An Introduction to the Old Testament
Although modern readers of the Bible are accustomed to treating the books of Ezra and Nehemiah separately, ancient tradition regards them as one (see below). The titles of the individual books reflect the two main characters of the book. Although they were strong and important men, the book in the final analysis actually focuses on the community as a whole. These books record the last events of the Old Testament period. They encompass the time from the immediate postexilic times (the decree of Cyrus, 539 B.C.) through the work of Nehemiah (end of the fifth century B.C.). Later tradition marks Ezra as the culmination of the Old Testament era and describes him as the one who completes the canon. The books describe a time of transition. As Eskenazi indicates, it is a time when the community supersedes the elite leadership of the individual, a time when not just the temple but the whole city becomes holy ground, and a time when written documents supersede oral speeches in authority.