The book today termed 2 Esdras is not in the Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox canon. It was written too late to be included in the Septuagint, but it was in an appendix to the Vulgate, and it is also found among the Apocrypha in the King James Version and Revised Standard Version. See the entry for 1 Esdras for a chart clarifying the nomenclature.
Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The work known as 2 Esdras is in fact three separate compositions. In them Ezra functions not as the architect of Israel's return from exile but rather as a prophet and a visionary. In 2 Esdras 1-2 (also known as 5 Ezra) Ezra prophesies about God's rejection of Israel as God's people and its replacement by the Church. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the mid-second century C.E. In 2 Esdras 3-14 (also known as 4 Ezra) Ezra engages in dialogue about the meaning of Israel's sufferings and is granted visions that reveal what God is going to do in the near future on Israel's behalf. This is a Jewish work written in Hebrew around 100 C.E. The material contained in 2 Esdras 15-16 (also known as 6 Ezra) consists of oracles of doom against the enemies of God's people (the Church) and advice on how those enduring persecution should behave. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the third century C.E." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 185)
Michael E. Stone writes: "We can be more confident about the circumstances of the composition of 4 Ezra. The book stems from the last decade of the first century A.D. and was composed in reaction to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Its primary concern, therefore, is to understand that traumatic event. To do this the book charts Ezra's development from distress to consolation. This development is paralleled by his growth as a visionary until, by the end of the sixth vision, he is designated a prophet. Full consolation has also brought full prophetic status. Thus another major concern of the book, the restoration of the tradition of secrets concerning the eschaton, or end-time, is made possible by Ezra's consolation." (Harper's Bible Commentary, pp. 776-777)
Marjorie L. Kimbrough writes: "While Ezra is talking to the woman and imploring her to shake off her great sadness, her face begins to shine and flash like lightning. When she cries out, the earth shakes, and Ezra is frightened. Then the woman disappears and in her place Ezra sees a city being built, and he cries out in fear for the angel Uriel (10:25-28). The angel comes to him and tells him to 'stand up like a man' and abandon his fear. Uriel explains that the woman represents Jerusalem; her barrenness represents the many years during which there was no temple of offering to God; the years of care given to the son represent the years of Jewish residence in Jerusalem; her son's death represents the destruction that befell Jerusalem; and Ezra's compassion for her allowed him to see the brilliance of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, representing the hope that awaits those who accept the commands of God (10:29-54)." (Stories Between the Testaments, pp. 122-123)
Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The narrative setting of 4 Ezra is the Babylonian exile in 557 B.C.E. Despite the fact that the historical Ezra led a group of returnees to Jerusalem some 100 or 150 years later, here he serves as the spokesman for the Jewish exiles in the sixth century B.C.E. However, the historical setting of 4 Ezra's composition seems to be the late first century C.E. This becomes most obvious in the vision of the eagle and the lion (11:1-12:51) where the eagle is clearly Rome and there are abundant references to the Roman emperors of the first century C.E. And so the Babylonian exile of the sixth century B.C.E. becomes the literary occasion for exploring the theological issues raised by the recent destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. under the Romans. The eagle vision reaches its climax with reference to the three 'heads'the late first-century C.E. Roman emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitianwho were responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and for the harassment of Jews afterward. Thus it appears that 4 Ezra was composed around 100 C.E. in the expectation of the imminent end of 'this age' (and the Roman empire) and the beginning of 'the age to come' (and the vindication of the righteous within Israel)." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, pp. 189-190)
David A. deSilva writes: "The focus of the vision, particularly underscored by the Messiah's indictment of the eagle during the reign of the third head, has led most scholars to suggest that the book was written during the last years of Domitian's reign. It is not to be inferred from this, however, that the author expected the end to come during that reign (Longenecker 1995: 13), for the text allows two puny wings to rule the empire in succession after the third head disappears (12:1-3). In fact, Domitian was succeeded by Nerva, an old senator whose reign was 'puny' (96-98 C.E.). Here the 'prophecy' fails, however, since the second puny wing, Trajan, turns out to be the most successful emperor since Augustus himself, reigning twenty years and expanding the empire's boundaries to their furthest reach. It is therefore quite possible that the author wrote during Nerva's reign or even at the beginning of Trajan's, which would bring us up to 100 C.E., the 'thirtieth year' after Jerusalem's destruction (see 3:1). If this is true, then it would be quite significant that the author presents the indictment of Rome by God's Messiah as an event already accomplished: the verdict had been rendered, and the sentence will soon be carried out." (Introducing the Apocrypha, pp. 331-332)
