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

The Vision of Esdras - Introduction

The Vision of Esdras, like The Assumption of Moses, is extant only in Latin; and when G. Mercati published his edition in 1901 he had to rely on a single MS (Vat. lat. 3838; 12th cent.). Seventy years later, by the time O. Wahl came to prepare his edition of all three of the Esdras apocrypha translated in the present collection, a second MS of the Vision had also become available (Linz, Bibliothek des Priesterseminars A I/6; 10th or 11th cent.). This second MS raised unexpected complications. When a second MS of the Apocalypse of Esdras was discovered, as we have seen, 1 Above, pp. 928–9. the effect was minimal, since the newly discovered MS was no more than a copy of the one already known. Not so with the new MS of the Vision. In the Vision there are several noteworthy divergencies in basic subjectmatter between the two MSS towards the end of the text (additional classes of sinners appear in the Linz MS which are absent from the Vatican): there are continual differences in wording throughout (especially in the order of words, even when the same words are used); and further, whereas in the Vatican MS the narrative refers consistently to Esdras in the third person, in the Linz MS Esdras almost invariably speaks of himself in the first. A specimen will serve to illustrate these last two points:

Vatican MS Linz MS
4 Veniebant viri fortissimi et transiebant flammam, 4 Veniebantque per se viri magni et transiebant flammam eius,
5 et non tangebat eos. Et dixit Esdras: 5 et non eos tangebat. Et interrogavi angelos, qui me ducebant:
Qui sunt isti, qui tam securi procedunt? Qui sunt isti, qui cum tanto gaudio procedunt?

How are these differences to be accounted for? If the Vision was originally written in Latin, did some later worthy tamper with, or ‘improve’, the author's text? Or, if Latin was not the original language, are we to suppose there were two independent translations of the same (presumably Greek) original? Or were there two (not necessarily independent) translations of two different recensions of the original? Wahl ventilated possibilities of this kind in his Introduction but, understandably, did not pursue them; and in the body of his work he printed the text of both MSS in parallel columns.

Wahl's typescript was ready for the Press when there came to his notice a further text of the Vision tucked away at the end of the first book of the Magnum Legendarium Austriacum in a late 12th cent. MS from Lower Austria (Heiligenkreuz, cod. 11), which had, in fact, already been edited by A. Mussafia as long ago as 1871. 2 A. Mussafia, Sulla visione di Tundalo (= Sitzungsberichte der phil.-hist. Classe der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 67 (Vienna, 1871), pp. 202–206). Fortunately, this additional evidence necessitated no serious rearrangement of his book as it then stood. The Heiligenkreuz codex aligned itself very definitely with Mercati's Vatican MS, though it was far from identical with it, so that all Wahl needed to do was to record its variants at the foot of his ‘Vatican’ column.

In the absence, therefore, of any established critical edition, and of any clear indication as to how such an edition might be established, it seemed that the wisest course for us was to base our own translation unreservedly on the Vatican MS (= V). From time to time, however, attention is drawn in the footnotes to any variants offered by either the Linz (= L) or Heiligenkreuz (= H) MSS that might either be important for the understanding of the document as a whole or be of interest in the interpretation of any particular passage.

That the Vision is related in some way to the Apocalypse of Esdras is clear enough. In both Vision and Apocalypse Esdras is taken on a tour of the nether regions to inspect the torments of the damned and conducted down a series of steps by angels. 3 Vis. Esdr. 2, 12, 58: cp. Apoc. Esdr. iv. 8, 13, 15, 19. In both he asks the angels who the particular individuals are that are undergoing particular punishments: he receives answers in the form ‘These are…’; and he then beseeches God for mercy on each particular class of sinner. Some of the punishments described in both books are, of course, similar, as is inevitable in this type of literature, and so also are some of the sinners; but especially significant for the relationship between the Vision and the Apocalypse are the descriptions in each of King Herod seated on ‘a fiery throne’, 4 Vis. Esdr. 37–39: cp. Apoc. Esdr. iv. 9–12. and the descriptions of the punishment of the incestuous – it is to be noted that in both Vision and Apocalypse this particular punishment is inflicted in ‘the south’. 5 Vis. Esdr. 19–21: cp. Apoc. Esdr. iv. 22–24. Attention may also be drawn to the passage at the end of the Vision, where Esdras refuses the angels' first offer to take him to heaven, where he compares man's lot on earth unfavourably with that of the animals, and where God replies ‘I fashioned man in my own image and I commanded them that they should not sin, and they did sin: that is why they are in torments'. There are parallels here, not only in the Apocalypse, but also in the Apocalypse of Sedrach and in 2 Esdras. 6 With Vis. Esdr. 56–57 cp. Apoc. Esdr. vi. 3–15 and Apoc. Sedr. ix. 1–3: with Vis. Esdr. 62 cp. Apoc. Esdr. i. 22 and 2 Esdr. vii. 65–66, viii. 29–30 : with Vis. Esdr. 63 cp. Apoc. Esdr. ii. 10–12, Apoc. Sedr. iv. 4–6, and 2 Esdr. iii. 5–7 .

