AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE APOCRYPHA. By W O E Oesterley D D Litt D. © W O E Oesterley 1935. First published S.P.C.K. 1935. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Title | 1 Esdras: Contents | Historicity | Text and Versions | Date | Literature


The titles of the various books connected with the name of Ezra are somewhat confusing owing partly to the fact that the canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah are sometimes regarded as one book, at other times as two;
and also to the fact that in the Vulgate the different parts of the "Ezra Apocalypse" are differently designated.

As to the book with which we are now concerned, this is known by three different titles:

I Esdras Esdras α' of the most important Greek MSS. The pre-Hieronymian and the Syriac Versions follow this.
II Esdras In the Lucianic recension.
(In the Lucianic recension I Esdras = Ezra-Nehemiah, regarded as one book.)
But this must not be confused with Esdras β' of the Septuagint,
of which chaps. i-x = the canonical Ezra,
and chaps. xi-xi = the canonical Nehemiah.
III Esdras This is the title in the Latin Bibles since the time of Jerome. In the Vulgate it is placed in an Appendix,
together with the Prayer of Manasses
and IV Esdras,
after the New Testament.
On the other hand, the common arrangement, following the later Latin MSS., gives these titles to the different Ezra books:

I Esdras The canonical Ezra-Nehemiah regarded as one book.
II Esdras Comprises chaps.i, ii of II Esdras in the Apocrypha.
III Esdras The title of I Esdras of the Apocrypha; the book under consideration.
IV Esdras Includes chaps. iii-xiv of II Esdras in the Apocrypha.
V Esdras The title of chaps. xv. xvi of II Esdras in the Apocrypha.
The title by which our book is now generally known is the "Greek Ezra",
to distinguish it from the more literal translation of the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah (Esdras B).


With the exception of the section iii.1-v.6, it will be seen that our book is more or less identical with parts of the canonical books of II Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah:

i. 1-24 The celebration of the Passover in the eighteenth year of Josiah.  
ii. 25-33 The death of Josiah at the battle of Megiddo (608BC).  
ii. 34-38 Jehoahaz is made king, but is deposed three months after by the Egyptian king, who puts Jehoiakim in his place.  
ii. 39-58 Nebuchadrezzar carries Jehoiakim captive to Babylon.
Jehoiachin reigns for three months and ten days;
he is carried captive to Babylon, and Nebuchadrezzar sets Zedekiah on the throne of Judah. The siege and fall of Jerusalem. The Exile.
But see II Kgs.xxiv.1-6.
 This section is more or less identical with II Chron. xxxv. I -xxxvi. 2 1.

ii. 1-7 The decree of Cyrus permitting the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of the exiles, i.e. in 538/7BC II Chron.xxxvi. 22, 23,
Ezra i. 1-4
ii. 8-15 Gifts are given to those who are returning to their own land by their fellow-exiles.
Cyrus delivers up the holy vessels carried off by Nebuchadrezzar.
Sanabassar (Sheshbazzar) governor of Judaea
Ezra i. 5-11
ii. 16-30 In response to the Samaritan leaders who protest against the rebuilding of the walls of the city and of the Temple, Artaxerxes I (BC 465-425) forbids the work to proceed;
it ceases until the second year of Darius (BC 520).
This corresponds, with certain variations
(e.g. there is no mention of the rebuilding of the Temple) with
Ezra iv.7-24
iii.1.-v.6 The great feast given by Darius I:
three young Jews of the king's bodyguard undertake a contest in the utterance of wise sayings.
The king rewards Zerubbabel, the winner, by granting him a request.
He asks that the exiled Jews be allowed to return to their own land and that the city and Temple may be rebuilt.
The request is granted.
Zerubbabel's thanksgiving to God.
A list, incomplete, of those who went up to Jerusalem.
The first return thus takes place under Darius I.
This section is peculiar to our book, though it occurs, with some variations, in Josephus, Antiq.xi.33-63.

v.7-46 A list of the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel. Ezra ii. 1-70
v.47-55 Sacrifices are offered on the return, and the feast of Tabernacles is celebrated. Ezra iii. 1-7
v.56-65 The foundation of the Temple is laid. Ezra iii. 8-13
v.66-73 The rebuilding of the Temple is hindered by the Samaritans;
the work ceases "all the time that king Cyrus lived;
so they were hindered from building for the space of two years until the reign of Darius," i.e. in his second year, 520BC.
Ezra iv. 1-5, 24
vi-vii The rebuilding of the Temple is completed, i.e. in 516BC. Ezra v-vi
viii.1-7 The arrival of Ezra in Jerusalem in " the seventh year of Artaxerxes. Ezra vii.1-10
viii.8-24 The decree of Artaxerxes, i.e. in his seventh year, 458BC, permitting the return to Jerusalem of Ezra and those who wish to accompany him.
[From this it would appear that Ezra's mission was in 458BC, but there are substantial grounds for thinking that it was actually in 397BC.
The text does not indicate which Artaxerxes, of three, is meant.
See, on the whole problem, Oesterley and Robinson, A History of Israel, ii.114 ff. (1933)]
Ezra vii.11-26
viii.25-26 Ezra's thanksgiving Ezra vii.27-28
viii.27-67 The list of the returned exiles;
their arrival in Jerusalem
Ezra viii.1-36
viii.68-ix.15 The prohibition of mixed marriages Ezra ix.1-x.17
ix.16-36 The list of priests who had married foreign wives Ezra x.8-44
Ix.37-55 The reading of the Law by Ezra Neh.vii.73-viii.12
Arising out of this brief survey of the contents of our book there are some points that demand notice:

  1. Both the beginning and conclusion are abrupt, so that the impression is gained that we have not before us the book in its original complete form.
  2. According to iii.1-v.6 the first return of the exiles (under Zerubbabel) took place in the reign of Darius I (see especially iv.43 ff.);
    but, according to ii.1-14, this takes place under Cyrus.
  3. In ii.16-30 the decree of Artaxerxes (presumably the first of the name, 465-425BC), forbidding the rebuilding of the Temple, is placed before the reign of Darius (see especially verse 30).
  4. Section iii.1-v.6, recording the intellectual competition between the three young men belonging to Darius' bodyguard, is peculiar to this book.
  5. According to vi.18, Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar are distinct personalities, and contemporaries;
    and Sheshbazzar lays the foundation of the Temple (vi.20).
    But according to vi.27, 29, it is Zerubbabel who lays the foundation of the Temple;
    this would seem to imply that, in spite of vi.18, the two were regarded as one and the same;
    and this is further borne out by ii.1-15, where Sheshbazzar alone is mentioned (verse 12).
    All these passages refer to the reign of Cyrus.
  6. Between the end of the canonical Ezra and the beginning of Nehemiah there is a gap in the history of twelve years, according to the chronology of Ezra-Nehemiah.
    But our book ignores Neh.1-vii.72, so that it makes Neh.viii follow immediately after the end of Ezra, thus continuing the Ezra-narrative without the break occasioned by the insertion of Neh.i-vii.72, an obviously more logical sequence.
(g)In the section on the reading of the Law (ix.37-55) there is no mention of Nehemiah taking part in this, as in Neh.viii.9.

 A word or two may be added regarding these points:

  1. The abrupt beginning and ending of the book would suggest that it is an incomplete extract from a larger work; or it may conceivably be due to the original MS having been damaged.
  2. This extraordinary contradiction may be accounted for on the supposition that iii.1-v.6 (the competition between the three members of the royal bodyguard) was not an original part of the book.
    The compiler took it from some other source, and inserted in order to explain how it came about that Zerubbabel obtained permission to go to Jerusalem and undertake the rebuilding of the Temple.
    The compiler added the name of Zerubbabel in iv.13 (cp. v. 6), but omitted to alter the name of Darius wherever it occurred.
  3. This section (ii.16-30) was taken from Ezr.iv.7-24 (the form of which differed in many respects from that with which we are familiar);
    the compiler, therefore, did not trouble about the historical blunder;
    how that arose is not our present concern;
    for this the commentaries on Ezra-Nehemiah must be consulted.
  4. See under (b).
  5. As to the identity or otherwise of Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel, if our compiler did identify the two -
    what he says is ambiguous -
    it was another of his not infrequent mistakes;
    that they were different personalities is well shown by Kittel.
    [Geschichte des Volkes Israel, iii. 348 ff. [1929)]
  6. The fact that our book has nothing to correspond to Neh.i-vii.73, thereby making the historical sequence more logical, shows that, in some respects, it represents a more reliable record than the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah.
    It is also an indication that I Esdras is independent of the Septuagint of Ezra-Nehemiah.
    For the question as to how and when the insertion of Neh.i-vii.73 came to be made, recourse to the commentaries is necessary.
  7. The non-mention of the name of Nehemiah in the section on the reading of the Law is one of the arguments against Nehemiah and Ezra being contemporaries;
    it, therefore, probably witnesses to more reliable history.
It will thus be seen that there are various errors and inconsistencies in I Esdras;
and there are many others of less importance that the study of the book reveals.


Noting the following points shows the chaotic condition of the historical material presented in the book most clearly:

The first return of the exiles takes place under Cyrus, their leader is Sheshbazzar (ii.1-15).
The narrative then goes on to deal with the rebuilding of the city walls and the laying of the foundation of the Temple, which occurred during the reign of Artaxerxes (ii.16 ff.).
The first return of the exiles is then recorded as having taken place in the reign of Darius, their leader being Zerubbabel (iii-v.6);
the narrative immediately tells of the first return of the exiles under Cyrus,
the moving spirits being Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and Nehemiah (v.7 ff.)

It is clear that the compiler of our book was not concerned about historical sequence;
his object was to record how it came about that the Temple was rebuilt and its services re-inaugurated.