Raymond E. Brown writes of chs. 3-14: "This is the Apocalypse of Ezra, sometimes called 4 Ezra. By far the most important part of 2 Esdras, it is a Jewish work of about AD 100-120. The original Hebr or Aram texts have been lost, and so has the Gk version, which was presumably the basis for all the extant ancient translations. The Latin is the most important, published by B. Violet (GCS 18/1 ); but the Syriac and Ethiopic are also of value. There is an Eng translation by G. H. Box in APOT 2, 542-624; also W. O. E. Oesterley in WC (1933). For the question of the original language, see J. Bloch, JQR 48 (1958) 293-94. The unity of the work has been questioned; see H. H. Rowley, Relevance, 156-59. The work concerns seven visions granted to Salathiel (=Shealtiel of Ezra 3:2 and 1 Chr 3:17, the father or uncle of Zerubbabel), who is identified in the gloss of 3:1 as Ezra (who, in fact, lived at least a century later!). Thus, the work mistakenly sets Ezra 30 years after the fall of Jerusalem in 587. The first four visions (3-10) concern the problem of evil, Israel's sufferings, God's plan for the last times, and the New Jerusalem. The real crisis in the author's life, for which he finds a parallel in his fictional setting, is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. The fascinating story of the lost Lat text following 7:35 is told by B. Metzger in JBL 76 (1957) 153-56. The fifth or 'eagle' vision of chs. 11-12 uses symbolism to describe the Roman persecutors of the Jews, much as the contemporary NT Ap describes Rome as a dragon. In the sixth vision (13) a marvelous Man arises from the seahe is the pre-existent Messiah come to wage war with the Gentiles. This passage has some similarities with the picture of the Son of Man in Enoch. In the seventh vision (14) Ezra is told to write down the 24 books of the OT and the 70 hidden books (the apocrypha). Ezra is taken up to heaven. This book continues the chain of Jewish apocalyptic that runs from Dn and Enoch through the QL to the Baruch literature." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, p. 542)
James King West writes: "Probably the most noteworthy and interesting part of the work is the final section, in chapter 14, having to do with thte restoration of the sacred books. Although God had revealed his truth to Moses on Mount Sinai, including the Law published openly and secrets of the times which were not to be revealed, the Law had been burned and, of course, the secrets lost. So at God's command Ezra assembles five scribes to whom he dictates as God gives him 'the lamp of understanding' (14:25) for forty days, during which time he writes ninety-four books. Twenty-four (the Hebrew Canon) are to be made public; the remaining seventy are to be stored (as apocrypha) for 'the wise among your people' (14:46). Two points of interest appear in this section: (1) The picture of Ezra dictating the Hebrew Scriptures by inspiration exemplifies a model for theories concerning the authority and inspiration of the Bible. (2) The esoteric works include, probably mostly, the growing number of apocalypses; and their treatment here illustrates the meaning of the term 'apocrypha' which properly belongs to them." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 470)
D. S. Russell writes: "Ezra now offers to take Moses' place, as it were, and to write 'everything that has happened in the world from the beginning, the things which were written in your Law' (14.22) and asks for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to enable him in his task. In answer to his prayer, God gives him a cup 'full of something like water, but in colour was like fire' (14.39f.). He takes it and drinks, and thereupon his wisdom is increased, his memory sharpened and his mouth opened (14.40f.). Like Moses, he sets aside forty days to receive and record what God will reveal to him. He dictates what he has heard to five scribes who record the revelation in ninety-four books (14.44). At the end of that time God again speaks: 'Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom and the river of knowledge' (14.45ff.). The twenty-four books that are to be published openly are obviously those of canonical scripture, and the seventy books that are to be kept secret are presumably the apocalyptic writings to which IV Ezra itself belongs. The number 'seventy' used in this connection may be symbolic, representing something that is comprehensive. Or, it may be more subtle in its reference than this. The word 'secret' (swd, pronounced sod), which occurs several times in this context, has in Hebrew a numerical value of 'seventy' (s = 60, w = 6, d = 4), a factor which may have influenced the writer's use of this particular number." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, pp. 109-110)
Michael E. Stone writes: "The date, place of origin, and authorship of 5 Ezra [2 Esdras 1-2] are uncertain. The contents of the book suggest, however, that it was composed during the second century A.D. by a Christian who was writing in the context of a dispute with Judaism." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 776)
