1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ezra, Fourth Book of

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EZRA, FOURTH BOOK (or Apocalypse) OF. This is the most profound and touching of the Jewish Apocalypses. It stands in the relation of a sister work to the Apocalypse of Baruch, but though the relation is so close, they have many points of divergence. Thus, whereas the former represents the ordinary Judaism of the 1st century of the Christian era, the teaching of 4 Ezra on the Law, Works, Justification, Original Sin and Free Will approximates to the school of Shammai and serves to explain the Pauline doctrines on those subjects; but to this subject we shall return.

Original Language and Versions.—In the Latin version our book consists of sixteen chapters, of which, however, only iii.-xiv. are found in the other versions. To iii.-xiv., accordingly, the present notice is confined. After the example of most of the Latin MSS. we designate the book 4 Ezra (see Bensly-James, Fourth Book of Ezra, pp. xxiv-xxvii). In the First Arabic and Ethiopic versions it is called 1 Ezra; in some Latin MSS. and in the English Authorized Version it is 2 Ezra, and in the Armenian 3 Ezra. Chapters i.-ii. are sometimes called 3 Ezra, and xv.-xvi. 5 Ezra. All the versions go back to a Greek text. This is shown by the late Greek apocalypse of Ezra (Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocryphae, 1866, pp. 24-33), the author of which was acquainted with the Greek of 4 Ezra; also by quotations from it in Barn, iv. 4; xii. 1 = 4 Ezra xii. 10 sqq., v. 5; Clem. Alex. Strom. iii. 16 (here first expressly cited) = 4 Ezra v. 35, &c. (see Bensly-James, op. cit. pp. xxvii-xxxviii). The derivation of the Latin version from the Greek is obvious when we consider its very numerous Graecisms. Thus the genitive is found after the comparative (v. 13) horum majora; xi. 29 duorum capitum majus, even the genitive absolute as in x. 9, the double negative, de and ex with the genitive. Peculiar genders can only be accounted for by the influence of the original forms in Greek, as x. 23 signaculum (σφραγίς) . . . tradita est; xi. 4 caput (κεφαλή) . . . sed et ipsa. In vi. 25 we have the Greek attraction of the relative—omnibus istis quibus praedixi tibi. In his Messias Judaeorum (1869), pp. 36-110, Hilgenfeld has given a reconstruction of the Greek text. Till 1896 only Ewald believed that 4 Ezra was written originally in Hebrew. In that year Wellhausen (Gött. Gel. Anz. pp. 12-13) and Charles (Apoc. Bar. p. lxxii) pointed out that a Hebrew original must be assumed on various grounds; and this view the former established in his Skizzen u. Vorarbeiten, vi. 234-240 (1899). Of the numerous grounds for this assumption it will be necessary only to adduce such constructions as “de quo me interrogas de eo,” iv. 28, and xiii. 26, “qui per semet ipsum liberabit” (= אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ) = “through whom he will deliver,” or to point to such a mistranslation as vii. 33, “longanimitas congregabitur,” where for “congregabitur” (= יאסף) we require “evanescet,” which is another and the actual meaning of the Hebrew verb in this passage. The same mistranslation is found in the Vulgate in Hosea iv. 3. Gunkel has adopted this view in his German translation of the book in Kautzsch’s Apok. und Pseud, des A. Testaments, ii. 332-333, and brought forward in confirmation the following remarkable instance in viii. 23, where though the Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic and Armenian Versions read testificatur, the Second Arabic version and the Apostolic Constitutions have μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, which are to be explained as translations of עמדת לָעַד (לִעֵ). Another interesting case is found in xiv. 3, where the Latin and all other versions but Arabic[2] read super rubum and the Arabic[2] in monte Sinai. Here there is a corruption of סנה “bush” into סיני “Sinai.”

