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2 Esdras is the name of this book in many English versions of the Bible, but it is called 4 Esdras in the Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims Bible. It is called 3 Esdras in Slavonic, and 3 Ezra in the Georgian Bible. Some scholars refer to it as Latin Esdras while modern scholars usually refer to it as 4 Ezra (sometime splitting it in 5-4-6 Ezra, being 5 and 6 Ezra later Christian additions) to avoid confusion between Esdras and Ezra.
For the book called 2 Esdras in the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims Bible, see Book of Nehemiah. For the book called 2 Esdras (Εσδράς Β') in the Septuagint, see the articles on Book of Ezra and Book of Nehemiah. For the book called 2 Esdras in Russian Bibles, see the article on 1 Esdras.
Naming, numbering, and language
As with 1 Esdras, there is some confusion about the numbering of this book. Some early Latin manuscripts call it 3 Esdras, and Jerome denoted it 4 Esdras. Once Jerome's 1 and 2 Esdras were denoted Ezra and Nehemiah in more recent times, the designation 2 Esdras became common in English Bibles. It appears in the Appendix to the Old Testament in the Slavonic Bible, where it is called 3 Esdras, and the Georgian Bible numbers it 3 Ezra, with Ezra being called 1 Esdras and the Septuagint 1 Esdras being labeled as 2 Esdras.
The first two chapters of 2 Esdras are found only in the Latin version of the book, and are called 5 Ezra by scholars. They are considered by most scholars to be Christian in origin; they assert God's rejection of the Jews and describe a vision of the Son of God. These are generally considered to be late additions (possibly third century) to the work.
Chapters 3-14, or the great bulk of 2 Esdras, are a Jewish apocalypse also sometimes known as 4 Ezra, or the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra. The latter name should not be confused with a later work called the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra.
Among Greek Fathers of the Church, 4 Ezra is generally cited as Προφήτης Εσδρας ("The Prophet Esdras") or Αποκάλυψις Εσδρα ("Apocalypse of Ezra"). Wellhausen, Charles, and Gunkel have shown that the original composition was in Hebrew, which was translated into Greek, and then to Latin, Armenian, Ethiopia and Georgian, but the Hebrew and Greek editions have been lost.
Slightly differing Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Georgian, and Armenian translations have survived; the Greek version can be reconstructed (without absolute certainty, of course) from these different translations, while the Hebrew text remains a bit more elusive.
The Ethiopian Church considers 4 Ezra to be canonical, and calls it Izra Sutuel (ዕዝራ ሱቱኤል); it was also often cited by the Fathers of the Church. In the Eastern Armenian tradition it is called 3 Ezra.
4 Ezra consists of seven visions of Ezra the scribe. The first vision takes place as Ezra is still in Babylon. He asks God how Israel can be kept in misery if God is just. The archangel Uriel is sent to answer the question, responding that God's ways cannot be understood by the human mind. Soon, however, the end would come, and God's justice would be made manifest. Similarly, in the second vision, Ezra asks why Israel was delivered up to the Babylonians, and is again told that man cannot understand this and that the end is near. In the third vision Ezra asks why Israel does not possess the world. Uriel responds that the current state is a period of transition. Here follows a description of the fate of evil-doers and the righteous. Ezra attempts to intercede for the condemned, but is told that no one can escape his destiny.
The next three visions are more symbolic in nature. The fourth is of a woman mourning for her only son, who is transformed into a city when she hears of the desolation of Zion. Uriel says that the woman is a symbol of Zion. The fifth vision concerns an eagle with three heads and twenty wings (twelve large wings and eight smaller wings "over against them"). The eagle is rebuked by a lion and then burned. The explanation of this vision is that the eagle refers to the fourth kingdom of the vision of Daniel, with the wings and heads as rulers. The final scene is the triumph of the Messiah over the empire. The sixth vision is of a man, representing the Messiah, who breathes fire on a crowd that is attacking him. This man then turns to another peaceful multitude, which accepts him.
