Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ezra's Place among Yehud's Priests

Ezra, priest and scribe
Yesterday's post on Nehemiah 8 got me thinking about Ezra's place among Yehud's various priestly groups. I want to temporarily put aside expository and homiletic questions, and look briefly at the some of the social-scientific questions surrounding Ezra.

Yehud of Ezra's time contained three main priestly groups: the Zadokites (behind Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc.), the Aaronides (behind 2 & 3 Isaiah, etc.), and the Levites (behind Malachi, etc.). At first glance, Ezra appears a good candidate for a Zadokite priest. Ezra 7:2 calls him a son of Zadok. At the same time, however, he appears to distance himself from the Zadokite leadership of the postexilic temple in Jerusalem.

In Nehemiah 8 (see yesterday's post), he works the crowd outside the temple precincts. He surrounds himself with Levites and laity, with chief priests nowhere to be seen. Ezra's mission to eliminate false, syncretistic worship in Yehud set him against some of the temple leadership involved in such syncretism (Ezra 9:1-2; 10:18-24).

Nehemiah 8:7 pictures Ezra's team as a group of Levites. This is not surprising, given that the book of Malachi, which, like Ezra, confronts false worship among the temple leadership, takes a distinctly Levitical point of view!

Ezra seems even more aligned with the Aaronide authors of the Isaiah traditions than with the Levites. His mission to eliminate syncretism directly parallels the polemics in both 3 Isaiah and the Aaronide Priestly Torah against mixing Yahwism and foreign worship practices (e.g., Genesis 28:1 [PT]; Numbers 25:6-9 [PT]; Isaiah 57:4-8; 65:3-5; 66:17).

As Joseph Blenkinsopp has written, Ezra's prime supporters in Yehud and the group behind the 3 Isaiah writings appear to be one and the same. Isaiah 66:5 identifies the authors of the Isaiah Scriptures as a group of “tremblers,” quaking in awe at God. In the book of Ezra these same “tremblers” appear as Ezra's colleagues in his reforms (9:4; 10:3). Like him, they are oriented on the priestly torah and the torah's struggle against adulterated worship of God.

I am thinking that although Ezra may have had a Zadokite, central-priestly pedigree, he is not best thought of as a Zadokite like Ezekiel. Rather, we must consider him a champion of the Aaronide concerns of Scripture and a person more than willing to form a "bipartisan coalition" in order to defend those concerns.
The Scripture that Ezra reads to the people in Nehemiah 8 appears to be something like our present Pentateuch, containing theological strands from all of Israel's priestly groups. This Scripture, like Ezra's policy, upholds a stance of conversation and coalition.


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