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

The Text of 2 Esdras.

The original text of 4 Ezra, which was almost certainly written in Hebrew, disappeared at an early stage, as did the Greek translation of the Hebrew. Only a few traces of the Greek have been preserved in isolated quotations by Christian writers. We are dependent now for our knowledge of the text upon translations of this Greek version into Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Armenian, and Arabic, plus a tiny Coptic fragment. Of these secondary versions the most important is the Latin which is preserved in a number of manuscripts dating from the seventh century onwards. In the Latin version the prevalent name given to 2 Esd 3–14 is 4 Esdras and hence the contemporary scholarly preference for calling this text 4 Ezra. 2 Esd 1–2, 15–16 are found only in this Latin version and there they are always kept separate from chs. 3–14 . They are two separate works, now called 5 and 6 Ezra, and consist of Christian material added to the original Ezra apocalypse in the course of the second to third centuries CE. None of the oriental versions contains these additions. The next most important version after the Latin is the Syriac. Apart from a few liturgical extracts this is preserved in only one manuscript, the Codex Ambrosianus, the most important and complete codex of the Syriac Bible, dating from the sixth to seventh century. Most translations of the text are based on the Latin and bring in readings from the other versions (principally the Syriac) only when the Latin does not make sense, is clearly corrupt, or has been altered tendentiously. The clearest example of Christian scribes at work ‘improving’ the text is 7:28 where the Latin has ‘my son Jesus’ but the Syriac ‘my son the Messiah’ and the Ethiopic has just ‘the Messiah’. That the readings of none of the oriental versions can be passed over lightly is shown by one very interesting example in ch. 8:23 . At the end of this verse nearly all the versions attest to a text which read: ‘and whose truth bears witness’. However, a quotation in the Apostolic Constitutions, a fourth-century collection of liturgical texts, and the second Arabic version read: ‘and whose truth stands for ever’. The divergence is neatly explained by different readings of the same consonantal Hebrew text: l῾d read as lā῾ād (for ever) or lĕ῾ēd (for/as a witness).

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