None of these last parallels (nor, indeed, any of the others) are sufficiently close to demand direct literary dependence. They suggest rather that the Vision stands squarely in the Ezra apochryphal tradition and that it is essentially an independent re-working of some of the same material that found its way also into the Apocalypse (chaps. iv and v). When the Vision as a whole is compared with the other Ezra apocrypha, it looks very much as if the author was concerned to concentrate on one element only in the tradition – namely, the details of the torments of the damned. No doubt he has himself elaborated it and developed it. But the result has been that all the other elements in the tradition are virtually ignored. That is why, for instance, the fundamental question why God created man and then arranged things so that he suffers as he does (a question which is discussed at some length in the other Ezra apocrypha) gets in the Vision only a very cursory mention, and then only at the very end.

That the author was a Christian can hardly be denied. It is true that he is less obviously Christian than the author of the Apocalypse. He makes no mention of Christians as such, or of Christian worthies; and there are no explicit references in the Vision to the New Testament (other than to Herod ‘who in Bethlehem of Judaea killed young children because of the Lord’). On the other hand, there are references to ‘the Lord's Day’ (10), to ‘baptism’ (46), to the ‘Mass’ (10 LH), to ‘confession’ (26 VH, 36 VH, 64), and to ‘penance’ (36 VH, 64). And with this agrees the author's concentration on the torments in Hell. The Apocalypse of Peter (? 2nd cent.) provides a very early example of Christian interest in these matters, and the Apocalypse of Paul (xxxi–xliv) another, rather later (4th cent.).

About the date of the Vision it is impossible to say very much. If it was written in Latin, it could be as late as the 10th cent. (the date of the earliest MS). If, on the other hand, our Latin text is a translation of a Greek original, any date between the 5th and 9th centuries is possible. 7 In his edition Mercati drew attention to the fact that the phrase ‘because of the Lord’ (propter dominum), which occurs at the end of the description of Herod (38), is found also in one of the antiphons set in some breviaries for use at Lauds on Holy Innocents' Day. Does this mean that the author of the Vision wrote in Latin and was influenced by the Liturgy, or that a translator from Greek was so influenced, or that the phrase was added by a later copyist?

Notes:

1 Above, pp. 928–9.

2 A. Mussafia, Sulla visione di Tundalo (= Sitzungsberichte der phil.-hist. Classe der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 67 (Vienna, 1871), pp. 202–206).

3 Vis. Esdr. 2, 12, 58: cp. Apoc. Esdr. iv. 8, 13, 15, 19.

4 Vis. Esdr. 37–39: cp. Apoc. Esdr. iv. 9–12.

5 Vis. Esdr. 19–21: cp. Apoc. Esdr. iv. 22–24.

6 With Vis. Esdr. 56–57 cp. Apoc. Esdr. vi. 3–15 and Apoc. Sedr. ix. 1–3: with Vis. Esdr. 62 cp. Apoc. Esdr. i. 22 and 2 Esdr. vii. 65–66, viii. 29–30 : with Vis. Esdr. 63 cp. Apoc. Esdr. ii. 10–12, Apoc. Sedr. iv. 4–6, and 2 Esdr. iii. 5–7 .

7 In his edition Mercati drew attention to the fact that the phrase ‘because of the Lord’ (propter dominum), which occurs at the end of the description of Herod (38), is found also in one of the antiphons set in some breviaries for use at Lauds on Holy Innocents' Day. Does this mean that the author of the Vision wrote in Latin and was influenced by the Liturgy, or that a translator from Greek was so influenced, or that the phrase was added by a later copyist?

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