Esdras, First Book of
Esdras, First Book Of This is the first of the apocryphal books in the English translations of the Bible (viz., Coverdale, Matthews, Taverner, the Geneva Bible, Cranmer's Bible, the Bishops' Bible, the A.V.), which follow Luther and the translators of the Zurich version, who were the first that separated the apocryphal from the canonical books. It must, however, be observed that Luther himself never translated the apocryphal portions of Ezra, because he regarded them as unworthy of a place among the apocrypha (see below, sec. 5).
I. Title and Position. — This book has different titles.. In some editions of the Sept. it is called ὁ ῾Ιερεύς, the Priest (Cod. Alex.), which is equivalent to Ezra, who, by way of eminence, was styled "the priest" or "the scribe," in others it is designated ῎Εσδρας, Ezra, while in the Vatican and many modern editions of the Sept., as well as in the old Latin and the Syriac, it is called "the first book of Ezra," and accordingly is placed before the canonical Ezra, which is called "the second book of Ezra," because the history it gives is in part anterior to that given in the canonical Ezra. In the Vulg., again, where Ezra and Nehemiah are respectively styled the first and second book of Ezra, this apocryphal book, which comes immediately after them, is called "the third book of Ezra." Others, again, call it "the second book of Ezra" (Isidore, Origg. 6:2), because Ezra and Nehemiah, which it follows, were together styled "the first book of Ezra,"' according to a very ancient practice among the Jews, who, by putting the two canonical books together, obtained the same number of books in the Scriptures as the letters in the Hebrew alphabet; and others call it Pseudo-Ezra, in contradistinction to the canonical Ezra. The name first Esdras given to it in the A.V. is taken from the Geneva Bible; the older English translations (viz. Coverdale's Bible, Matthew's Bible, the Bishops' Bible), as well as the sixth article of the Church of England (1571), following Luther and the Zurich Bible, call it the third Esdra, according to the Vulg. Since the Council of Trent (1546), this book has been removed from its old position to the end of the volume in the Sixtine and Clementine editions of the Vulg. In the list of revisers or translators of the Bishops' Bible, sent by Archbishop Parker to Sir William Cecil, with the portion revised by each, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and the apocryphal books of Esdras seem to to all comprised under the one title of ESDRAS. Barlow, bishop of Chichester, was the translator, as also of the books of Judith, Tobias, and Sapientia (Corresp. of Archbp. Parker, Park. Soc. page 335).
II. Design and Contents. — The object of this book, as far as its original portion is concerned (3:50-5:6), is to excite the heathen rulers of Judaea to liberality and kindness towards the Jews, by depicting the good example of Darius, from whom Zerubbabel obtained permission, by the aid of wisdom, to return with his brethren to Palestine, and to rebuild the city and the Temple. This design is worked out in the following attractive story. Darius, having given a sumptuous feast to all his subjects in the second year of his reign, retired to rest (3:1-3); when asleep, his three bodyguards, Zerubbabel being one of them, proposed each to write a maxim stating what he thought was the most powerful thing, in the hope that the king would reward the wisest writer (verses 4-9). Accordingly, they all wrote: one said "Wine is the most powerful;" the other, "A king is the most powerful;" while Zerubbabel wrote, "Women are very powerful, but truth conquers all." The slips containing these maxims were put under the king's pillow, and were given to him when he awoke (verses 10-12). When he had read them he immediately sent for all his magnates, and, having read these maxims before them (verses 13-15), called upon the three youths to explain their sayings (ver. 16, 17). The first spoke elaborately about the great power which wine manifests in different ways (ver. 18-24); the second descanted upon the unlimited power of royalty, illustrating it by various examples (4:1-12); while Zerubbabel discoursed upon the mighty influence of women, frequently contravening the power of wine and monarchs, and then burst forth in praise of truth so eloquently, that all present exclaimed, "Great is truth, and mightiest above all things" (verses 13-41). Darius then offered to Zerubbabel anything he should ask (verse 42), whereupon he reminded the king of his vow to rebuild Jerusalem and return the sacred vessels when he ascended the throne (verses 43-47). The king stood up, kissed Zerubbabel, wrote to all officials to convey him and all his brethren to Palestine, and to supply all the necessary materials for the rebuilding of the Temple (verses 48-63).
