Ezra, Fourth (Apocrypha)

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Fourth Book of Ezra (Esdras), also called Second Ezra, is a pseudepigraphical book of semi-canonical dignity. In the Latin Vulgate Bible it stands at the end of the entire book, after the New Testament, although it definitely belongs to the class of Jewish Pseudepigrapha of the inter-testamental period. The latter are books published after the conclusion of the Biblical canon under the alleged authorship of some Old Testament writers, such as Ezra. The book is actually one of the numerous late Jewish apocalypses couched in such terms that this literature could become acceptable also to the rabbinic Judaism of the period after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. Thus it is assumed that the Fourth Ezra was written around A.D. 100 by a Jew who tried to comfort his coreligionists and to make them hope for a glorious future, that is, salvation under the expected "Son of Man" or Messiah. The influence of the school of the great teacher Shammai is noticeable.

The book became exceedingly popular in the early church, and soon was expanded. Chapters 3-14 are original, while chapters 1 and 2 (sometimes called Ezra V) and 15 and 16 (also called Ezra VI) are Christian additions of the second century after Christ. The Vulgate has all 16 chapters. The Church Fathers often used the book, and thus also the Reformers. Luther knew it well, and Leo Jud, the collaborator with Zwingli in Zürich, translated it from the printed Vulgate.

The numbering of the Ezra books is somewhat intricate: the Vulgate counts four such books, including Ezra, Nehemiah, and (as No. III) a sort of summary of both plus Chronicles, so that the apocalypse becomes the fourth book of that name. In modern Protestant scholarship and editions our book is called "Second Ezra," since here only the original Ezra and our book are counted.

The Anabaptists seemed to have been rather fond of the book: Michael Sattler quotes a lengthy section from it (2:34-37) in his well-known letter to the congregation at Horb (1527). Peter Riedemann in his Rechenschaft of 1540 refers to it at many places but strangely enough used texts only from chapters 3:4-24 and 7:20-56.

The Mennonites of Northern Germany also seem to have been rather fond of Ezra in earlier days. Georg Hansen quotes Ezra IV in his Glaubensbericht für die Jugend, 1671, using chapters 7 and 8 (Friedmann, 131), and Gerhard Roosen quotes it in his Christliches Gemütsgespräch (1702), in the section "Concerning the Fall of the Human Race," question 65. Here we read the rather famous passage: "Oh thou Adam, what hast thou done! For though it was thou that sinned, thou art not fallen alone but we all that come of thee" (Ezra IV, 7.48) (Friedmann, 145). It is not unlikely that more such references would be found if a thorough study were made.

One should not forget that the Anabaptists were rather fond of both the apocryphal literature (Apocrypha), such as Jesus Sirach or the Gospel According to Nicodemus, and the pseudepigraphic books, which include, besides Ezra IV, the very popular Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, with its "wisdom " emphasis.

The Ezra IV book teaches that but few will be saved either through divine compassion or through good works (whence the Catholic doctrine of meritorious works). It is a genuine apocalypse: Rome is called "Edom," the author has visions like Daniel (of the Son of Man, of an Eagle, etc.), and he describes the signs preceding the end of the world. Chapters 1 and 2 comfort Christians because the days of distress are near, but there is also hope for the glory envisioned. The book knows the doctrines of original sin (see above 7:48)—otherwise foreign to Judaism—, and the consequent suffering of all men. But, while Paul teaches release from sin for all who believe, Ezra IV still remains within the framework of Jewish nationalism, both in suffering and in its expectations.

Chapter 2 (the "Christian" supplement) promises that "the Shepherd is nigh at hand. Be ready for the reward of the Kingdom. ... I asked the angel: Sir, what are these? and He answered: . . . those who have put off mortal clothing and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God. Now they are being crowned and have received palms. . . . And He [A Youth of great brightness] is the Son of God whom they have confessed in the world. Then I began greatly to commend those who stood so staunchly for the name of the Lord." (This is Sattler's text, somewhat abbreviated.)


Charles, R. H. Religious Development Between the Old and the New Testaments. London, 1934: 249-252.

Friedmann, R. Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries. Goshen, 1949. The Sattler "text" may also be found in Mennonite Quarterly Review 28 (1954): 20.

Additional Information

Text of Fourth Ezra

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Friedmann, Robert. "Ezra, Fourth (Apocrypha)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 19 Jul 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ezra,_Fourth_(Apocrypha)&oldid=121043.

APA style

Friedmann, Robert. (1956). Ezra, Fourth (Apocrypha). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 July 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Ezra,_Fourth_(Apocrypha)&oldid=121043.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 283-284. All rights reserved.

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