This post is a long overdue continuation of a series of posts started long ago, in which I began an attempt to show that many early Christian texts and pseudepigraphic “scriptures” are best understood as rhetoric to validate first century fulfillment of prophecy in A.D. 70, just as the New Testament clearly teaches. (To view that and other related series, click here, here, and here).
In this post, I am going to raise a few important questions and comment briefly on some “prophetic” statements made in 5 Ezra. The english text which I prefer to use comes from a highly considerate and carefully researched translation of all the available manuscript data pertaining to 5 Ezra. Select excerpts of that translation are presented below, and they are taken from Theodore A. Bergren’s doctoral dissertation, revised and published in the Society of Biblical Literature’s Septuagint and Cognate Studies Series (Number 25), FIFTH EZRA: The Text, Origin, and Early History (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. 1990; pp. 401-405). My purpose for utilizing Bergren’s english translation is merely to present something fresh and up-to-date. After studying his dissertation, I still have some minor reservations about his translation; but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss them. For now, I am content with his translation. (An older, "authorized" English translation of 5 Ezra from one of the first King James versions of the Bible can be found here.)
For those who do not have easy access to academic publications of second temple and early Christian literature, or might only have what is publicly (and freely) available, a tiny bit of background might be helpful for appreciating the significance of 5 Ezra and why I’m choosing to raise questions about its usefulness for Biblical studies today.
For those who don’t already know, scholars classify “5 Ezra” as the first two chapters of 2 Esdras, and 2 Esdras has been an extremely important and highly influential text in the history of Christian liturgy and theology prior to the 16th century. It was actually so important within western Christian civilization, that it was eventually incorporated into the second edition of the Latin Vulgate, i.e. the “holy scriptures” that were authorized by Pope Clement VIII in 1592. That Clementine Vulgate was considered to be the authorized "Bible" of the Roman Catholic Church until 1979. However, since the late 1800’s, most scholars have promulgated a new dogma about 5 Ezra being post-AD70 pseudepigrapha, and not at all “holy scriptures”. As a result of many scholarly endeavors, a critical edition of the Latin vulgate eventually replaced all previous versions, and omitted various books of previous editions, including 5 Ezra.
In addition to it’s wider influence upon western civilization for over a thousand years, 5 Ezra is now also widely acknowledged to be a Jewish/Christian fragment of literature. Given the nature of its own claims to have been written by Ezra the scribe (i.e. the scribe within mainstream “Bibles”) in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, and also its use of many New-Testament-like phrases and images, its safe to think that 5 Ezra's original design was clearly to attract a specific audience that was at least familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, and most likely familiar with Christian Scriptures as well. Scholars still debate about whether it was an early Jewish non-Christian text with echoes of New Testament language that was edited (redacted) by a later Christian scribe, or if it was a purely Christian (non-Jewish) text, or if it was a hybrid of the two (Jewish and Christian in its origin).
Regardless of when Christian influence began to play a role in 5 Ezra’s final form, all scholars nowadays agree that it is clearly an example of pseudepigrapha, and clearly an example of vaticinium ex eventu (i.e. a prophecy of events to come that were composed after the events symbolically described therein had already taken place). It is my scholarly opinion that this is an accurate portrayal of 5 Ezra. I don't personally believe it was preserved among the ancient writings of Ezra the scribe. I think it is vaticinium ex eventu. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered "biblical" or even legitimately canonical, as it was in the Clementine Vulgate. I say that because far too many academicians don’t treat the first century fulfillment of "biblical" prophecy seriously enough, and 5 Ezra comports exceptionally well with "biblical" texts and eschatological expectations. Instead of taking "biblical" prophecy seriously, almost all scholars nowadays unimaginatively and unswervingly swear allegiance to the same presumptuous dogmas of mainstream tribalism—dogmas about seemingly prophetic statements—like the presumption that “the end” of the ages did not come in the first century, and that the parousia (or “coming”) of Israel’s Messiah was most certainly delayed (and must still remain delayed, because it presumably didn’t occur in the first century). From such dogmatic presuppositions, all prophetic "data" that is collected among schoalrs—whether it’s from statements contained in the “new testament” or from non-canonical “apocalyptic” literature of that generally early era—must be jammed through a peer-reviewed process that attempts to cohere with those tribalistic presumptions. In my opinion, it’s a shame that so many academicians overlook or deflect attention away from first century fulfillment. I contend that a more straightforward, honest reading of "the Bible" presents an unswerving anticipation and guarantee of first-century fulfillment. I also contend that scholarly recognition of that (and loyalty to God through that lens) would revolutionize “biblical” studies and rectify a multitude of confusing and contradictory theories widely disseminated among them.
