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Ezra, Greek Book of


EZRA, GREEK BOOK OF (also called the Apocryphal Ezra, First Esdras , or Third Esdras ), a Greek translation of the last two chapters of ii Chronicles, the entire Book of Ezra (except for 1:6), and Nehemiah 7:73–8:13. It differs from the canonical version in that a section of Ezra is transposed, Nehemiah 1 does not follow Ezra, and a noncanonical story is introduced. The following summary illustrates these changes.

The first chapter corresponds to ii Chronicles 35 and 36 (omitting the last two verses since they appear in Ezra 1:1 and 2, which corresponds to Greek Ezra 2:1 and 2); Josiah celebrates Passover, battles with the Egyptians, and dies of his wounds; his successors; the sack of Jerusalem; the destruction of the Temple; the Babylonian exile. Chapter 2 corresponds to Ezra 1; 4:7 to end of 4 (2–4:6 being transposed to chapter 5); Cyrus permits the Jews to return and rebuild the Temple; the Temple vessels are returned; the correspondence between a certain Artaxerxes and the Jews' antagonists (Jos., Ant., 11:26, changes this to, or understands it as, Cambyses); interruption of the construction of the Temple until the reign of Darius. Chapters 3 and 4: each of three guardsmen of Darius suggests what is most powerful – wine, royal power, or womankind – and the third, Zerubbabel, answers "womankind" but adds "truth," thereby winning the contest; as a reward he requests permission to rebuild the Temple; Darius complies. Chapters 5:1–6: preparations for Zerubbabel's expedition. Chapters 5:6–9:36 correspond to Ezra 2:1–4:5 and to Ezra 6 to the end: catalog of those who returned; erection of the Altar; reference to the earlier troubles from Cyrus' reign to Darius' second year; the Temple rebuilt; Ezra's expedition. Chapter 9:37 to end, corresponding to Nehemiah 7:73–8:13: Ezra reads the Torah at a public gathering.

The canonical version tells of Zerubbabel's return, breaks off the narrative at the halt of the Temple construction, records letters between the Jews' enemies and the king, and returns to the narrative. By noting that the interruption lasted until the time of Darius before the correspondence (4:5) and at its close, the author indicates that, for him, the documents are earlier than Darius' reign. The Greek Ezra, placing these documents after Cyrus' proclamation, before Zerubbabel's return, conveys this same picture of a poison-pen correspondence prior to Darius (Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 4 (1956), 522–7 upholds this view, as do Josephus and traditional commentators). It differs from the canonical version in that Zerubbabel's expedition occurs under Darius rather than Cyrus.

Josephus used the work as a source for his discussion of the post-Exilic Return (Ant., 11:1–56); little else can be said about it with assurance. To some the work is complete and the concluding conjunction and verb – "and they were gathered" – are a formal close. If the work is a unit, the Nehemiah passage may have been introduced to underscore Ezra's emphasis on the Law. Others see the conjunction-verb endings as evidence that the work is incomplete; it belongs to the next verse (Neh. 8:14). If the author's starting point and closing are unknown, so is his purpose. The translated material has been seen as a version based on the Septuagint, a revision of a translation older than the Septuagint, or an independent translation from the Hebrew and Aramaic. And the "guardsmen" episode has been variously labeled as a Greek, Oriental, or more specifically, Aramaic or Persian folk-tale. The story may be an originally non-Jewish story that was reworked. Scholars think the answer "Truth" is an addition and the contest was limited to one answer per guardsman. Furthermore, Truth is praised; the force of the other elements is proved by example. However, womankind's power is shown in two ways. Woman is presented as the life-giving mother and clother of man (an important ancillary function of woman in antiquity). Without a mother there can be no king or vine-cultivator to produce wine. This sufficiently proves womankind's superiority over the others. At this point a new motif is introduced – woman as temptress for whose favor man dares all; here biblical sounding phrases appear – "beautiful to look at," 4:18 (cf. Gen. 29:17); and "leave one's father and cleave to one's wife," 4:20 (cf. Gen. 2:24) – which may reflect Jewish influence. The guardsman mentions an incident showing Darius' subservience to a concubine. Darius and his nobles exchange glances (shocked at the temerity?); immediately Truth is eulogized. This second motif on woman provides an opening for introducing Truth and placing an aggadah-like moral lesson within the framework of the Return.


Cook, in: Charles, Apocrypha, 1 (1913), 1–58 (translation and discussion); Thackeray, in: J. Hasting, A Dictionary of the Bible, 1 (1898), 758–63 (lists early literature); O. Eissfeldt, Einleitung in das Alte Testament (19643) 777–81; S. Jellicoe, The Septuagint and Modern Study (1968), 290–4.

[Jacob Petroff]

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