Ezra 7

Ezra’s Exiles

Commentaries by David Emanuel

Works of art by Jacob Lawrence and Unknown artist

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Unknown artist

Ancient Greek Coin, Gold Persian Daric, Great King kneeling with bow, c.450 BCE, Gold; Hoberman / UIG / Bridgeman Images

Returning with the Wealth of Nations

Commentary by David Emanuel

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Darius I introduced the gold daric into his kingdom during the latter half of the sixth century BCE. At least four versions of the coin were minted. The type II version of the coin depicted here reveals the image of a bearded king, running with his knees bent. His raised left-hand clasps a bow, and his right hand wields a spear, with a quiver of arrows tucked between his arm and body. Much of the detail, impressively, remains visible in these tiny masterpieces: the ornamented crown, arrows from the quiver, together with the king’s beard and eye. The intricacy of the coin’s design complements its monetary value. Weighing approximately 8.5 grams, the coins were minted with a high percentage of gold (95%).

Coins such as these contributed to the inordinate wealth with which the Israelites returned from captivity. After the Persians defeated the Babylonians in 539 BCE, the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, permitted all nations exiled by the Babylonian empire to return to their homelands. Then in 458 BCE, Ezra led a group of Israelites from Babylon to the district of Judah. Ezra 7 repeatedly reminds readers of the wealth with which the returnees left the land of their captors. Specifically, the phrase ‘silver and gold’ repeats in verses 15, 16, and 18, and further references to wealth appear in verse 22: ‘100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil’. Additionally, the king offers ‘all the silver and gold which you will find in the whole province of Babylon’ (v.16).

Artaxerxes I, king of Persia, primarily offered such wealth to procure the blessing of Israel’s God, ‘so that there will not be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons’ (v.23). From a biblical perspective, however, emphasizing the wealth with which Israel returned to Judah reinforces the faithfulness of God’s promise to restore his people to their land: ‘Your sons shall come from afar … the wealth of the nations shall come to you’ (Isaiah 60:4–5).



Alram, M. 1994. ‘Daric’, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, VII/1, ed. by E. Yarshater (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda), pp. 36–40

Hill, A. and J. Walton. 2009. A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd edn (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 335–36

Jacob Lawrence

And the Migrants Kept Coming, 1940–41, Casein tempera on hardboard, 30.5 x 45.7 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy, 28.1942.30, © 2019 Jacob Lawrence / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

Driven by Hope

Commentary by David Emanuel

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In this work, the last of sixty painted panels in a series, Jacob Lawrence captures a scene of faceless migrants from the American South. They are crowded on a railway platform waiting for the next train north, hoping for an escape from oppressive segregation. The partial representation of individuals at the left and right margins of the painting intimate a larger group of travellers than those captured within the frame. The migrants’ vividly coloured clothes dotted against the dull brown background serve as a metaphor of bright hope against the dismal background of the life they are seeking to escape in the South. Within the panel, figures both young and old are crowded onto the platform, along with items of luggage of various sizes.

Like Lawrence’s migrants, a sizeable community led by Ezra embarked on a life-changing trek from Babylon to Judah. They too journeyed with young and old alike, and all their worldly possessions. For the travellers in the mid-1900s, however, the journey was relatively quick and straightforward when compared with the migration led by Ezra.

Despite Ezra 7’s succinct account, Ezra and his company experienced all the hardships of travelling on foot. Without the luxury of a train, they were compelled to journey 900 miles across the Fertile Crescent, which would have taken approximately four months. Furthermore, because of the substantial quantities of silver and gold in their possession, they faced the constant threat of attack from thieves and robbers.

Both Ezra’s community and the migrants from the South in Lawrence’s day were relentlessly driven by a sense of hope, a hope that enabled them to overcome the hardships and risks of travel and prepare them for an uncertain future. For Ezra’s community, however, the hope represented more than just a desire for material prosperity. Their motivation was additionally inspired by spiritual goals. When the Jews returned to the land of Israel, they could reconnect with their past by once again living in the land that God promised to their forefathers. Furthermore, Artaxerxes empowered them to rebuild the temple of Solomon and re-establish worship in the place where God placed his name.

