The apocalypse of Ezra.

Counted among the pseudepigrapha.


Attributed author(s).
Ezra.

Text(s) available.
4 Ezra (Latin only).
HTML Bible: 2 Esdras 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 (Latin Vulgate only).
Humanities Text Initiative: 2 Esdras (English only).
OT Pseudepigrapha: Revelation of Esdras (English only).
Pseudepigrapha: 2 Esdras (English only).
Kata Pi: 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 (Latin and English).
Vision of Ezra at Online Critical Pseudepigrapha.

Useful links.
2 Esdras in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
EJW (Peter Kirby).
2 Esdras and the apocryphal books in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
2 Esdras at Kata Pi (Oesterly and Robinson).

Jewish background texts (Jim Davila).

The book of 4 Ezra, or 2 Esdras, is counted as one of the pseudepigrapha.

The book was probably originally written in Hebrew, but it survives only in several ancient translations, of which the Latin is chief. This book in the Latin Vulgate bears the title of 4 Esdras; in English it usually bears the title of 4 Ezra or the Ezra apocalypse:

Hebrew Masoretic. Greek Septuagint. Latin Vulgate. English Authorized.
Ezra Esdras B I Esdras Ezra
II Esdras Nehemiah
- Esdras A III Esdras I Esdras
- - IV Esdras II Esdras

Technically, chapters 1-2 of this text are called 5 Ezra and chapters 15-16 are called 6 Ezra; only its heart, chapters 3-14, is known as 4 Ezra.

(Also refer to my pages on Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 Esdras, as well as to my page on the two ages in 4 Ezra.)


Peter Kirby (Early Jewish Writings).

2 Esdras (4 Ezra, apocalypse of Ezra).
Greek apocalypse of Ezra.
Questions of Ezra.
Revelation of Ezra.
Vision of Ezra.

Peter Kirby surveys scholars writing on the book of 2 Esdras:

The book today termed 2 Esdras is not in the Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox canon. It was written too late to be included in the Septuagint, but it was in an appendix to the Vulgate, and it is also found among the Apocrypha in the King James Version and Revised Standard Version. See the entry for 1 Esdras for a chart clarifying the nomenclature.

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The work known as 2 Esdras is in fact three separate compositions. In them Ezra functions not as the architect of Israel's return from exile but rather as a prophet and a visionary. In 2 Esdras 1-2 (also known as 5 Ezra) Ezra prophesies about God's rejection of Israel as God's people and its replacement by the Church. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the mid-second century C.E. In 2 Esdras 3-14 (also known as 4 Ezra) Ezra engages in dialogue about the meaning of Israel's sufferings and is granted visions that reveal what God is going to do in the near future on Israel's behalf. This is a Jewish work written in Hebrew around 100 C.E. The material contained in 2 Esdras 15-16 (also known as 6 Ezra) consists of oracles of doom against the enemies of God's people (the Church) and advice on how those enduring persecution should behave. This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the third century C.E." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 185)

Michael E. Stone writes: "We can be more confident about the circumstances of the composition of 4 Ezra. The book stems from the last decade of the first century A.D. and was composed in reaction to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Its primary concern, therefore, is to understand that traumatic event. To do this the book charts Ezra's development from distress to consolation. This development is paralleled by his growth as a visionary until, by the end of the sixth vision, he is designated a prophet. Full consolation has also brought full prophetic status. Thus another major concern of the book, the restoration of the tradition of secrets concerning the eschaton, or end-time, is made possible by Ezra's consolation." (Harper's Bible Commentary, pp. 776-777)

