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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

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2 Esdras - Introduction

Second Esdras is a composite book, containing three works of different origins. The central part of the book, chs. 3–14 , is usually referred to as 4 Ezra. Fourth Ezra is an apocalypse, * a narrative * in which an angel transmits to a human character revelations concerning the divine plan of history and the supernatural world. It was probably written in Hebrew by a Jew from Judea, in about 100 CE. It was translated into Greek before the end of the second century and was preserved only by Christians. Although both the Hebrew and Greek versions (except for a few verses of the Greek) have been lost, 4 Ezra is preserved in eight different translations from the Greek. The Latin and Syriac * translations are generally considered to be the most accurate reflections of the original text. Although 4 Ezra appears in many early biblical manuscripts of the Eastern Christian churches (often preceding or following the canonical * books of Ezra and Nehemiah), it is no longer regarded as canonical scripture in any church except the Armenian, where its canonical status is debated.

Chapters 1–2 , which scholars now call 5 Ezra, and 15–16, called 6 Ezra, are later works that were attached to 4 Ezra only in the Latin versions. The combination of 4, 5, and 6 Ezra, which appears under the title 4 Esdras in the appendix to the Vulgate, * is now called 2 Esdras and is considered part of the Apocrypha * by both Protestants and Roman Catholics. Both 5 and 6 Ezra appear to be Christian compositions in their current form, although some scholars believe that they were originally Jewish compositions that were substantially revised by Christian editors. Sixth Ezra was composed in Greek, some time after 260 CE, probably in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. It was probably not intended to be an appendix to 4 Ezra, but if it had its own introduction, this was removed when it was translated into Latin and joined to 4 Ezra. Fifth Ezra gives no clue as to its place of origin, but it was written either in Greek or Latin sometime between 130 and 250 CE, with most scholars favoring a date around 150. Fifth Ezra also circulated independently of 4 Ezra, and was connected to 4 Ezra sometime after 6 Ezra. Nevertheless, the author of 5 Ezra may have known 4 Ezra, and it is possible to read 5 Ezra as an early Christian response to issues raised by 4 Ezra. The genre * of both 5 and 6 Ezra is best described as oracular * (containing statements attributed to God) or prophetic (resembling the prophets * of the Hebrew Bible) rather than apocalyptic, * although both look forward to the end of the world. Fifth Ezra contains a brief apocalypse ( 2.42–48 ), however. The two Latin text families of 2 Esdras differ the most for 5 Ezra, and some of the variant readings presented in the textual notes probably reflect the original text of 5 Ezra.

The author of 4 Ezra gives expression to a “crisis of faith” that was provoked by the destruction of the Second Temple * by the Romans in 70 CE. Other Jewish texts written in response to this catastrophic event (such as 2 Baruch and the Apocalypse of Abraham) reflect a similar mood of anguish and theological doubt. Fourth Ezra, however, poses a more serious challenge to theodicy * than any other Jewish writing except Job. The author of 4 Ezra even calls into question the central Jewish belief in the covenant * between God and Israel, although in the end he seems to affirm this belief. The author of 5 Ezra, on the other hand, takes the position that the covenant has been revoked from Israel and transferred to “another people,” presumably the Christians. Fifth Ezra seems to come from a Christian community that feels the need to separate itself from its Jewish background or surroundings. Sixth Ezra appears to have been written during a period of intense persecution of the author's community by the Romans.

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