Latin Version.—All the older editions of this version, as those of Fabricius, Sabatier, Volkmar, Hilgenfeld, Fritzsche, as well as in the older editions of the Bible, are based ultimately on only one MS., the Codex Sangermanensis (written A.D. 822), as Gildemeister proved in 1865 from the fact that the large fragment between verses 36 and 37 in chapter vii., which is omitted in all the above editions, originated through the excision of a leaf in this MS. A splendid edition of this version based on MSS. containing the missing fragment, which have been subsequently discovered, has been published by Bensly-James, op. cit. This edition has taken account of all the important MSS. known, save one at Leon in Spain.

Syriac Version.—This version, found in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, was translated into Latin by Ceriani, Monumenta sacra et profana, II. ii. pp. 99-124 (1866). Two years later this scholar edited the Syriac text, op. cit. V. i. pp. 4-111, and in 1883 reproduced the MS. by photo-lithography (Translatio Syra Peshitto V.T. II. iv. pp. 553-572). Hilgenfeld incorporated Ceriani’s Latin translation in his Messias Judaeorum. This translation needs revision and correction.

Ethiopic Version.—First edited and translated by Laurence, Primi Ezrae libri versio Aethiopica (1820). Laurence’s Latin translation was corrected by Praetorius and reprinted in Hilgenfeld’s Messias Judaeorum. In 1894 Dillmann’s text based on ten MSS. was published—V.T. Aeth. libri apocryphi, v. 153-193.

Arabic Versions.—The First Arabic version was translated from a MS. in the Bodleian Library into English by Ockley (in Whiston’s Primitive Christianity, vol. iv. 1711). This was done into Latin and corrected by Steiner for Hilgenfeld’s Mess. Jud. The Second Arabic version, which is independent of the first, has been edited from a Vatican MS. and translated into Latin by Gildemeister, 1877.

Armenian Version.—First printed in the Armenian Bible (1805). Translated into Latin by Petermann for Hilgenfeld’s Mess. Jud.; next with Armenian text and English translation by Issaverdens in the Uncanonical Writings of the Old Testament, pp. 488 sqq. (Venice, 1901).

Georgian Version.—According to F. C. Conybeare an accurate Georgian version made from the Greek exists in an 11th-century MS. at Jerusalem.

Relation of the above Versions.—These versions stand in the order of worth as follows: Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic. The remaining versions are paraphrastic and less accurate, and are guilty of additions and omissions. All the versions, save the Second Arabic one, go back to the same Greek version. The Second Arabic version presupposes a second Greek version.

Modern Versions.—All the English versions are now antiquated, except those in the Variorum Apocrypha and the Revised Version of the Apocrypha, and even these are far from satisfactory. Similarly, all the German versions are behindhand, except the excellent version of Gunkel in Apok. u. Pseud. ii. 252-401, which, however, needs occasional correction.

Contents.—The book (iii.-xiv.) consists of seven visions or parts, like the apocalypse of Baruch. They are: (1) iii. 1-v. 19; (2) v. 20-vi. 34; (3) vi. 35-ix. 25; (4) ix. 26-x. 60; (5) xi. 1-xii. 51; (6) xiii.; (7) xiv. These deal with (1) religious problems and speculations and (2) eschatological questions. The first three are devoted to the discussion of religious problems affecting in the main the individual. The presuppositions underlying these are in many cases the same as those in the Pauline Epistles. The next three visions are principally concerned with eschatological problems which relate to the nation. The seventh vision is a fragment of the Ezra Saga recounting the rewriting of the Scriptures, which had been destroyed. This has no organic connexion with what precedes.

First Vision. iii.-v. 19.—“In the thirtieth year after the ruin of the city I Salathiel (the same is Ezra) was in Babylon and lay troubled upon my bed.” In a long prayer Ezra asks how the desolation of Sion and the prosperity of Babylon can be in keeping with the justice of God. The angel Uriel answers that God’s ways are unsearchable and past man’s understanding. When Ezra asks when the end will be and what are the signs of it, the angel answers that the end is at hand and enumerates the signs of it.

Second Vision. v. 14-vi. 34.—Phaltiel, chief of the people, reproaches Ezra for forsaking his flock. Ezra fasts, and in his prayer asks why God had given up his people into the hands of the heathen. Uriel replies: “Lovest thou that people better than He that made them?” Man cannot find out God’s judgment. The end is at hand; its signs are recounted.

