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

Language, Translation, and Transmission.

1.

What was the original language of 1 Esdras? The prevailing answer, although by no means the only one, is that it was Greek. This view conformed with the other prevalent view that 1 Esdras was a fragment of the Chronistic history, and probably its more original form. The fine Greek idiom in which the book is written led scholars to conclude that it was, from the outset, a Greek work. Another possibility, that it was a reworking of Ezra B, was soon disproved, and it was regarded as an independent and much better translation. Torrey's early observation, that the original language of the story of the three guards was Semitic, probably Aramaic (Torrey 1970 ), did not change his position that 1 Esdras was ‘merely a piece of the oldest Greek version of the Chronicler's work’ (Torrey 1945: 395), but led him to see in the story a later interpolation into 1 Esdras. This view determined to a great degree the development of research—the scholarly concentration on the study of 1 Esdras as a ‘version’, a textual evidence for Ezra-Nehemiah (see e.g. Walde 1913; Bewer 1922; Klein 1966 ).

2.

This view can no longer be maintained. As demonstrated by Torrey (1970 ), followed by Zimmermann (1963–4 ) and further by Talshir and Talshir (1995 ), the peculiar linguistic character of the story of the three guards cannot be explained as a ‘Judeo-Greek’. Although the Greek in which it was written seems free-flowing, it is nevertheless a translation Greek, the Vorlage of which was certainly Semitic. The scholars mentioned above suggest Aramaic, but it cannot be excluded that this pericope, like the books of Ezra and Daniel, was itself bilingual, containing both Hebrew and Aramaic sections.

3.

Combined with the view that 1 Esdras is not a fragment but a literary work of its own, and that the integration of the story of the three guards and the reorganization of the material are the work of its author, the consequences of this observation are self-evident: the original languages of 1 Esdras as a whole were Semitic—Hebrew and Aramaic—and as was the practice at the time, the work was then translated into Greek. 1 Esdras cannot be considered merely a version, a textual witness for the MT of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, with no further qualification. Its position in this regard may be compared to that of Chronicles vis-à-vis the MT of Samuel and Kings. While in many cases the source-text was followed literally, and the Greek translation may bear witness to a divergent Hebrew or Aramaic Vorlage, in other cases the change was the work of the author and cannot be considered within the framework of scribal transmission, or translation technique.

4.

In dealing with the text of 1 Esdras one should try to distinguish between the work of the author at the level of composition, the work of the Greek translator at the level of translation techniques, and the process of transmission, which affected both the MT and the Greek of 1 Esdras at all stages.

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