Lawrence’s immigrants remained less certain of where they would settle.



Roberts, J. 2015. ‘The Migration Series: Panels 1–60’, in Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, ed. by L. Dickerman and E. Smithgall (New York: Museum of Modern Art), pp. 12–45, 166

Yamauchi, E. 2009. ‘Ezra and Nehemiah’, in The Illustrated Bible Background Commentary of the Old Testament, Vol. 3, ed. by J. Walton (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), p. 339

Unknown artist

Ezra (or Jeremiah?) reads the Law, wall painting from Dura Europos, 245 CE, Wall painting, National Museum of Damascus; Photo: www.BibleLandPictures.com / Alamy Stock Photo

The Teaching Scribe

Commentary by David Emanuel

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In this wall painting—one of many uncovered from the western wall of the Dura Europos synagogue—the viewer is faced with a single, full-frontal figure. Thought to be Ezra, he is dressed in chiton and himation, and reads from an unfurled Torah scroll. The unusually large scroll—depicted occupying the full width of the picture plane—gives it particular prominence in the composition, subordinating the figure and emphasizing the scroll’s importance and sacred nature.

The work is located to the upper right of a small Torah shrine cut into the wall to house the synagogue’s Torah scroll. Appropriately, we find the Torah ark-chest depicted at the bottom left of the mural, adjacent to the shrine, covered with a rust-coloured cloth.

The work highlights two critical aspects of sacred scrolls in the days of Ezra. First, they were publicly read; second, they were carefully preserved, both in scroll boxes, as seen here, and in written reproduction.

Ezra 7:6 describes Ezra as ‘a scribe, skilled in the law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given’. Scribes were skilled at reading and writing texts of various kinds and were generally responsible for writing legal documents during the fifth century BCE. What distinguishes Ezra, however, is his ‘skill in the law of Moses’. Ezra, undoubtedly, bore responsibility for writing, copying, preserving and transmitting Israel’s sacred scrolls (like the one depicted here), and later Jewish traditions ascribe the very rewriting of the Old Testament to Ezra (4 Ezra 14).

Additionally, however, being a scribe generated a high social standing, both in the eyes of the Persian court and among the remnant of Israel. This high standing, together with knowledge of the Law, enabled him to serve as an effective teacher of that Law. Emphasizing his role as a teacher, Ezra 7:10 states that:

Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.



Charlesworth, J. 1983. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson), pp. 553–55

Kraeling, C. 1979. The Synagogue [The Excavations at Dura-Europos Conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters: Final Report VIII, Part I] (New Haven: Yale University Press), pp. 232–39

Lee Levine, L. 2012. Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art (New Haven: Yale University Press), p. 144

Saldarini, A. 2008. ‘Scribes’, in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. by D. Freedman (New York: Doubleday), pp. 1012–16

Unknown artist :

Ancient Greek Coin, Gold Persian Daric, Great King kneeling with bow, c.450 BCE , Gold

Jacob Lawrence :

And the Migrants Kept Coming, 1940–41 , Casein tempera on hardboard

Unknown artist :

Ezra (or Jeremiah?) reads the Law, wall painting from Dura Europos, 245 CE , Wall painting

Exodus Renewed

Comparative commentary by David Emanuel

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After Persia defeated Babylon in 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great permitted the captive Israelites, along with other exiled nations, to return to their homeland. The book of Ezra recounts the influential scribe, Ezra, organizing and leading the second wave of Israelites from Babylon back to the land of their forefathers, the newly constructed district of Judah.

In telling this story, the author recasts events following the pattern of the exodus motif. In the book of Exodus, God delivers the Israelites from their captors, the Egyptians, leads them through the desert, and brings them to the Promised Land. The account of Ezra’s return to Judah undoubtedly parallels these events, with key components reflected in Ezra 7. Each of the three artworks in this exhibition represent key components of the exodus tradition that further unite Ezra 7 to events in the book of Exodus.