This is preceded and followed by descriptions of events which present the whole as one continuous narrative, relating in historical order the restoration of the Temple-service first under Josiah, then under Zerubbabel, and finally under Ezra, and which are compiled from the records contained in the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and 'Nehemiah', as follows:
1. Chapter 1 corresponds to 2Ch 35; 2Ch 36, giving an account of Josiah's magnificent celebration of the. Passover-feast is the eighteenth month of his reign, and continuing the history till the Babylonien captivity.
2. Chapter 2:1-15, corresponds to Ezra 1:1-11, recording the return of the Jews from Babylon under the guidance of Sana bassarin the reign of Cyrus.
3. Chapter 2:16-30, corresponds to Ezr 4:7-24. giving an account of Artaxerxes' prohibition to build the Temple till the second year of Darius.
4. Chapter 3:50-5:6, contains the original piece.
5. Chapter 5:7-73, corresponds to Ezr 2:1-4:5, giving a list of the persons who returned with Zerubbabel, describing the commencement of the building of the Temple and the obstacles whereby it was interrupted "for the space of two years" until the reign of Darius.
6. Chapter 6:50-7:15, corresponds to Ezr 5:17-6:22, giving an account of the building of the Temple by Zerubbabel under Darius, of its. completion in the sixth year of this monarch's reign, and of the commencement of the Temple service.
7. Chapter 8:1-9:36, corresponds to Ezra 7:1-10:44, describing the return of Ezra with his colony, and the putting away of the strange wives. Chapter 9:37-55 corresponds to Ne 7:23-8:12, giving an account of Ezra's public reading of the law. The original piece around which all this clusters has evidently been the cause of this transposition and remodeling of the narrative contained in the canonical books. Having assumed that Zerubbabel returned to Jerusalem with a portion of his brethren in the second year of Darius, the compiler naturally placed Ezr 2:1-4:5, which gives the list of those that returned, after the original piece, for it belongs to Zerubbabel's time, according to 2:2, and the original piece he placed after Ezr 4:7-24, because Ezra (Ezr 4:24) led him to suppose that Artaxerxes reigned before Darius. Hence a twofold design in the compiler is discernible. One was to introduce and give scriptural sanction to the legend about Zerubbabel, which may or may not have a historical base, and may have existed as a separate work; the other was to explain the great obscurities of the book of Ezra, and to present the narrative, as the author understood it, in historical order, in which. however, he has signally failed. For, not to advert t innamerable other contradictions, the introducing of the opposition of the heathen, as offered to Zerubbabel after he had been sent to Jerusalem in such triumph by Darius, and the describing of that opposition as lasting "until the reign of Darius" (5:73), and as put down by an appeal to the decree of Cyrus, is such a palpable inconsistency as is alone sufficient quite to discredit the authority of the book. It even induces the suspicion that it is a farrago made up of scraps by several different hands. At all events, attempts to reconcile the different portions with each other, or with Scripture, is lost labor.
III. Unity and Original Language. — The above analysis of its contents shows that the book gives us a consecutive history de templi restitutione, as the old Latin tersely expresses it. It is, however, not complete in its present state, as is evident from the abrupt manner in which it concludes with Ne 8:12. We may therefore legitimately presume that the compiler intended to add Ne 8:13-18, and perhaps also chapter 9. Josephus, who follows the history given in this book, continues to speak of the death of Ezra (Ant. 11:5, 5), from which it may be concluded that it originally formed part of this narrative. More venturous are the opinions of Zunz, that Nehemiah 1-7 originally belonged to this book (Die
Gottesdienstl. Vortriige, page 29), and of Eichhorn, that 2 Chronicles 34 followed the abrupt breaking off (Einleitung in d. Apokr. page 345 sq.).
