Josephus about Ezra
The history book titled Josephus, which is in almost every clergyman's
library, recorded these events. Let's hear what Josephus recorded.
Antiquities of the Jews
CONTAINING THE INTERVAL OF TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY-THREE YEARS AND FIVE
FROM THE FIRST OF CYRUS TO THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT.
Chapter 5 -Section 3
3. Now these things were truly done under the conduct of Esdras; and he
succeeded in them, because God esteemed him worthy of the success of his
conduct, on account of his goodness and righteousness.
But some time afterward there came some persons to him, and
brought an accusation against certain of the multitude, and of the priests and
Levites, who had transgressed their settlement, and dissolved the laws of their
country, by marrying strange wives, and had brought the family of the priests
These persons desired him to support the laws, lest God should take up a
general anger against them all, and reduce them to a calamitous condition again.
Hereupon he rent his garment immediately, out of grief, and pulled off the
hair of his head and beard, and cast himself upon the ground, because this crime
had reached the principal men among the people; and considering that if he
should enjoin them to cast out their wives, and the children they had by them,
he should not be hearkener to, he continued lying upon the ground.
However, all the better sort came running to him, who also themselves
wept, and partook of the grief he was under for what had been done.
So Esdras rose up from the ground, and stretched out his hands towards
heaven, and said that he was ashamed to look towards it, because of the sins
which the people had committed, while they had cast out of their memories what
their fathers had undergone on account of their wickedness; and he besought God,
who had saved a seed and a remnant out of the calamity and captivity they had
been in, and had restored them again to Jerusalem, and to their own land, and
had obliged the kings of Persia to have compassion on them, that he would also
forgive them their sins they had now committed, which, though they deserved
death, yet, was it agreeable to the mercy of God, to remit even to these the
punishment due to them.
4. After Esdras had said this, he left off praying; and when all those that
came to him with their wives and children were under lamentation, one whose name
was Jechonias, a principal man in Jerusalem, came to him, and said that they had
sinned in marrying strange wives; and he persuaded him to adjure them all to
cast those wives out, and the children born of them, and that those should be
punished who would not obey the law.
So Esdras hearkened to this advice, and made the heads of the priests, and of
the Levites, and of the Israelites, swear that they would put away those wives
and children, according to the advice of Jechonias.
And when he had received their oaths, he went in haste out of the temple into
the chamber of Johanan, the son of Eliasib, and as he had hitherto tasted
nothing at all for grief, so he abode there that day.
And when proclamation was made, that all those of the captivity should gather
themselves together to Jerusalem, and those that did not meet there in two or
three days should be banished from the multitude, and that their substance
should b appropriated to the uses of the temple, according to the sentence of
the elders, those that were of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin came together in
three days, viz. on the twentieth day of the ninth month, which, according to
the Hebrews, is called Tebeth, and according to the Macedonians, Apelleius.
Now as they were sitting in the upper room of the temple, where the elders
also were present, but were uneasy because of the cold, Esdras stood up and
accused them, and told them that they had sinned in marrying wives that were not
of their own nation; but that now they would do a thing both pleasing to God,
and advantageous to themselves, if they would put those wives away.
Accordingly, they all cried out that they would do so. That, however, the
multitude was great, and that the season of the year was winter, and that this
work would require more than one or two days.
"Let their rulers, therefore, [said they,] and those that have married
strange wives, come hither at a proper time, while the elders of every place,
that are in common to estimate the number of those that have thus married, are
to be there also." Accordingly, this was resolved on by them, and they
began the inquiry after those that had married strange wives on the first day of
the tenth month, and continued the inquiry to the first day of the next month,
and found a great many of the posterity of Jeshua the high priest, and of the
priests and Levites, and Israelites, who had a greater regard to the observation
of the law than to their natural affection,*
and immediately cast out their wives, and the children which were born of them.
And in order to appease God, they offered sacrifices, and slew rams, as
oblations to him; but it does not seem to me to be necessary to set down the
names of these men.
