Esdras, the First Book of

ez'-dras, es'-dras:

1. Name

2. Contents

3. Relation to Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah

4. Versions

5. Date and Authorship


See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

1. Name:

In some of the Greek uncials (Codex Vaticanus, etc.) of the Septuagint the book is called Esdras, Codex Alexandrinus (or Proton); so in the editions of Fritzsche, Tischendorf, Nestle and Swete. It is absent from Codex Sinaiticus and in Codex Alexandrinus its name is Ho Hiereus = The Priest, i.e. Ezra, who is emphatically the priest. It is also called 1 Esdras in the old Latin and Syriac VSS, as well as in the English, Welsh and other modern translations. In the English and other Protestant Bibles which generally print the Apocrypha apart, this book stands first in the Apocrypha under the influence partly of its name, and in part on account of its contents, as it seemed a suitable link between the canonical and the apocryphal writings. The English 2 Esdras is the apocalyptic Esdras and stands immediately after the English and Greek 1 Esdras. The Vulgate, following Jerome's version, gave the names 1, 2 and 3 Esdras to our Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 Esdras, respectively, and in editions of the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) down to that of Pope Sixtus (died 1590) these three books appear in that order. The name 3 Esdras is, therefore, that current in the Roman church, and it has the sanction of the 6th article of the Anglican Creed and of Miles Coverdale who in his translation follows the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) in naming the canonical Ezra, Nehemiah and the apocryphal 1 Esdras, 1, 2 and 3 Esdras, respectively. Other reformers adhered to these titles. In Fritzsche's commentary on the Apocrypha 3 Esdras is preferred and he treats this book first. In Kautzsch's German edition of the Apocrypha and in most recent German works the Latin designation 3 is revived. The English commentators Bissell (Lange) and Wace (Speaker's Commentary) follow the custom of the Bible and speak of 1 Esdras, placing the book first in the collection, and this is the prevailing custom among English Protestant theologians. The name 2 Esdras has also been given to this book, the canonical Ezra and Nehemiah being then counted as one--1 Esdras. See Origen quoted by HE, V, 25; Zunz, Der Gottesdienst, Vortrage Berlin, 1832, 15.

2. Contents:

With the exception of 1 Esdras 3:1 through 5:6--the incident of the royal banquet and the contest for a prize of the three young men--the present books agree in everything essential, down to the minutest details, with the canonical Ezra and part of 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah. Before discussing the relation between 1 Esdras and the Biblical books named (see next section), it will be advantageous to give an outline of the book now specially under consideration, with reference to the parallel passages in the corresponding parts of the Canon. It will be seen that practically the whole of Ezr is concerned, and for explanations of the parts common to this book and to Neh reference may be made to the Century Bible Commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.

1. 1 Esdras 1 = 2Ch 35:1 through 36:21 and maybe analyzed thus: 1 Esdras 1:1-20 = 2Ch 35:1-19: Josiah's great Passover. 1 Esdras 1:21 f has no exact parallel. 1 Esdras 1:23-31 = 2Ch 35:20-27: The death of Josiah. This took place on the battlefield at Megiddo according to 2Ki 23:29, but 1 Esdras 1:31 and 2Ch 35:24 say he died at Jer 1:1,1-19 Esdras 1:32-58 = 2Ch 36:1-21, closing years of the monarchy followed by the exile in Babylon.

2. 1 Esdras 2:1-15 = Ezr 1:1-11: The return from Babylon through the edict of Cyrus.

3. 1 Esdras 2:16-26 = Ezr 4:7-24. Certain Persian officials in Samaria induced King Artaxerxes I (died 424 BC) to stop the work of rebuilding the temple, which is not resumed until the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspis (519 BC).

4. 1 Esdras 3:1 through 5:6 has no parallel in any part of the Old Testament.