As to its original language, this compilation is undoubtedly made directly from the Hebrew, and not from other parts of the present Sept. This is evident from the rendering of לַבטֵי הָעָם by ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ λαοῦ, reading לַפטֵי (compare 1:11 with 2Ch 34:12), and of וכֹל כּלֵי מִחֲמִדֶּיהָ by καὶ συνετέλεσαν πάντα τὰ ἔνδοξα αὐτῆς, reading וכָלוּ כֹל (comp. 1:53 with 2Ch 36:19; see also 2:7-9 with Ezr 1:4,6; Ezr 2:17 with Ezr 4:9; Ezr 2:16 with Ezr 4:7; Ezr 2:24 with Ezr 4:16; Ezr 9:10 with Ezr 10:4), since these can only be accounted for on the supposition that the book was compiled and translated from the Hebrew. The translator, however, did not aim so much to be literal as to produce a version compatible with the Greek idiom. Hence he sometimes abbreviated the Hebrew (comp. 1:10 with 2Ch 35:10-12; 2Ch 2:15-16 with Ezr 4:7-11; Ezr 5:7 with Ezr 5:6-7; Ezr 6:4 with Ezr 5:3-4; Ezr 8:6 with Ezr 7:6; Ezr 8:14 with Ezr 7:17; Ezr 8:20 with Ezr 7:22), and sometimes tried to make it more intelligible by adding some words (comp. 1:56 with 2Ch 26:20; 2Ch 2:5 with Ezr 1:3; Ezr 2:9 with Ezr 1:4; Ezr 2:16 with Ezr 4:6; Ezr 2:18 with Ezr 4:12; Ezr 5:17 with Ezr 2:63; Ezr 5:17 with Ezr 3:1; Ezr 5:17 with Ezr 3:5; Ezr 5:17 with Ezr 4:1; Ezr 6:22 with Ezr 2:64; Ezr 6:8 with Ezr 4:14; Ezr 6:9 with Ezr 5:8; Ezr 7:9 with Ezr 6:18). The original portion, too, is a Palestinian production, embellished to suit the Alexandrian taste. The Hebrew forms of it may be seen in Josephus (Ant. 11:3, 1) and Josippon ben-Gorion (1, c. 6, page 47 sq., ed. Breithaupt).
IV. Author and Date. — As regards the time and place when the compilation was made, the original portion is that which alone affords much clew. This seems to indicate that the writer was thoroughly conversant with Hebrew, even if he did not write the book in that language. He was well acquainted, too, with the books of Esther and Daniel (1 Esdr. 3:1, 2 sq.), and other books of Scripture (ib. 20, 21, 39, 41, etc., and 45 compared with Ps 137:7). But that he did not live under the Persian kings, and was not contemporary with the events narrated, appears from the undiscriminating way in which he uses promiscuously the phrase Medes and Persians, or Persians and Medes, according as he happened to be imitating the language of Daniel or of the book of Esther. The allusion in 4:23 to "sailing upon the sea and upon the rivers," for the purpose of "robbing and stealing," seems to indicate a residence in Egypt, and an acquaintance with the lawlessness of Greek pirates there acquired. The phraseology of 5:73 savors also strongly of Greek rather than Hebrew. If, however, as seems very probable, the legend of Zerubbabel appeared first as a separate piece, and was afterwards incorporated into the narrative made up from the book of Ezra, this Greek sentence from ch. v would not prove anything as to the language in which the original legend was written. The expressions in 4:40, "She is the strength, kingdom, power, and majesty of all ages," is very like the doxology found in some copies of the Lord's Prayer, and retained by us, "Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever." But Lightfoot says that the Jews in the Temple service, instead of saying Amen, used this antiphon, Blessed be the Name of the Glory of His Kingdom forever and ever (Works, 6:427). Thus the resemblance may be accounted for by their being both taken from a common source.