Nevertheless, many attempts have been made to account for the disorder of the material.
The solutions offered all have their difficulties, but the least difficult is Torrey's theory.
He holds that the compiler introduced between ii.15(14) and iii.1,
the incident of the interruption of the building of the Temple (the wall) under Artaxerxes in order to supply a motive for Zerubbabel's petition to Darius.
And the story of iii f. having once broken the true historical connexion,
it became necessary to transfer to Darius' time events
which in the document before the compiler
were brought into the reign of Cyrus (v.7-73).

Another intricate problem is presented by the relationship of our book to the Masoretic text on the one hand, and to the Septuagint of the relevant sections of Ezra-Nehemiah and II Chronicles on the other.
Nestle has shown that these latter were not taken over by the compiler of our book, but that his work is based directly on a Hebrew-Aramaic text, which often offered more reliable details than the Masoretic text.
Interesting is the fact that Josephus (Antiq.xi.1-5) follows, in general, I Esdras, not the canonical Ezra, which means that in his time our book was regarded as quite as authoritative as the latter.
And it must be granted that, as already remarked, here and there it strikes one as more reliable than the canonical Ezra.
(e.g. in making Neh.v.73b follow immediately upon Ezr.x.44, and by the omission of the name of Nehemiah in the account of the reading of the Law (see Neh.viii.9), suggesting that he and Ezra were not contemporaries.)

I Esdras is thus not dependent on the canonical books,
but is probably an older translation of a Hebrew-Aramaic original.
[This does not, however, apply to the narrative of the competition between the pages of the king's body-guard, which was Greek in its origin but this is not the opinion of some scholars, see, e.g., Eissfeldt, Einkitung in das Alte Testament, p. 633 (1934)]

The historical data, therefore, of both the apocryphal and canonical books leave much to be desired;
the chaos in each is due in part to ignorance of the facts;
but probably still more to preconceived notions on the part of the compilers.
In the case of I Esdras there is also the possibility that its chaotic state may have been aggravated by dislocation of the sheets of a MS in course of transmission, as has been the case with Ecclesiasticus.
On the other hand, there are, as we have seen, a certain number of passages suggesting more reliable data than the canonical Ezra.


The text of our book is contained in the great Septuagint MSS B, A, etc;
it is wanting in א, though as this MS has Esdras β', I Esdras evidently figured in it originally.

[It may be mentioned that some scholars hold the view, for which much to be said,
that just as the true Septuagint of Daniel was replaced by Theodotion's Version,
so I Esdras is the original Septuagint,
while II Esdras of the Greek MSS. is the Version of Theodotion,
which secured a place beside the former (instead of displacing it as in Daniel), save in the Syro-Hexapla.]

It is also found in a number of Lucianic MSS., but these have been worked over in order to make the text conform to that of the Masoretes.

There are two Old Latin versions, one of which appears in the Vulgate.

The only Syriac version is the Syro-Hexapla of Paul of Tella;
I Esdras does not appear in the Peshitta.
The other versions, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Armenian, are not of importance for the Greek Text, though with regard to the first Torrey says that it is "a valuable witness to the Hexaplar text."


The canonical books Chron-Ezra-Nehemiah belong, at the earliest, to the middle of the fourth century BC.
Josephus used our book about 100 A.D.
These are the outside dates.
A more precise date is difficult to determine;
"the affinities between I Esdr.iii.1 ff. and Esther i.1-3, as also between I Esdras and Daniel (Septuagint), give our nearest indications for any approximate determination of date."
We shall not be far wrong in assigning, as the date of our book some time during the second century BC;
and near the beginning of this century, rather than later, is the more probable date.
[For Egypt as the place of origin of the " Greek Ezra see S. A. Cook in Charles, Apocr. and Pseudepigr. of the O.T.i.5 (1913).]


Fritzsche, in Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokgphen des alten Testaments, i.3 ff. (1851).
Volkmar, Handbuch der Einleitung in die Apokyphen (1860).
Lupton, in Wace, The Holy Bible according to the Authorized Version with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary Apocrypha ii.373 ff. (1888).

Ball, The Variorum Apocrypha (1892).
Guthe, in Kautzsch, Die Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments, i.1 ff. (1900).
Howorth, Articles in Proceedings of the Soc. of Biblical Archaeology (1901-1910).
Andre, Les Apocryphes de l'ancien testament, pp.132 ff. (1903).
Torrey, Ezra Studies (1910).
Bayer, Das dritte Buch Esdras und sein Verhdltnis zu den Bachern Ezra-Nehemia (1911).
Walde, Die Esdrasbacher der Septuaginta, ihr gegenseitiges Ferhdltnis untersucht (1913).
S. A. Cook, in Charles, The Apocypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, i.1 ff. (1913).
Tedesche, A Critical Edition of I Esdras, Diss. phil. Yale Univ. (1928).