WHO IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FIGURE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT THAT PROTESTANTS GENERALLY DISREGARD? YOU MIGHT BE SURPRISED. WE MIGHT THINK ONE OF THE KINGS LIKE JOSIAH OR HEZEKIAH WHO BROUGHT REVIVAL TO JUDAH. BUT ACTUALLY, IT WAS A PRIEST.
His name was written Esdras in Greek (and in the Septuagint). But we know him by his anglicized name, Ezra.
Ezra is an underappreciated Old Testament figure in Protestant circles. This opinion stands in enormous disparity with rabbinic Judaism (today’s Judaism), who sees him as a second Moses. While some scholars believe Ezra lived just 40 years, from 480 B.C. to 440 B.C., this is not the conventional view. His life spanned 120 years, from 559 B.C. to 439 B.C., although this may be an invention of Judaism in order to equate the life of Ezra with the life of Moses (whom the Old Testament teaches lived 120 years). Ezra was known as a scribe and as a priest and may have even been a prophet as Judaic tradition holds that he was also Malachi the prophet.
However, his most important accomplishment, besides writing a good deal of the Bible, was how he saved the Hebrew language from extinction in the fifth century B.C. Many modern theologians who reject the Evangelical view of the Bible, believe that the Pentateuch itself was not written until sometime during or after the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C. It is certainly possible that it underwent some considerable tweaking during this period. Certain stylistic aspects suggest this. However, most importantly, the Jews would almost cease to understand their native language – Hebrew – and take up Aramaic, another Semitic language, that of the Chaldeans. The issue for scholars becomes whether the biblical writings up to that point in time had been nothing more than oral tradition, or whether most of the Bible was in fact written by Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah – as tradition, and in some cases, the respective authors assert within their particular books.
Regardless of the outcome of that debate, the Priest Ezra played a massive role in assembling the Bible. In 1 Esdras (the Greco-Latin form of Ezra – used in the Septuagint), he was identified as a High Priest, and descendant of the last priest to serve in Solomon’s Temple. He was also related to Zerubbabel who led the returning captives to Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 25:18 and 1 Chronicles 5:40-41). In ancient times, his book was on one scroll. Later, it was divided into two parts, the second being Nehemiah (in the Masoretic); whereas it was 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras in the Septuagint. (3 and 4 Esdras are considered pseudepigrapha, and were composed much later in the first century A.D.)
Ezra went back to Jerusalem, first teaching the people the Law of Moses. Nehemiah came then to rebuild the city walls. Together they would speak the Law to all the Jews and had them covenant with God to remain separate from other people. Ezra was viewed by the rabbis as a new Moses and asserted that he was taken up into heaven in the same manner of Elijah and Enoch. The rabbis even identify him as their founder.
Ezra probably introduced the “square” letters for Jewish writing still used today, employing the Aramaic alphabet used in Babylon, but matching the alphabet to Hebrew phonemes, creating “new” Hebrew, essentially the Hebrew recreated in the twentieth century Israel and spoken today (Vowel sounds were supplied 1,000 years later by the Masoretes through “vowel pointing” markups). We know that Ezra composed much of the Bible to restore the Law of Moses including Temple worship, while the Temple was being rebuilt (beginning in 522 B.C.) The Second Temple, later popularly known as Herod’s Temple (Herod the First, the Great, and its most noteworthy builder), would be undertaken through several phases. Some experts indicate it wasn’t finished until a few years before Titus and the Roman Army destroyed the Temple a second time in 70 A.D.
We know that Ezra was shocked that those who had remained in Judah during the captivity had intermarried with non-Jews. Plus, he had a difficult job in front of him since the people also had forgotten Hebrew and spoke Aramaic, a trend that would never be fully reversed. For, almost five centuries later, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, Greek in commerce, and possibly in religious ceremonies and in the synagogue, Hebrew. Aramaic was the dominant language for common, everyday communication.
But, in short, Ezra brought back Judaism and the Jewish people from Babylon / Persia. Literally speaking, Ezra saved the Hebrew language and updated its alphabet. Figuratively speaking, he brought back the Jewish people from the dead. Along with Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, this trio provided the great bridge from the destruction of the first Temple, to the establishment of the second Temple, and was instrumental in many ways to create the Bible we have today.
[This article was drawn from A Biography of the Christian Bible).