King Darius (Hystaspis?) makes a great feast, after which he returns to his bedchamber but finds sleeping very difficult. Three young men belonging to his bodyguard resolve each to make a sentence to be written down and placed under the king's pillow, so that upon rising from his bed he might hear the three sayings read to him. The question which each one seeks to answer is, What in this world is strongest? The first says it is "wine," the second, that it is "the king." The reply of the third is "woman, though strongest of all is truth" (from this arose the Latin saying Magna dst veritas et prevalebit). The third is declared the best, and as a reward the king offers him whatever he might wish. This young man happened to be Zerubbabel (Zorobabel), and the request that he makes is that King Darius might perform the vow which he made on coming to the throne to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple and to restore the sacred vessels removed to Babylon. This request is at once granted, and there follows an account of the home-coming of Jews exiled in Babylon and the protection accorded them by the Persian government similar to what we read of in 1 Esdras 1 as taking place in the reign of Cyrus. But many things in this narrative are striking and indeed odd. Zerubbabel is called a young man. Among those mentioned in 1 Esdras 5:5 Zerubbabel is not named, though his son Joakim is. In the very next verse (5:6) this Joakim is identified with the young man (Zerubbabel) who won the king's prize for writing the wisest sentence, though the sense is not quite clear; perhaps Zerubbabel is meant in 1 Esdras 5:6. Fritzsche argues that Joakim can alone be meant. This whole episode stands in no organic connection with the rest of 1 Esdras, and if it is omitted the narrative is continuous. Besides this the account given of the return from Babylon contradicts what is said in 1 Esdras 1 and the corresponding part of Ezr. We must regard 1 Esdras 3:1 through 5:6 as a Jewish haggadah which at an early time was written in the margin as supplying illustrative matter and then got incorporated into the text. Nevertheless, from a literary point of view this part of the book is the gem of the whole.

5. 1 Esdras 5:7-73 = Ezr 2:1-70 through 4:1-5: The names of those who returned with number of animals (horses, etc.) (1 Esdras 5:7-43); altar of burnt offering erected (1 Esdras 5:48); sacrifices offered on it (1 Esdras 5:50). Foundation of the temple laid (1 Esdras 5:56 f). The Jews refuse the offer of the Samaritan party to help in the rebuilding of the temple, with the result that this party had the work stopped (1 Esdras 5:66-73). Ezr 4:6-24 finds its parallel in 1 Esdras 2:16-30 (see above). 1 Esdras 2:30 and 5:73 are evidently duplicates.

6. 1 Esdras 6:1 through 7:15 = Ezr 5:1 through 6:22: Building of the temple resumed through the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah (1 Esdras 6:1 f). Persian officials unsuccessfully oppose the work (1 Esdras 6:3-34) which is soon completed, the temple being then dedicated (1 Esdras 7:1-11). Observance of the Passover (1 Esdras 7:12-15).

Between 1 Esdras 7 and 8 there is an interval of some 60 years, for chapter 8 begins with the arrival of Ezra (458 BC).

7. 1 Esdras 8:1-67 = Ezr 7:1 through 8:36: Journey of Ezra and his party from Babylon to Jerusalem bearing letters of authority from King Artaxerxes I (died 424 BC) (1 Esdras 8:1-27); list of those who return (1 Esdras 8:28-40); gathering together of the party by the river Ahava; incidents of the journey; the arrival (1 Esdras 8:41).

8. 1 Esdras 8:68-90 = Ezr 9:1-15: Ezra's grief on hearing of the marriage of some Jews with foreign wives (1 Esdras 8:68-73). His confession and prayer (1 Esdras 8:74-90).

9. 1 Esdras 8:91 through 9:36 = Ezr 10:1-44: The means used to end the mixed marriages; lists of the men (priests and others) who had married strange wives.

10. 1 Esdras 9:37-55 = Ne 7:7Ne 3:1-32b through Ne 8:12: The reforms of Ezra. In the Canonical Scriptures Ne 7:7Ne 3:1-32b through Ne 10:1-39 gives the history of Ezra, not that of Nehemiah--the two never labored or lived together at Jerusalem. (The name Nehemiah in Ne 8:9 and 10:1 is an evident interpolation.) In 1 Esdras Nehemiah is not once mentioned in this section. In 1 Esdras 9:49 (parallel Ne 8:9) "Attharates" is the word used, and as a proper name (see 1 Esdras 5:40, "Nehemiah and Attharates"). The majority of modern scholars assign this section to Ezra, adding it to Ezr 10:1-44, or incorporating it into the Ezra narrative. So Ewald, Wellhausen, Schrader, Klostermann, Baudissin, Budde and Ryssel. The present writer defends this view in the Century Bible in Ezra- Nehemiah-Esther, 242 f. In this case 1 Esdras borrows from Chronicles and Ezra alone and not from Nehemiah. It should be remembered however that Ezra-Nehemiah formed originally but one book. Some will say that Chronicles preceded Ezra-Nehemiah as a single book, but for this there is no evidence (see Century Bible, 4). The last verse of 1 Esdras in all manuscripts ends in the middle of a sentence: "And they assembled ...." showing that the closing part of the book has been lost. The present writer suggests that the missing part is Ne 8:13 through Ne 10:1-39, which begins, "And on the second day were gathered together (assembled) the heads of fathers' houses," etc., the same verb being used in the Septuagint Greek of both passages with a very slight difference (episunechthesan, and sunechthesan, in Ezra and Esdras respectively).

