What is the order of events in Nehemiah 8? It seems like Ezra first read it to them (8:3), then opened the book (8:5), which would be weird? Or is this just a later description of the same event? Also, later we are told that all the Levites read from the book (and help the community understand the law) – does this occur at the same time as Ezra’s reading?

I do not REALLY know the answer to your question. I think that many hands shaped the text of Ezra in particular, which was probably revised many times between the 400s and the 2nd century BCE, when it was first considered scripture. It contains several Persian loan words and includes several Aramaic texts.

Nehemiah, which you specifically asked about, was written as late as 336, so again much later than the events described, and again was edited. I am not familiar with all the complex theories about authorship and transmission (in this case, the Wikipedia article is a good introduction), but I think it’s hard to rely on the chronology of events as presented in the text. That’s a squirrely answer, because I just don’t know enough.

Having said that, what I think is happening is that in Neh 8.3 the author is presenting an overview or thesis: He read the document all day for several days. Then he breaks down the process:

  1. Ezra stands on a wooden platform with a bunch of Levites next to him.
  2. Ezra opens the book, and when he does so, everyone stands up.
  3. There is a prayer while everyone says Amen and bows.
  4. Nehemiah and the Levites who were standing next to him “instructed the people in the Law” which could mean read but probably means either translate or interpret (as is explained in 8.8 in more detail).
  5. Nehemiah says they shouldn’t grieve that they have been disobedient unintentionally but should celebrate the fact that they now know what God wants.
  6. The heads of families decide to celebrate the Festival of booths

Chapter 8 ends with a conclusion, which restates the two things that happened: Ezra read, and they celebrated the festival.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *