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SCW syllabus / YU only
We will study the book of Ezra-Nehemiah as a window onto biblical narrative and historiography in general. We will begin by situating Ezra-Nehemiah in its historical context in order to understand better the theological concerns that occupied the attention of Jews during the Persian period. Our study of the book will also include parallel discussions of contemporaneous books of תנ"ך, which will help us appreciate the distinctive worldview underlying Ezra-Nehemiah. In our analysis of the book, we will try to reconstruct the mindset of the author: what accounts for the narratorial decisions that he made, including certain details and excluding others, formulating and organizing those details in the ways that he did, etc.; how did he connect individual passages to build up towards more overarching themes and messages; and how did he interweave theology into his understanding of history. In sum, our focus will be on the author as a theologian of history rather than as a historian. Ezra-Nehemiah covers the events during the first 100 years after the Jews returned from exile and built the Second Temple. For the first time, the Jews did not enjoy political sovereignty, and prophecy was largely waning. Jews who, throughout the First Temple period, often violated basic dictates of the Torah, now turned to the Torah for instruction and inspiration. In many ways, it is the beginning of our experience of Judaism and raises many of the questions with which we continue to struggle: in the absence of prophecy, how do we ascertain the divine will? To what extent does our Judaism require an insular existence? We will not always connect the dots between our contemporary experience and that of the Jews during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, but I hope that the challenges that they faced will seem very familiar to you and that you will find these books extremely relevant for your own spiritual growth.
Mermelstein, Ari. (2022, Spring), Syllabus, BIBL3857L: Ezra-Nehemiah, Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University.