Friday, October 4, 2013

Nehemiah 12:1-13:31


So here we wrap up Ezra-Nehemiah which tell of the Jews return to Jerusalem and Judah, their rebuilding of the temple and the city under the leadership of the titular characters, Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the governor. With this we conclude the historical portion of the Old Testament (unless you are a fundamentalist and insist that Esther is also a historical narrative). Ancient Hebrew historiography is obviously of a different nature than modern history writing.The historical background will be important when we get to reading the prophets (again, unless you are a fundamentalist and read the prophets without regard to their historical context).

Ezra-Nehemiah seems clearly to be a composite text and, I think, that the first person portions represent the actual writings of those two men, albeit heavily redacted. The question of whether the careers of these two overlapped remains open. If so, Ezra must have been quite old by Nehemiah's time.

Chapter 12 of Nehemiah begins with a list of priests and Levites and then moves on to a a description of the ritual dedicating Jerusalem's repaired walls. Two processions moving in opposite directions atop the walls meet at the temple area. Many sacrifices are offered. The sound of joy is heard far away.

It might be nice to end on that happy note, but concerns for ethnic and ritual purity, so important to Ezra-Nehemiah, occupy chapter 13. First, a reading from the Law of Moses confirms that no Ammonites or Moabites shall be admitted to the assembly.

Next when Nehemiah is out of town on business, the priest Eliashib moves his relative Tobiah into the temple. Nehemiah comes back and moves Tobiah out. Wait a minute. Is that Tobiah the Ammonite from chapter 2? The guy who opposed the rebuilding of the walls in chapter 4? The one who conspired to lure Nehemiah out of the city to kill him in chapter 6?  Well, yeah. Maybe that guy needed to get kicked out of the temple.

Nehemiah also makes sure that the people pay their tithes. He locks the city gates to prevent trade on the Sabbath and denounces mixed marriages. Unlike Ezra he doesn't make the Jews who have married Gentile women divorce their wives. He just roughs them up a little and tells them not to let their kids intermarry.

Actually, though I'm sure the men didn't care for the beatings, the women and children fare much better this time around.

Next: Esther 1-5

No comments:

Post a Comment