1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ezra, Third Book of

22727731911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10 — Ezra, Third Book ofRobert Henry Charles

EZRA, THIRD BOOK OF [1 Esdras]. The titles of the various books of the Ezra literature are very confusing. The Greek, the Old Latin, the Syriac, and the English Bible from 1560 onwards designate this book as 1 Esdras, the canonical books Ezra and Nehemiah being 2 Esdras in the Greek. In the Vulgate, however, our author was, through the action of Jerome, degraded into the third place and called 3 Esdras, whereas the canonical books Ezra and Nehemiah (see Ezra and Nehemiah, Books of, below) were called 1 and 2 Esdras, and the Apocalypse of Ezra 4 Esdras. Thus the nomenclature of our book follows, and possibly wrongly, the usage of the Vulgate.[1] In the Ethiopic version a different usage prevails. The Apocalypse is called 1 Esdras, our author 2 Esdras, and Ezra and Nehemiah 3 Esdras, or 3 and 4 Esdras. Throughout this article we shall use the best attested designation of this book, i.e. 1 Esdras.

Contents.—With the exception of one original section, namely, that of Darius and the three young men, our author contains essentially the same materials as the canonical Ezra and some sections of 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah. To the various explanations of this phenomenon we shall recur later. The book may be divided as follows (the verse division is that of the Cambridge LXX):—

Chap. i. = 2 Chron. xxxv. 1–xxxvi. 21.—Great passover of Josiah; his death at Megiddo. His successors down to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Captivity. (Verses i. 21-22 are not found elsewhere, though the LXX of 2 Chron. xxxv. 20 exhibits a very distant parallel.)

Chap. ii. 1-14 = Ezra i.—The edict of Cyrus. Restoration of the sacred vessels through Sanabassar to Jerusalem.

Chap. ii. 15-25 = Ezra iv. 6-24.—First attempt to rebuild the Temple: opposition of the Samaritans. Decree of Artaxerxes: work abandoned till the second year of Darius.

Chap. iii. 1–v. 6.—This section is peculiar to our author. The contest between the three pages waiting at the court of Darius and the victory of the Jewish youth “Zerubbabel,” to whom as a reward Darius decrees the return of the Jews and the restoration of the Temple and worship. Partial list of those who returned with “Joachim, son of Zerubbabel.”

Chap. v. 7-70 = Ezra ii.–iv. 5.—List of exiles who returned with Zerubbabel. Work on the Temple begun. Offer of the Samaritans’ co-operation rejected. Suspension of the work through their intervention till the reign of Darius.

Chap. vi. 1–vii. 9 = Ezra v. 1–vi. 18.—Work resumed in the second year of Darius. Correspondence between Sisinnes and Darius with reference to the building of the Temple. Darius’ favourable decree. Completion of the work by Zerubbabel.

Chap. vii. 10-15 = Ezra vi. 19-22.—Celebration of the completion of the Temple.

Chap. viii. 1–ix. 36 = Ezra vii.–x.—Return of the exiles under Ezra. Mixed marriages forbidden.

Chap. ix. 37-55 = Nehemiah vii. 73–viii. 12.—The reading of the Law.

Thus, apart from iii. 1–v. 3, which gives an account of the pages’ contest, the contents of the book are doublets of the canonical Ezra and portions of 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah. The beginning of the book seems imperfect, with its abrupt opening “And Josiah held the passover”: its conclusion is mutilated, as it breaks off in the middle of a sentence. As Thackeray suggests, it probably continued the history of the feast of Tabernacles described in Neh. viii.—a view that is supported by Joseph. Ant. xi. 5. 5, “who describes that feast using an Esdras word ἐπανόρθωσις and . . . having hitherto followed Esdras as his authority passes on to the Book of Nehemiah.”

Claims to Canonicity.—It would seem that even greater value was attached to 1 Esdras than to the Hebrew Ezra. (1) For in the best MSS. (BA) it stands before 2 Esdras—the verbal translation of the Hebrew Ezra and Nehemiah. (2) It is used by Josephus, who in fact does not seem aware of the existence of 2 Esdras. (3) 1 Esdras is frequently quoted by the Greek fathers—Clem. Alex., Origen, Eusebius, and by the Latin—Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine. The adverse judgment of the church is due to Jerome, who, from his firm attachment to the Hebrew Old Testament, declined to translate the “dreams” of 3 and 4 Esdras. This judgment influenced alike the Council of Trent and the Lutheran church in Germany; for Luther also refused to translate Esdras and the Apocalypse of Ezra.

Origin and Relation to the Canonical Ezra.—Various theories have been given as to the relation of the book and the canonical Ezra.

1. Some scholars, as Keil, Bissell and formerly Schürer, regarded 1 Esdras as a free compilation from the Greek of 2 Esdras (2 Chron. and Ezra-Nehemiah). This theory has now given place to others more accordant with the facts of the case.

2. Others, as Ewald, Hist. of Isr. v. 126-128, and Thackeray in Hastings’ Bible Dictionary, assume a lost Greek version of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, from which were derived 1 Esdras—a free redaction of the former and 2 Esdras. Thackeray claims that we have “a satisfactory explanation of the coincidences in translation and deviation from the Hebrew in 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras, if we suppose both are to some extent dependent on a lost Greek original.” But later in the same article Thackeray is compelled to modify this view and admit that 1 Esdras is not a mere redaction of a no longer extant version of the canonical books, but shows not only an independent knowledge of the Hebrew text but also of a Hebrew text superior in not a few passages to the Massoretic text, where 2 Esdras gives either an inaccurate version or a version reproducing the secondary Massoretic text.

