Esdras (also called 4 Esdras,
Latin Esdras, or
Latin Ezra) is the
name of an apocalyptic book in many English versions of the Bible
(see Naming conventions below). Its authorship is ascribed to
Ezra. It is reckoned among the apocrypha by Roman Catholics,
Protestants, and most Eastern Orthodox Christians. Although Second
Esdras was preserved in
Latin as an appendix to the
Vulgate and passed
down as a unified book, it is generally considered to be a tripartite
1 Naming conventions
2.1 5 Ezra
2.2 4 Ezra
2.3 6 Ezra
3 Author and criticism
5 See also
7 External links
Esdras § Naming conventions
As with 1 Esdras, there is some confusion about the numbering of this
Jerome includes only a single book of Ezra, but
in the Clementine
Vulgate 1, 2, 3 and 4
Esdras are separate books.
Protestant writers, after the Geneva Bible, called 1 and 2
Ezra and Nehemiah, and called 3 and 4
Esdras of the
Vulgate 1 and 2
Esdras which became common in English Bibles.
Ambrose refers to this book as 'Third Esdras', as likely too did
Latin manuscripts denoted it 4 Esdras, which to this
day is the name used for it in modern critical editions, which
are typically in Latin, the language of its most complete
It appears in the Appendix to the
Old Testament in the Slavonic Bible,
where it is called 3 Esdras, and the
it 3 Ezra. This text is sometimes also known as
Apocalypse of Ezra
(chapters 3–14 known as the Jewish
Ezra or 4 Ezra,
chapters 1–2 as 5 Ezra, and chapters 15–16 as 6 Ezra).
The first two chapters of 2
Esdras are found only in the
of the book, and are called 5
Ezra by scholars. They are
considered by most scholars to be Christian in origin; they assert
God's rejection of the Jews and describe a vision of the Son of God.
These are generally considered to be late additions (possibly third
century) to the work.
Chapters 3–14, or the great bulk of 2 Esdras, is a Jewish apocalypse
also sometimes known as 4 Ezra, or the Jewish
Ezra. The latter name should not be confused with a later work
called the Greek
Apocalypse of Ezra.
The Ethiopian Church considers 4
Ezra to be canonical, written during
the Babylonian captivity, and calls it Izra Sutuel (ዕዝራ
ሱቱኤል). It was also often cited by the Fathers of the Church.
In the Eastern Armenian tradition it is called 3 Ezra. It is
conjectured by Protestant scholars to have been written in the late
1st century CE following the destruction of the Second Temple.
Among Greek Fathers of the Church, 4
Ezra is generally cited as
Προφήτης Ἔσδρας Prophetes
Esdras ("The Prophet Ezra")
or Ἀποκάλυψις Ἔσδρα Apokalupsis Esdra ("
Ezra"). Wellhausen, Charles, and Gunkel have shown
that the original composition was in Hebrew, which was translated into
Greek, and then to Latin, Armenian, Ethiopian and Georgian, but the
Hebrew and Greek editions have been lost.
Slightly differing Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Georgian, and
Armenian translations have survived; the Greek version can be
reconstructed (without absolute certainty, of course) from these
different translations, while the Hebrew text remains a bit more
Ezra consists of seven visions of
Ezra the scribe. The first vision
takes place as
Ezra is still in Babylon. He asks
God how Israel can be
kept in misery if
God is just. The archangel
Uriel is sent to answer
the question, responding that God's ways cannot be understood by the
human mind. Soon, however, the end would come, and God's justice would
be made manifest. Similarly, in the second vision,
Ezra asks why
Israel was delivered up to the Babylonians, and is again told that man
cannot understand this and that the end is near. In the third vision
Ezra asks why Israel does not possess the world.
Uriel responds that
the current state is a period of transition. Here follows a
description of the fate of evil-doers and the righteous.
whether the righteous may intercede for the unrighteous on Judgment
Day, but is told that "
Judgment Day is final".
The next three visions are more symbolic in nature. The fourth is of a
woman mourning for her only son, who is transformed into a city when
she hears of the desolation of Zion.
Uriel says that the woman is a
symbol of Zion. The fifth vision concerns an eagle with three heads
and twenty wings (twelve large wings and eight smaller wings "over
against them"). The eagle is rebuked by a lion and then burned. The
explanation of this vision is that the eagle refers to the fourth
kingdom of the vision of Daniel, with the wings and heads as rulers.
