"Ezra" Materials in Judaism and Christianity*


by ROBERT A. KRAFT, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.


Originally appeared in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Roemischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der Neueren Forschung (ed H. Temporini and W. Haase) II. Principat 19.1 Religion (Judentum: Allgemeines; Palaestinishes Judentum) ed. W. Haase (Walter de Gruyter: Berlin 1979) 119-136.


[[Further editing is needed on format and possible misprints (12de05)]]


          *This summary article is partly based on work carried out by the author and the following advanced graduate students in seminars on various aspects of the subject: JON DECHOW, ROBERT HOTCHKISS and HAROLD REMUS (on the Justin quotation); KENNETH COHEN, MARTHA HIMMELFARB, ROSS KRAEMER, RUTH SANDBERG and VICI  SCHWARTZ (on Ezra Apocalypses and similar material).




I  Biblical Traditions about Ezra...............................................   120

II. Extra-Biblical Traditions about Ezra ……………………….124

III. Literature Associated with Ezra …………………………... 130

IV.   Synthesis and Suggestions ……………………………... 134


Appendix: Editions of Ancient Sources, Key to Abbreviations . .135



The Hebrew name "Ezra" (Esdras, Esdram; etymological meaning, "[God will] help") has come to be associated with various writings of Jewish and Christian antiquity, including historical narratives, prophetic exhortations, and various apocalyptic journeys and discourses.  The earliest of these works has been preserved in Hebrew (-Aramaic) by the Jewish tradition in its scriptural canon (biblical book(s) of Ezra-Nehemiah) and also in two more or less related Greek forms preserved by Christians but with no obvious evidence of characteristically Christian reworking (the "septuagintal" or “old Greek” books of Ezra-Nehemiah ["Esdras 2"] and of "l Esdras").  All of the other extensive Ezra materials of which we are aware have been preserved by Christians and have frequently been described as at least reflecting Christian editorial interests if not as having been composed by and for Christians.  Several of the writings are now extant only in relatively late versions (e.g. Latin, Armenian) of what may have been originally Greek, or even Semitic, compositions.


In Judaism and Christianity it is not at all unusual to find various writings attributed to or associated with famous names from Jewish religious history - e.g. Adam and Eve, Enoch, Abraham, Job, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah [[120]] and Baruch.\1/  In one sense, the Ezra material falls into the same category, but in another it presents some unique problems.  The exact identity of "Ezra" in relation to other persons and events from Jewish history apparently remained problematic for many ancient and medieval persons interested in these materials.  Why did the name "Ezra" become attached to various writings?  Who did the authors, editors and trans­mitters think this "Ezra" was, and how did they view his function as a revered figure of antiquity?  To what extent are the biblical accounts of Ezra responsible for generating other Ezra materials, and to what extent might they also be products of an older, more widely ranging perception of a person or persons called "Ezra" in Jewish traditions?  The survey which follows will not necessarily answer such questions with equal precision, but will attempt to present in broad outline some of the more pertinent data.


\1/ See for example, M. R. JAMES, Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament (London: SPCK, 1920): A. M. DENIS, Introduction au Pseudepigraphes Grecs d'ancien Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1970); J. H. CHARLESWORTH.  The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, Septuagint and Cognate Studies 7 (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976).


1. Biblical Traditions about Ezra


The most famous Ezra of Jewish biblical tradition emerges abruptly near the end of the book that bears his name:


"Now after these things in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia Ezra the son of Seraiah son of Azariah son of Hilkiah son of Shallum... son of Phineas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the chief priest - this Ezra went up from Babylon.  He was a ready scribe in the law of Moses." (Ezra 7.1-6 = 1 Esdras 8.1-3).


In Ezra 7 he is called "Ezra the priest, the scribe" (7.11,12,21; "high priest and reader" in 1 Esdras 9.49) while in chapter 10 he is simply "Ezra" or "Ezra the priest" (10.10,16). Ezra 7.27 through 9.15 purports to be first person testimony from "Ezra" himself while Ezra 7.1-26 and 10.lff. provide third person narrative framework.  "Ezra" appears again in the narrative of Nehemiah 8.1-13 where he is primarily "the scribe" (8.1,4,13; see also 12.36) but also "the priest" (8.2) or "the priest and scribe" (8.9; see also 12.26). Whereas Ezra 7.7 is dated to the seventh year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah's narrative apparently is set between the 20th and the 32nd years of Artaxerxes (Neh. 2.1, 13.6). The precise functions of this Ezra will be noted below, in comparison to other similar figures.


Interestingly, this "biblical Ezra" is neglected in Ben Sira's survey of famous Israelites, although the three other names most often associated [[121]] with leading Israel out of Babylonian exile do appear - Zerubbabel, Jeshua and Nehemiah (Sirach 49.11-13, but Sirach's emphasis is on rebuilding temple and city, not on return as such).  Other Jewish traditions, and espec­ially Rabbinic sources, connect Ezra closely with the restoration of Moses' law after the exile (especially laws against exogamy) and the development of "the scribes" as an institution for study of Torah.  Sometimes Rabbinic sources identify Ezra with Malachi (as Jerome also notes in his Commentary on Malachi),\2/ and Muhammad had the impression that some Jews in the 7th century c.e. called Ezra "God's Son" (Qur'an 9.30).\3/


\2/ For a convenient survey of Rabbinic and other Jewish traditions relating to Ezra, see L. GINZBERG, The Legends of the Jews 4 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1913) 354-359 and the corresponding notes in vol. 6 (1928).


\3/ Some Muslim commentators identify the 100 year "sleeper" (Abimelech ? see Paraleipo­mena Jeremiou 5) in Qur'an 2.269 with Ezra (others with Elijah).


