1 Esdras - Introduction
First Esdras is one of several books bearing the name of Ezra (see “Introduction to Ezra,” p. 672 HB). Known in the Apocrypha as 1 Esdras, the book is called 3 Esdras in the Latin Vulgate Bible where it was often placed in an appendix after the New Testament. With one significant exception, the book repeats, with minor variations, sections from the books of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. First Esdras begins with King Josiah's Passover celebration in Jerusalem in 622 BCE, reproducing the substance of 2 Chr 35.1–36.21 . It continues directly with Ezra 1–10 (all of the canonical book of Ezra, but in a somewhat different order), followed by Nehemiah 8 , which describes events that ostensibly transpired in 458 BCE. The only material unique to 1 Esdras is the story of the three young bodyguards in the court of King Darius ( 3.1–5.6 ). Although the book is largely copied from earlier biblical books, through its selection and organization of material it offers a distinct perspective on the history it recounts. It traces a trajectory between Josiah's Passover ( 1.1–24 ) and an unnamed holy day in the time of Ezra ( 9.49–55 ), and thereby seems more positive than the longer report in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah about the difficulties of the return to the land and the restoration of worship and community.
The main divisions of the book are:
The book begins and concludes with a ceremony in Jerusalem in front of the Temple—suggesting that the Temple, as in other postexilic writings, is a central issue of 1 Esdras. The decline between the ceremonies is brief, followed immediately by a gradual but effective restoration of the altar, the Temple, and the community. Whereas the books of Ezra and Nehemiah contrast the preexilic period with that of the return from exile, 1 Esdras, like Chronicles, underscores continuities between them.
First Esdras also contrasts with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in glorifying leaders, especially King David's descendant Zerubbabel, whose role it expands significantly. In particular, the lengthy story of the three young men in Darius's court focuses on Zerubbabel's achievements. This story portrays Zerubbabel as the wise hero who wins Darius's support for the reconstruction of the Temple. Ezra the priest also rises to a higher level, being called explicitly a high priest (but see Ezra 7.5n. ). Ezra's prominence is further increased by the absence of collaboration with Nehemiah; he is the dominant figure in the later restoration and the climax of the entire story ( 8.1–9.55 ).
The book has been preserved in Greek and reflects Hellenistic values and vocabulary. Although the latest events it narrates are from the mid‐fifth century, it probably dates in its current form from the second century BCE. It is unclear whether the book is a translation of an earlier Hebrew or Aramaic version (possibly as ancient as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah) or a late adaptation of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah composed originally in Greek. The work in Greek was used by the late first‐century CE historian Josephus.