Whoever the author was, he seems to have lived in Palestine (comp. 5:47), and certainly was a master of Greek, as is evident from his superior style; which resembles that of Symmachus, and from his successfully turning the Hebraisms into good Greek (comp. 8:5 with Ezr 8:17; Ezr 9:13 with Ezr 10:14). The compiler must have lived at least a century before Christ, since Josephus follows his narrative of the times of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ant. 11:5; 11:45). The book must therefore have existed for some time, and have acquired great reputation and authority, to make the Jewish historian prefer its description of those days to that of the canonical books.
V. Canonicity and Importance. — This book was never included in the Hebrew canon, nor is it to be found in the catalogues of the Hebrew Scriptures given by the early fathers, e.g. Melito, Origen, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, the Council of Laodicea, and many others; and St. Jerome emphatically warns us "not to take pleasure in the dreams of the 3d and 4th apocryphal books of Ezra" (Pref. in Esdr. et Nechum.). The councils of Florence (1438) and Trent (1546) decided against its canonicity. The reason of this last exclusion seems to be that the Tridentine fathers were not aware that it existed in Greek; for it is not in the Complutensian edition (1515), nor in the Biblia Regia. Vatablus (1540) had never seen a Greek copy, and, in the preface to the apocryphal books, speaks of it as only existing in some MSS. and printed Latin Bibles. Baduel also, a French Protestant divine
(Bibl. Crit.) (about 1550), says that he knew of no one who had ever seen a Greek copy. For this reason it seems it was excluded from the Canon, though it has certainly quite as good a title to be admitted as Tobit, Judith, etc. It has indeed been stated (Bp. Marsh, Compar. View. ap. Soames, Hist. of Ref. 2:608) that the Council of Trent, in, excluding the two books of Esdras, followed Augustine's Canon; but this is not so. Augustine (de Doctr. Christ. lib. 2:13) distinctly mentions among the libri canonici Esdrce duo; and that one of these was our 1st Esdras is manifest from the quotation from it given in his De Civit. Del. Hence it isalso sure that it was included among those pronounced as canonical by the third Council of Carthage, A.D. 397 or 419, where the same title is given, Esdrce lib i duo: here it is to be noticed by the way that Augustine and the Council of Carthage use the term canonical in a much broader sense than we do; and that the manifest ground of considering them canonical in any sense is their being found in the Greek copies of the Sept. in use at that time. Luther would not even translate it, "because there is nothing in it which is not better said by Esop in his Fables, or even in much more trivial books" (Vorrede auf den Baruch); the version given in the later editions of Luther's Bible is the work of Daniel Cramer, and the Protestant Church generally has treated it with great contempt, because it contradicts the canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. On the other hand, Josephus, as we have seen, regards it as a great authority, and it was treated with great reverence by the Greek and Latin fathers. St. Augustine mentions it among the canonical books (De Doctr. Christ. lib. 2:13), and quotes the famous passage, "Truth is the strongest" (chapter 3:12), as Ezra's prophecy respecting Christ (De Civitat. Dei, 18:16); the same sentence is quoted as Scripture by Cyprian (Epist. 74; comp. also Clemens Alexandrinus, Strom. 1; Athanasius, Orat. 3, cont. Arianos; Justin Martyr, Dial. cum Tryph.). Modern criticism has justly taken the middle course between treating it with contempt and regarding it as canonical, and has recognized in it an important auxiliary to the settling of the text, and to the adjusting of the facts recorded in Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, since this book has evidently been made from a different recension of the Hebrew, and has some readings and divisions preferable to those contained in the canonical books (comp. 5:9 with Ezr 2:12; Ezr 9:12 with Ezr 10:6; Ezr 9:15 with Ezr 10:16). Both Bertheau in his commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah (Exeget. Handb. part 18), and Fritzsche in his commentary on the apocryphal Ezra (Exeget. Handb. z. d. Apoir. part 1), have shown the important services which the canonical and uncanonical records may render to each other.
VI. There are no separate commentaries on the first book of Esdras, and the literature pertaining to it is given under foregoing heads.