Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 43

XLIII.

EZRA.

CYRUS, in the year 537 before Christ, put an end to the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, as had been foretold by Daniel; and not only did he permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem, but he furnished them with the means of rebuilding their city and temple. The Oriental writers, to explain the motive of Cyrus, say that his mother was a Jewess, and that he himself was married to the Jewess Maschat, sister of Zerubbabel, a granddaughter of the king Jehoiakim.

In 523 before Christ, Cambyses, having reigned a brief time, was succeeded by Smerdis, the Magian, who is called, in the Scriptures, Artaxerxes. He, being ill-disposed towards the Jews, withdrew from them the gifts made by Cyrus, and arrested their work. Smerdis, however, reigned only two years, and was succeeded by Darius Hystaspes, who continued the work of Cyrus, by the hands of Ezra or Esdras, one of the instruments used by God to restore His people.

Ezra was the son of Seraiah, of the lineage of Aaron.

In the Koran[1] it is said that Ezra, passing through a village near Jerusalem, whose houses were ruined, exclaimed, "Can God restore these waste places, and revive the inhabitants?"

Then God made him die; and he remained dead for one hundred years. At the end of that time God revived him, and he saw the village rebuilt, and full of busy people.

The commentators on the Koran say that Ezra (Ozaïr), when young, had been taken away captive by Nebuchadnezzar, but that he was delivered miraculously from prison, and returned to Jerusalem, which he found in ruins. He halted at a village near the city, named Sair-Abad. Its houses were fallen and without inhabitants, but the fig-tree and vines remained in the gardens. Ezra collected the fruit, and made himself a little cell out of the fallen stones. And he kept near him the ass on which he had ridden.

The holy man, on contemplating from his hermitage the ruins of the holy city and the temple, wept bitterly before the Lord, and said often with a tone rather of lament than doubt, "How can the walls of Jerusalem ever be set up again?"

Then God bade him die, and hid him from the eyes of men, in his cell, with all that he had about him, his fruit, his mat, and his ass. At the close of a century God revived him, and he found all as when he had died; the ass standing, and the fruit unwithered. Then Ezra saw the works that had been executed in Jerusalem, how the walls were being set up, and the breaches repaired, and he said, "God is Almighty; He can do whatsoever pleaseth Him!"

After his resurrection, he went into the holy city, and spent night and day in explaining to the people the Law, as he remembered it. But it had been forgotten by the Jews, and therefore they disregarded his instruction.

The Iman Thalebi says, that the Jews, to test the mission of Ezra, placed five pens in his hand, and with each he wrote at the same moment with like facility as if he held only one; and he wrote all the Books of the Sacred Canon, as he drew them from his memory, without the assistance of a book.

The Jews, however, said amongst themselves, "How can we be sure that what Ezra has written is the true sacred text, since there is none amongst us who can bear witness?"

Then one of them said, "I have heard say that my grandfather preserved a copy of the sacred books, and that they were hidden by him in a hollow rock, which he marked so that it might be recognized again."

They therefore sought the place which had been marked, and there they found a volume containing the Scriptures, which having been compared with what Ezra had written, it was found that the agreement was exact. Then the people, astonished at the miracle, cried out that Ezra was a god.[2]

At the time of carrying away into Babylon, the sacred fire had been cast into a well in the temple court. Ezra, having drawn some of the dirt out of the well, placed on it the wood of the sacrifice; then the flame, which for a hundred and forty years had been extinguished, burst forth again out of the mire. When Ezra saw this wonder, he thrice drank of the dust out of the well; and thus he imbibed the prophetic spirit, and the power of recomposing from memory the lost sacred books.[3]

  1. Sura, ii.
  2. Herbelot, Bibliothèque Orientale, iii. p. 89.
  3. Abulfaraj, p. 57.