The final scene is the triumph of the
Messiah over the empire. The
sixth vision is of a man, representing the Messiah, who breathes fire
on a crowd that is attacking him. This man then turns to another
peaceful multitude, which accepts him.
Finally, there is a vision of the restoration of scripture. God
Ezra in a bush and commands him to restore the Law. Ezra
gathers five scribes and begins to dictate. After forty days, he has
produced ninety-four books: the twenty-four books of the
seventy secret works:
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." (2
Esdras 14:45–46 RSV; 4
The "seventy" might refer to the Septuagint, most of the apocrypha, or
the Lost Books that are described in the Bible.
Latin editions of the text have a large lacuna of seventy
verses between 7:35 and 7:36 that is missing due to the fact that they
trace their common origin to one early manuscript, Codex
Sangermanensis I, which was missing an entire page. In 1895 Robert
Lubbock Bensly and James published a critical edition restoring the
lost verses; it is this edition that is used in the Stuttgart edition
of the Vulgate. The restored verses are numbered 7:35 to 7:105, with
the former verses 7:36–7:70 renumbered to 7:106–7:140. For
more information, see the article Codex Sangermanensis I.
Esdras turns around a radical spiritual conversion of
Ezra in a
vision, where he stops to comfort a sobbing woman who turns instantly
into a great city (2 Esd. 10:25–27). On this pivotal event, one
scholar writes that Ezra
is badly frightened, he loses consciousness and calls for his angelic
guide. The experience described is unique not just in 4
Ezra but in
the whole Jewish apocalyptic literature. Its intensity complements the
pressure of unrelieved stress evident in the first part of the vision,
and it resembles the major orientation of personality usually
connected with religious conversion.
The following verses (10:28–59) reveal that
Ezra had a vision of the
heavenly Jerusalem, the true city of Zion, which the angel of the Lord
invites him to explore. As the angel tells
Ezra at the end of Chapter
10 in the Authorised Version:
And therefore fear not,
let not thine heart be affrighted,
but go thy way in,
and see the beauty and greatness of the building,
as much as thine eyes be able to see;
and then shalt thou hear as much as thine ears may
For thou art blessed above many other
and art called with the Highest and so are but few.
But tomorrow at night thou shalt remain here and so shall the Highest
show thee visions of the high things which the Most High will do unto
them that dwell upon earth in the last days. So I slept that night and
another like as he commanded me (2 Esd. 10:55–59).
The last two chapters, also called 6
Ezra by scholars, and found
in the Latin, but not in the Eastern texts, predict wars and rebuke
sinners. Many assume that they probably date from a much later period
(perhaps late third century) and may be Christian in origin; it is
possible, though not certain, that they were added at the same time as
the first two chapters of the
Latin version. It is possible that they
are Jewish in origin, however; 15:57–59 have been found in Greek,
which most scholars agree was translated from a Hebrew original.
Author and criticism
The main body of the book appears to be written for consolation in a
period of great distress (one scholarly hypothesis is that it dates to
Titus' destruction of the
Second Temple in AD 70). The author
seeks answers, similar to Job's quest for understanding the meaning of
suffering, but the author doesn't like or desire only the answer that
was given to Job.
Critics question whether even the main body of the book, not counting
the chapters that exist only in the
Latin version and in Greek
fragments, has a single author. Kalisch, De Faye, and Charles hold
that no fewer than five people worked on the text. However, Gunkel
points to the unity in character and holds that the book is written by
a single author; it has also been suggested that the author of II
Esdras wrote the Syriac
Apocalypse of Baruch. In any case, the two
texts may date from about the same time, and one almost certainly
depends on the other.
Critics have widely debated the origin of the book. Hidden under two
layers of translation it is impossible to determine if the author was
Roman, Alexandrian, or Palestinian.
