From Bible Encyclopedia
1 Esdras is a deuterocanonical book accepted by all Eastern Orthodox Christians, but rejected as apocryphal by Jews, Catholics, and most Protestants. In large part it parallels the action of Ezra-Nehemiah, and the Books of Chronicles, with some sections being translations of those books.
Naming and numbering
The book now called 1 Esdras presents various problems of naming. In most editions of the Septuagint, the book is titled in Greek: Εσδρας Α′ (in Latin: Esdrae I) and is placed before the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which are together titled in Greek: Εσδρας Β′ (in Latin: Esdrae II).
However, Jerome, in his translation of the Vulgate, considered 1 Esdras as apocryphal, and titled the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 and 2 Esdras, giving the current book the title 3 Esdras. Since most modern translations use the more Hebrew spelling of "Ezra" for the undoubtedly canonical book, Jerome's 3 Esdras is styled 1 Esdras in most English bibles and his 4 Esdras, an apocalyptic book rejected by most Christian canons [and so far existing only in Latin translation, 2 Arabic translations, a Syriac translation, an Ethiopian translation, and a Slavonic translation], becomes 2 Esdras.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which considers both this book and Ezra's apocalypse canonical and list them in the Slavonic Bible, counts the proto-canonical Ezra and Nehemiah as 1 Esdras, with the 3 and 4 Esdras of Jerome being labelled 2 and 3 Esdras, respectively.
The majority of the content of 1 Esdras completely parrallels Ezra, Nehemiah, and II Chronicles. In particular:
- Chapter 1 = 2 Chronicles 35:1 - 36:21. Josiah's death, history of Jerusalem up to its destruction. Two verses in this chapter are original to this book.
- Chapter 2:1-14 = Ezra 1:1-11. The edict of Cyrus
- Chapter 2:15-26 = Ezra 4:7-24. First attempt to rebuild the temple.
- Chapter 3:1-5:3 (original) Three courtiers of Darius dispute whether wine, the king, or women (but above all the truth) is the strongest. The winner of the dispute is to receive great honor from Darius. Darius concurs with Zerubbabel, who said women and truth, and at his request, sends him with the Jews, ordering the restoration of the temple.
- Chapter 5:4-6 (original) Beginning of a list of the exiles who returned.
- Chapter 5:7-73 = Ezra 2:1-4:5. List of exiles returning. Work on the temple. Interruption of building until Darius' time.
- Chapter 6-7:9 = Ezra 5:1-6:18. Correspondence between Sisinnes and Darius about the temple. Completion of the Second Temple.
- Chapter 7:10-15 = Ezra 6:19-22. Celebration of the Passover.
- Chapter 8:1-9:36 = Ezra 7:1-10:44. Return of exiles under Ezra. Preaching against mixed marriages.
- Chapter 9:37-55 = Nehemiah 7:73-8:12. Ezra reads the Law.
The purpose of the book seems to be the presentation of the dispute among the courtiers, to which details from the other books are added to complete the story. Since there are various discrepencies in the account, some scholars hold that the work was written by more than one author. However, some scholars believe that this work may have been the original, or at least the more authoritative; the variances that are contained in this work are so striking that more research is being conducted. Because of similarities to the vocabulary in the book of Daniel, it is presumed by some that the authors came from Lower Egypt and some or all may have even had a hand in the translation of Daniel. Assuming this theory is correct, many scholars consider the possibility that one "chronicler" wrote this book.
Josephus makes use of the book and some scholars believe that the composition is likely to have taken place in the first century BC or the first century AD. Many Protestant and Catholic scholars assign no historical value to the "original" sections of the book. The citations of the other books of the Bible, however, provide a pre-Septuagint translation of those texts, which increases its value to scholars.
In the current Greek texts, the book breaks off in the middle of a sentence; that particular verse thus had to be reconstructed from an early Latin translation. However, it is generally presumed that the original work extended to the feast of Tabernacles, as described in Nehemiah 8:13-18. An additional difficulty with the text is the apparent ignorance of its author regarding the historical sequence of events. Artaxerxes is mentioned before Darius, who is mentioned before Cyrus. Such jumbling of the order of events, however, is also suspected by some authors to exist in the canonical Ezra and Nehemiah; therefore, this shouldn't be such a big detail, unless you want to reject all three works.
Use in the Christian canon
The book was widely quoted by early Christian authors and it found a place in Origen's Hexapla. It was not included in early canons of the Western Church, and Clement VIII relegated it to an appendix following the New Testament in the Vulgate "lest [it] perish entirely". However, the use of the book continued in the Eastern Church, and it remains a part of the Eastern Orthodox canon.