Nehemiah 8

A Festal Gathering

Gate Plazas

All the people gathered themselves together as one man into the square that was in front of the Water Gate (Nehemiah 8:1)

Excavations at a variety of ancient cities have demonstrated that it was common for city gates to have plazas associated with them. These plazas or open squares provided a place where markets could be set up or public assemblies held. This photo shows the large, paved plaza just outside the Iron Age gate at Tel Dan. The threshold of the actual gate can be seen between the two piers at the gate entrance.

Torah Scroll

And they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses (Nehemiah 8:1).

Ezra and Nehemiah were the perfect teammates, working together for God’s cause. With a firm hand and inspiring words, Nehemiah secured a covenant with the people to keep the Law and implemented the Law’s provisions more exactly than had been done since the days of Joshua. Ezra, for his part, read and taught the Law to the people and gave instruction regarding its implementation. Nehemiah took care of all the physical and political concerns, leaving Ezra free to focus on studying the Law and instructing the people. This early 18th century Torah scroll was photographed at Corban University.

The Reading of the Torah

He read from it . . . from early morning until midday (Nehemiah 8:3).

Israelites did not have copies of the Torah in their homes in ancient times. The only practical way for the people to know what the Torah said was to have a scribe read it to a group. The Torah is a long scroll that would require much time to read. An audio recording of the book of Deuteronomy in Hebrew by native speakers, produced by the Bible Society in Israel, is about 2½ hours in length. This photo was taken at the Western Wall in Jerusalem when the sun was rising over the Mount of Olives on the Feast of Shavuot (Weeks).

The Speaker's Platform

Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the occasion (Nehemiah 8:4).

If Ezra and a group of Levites were all seated or standing together on this platform, it would have been quite wide. This American Colony photo was taken April 1, 1925. It shows Sir Herbert Samuel speaking at the opening ceremony of the newly founded Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, just east of Jerusalem. The waters of the Dead Sea and the distant hills of Jordan are visible in the background.

Festival Foods

Go, eat of the fat (Nehemiah 8:10)

The term “fat” (Heb. mashmanim) refers to festival dishes that were deliciously prepared with fat, and probably plenty of meat as well. Meat was not a regular part of the daily diet in antiquity, and thus was a sign of a holiday or other special event. This relief depicts a fattened cow. It comes from Giza and dates to the 6th dynasty.

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