Question: "What are the books of 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras?"
Answer: The books of 1 and 2 Esdras are not part of the biblical canon. First Esdras is part of what is considered the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical scripture. Second Esdras is an apocalyptic work and is considered pseudepigraphal. Except for some Greek Orthodox, Episcopal, or Lutheran Bibles, 1 and 2 Esdras do not appear in most Bibles. Authorship and dating of 1 and 2 Esdras are somewhat problematic, and some scholars place the writing of certain portions of 2 Esdras as late as the 2nd century AD. “Esdras” is another form of the name Ezra, which means “help.”
The Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1546, which officially recognized several books of the Apocrypha, listed “the first book of Esdras, and the second” as part of the biblical canon. However, these are the books we normally call “Ezra” and “Nehemiah” today and are not to be confused with the pseudepigraphal 1 and 2 Esdras (which appeared in the Vulgate as 3 and 4 Esdras).
There are some historical problems with 1 and 2 Esdras. In the narrative of 1 Esdras, the reign of the Persian King Artaxerxes incorrectly precedes those of Cyrus the Great (c. 559—529 BC) and Darius I (Darius the Great, 521—486 BC), although some believe this is simply a literary device called “prolepsis” in which a person or event is assigned to an earlier period or represented as if it had already occurred. First Esdras appears in the Septuagint as an expanded book of Ezra, containing four additional chapters. It is an account of King Josiah’s reforms and history of the destruction of the temple in 586 BC and chronicles the Jews’ return from Babylonian captivity under Zerubbabel. This book was said to be known by Josephus (born AD 38).
Second Esdras was written too late to be included in the Septuagint and, therefore, does not appear within the more prominent canon (Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox). Second Esdras is also known by many other names, making it difficult to track fully. For example, 2 Esdras contains portions known in some circles as 3 Ezra, 4 Ezra, 5 Ezra, and 6 Ezra. The Ethiopian Church considers 4 Ezra to be canonical, whereas the Eastern Armenian Church labels it as 3 Ezra. Further, some scholars believe these books were written by several authors, including some possibly as late as the second century AD.
Second Esdras is often referred to as the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra and contains seven visions of Ezra dealing with his angst over the pain and suffering inflicted upon Jews by Gentiles. Some scholars believe the book was written shortly after the AD 70 destruction of the temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Emperor Domitian (AD 81—96). While there is a definite tone of sadness in this work, there is consolation regarding ultimate retribution. There are six Messianic references within 2 Esdras.
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