Good to see you're all here, class, so pay attention. Dawkins, put that honey away, or I shall have to confiscate it.
Ezra Meeker - probably the wrong Ezra, but a fine-looking chap anyway.
Our Ezra was operating in the 5th century BC, and like Ezra Meeker he was a bit of a pioneer - he made the trip back from Babylon to Jerusalem. The books of the Bible seem to have got a little out of chronological order here, but Babylon had fallen to Cyrus of Persia some years earlier, as we'll see later when we get to the very exciting book of Daniel.
So some of the Jews head back to Jerusalem. If you want to know more, read Chapter 2. Apparently, there were 42,360 of them, with 736 horses, 435 camels, etc. The exact figures aren't very important, so I won't include them in the test you're going to have.
One of the 435 camels.
Jeshua (Josue) and Zorobabel set to work building a new temple. Now this is where you come in, dear atheists, as in Chapter 4 the enemies of Judah and Benjamin (that's you lot) write to King Artaxerxes and get the rebuilding stopped. Actually, they probably weren't atheists - such a strange idea hadn't been invented in those days - just Muslims - er, no, that hadn't been invented either - well, some sort of other religion. Troublemakers, anyway - I'm sure you'll easily identify with them. But Haggai (Aggeus) and Zechariah get things restarted and eventually King Darius lets them get on with it.
I'm trying to get the chronology right here, but for some reason they insisted on counting years backwards in those days, as positive numbers hadn't yet been invented. So the temple is rebuilt in 515 BC, which is BEFORE Ezra gets into action (458 BC). Our hero arrives in Chapter 7 and we only have 4 more chapters to go.
Waiting for Ezra - He'll be along in another 50 years or so.
Ezra (Esdras) himself leads another great expedition from Babylon to Jerusalem, although he omits to mention any camels this time. This is about the first thing he does when he gets there:
And when I had heard this word, I rent my mantle and my coat, and plucked off the hairs of my head and my beard, and I sat down mourning.
Ezra (R), with torn mantle, reproaches Sechenias.
So what has upset Ezra? It is that the Jews in Jerusalem have taken strange wives. Well, of course many people have got strange wives - and strange husbands - and many of us are reduced to tears on seeing what our friends and relations have chosen to spend their lives with; but that is not what's meant here.
Darling, you're not at all a strange wife.
The point is that the Jews have promised not to intermarry with our people - it's all part of the "chosen people" deal, although they won't find out exactly what that means until they read all about it in the New Testament. So Ezra stops the "strange wife" business, and that's the end of his book. We come next to Nehemiah: the two books were originally combined, and our hero will reappear next time. Class dismissed: off to the playground with you!