The scholarly interpretation of the eagle being the
Roman Empire (the
eagle in the fifth vision, whose heads might be Vespasian,
Domitian if such is the case) and the destruction of the temple would
indicate that the probable date of composition lies toward the end of
the first century, perhaps 90–96, though some suggest a date as late
The book is considered one of the gems of Jewish apocalyptic
literature. Except for the Orthodox Slavonic
Bible (Ostrog Bible,
Elizabeth Bible, and later consequently Russian Synodal Bible), it was
not received into European Christian canons. The chapters
corresponding to 4 Ezra, i.e. 2
Esdras 3–14, make up the
Book of II
Izra, aka Izra Sutuel, canonical in the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church; it
was also widely cited by early Fathers of the Church, particularly
Ambrose of Milan. It may also be found in many larger English Bibles
included as part of the Biblical Apocrypha, as they exist in the King
James version, the Revised Standard Version, and the earliest editions
of the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, among others.
The introitus of the traditional Requiem Mass in the Catholic Church
is loosely based on 2:34–35: "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them." Several other liturgical
prayers are taken from the book.The same chapter, verses 36 and 37, is
cited in the Introit of Pentecost Tuesday in the extraordinary liturgy
of Missals of 1962 and prior. “Accipite jucunditatem gloriae
vestrae, alleluia: gratias agentes Deo, alleluia: qui vos ad caelestia
regna vocavit, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. 77 Attendite, popule
meus, legem meam: inclinate aurem vestram in verba oris mei. Gloria
Patri. Accipite. – Receive the delight of your glory, alleluia,
giving thanks to God, alleluia, Who hath called ye to the heavenly
kingdoms, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Psalm Attend, O my people, to
my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. Glory be.
Receive.” In his Vulgate,
Clement VIII placed the book in an
appendix after the
New Testament with the rest of the Biblical
apocrypha, "lest they perish entirely".
Christopher Columbus quoted verse 6:42, which describes the Earth as
being created with 6 parts land and 1 part water, in his appeal to the
Catholic Monarchs for financial support for his first voyage of
Vision of Ezra
^ a b Including the KJB, RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, and GNB
^ NETBible, Apocalyptic
Esdras Archived 2007-09-26 at the Wayback
Ezra is the title used in modern English translations as in
Charlesworth's (ISBN 978-0-385-09630-0). See also bibliography
^ Stone, Michael Edward (1990). Fourth Ezra; A Commentary on the Book
of Fourth Ezra. Hermeneia. Fortress Press. p. 37.
^ For example, it is listed with the apocrypha in the Anglican
Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
^ "Esdras." Catholic Encyclopedia.
^ Bensley, R. The Fourth
Book of Ezra, the
Latin Edition edited form
the MSS Cambridge 1895
^ Metzger, the Fourth
Book of Ezra
Book of Ezra in J. Charlesworth the Old
Pseudepigrapha vol 1 pag 517ss
^ See for example the article
Esdras in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
^ a b c See for example B. M. Metzger, "The Fourth
Book of Ezra", in
Charlesworth, James H. (ed.) The
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol 1
(1983). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. p. 517.
^ Theodore A. Bergren (2010). Michael D. Coogan, ed. The New Oxford
Annotated Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version. New York, USA:
Oxford University Press. pp. 317–318.
^ 2 Esd 7:102–104, GNB
^ Article from Early Jewish Writings
^ Biblia Sacra Vulgata, 4th edition, 1994, ISBN 3-438-05303-9.
^ Stone, 31.
^ a b c d Jewish Encyclopedia article
Apocrypha in the Liturgy.
^ Clementine Vulgate, Note to the Appendix
^ Longenecker, Bruce W. (1995). Two Esdras. A&C Black.
p. 112. ISBN 9781850757269.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The King James Version of 2 Esdras
Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version, O.T. Part 2 at Project Gutenberg.
(See in the appendix: The Fovrth Booke of
Esdras in a 1610
translation. Also included is Robert Lubbock Bensly's 1874 translation
of a "rediscovered" 70-verse fragment (7:36–105) on a page that was
omitted from the 1610 translation, though present in all earlier
Revised Standard Version
Revised Standard Version (includes the missing page with 7:36–105)
Esdras at earlyjewishwritings.com
Latin text of 2 (4) Esdras
World Wide Study Bible: 2 Esdras
Catholic Encyclopedia: Esdras: The Books of Esdras: IV Esdras
Jewish Encyclopedia: Esdras, Books of: II Esdras
Book of". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.).
King James version of 2 Esdras.
2 Ezra: 2012 Critical Translation with Audio Drama at biblicalaudio
Books of the Bible
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