Chronological Anomalies in the Book of Ezra -- By: A. Philip Brown II

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 162:645 (Jan 2005)
Article: Chronological Anomalies in the Book of Ezra
Author: A. Philip Brown II

Chronological Anomalies in the Book of Ezra

This is the first article in a four-part series “Studies in the Book of Ezra.”

A. Philip Brown II

A. Philip Brown II is Assistant Professor of Bible and Theology at God’s Bible School and College, Cincinnati, Ohio.

With its very first words the Book of Ezra1 rivets the narrative to the line of time: “In the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia.”2 At each successive turn of events in Ezra, temporal markers point the way.3 More than forty of these signs line the textual highway, and it ends with yet another temporal pinpoint, “And they finished…on the first day of the first month” (10:17). Beginning, middle, and end—every part of the Book of Ezra reflects the author’s careful attention to time.

The prominence of these dates, however, creates something of

a problem. Since dates are characteristic of historical narrative, and “for narrative to make sense as narrative, it must make chronological sense,”4 the reader expects Ezra’s narrative to unfold chronologically. But it does not. After covering more than eighty years of postexilic history in 1:1–4:23 (538–457 b.c.), without skipping a beat, in 4:24 Ezra jumped back sixty-three years to 520 b.c. and picked up the account of the temple’s completion where he left it in 4:5. Having recounted the completion of the temple’s reconstruction in 516 b.c. (4:24–6:22), an almost offhanded “after these things” transports the reader forward over more than fifty-seven years of largely undisclosed history and lands him in 458 b.c., the seventh year of Artaxerxes (7:1, 7). In contrast to the first section’s eighty-year span (538–457 b.c.), the last section (7:1–10:44) covers precisely one year to the day (1/1/458 b.c. to 1/1/457 b.c.).5


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