EZRA (from a Hebrew word meaning “help”), in the Bible, the famous scribe and priest at the time of the return of the Jews in the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes I. (458 B.C.). His book and that of Nehemiah form one work (see Ezra and Nehemiah, Books of), apart from which we have little trustworthy evidence as to his life. Even in the beginning of the 2nd century B.C., when Ben Sira praises notable figures of the exilic and post-exilic age (Zerubbabel, Jeshua and Nehemiah), Ezra is passed over (Ecclesiasticus xlix. 11-13), and he is not mentioned in a still later and somewhat fanciful description of Nehemiah’s work (2 Macc. i. 18-36). Already well known as a scribe, Ezra’s labours were magnified by subsequent tradition. He was regarded as the father of the scribes and the founder of the Great Synagogue. According to the apocryphal fourth book of Ezra (or 2 Esdras xiv.) he restored the law which had been lost, and rewrote all the sacred records (which had been destroyed) in addition to no fewer than seventy apocryphal works. The former theory recurs elsewhere in Jewish tradition, and may be associated with the representation in Ezra-Nehemiah which connects him with the law. But the story of his many literary efforts, like the more modern conjecture that he closed the canon of the Old Testament, rests upon no ancient basis.
See Bible, sect. Old Testament (Canon and Criticism); Jews (history, §21 seq.). The apocryphal books, called 1 and 2 Esdras (the Greek form of the name) in the English Bible, are dealt with below as Ezra, Third Book of, and Ezra, Fourth Book of, while the canonical book of Ezra is dealt with under Ezra and Nehemiah.