Marjorie L. Kimbrough writes: "While Ezra is talking to the woman and imploring her to shake off her great sadness, her face begins to shine and flash like lightning. When she cries out, the earth shakes, and Ezra is frightened. Then the woman disappears and in her place Ezra sees a city being built, and he cries out in fear for the angel Uriel (10:25-28). The angel comes to him and tells him to 'stand up like a man' and abandon his fear. Uriel explains that the woman represents Jerusalem; her barrenness represents the many years during which there was no temple of offering to God; the years of care given to the son represent the years of Jewish residence in Jerusalem; her son's death represents the destruction that befell Jerusalem; and Ezra's compassion for her allowed him to see the brilliance of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, representing the hope that awaits those who accept the commands of God (10:29-54)." (Stories Between the Testaments, pp. 122-123)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The narrative setting of 4 Ezra is the Babylonian exile in 557 B.C.E. Despite the fact that the historical Ezra led a group of returnees to Jerusalem some 100 or 150 years later, here he serves as the spokesman for the Jewish exiles in the sixth century B.C.E. However, the historical setting of 4 Ezra's composition seems to be the late first century C.E. This becomes most obvious in the vision of the eagle and the lion (11:1-12:51) where the eagle is clearly Rome and there are abundant references to the Roman emperors of the first century C.E. And so the Babylonian exile of the sixth century B.C.E. becomes the literary occasion for exploring the theological issues raised by the recent destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 C.E. under the Romans. The eagle vision reaches its climax with reference to the three 'heads'—the late first-century C.E. Roman emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian—who were responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and for the harassment of Jews afterward. Thus it appears that 4 Ezra was composed around 100 C.E. in the expectation of the imminent end of 'this age' (and the Roman empire) and the beginning of 'the age to come' (and the vindication of the righteous within Israel)." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, pp. 189-190)

David A. deSilva writes: "The focus of the vision, particularly underscored by the Messiah's indictment of the eagle during the reign of the third head, has led most scholars to suggest that the book was written during the last years of Domitian's reign. It is not to be inferred from this, however, that the author expected the end to come during that reign (Longenecker 1995: 13), for the text allows two puny wings to rule the empire in succession after the third head disappears (12:1-3). In fact, Domitian was succeeded by Nerva, an old senator whose reign was 'puny' (96-98 C.E.). Here the 'prophecy' fails, however, since the second puny wing, Trajan, turns out to be the most successful emperor since Augustus himself, reigning twenty years and expanding the empire's boundaries to their furthest reach. It is therefore quite possible that the author wrote during Nerva's reign or even at the beginning of Trajan's, which would bring us up to 100 C.E., the 'thirtieth year' after Jerusalem's destruction (see 3:1). If this is true, then it would be quite significant that the author presents the indictment of Rome by God's Messiah as an event already accomplished: the verdict had been rendered, and the sentence will soon be carried out." (Introducing the Apocrypha, pp. 331-332)

Raymond E. Brown writes of chs. 3-14: "This is the Apocalypse of Ezra, sometimes called 4 Ezra. By far the most important part of 2 Esdras, it is a Jewish work of about AD 100-120. The original Hebr or Aram texts have been lost, and so has the Gk version, which was presumably the basis for all the extant ancient translations. The Latin is the most important, published by B. Violet (GCS 18/1 [1910]); but the Syriac and Ethiopic are also of value. There is an Eng translation by G. H. Box in APOT 2, 542-624; also W. O. E. Oesterley in WC (1933). For the question of the original language, see J. Bloch, JQR 48 (1958) 293-94. The unity of the work has been questioned; see H. H. Rowley, Relevance, 156-59. The work concerns seven visions granted to Salathiel (=Shealtiel of Ezra 3:2 and 1 Chr 3:17, the father or uncle of Zerubbabel), who is identified in the gloss of 3:1 as Ezra (who, in fact, lived at least a century later!). Thus, the work mistakenly sets Ezra 30 years after the fall of Jerusalem in 587. The first four visions (3-10) concern the problem of evil, Israel's sufferings, God's plan for the last times, and the New Jerusalem. The real crisis in the author's life, for which he finds a parallel in his fictional setting, is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. The fascinating story of the lost Lat text following 7:35 is told by B. Metzger in JBL 76 (1957) 153-56. The fifth or 'eagle' vision of chs. 11-12 uses symbolism to describe the Roman persecutors of the Jews, much as the contemporary NT Ap describes Rome as a dragon. In the sixth vision (13) a marvelous Man arises from the sea—he is the pre-existent Messiah come to wage war with the Gentiles. This passage has some similarities with the picture of the Son of Man in Enoch. In the seventh vision (14) Ezra is told to write down the 24 books of the OT and the 70 hidden books (the apocrypha). Ezra is taken up to heaven. This book continues the chain of Jewish apocalyptic that runs from Dn and Enoch through the QL to the Baruch literature." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, p. 542)

