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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Texts Probably Composed in Hebrew or Aramaic

2 Esdras

The work entitled 2 Esdras in the Apocrypha is included in the Slavonic Bible as 3 Esdras and in the Appendix to the Vulgate as 4 Esdras, but, as noted previously, does not survive in Greek. It is composite in origin. The main part, which consists of chapters 3–14 and is more commonly known as 4 Ezra, is a Jewish apocalypse and dates from towards the end of the first century CE. Chapters 12 (known as 5 Ezra) and chapters 15–16 (known as 6 Ezra) are Christian supplements, and date from the second and third centuries respectively (cf. Knibb 1979: 76–8, 110, 183–4). The complete work (chapters 1–16) survives only in a Latin translation (and in some versions dependent on a late form of the Latin), but translations of chapters 3–14 (4 Ezra) also exist in Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Arabic (in two different forms), Armenian, and in a fragment of a Coptic version—all directly dependent on a Greek version (see below)—as well as in a number of versions dependent on the Latin and in a third Arabic version dependent on the Syriac. A very clear overview of all the textual evidence for 2 Esdras 3–14 (4 Ezra) is given by Stone (1990: 1–11; cf. Denis 2000a: i. 828–46), and what follows is primarily concerned with this part of 2 Esdras.

Although it has been disputed, it is now universally accepted that the versions of 4 Ezra are all directly or indirectly dependent on a now lost Greek version. That such a Greek text did once exist is clear both on the grounds of general probability—the analogy provided by the textual histories of the other apocryphal books—and from the fact that there are in existence a small number of quotations from the Greek (for the text of these, see Denis 1970; cf. Denis 2000a: i. 828–31). Further confirmation of the existence of such a Greek text has been provided by the analysis by Mussies of Graecisms in the Latin version (1974). However, it is also clear that the Greek text that lay behind the versions was itself a translation from a Semitic original. It has been argued that 4 Ezra was written in Aramaic, but in the light of the number of Hebraisms that are still discernible in the Latin text, it is generally accepted that the language of composition was Hebrew, albeit a Hebrew subject to Aramaic influence; see the list of Hebraisms given by Violet 1924: pp. xxxi–xxxix; cf. Stone 1990: 10–11; Klijn 1983: 9–11.

The most important of the versions that were translated directly from the Greek divide into two groups: on the one hand the Latin and the Syriac, on the other the Georgian, the Ethiopic, and the fragment of the Coptic. Of these it is generally the case that it is the first group, and in particular the Latin, that is the most important, and it is on the Latin, as edited by Weber (1969: ii. 1931–74), that the NRSV translation was primarily based, although account was also taken of the other versions that are directly dependent on the Greek. Apart from Weber, important editions of the Latin text were published by Bensly (1895) and Violet (1910); the most recent edition is that of Klijn (1983). The manuscripts of the Latin version were divided by James (in the Introduction to Bensly's edition (1895: pp. xxi–xxii)) into two families or recensions, one French, the other Spanish, and for 4 Ezra the French family normally represents the more original form of the text (cf. Violet 1910: p. xxiv). There are a significant number of quotations in the Latin Fathers, in particular in the writings of Ambrose; see the list in Violet 1910: pp. xliv–xlvi; cf. Klijn 1983: 93–7.

The Syriac text has been edited by Bidawid (1973) for the Leiden edition on the basis of the only complete manuscript known to exist. However, a complete Arabic version based on the Syriac is now also known (Stone 1990: 6). For the remaining versions, it may be noted that Violet's edition of the Latin text (1910) was accompanied by translations in parallel columns of the other major versions directly dependent on the Greek (Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic (in two forms), and Armenian). This work has now largely been superseded by that of Klijn (1992), which provides a German translation of the Latin text and, in an apparatus under the translation, the variants of the three most important versions (Syriac, Ethiopic, and Georgian) in German translation.

5 Ezra and 6 Ezra survive only in Latin, and in some versions dependent on a late form of the Latin. There is good evidence that 6 Ezra was composed in Greek—and a fourth-century papyrus fragment of the Greek text of 15: 57–9 does survive—but although it is probable that 5 Ezra was composed in Greek, composition in Latin cannot be excluded (see Bergren 1990: 306–8; 1998: 17–18; Wolter 2001: 784–5, 828–9). There are significant differences between the French and Spanish recensions of these two books, including the fact that in the former the three works occur in the order 5 Ezra, 4 Ezra, 6 Ezra, in the latter in the order 4 Ezra, 6 Ezra, 5 Ezra. For 6 Ezra the French recension is more original than the Spanish, but for 5 Ezra the Spanish recension is older, and the French represents an inner-versional improvement of this (see Bergren 1990: 207–11; 1998: 89–92; Wolter 2001: 773–4; cf. already James in Bensly 1895: pp. lxxvii–lxxviii). However, in 5 Ezra the differences between the two recensions are such that Wolter gives translations of both in parallel columns. For the Latin text of 5 and 6 Ezra, see Bensly 1895: 83–92; Bergren 1990: 335–99; 1998: 161–225.

Denis (2000b: i. 870–1), with reference to Basset (1899), states that 5 and 6 Ezra both exist in Ethiopic, but this is not so; the translations given by Basset (1899: 114–39), to which Denis refers, are explicitly said to be of the Latin version (cf. also Basset 1899: 6, 18).

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