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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Nature, Scope, and Relationship to Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.

1.

1 Esdras is a description of the history of Israel from the eighteenth year of King Josiah to the time of Ezra, and forms a parallel history to sections of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. Broadly ch. 1 is parallel to the two concluding chs. of 2 Chronicles ( 35–6 ), and chs. 2 and 5:7–9:55 are parallel to Ezra 1–10 and Neh 7:72–8:13a (with some differences in order and detail). Only chs. 3:1–5:6 are unique to this book. When compared with Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, 1 Esdras seems to open at a peculiar point, in the last stages of Josiah's reign, and end abruptly with the first word of Neh 8:13: ‘They came together’. These facts determined the literary context in which the book's nature was discussed (cf. inter alia Bayer 1911; Pohlmann 1970; Williamson 1977; Torrey 1970; Eskenazi 1986; Schenker 1991 ): does the present scope of 1 Esdras represent the original format of the work, or is it a fragment of a longer work? If a fragment, what were the boundaries of the original work? And, in any case, how is the book related to the canonical books of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah?

2.

It is beyond the scope of this introduction to survey the history of research, in which every conceivable possibility was suggested (see, among others, Pohlmann 1970: 14–31). I will restrict myself to major views and a proposition of my own. Regarding the book's original format, two extreme views have been offered: the prevalent view, that the book is a fragment of a much larger work which originally included the entire so-called ‘Chronistic history’, from the beginning of Chronicles to the end of Ezra-Nehemiah (e.g. Cook 1913; Pohlmann 1970; Torrey 1945; 1970; Myers 1974; Coggins and Knibb 1979 ); and the less common view that the work is complete as it is, both at the beginning and end (e.g. Bayer 1911; Rudolph 1949; Williamson 1977; Eskenazi 1986 ). Within each of these general lines many varieties of opinion were expressed. Most conspicuous is the hot debate, among those who hold that 1 Esdras is a fragment of the Chronistic work, regarding the question of originality: where is the supposed original Chronistic history represented in a superior way, in the canonical Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, or in 1 Esdras? This question was examined mainly in regard to three issues: the story of the three guards, found in 1 Esdras but not in Ezra-Nehemiah; the story of Nehemiah, found in the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah but not in 1 Esdras; and the order of the events at the beginning of the Persian period, where 1 Esdras places Ezra 4:6–24 after Ezra 1 . Here too, opinions differ greatly, but it is interesting that within this line of research, although the originality of every other aspect of 1 Esdras was questioned, the originality of the continuity between Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah was taken for granted.

3.

The consequences of this debate exceed the bounds of literary composition and have great significance for the understanding and evaluation of 1 Esdras. For if it is a fragment, then 1 Esdras may have no identity of its own, no purpose or theology. Consequently, there should be no sense in studying it, except for those aspects judged to be ‘more original’, or as ‘a version’ for matters of textual criticism or translation techniques. This attitude is reflected in the book's history of research.

4.

In recent years, the existence of a ‘Chronistic history’, encompassing both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, has been questioned (Japhet 1968; Williamson 1977; Japhet 1991 ) and denied by a growing number of scholars. A closer study of both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah has shown that while they certainly belong to what may be termed post-exilic historiography, they are two independent works, written in different periods, with different presuppositions, theology, and purpose. This conclusion, reached independently, also has a bearing on 1 Esdras, for if there is no Chronistic history, 1 Esdras cannot represent a fragment thereof. If this is correct, 1 Esdras may be recognized as a work in itself, with its own purpose, method, and ideology, composed as one more description of the restoration period, the author choosing to gather existing literary excerpts and stitch them together rather than use his own words. The excerpts were taken from three sources: the biblical books of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, and another, no longer extant, source. The nature of the final work may be compared to Chronicles and best defined as ‘corrective history’ (Japhet 1996: 140, 148–9): a reformulation of history from a new, ‘modern’ perspective, responsive to its time. Such a history would provide a new interpretation of the past, be valid for the present, and lay the foundations for the future. For the specific theological features of this formulation, see below.

5.

The success of the 1 Esdras effort may be judged by two criteria: his work was translated into Greek and eventually included in the Septuagint, and it was extensively used by Josephus, who followed it faithfully and in great detail, as he did with other biblical works. There still remains the matter of the book's scope. We find no difficulty in its beginning; this is where the author chose to begin his story. As for the end, it is possible that a few words or a short paragraph had accidentally been dropped at this point (see Commentary).

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