James King West writes: "Probably the most noteworthy and interesting part of the work is the final section, in chapter 14, having to do with thte restoration of the sacred books. Although God had revealed his truth to Moses on Mount Sinai, including the Law published openly and secrets of the times which were not to be revealed, the Law had been burned and, of course, the secrets lost. So at God's command Ezra assembles five scribes to whom he dictates as God gives him 'the lamp of understanding' (14:25) for forty days, during which time he writes ninety-four books. Twenty-four (the Hebrew Canon) are to be made public; the remaining seventy are to be stored (as apocrypha) for 'the wise among your people' (14:46). Two points of interest appear in this section: (1) The picture of Ezra dictating the Hebrew Scriptures by inspiration exemplifies a model for theories concerning the authority and inspiration of the Bible. (2) The esoteric works include, probably mostly, the growing number of apocalypses; and their treatment here illustrates the meaning of the term 'apocrypha' which properly belongs to them." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 470)

D. S. Russell writes: "Ezra now offers to take Moses' place, as it were, and to write 'everything that has happened in the world from the beginning, the things which were written in your Law' (14.22) and asks for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to enable him in his task. In answer to his prayer, God gives him a cup 'full of something like water, but in colour was like fire' (14.39f.). He takes it and drinks, and thereupon his wisdom is increased, his memory sharpened and his mouth opened (14.40f.). Like Moses, he sets aside forty days to receive and record what God will reveal to him. He dictates what he has heard to five scribes who record the revelation in ninety-four books (14.44). At the end of that time God again speaks: '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. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom and the river of knowledge' (14.45ff.). The twenty-four books that are to be published openly are obviously those of canonical scripture, and the seventy books that are to be kept secret are presumably the apocalyptic writings to which IV Ezra itself belongs. The number 'seventy' used in this connection may be symbolic, representing something that is comprehensive. Or, it may be more subtle in its reference than this. The word 'secret' (swd, pronounced sod), which occurs several times in this context, has in Hebrew a numerical value of 'seventy' (s = 60, w = 6, d = 4), a factor which may have influenced the writer's use of this particular number." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, pp. 109-110)

Michael E. Stone writes: "The date, place of origin, and authorship of 5 Ezra [2 Esdras 1-2] are uncertain. The contents of the book suggest, however, that it was composed during the second century A.D. by a Christian who was writing in the context of a dispute with Judaism." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 776)

Raymond E. Brown writes of Section One (chs. 1-2): "This is clearly a Christian work, composed in Greek, probably in the 2nd cent. AD, to serve as an introduction to Section Two below. It is extant only in Latin. In the narrative God speaks to Ezra and castigates the Jewish people for infidelity in the past. Echoing the theme of the NT, God promises that he will reject Israel and turn to the Gentiles. Seemingly speaking to the Church (2:15), God gives her instruction on how to take care of his new people. 'Everlasting rest' and 'eternal light' are promised in 2:34-35—the source of the phrases used in the Church's requiem liturgy—and immortality is the reward of those who confess the Son of God (2:47)." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, p. 542)

Marjorie L. Kinbrough writes: "There is some evidence that the prophecy of Ezra to the Jews about giving the kingdom to the Gentiles was written by Christians. Verses 15-19 of chapter 2 seem especially Christian, with the mention of the dead being raised and coming out of their tombs and of the help coming from Isaiah and Jeremiah, who both made prophecies concerning Jesus (Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 23:5-6). In verse 34 of chapter 2, Ezra tells the nations to wait for their shepherd, who will give 'everlasting rest' and 'the rewards of the kingdom.' For Christians, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Verses 42 through 48 of chapter 2 present information in which a number of people are robed in glory and crowned by the Son of God (compare with Rev. 7:13-14)." (Stories Between the Testaments, p. 118)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "In the narrative setting, Ezra serves as the prophet and spokesman for the Jews in exile under the Persian empire in the fifth century B.C.E. In the historical setting of the work's composition, Ezra expresses the views of Christians in the second century. The author was familiar with the biblical historical narratives as well as with prophecy and apocalypticism. The many phrases and motifs also found in the New Testament (the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and especially Revelation) suggest that those books or the traditions behind them were major sources also. The author wrote his work most likely in Greek during the second century C.E. The primary version is the Latin text included in the Vulgate." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 186)

Michael E. Stone writes: "6 Ezra [2 Esdras 15-16] was written to encourage a community in a time of persecution. Internal indications suggest a date in the late third century A.D. (see commentary below on 15:28-33). The work is usually regarded as a Christian composition, although Jewish authorship cannot be excluded." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 777)