Raymond E. Brown writes of Section One (chs. 1-2): "This is clearly a Christian work, composed in Greek, probably in the 2nd cent. AD, to serve as an introduction to Section Two below. It is extant only in Latin. In the narrative God speaks to Ezra and castigates the Jewish people for infidelity in the past. Echoing the theme of the NT, God promises that he will reject Israel and turn to the Gentiles. Seemingly speaking to the Church (2:15), God gives her instruction on how to take care of his new people. 'Everlasting rest' and 'eternal light' are promised in 2:34-35the source of the phrases used in the Church's requiem liturgyand immortality is the reward of those who confess the Son of God (2:47)." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, p. 542)
Marjorie L. Kinbrough writes: "There is some evidence that the prophecy of Ezra to the Jews about giving the kingdom to the Gentiles was written by Christians. Verses 15-19 of chapter 2 seem especially Christian, with the mention of the dead being raised and coming out of their tombs and of the help coming from Isaiah and Jeremiah, who both made prophecies concerning Jesus (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6). In verse 34 of chapter 2, Ezra tells the nations to wait for their shepherd, who will give 'everlasting rest' and 'the rewards of the kingdom.' For Christians, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Verses 42 through 48 of chapter 2 present information in which a number of people are robed in glory and crowned by the Son of God (compare with Rev. 7:13-14)." (Stories Between the Testaments, p. 118)
Daniel J. Harrington writes: "In the narrative setting, Ezra serves as the prophet and spokesman for the Jews in exile under the Persian empire in the fifth century B.C.E. In the historical setting of the work's composition, Ezra expresses the views of Christians in the second century. The author was familiar with the biblical historical narratives as well as with prophecy and apocalypticism. The many phrases and motifs also found in the New Testament (the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and especially Revelation) suggest that those books or the traditions behind them were major sources also. The author wrote his work most likely in Greek during the second century C.E. The primary version is the Latin text included in the Vulgate." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 186)
Michael E. Stone writes: "6 Ezra [2 Esdras 15-16] was written to encourage a community in a time of persecution. Internal indications suggest a date in the late third century A.D. (see commentary below on 15:28-33). The work is usually regarded as a Christian composition, although Jewish authorship cannot be excluded." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 777)
Michael E. Stone writes of the 15:28-33 passage: "The prophet describes a vision of two military forces (each represented symbolically by an animal) engaged in battle in the east. It is generally thought that these two forces represent the troops of Odenathus of Palmyra ('the Arabian dragons,' v. 29) and those of Shapur I of Persia ('the Carmonians,' v. 30), which fought on the eastern bordres of the Roman Empire in A.D 260-261. If this identification is correct, it establishes the earliest possible date of composition for the work." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 789)
Daniel J. Harrington writes: "In providing a glimpse into early Christian life under the Roman empire, 6 Ezra is a valuable source. It also is important evidence for the influence of the book of Revelation or the traditions in it. As in Revelation, Rome is given the code name Babylon and is threatened with punishments from God for having subjected God's people to eating food sacrificed to idols and other persecutions. As in Revelation, there is an expectation that God will soon intervene decisively on the side of God's people. thus 6 Ezra is a link in the tradition of Christian apocalypticism adapting the conventions and concepts of Jewish apocalypticism." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, pp. 205-206)
David A. deSilva writes: "One important textual problem concerns the omision of 7:36-105 (as enumerated in NRSV and TEV) in the Vulgate manuscripts. It has been suggested that this omission may be due to the impression given in the last of these verses that prayers on behalf of the dead are prohibited (see Longenecker 1995: 111). Indeed, the passage was used to oppose the practice in the early church, and one could readily see how it would have been advantageous to excise the passage. Nevertheless, if doctrinal censorship did stand behind the omission, then it would have been necessary also to excise 7:106-15, which remains in the Vulgate. Moreover, the text itself speaks not of prayers on behalf of the dead but intercession on the day of judgment. . . . It is more likely that the omission was accidental. Johann Gildemeister found a ninth-century Vulgate codex with the stub of a page that had been torn out. The missing text corresponded exactly with 7:36-105. Gildemeister concluded that the other Latin manuscripts of 4 Ezra lacking this passage were dependent on this particular codex (Stone 1990: 3-4). The theory of accidental omission is further strengthened by the randomness of the boundaries of the omission, interrupting a perfectly unobjectionable paragraph at 7:35 and omitting only half of the potentially objectionable discussion of intercession on behalf of those facing the judgment. These verses were not available to the translators of the KJV, for example, but had been restored to the text of 2 Esdras in several German translations from the eighteenth century (Bensly 1895) and have appeared in English translations ever since." (Introducing the Apocrypha, pp. 329-330)
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