separate themselves from
82. See not only the wording of the letters, but also Neh. 2.19 and 6.5-9. Ezra 4 intends
to disparage any move towards political autonomy by showing the permission to build the
Temple and the good relations with the imperial court were jeopardized by the work on
the Wall.
83. This is also historically true since the Temple was the institution with money and
served as an intermediary to foreign rulers. For this very reason, its leadership was prone
to corruption and was therefore subjected to criticism, as one can observe in Josephus’s
298 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
(13.15-22), the danger represented by foreign traders (13.16, 20-22), one
language (13.24),
and endogamous marriage practices (13.23-31).
Ezra 1–
6 underscores the harmony that characterized the relationship between the
imperial court and the Temple, as well as between high priest and lay leader. It
thus calls into question the particularistic stance taken in Nehemiah’s account,
which appeals to the lower classes (ch. 5), while disparaging the contribu-
tions of the aristocracy and Eliashib.
The account in Ezra 7–8 shares this opposition to Nehemiah’s account.
Constructing a literary bridge between Ezra 1–6 and Nehemiah 1–13
, these
chapters integrate the pro-priestly Tendenz of the Temple-building account
with the setting and first-person form of Nehemiah’s Memoir. In this way the
authors of Ezra–Nehemiah can upstage Nehemiah and his Wall. Before Arta-
xerxes rescinds his prohibition in Ezra 4 and allows his cupbearer to rebuild
the Wall, he first takes the initiative himself to ‘beautify’ the Temple and
commands Ezra to transport imperial donations.
In Ezra 9 the authors of the book begin to shift their sympathies toward
Nehemiah’s Wall. Ezra transfers the holiness of the priests to the people as a
so that his problem is to ensure that ‘the holy seed’ did not lose its
distinctive identity.
He shows in his prayer that intermarriage imperiled the
success Judah had hitherto witnessed in building the Temple (vv. 8-9). The
liberal cosmopolitanism of the aristocracy and priests (Neh. 6.17-19; 13.4-9,
28-29), and the universalism of the Temple-oriented, hierocratic polity,
its limits. Judah was small, yet it must also be strong. The solution was to
fortify the line demarcating Judah from its neighbors.
Before the insertion of
the third-person account in Ezra 10, the reader is once again conveyed back

84. For the use of language in constructing identity, see J.E. Joseph, Language and
Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious (Houndmills, Hants.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
85. In 6.1-4 Nehemiah demonstrates the evil intentions behind Sanballat’s putative desire
to collaborate. This isolationist message then provokes the question in 6.5-9 whether Judah
should go so far as to establish a monarchy. Speaking as the hero of the Restoration, Nehe-
miah strongly eschews this possibility (6.8). A strong, fortified Judah does not mean a
politically autonomous one.
86. See Fishbane, Interpretation, pp. 121-23.
87. z¯:¯¯¯ in 9.2 refers to various forms of social contact (BDB, s.v. z¯: II: ‘to fellow-
ship’ or ‘to exchange pledges’).
88. The cosmopolitanism of the priests, which is criticized in Nehemiah’s account
and the sources in Josephus’s Antiquities, is not apparent in Ezra 1–6 and 7–8. To the con-
trary, these accounts espouse an allochthonous Golah-view. Nevertheless, their authors
support the Temple against Nehemiah’s criticism of the high-priesthood, and they com-
pose their exclusivist history of the construction of the Temple as a counterpoise to
Nehemiah’s account.
89. This point is discussed throughout Wright, Rebuilding Identity; see, e.g., pp. 255,
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 299
to the imperial court, where Nehemiah hears about the troubles in the prov-
ince and responds in the same way his predecessor did.
He then comes to
Jerusalem in order to rebuild its Wall, the symbol of Judah’s separation from
its neighbors. In the final passage of his account, which describes the time
before the completion of the Wall (‘in those days’),
he rips out the hair of
the Judean men (13.25, see Ezra 9.3) and makes them swear to ‘not give your
daughters in marriage to their sons, or take any of their daughters for your
sons or yourselves marriages with foreign women’ (see Ezra 9.12). Conse-
quently, the Judeans can say of Ezra and Nehemiah what Aristeas said of
Moses: He has ‘fenced us about with impregnable palisades with walls of
iron to the end that we should mingle in no way with the nations’ (Letter of
Aristeas 139).