The mural from Dura Europos of a figure teaching from what is unmistakably a Torah scroll connects the two influential exodus leaders, Ezra and Moses. After leading the Israelites out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, Moses received God’s Law and was instructed to write it in a book:

And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel’. (Exodus 34:27)

Furthermore, Moses received a divine injunction to teach God’s Law to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 4:14). The function of both scribe (a transcriber of sacred texts) and teacher apply equally to Ezra (Ezra 7:12, 21). The connection between the two biblical figures is visually accentuated by the positioning of Ezra’s image among the numerous wall paintings at Dura: directly below a depiction of Moses standing at the burning bush.

Before Ezra left Babylon, Artaxerxes freely offered him and the returnees gold, including coins such as the daric depicted here, and silver from his own treasury, in addition to whatever else they needed from the province of Babylon. The king sought to bless the Israelites as they returned to their homeland. Persian generosity here parallels the Egyptians’ kindness to Israel as they walked free from captivity. After granting the Israelites’ freedom, God instructs them to ask their neighbours for articles of silver and gold (Exodus 3:21–22). And though the production of Darius’s gold daric came much later, it can symbolize the great riches received by both Moses’s and Ezra’s communities prior to leaving the land of their captors.

Towards the front of Jacob Lawrence’s depiction of an overcrowded train platform are several large suitcases and trunks. Because the migrants from the American South in the 1900s had no intention of returning, they packed all their worldly belongings in preparation for the move. Essentially, they embarked on a risk-filled one-way journey to an uncertain future. The same concept connects the accounts of Exodus and Ezra. The Israelites’ exodus from Egypt represented a one-way journey: they left a land in which they had dwelt for 400 years without any notion of returning. With their worldly possessions, young and old alike embarked on a journey from the known to the unknown. Ezra’s generation similarly embarked on a migration from which they would not return. The returnees were oblivious to what awaited them at the end of their trek. They too packed everything, and travelled into an unknown future, with only the hope of a better life in the district of Judah.

Just before the great Babylonian exile of Israel in 586 BCE, the prophet Jeremiah spoke words of future hope to Israel. The devastation of the exile would one day come to an end, and God would bring them back to the land of their forefathers:

Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them’. (Jeremiah 16:14–15)

For Ezra’s generation, chief among the ‘countries where he had driven them’ was Babylon, the land of their exile. Consequently, those returning participated in this new (or renewed) exodus which God had prophesied through Jeremiah. Knowing that they participated in a new act of God’s mercy on the stage of history undoubtedly provided encouragement and hope for both Ezra and those he led.



Hill, A. and J. Walton. 2009. A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd edn (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 335–36

Longman III, T. and R. Dillard. 2006. An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd edn (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), p. 324

Next exhibition: Nehemiah 7:73

Ezra 7

Revised Standard Version

7 Now after this, in the reign of Ar-ta-xerxʹes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiʹah, son of Azariʹah, son of Hilkiʹah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahiʹtub, 3son of Amariʹah, son of Azariʹah, son of Meraiʹoth, 4son of Zerahiʹah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishuʹa, son of Phinʹehas, son of Eleaʹzar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses which the Lord the God of Israel had given; and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was upon him.

7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Ar-ta-xerxʹes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king; 9for on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was upon him. 10For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel.

11 This is a copy of the letter which King Ar-ta-xerxʹes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel: 12“Ar-ta-xerxʹes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven. And now 13I make a decree that any one of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of your God, which is in your hand, 15and also to convey the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16with all the silver and gold which you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God which is in Jerusalem. 17With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their cereal offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them upon the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. 18Whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. 19The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. 20And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which you have occasion to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.

21 “And I, Ar-ta-xerxʹes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, requires of you, be it done with all diligence, 22up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. 24We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll upon any one of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.

25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and those who do not know them, you shall teach. 26Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed upon him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.”

27 Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem, 28and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.