David J. Shepherd and Christopher J.H. Wright.
Ezra and Nehemiah
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018.
Available at Amazon.com
By Dr. Jill Firth
The authors share an interest in Ezra-Nehemiah, the canonical location of the text, and leadership. The commentaries on Ezra and Nehemiah are by David Shepherd, who also writes a thematic essay on ‘Leadership and Ezra-Nehemiah.’ Christopher Wright contributes two essays, “Reading Ezra-Nehemiah Canonically’, and ‘Reading Ezra-Nehemiah Theologically Today.’ The authors co-write the Preface and Introduction.
The THOTC format ensures that the commentaries are succinct and pithy, with longer thematic essays in a separate section in the volume. The ten chapters of Ezra are treated in 37 pages, and the thirteen chapters of Nehemiah are covered in 61 pages. This makes the commentaries a useful reference work for preachers or students who are looking for an expert but accessible treatment of the text.
The ten-page Introduction covers the settings in place and time of Ezra and Nehemiah, consideration of probable sources including proclamations, lists, recollections of Ezra and Nehemiah, and prayers. Ezra-Nehemiah is viewed as an edited book, and the commentary begins with a close reading of the text.
Wright’s essay “Reading Ezra-Nehemiah Canonically’ focuses on resonances in the Old Testament, especially in the Pentateuch and Latter Prophets. He observes that in the past century, Eichrodt and von Rad gave a fairly negative assessment of the theological value of these books. Perhaps due to a sense that the postexilic period was a decline from the world of the eighth and seventh century prophets, these books received little attention in Old Testament theologies until the work of Brueggemann, Waltke and Goldingay. The essay is concerned with the identity of God and the people in Ezra-Nehemiah. It concludes that this story of Ezra-Nehemiah is ‘one short but significant chapter’ in the whole biblical drama.
In Wright’s second essay, ‘Reading Ezra-Nehemiah Theologically Today’, attention is given to the wider biblical context including the New Testament, using a missional hermeneutic. In this essay, Wright focuses on community building, with a particular interest in identity. The returning exiles had ‘mental maps’ of their family trees and their ancestral lands. They knew their community’s story, which gave them hope. They treasured the Scriptures, and whole families had the model of Ezra’s devotion to knowing, doing, and teaching the Scriptures (Ezra 7.10). The community was committed to worship, justice, and ethical distinctiveness. In each section of this essay, Wright develops connections with New Testament themes, and applies these insights today in Christian living, teaching and community life.
Shepherd’s essay ‘Leadership and Ezra-Nehemiah’ challenges a contemporary overfocus on Nehemiah’s leadership by drawing attention to the different leadership style of Ezra, inviting a more nuanced reflection on leadership in these books. Rather than focusing on leadership traits, Shepherd employs Max Weber’s taxonomy of traditional authority, legal-rational authority, and charismatic authority. He brings a critique of leadership in Ezra-Nehemiah, observing that while Ezra and Nehemiah practiced effective leadership, neither is recorded as ‘routinizing’ their reforms so that they would be secured for the future. The difficulties experienced during Nehemiah’s absence from Yehud are indicative of a power vacuum, according to Shepherd. This challenge can also be considered by leaders today.
The volume features a compact bibliography, and indexes for author, subject and Scripture. Footnotes deal with textual, interpretive and cultural issues, and direct the reader to further resources. The series uses Hebrew and Aramaic orthography, as well as transliteration, which will make the text accessible to all readers.
Jill Firth is a Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne. Her research is in Psalms and Jeremiah.