From the composition history of Ezra–Nehemiah, we can understand why
the Torah appears in the middle of Nehemiah’s account. In the semiotics of
the book, the Wall had already served as a symbol for proponents of particu-
laristic and even isolationistic policies. During the construction activities,
Nehemiah had criticized the priesthood and aristocracy for a number of infrac-
tions of the Torah (chs. 5 and 13). So too, Ezra had realized the limits of the
liberal Temple-oriented policy. In Nehemiah 8 the two figures join forces in
the fortified (7.1-3) Jerusalem to organize the ceremonies for the seventh
month, which differ starkly from those some 90 years earlier (Ezra 3). The
entire restoration community was present also on the earlier occasion (Ezra 2,
Neh. 7), yet here the Torah and confession (Neh. 9) have replaced the Temple
and sacrifices. And while the lay-leader and high priest form a diarchy in Ezra
3, in Nehemiah 8 Eliashib is not present. His place beside Nehemiah (8.9) is
occupied by a scribe (= priest; see 8.1, 2, etc.).
In the days that follow, the Torah continues to occupy the center of the com-
munity’s attention—both as an ‘iconic book’ and a source for seeking-and-
finding. Whereas on the first day all the people gather at the plaza before
the Water Gate to hear the Torah read, on the second day, the lay-leaders,
priests, and Levites gather to Ezra the scribe (¯cz¯ ׯì:¯¯×…:cz×., v. 13),
who represents concretum pro abstracto the institution of Torah-learning.
Their intention is to understand the Torah (¯¯:¯¯ '¯z¯¯¯× ¯'zc¯¯:). On this
occasion, as well as later (13.1-3),
they ‘find written’ (z:¯z :×so':) things
that support their Temple-critical, particularistic viewpoint. Curiously, some

90. They both ‘hear’, ‘sit down’, and ‘pray’.
91. See n. 76.
92. In Jer. 1.18 the prophet, as the messenger of the divine word, is ‘a fortified city’ and
‘bronze walls’ against Judah.
93. Before the expansions in 9.1–10.40 and 12.1-26, the paragraph in 13.1-3 (as well as
13.4-31) would have stood much closer to ch. 8, separated only by ch. 11 and the account
of the dedication of the wall in 12.27ff.
300 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
of the things they find are not in the Torah—or at least not overtly there.

Therefore, the authors of these passages make them explicit by putting them
into writing, and in doing so, they follow the example of important figures in
the history of the restoration, such as Darius in Ezra 6.
As Ezra and Nehemiah join forces in these final passages of the book, the
various themes that have developed in the formation of this work converge.
Thus it is z:¯¯¯z who assemble and petition Ezra to ‘bring’ the Torah in 8.1.
This emphasis on the entire community (see 7.6-72) takes its point of depar-
ture from older portions of the book. Although several passages in Ezra–
Nehemiah underscore the participation of all the people, it is Nehemiah’s
account which has a distinctive communal, egalitarian accent. This work
stresses the first-person plural as the subject of the building activities and
reports how the Judeans had acknowledged their fraternity before the Wall
was completed. The solidarity of the people goes hand-in-hand with a critique
of the aristocracy and priests. So too, the holiness that was confined to the
altar, priests and Temple in Ezra 1–6 is transferred to the leadership in Ezra
8.28, to Israel as a whole in Ezra 9, and then to the entire city in Neh. 3.1-32;
11.2; 12.27-47.
Finally, and most importantly for our investigation, the activ-
ity of seeking-and-finding begins in Ezra 1–6 as the work of the Persian kings,
who, in searching in their archives before making a policy-decision, demon-
strate the point that the Judeans do not need a native king so long as they
have their written traditions. As the book develops and the people mature in
their reading skills, Ezra transfers this royal activity from both its original
function to support the Temple (Ezra 1–6) and from his own scribal profes-
sion (Ezra 7, Neh. 8) to the entire community.
Whereas on the first day of
the seventh month ‘the people are in their places’ (z¯o:¯¯: z:¯:) and listen
to the Torah read (Neh. 8.8), on the 24th day they ‘arise in their places’ and
read for themselves (:ׯ¸': z¯o:¯¯: :o:¸:, 9.3).
The Torah is thus now in