3. The Relation to Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah:

Since Ne 7:7Ne 3:1-32b through Ne 8:12 belongs to the Book of Ezra (see above) describing the work of Ezra, not that of Nehemiah, the contents of 1 Esdras are parallel with those of Ezra alone with the exception of chapter 1 which agrees with 2Ch 35:1 through 2Ch 36:21. Various explanations have been offered, the following being the principal: (1) that 1 Esdras is a compilation based on the Septuagint of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah: so Keil, Bissell and formerly Schurer (GJV, II, ii, 179 f; Herzog2, I, 496); the arguments for this opinion are well marshaled by Bissell in his Commentary on the Apocrypha (Lange); (2) that 1 Esdras is an independent Greek translation from a now lost Hebrew (or Aramaic) origin in many respects superior to our Massoretic Text: so Whiston, Pohlmann, Herzfeld, Fritzsche, Ginsburg, Cheyne, Thackeray, Nestle, Howarth, Torrey and Bertholet. Most of these writers hold that the original 1 Esdras included the whole of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah; (3) the bulk of those who support view 2 argue that the original 1 Esdras formed the real Septuagint version of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, what exists in our present Septuagint being another Greek translation, probably by Theodotion (fl, about 150 AD), just as we now know that what up to 1772 (the date of the publication in Rome of the Codex Chisianus) was considered as the Septuagint of Dan is really Theodotion's version. Howarth (see articles in the Academy, 1893;PSBA ,XXIX , etc.), and Torrey (Ezra Studies) stoutly champion this view. The evidence offered is of two kinds, external and internal:

(1) External Evidence.

(a) Josephus uses this version as his source for the period, though for other Old Testament books he follows the Septuagint. (b) In the foreword to the Syriac version of 1 Esdras in Walton's Polyglot it is said that this version follows the Septuagint, which surely counts for nothing since copies of the Septuagint known to us contain both 1 Esdras and the Greek translation reckoned up to recently as the true Septuagint. (c) Howarth maintains, but without proof, that in Origen's Hexapla, 1 Esdras takes the place of our Septuagint version, and that the same is true of the Virus Itala.

(2) Internal Evidence.

(a) It is said by Dr. Gwyn, Thackeray and Howarth that the Greek of the true Septuagint of Daniel and that of 1 Esdras are very similar in character, which however only goes to prove that one man translated both. (b) Howarth holds that the Greek of Daniel and Ezra in the orthodox Septuagint version is very literal, as was all Theodotion's translation work. But such statements have to be received with very great caution, as in judging of style so much depends on the personal equation. The present writer has compared carefully parts ascribed with confidence to Theodotion and the Septuagint without reaching the above conclusions. At the most the matter has not been set at rest by any facts or reasoning as yet supplied. It must be admitted that 1 Esdras and Josephus preserve the true sequence of the events chronicled in Ne 7:73b through 10, the Massoretic Text and the Greek version based on it having gone wrong at this point, probably through the mixing of Hebrew skins or leaves. Those who see in 1 Esdra the true Septuagint agree almost to a man that 1 Esdras 3:1 through 5:6 is a late interpretation, never having had a Hob original. This may account in a large degree for the vigor and elegance of the Greek Howarth, however, parts company with his friends Torrey, Bertholet, etc., by arguing strenuously for this part. (See more fully in Century Bible, Ezra, etc., 27 ff.)

4. Versions:

1 Esdras exists in the following ancient versions in addition to the Greek text which may or may not be a translation (see 3 above):

(1) Latin:

(a) Jerome.

(b) Vulgate.

(2) Syriac:

(a) The Peshitta.

The Peshitta, given in Walton's Polyglot and with a critically revised text by Lagarde (Libri Veteris Testamenti Apocrypha Syriace, 1861).

(b) The Hexaplar Syriac version.

For details of manuscripts, etc., see "Literature" below.

5. Date and Authorship:

Nothing is known or can be conjectured as to the author or translator of 1 Esdras, nor can anything be positively affirmed as to the date. If the work be the genuine Septuagint text this would give it an earlier origin than the view which makes it depend on the Septuagint. But this is to say but little. As Josephus (died 95 AD) used this book it must have been written some years before he wrote his history (say 67 AD). We must assume that it existed some time before the beginning of our era. Ewald, on account of some resemblances to the earliest of the Sibylline Books, dates 1 Esdras about 190 BC. But admitting dependence in this matter--which is doubtful--it is impossible to say which is dependent and which is independent in such cases.


The most important books have been named at the end of the general article on APOCRYPHA (which see). Recent contributions by Howarth and Torrey have been mentioned in the course of the foregoing article.

T. Witton Davies

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