Question:

When I read Ezra and Nehemiah, I had some problem with the counting numbers recorded in both books. I believe the list of names in Ezra chapter 2 and Nehemiah chapter 7 are the same thing. But the number of singers and porters are different in these two books. While in Ezra 2:41-42 there were 128 singers and 139 porters, in Nehemiah 7:44-45 there were 148 singers and 138 porters. And in Ezra 2:65 there were singing men and women 200, but in Nehemiah 7:67 the number of singers were 245. Other numbers are the same, so what is wrong about these three counting?

Your help will be much appreciated. Thanks a lot.


Answer:

Actually there are seventeen differences between Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7:

Ezra 2 Nehemiah 7
Verse 5:
The sons of Arah, 775
Verse 10:
The sons of Arah, 652
Verse 6:
The sons of Pahath-moab, 2,812
Verse 11:
The sons of Pahath-moab, 2,818
Verse 8:
The sons of Zattu, 945
Verse 13:
The sons of Zattu, 845
Verse 10:
The sons of Bani, 642
Verse 15:
The sons of Binnui, 648
Verse 11:
The sons of Bebai, 623
Verse 16:
The sons of Babai, 628
Verse 12:
The sons of Azgad, 1,222
Verse 17:
The sons of Azgad, 2,322
Verse 13:
The sons of Adonikam, 666
Verse 18:
The sons of Adonikam, 667
Verse 14:
The sons of Bigvai, 2,056
Verse 19:
The sons of Bigvai, 2,067
Verse 15:
The sons of Adin, 454
Verse 20:
The sons of Adin, 655

Verse 17:
The sons of Bezai, 323

Verse 23:
The sons of Bezai, 324
Verse 28:
The men of Bethel and Ai, 223
Verse 32:
The men of Bethel and Ai, 123
Verse 33:
The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725
Verse 37:
The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 721
Verse 35:
The sons of Senaah, 3,630
Verse 38:
The sons of Senaah, 3,930
Verse 41:
The singers, the sons of Asaph, 128
Verse 44:
The singers, the sons of Asaph, 148
Verse 42:
The sons of the gatekeepers, 139
Verse 45:
The sons of the gatekeepers, 138
Verses 59-60
Various names totalling 652
Verse 61-62:
Various names totalling 642
Verse 65:
Servants, 7,337 and singers, 200
Verse 67:
Servants, 7,337 and singers, 245

It might be possible that a few of the differences is due to errs in copying the numbers, but given the care of the Jewish scribes, it isn't reasonable that there were that many mistakes in one section.

Ezra states, "Now these are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away to Babylon, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his own city" (Ezra 2:1). Nehemiah was written about fifty years later. He states, "Then my God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the rulers, and the people, that they might be registered by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of those who had come up in the first return, and found written in it: These are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his city" (Nehemiah 7:5-6). Please note that Nehemiah does not state that he had Ezra's records. Though they begin the same, there are differences in numbers. There are also differences in terms. For example, Ezra 2:21 talks about the children (Hebrew: ben) of Bethlehem, but Nehemiah talks about the men (Hebrew: enowsh) of Bethlehem.

The most likely cause of the difference is that Ezra recorded those who left for Israel from Babylon. Many scholars believe that Ezra's list was compiled in Babylon before the people actually left. Of course, in any large crowd things happen. People who start to leave get ill and have to stay behind. Some die, some are born. Some didn't leave with the group, but joined it while it was in progress. Nehemiah had a list of who arrived in Jerusalem, but his list was for a later time. "Then it was, when the wall was built and I had hung the doors, when the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, ..." (Nehemiah 7:1). In other words, Nehemiah recorded those who came from Babylon at the time the walls in Jerusalem were finished. His list was based on the earlier list, but updated to the current numbers. This would also explain the shift from children to men in some of the entries. In the time that elapsed, people would have died and been born giving a different number of people currently in Jerusalem.

Therefore, the clearest answer is that Ezra and Nehemiah records are for a similar event but recorded at different moments in time.