The earliest available evidence indicates that Ezra and Nehemiah were considered to be a single book. Williamson briefly summarizes this evidence:
(1) in order to make sense of Josephus’ enumeration of the biblical books (Contra Apionem §40), it must be assumed that he counted Ezra and Nehemiah as one. (2) Melito, Bishop of Sardis, quotes Jewish sources in Palestine which speak of the whole work as “Ezra”; cf. Eusebius Hist Eccl. 4.26.14. (3) The Talmud includes the activities of Nehemiah in the book of Ezra and even asks, “Why, then. was the book not called by his name?” (Bab Sanh. 93b; cf. B. Bat, 14b, where only Ezra is listed). (4) The Masoretes clearly regard the books as one because they count Neh 3:22 as the middle verse and add their annotations for the whole only at the end of Nehemiah. (5) The medieval Jewish commentators move directly from Ezra to Nehemiah without interruption; cf. the commentaries of Ibn Ezra and Rashi ad loc. in any Rabbinic Bible, e.g. Biblia Rabbinica (Jerusalem; Makor. 1972). (6) In the earliest Hebrew manuscripts the books are not divided. To this list we should add that (7) in the earliest manuscripts of the LXX the two books are treated as one [Williamson 1985: xxi].
The first evidence of Ezra and Nehemiah being treated separately occurs in the patristic period, though with the recognition that the books were considered one by the Jews (DTIB, 223; Williamson 1985: xxi).
The antiquity of the evidence for the unity of Ezra-Nehemiah has led many modern scholars to affirm that these books were originally a unity (NIDOTTE, 4:977-78; DTIB, 223, 533; Williamson 1985: xxii; Fensham 1982: 1; Breneman 1993: 37-38).
However, other interpreters, while recognizing that these books were at an early date seen as one, understand them to have originated as two separate books. These interpreters commonly note that Ezra 2 is repeated in Nehemiah 7:6-70, which would be unlikely if the books were originally a single work (Young 1977: 378; Yamauchi 1988: 572-73; Archer 1994: 456). The book of Nehemiah also begins with an introductory statement that sets it apart as a distinctive work: “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah” (Steinmann 2010: 18). Notably, though Jews saw Ezra and Nehemiah as a single book, the Gemera identified Ezra and Nehemiah as authors of their respective parts (Young 1977: 378).
Recent proponents of the unity of Ezra-Nehemiah often draw on the work of Eskenazi, who posits that the repetition of the Ezra 2 material in Nehemiah 7 determines the structure of the book. On this view, Ezra-Nehemiah has a three-part structure. Verses 1:1-4 introduce the book by setting the goal of rebuilding “the house of God.” Ezra 1:5-Nehemiah 7:72 form the core of the book, with the repeated list in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 serving as an inclusion for this section. The final section of the book, Nehemiah 8:1-13:31 show demonstrates “success”: “the community dedicates the house of God according to Torah” (Eskenazi 1988: 652).
However, Eskenazi’s proposal is suspect at a number of points. To unify the book around the theme of “build[ing] the house of God,” Eskenazi has to identify Jerusalem as a whole, not just the temple, as the house of God so that Nehemiah’s wall-building project can be identified as part of rebuilding the house of God. But, according to Steinmann, “the book of Nehemiah constantly and clearly distinguishes between the house of God and the city of Jerusalem.” Further, the list of returnees in Ezra 2 does not truly serve as an
The distinct beginning of Nehemiah does not serve as an obstacle to proponents of Ezra-Nehemiah who view both books as a compilation of many different sources. For instance, Williamson argues that Ezra 1-6 was composed from various sources (decrees, lists, letters, etc.). Ezra 7-10, with Nehemiah 8 originally standing between Ezra 8 ad 9, comprise an “Ezra Memoir.” Williamson also posits a “Nehemiah Memoir” comprised of “Neh 1-7; parts of 12:27-43, and 13:4-31 (with the lists in Nehemiah 3 and 7 possibly not being original to the “Nehemiah Memoir”). Finally, Williamson concludes that “[i]n the later chapters of Nehemiah, there is a collection of different types of material whose origins have been variously explained” (Williamson 1985: xxiii-xxxv).
Obviously, such a view is not disturbed by a distinct beginning in Nehemiah 1:1 since, on this view, the whole book is a rather transparent composition from many sources. However, this source-critical argument for the unity of Ezra-Nehemiah needlessly damages the integrity of Nehemiah.
Those who view the books as originally independent have to account for their combination into a single book. Steinmann notes several possible reasons for combining these books. Perhaps they simply were both placed on a single scroll due to the similarity of their material. Or perhaps it was attractive to make the number of canonical books match the number of letters in the alphabet, requiring combination (Steinmann 2010: 15). Or perhaps Ezra’s ending was viewed as a negative way to end a canonical book. Though the end of Nehemiah is also dealing with the problem of marriage to foreign wives, the closing verses of Nehemiah are more positive than the closing verses of Ezra. Though these proposals are speculative, they demonstrate the viability of the view that Ezra and Nehemiah were independent works later combined.
I think it is best to Ezra and Nehemiah as distinct works which maintain their own individual integrity. However, because of the similarity in historical situation and