4 Ezra was originally composed as a pseudepigraphal Jewish apocalypse, most likely in Hebrew, at some point after 70 CE (see discussion below).
The original Hebrew version, which is now lost, was translated into Greek. The Greek version, which survives only in fragmentary quotations and paraphrases by later Christian authors, was translated into Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Arabic, Armenian and Coptic. Additional translations from the Latin and Syriac versions also exist (Stone, 4 Ezra, 2). The apocalypse takes the name, 4 Ezra, from the Latin version, which was labeled 4 Esdras to distinguish it from 1 Esdras (=Ezra), 2 Esdras (=Nehemiah), and 3 Esdras (the apocryphal book now normally designated 1 Esdras). To make matters more complicated, 4 Ezra is often called 2 Esdras by modern English translations, such as the KJV, RSV and NRSV, that adopt the traditional Hebrew names for Ezra and Nehemiah and include the apocryphal book of 1 Esdras. The Latin version included as an appendix to the Vulgate was transformed into a Christian text by the addition of an introduction (chapters 1-2) and conclusion (chapters 15-16), commonly designated 5th and 6th Ezra by modern scholars. Most modern English translations follow the Vulgate in printing the Christian 5th and 6th Ezra along with the Jewish apocalypse of 4 Ezra. As a result, the chapter and verse numbering of the apocalypse begin at chapter 3 verse 1.
The earliest definite quotation from 4 Ezra occurs in Clement of Alexandria’s Stromateis. Since Stromateis is dated to the end of the 2nd century CE, 4 Ezra must have been written and translated into Greek no later than the end of the 2nd century. If the possible reference in Barnabas 12:1 is accepted as a quotation, 4 Ezra will have been composed by the end of the first century.
4 Ezra is also closely related to 2 Baruch, which is normally dated to the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, but the precise date of 2 Baruch is uncertain, and the nature of the relationship between the two documents remains disputed. (See the introduction to 2 Baruch for more discussion.)
4 Ezra’s preoccupation with the destruction of Jerusalem indicates that the book was composed after 70 CE, but near enough to the event still to raise deep theological questions. If the “three heads” in Ezra’s eagle vision (12:22-28), that appear immediately before a description of the “end” (12:29-36), are coded references to Vespasian and his two sons Titus and Domitian, the book will have been composed during the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE). This corresponds to the reference to “the thirtieth year after the destruction of the city” in 3:1, although this date may simply recall Ezek 1:1 (cf. Stone, 4 Ezra, 9-10; Schürer III.1, 299-300).
Although L. Gry argued that 4 Ezra was originally composed in Aramaic, most recent scholars agree with Wellhausen, Gunkel and, more recently, Klijn, that the original language was Hebrew (Schürer III.1, 300; Stone, 4 Ezra, 10-11; Metzger, “4 Ezra,” 519-520).
This OCP edition includes the complete Syriac and Latin texts of 4 Ezra (chapters 3-14) as well as all of the fragmentary Greek evidence. The quotations found in Jacobite lectionaries has not yet been included.
The complete Syriac text of 4 Ezra survives in a single sixth or seventh century manuscript (7a1), published by A. M. Ceriani in 1861. The relevant sections of manuscript 7a1 are presented here based on the edition of Bidawid.
Syriac quotations from 4 Ezra also exist in Jacobite lectionaries (Stone, 4 Ezra, 6), but this evidence has not yet been included in this OCP edition.
This OCP edition includes all of the fragmentary Greek evidence. Definite quotations or paraphrases of the Greek text of 4 Ezra include the following:
|4 Ezra 5:35||Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3:16|
|4 Ezra 7:103||Apostolic Constitutions 2.14.9|
|4 Ezra 8:23||Apostolic Constitutions 8.7.6|
Other possible quotations or allusions to 4 Ezra include the following:
|4 Ezra 5:5a||Barnabas 12:1|
|4 Ezra 7:94||Vision of Hermas 1.3 (allusion)|
|4 Ezra 14:21-22, 37-47||Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 1:22 (allusion)|
These latter sources demonstrate awareness of traditions contained in or similar to those in 4 Ezra, but it is unclear how close they are to the Greek text of 4 Ezra. They should be used with caution.
In addition, the OCP presents a quotation from the Christian 6 Ezra 15:57-59 found among the Oxyrhyncus papyri (POxy 1010).
