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

Sources and Composition.

1.

The material of 1 Esdras can also be outlined from the perspective of its sources, with the division of paragraphs intending to clarify the different structure and order of the parallel works.

The remainder, peculiar to 1 Esdras ( 1:23–4; 3:1–5:6 ), is composed of two elements: material taken from other sources no longer extant, and editorial notes written by the author. In the absence of comparative material, and with the original language of the work having been disguised by the Greek translation, a precise division between the two elements cannot be made, but some observations may be offered.

2.

The Story of the Three Guards ( 3:1–5:6 ). The general scholarly consensus that this story was drawn from some Hellenistic source is followed by disagreement on the details: the scope and form of the original story, its original language, and when it was included in the present context. I will refrain from presenting all the divergent views and propose my own conclusion. An analysis of the story reveals clear signs of literary development: (a) The core of the story is a conventional wisdom story, in the form of a riddle: ‘Who, or what, is the strongest?’ Three candidates compete for the status of ‘the strongest?’: wine, king, and women, in this order or in a different one. In all the answers the concept ‘strongest’ is viewed from a human perspective: who (or what) in the mundane world has the greatest control over the life of the individual man? (b) This original wisdom-riddle was then put in the framework of another wisdom-riddle, revolving around the question: ‘Who is the smartest?’ and formulated as a court-story: a competition between three of the great king's courtiers for the title ‘the smartest’. The long speeches, which are examples of the genre, probably belong to this stage. (c) This court-story, formulated around the conventional pattern of 2 + 1, was again reformulated by the introduction of a fourth element, illustrating the pattern 3 + 1. The decision is now to be made between wine, king, and women on the one hand, truth on the other. The three are indeed strong, but they are all limited, because they belong to the petty and evil world of human beings. The ‘strongest’ is what transcends this world, is spiritual and abstract rather than material and concrete, namely, truth.

3.

This courtly wisdom story, which seems to be drawn from the universal wisdom lore in its specific Hellenistic garb, also underwent a development of historicization and nationalization. The ‘great king’ was identified with Darius; the third, winning, guard, with Zerubbabel; and his reward was conceived in national rather than personal terms. This is the final, Jewish form of the wisdom-story, which then continued to describe the historical consequences of the competition ( 4:49–5:3 ) and was integrated into the history of the restoration by a new introduction to the list of returnees. Three different literary activities are evident in this final stage: editing an existing wisdom story, composing its sequel, and integrating it into the present context. Although different solutions are possible, we prefer to refrain from speculation and ascribe them all to the author of 1 Esdras.

4.

( 1:23–4 ) As will become clear in the commentary, the author of 1 Esdras did not add much to what he took from Chronicles, and intervened in the text only at the level of details. Only this short paragraph can be ascribed to his editorial efforts, in the attempt to express his own view on the changing fortunes in the history of Israel (see the Commentary).

5.

Another aspect of the literary composition is the peculiar contents and structure of ch. 2 . As illustrated by the comparative table of sources, 1 Esdras presents a different order from that of the canonical Ezra, with Ezra 4:6–24 following Ezra 1 . What is the origin of this order? Is it the original order, later changed in Ezra-Nehemiah, or is it secondary? If the latter, who was responsible for it, the author of 1 Esdras or a later ‘interpolator’? Although some scholars have argued that the order of 1 Esdras was original and superior (e.g. Schenker 1991; Dequeker 1993 ), a close scrutiny of the comparable texts makes it clear that the original order—although in itself problematical—is represented by Ezra-Nehemiah, and the general view in this regard should be upheld (e.g. Rudolph 1949: xii–xiii). The new order of 1 Esdras is not a result of misunderstanding, or a later mishandling of it, but an intentional act of structuring by the author himself. The inclusion of the story of the three guards and the identification of the winner with Zerubbabel, intended to anchor Darius's favourable measures in the cultural milieu of the time and glorify Zerubbabel, demanded a clear distinction between the time prior to ‘the second year of Darius’ and the time following it. The hostile intervention in the building, which is explicitly circumscribed in Ezra 4:6–23 to ‘until the second year of the reign of King Darius’ (Ezra 4:24 ), had to be put before the story of the competition, while the founding of the temple by Zerubbabel (Ezra 3 ) had to be placed after Zerubbabel's appearance in the time of Darius. The present structure is thus a logical result of these considerations and should be ascribed to the author of 1 Esdras himself. While the general perspective of these changes is easily demonstrated, their practical results for historical cohesion were negative. As will become clear in the commentary, the reorganization was applied only to the major blocks of material and neglected the adaptation of the details, thus demonstrating the secondary character of the work.

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