Finally, there is a vision of the restoration of scripture. God appears to Ezra in a bush and commands him to restore the Law. Ezra gathers five scribes and begins to dictate. After forty days, he has produced ninety-four books: the twenty-four books of the Tanakh and seventy secret works. (This vision is omitted in the Latin translation of the text):
- "Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people." (2 Esdras 14:45–46 RSV; 4 Ezra 12:45–46)
Most Latin editions of the text have a large lacuna of seventy verses between 7:35 and 7:36 due to the fact that they trace their common origin to one early manuscript, Codex Sangermanensis, which was missing an entire page. In 1895 Bensly and James published a critical edition restoring the lost verses; it is this edition that is used in the Stuttgart edition of the Vulgate. The restored verses are numbered 7:36 to 7:106, with the former verses 7:37-7:69 renumbered to 7:107-7:137.
The last two chapters, also called 6 Ezra by scholars, and found in the Latin, but not in the Eastern texts, predict wars and rebuke sinners. Many assume that they probably date from a much later period (perhaps late third century) and may be Christian in origin; it is possible, though not certain, that they were added at the same time as the first two chapters of the Latin version. It is possible that they are Jewish in origin; however, 15:57-59 have been found in Greek, which most scholars agree was translated from a Hebrew original.
Author and criticism
The main body of the book appears to be written for consolation in a period of great distress (most likely Titus' destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70) according to the modern theory. The author seeks answers, similar to Job's quest for understanding the meaning of suffering but the author doesn't like or desire only the answer that was given to Job.
Critics question whether even the main body of the book, not counting the chapters that exist only in the Latin version and in Greek fragments, has a single author. Kalisch, De Faye, and Charles hold that no fewer than five people worked on the text. However, Gunkel points to the unity in character and holds that the book is written by a single author; it's even possible that the so-called "Christian" chapters were originally in the work. However it has also been suggested that the author of II Esdras wrote the Apocalypse of Baruch. In any case, the two texts (we don't have the original texts of these works so we really can't say for certain) may date from about the same time, and one almost certainly depends on the other.
Critics have widely debated the origin of the book. Hidden under two layers of translation it is impossible to determine if the author was Roman, Alexandrian, or Palestinian.
The scholarly interpretation of the eagle being the Roman Empire (the eagle in the fifth vision, whose heads might be Vespasian, Titus and Domitian if such is the case) and the destruction of the temple would indicate that the probable date of composition lies toward the end of the first century, perhaps 90–96, though some suggest a date as late as 218.
The book is considered one of the gems of Jewish apocalyptic literature. While it was not received into European Christian canons, the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra i.e. 2 Esdras 3-14 is regarded as Scripture in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and it was also widely cited by early Fathers of the Church, particularly Ambrose of Milan.
The introitus of the traditional Requiem in the Catholic Church is loosely based on 2:34-35: "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them." Several other liturgical prayers are taken from the book. In his Vulgate, Clement VIII placed the book in an appendix after the New Testament with the rest of the Apocrypha, "lest they perish entirely".
- Including KJB, RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, and GNB
- NETBible, Apocalyptic Esdras
- '4 Ezra is the title used in modern English translations as in Charlesworth's (ISBN 038509630). See also bibliography there.
- see for example B.M. Metzger the Fourth Book of Ezra in ed. Charlesworth The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol 1 (1983), ISBN 038509630, pag 517
- Article from Early Jewish Writings
- Biblia Sacra Vulgata, 4th edition, 1994, ISBN 3-438-05303-9.
- Clementine Vulgate, Note to the Appendix
- Vision of Ezra
Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version, O.T. Part 2 at Project Gutenberg . (See in the appendix: The Fovrth Booke of Esdras in a 1610 translation. Also included is Robert Lubbock Bensly's 1874 translation of a "rediscovered" 70-verse fragment (7:36-105) on a page that was omitted from the 1610 translation, though present in all earlier versions.)
- Revised Standard Version (includes the missing page with 7:36-105)
- 2 Esdras at earlyjewishwritings.com
- Latin text of 2 (4) Esdras
- World Wide Study Bible: 2 Esdras
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Esdras: THE BOOKS OF ESDRAS: IV Esdras
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Esdras, Books of: II Esdras
- King James version of 2 Esdras.
- Ezra/Esdras Chart