Ezra & the Law in History & Tradition by Lisbeth Fried.

Author:Mills, Edward J., III
Position:Book review

Fried, Lisbeth S. Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014. 248 pages. Hardcover, $59.95.

Biblical scholar Lisbeth S. Fried's Ezra and the Law in History and Tradition is only the latest volume in the series Studies on Personalities of the Old Testament edited by James L. Crenshaw, but it is the culmination of Fried's career studying Ezra-Nehemiah. It is a sweeping study of the historical and biblical figures of Ezra and the traditions that spun out of the biblical picture of Ezra into later Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Doing historiography by centering on great persons has to a large extent fallen from favor. However, some great figures, both historical and legendary, cast such long shadows that they deserve individual study. Ezra is one of these. Fried does a masterful job in doing so. She is an original thinker and plows new ground in the study of the historical Ezra as well as the legendary Ezra that developed in the biblical and post-biblical traditions. Not everyone will agree with some of her hypotheses about the historical Ezra, but she marshals strong evidence for some of her more controversial proposals. I believe that much of her theoretical work will stand the test of time.

As to the historical Ezra-as distinct from the biblical picture of Ezra-Fried posits several novel ideas. The scholarly consensus is that Ezra brought the Torah to the returnees to the Persian province of Yehud and Jerusalem at the behest of the Persian king. Fried demurs. She marshals strong evidence that the entire concept of written law was absent in the Persian period and only arose during the Hellenistic period and was anachronistically written into the story of Ezra's work in Yehud. She proposes, rather, that Ezra was an agent of the Persian king, his "ear" or episcopos and also charged with appointing judges as officials on behalf of the king. Fried also has a novel, yet plausible, interpretation of the forced divorces of the people of Yehud from the "people of the land." She posits, with most of her scholarly peers, that Ezra-Nehemiah was written in the Hellenistic period. She compares similar Greek laws banning marriage with non-citizens to those in Ezra-Nehemiah and proposes that the divorces had nothing to do with biblical commands not to marry outside Israel but had more to do with preventing marriage-and, hence, alliances-between local families and Persian officialdom. Such...

To continue reading