Nehemiah 11-13

Good morning! Today’s last three chapters of Nehemiah (11-13) describe the way of life in Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s governance. They give us an impression of who was in (priests and Levites) and who was out (non-Jews).

Chapters 11 and 12 are largely composed of lists. Jerusalem doesn’t have enough people in it to support temple operations, and so a tenth of the people in the neighboring villages are repopulated within the city walls. Once this happens, we read lists of who is involved in leadership of the city and temple. One possible reason it matters who lives in Jerusalem is the record-keeping that might later be used to determine whose families are authentic and whose are not. (Think of those who were excluded from the priesthood because their family records could not be traced back to the descendants of Aaron.) Nehemiah also lists those who belong to a guild of singers, all descended from or included in the family of Asaph, a great temple musician in the time of David. After the list of priests and Levites in chapter 12, we read how Nehemiah dedicates the completed wall. Levites, priests, singers and musicians parade around the wall, to the left and the right. They meet in the temple, with singing, sacrifices and celebration at the ceremonial heart of Jewish life.

In Nehemiah 13, we see enacted in official policy the phobia against other cultures that characterizes Ezra and Nehemiah. “The people” hear stories in Numbers that are interpreted in such a way as to suggest the exclusion of Ammonite and Moabite people. They expel all non-Jews among them. (I find a corollary with how Christian priests in Hitler’s Germany used the Gospel of John’s criticisms of “the Jews” to religiously justify Hebrew imprisonment and segregation.) Nehemiah returns to Susa and King Artaxerxes for a time, but those in Jerusalem fail to keep his reforms in place. When he returns, he has to command tithe offerings again to support the Levites and singers. Harvesting and selling food on the Sabbath also comes in for critique, and Nehemiah commands that the city gates be closed throughout the Sabbath. Such heavy-handedness goes even further in the severing of marriages with non-Jewish women. Nehemiah abuses those who have mixed marriages, accusing them of the same sin that befell Solomon with his foreign women. Throughout these measures Nehemiah takes to “preserve” Jerusalem for (one form of) Jewish life alone, Nehemiah asks God to remember him for the good he has done. History remembers this period of Jewish life and leadership, but in my estimation this is not among the literature of that time that can truthfully be called “good”. Happy reading!

Read Nehemiah 11-13.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Esther 1-4. Thanks for reading!

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