The books of Ezra and Nehemiah relate the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon during the rule of the early Persian kings. For a long time, interpretations of these two books by Christian exegetes characterized the Judaism of the post-exilic age as narrow and nationalistic. This interpretation led to a separation of post-exilic Judaism from its pre-exilic Israelite roots that allowed for a supersessionist reading of the Old Testament based on perceived deficiencies in the religious views of the post-exilic era.
Informed by recent advances in our knowledge of the Persian Empire, this commentary, demonstrates that Ezra and Nehemiah offer a compelling story of a people’s attempt to reassemble the fragments of their heritage as they face the future in a greatly changed world.
Thomas M. Bolin is associate professor of religious studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. His research focuses on ancient Israelite history and religion, wisdom literature, postexilic texts, and theological hermeneutics.