So when Esdras had reformed this sin about the marriages of the forementioned
persons, he reduced that practice to purity, so that it continued in that state
for the time to come.
5. Now when they kept the feast of tabernacles in the seventh month and
almost all the people were come together to it, they went up to the open part of
the temple, to the gate which looked eastward, and desired of Esdras that the
laws of Moses might be read to them.
Accordingly, he stood in the midst of the multitude and read them; and this
he did from morning to noon. Now, by hearing the laws read to them, they were
instructed to be righteous men for the present and for the future; but as for
their past offenses, they were displeased at themselves, and proceeded to shed
tears on their account, as considering with themselves that if they had kept the
law, they had endured none of these miseries which they had experienced.
But when Esdras saw them in that disposition, he bade them go home, and not
weep, for that it was a festival, and that they ought not to weep thereon, for
that it was not lawful so to do.
He exhorted them rather to proceed immediately to feasting, and to do
what was suitable to a feast, and what was agreeable to a day of joy; but to let
their repentance and sorrow for their former sins be a security and a guard to
them, that they fell no more into the like offenses.
So upon Esdras's exhortation they began to feast; and when they had so done
for eight days, in their tabernacles, they departed to their own homes, singing
hymns to God, and returning thanks to Esdras for his reformation of what
corruptions had been introduced into their settlement.
So it came to pass, that after he had obtained this reputation among the
people, he died an old man, and was buried in a magnificent manner at Jerusalem.
About the same time it happened also that Joacim, the high priest, died; and
his son Eliasib succeeded in the high priesthood.
* This procedure of Esdras, and of the
best part of the Jewish nation, after their return from the Babylonish
captivity, of reducing the Jewish marriages, once for all, to the strictness of
the law of Moses, without any regard to the greatness of those who had broken
it, and without regard to that natural affection or compassion for their heathen
wives, and their children by them, which made it so hard for Esdras to correct
it, deserves greatly to be observed and imitated in all attempts for reformation
among Christians, the contrary conduct having ever been the bane of true
religion, both among Jews and Christians, while political views, or human
passions, or prudential motives, are suffered to take place instead of the
Divine laws, and so the blessing of God is forfeited, and the church still
suffered to continue corrupt from one generation to another. See ch. 8. sect. 2.
Chapter 8 Section 2 mentioned in footnote.
2. But the elders of Jerusalem being very uneasy that the brother of Jaddua
the high priest, though married to a foreigner, should be a partner with him in
the high priesthood, quarreled with him; for they esteemed this man’s marriage
a step to such as should be desirous of transgressing about the marriage of
[strange] wives, and that this would be the beginning of a mutual society with
foreigners, although the offense of some about marriages, and their having
married wives that were not of their own country, had been an occasion of their
former captivity, and of the miseries they then underwent; so they commanded
Manasseh to divorce his wife, or not to approach the altar, the high priest
himself joining with the people in their indignation against his brother, and
driving him away from the altar.
Whereupon Manasseh came to his father-in-law,
Sanballat, and told him, that although he loved his daughter Nicaso, yet was he
not willing to be deprived of his sacerdotal dignity on her account, which was
the principal dignity in their nation, and always continued in the same family.
And then Sanballat promised him not only to preserve to him the honor of his
priesthood, but to procure for him the power and dignity of a high priest, and
would make him governor of all the places he himself now ruled, if he would keep
his daughter for his wife.
He also told him further, that he would build him a
temple like that at Jerusalem, upon Mount Gerizzini, which is the highest of all
the mountains that are in Samaria; and he promised that he would do this with
the approbation of Darius the king.
Manasseh was elevated with these promises,
and staid with Sanballat, upon a supposal that he should gain a high priesthood,
as bestowed on him by Darius, for it happened that Sanballat was then in years.
But there was now a great disturbance among the people of Jerusalem, because
many of those priests and Levites were entangled in such matches; for they all
revolted to Manasseh, and Sanballat afforded them money, and divided among them
land for tillage, and habitations also, and all this in order every way to
gratify his son-in-law.