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

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Commentary on 2 Esdras

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2 Esdras 1–2 (= 5 Ezra)

5 Ezra contains two principal blocks of material: (1) a prophetic indictment of Israel and the proclamation of the transfer of its status as ‘people of God’ to another people ( 1:4–2:9 ); and (2) a series of eschatological promises for the new people of God ( 2:10–48 ).

( 1:1–3 ) Introduction

A better and drastically shorter text of these verses (the Spanish Recension) can be found in n. b to the NRSV. The printed text (the French Recension) represents an attempt to bring the earlier version into line with biblical tradition (Ezra 7:1–5 ). The characterization of Ezra as a ‘prophet’ (only in the French Recension) contrasts with his biblical titles ‘scribe’ and ‘priest’ but agrees with 4 Ezra 12:42 and suits well his role in 5 Ezra.

( 1:4–23 ) God's Actions on Behalf of Israel

Like 4 Ezra, 5 Ezra begins with a recital of salvation history. However, the two recitals are used for very different purposes. Here the purpose is to point up the contrast between God's faithfulness to his people and their utter failure to respond as they ought. The text is closely modelled on Ps 78 , see especially vv. 17–22, 59–62 .

( 1:24–40 ) The Rejection of Israel and the Election of A New People of God

Whereas the purpose of Ps 78 is to demonstrate that God rejected the northern tribes (Joseph/Ephraim) in favour of the ‘tribe of Judah’ and ‘David his servant’ (Ps 78:67–72 ), the author of 5 Ezra uses his recital to demonstrate that Israel is entirely rejected in favour of the Christian church—the ‘other nations’ of v. 24 (‘another people’—Spanish Recension) and the ‘people that will come’ ( 1:35, 37 ). The OT texts which he uses are part of a standard repertoire frequently found in Christian anti-Jewish polemic (Simon 1986: 135–78). Cf. v. 26 with Isa 1:15, 59:3, 7, Prov 1:28; v. 31 with Isa 1:14 and Jer 7:22 ; and v. 32 with 2 Chr 36:15–16 . In the OT denunciations such as these were meant to call the people to repentance; Christians used them to demonstrate the final rejection of Israel. This section of 5 Ezra is heavily dependent upon the Gospel of Matthew, especially the notorious ch. 23 . Cf. v. 24 with Mt 21:43 (the conclusion added by Matthew to the parable of the vineyard), v. 30a with Mt 23:37, v. 32 with Mt 23:34 , and v. 33 with Mt 23:38 . The purpose clause in v. 24 —‘that they may keep my statutes’ (see also 2:40 ) suggests that the author of 5 Ezra may have been a Jewish Christian (Stanton 1977 ). For a full treatment of the text and history of the version of v. 32 quoted in n. n to the NRSV see Hayman (1973, CSCO 339:11 *–13*).

In vv. 38–9 Jewish hopes for the return of the Dispersion to Israel (particularly in Bar 4:36 and 5:5 , but see also 4 Ezra 13:39–40 ) are reapplied to the new people who will replace them. Mt 8:11–12 is probably responsible both for the reference to the ‘east’ and to ‘Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’. This passage in Matthew's Gospel precisely summarizes the main theme of 5 Ezra. The reference to Ezra as ‘father’ is probably based on a misreading of the Greek text of Baruch (Bergren 1990: 290). n. s in the NRSV contains the more original Spanish Recension of v. 39 ; the French Recension in the main text eliminates the obscure elements in the earlier version and provides a correct list of the twelve minor prophets in the Septuagint order.

( 2:1–9 ) Zion Denounces her Children

vv. 2–5a draws closely on, and is scarcely comprehensible without reference to, Bar 4:8–23; cf. v. 3 with Bar 4:11 . The ‘mother who bore them’ is Jerusalem/Zion as personified in Bar 4; cf. Isa 50:1; 54:1; 4 Ezra 10:7 . In Baruch she consoles her children, but here in 5 Ezra she denounces them, a denunciation in which Ezra joins, vv. 5–7 . In this latter section the MS tradition is hopelessly confused and the original text scarcely recoverable. However, we should read ‘your covenant’ at the end of v. 5 with the Spanish Recension. Ezra is the speaker and God the person addressed—‘father’. Most commentators take the reference to Assyria in v. 8 as a cryptic allusion to Rome.

( 2:10–19 ) Israel's Blessings Transferred

‘My people’ (v. 10 ) refers to the new people of 1:24, 35, 37 —presumably the Christian church. The old Israel is blotted out ( 2:7 ) and the old covenant promises transferred to the new legatees. Mother Zion now has a new set of children (vv. 15, 17 ); as the text progresses she seems to be transmuting into Mother Church. The influence of the books of Revelation and 1 Enoch may be perceived in this section. Cf. vv. 12, 16, 18–19 with Rev 2:7; 14:1; 22:2, 14 ; 1 Enoch 24–5. v. 18 probably refers to the role of Isaiah and Jeremiah as providing the prophecies which Christians applied to the events of Christ's life—a view confirmed by the addition of Daniel in the Spanish Recension.

( 2:20–32 ) Exhortations and Promises

Israel's ethical and legal obligations are now incumbent upon the new people of God. These injunctions are found in many places in the OT but for the obligation to bury the dead (v. 23 ) see Tob 1:17–19 . With v. 31 cf. 4 Ezra 7:32 .

( 2:33–41 ) Ezra, the Second Moses

v. 33a is probably modelled on 4 Ezra 14:1 ff. v. 33b probably alludes to the incident of the Golden Calf (Ex 32 ) which became a type of Israel's rejection of Christ in Christian anti-Jewish polemic. The pattern is as before: Israel rejects God, so he turns to a new audience (v. 34 ). The ‘shepherd’ (v. 34 ) could be God but more likely refers to Christ; see Jn 10:11; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4 . Like other parts of the 2 Esdras complex, 5 Ezra is marked by an intense expectation that the end of the age is at hand; see 4:26, 14:18, 16:74 . The end is at hand because the predetermined number of the saved has been reached. The theme may have been taken from 4 Ezra 4:36–7 but see also Rev 6:11; 7:4 . The reference to the ‘sealing’ of the elect certainly seems dependent on Rev 7:4–8 . ‘The feast of the Lord’ (v. 38 ) refers to the messianic banquet; see Isa 25:6; Rev 19:9 ; 2 ESD 6:52 . For the white clothing (v. 40 ) see Rev 3:4; 6:11; 7:13–14 .

( 2:42–8 ) Ezra's Vision

As frequently in 4 Ezra so here the prophet is granted a vision of the future, but the text breathes the atmosphere of the book of Revelation. See Rev 4:1; 7:9; 14:1, and cf. Heb 12:22–4 . The tall young man (v. 43 ) is identified in v. 47 as ‘the Son of God’. A similar figure appears in Herm. Sim. 9.6.1 and the Acts of John, 90, while in Gos. Pet. 40 Jesus is distinguished by his height (‘overpassing the heavens’) from the two angels who assist him at the resurrection. The description is also reminiscent of the appearance of the Son of Man in 1 Enoch 46:1–3 . The vision seems to be describing the eschatological reward in heaven of the Christian martyrs.

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