3. Others like Michaelis, Trendelenburg, Pohlmann, Herzfeld, Fritzsche hold it to be a direct and independent translation of the Hebrew. There is much to be said in favour of this view. It presupposes in reality two independent recensions of the Hebrew text, such as we cannot reasonably doubt existed at one time of the Book of Daniel. Against this it has been urged that the story of the three pages was written originally in Greek (Ewald, Schürer, Thackeray). The only grounds for this theory are the easiness of the Greek style and the paronomasia in iv. 62 ἄνεσιν καὶ ἄφεσιν. But the former is no real objection, and the latter may be purely accidental. On the other hand there are several undoubted Semiticisms. Thus we have two instances Of the split relative οὗ . . . αὐτοῦ iii. 5; οὗ . . . ἐπ’ αὐτῷ iv. 63 and the phrase pointed out by Fritzsche τὰ δίκαια ποιεῖ ἀπὸ πάντων = עשה משפט מן. It must, however, be admitted that there are fewer Hebraisms in this section of the book than in the rest.

4. Sir H. H. Howorth in the treatises referred to at the close of this article has shown cogent grounds for regarding 1 Esdras as the original and genuine Septuagint translation, and 2 Esdras as probably that of Theodotion. For this view he adduces among others the following grounds: (i.) Its use by Josephus, who apparently was not acquainted with 2 Esdras. (ii.) Its precedence of 2 Esdras in the great uncials. (iii.) Its origin at a time when Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah formed a single work. (iv.) Its preservation of a better Hebrew text in many instances than 2 Esdras. (v.) The fact that 1 Esdras and the Septuagint of Daniel go back to one and the same translator, as Dr Gwynn (Dict. Christ. Biog. iv. 977) has pointed out (cf. 1 Esdr. vi. 31, and Dan. ii. 5).

This contention of Howorth has been accepted by Nestle, Cheyne, Bertholet, Ginsburg and other scholars, though they regard the question of an Aramaic original of chapters iii. 1–v. 6 as doubtful. Howorth’s further claim that he has established the historical credibility of the book as a whole and its chronological accuracy as against the canonical Ezra has not as yet met with acceptance; but his arguments have not been fairly met and answered.

5. Volz (Encyc. Bibl. ii. 1490) thinks that the solution of the problem is to be found in a different direction. The text is of unequal value, and the inequalities are so great as to exclude the supposition that the Greek version was produced aus einem Guss. iii. 1–v. 3 is an independent narrative written originally in Greek and itself a composite production, the praise of truth being an addition, vi. 1–vii. 15, ii. 15-25a is a fragment of an Aramaic narrative. Some in Josephus (Ant. xi. 4. 9) an account of Samaritan intrigues is introduced immediately after 1 Esdras vii. 15, it is natural to infer that something of the same kind has fallen out between vi. and ii. 15-25. The Aramaic text behind 1 Esdras here is better than that behind the canonical Ezra. Next, viii.-ix. is from the Ezra document (= Ezra vii.-x.; Neh. vii. 73, viii. 1 sqq.), though implying a different Hebrew text. ii. 1-15; v. 7-73; vii. 2-4, 6-15 are from the Chronicles: likewise i. is from 2 Chron. xxxv.-vi., 2 Esdras being at the same time before the translator.

Date.—The book must be placed between 300 B.C. and A.D. 100, when it was used by Josephus. It is idle to attempt any nearer limits until definite conclusions have been reached on the chief problems of the book.

MSS. and Versions.—The book is found in B and A. The latter seems to have preserved the more ancient form of the text, as it is generally that followed by Josephus. The Old Latin in two recensions is published by Sabatier, Bibliorum sacrorum Latinae versiones antiquae, iii. Another Latin translation is given in Lagarde (Septuag. Studien, ii., 1892). In Syriac the text is found only in the Syro-Hexaplar of Paul of Tella (A.D. 616). See Walton’s Polyglott. There is also an Ethiopic version edited by Dillmann (Bibl. Vet. Test. Aeth. v., 1894) and an Armenian.

Literature.—Exegesis: Fritzsche, Exeget. Handb. zu den Apokr. (1851); Zöckler, Die Apokryphen, 155-161 (1891); Bissell in Lange-Schaff’s Comm. (1880); Lupton in Speaker’s Comm. (1888); Ball, notes to 1 Esdr. in the Variorum Apocrypha. Introduction and critical Inquiries: Trendelenburg, “Apocr. Esra,” in Eichhorn’s Allgem. Bibl. der bibl. Litt. i. 178-232 (1787); Pohlmann, “Über das Ansehen der apokr. dritten Buchs Esras,” in Tübingen Theol. Quartalschrift, 257-275 (1859); Sir H. Howorth, “Character and Importance of 1 Esdras,” in the Academy (1893), pp. 13, 60, 106, 174, 326, 524; and further studies entitled “Some Unconventional Views on the Text of the Bible,” in the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, 1901, pp. 147-159; 306-330, 1902, June and November.  (R. H. C.) 

  1. “At the Council of Trent (when the Septuagint Canon was virtually accepted as authoritative), by a most curious aberration, Esdras iii. and iv. and the Epistle of Manasseh were alone excluded from the canon and remitted to our appendix.”—Howorth, “Unconventional Views on the Text of the Bible,” in the P.S.B.A., 1901, p. 149.