Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 are almost identical. Both chapters contain a list of families that returned from the exile. The purpose of this list is to show that those who returned were still connected to their Jewish roots (i.e. they could still trace their lineage and had not been lost), as well as, illustrate the reduction of of the Jewish population. Only a small portion of the Jews that had been taken, returned.
The List of Returnees
People listed in this chapter are listed either by family name or by hometown (in Judah). There is also a group of people that returned who could not verify their Israelite heritage. This parallels the exodus, in which a mixed-multitude also travelled with Israel. Both cases also include the Israelites receiving treasures from their captors.
The total number of people returning is given as 49,697. Of these people 7,337 were servants and 200 were singers for worshiping God. In addition to these people, the Jews brought 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.
Conflict with Nehemiah
Nehemiah 7 also lists the number of Jews returning. There are minor differences in the numbers given for each family or hometown, but the final total matches. Nehemiah 7:66-69 states that there were 42,360 returnees who brought with them 7,337 servants; this adds to 49,697 people. However, Nehemiah says 245 of these returnees were singers. Differences in numbers by family and city can be explained by how each person was categorized. In one list a person may be counted under his family, but in the other he may be counted for his hometown instead. The difference between singers is harder to explain. One possibility is that 200 people were singers at the time they returned but 45 of those returnees became singers later (certainly there were children in the group of returnees). Another possibility is that Ezra may have only included singers by the lineage appointed by David to sing, while Nehemiah may have included other singers as well. The people of CARM remind us that between the time Ezra penned his list and the time Nehemiah penned his, people could have died and been born into those families, thus accounting for changes in values. Copyist errors are also a possibility.
Once we understand that there are many rational explanations for the difference in values, we can conclude that just under 50,000 people returned to Judah.
References and Footnotes
- Matt Slick. "Why are the statistics in Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 different?". Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry; visited March 2017