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About 600 years before the time of Christ, the Jews were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians. Thousands of Jews were forced to leave their homeland in Palestine. For about 70 years, they lived as captives to the Babylonians and then the Persians.
The book of Ezra opens with a reference to Cyrus, king of Persia. King Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland to rebuild their religious institutions.
The book of Ezra covers the ministry of two men—Zerubbabel and Ezra. Most of the Jews remained in Persia, but Zerubbabel was successful in leading about 50,000 Jews back to Jerusalem. Ezra arrived 16 years later, only to find that his people had committed a terrible sin. Many of the leading men had married women who didn't believe in God. The result was religious confusion, preventing Israel from bearing an effective witness to the world.
The book of Ezra ends on a positive note, as the people confessed their sins to God and took steps to remove the foreign gods from Jerusalem.