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Catholic Dictionary




A Jewish priest during the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes (404-358 B.C.). His chief contribution was instituting reforms in the Jewish church and state. In Greek and Latin the name is Esdras. Thanks to the generous policy of the king, Ezra was able to organize a pilgrimage of fifteen hundred families in Babylon to cross the desert to Jerusalem (Ezra 7). He was shocked on arriving to become aware of the great number of Israelites married to foreign women, a practice he described as "treachery" (Ezra 9:2). His denunciation let to the dissolution of many such marriages and considerable unhappiness among the people (Ezra 10). Aiding Ezra in his work was the layman Nehemiah. In fact the biblical report of their ministry carries the joint title "The Book of Ezra and Nehemiah." In the Vulgate, I Esdras is Ezra; II Esdras is Nehemiah. Much of Ezra's accomplishment could be called administrative. He reformed the ecclesiastical ritual, organization of the synagogue improved, and the rise of the rabbinate and eventually the development of the Sanhedrin were tributes to his ability.