The Place of Nehemiah in the Canon of Scripture: Wise Builder -- By: Stephen G. Dempster

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 09:3 (Fall 2005)
Article: The Place of Nehemiah in the Canon of Scripture: Wise Builder
Author: Stephen G. Dempster


The Place of Nehemiah in the Canon of Scripture:
Wise Builder

Stephen G. Dempster

Stephen G. Dempster is Professor of Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University in New Brunswick, Canada, where he teaches Old Testament, Ancient Near Eastern History, and Hebrew. He has published a number of scholarly articles and is the author of Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (IVP, 2003) in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series.

A neglected portion of the Old Testament in the contemporary church, the post-exilic books are often considered to be produced in the era in which a sterile Judaism emerged with its emphasis on laws and rules to the neglect of a relationship with God.1 One of these books is Nehemiah. It largely consists of the memoirs of Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah, an official in the Persian court, and includes various records such as long lists2 and letters3 as well as first person accounts of events at the time.4 Thus it is not the most exciting material to read, particularly when compared to the fast paced narrative of the books of Samuel, the cries of emotion in the psalms, and the denunciations of the prophets. Nonetheless, a close reading of this text, especially in its historical and canonical context, will pay hermeneutical dividends. It is surprising how inspiring this material is with its honest account of trials and struggles, shot through with personal prayers,5 whether in the midst of conflict or reflection. Although it is a book, which contains diverse literary material, it focuses on the preeminence of a word from God to regulate not only personal but national life.6 It is a book, which begins with prayer and ends with prayer,7 and yet is incredibly practical. The old saying “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” is not a contradiction in this book, for Nehemiah is a person of prayer and action. At the same time, his literary account essentially concludes the history of the Old Testament period and in some versions it concludes the Hebrew Bible, contributing to a final narrative framework for the entire scripture.8 Thus, hermeneutically, whether from a historical perspective or a literary perspective, a conclusion is significant, as it reveals the final situation of the historical period or the last thoughts of a writer.

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