Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Kalimi, Isaac (ed.), New Perspectives on Ezra-Nehemiah: History and Historiography, Text, Literature, and Interpretation (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012). Pp. xv + 296. Hardcover. US$49.50. ISBN 978-1-57506-233-4.

New Perspectives on Ezra-Nehemiah consists of a brief introduction and thirteen essays, representing a range of approaches and concerns in Ezra-Nehemiah. The essays illustrate current debates and questions being asked of a text with a complex compositional development. All of these essays are scholarly, detailed, and engaging. The volume contains an index of authors and index of Scripture. Each essay will be addressed below. Readers interested in current scholarly approaches to this biblical text topic will find many useful essays in this collection. Anyone working on Ezra-Nehemiah or in the Persian or early Hellenistic eras will benefit from the scope of this contribution.

Isaac Kalimi (“In the Persian Period: New Perspectives on Ezra-Nehemiah. An Introduction,” pp. 1–8) briefly introduces the perspectives and content of the volume, highlighting the basic arguments of each essay, and suggests that readers will find additional research topics growing out of these contributions. Given the usefulness and breadth of the approaches taken, this hope will assuredly become reality.

Lisbeth S. Fried (“Ezra's Use of Documents in the Context of Hellenistic Rules of Rhetoric,” pp. 11–26) compares ancient rules for writing historiography, especially as evidenced in Aristotle on the rhetoric of different genres, with the ways in which Ezra 1–6 has incorporated external documents in its presentation. While the historical reliability of these documents (and this biblical material itself) has been scrutinized, Fried's perspective attempts to place the debate in an ancient context, using ancient perceptions about how one was expected to write in a historical manner. She identifies four components to a historiographic text: prologue, narration, proofs, and epilogue. The essay demonstrates how Ezra 1–6 follows this same model and the rhetorical strategy that is employed, much like the Hellenistic parallels.

Lester L. Grabbe (“What Was Nehemiah Up To?: Looking for Models for Nehemiah's Polity,” pp. 27–36) addresses the concern of finding appropriate parallels for understanding biblical narratives, in this case, the actions of Nehemiah. Grabbe summarizes the alleged connections to Solon and Pericles, and discusses very briefly the ideal of the righteous king from the ancient Near East. Grabbe concludes that while the Greek parallels reveal some points of similarity, the more generic conceptions around the ideal ruler play a significant part in the creation of the Nehemiah narrative.

Don Polaski (“Nehemiah: Subject of the Empire, Subject of Writing,” pp. 37–59) explores the relationship between Nehemiah and the Persian imperial system as it can be understood from the Nehemiah Memoir's use of writing, both as a means of alignment with and distancing from empire by the subject, namely, Nehemiah. Polaski suggests that Nehemiah's use of writing—the “essential technology” of the empire (p. 59)—subtly locates the author as both loyal colonial subject and dissident.

Klaas A. D. Smelik (“Nehemiah as a ‘Court Jew’,” pp. 61–72) draws on an insight into seventeenth- and eighteenth-century C.E. life of Jews who served the royal courts in the German Empire, noting their stance both as insider and marginalized, of powerful and powerless, and how this duality manifested itself. This insight is brought to the figure of Nehemiah, a Jew in the Persian court, and his own struggle with dual loyalty. Smelik helpfully summarizes the main issues as found in the book of Nehemiah and highlights the inability of someone with such conflicted loyalties to work to change the status quo in significant ways.

Oded Lipschits (“Nehemiah 3: Sources, Composition, and Purpose,” pp. 73–99) examines in detail the list of wall builders in Neh 3, focusing on the verb החזיק (traditionally translated as “build, rebuild”) that Lipschits contends may be better translated “financed” or “supported” (p. 73). Thus, these “wall-builders” are those invested in the construction of the wall as leaders of the community, and this action forms an agreement—at least in the view of the redactor of the book—between these financiers and Nehemiah, whose status is enhanced as a result of this relationship as well as of his leadership in the project.

