The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were a unity in the Hebrew and the LXX. But in the Latin Vulgate the books are separated and called Esdras (the Greek form of Ezra) I and Esdras II. Much of the book of Ezra also appears in a book of the Apocrypha and is there entitled Esdras I and was part of the Greek LXX. This Esdras I is known as Esdras III in the Vulgate, or the Greek Ezra, and Esdras II is known as Esdras IV in the Vulgate; neither Esdras III nor IV is recognized as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church but both were included by Jerome as an appendix to his Vulgate. These two Greek works are recognized as deuterocanonical by Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were part of the history of the Chronicler, and were probably written in the first part of the 4th cent. BCE. Since Ezra 7: 27–8: 34 and 9: 1–15 is written in the first person (rather like the ‘we-sections’ of the Acts), it is possible that Ezra was himself the Chronicler.

The Persian rulers needed to feel that their western border was secure, and it is therefore apparent that both Ezra and Nehemiah enjoyed their support, though certainly the post-exilic community was a subject people (Neh. 9: 36). It is unclear which of the two leaders arrived first, but it seems probable that Nehemiah’s uncontroversial reforms followed the draconian regulations of Ezra in the reign of Artaxerxes I (465–424 BCE). They both move in and out of the two books and it is natural that they are studied as being a single work.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are the climax of 1 and 2 Chronicles and stoutly maintain confidence in the God who after the slavery in Egypt and the captivity in Babylon has restored them to their own land of Promise through influencing the minds of the kings of Persia (Ezra 9: 9), though the Persian official suspects the Jews of rebellious intentions (Ezra 5: 4). But, assured of Persian help (Ezra 8: 36) the people were charged to observe the Jewish Law and to confess their past failures (Ezra 9). The foundations of the Second Temple were laid—though old men who could still remember the splendour of the First were saddened by the contrast (Ezra 3: 12). It is incumbent on the people that they now observe the law and confess their failures in the past (Ezra 9).