Michael E. Stone writes of the 15:28-33 passage: "The prophet describes a vision of two military forces (each represented symbolically by an animal) engaged in battle in the east. It is generally thought that these two forces represent the troops of Odenathus of Palmyra ('the Arabian dragons,' v. 29) and those of Shapur I of Persia ('the Carmonians,' v. 30), which fought on the eastern bordres of the Roman Empire in A.D 260-261. If this identification is correct, it establishes the earliest possible date of composition for the work." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 789)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "In providing a glimpse into early Christian life under the Roman empire, 6 Ezra is a valuable source. It also is important evidence for the influence of the book of Revelation or the traditions in it. As in Revelation, Rome is given the code name Babylon and is threatened with punishments from God for having subjected God's people to eating food sacrificed to idols and other persecutions. As in Revelation, there is an expectation that God will soon intervene decisively on the side of God's people. thus 6 Ezra is a link in the tradition of Christian apocalypticism adapting the conventions and concepts of Jewish apocalypticism." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, pp. 205-206)

David A. deSilva writes: "One important textual problem concerns the omision of 7:36-105 (as enumerated in NRSV and TEV) in the Vulgate manuscripts. It has been suggested that this omission may be due to the impression given in the last of these verses that prayers on behalf of the dead are prohibited (see Longenecker 1995: 111). Indeed, the passage was used to oppose the practice in the early church, and one could readily see how it would have been advantageous to excise the passage. Nevertheless, if doctrinal censorship did stand behind the omission, then it would have been necessary also to excise 7:106-15, which remains in the Vulgate. Moreover, the text itself speaks not of prayers on behalf of the dead but intercession on the day of judgment. . . . It is more likely that the omission was accidental. Johann Gildemeister found a ninth-century Vulgate codex with the stub of a page that had been torn out. The missing text corresponded exactly with 7:36-105. Gildemeister concluded that the other Latin manuscripts of 4 Ezra lacking this passage were dependent on this particular codex (Stone 1990: 3-4). The theory of accidental omission is further strengthened by the randomness of the boundaries of the omission, interrupting a perfectly unobjectionable paragraph at 7:35 and omitting only half of the potentially objectionable discussion of intercession on behalf of those facing the judgment. These verses were not available to the translators of the KJV, for example, but had been restored to the text of 2 Esdras in several German translations from the eighteenth century (Bensly 1895) and have appeared in English translations ever since." (Introducing the Apocrypha, pp. 329-330)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the Greek apocalypse of Ezra:

James Charlesworth writes (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 116-117):

This apocalypse is extant in only two manuscripts, Paris. gr. 929, ff. 510-32 and Paris. gr. 390, ff. 50-59 (according to R. P. J. Noret; see A-M. Denis, no. 24, pp. 4, 91); the former was edited by K. von Tischendorf (no. 888) and translated into English by A. Walker (ANF 8. Pp. 571-74).

The pseudepigraphon is a rather late imitation of 4 Ezra and is frequently similar to the Apocalypse of Sedrach. The work, however, is not so late as the ninth century, as M. R. James suggested (Apocrypha Anecdota [T&S 2.3] Cambridge: CUP, 1893; p. 113).

Most scholars have concluded that the work is Christian (e.g., E. Schürer, History, 2d. Div., vol. 3, p. 110; H. Gunkel in APAT 2, p. 352; H. Weinel in the Gunkel Festschrift, pp. 157f.), but P. Riessler argued that there is a Jewish Grundstock which has been reworked by a Christian (no. 62, p. 1273).

The work has not yet been assigned chapters, but it is divided internally into four parts. First, Ezra ascends to heaven and pleads with God for mercy upon sinners. Second, led by Michael and Gabriel he descends into Tartarus, where he views the punishment of Herod and other sinners, one of whom is described as the Antichrist. Third, he ascends into the heavens and witnesses more punishments, even in Paradise, where he sees Enoch, Elijah, Moses, Peter, Paul, Luke, and Matthew. Fourth, he descends again deeper into Tartarus where he witnesses more torments, and eventually wins blessings for those who revere his book (to biblion touto) and curses for those who do not believe it. He dies, giving up his soul; his body is buried.

M. E. Stone writes: "The dependence of the writing on (presumably the Greek version of) 4 Ezra and its Christian character indicate a date sometime in the first millennium. If James is correct and this is the writing referred to in the Canon of Nicephorus (c. A.D. 850), then a date sometime between A.D. 150 and 850 is probable. Its provenace cannot be discerned." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p. 563)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the questions of Ezra:

James Charlesworth writes (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 117-118):

The one extant Armenian manuscript of the Questions of Ezra has not been edited, but parts of it were translated into English by J. Issaverdens (UWOT. Pp. 457-61).

