EZRA THE SCRIBE ().
A descendant of Seraiah the high priest (Neh. viii. 13; Ezra vii. 1 et seq.; II Kings xxv. 18-21); a member of the priestly order, and therefore known also as Ezra the Priest (: Ezra vii. 11; x. 10, 16). The name, probably an abbreviation of "Azaryahu" (God helps), appears in Greek (LXX., Apocrypha, Josephus) and in Latin (Vulgate) as "Esdras." Though Ezra was one of the most important personages of his day, and of far-reaching influence upon the development of Judaism, his biography has to be reconstructed from scanty material, furnished in part by fragments from his own memoirs (see Ezra, Book of). The first definite mention of him is in connection with a royal firman granting him permission to lead a band of exiles back to Jerusalem (Ezra vii. 12-26). This edict was issued in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes, corresponding to 458
Though received with greater favor, the assumption of Kosters (in "Het Herstel van Israel," German ed. by Basedow, pp. 103 et seq.) that Ezra arrived in Jerusalem only during the second visit of Nehemiah (433
Soon after his arrival Ezra was compelled to take strenuous measures against marriage with non-Hebrew women (which had become common even among men of high standing), and he insisted in a very dramatic manner upon the dismissal of such wives (Ezra ix. and x.); but it was only after the arrival of Nehemiah (444
Ezra marks the springtime in the national history of Judaism. "The flowers appear on the earth" (Cant. ii. 12) refers to Ezra and Nehemiah (Midr. Cant. ad loc.). Ezra was worthy of being the vehicle of the Law, had it not been already given through Moses (Sanh.21b). It was forgotten, but Ezra restored it (Suk. 20a). But for its sins, Israel in the time of Ezra would have witnessed miracles as in the time of Joshua (Ber. 4a). Ezra was the disciple of Baruch ben Neriah (Cant. R.); his studies prevented him from joining the first party returning to Jerusalem in the reign of Cyrus, the study of the Law being of greater importance than the reconstruction of the Temple. According to another opinion, Ezra remained behind so as not to compete, even involuntarily, with Jeshua ben Jozadak for the office of chief priest. Ezra reestablished the text of the Pentateuch, introducing therein the Assyrian or square characters, apparently as a polemical measure against the Samaritans (Sanh. 21b). He showed his doubts concerning the correctness of some words of the text by placing points over them. Should Elijah, said he, approve the text, the points will be disregarded; should he disapprove, the doubtful words will be removed from the text (Ab. R. N. xxxiv.). Ezra wrote the Book of Chronicles and the book bearing his name (B. B. 16a).
He is regarded and quoted as the type of person most competent and learned in the Law (Ber. R. xxxvi.). The Rabbis associate his name with several important institutions. It was he who ordained that three men should read ten verses from the Torah on the second and fifth days of the week and during the afternoon ("Minḥah") service on Sabbath (B. Ḳ. 82a); that the "curses" in Leviticus should be read before Shabu'ot, and those in Deuteronomy before Rosh ha-Shanah (Meg. 31b; see Bloch, "Die Institutionen des Judenthums," i. 1, pp. 112 et seq., Vienna, 1879). He ordained also that courts be in session on Mondays and Thursdays; that garments be washed on these days; that garlic be eaten on the eve of Sabbath; that the wife should rise early and bake bread in the morning; that women should wear a girdle (B. K. 82a; Yer. Meg. iv. 75a); that women should bathe (B. Ḳ. 82a); that pedlers be permitted to visit cities where merchants were established (B. Ḳ. 82a; see Bloch, l.c. p. 127); that under certain contingencies men should take a ritual bath; that the reading at the conclusion of the benedictions should be "min ha-'olam we-'ad ha'olam" (from eternity to eternity: against the Sadducees; see Bloch, l.c. p. 137). His name is also associated with the work of the Great Synagogue (Meg.17b). He is said to have pronounced the Divine Name (
According to tradition, Ezra died at the age of 120 in Babylonia. Benjamin of Tudela was shown his grave on the Shaṭṭ al-'Arab, near the point where the Tigris flows into the Euphrates ("Itinerary," i. 73). According to another legend, he was at the time of his death in Babylon, as a courtier in the retinue of Artaxerxes (see Vigouroux, "Dictionnaire de la Bible," ii. 1931). Josephus, however, relates that Ezra died at Jerusalem, where he was buried ("Ant." xi. 5, § 5). In the seliḥah for the 10th of Ṭebet the date of Ezra's death is given as the 9th of Ṭebet (see Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 580).
The historical character of the Biblical data regarding Ezra the Scribe (after Ed. Meyer, "Die Entstehung des Judenthums," p. 321) is generally conceded. But the zeal of Ezra to carry out his theory that Israel should be a holy seed (), and therefore of absolutely pure Hebrew stock, was not altogether effective; that his views met with opposition is indicated in the books of Ruth and Jonah. The "book of the law" which he proclaimed at the public assembly (Neh. viii.-x.) is substantially identified with the Priestly Code (P), which, though containing older priestly ordinances ("torot"), came to be recognized as the constitutional law of the congregation (Judaism) only after Ezra's time and largely through his and Nehemiah's influence and authority.