Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Book Of Second Esdras

"The problems connected with the composition and transmission of II Esdras are extremely complicated. The central portion, consisting of chapters 3 to 14, purports to record seven revelations granted to Ezra in Babylon, several of which took the form of visions. The author of these chapters was an unknown Jew who probably wrote in Aramaic about the end of the first Christian century. Subsequently his book was translated into Greek. Near the middle of the next century an unknown Christian author appended chapters 15 and 16, also in Greek. The original Aramaic text of chapters 3 to 14 has perished. Almost all of the Greek has also been lost, except for three verses of chapter 15 which turned up a few years ago in Egypt on a leaf from a parchment manuscript dating from the fourth century (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus, VII, 1010). From the Aramaic or Greek form of chapters 3 to 14 several early translations were made into various other languages, namely Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Arabic (two independent versions), Armenian, and Georgian. In the West the entire book circulated in several Old Latin versions. A later form of the Latin text is printed as an appendix to the New Testament in the official Roman Catholic Vulgate Bible, in which it is called the Fourth Book of Esdras.

The last stage of the complicated history of this book is perhaps the most interesting and dramatic; it involves the discovery of a lengthy section (amounting to no less than seventy verses) which had been lost from chapter 7, and which was  thenceforth incorporated into English revisers of the Apocrypha in 1895. For many years the text of the Latin version of II Esdras was based on manuscripts which presented chapter 7 in a form which made it clear that a passage was missing between verses 35 and 36. Though other ancient versions (Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Armenian) contained a long addition at this place, most scholars were hesitant about accepting it as genuine. When, however, in 1874 Robert L. Bensly of Cambridge University discovered a ninth-century manuscript in the public library of Amiens containing the lost Latin text, it was recognized that now the equivalent of a chapter must be added to the Apocrypha. In modern English translations this previously missing section is numbered 7:36-105, while the rest of chapter 7 in the King James Version (7:36-70) is now given that additional enumeration 7:106-140. It is probable that the lost section was deliberately cut out of an ancestor of most extant Latin manuscripts, because of dogmatic reasons, for the passage contains an emphatic denial of the value of prayers for the dead (verse 105)."

Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha, p. 22-23

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