Synching Ezra and Nehemiah

The final editor of Ezra-Nehemiah (once a single book but later separated), may well have moved two portions of Ezra’s memoir to Nehemiah’s for literary effect. If such a reading is correct, here’s how various passages would fit together chronologically.

On the first day of the first month [Ezra] began his journey from Babylon” (Ezra 7:9, emphasis added throughout).

Now I gathered them [all the people who were returning with him to Jerusalem] by the river that flows to Ahava, and we camped there three days. . . . Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road” (Ezra 8:15, 31).

On the first day of the fifth month [Ezra] came to Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:9).

So we came to Jerusalem, and stayed there three days. Now on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the articles were weighed in the house of our God. . . . The children of those who had been carried away captive, who had come from the captivity, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel. . . . And they delivered the king’s orders to the king’s satraps and the governors in the region beyond the River. So they gave support to the people and the house of God” (Ezra 8:32–36).

So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the Nethinim, and all Israel dwelt in their cities. When the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities. Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding . . .” (Nehemiah 7:73–8:2).

When these things were done [i.e., the returned captives had heard Ezra’s reading of the law and had begun to recommit themselves to obeying God; see Nehemiah 8], the leaders came to me [Ezra], saying, ‘The people of Israel and the priests have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands. . . . For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons . . .” (Ezra 9:1–2).

So all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered at Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth of the month; and all the people sat in the open square of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of heavy rain . . .” (Ezra 10:9).

Then all the assembly answered . . . ‘Please, let the leaders of our entire assembly stand; and let all those in our cities who have taken pagan wives come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of their cities, until the fierce wrath of our God is turned away from us in this matter.’ Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite gave them support” (Ezra 10:12–15).

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God” (Nehemiah 9:1–3).

And Ezra the priest, with certain heads of the fathers’ households, were set apart by the fathers’ households, each of them by name; and they sat down on the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter. By the first day of the first month they finished questioning all the men who had taken pagan wives” (Ezra 10:16–17).

By this chronology, one year would have passed between Ezra’s departure for Jerusalem and the resolution of the intermarriage problem.