The Bad Ending Of Ezra-Nehemiah -- By: Gary E. Schnittjer
BSac 173:689 (January-March 2016) p. 32
The Bad Ending Of Ezra-Nehemiah
Gary E. Schnittjer is Professor of Old Testament in the School of Divinity, Cairn University, Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
This study explains the theological implications of the disappointing ending of the book of Ezra-Nehemiah. The story’s ending confirms the remnant as addicted to covenant-breaking. Nehemiah’s last prayers “Remember them” in judgment and “Remember me” in mercy echo prayers the exiles offered in captivity. The continuity of the remnant’s rebellious identity signifies the need for a new work of God’s mercy as much as they needed it in captivity.
Narratives end. The ending may be thought of as a story’s destiny. More importantly, endings and beginnings provide nonnegotiable frames of reference for narratives. Any adequate interpretation of a story will make sense in light of its beginning and its ending.
To discern the meaning and function of Ezra-Nehemiah requires taking sufficient account of its narrative shape. How Ezra-Nehemiah begins and how it ends together frame the story. The challenges of interpreting Ezra-Nehemiah are legion and even seem to be breeding in recent decades. Vigorous debate about the identity of Second Commonwealth constituents and other related topics goes on, while several full-length studies on the book itself have also appeared.1 For all of the attention, the crucial function of
BSac 173:689 (January-March 2016) p. 33
the ending has not been examined adequately.
The present study explains how the bad ending of Ezra-Nehemiah sheds light on the function of the entire narrative. The ending reveals the residual effects and ongoing realities of the exile in the early second-temple situation and what Nehemiah’s final words “remember them” and “remember me” may imply.
Approaches To Ezra-Nehemiah
Interpreting the Ezra-Nehemiah narrative requires recognizing the role of the beginning and the ending of the story. Aristotle said, “Well-constructed plots, therefore, should neither begin nor end at an arbitrary point, but should make use of the patterns [ἰδέαις] stated.”2 He explained further that the “resolution” or “outcome” (λύσις) needs to extend from the beginning of the plot’s transformation (turning-point) to the “end” (τέλος).You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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