Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition

Article excerpt

Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition by Lisbeth S. Fried. Columbia, South Carolina: The University of South Carolina Press, 2014, 358 pp. Reviewed by Simcha Rosenberg.

This is another book in the series, Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament, some volumes of which have been reviewed here previously. Each book in the series has a different author and focuses on a different biblical character. As such, the present volume does not specifically comment on the Book of Ezra as a whole, since Ezra appears only in chapters 7-10 of the Book of Ezra and in Nehemiah chapter 8 (and briefly in chapter 12). Rather, this is a study of how Ezra is represented in the Bible and particularly in later literature, including the Apocrypha and Christian, Muslim, and Samaritan literature. Each chapter deals with a different perspective on Ezra.

Readers of the Jewish Bible Quarterly are probably familiar with the way Ezra is characterized in rabbinic literature, as someone as worthy as Moses (TB Sanhedrin 21b), who reestablished the Torah for the Israelites after it was forgotten (TB Sukkah 20a) and who laid down many rules for the Jewish people which are still in force today, such as the Torah reading for Shabbat afternoon, Mondays and Thursdays (TB Bava Kamma 82a). However, in the non-canonical books of the Apocrypha, there are many other stories involving Ezra, with additional roles for him to play. We find him asking why God created evil, experiencing visions and conversations with angels, and talking about the Messianic future and the afterlife. A very interesting tradition, found in the book known as Fourth Ezra, tells how the Torah was in fact burned and lost when the First Temple was destroyed; Ezra then prayed to God, who caused him to prophetically dictate the entire Tanakh (pp. 74-75). This was later the basis for claims by Christians, Muslims, and Samaritans that Ezra's version of the Bible is incomplete, having omitted references to Jesus, Mohammed or Mount Gerizim, respectively (chap. …

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