The name "Ezra" also appears cryptically in three other passages in the Hebrew book of Nehemiah.  In 12.1f., an Ezra is included among the chief priests who accompanied Zerubbabel and Jeshua in their return from exile.  Then in 12.12f., this same Ezra is listed as the head of a priestly family whose son, Meshullam, flourished in the days of Joiakim - "these were in the days of Joiakim, son of Jeshua, son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest and scribe" (12.26). An Ezra also is included near the front of Nehemiah's joyful procession on the wall of Jerusalem, with "Ezra the scribe" in the lead (12.31-36). Several similar Hebrew names are also found in Jewish scriptures: 'Ezer/'Ezrah (1 Chr. 4.4,17; 7.21; 12.9; Neh. 3.19), 'Azer (Neh. 12.42), 'Azzer/'Azzur (Jer. 28.1 father of "the [false] prophet" Hananiah, Ezek. 11.1 father of a wicked "prince" of Israel, Neh. 10.17). The names 'Azar'el and 'Azariah also incorporate the same Hebrew consonants.  But there is no clear evidence that any of these similar names contributed directly to the Ezra traditions being discussed here.


Two major areas of difficulty arise in attempting to clarify the identity and functions of "Ezra" as that name is used in the canonical and deutero­cannonical books of Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 Esdras:


(1)       How are the various retum-narratives related to the supposed sequence of political events and rulers under Persia ? (See chart 1)


(2)       How does "Ezra" relate to other persons who are said to have led retums from Babylon to Jerusalem ? (See chart 2)


The names of four different Persian rulers appear in the accounts, if we ignore for the moment the introduction of "Darius the Mede" by the Daniel tradition as a transition ruler between Babylonian and Persian world-empires.  Possibly the biblical chronicler and the author/editor of 1 Esdras intended to identify two different rulers by the name Artaxerxes.  In any event, a certain amount of suggestive symmetry appears in the accounts when viewed from this perspective, as chart 1 attempts to show.




[[122]]   Chart 1

Cyrus (Ezra 1, 1 Esd. 2.1-15, 5.47-73

Artaxerxes no.1 (Ezra 4.6-34, 1 Esd. 2.16-30)

Darius (Ezra 5.1ff., 1 Esd. 3.1-5.46, 6.1ff.)

Artaxerxes no.2 (Ezra 7.1ff., 1 Esd. 8.1ff.)

Artaxerxes no.3 (Neh. 2ff.)

decree to rebuild temple (1.1f., 6.3)


decree/permit to rebuild (6.6ff., 1 Esd. 4.43-57)

decree/permit to return with aid (7.13ff.)

permit to rebuild city walls (2.8)





permit to purify temple (13.6ff.)

provision of/for funds (1.4; 3.7; 6.4b)


provision of/for funds (6.8)

provision of/for funds (7.15ff.)


  temple furnishings (1.7ff., 5.14, 6.5)



  temple furnishings (8.25ff.)

  return of furnishings (13.9)

  offerings (? 1.4b)


  offerings (6.9)

  offerings (7.17)


celebration of


celebration of temple

celebration of

celebration of





  new year (8.1ff.)



  dedication (6.16)



  sukkot (3.1ff.)


  passover (6.19)

passover (? 8.31ff.)

  sukkot (8.17)

leader designated


leader permitted (1 Esd. 6.27)

leader permitted

leader permitted

  Sheshbazzer (1.8, 11; 5.14, 16)



  Ezra (7.13)

  Nehemiah (2.8)

  or assumed


  or assumed



  Zerubbabel-Jeshua (2.2; 3.2, 8; 4.3)


   Zerubbabel-Jeshua (5.2; contrast 6.14)



opposition (4.1-5)

letter of opposition (4.7-16)

letter of opposition (5.3-17)


opposition (2.10, 19; 4.1)


reply supporting opposition (4.17-24)

reply prohibiting opposition (6.1-15)

opposition prohibited (7.26)




[[123]]  Chart 2

Sheshbazzar (or Sanabassar)

Zerubbabal\4/ (and Jeshua the priest)



prince of Judah

bodyguard of King and adopted kinsman (1 Esd. 3.4; 4.13, 42)


cupbearer of King (Neh. 1.ll)


Davidic descent (1 Esd. 5.5)



governor (5.14)

governor (1 Esd. 6.27, 29)


governor (Neh. 5.14; 10.1)

returns with  temple furnishings (1.11)


returns with aid and temple furnishings (8.25ff.)

retruns to rebuild walls (2.8) and return furnishings (13.9)


rebuilds altar (3.3f.)





fasting (8.21)

passover (? 8.35)

purifies cultic worship (Neh. 13.6ff., 11ff., 31f.)


sukkot (3.4ff.)

new year and sukkot (Neh. 8.1ff.)

enforces sabbath (Neh. 13.15ff.)



bans exogamy (10.1ff.)

bans exogamy (Neh.13.23ff.)

begins temple foundations (5.16)

begins temple foundations (3.10; 5.2)





memoirs (7.27-9.15)

memoirs (Neh. Passim)



prayers (9.6ff., Neh. 9.6ff.)

prayers (Neh. 1.4ff., etc.)


\4/ Ginzberg, Legends 4, 352 (and notes in vol. 6, 437f.) reports a Rabbinic tradition (Sanhedrin 38a, top) equating Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. We might also expect someone to have identified Jeshua with Ezra.




Because the different Jewish leaders sometimes appear in more than one of the above columns, it is also instructive to compare the respective traditions associated with each of them (chart 2).


It is clear that the respective editors of Ezra-Nehemiah and of 1 Esdras are not always in complete agreement and have not presented entirely coherent accounts by modern standards.  Even without attempting any detailed analysis of this data (presumably the better commentaries have done so), it is obvious that there has been interpenetration and cross­fertilization of traditions in the preserved canonical and deutero-canonical accounts.  Probably the references to Ezra in the lists of Neh. 12.26 and 36 have been added for harmonistic purposes.  The crediting of both Sheshbazzer and Zerubbabel-Jeshua for beginning to rebuild the temple is an obvious problem as is Artaxerxes' support of the opponents in a period between Cyrus and Darius.  The exact range of sources available to each editor is not known, nor the exact extent of dependence of one on the otber (presumably 1 Esdras translates a Semitic source very similar to Ezra­Nehemiah).  How much other material of equal antiquity concerning these persons and events may have survived in extra-canonical sources remains to be determined.  Samples of similar confusions, harmonizations, etc. in other sources will be noted below.  The above charts are intended simply as a partial basis for attempting to understand the many faces of Ezra's image in other Jewish and Christian literature.


