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The Apocryphal Old Testament Collection of the most important non-canonical Old Testament books designed for general use.

The Apocalypse of Esdras - Introduction

Apart from the canonical Book of Ezra in the Old Testament, several apocryphal books bearing Ezra's name have been at one time or another known and esteemed in the Church.

In the MSS of the Greek Bible the book entitled ‘Esdras A’ represents a parallel version of the material contained in the canonical 2 Chron. xxxv–xxxvi , Ezra, and Nehemiah: there are two substantial omissions, one noteworthy addition, and a variety of minor variations both in order and in detail. There is no reason for thinking that Esdras A was derived directly from the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah, either in Hebrew or in Greek: in all probability it was a fresh Greek translation of a different recension of the Hebrew. In the Latin Bible it appears as ‘III Ezra’ (or Esdras), and it is now usually printed an an appendix after the New Testament. In the English Apocrypha it stands first as ‘l Esdras’. 1 ‘Esdras B’ of the Greek Bible is the translation of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah (reckoned as a single book). In the Latin tradition, however, it became the custom to distinguish them: hence in Latin Bibles ‘I Ezra’ (or Esdras) = the canonical Ezra and ‘II Ezra’ (or Esdras) = the canonical Nehemiah.

‘2 Esdras’, which stands next in our Apocrypha, is a completely independent work with complications of its own. In the Latin Bible it is identified as ‘IV Ezra’ (or Esdras), and in the modern editions follows ‘III Ezra’ in the appendix. The central part of the book (chaps. iii–xiv) is preserved not only in Latin, but also in not less than seven Oriental versions; and it is evident from quotations in the Fathers that there was at one time a Greek version as well. Most scholars regard chaps. iii–xiv (which are in form an apocalypse) as the original core, written by a Jew in either Hebrew or Aramaic about the end of the first cent. AD, to which were added subsequently chaps. i–ii as an introduction and chaps. xv–xvi as a conclusion. These additions now survive only in Latin, although a 4th cent. fragment of a Greek text of xv. 57–59 is known, having-been published in 1910. 2 Pap. Oxyr. 1010. Published by A. S. Hunt in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vii (1910), pp. 11–15. It is not uncommon, following the lead of some of the Latin MSS, to refer to these additions as ‘V Ezra’ (or Esdras) and ‘VI Ezra’ respectively.

Standing in the same tradition as 2 Esdras, of which they are plainly later developments, are the three Ezra books translated in this collection – viz. The Apocalypse of Esdras, The Vision of Esdras, and The Apocalypse of Sedrach. Other Ezra books which have not been included in the collection, but which may be mentioned, are: (1) a Syriac apocalypse, edited and translated into German by Baethgen in 1886, which is chiefly concerned with the duration of the rule of Islam; 3 See F. Baethgen, ‘Beschreibung der syrischen Handschrift “Sachau 131” auf der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin’ in ZAW vi (1886), pp. 199–210. (2) an Ethiopic apocalypse, edited and translated into French by Halévy in 1902, 4 J. Halévy, ‘Te'ezâza Sanbat (Commandements du Sabbat), accompagné de six autres écrits pseudo-épigraphiques’ (= Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études: section des sciences historiques et philologiques, fasc. cxxxvii (Paris, 1902), pp. xviii–xxii, 57–79, and 178–195). which reviews the whole course of human history from the days of Adam, dividing it into ‘weeks’, and assigning to Ethiopia and ‘the Son of the Lion’ a prominent place in the events just before the End; and (3) the Armenian ‘Inquiries made by the prophet Esdras of the Angel of the Lord concerning the Sons of Men’, the Armenian text of which was printed by Hovsepheantz in 1896 5 S. Hovsepheantz, A Treasury of Old and New Primitive Writers. Vol. I (Uncanonical Books of the Old Testament; Venice, 1896 ), pp. 300–304. and an English translation by Issaverdens in 1901. 6 J. Issaverdens, UWOT 2, pp. 503–509. This last has in general more in common with our three works than either the Syriac or Ethiopic apocalypses, in that in it Esdras enquires (and is informed) about what God has prepared for the righteous and for sinners ‘at the end of time’, but there are no points of contact in detail.

The Apocalypse of Esdras, with which we are immediately concerned, is known from two MSS. The first (Paris B.N. gr. 929; 15th cent.) contains a text in very poor condition. It was this text that C. Tischendorf used as the basis for his edition of 1866 , it being then the only text available. Subsequently a second text in another Paris MS (B.N. gr. 390; 16th cent.) was brought to light, but inasmuch as this text appears to have been copied directly from that in the earlier MS its critical value is minimal. Both, of course, were used by O. Wahl in his edition of 1977 .

The similarities between our apocalypse and what may be regarded as its model, 2 Esdras, are numerous. Both works grapple with the problem of evil and seek to justify the ways of God to man in the form and language of apocalyptic. God's justice is questioned, and his treatment of the righteous is contrasted with his treatment of the unrighteous. The fundamental question is asked, why was Adam allowed to sin? Man's state under judgement is claimed to be worse than that of the brute beasts. Deep concern is shown for sinners and Esdras pleads for them, that they may be spared, have time and opportunity to repent, and so gain the reward of their repentence. (In the Apocalypse, this concern is emphasised by the incident at the end, where Esdras refuses to surrender his soul and enjoy the eternal life which is promised him until he is satisfied about the fate of these who are being punished for their sins.)