Third Vision. vi. 35-ix. 25.—Ezra recounts the works of creation, and asks why Israel does not possess the world since the world was made for Israel. The answer is that the present state is a necessary stage to the coming one. Then follows an account of the Messianic age and the resurrection: the punishment of the wicked and the blessings of the righteous. There can be no intercession for the departed. Few will be saved—only as it were a grape out of a cluster or a plant out of a forest.

Fourth Vision. ix. 26–x. 60.—Ezra eats of herbs in the field of Ardat, and sees in a vision a woman mourning for her only son. Ezra reminds her of the greater desolation of Sion. Suddenly she is transfigured and vanishes, and in her place appears a city. The woman, Uriel explains, represents Sion.

Fifth Vision. xi. i–xii. 39.—Vision of an eagle with three heads, twelve wings and eight winglets, which is rebuked by a lion and destroyed. The eagle is the fourth kingdom seen by Daniel, and the lion is the Messiah.

Sixth Vision. xiii.—Vision of a man (i.e. the Messiah) arising from the sea, who destroys his enemies who assemble against him, and gathers to him another multitude, i.e. the lost Ten Tribes.

Seventh Vision. xiv.—Ezra is told of his approaching translation. He asks for the restoration of the Law, and is enabled by God to dictate in forty days ninety-four books (the twenty-four canonical books of the Old Testament that were lost, and seventy secret books for the wise among the people).

Ezra’s translation is found in the Canon only in the Oriental Versions. In the Latin it was omitted when xv.–xvi. were added.

Integrity.—According to Gunkel (Apok. u. Pseud. ii. 335-352) the whole book is the work of one writer. Thus down to vii. 16 he deals with the problem of the origin of suffering in the world, and from vii. 17 to ix. 25 with the question who is worthy to share in the blessedness of the next world. As regards the first problem the writer shows, in the first vision, that suffering and death come from sin—no less truly on the part of Israel than of all men, for God created man to be immortal; that the end is nigh, when wrongs will be righted; God’s rule will then be recognized. In the second he emphasizes the consolation to be found in the coming time, and in the third he speaks solely of the next world, and then addresses himself to the second problem. The fourth, fifth and sixth visions are eschatological. In these the writer turns aside from the religious problems of the first three visions and concerns himself only with the future national supremacy of Israel. Zion’s glory will certainly be revealed (vision four), Israel will destroy Rome (five) and the hostile Gentiles (six). Then the book is brought to a close with the legend of Ezra’s restoration of the lost Old Testament Scriptures.

In the course of the above work there are many inconsistencies and contradictions. These Gunkel explains by admitting that the writer has drawn largely on tradition, both oral and written, for his materials. Thus he concedes that eschatological materials in v. 1-13, vi; 18-28, vii. 26 sqq., also ix. 1 sqq., are from this source, and apparently from an originally independent work, as Kabisch urges, but that it is no longer possible to separate the borrowed elements from the text. Again, in the four last visions he is obliged to make the same concession on a very large scale. Vision four is based on a current novel, which the author has taken up and put into an allegorical form. Visions five and six are drawn from oral or written tradition, and relate only to the political expectations of Israel, and seven is a reproduction of a legend, for the independent existence of which evidence is furnished by the quotations in Bensly-James pp. xxxvii-xxxviii. Thus the chief champion of the unity of the book makes so many concessions as to its dependence on previously existing sources that, to the student of eschatology, there is little to choose between his view and that of Kabisch. In fact, if the true meaning of the borrowed materials is to be discovered, the sources must be disentangled. Hence the need of some such analysis as that of Kabisch (Das vierte Buck Ezra, 1889): S = an Apocalypse of Salathiel, c. A.D. 100, preserved in a fragmentary condition, iii. 1-31, iv. 1-51, v. 13b–vi. 10, 30–vii. 25, vii. 45–viii. 62, ix. 13-x. 57, xii. 40-48, xiv. 28-35. E = an Ezra Apocalypse, c. 31 B.C., iv. 52-v. 13a, vi. 13-28, vii. 26-44, viii. 63–ix. 12. A = an Eagle Vision, c. A.D. 90, x. 60–xii. 35. M = a Son-of-Man Vision, xiii. E2 = an Ezra fragment, c. A.D. 100, xiv. 1-17a, 18-27, 36-47. All these, according to Kabisch, were edited by a Zealot, c. 120, who supplied the connecting links and made many small additions. In the main this analysis is excellent. If we assume that the editor was also the author of S, and that such a vigorous stylist, as he shows himself to be, recast to some extent the materials he borrowed, there remains but slight difference between the views of Kabisch and Gunkel. Neither view, however, is quite satisfactory, and the problem still awaits solution. Other attempts, such as Ewald’s (Gesch. d. Volkes Israel3, vii. 69-83) and De Faye’s (Apocalypses juives, 155-165), make no contribution.

