The Book of Ezra is a book of the Hebrew Bible. Originally combined with the Book of Nehemiah in a single book of Ezra-Nehemiah, the two became separated in the early centuries of the Christian era. Its subject is the Return to Zion following the close of the Babylonian captivity, and it is divided into two parts, the first telling the story of the first return of exiles in the first year of Cyrus the Great (538 BC) and the completion and dedication of the new Temple in Jerusalem in the sixth year of Darius (515 BC), the second telling of the subsequent mission of Ezra to Jerusalem and his struggle to purify the Jews from the sin of marriage with non-Jews. Together with the Book of Nehemiah, it represents the final chapter in the historical narrative of the Hebrew Bible.
Ezra is written to fit a schematic pattern in which the God of Israel inspires a king of Persia to commission a leader from the Jewish community to carry out a mission; three successive leaders carry out three such missions, the first rebuilding the Temple, the second purifying the Jewish community, and the third sealing of the holy city itself behind a wall. (This last mission, that of Nehemiah, is not part of the Book of Ezra.) The theological program of the book explains the many problems its chronological structure presents. It probably appeared in its earliest version around 400 BC, and continued to be revised and edited for several centuries after before being accepted as scriptural around the time of Christ.
The Book of Ezra consists of ten chapters: chapters 1-6, covering the period from the Decree of Cyrus to the dedication of the Second Temple, are told in the third person; chapters 7-10, dealing with the mission of Ezra, are told largely in the first person. The book contains several documents presented as historical inclusions.
In the early 6th century Judah rebelled against Babylon and was destroyed. As a result the royal court, the priests, the prophets and scribes, were taken into captivity in Babylon. There a profound intellectual revolution took place, the exiles blaming their fate on disobedience to their God and looking forward to a future when he would allow a purified people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The same period saw the rapid rise of Persia, previously an unimportant kingdom in present-day southern Iran, to a position of great power, and in 539 BC Cyrus II, the Persian ruler, conquered Babylon.