94. See Fishbane’s discussion of Y. Kaufmann in Interpretation, pp. 109-13, and for
13.1-3, pp. 126-29. With respect to building aspects in 8.15-16 (…¦:¯'¯::…:×'z¯: ¯¯¯ :×s
¯c:¯), see also the command to build the Temple in Hag. 1.8 (:.z: ¦: z¯×z¯: ¯¯¯ :¯:).
Significantly, they find nothing regarding sacrifices.
95. See Eskenazi, In an Age of Prose, pp. 112-21; S. Japhet, ‘From the King’s Sanc-
tuary to the Chosen City’, in L.I. Levine (ed.), Jerusalem: Its Sanctity and Centrality to
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (New York: Continuum, 1999), pp. 3-15; Japhet, ‘Some
Biblical Concepts of Sacred Place’, in R.J. Zwi Werblowsky and B.Z. Kedar (eds.),
Sacred Space: Shrine, City, Land (New York: New York University Press, 1998).
96. See Eskenazi, In an Age of Prose, pp. 98-100.
97. I attempt to show that 13.1-3 is older than 9.1ff. in Rebuilding Identity, pp. 315-17.
In view of the presentation of texts in Ezra–Nehemiah, I cannot follow W. Schniede-
wind’s otherwise helpful work, How the Bible Became a Book, when it pits orality against
textuality as if the former were inherently more egalitarian and less rigid than the latter
(see, e.g., pp. 15-16). The relationship between the two is probably more complex, as
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 301
the hands of the people. At a time when the high-priesthood is corrupt, they
stand in the midst of the fortified Jerusalem surrounded by the sanctified Wall
(3.1ff.; see also 12.27ff.) and engage in the activity of seeking-and-finding
with the help of a ¯¯c devoted to the Torah and a ¯c:z at his side.


With respect to the issue of the (dis-)unity of Ezra–Nehemiah, which has
been the impetus for the present volume, the book of Ezra–Nehemiah contains
many different opinions regarding the best way to rebuild Judah’s identity.
Nevertheless, it represents a unity, and this unity has emerged from a dialogi-
cal process in which authors of the book sought to redefine Judah’s identity.
On a synchronic level, this dialogical process is personified by the voice of
Ezra–Nehemiah’s anonymous narrator, which tells the reader how the restora-
tion progressed from a focus on the Temple (Ezra 1–6; 7–8), to a crisis which
threatened the survival of the Judeans (Ezra 9–10), to the construction of the
Wall around Judah by means of the Torah (Neh. 1–13).
From a diachronic
perspective, this voice provides the framework for the various authors of the
book to construct Judah’s identity by negotiating between various universal-
istic and particularistic forces that governed the political development of
the province.
These authors realize that the Temple, and the cosmopolitan-
ism of the priests and aristocracy, had their limits,
and in the final form