School of the Author.—The author or final redactor of the book was a pessimist, and herein his book stands in strong contrast with the Apocalypse of Baruch. Thus to the question propounded in the New Testament—“Are there few that be saved?” he has no hesitation in answering, “There be many created, but few that be saved” (viii. 3): “An evil heart hath grown up in us which hath led us astray . . . and that not a few only but wellnigh all that have been created” (vii. 48). In the Apocalypse of Baruch on the other hand it is definitely maintained that not a few shall be saved (xxi. 11). Moreover, the sufferings of the wicked are so great in the next world it were better, according to 4 Ezra (as also to the school of Shammai), that man had not been born. “It is much better (for the beasts of the field) than for us; for they expect not a judgment and know not of torments” (vii. 66): yet “it would have been best not to have given a body to Adam, or that being done, to have restrained him from sin; for what profit is there that man should in the present life live in heaviness and after death look for punishment” (vii. 116, 117). In iv. 12 the nexus of life, sin and suffering just referred to, is put still more strongly: “It were better we had not been at all than that we should be born and sin and suffer.”[1] The different attitude of these two writers towards this question springs from their respective views on the question of free will. The author of Baruch declares (iv. 15, 19): “For though Adam sinned and brought untimely death upon all, yet of those who were born from him each one of them prepared for his own soul torment to come, and again each one of them has chosen for himself glories to come . . . each one of us has been the Adam of his own soul,” Though the writer of Ezra would admit the possibility of a few Israelites attaining to salvation through the most strenuous endeavour, yet he holds that man is all but predoomed through his original evil disposition or through the fall of Adam (vii. 118). “O Adam, what hast thou done: for though it was thou that sinned, the evil is not fallen on thee alone, but upon all of us that come of thee.”

Another contrast between the two books is that while Baruch shows some mercy to the Gentiles (lxxii. 4-6) in the Messianic period, none according to 4 Ezra and the Shammaites (Toseph. Sanh. xiii. 2) will be extended to them, (iii. 30, ix. 22 sq., xii. 34, xiii. 37 sq.).

On the above grounds it is not unreasonable to conclude that whereas the Apocalypse of Baruch owes its leading characteristics to a pupil of Hillel’s school, 4 Ezra shows just as clearly its derivation from that of Shammai. Kohler (Jewish Encyc. v. 221) points out that the view of 4 Ezra that the Ten Tribes will return was held by the Shammaites, whereas it was denied by Aqiba. The Apocalypse of Baruch is silent on this point.

Time and Place.—The work was written towards the close of the 1st century (iii. 1, 29), and somewhere in the east.

Literature.—In addition to the authorities mentioned above, see Dillmann, Herzog’s Real-Encyk.2 xii. 353 sqq.; Schürer, Gesch. des jüd. Volkes3, iii. 246 sqq.; and the articles on 4 Esdras in Hastings’ Bible Dictionary and the Encyclopaedia Biblica by Thackeray and James respectively.  (R. H. C.) 

  1. In the Apocalypse of Baruch, x. 6, we find a similar expression: “Blessed is he who was not born, or being born has died.” But here death is said to be preferable to witnessing the present woes of Jerusalem.