II.  Extra-Biblical Traditions about Ezra


A key factor in the general understanding and use of "return from exile" traditions in Judaism and Christianity was the belief that the defeat of Babylon and return to Jerusalem took place some seventy years after the destruction of the city, in fulfilment of Jeremiah's prophecy (see Jer. 25.11-12, 29.10 [Old Greek 36.10]). For the author/editor of Daniel, "Darius the Mede"\5/ was the agent of deliverance (Dan. 9.2); for the Chronicler, it was Cyrus (Ezra 1.1 - Esdras 2.1 - 2 Chron. 36.22; see also Isa. 44.24-45.7!). For many other persons interested in the return, the exact name of the Persian ruler was apparently less important than the fact of restoration and the person of the Jewish leader in that restoration.  The conclusion of the 70 year period was the focus of interest, not details of ancient political history.  Sometimes other factors also were involved, as when Hippolytus asks regarding Dan. 9.25 "of what anointed one ("Christ") does it speak other than Jesus son of Josedek who at that time returned


\5/ For a survey of the historical problem raised by Daniel's claim, see H. H. ROWLEY, Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel: a Historical Study of Contemporary Theories (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1935).


[[125]] with the people and in the 70th year, when he had rebuilt the holy place, offered a sacrifice in accord with the law.... For after the return of the people from Babylon who were led by Jesus son of Josedek and Ezra the scribe and Zerubbabel son of Salathiel from the tribe of Judah there were 434 years [= the "62 weeks" of Dan. 9.25-26] until the coming of Messiah/Christ.. . ." (Commentary on Daniel, 4.30-31). Hippolytus reckons the "seven weeks" (= 49 years) of Dan. 9.25 as the remainder of the 70 years of captivity, since for him, Daniel has this vision in the 21st year after the destruction of the city (4.30). Elsewhere, in commenting on the vision of Daniel 2, Hippolytus claims that the Persian empire lasted 245 years (or 230 in 4.24) and Alex­ander's Greek Empire 300 years (2.12). How he squared these numbers (545 plus some years from the start of the Roman Empire) with the above interpretation of Dan. 9.24f. is not readily apparent.  For present purposes, only his apparent treatment of "the return" as a single event (Jeshua­-Ezra-Zerubbabel) need be noted.


     Among Christian authors the problem of who "Ezra" was and when he lived often is affected by the larger question of how to interpret the aforementioned "prophetic" passages in Jeremiah and Daniel.  Writers who attempted to take world history seriously and relate it to what they considered "prophetically" true came up with a variety of answers.  Clement of Alexandria, an early contemporary of Hippolytus at the be­ginning of the 3rd century, states that "the captivity lasted for 70 years until the second year of Darius Hystaspes ... when Haggai and Zachariah and the angel of the twelve [= Malachi] prophesied and Jesus [= Jeshua] son of Josedek was high priest.  And in the second year of King Darius ... Zorobabel ... was sent to raise and furnish the temple in Jerusalem" (Strom. 1. [21.] 127.2-3; see also 1. [21.] 123).  In this same section, Clement reports that "Zorobabel ... obtained from Darius permission to rebuild Jerusalem and with Esdras returned to the ancestral land.  Through him [Ezra?] came about the redemption of the people and the recognition and restoration of the divinely inspired oracles, and the passover peace-offering [or "salvation"] took place and the dissolution of foreign marriages" (1.124.1-2). Permission to return was given by Cyrus, but the actual return occurred under Darius "the first" (Hystaspes).  But in another context Clement is aware that Ezra "the Levite, the priest" flourished under Artaxerxes (at least 72 years later, according to the chronology in Strom 1.128), and "in an inspired state he prophesied by renewing again all the ancient scriptures" which had been destroyed (or "corrupted" ?) at the time of Nebuchadnezzar (Strom. 1. [22.] 149.3). Compare the similar passage in Irenaeus AH 3.21.2 [24.1]: "After seventy years when the Jews went up to their own region, then [or perhaps "thereafter"] in the times of Artaxerxes ... [God] inspired Ezra, the priest from the tribe of Levi to rehearse all the words of the previous prophets [or possibly "the former prophets"] and restore to the people the legislation given through Moses".


     In the interests of accurate world chronography, other writers place Ezra relatively later in the Persian period and separate him from the [[126]] initial return to Jerusalem.  Thus Josephus had already distinguished four returns, of which Ezra's was the third.  For Josephus, Ezra was a righteous high priest and friend of King Xerxes (note the parallel to Zerubbabel friend of Darius, and Nehemiah friend of [Arta]xerxes!) and died as an old man in Jerusalem (Ant. 11.121-158)\6/. Presumably the early chronographers of Christianity like Julius Africanus and Eusebius made similar distinctions\7/.  Certainly the Chronicon Paschale does -- it briefly lists Esdras twice (or is it two Esdrases ?) in quick succession, in the 74th olympiad (ca. 480 bce) as a "priest among the Jews" and in the 79th olympiad (ca. 460 bce) as a "teacher of the grammar [or "script"] of the holy laws"\8/.  Writing around the 6th century, Malalas describes Nehemiah as a priest of Davidic lineage and a eunuch who returned to Jerusalem 40 years after the first return, accompanied by Ezra "the prophet and governor" (!?).  Ezra provided holy vessels and the "priestly [or "sacred"] books which were found" and “wrote copies from memory of the books not found"\9/ (see also Suidas under "Esdras").  For George Syncellus (9th c.), the relatively later dating of Ezra is quite firm and the opinions of earlier authors are discussed in some detail\10/.


