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Ezra and the Men of the Great
(~520-480 BCE)
From Adam to Ezra
• God creates the universe, and the “icing on the cake” is
• The Sabbath is declared holy on the last day of the week of
Creation: Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8-11
• The Flood (Genesis 6-10)
• Dispersion from Babel (Genesis 11)
• Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph (Genesis 12-50)
• The Jews leave Egypt
• God brings the Jews to Mt. Sinai
• God establishes the Sanhedrin
• Period of the judges
From Adam to Ezra
Saul is elected king
David is chosen king
Solomon becomes king
Split of the kingdom: northern & southern
Northern kingdom, exiled ~740 BCE
Southern kingdom, exiled ~597-581 BCE
Entering and Leaving Exile
• Entering exile: 2 Chronicles 36:15-21 (v.21-23 is the short
version of Ezra 1:1-4)
• “Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said: “Why was Israel exiled to
Babylonia and not to another land? Because the household of
their patriarch Abraham came from there” (Tosefta, Bava
Kama 7:2)
• Leaving exile: Ezra 1:1-4, 1:7-8
• Isaiah prophesies of Cyrus: Isaiah 45:1-6
• “When Cyrus read this [referring to Isaiah’s prophecy] and
admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition
seized him to fulfill what was so written” (Josephus’
Antiquities, 2:1)
The “Cyrus Cylinder” is pictured above. It provides us with historical evidence
of Cyrus’ sending home of the Jews back to Judea.
Rebuilding the Holy Temple
• Beit Hamikdash (in Hebrew)
• Ezra 3:1-13
When did Ezra Live?
• So I keep talking about “Ezra” but who was Ezra? Read Ezra 7:1-10
• Ezra 4:6 mentions Ahasuerus (Xerxes) being king, pinpointing this event to
the same time as the Book of Esther (Esther 1:1, 480s-460sBC). Interestingly
enough, Josephus says this: “Upon the death of Darius [grandson of Cyrus],
Xerxes his son took the kingdom; who, as he inherited his father’s kingdom,
so did he inherit his piety towards God, and honor him; for he did all things
suitably to his father relating to divine worship and he was exceedingly
friendly to the Jews.”
• Ezra 5:1 mentions the prophets Zechariah and Haggai. In Ezra 5:2 it says “the
prophets of God were with them, helping them [build the Temple].” Ezra 5:5
says that when Tattenai (the Gentile governor) inquired about the Temple,
he went to the “the Jewish elders” but “the eye of their God was upon the
elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease [building].” Here,
Haggai and Zechariah are linked with the “elders of the Jews.”
Ezra: Teacher and Leader
• Ezra and the priests explain the Law: Nehemiah 8:1-9
– The rabbis deduced from Neh 8:5 that the congregation should stand
for the reading of the Torah.
– Regarding Neh 8:8, this is the basis for reading the Targums in ancient
synagogue services, although this is no longer done.
– The Spirit gives us legal instruction: Nehemiah 9:20, 9:30, Ezekiel
• Nehemiah 8:13 The priests and the heads of the families gather
around Ezra when he read the Law.
• Nehemiah 8:16-17 The Jews return to a level of obedience not seen
in Israel since Joshua.
• Nehemiah 8:18 Ezra read the entire Torah during Sukkot
Ezra’s Marriage Halacha
• In Ezra 9:1-6 the people come to Ezra to decide a case (in
accordance with Deuteronomy 16:18, 17:9-13). Ezra gives
them his ruling in Ezra 10:1-5, 7-17. Notice 10:14 and 10:16 –
elders are appointed to act as Ezra’s assistants
– Ezra 10:15 – it tells us the judges who were in the minority view and
who did not support the final ruling, kind of like the Mishnah and
Nehemiah’s Sabbath Halacha
• Nehemiah 10:29-33 The people swear to do everything the
Torah commands – including not buying or selling on Shabbat
(which is not specifically commanded)
• Nehemiah 13:15-22
Mordechai and Esther’s Purim Halacha
• Esther 9:26-32
Men of the Great Assembly
• Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 1.1 “Moses received the Law from Sinai and
committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to
the prophets, and the prophets committed it to the men of the
Great Assembly… Simeon the Just was of the remnants of the Great
• It continues… “Jose b. Joezer of Zerediah [280BC] and Jose b.
Johanan of Jerusalem received the Law from them… Joshua b.
Perahyah and Nittai the Arbelite [~120BC], Judah b. Tabbai and
Simeon b. Shetah received the Law from them…Shemaiah and
Abtalion received the Law from them… Hillel and Shammai received
the Law from them…” Then saying #16 mentions Rabban Gamaliel,
the grandson of Hillel. As we know, Paul was the star student of
Gamaliel and by extension his halacha would have been that of
Gamaliel and Hillel.
• The Persian emperors were generally friendly toward the Jews and
may have even had a positive disposition toward Judaism.
• After decades of exile and lawless living, the people submit
themselves to Ezra, he priests, and the elders. These men heard
cases, decided cases, and helped execute rulings.
• During the time of Ezra (550s-470sBC), the Sanhedrin (composed of
70 men) became the Great Assembly (which had 120) men. The
Great Assembly formalized the Amidah prayer service and
determined the canon of the Tanakh, among other very important
• Ezra and the men of the Great Assembly formed the foundation of
Second Temple Judaism. It’s impossible to understand Second
Temple Judaism without a basic knowledge of this topic.