Who was Ezra? What did he say?
The Jewish captives who had lost their freedom for two hundred years were at last allowed to return to Jerusalem. They could live in their homeland and rebuild their beloved Temple.
What happened to the Temple?
The Temple lay in ruins. It had been destroyed at the time of the conquest of Jerusalem.
Moreover, just as it had been when the Israelites came north from Egypt, the land of Israel was already occupied – this time by ‘the people of the land’ – the Samaritans, who naturally enough resisted the Jewish re-settlement.
So the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple proceeded in stops and starts.
Ezra has been called ‘the father of modern Judaism’. He was certain of one thing: this time, there would be no compromise with non-Jewish religious beliefs.
What did Ezra teach?
He taught that Judaism was a religion of holy people, a race apart. Jews must not mix in any way with non-believers.
Why was he convinced of this? He saw God’s hand in what had happened to Israel. He believed that Israel had been conquered by Babylon because it had neglected God’s commands.
How had the Jewish people offended God?
- Solomon had taken foreign wives.
- The Israelites had assimilated with the Canaanites, adopting many of their customs and beliefs.
- This, said Ezra, had offended God, who had quite rightly punished the Israelites.
- It must not happen again.
- Jews must divorce foreign wives and disown any half-Gentile children.
The Book of Ruth was possibly written at about this time, as a contradiction to Ezra’s teachings: it taught that foreigners like Ruth could be counted among the just.