\6/ The claim that Ezra was a friend of Xerxes is rejected by Syncellus (see n. 10 below). Josephus' treatment of some of the other problems is interesting: he has both Darius the Mede and "his relative" Cyrus conquer Babylon (Ant. 10.248), and Nehemiah's return receives separate treatment as later in Xerxes' reign (11.168ff.). In Apion 1.128-160, Josephus refers to both the "70 years" duration of the destruction (1.132) and more exact dating (1.154, 159).


\7/ Eusebius, Prep.  Evang. 10.9-10 seems to date the end of the exile to both the second year of Darius (10.9 [483d]) and the first year of Cyrus (10.10 [488d], citing Africanus).  According to Syiicellus (below, n. 10), Africanus viewed Ezra as active under Artaxerxes.


\8/ Chronicon Paschale, ed.  L. DINDORF, Corpus Scriptorum Histories Byzantinae 9 (Bonn: Weber, 1832), 304-305.  Ezra receives very brief notice by comparison with the section on Nehemiah, who is dated ca. 452bce.


\9/ Malalas, Chronograpia 6 (ed.  L. DINDORF, CSHB 8, 1831, pp. 160f.).


\10/ Syncellus, Chronographia (ed.  W. DINDORF, CSHB 6.1, 1828, 421-480).



But other, less historically selfconscious traditions about Ezra also were in circulation among Christians, emphasizing other alleged functions of Ezra.  In general, Ezra's role as a scholar of the law and a dissolver of mixed marriages receives little notice among Christians.  He is remembered most widely as the one through whom God restored scriptures (see above, Irenaeus, Clement, Malalas, Suidas), and Tertullian suggests that those "scriptures" even included books like Enoch (Hab.  Mul. 1.3). Perhaps the reference by Malalas and Suidas to the "books not found" was also meant to refer to the extra-canonical writings.  Justin even claims that the Jews had excised from their scriptures a passage in which Ezra, in the priestly­ cultic context of Passover, uses language congenial to Christian ideas of salvation (Dial. 72.1). If this is a clue that in some circles, a battle was being fought to validate Ezra as a spokesman for a Christian "belief" oriented perspective as over against Ezra the champion of Jewish law, it stands virtually alone.  When Lactantius cites the same "Ezra" passage more than [[127]] a century later (Div.  Inst. 4.18.22 = Epitome 48) it is clearly used to high­light Jewish rejection of Jesus, but the Jews are not accused of removing the passage from scripture.  Lactantius seems to be unaware of any problem regarding the source of the "Ezra" quotation, which he includes among other "testimonies of the prophets".  A rather ambiguous reference to Ezra's cultic-priestly function is also found in the prayer of Apostolic Constitutions 7.37: as God accepted the sacrifice of Ezra at the return, may he accept Gentile prayers -- Ezra 8.35f. might be in view, or some other tradition like the Passover observation mentioned by Justin and Lactantius.


     In a few sources, "Ezra" is pictured as a "prophet".  As we have seen, Malalas used this title and Lactantius seems to consider his "Ezra" quotation as a prophetic testimony.  Clement of Alexandria quotes a passage from 4 Ezra (5.35) as "Esdras the prophet" (Strom. 3.[16.]100.3), perhaps intending to differentiate the author of that apocalypse from another Ezra ("priest and scribe"), but he also describes the latter Ezra as "prophesying" (see above).  In the 4th/5th centuries, some Christian sources clearly dis­tinguish between two important Ezras from the period of the Babylonian exile and return.  The anonymous compiler(s) of the Latin tractate(s) on Inventiones Nominum speak(s) of Ezra "the prophet" to whom God spoke from a bush (see 4 Ezra 14.1), son of Chusi (see 4 Ezra 1.1 in CM), and restorer of written Jewish scriptures, and "the priest" Ezra who lived a century (?) later\11/.  Epiphanius also speaks of two Ezras, apparently near contemporaries.  He describes an Ezra who was a priest during Nebuchad­nezzar's reign and was sent from Babylon to instruct the Samaritans in the law.  This Ezra wanted to keep the Israelites separate from the Samaritans and thus gave only the Pentateuch to the latter, written in the old script used at Sinai, but not the prophetical books.  Epiphanius distinguishes this Ezra from another Ezra called (or "son of" -- so Georgian) Salathiel (see 4 Ezra 3.1), son of (or "associate of" -- so Coptic) Zerubbabel son of Jeconiah (see 1 Chr. 3.17)\12/. Epiphanius does not call either Ezra a prophet".


\11/ M.R. JAMES published two somewhat divergent texts of this material, based on 8th century manuscripts, in: Journal of Theological Studies 4 (1902/03); see section G-28/ P.               224 (Chusi pater Hesdrae, prophetae maioris; see also the notes on pp. 239f.) and G-49/ p. 230 = A-45/p. 231 (Duo sumt Hesdrae, unus [+ est G] propheta filius Chusi ad quem dominus de rubro [+ sicut ad Moysen G] locutus est, qui et legem [so A: quique memoria sua G] renovavit [+ divinas scripturas quas Nabuchodonosor incenderat.  Litterasque hebrae­icas ludeis inmutasse, et fecisse eis litteras Assirias, ut non commiscerentur Samaritanis. In diversa manu scribuntur, ipse dictus est iure peritus G].  Alius [+ est Hesdra filius Helia G] sacerdos scriba [so A: scriba, sacerdos G] et doctor [+ legis A] qui reversus est [so A: cum reliqo papulo G] de captivitate Babylonis [+ ascendit G].  Inter ambos [+ autem G] sunt anni [+ ferme G] C [so G: I in A]).  See also M. R. JAMES, Ego Salathiel Qui Esdras, Journal of Theological Studies 18 (1916/17) 167-169.


