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Book of 1 Esdras

Book of 1 Esdras
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

1 Esdras is a book from the Septuagint Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures. Largely a recapitulation of other biblical texts, it is regarded as canonical in Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, but is considered as apocryphal by Jews, Catholics, and most Protestants. It is also listed among the Apocrypha in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

"Esdras" is simply the Greek word for "Ezra," and it is from the Book of Ezra that 1 Esdras borrows most heavily, together with the books of Chronicles and Nehemiah. It also adds new material not found in the canonical texts, notably concerning the legendary background of the Jewish leader Zerubbabel while he was still living in Babylon. Specifically, it relates a tale of how Zerubbabel defeated two other young noblemen in an intellectual contest in the court of King Darius and thus won the king's permission to lead a new wave of Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem. The new material accounts for 99 verses in 1 Esdras, including a more polished conclusion than that of the much shorter Book of Ezra lacks.

In general, 1 Esdras tells a selective narrative of important religious events in the history of Judah, from the passover of Josiah after the finding of the Book of the Law to the reading of the Law by Ezra and its imposition as the norm for Jewish life. For the most part, 1 Esdras simply parallels the relevant portions of 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah; the only extensive unparalleled material is 1 Esdr 3-4 (the debate of the three bodyguards).

In the Slavonic editions of the Bible this book is called "2 Esdras;" in the Vulgate it is called "3 Esdras," and in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible it is called Ezra Kali which means "2 Ezra."

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The detailed outline of 1 Esdras is set out below.

Chapter 1 - begins with Josiah's institution of the celebration of Passover and his tragic death. This is followed by the history of Jerusalem up to its destruction and the Babylonian exile of the Jews. One significant change from the version of Chronicles is that 1 Esdras states that it was the prophet Jeremiah, rather than Pharaoh Necho II, whom God inspired to warn Josiah not to attack Egyptian forces then en route to Babylon. Josiah's death is thus attributed to his disobeying a command from God through a known prophet, rather than a warning from God given through the Egyptian king.

Chapter 2:1-14 - recounts the Edict of Cyrus, authorizing the Jews of Babylon to return to Jerusalem.

Chapter 2:15-26 - gives how the first attempt of the returning Jews to rebuild the Temple is blocked by Samaritan opposition.

Chapter 3:1-5:3 - is the story of Zerubbabel as the Jewish deliverer. Three courtiers of King Darius dispute the question of what is the strongest thing in the kingdom. The winner of the debate is to receive great honor and favors from Darius. One of the courtiers is Zerubbabel, a descendant of the Jewish King David. The three young men publicly debate the matter before the king and his court. The first holds that wine is the strongest, the second claims that the king is the strongest, and Zerubbabel declares that it is women who are strongest, but that Truth is even stronger than women. Darius concurs with Zerubbabel and, at his request, appoints him to lead a new wave of Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem to complete the restoration of the Temple.

Chapter 5 - begins with a list of the exiles who returned and as extensive list of exiles returning with Zerubbabel. The beginning of the Temple's reconstruction takes place and Zerubbabel's rejection of Samaritan assistance is followed by their opposition and another interruption of building.

Chapter 6-7:9 - gives the correspondence between the governor of Syria and Darius clarifying the latter's authorization to rebuild the Temple, followed by details of the completion of construction.

Chapter 7:10-15 - is the actual dedication of the Temple under and the celebration of Passover.

Chapter 8:1-9:36 - restates the return of additional exiles under Ezra, acting as the agent of the new Persian king Artaxerxes. Ezra's preaching and legislation against mixed marriages requiring that Jewish men divorce their Gentile wives and send them away, together with the children of these unions.

Chapter 9:37-55 - has Ezra read the Law, reaffirming God's covenant with the Jews.

Our next article will focus on 2 Esdras (Ezra in Latin Vulgate).

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