The Apocrypha & 2 Esdras (Part 1)
This is a portion of “Hell of Torah Part 1” presented by Daniel Joseph. The full-length presentation can be viewed at https://youtu.be/XQdW4OdVXCI.
Hell of Torah Part 1 – Blog 3 of 6
For those of you who are not familiar with the Apocrypha, the Apocrypha is essentially a compilation of books that today in Protestantism are considered non-canonical; this means they’re not part of the 66 books found in the Protestant Bible. However, the Apocrypha, or at least many of the books of the Apocrypha, were included in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible which is called the Septuagint. Furthermore, we also know that some of the books of the Apocrypha were discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls. With that said, we know that the Apocrypha was in fact being read or utilized by both Jews and Christians. In fact, Protestantism along with Catholicism were using the Apocrypha even up to the time of the Reformation.
The Apocrypha was considered to be a very valuable resource useful for edification and even doctrine so long as it lined up with what we have in Scripture today. What I mean by that is this: it is utilized to affirm Scripture, not create it. It is very important to make that distinction. Even Martin Luther considered the Apocrypha valuable to read.
Now given the fact that I am sensitive to the controversial nature of going to books that lie outside of Scripture, I understand the need to approach this delicately and responsibly. Therefore, before I take you to the Apocrypha, I need to lay down some groundwork.
The specific book I’m going to be taking you to is called 2 Esdras. This book was included in the original 1611 King James Bible. To provide a simple overview of the construction of the book, let’s look at what Harpers Bible Dictionary says about 2 Esdras, “Esdras, the Second Book of a Jewish apocalypse dating from the very end of the first century A.D.”
What book do we know was created near the end of the first century? Revelation. This is very interesting because when you read 2 Esdras and the book of Revelation, it is as though they are brother and sister. Both are very apocalyptic and very intense.
The material was written under the pseudonym of Ezra to use the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians a century before Ezra as a means of reflecting upon the intense suffering occasioned by the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in A.D. 70. It continues, “Chaps. 1-2 and 15-16 represent Christian additions to the original Jewish apocalypse and are occasionally designated 5 and 6 Ezra, respectively” (Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed.) (279) Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, & Society of Biblical Literature (1985) San Francisco: Harper & Row). There are 16 chapters in 2 Esdras, but this book is a composition of three separate works. Two of them being chapters 1-2 and 15-16. These are the additions. Chapters 3-14 are the original work. Chapters 1-2 and 15-16 are not the original work. This is very critical to understand.
Daniel J. Harrington, a professor of New Testament at the Boston College School of Theology, 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.”
Did you catch that? What he is referring to is called replacement theology. He continues, “This is a Christian work composed in Greek in the mid-second century C.E.” It is critically important for you to understand that I am not going to the additions. I will not be quoting from chapters 1-2 or 15-16. I am not interested in the later additions.
I think it’s worth pointing out that Harrington says the first two chapters have the taste and the feel of replacement theology. I would agree as I have studied these chapters. I find this quite interesting when you consider the date when this scholar estimates this book was actually comprised. He says the mid-second century Common Era, the time of the movement called Marsianism.
This doctrine of replacement theology holds to the idea that the God of the Jews is the God of the Old Testament, and we now have a better God in the New Testament. The New Testament God is a God of love versus a God of wrath. This was Marcian’s philosophy. This philosophy was exploding in the mid-second century. It’s interesting that we find these two additions being called “Christian” additions. I prefer to use another term, “not” Christian.
Let’s continue, “In 2 Esdras 3-14 (also known as 4 Ezra).” Notice the chronology. They’re not even chronological because they’re additions. In other words, when you look at the first two chapters of 2 Esdras they are considered 5 Ezra. When you get to chapter 3, you are now reading 4 Ezra. When you get to chapters 15-16, you are reading 6 Ezra. This is how the book is laid out.
Continuing, “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.” This was written close to Revelation.
“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 – Early Jewish Writings (.com) http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/2esdras.html). That’s even a later edition than chapters 1 or 2.
Now let me take you to another scholar who confirms what we just read. His name is Michael Stone, professor and scholar of Armenian Studies. His expertise lies in Jewish and Christian literature. He says, “We can be more confident about the circumstances of the composition of 4 Ezra. The book stemmed 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.” (Harper’s Bible Commentary, pp. 776-777 http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/2esdras.html).
One more resource is the Jewish Encyclopedia. Under this header, 2 Esdras, is their introduction to this book. It reads, “One of the most interesting and the profoundest of all Jewish and Christian apocalypses is known in the Latin Bible as “Esdræ Quartus.” (Jewish Encyclopedia.com http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5852-esdras-books-of). The Latin word quartus is where we get our word “quartet.” It means fourth.
So you see that it said, quartus. It is not talking about later additions. It is talking about the fourth book which is the very book we will be referencing in this study. Again, 4 Ezra is described as, “…the most interesting and the profoundest of all Jewish and Christian apocalypses.”