David Ussishkin (“On Nehemiah's City Wall and the Size of Jerusalem during the Persian Period: An Archaeologist's View,” pp. 101–30) reviews the archaeological and biblical data on the location of the wall surrounding Jerusalem during the Persian period, highlighting the two main views represented by the “maximalist” and “minimalist” positions on the inclusion of the South-West Hill, and the possibility that what is described is actually a Hellenistic (rather than Persian) era wall. Ussishkin concludes that while the population was centered in the City of David and the Temple Mount, the walls extended to include the South-West Hill, following the maximalist reconstruction.

Manfred Oeming (“The Real History: The Theological Ideas behind Nehemiah's Wall,” pp. 131–49) explores the ideological and theological importance of the construction of Nehemiah's wall, beginning with typical scholarly rationales (anti-Samaritan defense, political function, economic framework) and arguing for additional concerns to be considered, such as connections between the wall and the memory of past divine interventions, ethics and cultic matters, the presence of God (or God's name), and the necessity of a wall around the temple.

Ran Zadok (“Some Issues in Ezra-Nehemiah,” pp. 151–81) examines the lists in Ezra-Nehemiah in comparison with those contained in the book of Chronicles, attempting to identify the various supposed literary strata and their relative dates of composition on the basis of careful and detailed prosopographical analysis.

David Marcus (“Hidden Treasure: The Unpublished Doublet Catchwords in Ezra-Nehemiah,” pp. 185–96) notes that in his preparation of the Ezra-Nehemiah fascicle for the new Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) some materials in the Masorah parva of the Leningrad Codex were not previously published. Many of these are the identification of “catchword doublets”—where one word or phrase is found only in two places, and those two contexts are used to interpret each other and illuminate the biblical text. Marcus's essay provides examples of this type of exegesis and argues that scholars can gain useful insights into biblical texts by paying attention to these treasures that have been hidden in these marginal notes.

Deirdre N. Fulton (“Where Did the Judahites, Benjaminites, and Levites Settle?: Revisiting the Text of Nehemiah 11:25–36 MT and LXX,” pp. 197–222) draws on her recent dissertation research in this detailed analysis of these two texts that exist in a complex relationship. Fulton concludes that the LXX version is “an earlier editorial stage of the text” with the later MT version coming from the later Hellenistic era rather than the Persian period (p. 221). This logically suggests, Fulton contends, that this comparison serves as a “good case study for understanding the stages of the redaction of Ezra-Nehemiah” (p. 221). Certainly, this careful discussion opens another approach for research into the complex literary development of what eventually becomes Ezra-Nehemiah.

Paul L. Redditt (“The Census List in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7: A Suggestion,” pp. 223–40) notes that the total number of individuals in the two census lists agrees despite the differences in individual amounts recorded. He then offers an intriguing argument based on some of the particular numbers and names and their place within the complex redactional history of the book, arguing that this use of the lists was one method employed by the redactor to contend that not everyone in the postexilic community should be counted among those identified as the “true Israel” (p. 224).

Joseph Fleishman (“Nehemiah's Request on Behalf of Jerusalem,” pp. 241–66) examines the depiction of Nehemiah's actions and request to the Persian ruler in Neh 1–2 in light of Zoroastrian beliefs related to the calendar, water, fire, burial of the dead, and one's public disposition, to help explain the details given in these chapters. These oddities suggest intentionality on the part of Nehemiah, for some unspecified reason, to take particular actions at a particular time with particular words, all connected by principles in Zoroastrian belief.

Mark J. Boda (“Prayer as Rhetoric in the Book of Nehemiah,” pp. 267–84) examines the function of prayer in Nehemiah, both its rhetorical relationship to the surrounding narratives in which the prayers are situated and the content of the prayers themselves, which emphasize “piety, community, and worship, rather than wall building” (p. 284). As a result, Boda concludes with the suggestion that this analysis of prayer “may bring into question the necessity or even validity of reading Nehemiah in light of Ezra 1–10” (p. 284). With a growing number of scholars arguing just this point of separation, perhaps a comparison of prayer in Ezra with that in Nehemiah would be a logical avenue of research to investigate.

Steven J. Schweitzer, Bethany Theological Seminary