In this post I would like us to consider 5 Ezra to be a specimen to aid our appreciation of "Biblical" studies. Below are what I consider to be the most notable verses within 5 Ezra that echo New Testament apocalyptic exhortations and themes. As one combs through these prophetically charged “scriptures,” some helpful questions need to be asked and pondered:
> If this document was written after AD70, and is pseudepigraphic, why would the author blatantly draw attention to “prophetic” statements made by Jesus and his Apostles?
> What might be the advantage of having the historical “Ezra the scribe” character draw attention to prophetic statements made by Jesus and his Apostles?
> Why would the author of 5 Ezra echo such memorable apocalyptic remarks of Jesus pertaining to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70?
> What is the hope that this author wanted to convey to his audience? And how is that hope different from expressions of related Christian dogmas across the world today (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox)?
At this point I will invite the reader to study the text of 5 Ezra while considering these questions. In addition to each selection from 5 Ezra, I will add some of my own remarks that I have found helpful.
Selections from 5 Ezra (II Esdras 1:1–2:48)
Thus says the Lord: Didn’t I ask you, as a father his son, and as a mother her daughter, and as a nurse who loves her child, that you be my people and I your God, that you be my children and I your father? I gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But now, what will I do to you? I will cast you forth from my presence! …I sent my servants the prophets to you, but you took them and killed them, and tore to pieces the bodies of the apostles. I will require their souls and blood, says the Lord.
Thus says the Lord Almighty: Your house is desolate!…
Following themes contained in Exodus (e.g. 6:7), these verses are comparable with various prophetic passages in Jeremiah (e.g. 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22). The typology between Father and Son is also a prominent Old Testament theme (e.g. Psalm 89:26; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:19; 31:9; Mal 1:6; 2:10; c.f. II Sam. 7:14 and Heb. 1:5), which generates from a thoroughly Deuteronomic source.
It's also obvious, assuming 5 Ezra to be vaticinium ex eventu, that there was influence from Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse against the disgraceful first century rabbis and their abuses of both Temple and Torah throughout the Gospels, the condemnation of which is illustrated succinctly in Matthew 23:1-39 and Luke 11:37-52. According to Jesus, Israel’s rejection of him had rendered their “house,” i.e. Israel's ideological kingdom, desolate: “O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate!” (Matt. 23:37-38)
…I will hand over your houses to a people coming from far away, and those who have not known me will believe me, and those to whom I have not shown signs will do what I have said. They have not seen prophets, but are mindful of the antiquity of the prophets. The apostles bear witness to the coming people with joy. Although they do not see me with bodily eyes, they believe with the spirit, and they have heard the things that I have said, and believe me.
Here the descriptions are more general, and could be interpreted a number of ways. Regardless of what ambiguity remains, it is clear that people other than those of Ezra’s Israelite generation would be these “coming people” who trust and obey the Lord according to proven admonitions of the prophets, even though they had not physically seen the prophets of old. Such future “coming ones” would be moved by the Spirit of God, unlike those faithless generations of Israel that would lead to the destruction of their “house.”
Does this message sound familiar? It should, if you have paid close attention to the New Testament!
…I invoke you, father, over the mother of those who were unwilling to keep your covenant, that you might give confusion to them and bring their mother to destruction.
Here, the author seems to be recalling prophetic remarks of Israel’s past which described Jerusalem, Mount Zion, and the rulers of Israel's Kingdom as Israel's “mother” (c.f. Ezek. 19; Hos. 2).
…Thus says the Lord to Ezra: “Tell my people that I have prepared for them to eat, and I will give them the kingdom of Jerusalem, which I was going to give to Israel. And I will take for them the glory of Israel, and I will give to them the eternal dwelling places that I have prepared for Israel. The tree of life will be an aroma of ointment for them, and they will neither labor nor become tired… Seek and you will receive. Ask for yourselves few days, so that your days may be lessened; for already my kingdom is ready to come…."