The OCP text of these fragments is drawn from the standard critical edition of each source (see bibliography below).
|7aI||Milan||Bibliotheca Ambrosiana MS B.21 Inf. (fols. 267a-276b)||6th-7th century CE||The only extant Syriac manuscript of the complete text of 4 Ezra.|
|13l2||London||British Museum, Addit. MS 14.686||1255 CE||Covers 6.18-28; 7.26-42; 12.31-38|
|13l4||London||British museum, Addit. MS 14.736, fols. 13-21||13th century CE||Covers 12.31-38|
|15l5||Pampakuda in Kerala, India||A. Konath Library, MS 77||1423 CE||Covers 7.26-42; 12.31-38|
|POxy 1010||4th century CE||Covers 15.57-59|
|Jerusalem||Manuscript no. 160 in the Library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at Jerusalem||1656 CE||A condensation of chapters 11 and 12|
|Sangermanensis||Paris||Codex Sangermanensis. Bibliothèque Nationale, number 11505 Fonds Latin.||822 CE||The oldest extant manuscript of 4 Ezra. Lacks 7.36-105.|
|Ambianensis||Amiens||Codex Ambianensis. Number 10 in the Bibliothèque Communale of Amiens.||9th century CE|
|Complutensis||Madrid||Codex Complutensis. MS 31 in the Library of the Central University at Madrid.||9-10th century CE.|
|Mazarinaeus||Paris||Codex Mazarinaeus. A two-volume codex, numbered 3 and 4 in the Bibliothèque Mazarine at Paris.||11th century CE|
|A||Jerusalem||Armenian Patriarchate 1933, fols. 209v-219r||1645 CE|
|B||Rome||Cod. Vat. Arm. 1; fols. 202r-211v.||1625 CE|
|C||Venice||Mechitarist 1182 (Petermann-Violet C, Zohrabian 7); fols. 174r-181r.||1656 CE|
|D||Venice||Mechitarist 1270 (Petermann-Violet D); fols. 231v-244r.||14-15th century CE||Contains numerous corrections made by the original scribe and by a number of later hands.|
|E||Venice||Mechitarist 229 (Petermann-Violet B, Zohrabian 5); fols. 236v-246r.||1655 CE||Corrected by four different people.|
|F||Venice||Mechitarist 623 (Petermann-Violet A, Zohrabian 4); fols. 219v-236v.||1648 CE||Corrected by one hand.|
|G||Jerusalem||Armenian Patriarchate 1934; fols. 316v-330r.||1643-1646 CE|
|H||Erevan||Matenadaran 1500; fols. 254r-260v.||1271-1285 CE|
|I||Erevan||Matenadaran 2732; fols. 199r-206v.||17th century CE|
|J||Erevan||Matenadaran 200; fols. 213v-223v.||1653-1658 CE|
|K||Erevan||Matenadaran 201; 214v-224r.||1660 CE|
|L||Erevan||Matenadaran 354; fols. 242r-253r.||14th century CE|
|M||Erevan||Matenadaran 205; fols. 239v-243r.||17th century CE|
|N||Erevan||Matenadaran 315; fols. 196r-206r.||1619 CE|
|Q||Jerusalem||Armenian Patriarchate 1928; fols. 212r-221v.||1648 CE|
|R||London||British and Foreign Bible Society; fols. 222r-233v.||Before 1667 CE|
|S||London||British Library or 8833; fols. 248v-259r.||17th century CE|
|T||Isfaha (New Julfa)||Allsaviour Church 15; fols. 214r-223r.||1662 CE|
|V||Isfaha (New Julfa)||Allsaviour Church 16; fols. 367v-385r.||17th century CE|
|W||Jerusalem||Armenian Patriarchate 2558; fols. 422v-433r.||1596-1615 CE|
|Z||Jerusalem||Armenian Patriarchate 2561; fols. 234-242.||1654-1670 CE|
Bidawid's Syriac text is in the public domain where it simply reproduces the readings of the single manuscript. The scattered conjectural emendations are almost all the product of older scholarship. Where these are Bidawid's original contribution they are clearly credited and are considered by the OCP editors to constitute "fair use" of his published work.
With the exception of 8:8b, 20-36, the Latin text of 4 Ezra is the standard text of the Latin Vulgate. Although A.F.J. Klijn’s edition of 4 Ezra is still within the copyright period, we consider the brief quotations made here to fall within the terms of "fair dealing."
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