ESDRAS, THE SECOND (FOURTH) BOOK OF; APOCALYPTIC ESDRAS
Or The Apocalyptic Esdras:
5. Origin of the Book
This book was not received by the Council of Trent as canonical, nor has it ever been acknowledged as such by the Anglican church.
The book is not found in the Septuagint and no complete copy of the Greek text is known, though at one time it did exist. The oldest extant name is "The Prophet Ezra" (Esdras ho prophetes; see Clement of Alexandria, Strom., iii.16): It has been often called the Latin Esdras because it exists more completely in that language; compare the name Greek Esdras for 1 Esdras.
3 Esdras is the designation in old editions of the Vulgate, 1 Esdras being Ezr and Neh, 2 Esdras denoting what in English is called 1 Esdras. But in editions of the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) later than the Council of Trent, and also in Walton's Polyglot, Ezra is called 1 Esdras, Nehemiah, 2 Esdras, 1 Esdras = 3 Esdras, the present book (the Latin Esdras) being known as 4 Esdras. In authorized copies of the Vulgate, i.e. in those commonly used, this book is lacking. On account of its contents, Westcott, following the example of Anastasius Sinaita (bishop of Antioch from 559 AD), called the book the "Apocalypse of Esdras." But as Tischendorf in 1866 edited a later and inferior work with this title the present writer suggests the name "The Apocalyptic Esdras." Of all the Jewish apocalypses this is the sublimest and most pleading.
See APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE, sec. II, 1, 5.
The original work consists of 2 Esdras 3 through 14, chapters 1 f and 15 f being late additions. The entire book of 16 chapters exists in the Latin version only, the other versions containing chapters 3 through 14 only. The real 2nd (apocalyptic) Esdras, consisting of chapters 3 through 14, is made up of 7 visions given to Ezra in exile 30 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The drift of these visions is, How can a just and loving God allow His own people to suffer so much? The problem thus raised is fully and beautifully dealt with. For lack of space the present writer must refer for a fuller analysis to the article APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE, sec. I, 5, and the literature there cited. For 2 Esdras 1 ff and 15 ff see under ESDRAS 5 AND 6.
Though no complete text even of 2 Esdras 3 through 14 has survived, a careful examination of the Latin shows that it has been made from a Greek original. (1) Some fragments of the Greek can be traced, as 5:35 in Clement of Alexandria and 8:23 in the Apostolical Constitutions. (2) The order of the twelve prophets in 1:39 f follows that in the Septuagint. (3) The Latin version bears throughout clear traces of Greek idiom. Thus the gen. is used with the comparative (5:3; 11:29); we have the genitive (not ablative) absolute in 10:9, the double negative and the use of de (Greek apo) and ex (Greek ek) with the genitive in various parts. But there are cogent reasons for concluding that the Greek version implied in the Latin itself implies a Hebrew original, and the proof is similar to that of a Greek version as the basis of the Latin In the Greek there are idioms which are Hebrew, not Greek, not even in their frequency Hellenistic Greek. The participle used to strengthen the finite verb is the regular Hebrew idiom of the absolute with the finite verb: see 4:2 (excedens excessit); 5:30 (odiens odisti). For other examples see Gunkel (in Kautzsch, Die Apokryphen u. Pseud. des Altes Testament, 332 f); R. H. Charles (Enc Brit, X, 106). Ewald was the first to defend a Hebrew original, but in 1866 he was followed by his distinguished pupil Wellhausen and also by R. H. Charles (Apoc Bar, lxxii).
The Latin version is far the most important and on it the English Versions of the Bible depends. But all published editions of the Latin text (those of Fabricius, Hilgenfeld, Fritzsche, etc.) go back to one and the same MS, the so-called Codex Sangermanensis (date 822), which omits a large part of the text between 2 Esdras 7:36 and 7:37 Any reader of the English text can see the lack of continuity between these verses. In 1875 Bensly published the missing fragment with an Introduction and critical notes. In 1895 Bensly and James published a critical edition of The Fourth Book of Ezra in Latin, restoring the missing fragment and correcting with the aid of the best-known manuscripts.
(2) Other Versions.
There are Syriac (Peshitta), Ethiopic, Arabic, Armenian and yet other VSS, but all depend on the lost Greek except one of the two extant Arabic translations. The number and variety of versions show that 2 Esdras was widely circulated. By the Greek and Latin Fathers it was quoted as a genuine prophetical work. Its importance in the estimation of the medieval Roman church is vouched for by the fact that it has reached us in a number of wellknown manuscripts of the Scriptures, and that it was added to the authorized Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) as an appendix.
5. Origin of the Book:
Two main views may briefly be noted: (1) That of Kabisch (Das vierte Buch Esra, 1889) who holds that the editor of the book freely used a goodly number of sources, subtracting, adding and altering to suit his purpose. He gives a list of probable sources. R. H. Charles (Enc Brit, X, 107) is inclined to adopt this analysis. (2) Gunkel (loc. cit.) maintains and tries to prove that the book is the production of a single writer. Yet he admits that the book contains a large number of inconsistencies which he explains by assuming that the editor made free use of oral and written traditions. The two views do not therefore stand very far apart, for both take for granted that several sources have been used. It is simply a question of more or less.
Wellhausen is probably right in saying that the author of 2 (4) Esdras had before him the Apocrypha of Baruch, written under the impression awakened by the destruction of Jerusalem in 71 AD.
The opinion of the best modern scholars is that the book was written somewhere in the East in the last decade of the 1st century of our era. This conclusion rests mainly on the most likely interpretation of the vision of the Eagle and the Lion in 2 Esdras 11:1 through 12:51; but also on the fact that Clement of Alexandria (died 217 AD) quotes the Greek of 5:35.
Besides the literature referred to above see Schurer, A Hist of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, II, iii, 93 ff (Ger. edition 4, III, 315 ff); the articles in HDB (Thackeray) and Encyclopedia Biblica (James); the New Sch-Herz under the word "Pseudepigrapha, Old Testament" (G. Beer), and in the present work under APOCRYPHA and APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE.
T. Witton Davies