Here, claims are made that are reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard owner (Matt. 21:33-46), which the chief priests and Pharisees knew to be referring to them in relationship with Jesus’ promise of soon-coming judgment. Remarks such as “Ask and you will receive” and “eternal dwelling places” with God also accompany remarks about Christ’s coming kingdom and the “shortening of days” in the Gospels (Matt. 7:7-11; 21:22 [c.f. Mark 11:24]; Luke 16:9; II Cor 5:1; Heb 12:18-29; Mark 13:20; Matt. 24:22).
…Good mother, embrace your children. Give them happiness like the dove that rears her children, and strengthen their feet, because I have chosen you, says the Lord. And I will raise the dead from their places and from their graves, because I have recognized my name in them. Do not be afraid, mother of the children; I have chosen you, says the Lord.
It is intriguing to find explicit references to dead believers or “chosen ones” being raised up from the dead, plural (i.e. from "the dead-ones” traditionally ascribed to the realm of the dead, which is Hades/Sheol in Greek/Hebrew literature). In addition to this, such a resurrection takes place at the time when Israel’s Messiah would come and take away his kingdom from first century Israel and give his kingdom to others. I consider this theme of general resurrection being fulfilled in a first century event as being one of the most neglected themes of Christian studies ever since it became popular across catechisms to affirm a general resurrection at the so-called end of "redemptive history."
Among all of the scholarly works on the subject that I have studied in detail (see the footnote below),1 not one of them takes into consideration a first century fulfillment of the “general resurrection.” Admittedly, it is difficult for scholars to appropriate such concepts into their hermeneutical framework if they have never been introduced to it as a viable alternative (which is partly why I’m writing this series).2 Nonetheless, it doesn’t take much imagination to read second temple and early Christian literature as trusting that “the righteous dead” were raised up with Jesus in the first century, and that those who died thereafter awaited vindication in AD 70 (because they died after the first resurrection from Hades, along with Jesus on the “third day”). Such would even be a straight-forward interpretation of Paul's rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 15 as a whole, and especially verses 23-26 within it.3
Accordingly, because the final judgment of Israel in AD 70 encompasses the passing away of the first heavens and earth in which even “death” and “hades” were destroyed (c.f. Rev 20:13-21:1; c.f. 1:18; 6:8), every person in history who has died after that first century fulfillment of general resurrection has either been judged and consumed, or raised to reign and intercede with Christ along with his saints, or they are in some form of aetheric limbo until some unknown future judgment in which they will be consumed or raised (as confessional Christian traditions maintain about the “general resurrection”).
Here we find the fulfillment of first century events directly linked with a guarantee that the saints of “Ezra’s” generation would be raised from the dead ones at the time when the Lord’s kingdom would transfer from Israel to others.
…Treat the widow rightly; secure justice for the orphan; give to the needy; protect the fatherless; clothe the naked; care for the injured and weak. Do not ridicule the lame person, but protect him. Admit the blind to the vision of my splendor. Gather the old and young within your walls. Watch over your infants. Let your servants and free men be joyful, and your whole company will be happy. When I find your dead, I will raise them; I will watch for signs, and I will give your dead the place of honor in my resurrection. Wait a little; your rest will come. Good nurse, nourish your children. Strengthen those whom you bore and strengthen their feet, because none of those whom I gave you will die. …Days of tribulation and distress will come…
These expectations of the just are intriguing in light of first century fulfillment. Echoes of apostolic exhortations abound, as well as remarks made by Jesus and the prophets of the Lord who preceded him. Here the reader is comforted that a day is coming when tribulation and distress will be the end of the wicked; but the “end” will not be eternal death for the just who treated widows rightly, secured justice for the orphan, gave to the needy, protected the fatherless, clothed the naked, etc. The end for the just will be a “place of honor” in the Lord’s resurrection. The Lord would search and find the righteous dead throughout Hades/Sheol and “raise them.”
…Rejoice, mother, with your children, and I will save you, says the Lord. I will remember your children who sleep, because I will seek them out from the breadth of the earth. And be strengthened in the greatness of your glory, and perform mercy, because I am merciful, says the Lord. Embrace your children until I come, and to the others, show mercy, because my fountains will overflow and my grace will not fail.