On the other hand, there are few exact verbal parallels between the two works, so that it can hardly be maintained that the writer of the Apocalypse was using 2 Esdras as a source in the accepted sense of that word. The closest parallels are the dating of Esdras's vision in the Apocalypse in ‘the thirty-second year’ (i. 1; cp. 2 Esdr. iii. 1 ), the instruction to him to fast (i. 3–5; cp. 2 Esdr. v. 13, vi. 31, 35 ), the description of Adam as the work of God's hands followed by the details of how he was set in Paradise and there transgressed the Divine command (ii. 10–16; cp. 2 Esdr. iii. 5–7 ), and the repeated assertion that it were ‘better for man not to have been born than to come into the world’ (i. 6, 21, v. 9, 14; cp. 2 Esdr. iv. 12, vii. 116 ). Especially instructive in this connection is such a passage as Apoc. v. 12–13. Here a comparison is made between the ‘farmer’ who ‘sows wheat seed in the earth’ and ‘man’ who ‘sows his seed in the field of a woman’, and then the process of growth till the time of birth is described in detail. The passage, though intelligible, does not help the argument, and it is difficult to see why it has been placed where it is. The parallel at 2 Esdr. viii. 41 , however, is in form a parable (‘The farmer sows many seeds in the ground …, but not all the seeds sown come up … So too in the world of men: not all who are sown will be saved’). There the point is clear enough, the argument is illuminated, and the comparison fits the context admirably. We are left with the impression that the parable in 2 Esdras is primary and that somehow, in the tradition as it has been handed on by the author of the Apocalypse, the original point has been lost, although certain key-words have been preserved.

The Apocalypse as it stands is patently Christian, and, although attempts have been made to explain it as a fundamentally Jewish work with extensive Christian interpolations, 7 Thus, Riessler distinguished: (1) the Jewish base (i. 1–iii. 10; iii. 16–iv. 8; iv. 16–21; v. 6–vi. 2) and (2) the Christian interpolations (iii. 11–15; iv. 9–15; iv. 22–v. 5; vi. 3–vii. 16). they can hardly be said to have been successful. There can be little doubt that the author was a Christian, since Christian features are discernible on almost every page. For instance, Esdras pleads three times for ‘the race of Christians’, at i. 6, ii. 7, and v. 1: Paul and John are mentioned at i. 19 , ‘all the apostles’ at ii. 1 , and ‘Peter and Paul and Luke and Matthew’ in between ‘Enoch and Elias and Moses’ and ‘all the righteous and the patriarchs’ at v. 22: Mark xiii. 7–8, 12–13, 28–29, is clearly the source of iii. 12–13, while 1 Cor. xv. 52 is quoted in part at iv. 36.

There is a presumption, therefore, that our Greek text is not a translation but (apart from its corruptions) what the original author wrote. With this accords the close agreement of vii. 5–7 with the Septuagint Greek text of Isa. xl. 12 and Ps. cxxxvi. 25 .

Various dates have been suggested. James, for instance, thought the Apocalypse as late as the 9th cent. AD. 8 M. R. James, Apocrypha Anecdota (= TS II. iii; Cambridge, 1893 ), p. 113. Others have dated it earlier. 9 e.g. P. Batiffol (art. ‘Apocalypses apocryphes’ in F. Vigouroux Dictionaire de la Bible, I. ii (Paris, 1892), col. 765) suggested the 5th–8th cents. All that can safely be said is that if it stands in the same tradition as 2 Esdras and is indeed a later development of it, then the Apocalypse cannot be dated before c. AD 150 at the earliest. Against such an early date is the fact that there are no certainly identifiable quotations from the Apocalypse in any Father; nor is there any certain reference to it in any of the Scriptural lists (the ‘Apocalypse of Esdras’ mentioned at the very end of the Old Testament items in the List of Sixty Books may be to our Apocalypse, but it is much more probably a reference to 2 Esdras).

The translation which follows is made from the text as printed by Wahl. And in this connection it is worth observing that the late Greek style in which the Apocalypse is written has combined with the unsatisfactory condition of the MSS to make it extremely difficult in many passages to coax the text into yielding anything approaching a tolerable sense.

Notes:

1 ‘Esdras B’ of the Greek Bible is the translation of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah (reckoned as a single book). In the Latin tradition, however, it became the custom to distinguish them: hence in Latin Bibles ‘I Ezra’ (or Esdras) = the canonical Ezra and ‘II Ezra’ (or Esdras) = the canonical Nehemiah.

2 Pap. Oxyr. 1010. Published by A. S. Hunt in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, vii (1910), pp. 11–15.

3 See F. Baethgen, ‘Beschreibung der syrischen Handschrift “Sachau 131” auf der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin’ in ZAW vi (1886), pp. 199–210.

4 J. Halévy, ‘Te'ezâza Sanbat (Commandements du Sabbat), accompagné de six autres écrits pseudo-épigraphiques’ (= Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études: section des sciences historiques et philologiques, fasc. cxxxvii (Paris, 1902), pp. xviii–xxii, 57–79, and 178–195).

5 S. Hovsepheantz, A Treasury of Old and New Primitive Writers. Vol. I (Uncanonical Books of the Old Testament; Venice, 1896 ), pp. 300–304.

6 J. Issaverdens, UWOT 2, pp. 503–509.

7 Thus, Riessler distinguished: (1) the Jewish base (i. 1–iii. 10; iii. 16–iv. 8; iv. 16–21; v. 6–vi. 2) and (2) the Christian interpolations (iii. 11–15; iv. 9–15; iv. 22–v. 5; vi. 3–vii. 16).

8 M. R. James, Apocrypha Anecdota (= TS II. iii; Cambridge, 1893 ), p. 113.

9 e.g. P. Batiffol (art. ‘Apocalypses apocryphes’ in F. Vigouroux Dictionaire de la Bible, I. ii (Paris, 1892), col. 765) suggested the 5th–8th cents.

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