J. Assmann’s work demonstrates (see, e.g., Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift, Erinnerung
und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen [Munich: Beck, 3rd edn, 2000]); see also
the recent book by D. Carr, Writing on the Tablets of the Heart (Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2005). While literacy may have been confined to the upper, educated classes,
the written word nevertheless can function to decentralize society away from a single
cultic center, as the social history of middle Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, as
well as Ezra–Nehemiah, illustrate. On the other hand, texts—by means of letters—can
also function to support centers of authority, as the history of the responses, as well as
Ezra–Nehemiah, illustrate. Orality and textuality seem therefore to lack ‘essential’ fea-
tures. See the introduction to Niko Besnier’s Literacy, Emotion, and Authority: Reading
and Writing on a Pacific Atoll (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
98. With regard to the development of Temple and Torah as duality in Jewish identity,
S. Schwarz remarks, ‘the centrality of Temple and Torah in ancient Jewish self-definition
requires argumentation because it is not a priori an eternal truth of Jewish identity, uncon-
tingent on changing social and political conditions. Rather, it was the result of a long and
obscure series of historical processes’ (S. Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200
BCE to 640 CE [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001], pp. 50-51).
99. The dialogical nature of Ezra–Nehemiah takes its point of departure from the dialec-
tical character of the progress on the Wall. See Wright, Rebuilding Identity, pp. 28-30.
100. For the recent discussion in ethics and political philosophy on the limits of cosmo-
politanism, see J. Cohen, For Love of Country: Martha C. Nussbaum with Respondents
(Boston: Beacon, 1996); and K.A. Appiah, Kosmopolitische Patriotismus (Frankfurt:
302 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
of the book, they demarcate these limits with the help of the Wall and

Although criticized, the Temple continues to play a role in the final por-
tions of Ezra–Nehemiah. To be sure, the lengthy prayer in Nehemiah 9
reviews Israel’s history at length without mentioning the Temple; in its place
it emphasizes the Land and adherence to the Torah as the precondition for
possession of it. Responding to its clarion call for liberation from Israel’s
bondage (vv. 36-37),
the people pledge themselves to the Torah (10.1-30).
Yet in spelling out what this pledge entails, they recognize not only that they
must maintain the boundaries separating them from the peoples of the land
(vv. 31-32), but also that the Temple should still occupy a central place in
their society (vv. 33-40). In the end Nehemiah proves that the community’s
concluding promise ‘not to forsake the Temple of our God’ (¯'z¯¯× zì:. ׯ:
:.'¯¯×, 10.40) is meaningless without a strong-handed leader who can enforce

Suhrkamp, 2002); and Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (New
York: W.W. Norton, 2006).
101. I should reiterate here the point made in nn. 85 and 88: Judean politics during the
Persian and Hellenistic periods did not consist merely of two parties corresponding to the
dichotomy Temple–Torah. The variety of opinion was naturally much wider, and many
priests would have also supported an independent Judah. Even in the later period, as
Josephus and his sources demonstrate, the world of Judah was much different from the one
portrayed in Ezra–Nehemiah (in its final form). The authors of the latter read their views
back into Judah’s history, presenting the Judeans as if they all longed to build the Temple
(cf., however, Hag. 1) and read the Torah. Nevertheless, the book does accurately reflect a
historical tension between particularistic and universalistic tendencies. (These terms are
admittedly inadequate.) The authors of Ezra 1–6 and 7–8 are critical of the politics identi-
fied with the Wall, showing that it jeopardized the favor of the imperial court (Ezra 4). In
emphasizing the Temple, they provoke critiques in Ezra 9–10 and Neh. 1–13. The authors
of the latter expand their purview to the province as a whole. They conclude the book (Neh.
13.4-30) that, given the high priesthood’s and the aristocracy’s tendencies to be corrupt, a
lay leader committed to the Torah must have the oversight of the province. In the frame-
work of the book, these authors draw upon characteristic features of Ezra 1–6 in order to
make their point clear (cf. e.g. Ezra 2–3 with Neh. 7–8). Their critique is accordingly not
aimed so much at the history presented in Ezra 1–6, but at those who stood to profit from
its pro-Temple stance. The tension between particularism and universalism can be traced
far back into the history of Judah’s foreign politics (e.g., to the struggle between propo-
nents of collaboration and proponents of autonomy), and it intensifies in the late Hellenistic
and Roman periods.
102. Cf. these statements with Ezra 9.9, which presents Judah’s ‘bondage’ in the context
of Persia’s favor. See H. van Grol, ‘ “Indeed, Servants We Are”: Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9 and 2
Chronicles 12 Compared’, in Bob Becking and M.C.A. Korpel (eds.), The Crisis of Israel-
ite Religion: Transformation of Religious Tradition in Exilic and Post-Exilic Times (OTS,
42; Leiden: Brill, 1999), pp. 209-27.
WRIGHT Seeking, Finding and Writing in Ezra–Nehemiah 303
it. After returning from Babylon and personally entering the sacred Temple-
precincts in order to banish Tobiah, he indicts (z'¯) the rulers by quoting the
very promise which concludes the community-pledge: z'¯¯×¯¯¯z zì:. ::¯o