\12/         De XII Gemmis, in the section on "Onyx".  For the Georgian and Coptic versions see the edition by R. P. BLAKE, in: Studies and Documents, ed.  K. and S. LAKE (London: Christophers, 1934) 186-189 and 275.  See also M. R. JAMES, Salathiel qui et Esdras, Journal of Theological Studies 19 (1917/18) 347-349.  Another tradition which may reflect some connection between Ezra and Samaria appears in Paraleipomena Jeremiou 8, where "Jeremiah" requires the dissolution of exogamous marriage for the returning Israelites before they can enter Jerusalem.  Those who refuse to leave their non-Israelite mates then settle Samaria.




Finally, there is a lengthy description of Ezra as prophet, miracle­worker, sage and priestly mediator in the Coptic Jeremiah Apocryphon 32-34.\13/  This section interrupts the flow of the narrative about Jeremiah and contains various themes of interest:


32. Ezra is one of 70 Hebrew youths "in the school of the Chaldeans" when Cyrus the Persian succeeds Nebuchadnezzar and increases the burdens on the Hebrews (compare traditions of Israel in Egypt before the Exodus; also Daniel and his youthful companions in Dan. 1.3-7). "The Spirit of the Lord" is on Ezra.  When Ezra's water-pitcher breaks, he uses his robe to carry water (compare Jesus in Infancy Gospel of Thomas 11).  His teacher predicts that he will deliver his people from captivity.  He grows in knowledge and grace.  He strikes a rock and it gushes forth water (compare Moses), confounding the Chaldean detractors.

33. Cyrus taunts the Hebrews and receives a strong sign that they should soon return to judaea.

34. "And it came to pass after that the 70 years of the captivity were nearly completed.  And Ezra son of Johanan and Daniel son of Ezra and Ezekiel son of Buzi (Ezek. 1.3), those three were prophets, and the word came to them while they were prophesying in Babylon".  They lead the 70 youths to the wilderness to offer a sheep as a sacrifice.  Ezra prays that God will accept the sacrifice (see Apost.  Const. 7.37), remember his covenant and deliver his people.  God sends the angel Eremiel who causes fire to consume the sacrifice (compare Elijah on Carmel).

(35ff.  Jeremiah leads the return as in Paraleipomena Jeremiou.  Ezra plays no further role.)


\13/  Ed.  K. H. KUHN, Le Muse/on 83 (1970) 95-135 and 291-350.


The picture of Ezra as a prophetic person is, for the most part, affirmed also in the extra-canonical texts with which Ezra's name is associat­ed. The extent to which any of these texts themselves contributed to this image of Ezra, or depended on an already extant tradition about Ezra as a prophet and/or apocalyptic seer is difficult to determine.  Probably the Apocalypse now preserved in Latin (and other languages derivative from Greek) as chapters 3-14 of "4 Ezra" is the oldest extant example of such materials.  It identifies its "prophet" (see 12.42) author as "Salathiel who is also called Ezra", and dates itself in the 30th year after Jerusalem's destruc­tion (3.1; compare Ezek. 1.1).  Ezra receives a series of dreams and visions.  In chapter 14, Ezra hears a voice from a bush and is explicitly compared to Moses.  Reference is made to secret revelations to Moses as well as those [[129]] made public (14.6). Ezra asks that God's spirit be given him to write the law that has perished and other things by which people may live.  Ezra takes five scribes, retires for 40 days, and with supernatural aid dictates 94 books in hitherto unknown characters.  Of these, 24 were made public but 70 were kept only for "the wise" (14.45-46). Presumably the Apocalypse ended with an assumption of Ezra to heaven (see 8.19b; 14.9 and the end of the non-Latin versions).  Nothing is said about this Ezra being a priest or lead­ing a return to Jerusalem.  An earthly restoration of the city does not seem to be anticipated (see e.g. 10.50ff.). Clement refers to this work as by "Ezra the prophet" (Strom. 3.[16.]100.3).


The Greek Apocalypse of Esdras also begins with a vague reference to "Esdras the holy prophet and beloved of God" who received his revelation in "the 30th year", on the 22nd day of an unnamed month while in his house.  Otherwise it provides little by way of information to add to the picture of Ezra other than some interesting parallels to Moses when Ezra faces death near the end of the book.  His death date is given as 28 October.


With the short work ("5 Ezra") now preserved only in Latin as chapters 1-2 of 4 Ezra, serious textcritical problems are present in the opening words.  The family of MSS represented by C and M briefly identifies the author as "Esdras son of Chusi, in the days of Nebuchadnezzar" (see Inventiones Nominum, above), while the MSS represented by S and A provide a long genealogy similar to that found in Ezra 7.1-5 but framed by the words "The second book of Ezra the prophet [sic!], son of Seraiah . . ., who was a captive in the region of the Medes in the reign of Artaxerxes King of the Persians".  Near the end of this writing Ezra is commissioned on "Mt.  Horeb" (as Moses in Ex. 3.1) to go to Israel but is rejected and turns to those who hear and understand (2.34; SA speak of nations or gentiles here).  He receives a final vision and angelic commission on "Mount Zion".


As will be noted below, several other works circulated which claimed some connection with Ezra.  I have not yet been able to examine all of them in detail, but those which I have examined add nothing of significance to the traditions about "Ezra" noted above.


From this somewhat diverse array of sources mentioning "Ezra" the following characteristics or functions of Ezra deserve notice.


(1)   leader of a return to Jerusalem from Babylon (Ezra/1 Esdras, etc.).

(2)   priest who offers prayers and sacrifices (Ezra/l Esdras, Justin).

(3)   scribe and enthusiast for assiduous study of Torah (Neh., Epiph.).

(4)   champion of endogamous Jewish marriage (Ezra) and of Israel's separation from Samaritans (Epiph.).

