THE BOOK OF 4 EZRA
Handout for a lecture on 19 April 2002
By James R. Davila
TEXT AND TRANSMISSION1. (Hebrew 2 Esdras 3-14 [=4 Ezra]) -->(Greek)-->Latin
2. (Greek 2 Esdras 1-2 [5 Ezra] and 2 Esdras 15-16 [6 Ezra])-->Latin
3. Latin of 2 Esdras 1-16 combined into single work
4. (Greek 4 Ezra)-->Syriac/Ethiopic/Coptic/Arabic1 & 2/Armenian/Georgian
- The Hebrew is lost (if the work was not actually composed in LXX-style Greek to begin with)
- The Greek is lost, apart from three patristic quotations
- The Greek translation underwent several redactions
- Major Christian alterations include: 7:28 "Jesus"(Latin); 7:28-29 "30 years" (Syriac) 6:1 "Son of Man" (Ethiopic); 13:35 "And a man will arise on Golgotha, which is at Zion" (Arabic2); deletion of Ezra's ascent (14:48b) in Latin. Armenian introduces more drastic changes in 6:1 and 13:32-40. See Bergren for details.
- All surviving copies of 4 Ezra are in a Bible or collections of biblical material
THE DATE OF COMPOSITION IS C. 100 C.E.
- Earliest complete MSS: Syriac, 6th century; Latin, 9th century
- Sahidic Coptic fragments, 6th-8th centuries.
- Quoted often in Latin by Ambrose in the late fouth century; and 5:35 is quoted in Greek by Clement of Alexandria in the late second century
- 3:1 - 30th year (after destruction in 70 C.E.?)
- No allusions to Bar Kokhba revolt in 132-135 C.E.
- Eagle vision in 11-12 is usually understood to belong in context of late 1st century C.E. But note that DiTommaso argues that Eagle Vision dates to c. 218 C.E (reign of Septimus Severus), although composed originally c. 100 and updated and redacted such that original is irrecoverable. If he is correct, this is an important example of a Christian addition to an OT Pseudepigraphon which entirely lacks Christian signature features.
JEWISH SIGNATURE FEATURESNumerous and pervasive. Some examples:
- Nationalist: 3:33-36; 4:23; 5:26-30; 6:55-59; 7:10-14
- The Torah: 5:27; 7-, , ; 8:56; 9:29-37; 13:42; 14:21-22
THE PROBLEM OF THEODICY IN 4 EZRA (a survey of selected approaches)The Problem: Ezra has the stronger argument and Uriel never refutes it, yet Ezra is converted to Uriel's view.
Box (OTP) - Source-critical approach. Breaks 4 Ezra down into the following sources:
- 1. Salathiel Apocalypse (chaps 1-10 - Ezra Apocalypse material)
- 2. Extracts from the Ezra Apocalypse (4:52-5:13a; 6:13-29; 7:26-44; 9:63-9:12)
- 3. Eagle Vision (11-12)
- 4. Son of Man Vision (13)
- 5. An Ezra-Piece (14)
- 6. The Redactor combined and adapted 1-5 above to make 4 Ezra.
Breech - Box's approach treats 4 Ezra as a heap of fragments. Breech proposes the following coherent reading of the work:
- 3:1-9:22 - A "triptych of dialogues with Uriel, setting out the problem of the desolation of Zion
- 9:24-13:58 - The consolation of Ezra. A series of visions that console Ezra without actually addressing his initial questions
- 14:1-38 - A necessary epilogue in which Ezra mediates the revelation to his community
Merkur and Stone (esp. Hermeneia Commentary, "On Reading an Apocalypse," and "Apocalyptic--Vision or Hallucination?") - Focus on the importance of revelatory experience to make sense of 4 Ezra. They show that Ezra is presented as having an overwhelming visionary experience amounting to a religious conversion. The descriptions of Ezra's experience correspond to practices that do in fact generate visionary experiences. This may reflect practices and a conversion event actually undertaken and experienced by the author.
Longenecker (1991) - reads 4 Ezra along the following lines:
SOCIAL CONTEXT (some perspectives)Esler - 4 Ezra is an example of literature produced by an indigenous people confronted by a colonial power, the goal of which is to reduce cognitive dissonance raised by the discrepancy between the people's expectation of divine vindication and what actually happens to them (Jewish belief in divine election vs. the Roman conquest of Judea). Cf. Maoir Ringatu movement and Handsome Lake's Iroquois millennial movement. Vision sidesteps reason in chap. 14.
Longenecker (1997) - 4 Ezra is not sectarian (it defends Israel as a whole and not a subgroup within it) and is aimed at a learned prerabbinic group in post-70 C.E. Yavneh (Jabneh), instructing them to teach the people to manage their grief, follow the Torah, and avoid militant eschatological activism.
EZRA TRADITIONS IN JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITYSome highlights from Kraft's article:
- Broadly two views of Ezra in antiquity
1. A priest who led a return from Babylon to Judea and who was a scribe who reintroduced the Torah (Ezra, Nehemiah, I Esdras, Justin, Epiphanius, etc.)
2. A prophet who consorted with angels, received apocalyptic secrets, and restored the lost scriptures (4-6 Ezra, Greek Apocalypse of Ezra, Coptic Apocryphon of Jeremiah, Clement, Malalas, etc.)
- Unclear if these were originally the same figure and, if not, which came first
- The biblical chronologies are unclear and there is textual confusion regarding where and when Ezra appeared
- Ben Sira does not mention Ezra
- 4 Ezra 3:1 gives Ezra the name Salathiel, unknown from elsewhere
BIBLIOGRAPHYAs per the course bibliography for 4 Ezra
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.