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Ezra, Apocalypse of


EZRA, APOCALYPSE OF (also known as Ezra iv ), book of visions ascribed to Ezra the Scribe, written between 95–100 c.e., probably in Ereẓ Israel. It is extant in some Greek fragments, Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, two separate Arabic versions, Armenian, Georgian, and a Coptic fragment.

The book is composed of seven visions. The first three, in the form of dialogues between Ezra and the angel Uriel, deal primarily with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and with theodicy. Each of these three visions concludes with a brief eschatological revelation. The fourth vision is of a weeping, bereaved woman who is transformed into the heavenly Jerusalem, the promise of redemption for Zion. Next, Ezra sees an eagle with 12 wings, eight "little wings," and three heads. This, he is told, is the fourth beast which appeared to Daniel (Dan. 7), the fourth wicked world empire, its heads and wings representing kings and emperors. Ezra witnesses its judgment and destruction at the hands of a lion, a symbol of the Messiah, after which the righteous rejoice in the messianic kingdom. The sixth vision sees one "as the form of a man," rising from the sea, who is attacked by innumerable hosts, which he destroys to be greeted by a joyous multitude – another vision of the Messiah's victory over the evil nations. In the last vision, Ezra receives the Torah, the 24 books of the Bible, and the 70 books of secret, apocalyptic lore, and then prepares for his assumption to heaven.

iv Ezra is considered one of the high points of Jewish apocalyptic literature, combining sensitive perception with profound and daring analysis. The author is deeply concerned with the theological problems arising from the destruction of Jerusalem: "Is Israel any worse than Babylon, that they rule over us?" he asks (iv Ezra 3:27ff.). This question brings him to grips with some basic problems concerning the nature of man. How could God create man with an "evil heart" and, when giving him the Torah, not remove this evil heart, which causes him to transgress its laws? Further, why is man given understanding, so that sinning, he knows that he sins and is destined for Gehenna? To these and other such questions raised in the first three visions, no real solution is offered. Ultimately, the angel can only say that God's ways are inscrutable, that He rejoices in the righteous few, and that Ezra and those like him are assured of their salvation. But the author's real answer is perhaps to be sought elsewhere, in the eschatological sections which conclude each of these visions, and in the three eschatological visions which follow, the solution to these problems residing in the eschatological occurrences themselves.

The book is preserved in the Latin Church and is included by Protestants in the Apocrypha. It did not survive in the Eastern Church, however, and except for a few patristic quotations (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 3:16, 10) and the reuse of the text in the late "Esdras Apocalypse," the Greek text is no longer extant. There is much debate as to whether the original was Hebrew or Aramaic, the former seeming the more likely possibility. In the Latin, two additional chapters (sometimes called iii Ezra and v Ezra respectively; see Greek Book of *Ezra) occur at the beginning and at the end of the book. The book is included in many Ethiopic and Armenian biblical manuscripts, but has survived in only one Syriac manuscript (Cod. Ambrosianus) and in two incomplete Georgian copies.

A large portion of ch. 7 does not appear in the Vulgate Latin manuscripts, the publication of which in 1875 from Codex Ambianensis by R. Bensly was followed by the discovery of a series of Latin codices containing this section. Kabisch, with the subsequent support of de Faye and Box, maintained the book to be composed of a series of five separate source documents: a Salathiel apocalypse (cf. iv Ezra 3:2) covering substantially the first four visions; the Eagle vision (a); the Son of Man vision (m); the final Ezra vision (e1); and a second Ezra source which included the apocalyptic sections of Visions 1–4. This hypothesis was strongly attacked by Clemen and Gunkel, who were followed by Violet and, later, Keulers. These emphasize the basic structural unity of the work, pointing to its division into seven visions separated by prayer and fast, the appearance of the same technical terminology throughout, and the questionable nature of many of the so-called "inconsistencies" or "contradictions" between the sources. They thus accept the basic unity of the work, at the same time not denying the possibility that the author employed existing written or oral sources. The book contains no traces of sectarian or Essene ideas and sometimes follows the line of traditional rabbinic exegesis (cf. iv Ezra 6:7–10 and Gen. R. 63:9, Mid. Hag. to Gen. 25:26 et al.). It also includes a fragment of a Midrash on the 13 Attributes (iv Ezra 123ff.) and similar material. The date is established primarily by the identification of the three heads of the eagle in chapters 11–12 with the Flavian emperors.


H. Gunkel, in: E. Kautzsch (ed.), Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments, 2 (1900), 331–401; L. Vaganay, Le problème eschatologique dans le ive livre d'Esdras (1906); Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 315–35; B. Violet, Die Esra-Apokalypse (1910–24); G.H. Box, The Ezra-Apocalypse (1912); J. Keulers, Die eschatologische Lehre des vierten Esrabuches (1922); R.P. Blake, in: htr, 19 (1926), 299–320; 22 (1929), 57–105; L. Gry, Les dires prophetiques d'Esdras (1938); M. Stone, in: htr, 60 (1967), 107–15; idem, in: Le Muséon, 79 (1966), 387–400.

[Michael E. Stone]

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