The work is Christian, rather late, and apparently influenced by traditions recorded in 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, and the Apocalypse of Zosimus. Issaverdens translates six of the questions Ezra asks 'the Angel of God'; these can be paraphrased as follows:

1. What has God prepared for the righteous and sinners?

Ans. For the righteous are prepared rejoicing and light, for sinners darkness and fire.

2. If all men living are sinners and hence deserve condemnation, are not beasts more blessed?

Ans. Do not repeat these words to "Him who is above you."

3. Where does the soul go after death?

Ans. A good angel comes to a good soul, and a wicked one to a bad soul (cf. ApAb). The soul is taken eastward.

4. What is that way like?

Ans. There are seven steps to the Divinity; the righteous soul passes through four steps of terror, one of enlightenment, and two of blessing.

5. Why do you not take the soul to the Divinity?

Ans. Ezra is called a vain man (cf. ApZos) who thinks according to human nature. No man or angel can see the face of God, but only the place of God's throne, which is fiery (cf. 1En 14:18-23, 2En 20).

6. What shall become of "us sinners"?

Ans. When you die you will obtain mercy and rest if a Christian prays or performs some act of devotion for you.

M. E. Stone writes: "There is insufficient evidence to determine whether the writing was originally composed in Armenian or whether it wsa translated into Armenian from another language. Possible arguments based on literary considerations will be adduced in the next section. There seems no clear basis for establishing the date except to say that the writing is a Christian composition clearly based on Jewish models. There is no indication of provenace." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, p. 592)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the revelation of Ezra:

James Charlesworth writes: "No research has been published regarding the date, provenance, or original language of the writing. The work is a kalandologion, describing the characteristics of a year according to the day upon which it begins. Recension A, of the ninth century, which is the earliest of the three recensions, begins as follows: Revelatio quae facta est Esdrae et filiie Israhel de qualitatibus anni per introitum Ianuarii. The work is relatively short; Recension A contains 248 words." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, p. 118)

D. A. Fiensy writes: "The latest possible date for this text is the ninth century, since the earliest extant manuscript comes from that period. However, kalandologia were obviously composed prior to the ninth century and had become very popular by that time. Nicephorus (c. 806-15) condemned the use of certain 'profane' books, among them brontologia, selendromia, and kalandologia. Thus the composition of the text may have been well before the ninth century." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p. 601)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the vision of Ezra:

James Charlesworth writes: "This work, like the Apocalypse of Ezra and the Apocalypse of Sedrach, is dependent upon 4 Ezra. A.-M. Denis thinks that the Vision of Ezra, the Apocalypse of Ezra, and the Apocalypse of Sedrach are three recensions of the same work (no. 24, p. 93). As with the Revelation of Ezra, no critical research has been published regarding the date, provenance, and original language of the Vision of Ezra." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, p. 119)

J. R. Mueller and G. A. Robbins write: "There are no historical allusions in the Vision of Ezra that would yield an approximate date for the work. Given the numerous allusions to the New Testament, especially the Herod episode (vss. 37-39), the earliest possible date would be the late first century A.D. That a medieval work, the Vision of Alberich, is literarily dependent both on the shorter (MS V) and the longer versions of the Vision (MSS H and L), which would mean that they had to be available prior to A.D. 1111, the latest possible date would be the early twelfth century (even earlier if the eleventh-century date of MS L is accurate). The upper limit may be reduced slightly to allow time for the original to circulate in translation before being interpolated. This seems especially applicable here, as the Latin translations witness to both a longer and a shorter tradition. The lower limit may be raised for two reasons: (1) the Vision lacks many features of classical intertestamental apocalyptic works such as 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch; its features are derivative, not originative; (2) the Vision shares features, such as the 'hanging' punishments and the journey through the underworld, with many New Testament apocrypha. While no literary dependence need be postulated, the Vision certainly shares the Zeitgeist, 'ethos,' of their era, the third and fourth centuries A.D. For these reasons, the Greek original of the Vision of Ezra, whose Latin translations assured it an important role in later medieval literature, should probably be dated from A.D. 350-600." (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p. 583)