In this chapter I have examined the struggle between Temple and Torah in
Ezra–Nehemiah by focusing on its motif of seeking-and-finding. After the
′¯¯¯z¯ was identified with the written word, rather than solely an oracle
spoken by a medium or prophet, c¯¯ and c¸z began to refer more to textual
study than oracular divination. Presupposing these developments, the authors
of Ezra–Nehemiah use the motif of seeking-and-finding to portray the central
role played by texts and textual study in the history of the restoration. The
book depicts a shift from the study of texts and Torah as a means of
reestablishing the Temple cult to the study of Torah as an end in itself.
In Ezra–Nehemiah seeking-and-finding is the activity of creative exegesis
that guides Judah into a new era. This creativity can be witnessed in the inter-
pretations recorded in Ezra–Nehemiah. But Ezra–Nehemiah, I submit, is
more than just a record of interpretations. It is the product of a discourse in
which generations of readers reflect on the works of their predecessors and
add their reflections to these works, thus composing a history of the restora-
tion. The narrative of Ezra–Nehemiah is an imaginative construct that does
not correspond to the history of the restoration, yet by studying the process of
the book’s formation, one can trace important political developments within
The authors of Ezra–Nehemiah are exegetes, and they imbue their activi-
ties with greater authority by creating a historical memory according to
which the heroes of the restoration did long ago what they are doing now. In
deciding how to proceed with the restoration without their own king, and
later when the high-priesthood is corrupt, the Judeans follow the example of
the Persian kings and submit themselves to the absolute authority of their
written traditions. They search in their respective records—whether it be
lists, the Torah or the book of Ezra–Nehemiah itself. They then write what
they find, and when they do, they amplify the earlier texts and apply them to
their contemporary situations. Ultimately their writings become sources for

103. ‘The fact that laymen could reinterpret or challenge priestly rules of purity was the
great inheritance of Nehemiah’ (Fishbane, Interpretation, p. 128). After the addition of
Neh. 10 and the date in 13.6, Nehemiah comes to Jerusalem in prophetic fashion, execu-
ting z'¯ lawsuits and citing the specific formulations of the people’s pledge to the Torah.
The paragraphs in ch. 13 thus present Nehemiah no longer making progressive reforms but
rather—according to the principle nullum crimen sine lege—enforcing what the people had
already acknowledged to be the demands of the Torah. See Eskenazi, In an Age of Prose,
p. 151, and Wright, Rebuilding Identity, pp. 191-97.
304 Unity and Disunity in Ezra–Nehemiah
new searches and discoveries. Seeking-and-finding in its bureaucratic-admin-
istrative, legal-juridical and cultic-religious contexts is thus inseparably con-
nected in Ezra–Nehemiah to literary production—both of other texts and the
book of itself.

104. My study of Ezra–Nehemiah supports B.M. Levinson’s critique of ‘any simple
dichotomy between composition history and reception history, between an original source
and its reinterpretation, or between the intellectual models normally employed for the
study of pre-exilic literature and those used for the literature of the Second Temple period’
(‘The Birth of the Lemma: The Restrictive Reinterpretation of the Covenant Code’s
Manumission Law by the Holiness Code [Leviticus 25.44-46]’, JBL 124 [2005], pp. 617-
39 [639]).

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