(5)   restorer of Jewish scriptures af ter destruction of temple (4 Ezra, etc.).

(6)   originator of new type of Hebrew letters (4 Ezra, Rabb. trad.; cf.  Chron.  Pasch., Epiph.).

(7)   "prophet" (Ezra, Gk Apocal.  Esdr., Clement, Inv.  Nom., Malalas). [[130]]

(8)   recipient of apocalyptic secrets (4 Ezra, etc. [see below]).

(9)   miracle worker (Apocr. Jer.).

(10) companion of angels (Apocr. Jer., Gk Apocal.  Ezra, 4 Ezra, 5 Ezra).


The following variations with regard to Ezra's lineage, associates, and time of floruit also appear:


(1) son of Chusi in Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (5 Ezra CM, Inv.  Nom.).

(2) son of Johanan and father of Daniel (?) in Babylon under Cyrus (Apocr. Jer.).

(3) = (or son of) Salathiel, son of (or associate of) Zorobabel son of Jechoniah (Epiphanius).

(4) = Salathiel, in Babylon 30 years after the destruction (4 Ezra).

(5) in Babylon under Cyrus and/or Darius (Clem.  Alex., Apocr. Jerem.).

(6) returned with Zerubbabel 70 years after the destruction (Neh. 12. 1, Clem.  Alex., Hippol.).

(7) = Malachi (Rabbinic tradition also known to Jerome).

(8) son of Seriah and early contemporary of Nehemiah under Artaxer­xes (Ezra/Esd.).

(9) friend of Xerxes (Josephus, see Suidas; denied by Syncellus).

(10) son of "Helia" (? Helkia, see Ezra 7.1), a century later than no. 1 (MS G of Inv.  Nom.).

(11) slept for a century, from before the destruction (Muslim tra­dition).


The question remains as to whether any helpful patterns can be reconstruct­ed from this data to illuminate the perceptions of Ezra held by the various persons who read and transmitted and ultimately originated the different Ezra materials.



III.  Literature Associated with Ezra


     The extant documents that focus on or are attributed to Ezra are of several different types (for present purposes, significant sections of more inclusive writings such as the Ezra sections of canonical Ezra-Nehemiah are also listed):


(1)   Narratives in which Ezra is a priest and interpreter of Jewish law who leads a return to Jerusalem and/or reinforces strict law observ­ance -- [[131]]


Ezra 7-10 (includes a short prayer-confession along with sorne first person narrative)

Neh. 8-9 (or 10) (includes a long prayer)

1 Es&as 8-9 (includes material from both of the above sections).


There is no indication in these materials that Ezra is viewed as a prophet or seer, or as a new Moses, although some reference to his “understanding" and "wisdom" appears (e.g. 1 Esd. 8.7; cf.  Neh. 10.28). He is certainly depicted as an intercessor for Israel in Neh. 9. He also initiates and partici­pates in cultic functions such as the fast in Ezra 8.21ff., the offerings in the 7th month (8.35) and the first month (10.19), reinstitution of sukkot along with public reading of law (Neh. 8.3,14f.) and reaffirmation of the covenant with God (Neh. 9.38).


     Possibly this category of materials also once included a more lengthy narrative in which Ezra was depicted as celebrating a Passover with the returned exiles.  The text mentioned by Justin may well be of pre-Christian origin (there is nothing characteristically "Christian" about its terminology, despite the persisting claims that it is a “Christian" composition\l4/), and the the presence of a major passover celebration in the return traditions (Ezra 6.19) strengthens the possibility that Ezra would have been associated with a passover at some point. Indeed, since 1 Esdras opens rather abruptly with an account of Josiah’s passover (2 Chr. 35, see 2 Kgs. 23.21), which followed the renewal of the covenant, it might be that the Ezra traditions behind 1 Esdras once also included a covenant renewal passover under Ezra.  Interestingly, the passover of the returned exiles in 1 Esdras 7.10ff. is not associated directly with Ezra or with covenant renewal, although separation from the abominations of the local people is mentioned (as also in Ezra 6.21). Furthermore, the context of Ezra's sukkot celebration (see esp.  Neh. 8.17) is sufficiently reminiscent of Josiah's passover in 2 Kgs. 23.22 to strengthen the suspicion that Ezra once may have been associated with a major passover celebration instead of (or in addition to) the sukkot celebration we now find in the sources.


\14/   My students and I have done a detailed analysis of the language of Justin's "Ezra" quota­tion and are convinced that it could derive as easily from a non or pre Christian Jewish pen as from a Christian.  This evidence must await publication in a separate article.


     (la) Narratives in which Ezra is a priestly prophet and miracle worker designated to lead the return from the exile --


Jeremiah Apocryphon 32 and 34.


Parallelism with Moses (and with Jesus) is fairly obvious here.  Ezra is pictured as wise and a wonder worker as well as one who offers a sacrifice and a prayer of mediation.  He also is in contact with angels.  The presence of this explicitly Ezra material in an extensive work dealing with Jeremiah is interesting, especially since the picture of Jeremiah here (e.g. as in [[132]] Paraleipomena Jeremiou) otherwise also reflects some Ezra-types of traditions (e.g. return to Jerusalem, prohibition of exogamy).


     (2) Prophecies and Apocalypses received by Ezra in Babylon during the first few decades of the exile --


4 Ezra 3-14 (implies Ezra's assumption to heaven at the end)

5 Ezra (= 4 Ezra 1-2) in MSS CM

Greek Apocalypse of Ezra (Ezra dies at the end)


In these materials, Ezra is one who proclaims or witnesses God's judgment and to some extent serves as an intercessor (except, perhaps, in 5 Ezra).  He is in the presence of angels and learns things not normally known to humans.  In 4th and 5th Ezra, he recounts various aspects of Israel's history.  In form and content, 5 Ezra is relatively closer to "prophecy" than to "apocalyptic" as such.  Perhaps the most influential section of these ma­terials is 4 Ezra 14, with its story of Ezra as a new Moses, restoring in hitherto unknown characters the destroyed scriptures, both those public and those secret.  There is no hint of Ezra being a priest or of a return to an earthly city of Jerusalem.


