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

The Author's Audience and His Social Setting.

4 Ezra is probably to be related to other Jewish works (2 Apoc. Bar., Apoc. Abr., and Ps. Philo, Bib. Ant.) which may have been written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE. They have in common the urgent need to address the theological crisis occasioned by the recent events and to offer what reassurance they could to the Jewish people. But 4 Ezra clearly has two separate audiences in mind, as ch. 14 makes clear. There are the wise (represented by his five scribes in 14:24 )—the ones really ‘in the know’, and the people (represented in 5:16 by Phaltiel, a chief of the people; see also 12:40–50 ). It is clear that 4 Ezra is designed for the inner circle of the wise; it is one of the seventy reserved books ( 14:46 ). But nevertheless the function of the book is to instruct the wise so that they will be in a position to ‘reprove your people’ ( 14:13 ). This social structure seems to be close to that which began to develop within the Jewish community of refugees from the disaster of 70. Rabbinic texts tell us that a small group of sages led by Yohanan ben Zakkai escaped from Jerusalem during the siege and obtained from the Romans permission to set up in Yabneh (near present-day Tel-Aviv) an academy for the study of the law. They formed a nucleus of order and authority around which at least parts of the Jewish community rallied and which eventually gave rise in the course of the next century to a new social and political order in Judaism based upon rabbinic authority to expound and administer the law. It is very tempting to set 4 Ezra within this nucleus of rabbinic sages at Yabneh. Recent students of 4 Ezra (Grabbe 1981, 1989; Longenecker 1995; Coggins and Knibb 1979; Essler 1994 ) seem to be succumbing to this temptation. But if this was the locus from which 4 Ezra originated we are left with the question: why, then, was this text preserved only by Christians and not by the rabbis? Could it have originated in a group whose long-term aim became to forge an enduring identity for Judaism that would preserve it from the Christian threat?

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