According to the Old Testament, Ezra was of priestly descent. (Ezra 7:1-5.) He was an exile in Babylon in the reign of Artaxerxes. (There were two Perisan kings by that name.)
Ezra is described as "the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel." (Ezra 7:11.) During the Babylonian captivity, some of Judah's exiles formed a priestly code, which was "the law of God" that Ezra took to Jerusalem. Some Jews had been allowed to depart Babylon earlier, during the reign of Cyrus. Ezra secured from Artaxerxes an edict allowing all Jews who so wished to depart from Babylon. (Ezra 7:12-26.)In the seventh year of Artaxerxes' reign, Ezra and a band of Jews returned to Jerusalem. (Ezra 8:1-14; Ezra 10:9.) In Jerusalem, Ezra learned of the lax state of affairs in the city, and the villages of Judah. The "holy seed" had "mingled themselves with the people of those lands," and "the hand of the princes and rulers" had "been chief in this trespass." (Ezra 9:2.) Ezra's consequent prayer and confession, in the presence of a large assembly, led to drastic reform measures. A general congregation of the community authorized the establishment of a divorce court to "put away all the foreign or non-Jewishwives." (Ezra 10:3.)
Ezra and the prophet Nehemiah instructed the people by instituting an open reading of the law. Until then, only priests had access to what the law stated. (Please see Church News Aug. 6, p. 14, for an article about the reading of the law.)
In Jesus the Christ, Elder James E. Talmage wrote:
"Long before the birth of Christ, the Jews had ceased to be a united people even in matters of the law, though the law was their chief reliance as a means of maintaining national solidarity. As early as four score years after the return from the Babylonian exile . . . there had come to be recognized, as men having authority, certain scholars afterward known as scribes, and honored as rabbis or teachers.
"In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah these specialists in the law constituted a titled class, to whom deference and honor were paid. . . . The scribes of those days did valuable service under Ezra, and later under Nehemiah, in compiling the sacred writings then extant. . . ."