     (2 a) Prophetic messages received by Ezra in Babylon during the reign of Artaxerxes --


5 Ezra (= 4 Ezra 1-2) in MSS SA.


The presumably intentional identification of the Ezra of 5 Ezra 1.lff. (SA) with the priestly Ezra of Ezra 7.1-5 apparently has left no other traces in this text, and is almost certainly a secondary development.


     (3) Works in which neither of the above identifications/settings is specified (or which have not yet been examined for those elements)\15/ --


Armenian Inquiries or Questions of "the prophet Esdras" (only partly available; similar in tone to 4 Ezra);

  Latin "Vision of the Blessed Ezra" (similar to the Greek Apocalypse);

  Various works associating Ezra with calendric knowledge:

Greek Prognostikon of Lunar Days, from the prophet Esdras\16/ (basi­cally historical data linked to certain days);

Latin (etc.) Revelation of Ezra attributed variously to "Esdras", "Esdras the chief priest", or "Esdras the prophet"\17/ (predictions [[133]] of what the year will be like in relation to the day of the week on which it starts);

       Ethiopic Description by "the prophet Ezra the priest" of the best days on which to engage in various activities;\18/

       Ethiopic (Falasha) Apocalypse (not yet examined);

Syriac Apocalypse of Ezra the Scribe, when he was in the desert with his Disciple Karpos, concerning the Arabs\19/.


\15/   Only works that unambiguously bear the name Ezra are included here.  The work known as "6 Ezra" (4 Ezra 15-16) does not claim to be by Ezra except indirectly, through its inclusion with 4 & 5 Ezra in the Latin tradition.  Thus "6 Ez.ra" is not discussed in this article.  For bibliographical and other data on most of the works listed below, see DENIS, Introduction, 93-96, and CHARLESWORTH, Pseudepigrapha (under "Ezra").


\16/   See F. NAu, De deux opuscules astrologiques attribue/s au prophe\te Esdras et d'un calen­drier lunaire de I'ancien testament attribue/ a\ Esdras, aux e/gyptiens et me^me a\, Aristote, Revue de l'Orient Chre/tien 12 (1907) 14-21.


\17/   The various MSS give varying attributions.  NAU, Opuscules, also published a document of this type attributed to the prophet Ezra.


\18/  Ed. by NAU, Opuscules.

\19/  See J.-B. CHABOT, L'Apocalypse d'Esdras, in: Revue Se/mitique d'e/pigraphie et d'histoire ancienne 2 (1894)  333-346. We have not yet examined this document in full.


     In terms of general content, there are three types of revelation associat­ed with Ezra -- commission for Ezra to proclaim judgment on living lsrael (5 Ezra); questions and answers about God's justice in dealing with sinners (4 Ezra, Questions of Ezra), and especially about rewards and punishments after death and/or visions of (and itineraries through) heaven and hell (Greek Apocalypse, Latin Vision); and information about the significance of certain calendar days (Prognostikon, Latin Revelation, etc.). If one wishes to identify a document which contains enough of the above elements to serve as a "common denominator", 4 Ezra 3-14 is certainly appropriate.  The Ezra of this lengthy apocalypse is perplexed about the problem of evil and the fate of God's people.  His questions often take the form of challenges (see also Greek Apocalypse, and to a minor extent Vision, with the plea "Lord, spare the sinners").  He receives information from angels, has visions, dreams dreams, is one of a chosen few (8.62). He learns about God's secrets, about history and its consequences, about times and seasons (e.g. 6.7, 10.39, 13.58). He bewails the fate of sinful mankind, and especially Israel, and is told that in the last times the remnant of the lost ten tribes will return and be gathered on Zion (13.35-50, see 5 Ezra).  He is the last of the prophets (12.42), living near the end of the times, a humble and thus fitting intercessor (8.46-56) who respects and observes God's law (7.45, 9.37, 13.64). He is, in many ways, a new Moses who is not required to experience natural death.


     The direct points of contact between this Ezra and the Ezra of the aforementioned narratives seem to be four: both live in the aftermath of Jerusalem's destruction, show an awareness of the main outlines of Israel's history, are extremely concemed about the Israelites observing God's law, and serve as intercessors for Israel.  The differences are noteworthy ­there is no overt evidence of any priestly interests in 4 Ezra 3-14, or of the possibility of a return to the earthly Jerusalem.  Endogamy/exogamy is not an issue, nor the continuance of temple worship (sacrifice, etc.). Indeed, for 4 Ezra God liberates and blesses non Judahites, almost as replacements for fallen Judah.  [[134]]




IV.  Synthesis and Suggestions


How are we to understand the development and origins of these diverse traditions?  Shall we trace them all to a single common root?  The narratives concerning the priestly Ezra seem to be the earliest preserved evidence.  Has the prophet Ezra developed from them?  If so, that stage of the development has left virtually no traces and it taxes the imagination to create a satisfactory explanation.  The priestly Ezra of the biblical traditions is not described in language that encourages his being transformed into a prophet, although that is not in itself sufficient demonstration that it did not happen that way.


Perhaps, then, the tradition of Ezra the prophet is more ancient and gave rise to the priestly biblical personage?  Such a development might be understandable if we suppose that there was a strong Ezra tradition in which Ezra emerged like a second Moses and appeal to him was made in some sort of polemical context.  There are several suggestive elements in the preserved traditions -- the prophet Ezra sometimes supports a non Judahite elect remnant (4-5 Ezra) and sometimes is vaguely connected with Samaritan history (Epiphanius).  He preserves "secret" books for the few who understand (4 Ezra 14).  Such a figure could be made more palatable, if he could not be "forgotten" completely (see Sirach), by emphasizing his interests in law and in the temple and its cult to the ex­clusion of other aspects.