I, Ezra, received an injunction from the Lord on Mount Horeb for Israel, but they spurned this commandment. I say to you who hear and understand: “Await your shepherd. I will give you the restfulness of your eternity, because the end of the age and the diminution of mankind are near. Be prepared for the rewards of the kingdom. Perpetual light will shine upon you, and eternity of times has bee prepared for you. Flee from the shadow of this age, the captivity of your glory.”
Again, the thematic expectations are explicit and clear: Children of Israel across the breadth of the earth are “sleeping” and awaiting to receive “the greatness” of their “glory” at “the end of the age”, which is “the rest” of “eternity” and the “rewards of the kingdom.” Therefore “Ezra” receives and communicates the Lord’s injunction for the faithful of his generation to “Await your shepherd” and “flee from the shadow of this age,” because the Lord is coming, and his favor upon the loyal will not fail. All of this took place in the first century.
“…Mount Zion, receive your number. Bring to completion your people clothed in white, who serve you with obedience, because they have fulfilled the law of the lord….”
These symbolic phrases and images are echoes of old testament prophetic literature, the new testament “apocalypse” known as the book of “Revelation,” and Pauline remarks of many first century faithful to fulfill the law of the Lord. (See Rev 14; Rom. 8:4;13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; 6:2; James 2:8)
I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great crowd that I could not count; all of them were praising the Lord with songs. And in the middle of them was a tall young man who stood out above all of them. And he was placing crowns on the heads of each of them, and they were becoming taller. I began to look with amazement. And I asked an angel and said, “Who are these people?” And he responded and said to me, “They are those who have laid aside the mortal clothing and donned the immortal, and confessed the name of God. Now they are being crowned and receive palms.” And I said to the angel, “Who is that young man who gives them crowns and palms?” And he answered me and said, “He is the son of God whom they confessed in the mortal world."
Finally, Ezra sees the “son of God” whom these saints had confessed “in the mortal world.” Here we find cosmic theological and anthropological connections presented candidly, albeit implicitly: Mortals live in one world; God, who is immortal, lives in another. Among mortals, some would confess the name of God, and they would sing praises to God as the Son of God clothes and crowns them with immortality. Being clothed with immortality echoes the ancient narrative of "Human Life"4 falling and losing immortality in the Garden of God, and yet being mercifully clothed with the skins of sacrifices who would ascend altars on their behalf as they worshiped God on His holy mountain. The crowns evoke a variety of symbolic meanings, among which are, most obviously, princely rule alongside their King (or Emperor) who crowns them. And they are crowned because of their loyalty to the name of God in the face of great tribulation.
All of these symbols and themes, I have argued in this series, are all easily comprehensible if one is paying attention to their fulfillment in first century cataclysmic events, especially those surrounding the incarnation, death, ascension, and vindication of Jesus and his saints (which took place in AD 70).
1. Among those most noteworthy studies (yet not even close to all the studies I have completed in relation to the subject), are these:
George W. E. Nickelsburg, Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism and Early Christianity
R.H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life in Israel, Judaism, and in Christianity: Or, Hebrew, Jewish, and Christian Eschatology from Pre-Prophetic Times Till the Close of the New Testament Canon, Being Jowett Lectures for 1898-99
N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God
2. Notably, among the list I provide in footnote #1, one of N.T. Wright's latest books, "History & Eschatology", steers historians and theologians the most in a more helpful direction.
3. ἕκαστος δὲ ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ τάγματι· ἀπαρχὴ Χριστός, ἔπειτα οἱ τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ αὐτοῦ· εἶτα τὸ τέλος, ὅταν παραδιδῷ τὴν βασιλείαν τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρί, ὅταν καταργήσῃ πᾶσαν ἀρχὴν καὶ πᾶσαν ἐξουσίαν καὶ δύναμιν, δεῖ γὰρ αὐτὸν βασιλεύειν ἄχρι οὗ θῇ πάντας τοὺς ἐχθροὺς ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ. ἔσχατος ἐχθρὸς καταργεῖται ὁ θάνατος
"But each in his own order: The firstfruit is the Anointed-One, then those who are of the Anointed-One in His parousia; then it is the end, when he hands over the kingdom to The God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power; for it is necessary that He reign until that time when He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death."
4. "Adam" means "Human", and "Eve" means "Life"