     But it is equally possible that at the earliest stages, respective tra­ditions about a priestly Ezra and a prophetic Ezra developed independently.  Whether a single historical figure gave rise to both, or two (or more) Ezras were being remembered, can no longer be ascertained with conficence.  But at the earliest stage in which we clearly have these two Ezra figures represented in the literature -- namely, the date of 4 Ezra (unless 5 Ezra is earlier) -- it seems quite probable that they would have been considered to be two different persons.  As time went on and as the Christian preservers of such materials became more and more focused on canonical literature and less open to the often perplexing varieties of material offered in the "apocryphal" and "pseudepigraphical" texts, the prophetic Ezra tended to be ignored or transformed into other traditional persons (like the prophet-­priest Jeremiah) or harmonized with the priestly Ezra.\20/  At present, we can only glimpse this conjectured development in a few isolated instances. [[135]] Hopefully, continued research will produce a more complete picture of these developments, and/or will erect a more satisfactory framework within which to understand the complex Ezra materials that have been preserved, including those described above.


\20/  In MSS SA of 5 Ezra 1.1ff., the biblical Ezra seems to have replaced the mysterious "Ezra son of Chusi".  That the development here went in the opposite direction is extremely unlikely on textcritical grounds! For a recent discussion of some of the historical and textual problems surrounding 5 Ezra, see G. STANTON, 5 Ezra and Matthean Christian­ity in the Second Century, Journal of Theological Studies 28 (1977) 67-83 (especially 68, n. 4 and 69, nn. 1-2).  The relation of Ezra and Jeremiah traditions, as in the Jeremiah Apocryphon or in Paraleipomena Jeremiou, requires closer attention.






Editions of Ancient Sources, Key to Abbreviations


Apost(olic) Const(itutions), ad.  F. X. FUNK.  Paderborn, 1905 (reprinted 1960).


Biblical Writings:


For the Hebrew (or Aramaic) texts, see Biblia Hebraica\3, ed.  R. KITTEL and P. KAHLE. Stuttgart, 1954.

For the ancient Greek versions, see the editions published under the collective designation SEPTUAGINTA by the Goettingen  Societas Litterarum (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1931- ) or, where no Goettingen edition is yet available, the editions by A. E. BROOKE, N. MCLEAN and H. ST.  J. THACKERAY (Cambridge University Press, 1906-1940), as follows:

1-2 Chr(onicles).  Cambridge ed., 1932.

Dan(iel).  Goettingen ed.  J. ZIEGLER, 1964.

1 Esd(ras).  Cambridge ed., 1936.

Ex(odus).  Cambridge ed., 1909.

Ezek(iel).  Goettingen ed.  J. ZIEGLER, 1962.

Ezra-Neh(emiah).  Cambridge ed. 1935.

Isa(iah).  Goettingen ed.  J. ZIEGLER, 1939.

jer(emiah).  Goettingen ed.  J. ZIEGLER, 1967.

1-2 K(in)gs = 3-4 Kingdom.  Cambridge ed. 1930.

Neh(emiah).  See above under Ezra-Nehemiah.

Sir(ach).  Goettingen ed.  J. ZIEGLER, 1965.


Chron(icon) Pasch(ale).  See note 8.

Clem(ent of) Alexandria), Strom(ata), ad. O. STAEHLIN and L. FRUECHTEL.  GCS 52, 1960\2.


Epiph(anius).  See note 12.

Eusebius, Pr(a)ep(aratio) Evang(elica), ad.  K. Mras.  GCS, 1954.

Esdr(as), G(ree)k Apocal(ypse of), ed.  C. TISCHENDORF, Apocalypses Apocryphae.  Leipzig, 1866.

4-5-6 Ezra, ed.  R. L. BENSLY, The Fourth Book of Ezra.  Texts and Studies 3.2, 1895.


GCS = Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten Jahrhunderte, Berlin, Akademie­Verlag.


Hippolytus, Comm(entary on) Daniel, ed.  G. N. BONWETSCH.  GCS, 1897.


Inv(entiones) Nom(inum).  See note 11.

Irenaeus, A(gainst) H(eresies), ed.  W. W. HARVEY.  Cambridge, 1857.


Jer(emiah) Apocr(yphon), see note 13.

Jerome, Commentary on Malachi, ad.  D. VALLARSI.  Verona, 1734-42.

Josephus, Ant(iquities of the Jews) and (Against) Apion, ed.  B. NIESE.  Berlin, 1890-94. 

Justin (Martyr), Dial (ogue with Trypho), ed.  J. C. OTTO.  Corpus Apologetarum Christianorum 1.2, Jena, 1877\3.


Lactantius, Div(ine) Inst(itutes), ed.  J. MOREAU.  Sources Chre/tiennes 39, Paris, 1954-55. 

Lactantius, Epitome (of the Divine Institutes), ed.  E. H. BLAKENEY.  London (SPCK), 1950. [[136]]


Malalas, see note 9.

Muslim tradition as reported by GINSBERG (see note 2).


Paraleip(omena) Jer(emiou), ed.  R. A. KRAFT and A.-E. PURINTUN.  Society of Biblical Literature, Texts and Translations 1,

Pseudepigrapha Series 1, Missoula, Montana, 1972.


Qur'an [Koran], translated by M. M. PICKTHALL, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran.  New York/London, 1930.


Rabb(inic) tradition as reported by GINZBERG (see note 2).


Suidas, ed.  A. ADLER, Suidae Lexicon.  Leipzig, Teubner, 1931.

Syncellus, see note 10.


Tertullian, (De) Hab(itu) Mul(iebri), in De Cultu Feminarum, ed.  J. MARRA, Turin, 1951\2.

Thomas, Infancy Gospel of, ed.  C. TiSCHENDORF.  Evangelia Apocrypha.  Leipzig, 1876\2.



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