1 Esdras

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The First Book of Esdras (III Esdras) is found in the books of the Septuagint, the Old Testament accepted as inspired and canonical by the Orthodox Church in the Greek Orthodox Bible, and found in the books of the Old Testament of the Vulgate. It is included in the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible where it is called Ezra Kali which means "2 Ezra." It was not included in the canon of scripture by the Third Council of Carthage (397). Since the Council of Trent it is not accepted as inspired and canonical by the Catholic Church in the Catholic Bible—books of the Bible accepted as divinely inspired by the majority of Christian believers in the United States and throughout the world.[1][2][3]

I Esdras was first removed from the Old Testament and placed in the Apocrypha by Martin Luther in the 16th century. The First Book of Esdras is regarded as canonical and inspired by about 12% of Christian believers.[3]

See Apocrypha.

Name and canonical status

"Esdras" is the Greek word for "Ezra". In the Septuagint it is called ΕΣΔΡΑΣ Α, ESDRAS Ι (the book of 1 Esdras), followed by ΕΣΔΡΑΣ Β, ESDRAS ΙΙ (the book of Ezra), and ΝΕΕΜΙΑΣ, NEHEMIAS (the book of Nehemiah). Most current Ecumenical editions of the Bible give the names of these three books as "1 Esdras", "Ezra" and "Nehemiah". Jerome's Vulgate places this book after Nehemiah, in the order Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 Esdras. Thus, in printed Latin and English Bibles of the 17th through 18th and 19th centuries, I Esdras (1 Esdras) is found listed as III Esdras (3 Esdras)—the canonical Book of Ezra is called I Esdras (1 Esdras), and the canonical Book of Nehemiah is called II Esdras (2 Esdras), hence this book is designated III Esdras (3 Esdras). Some versions of the Bible combine Ezra and Nehemiah as one book called either "Ezra" or "I Esdras". In the Slavonic editions of the Bible the book I Esdras (not Ezra) is called "2 Esdras"; in the Vulgate where Ezra and Nehemiah are separately I Esdras and II Esdras, this book is called "3 Esdras"; and in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible it is called Ezra Kali which means "2 Ezra." The variant names of this book have been a source of some confusion for many beginning students of the Bible.

The first verse of 1 Esdras in English is:
1:1 And Josias held the feast of the passover in Jerusalem unto his Lord, and offered the passover the fourteenth day of the first month

The book of 1 Esdras (3 Esdras) was widely quoted by Josephus, as well as early Christian authors. Use of the book continued in the Eastern Church, and it remains a part of the Eastern Orthodox canon. It was included in Origen's Hexapla, which placed various versions of the Old Testament side by side. However, it was not included in early canons of the Western Church. In the late sixteenth century, after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Pope Clement VIII relegated the work to an appendix following the New Testament in the Vulgate "lest [it] perish entirely." It is listed among the Apocrypha in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1563).[4] It is regarded as apocryphal by Jews, Catholics, and most Protestants.

Variant names of the book

Various problems of naming 1 Esdras today are evident. Most editions of the Septuagint give its Greek title as Εσδρας Α′ (1 Esdras), and it is placed before Εσδρας Β′ (2 Esdras), which is the combined traditional books of Ezra and Nehemiah, titled together as Εσδρας Β′ (2 Esdras). However, the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible titled the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as "1 and 2 Esdras," giving the current book the title "3 Esdras" instead of the Septuagint denomination of "1 Esdras". Since most modern translations use the more Hebraic transliteration of "Ezra" for the canonical Book of Ezra, the Vulgate's "3 Esdras" is now called 1 Esdras in most English Bibles with Apocrypha. The Vulgate's 4 Esdras, meanwhile, has become 2 Esdras in the Apocrypha.

Source and composition

1 Esdras draws most of its text from the books of Ezra and 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah. New material in 1 Esdras not found in these 3 canonical texts offers some legendary background of the Jewish leader Zerubbabel while he was in Babylon, and relates the story of how Zerubbabel in the court of King Darius defeated two other young noblemen in an intellectual contest on the topic of what is most powerful (the most powerful is truth), and won as his prize the king's permission to lead another wave of Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem. 1 Esdras represents a summary view of the establishment of Second Temple Judaism as a providential renewal of God's covenant with the Jews. Also, its additional information on Zerubbabel shows that he was an important figure to many Second Temple Jews. 1 Esdras has a more polished conclusion than that of the much shorter Book of Ezra.

An anonymous Jewish writer in Egypt compiled the text most probably around 150 B.C.. 1 Esdras is a Greek translation of older Hebrew texts, occasionally updating the older text and adding some new material. It was circulated widely among the Jews of the diaspora and is included in the Septuagint collection of Jewish scriptures, which was created in Alexandria, Egypt. However, after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, rabbinical authorities rejected the Septuagint, giving primacy to the original Hebrew texts, and eventually excluding even some of these as not canonical. Thus, 1 Esdras and some of the other books in the Septuagint came to be excluded from the Jewish canon of scripture. However, since educated Christians of the 1st and 2nd centuries generally knew Greek and used the Septuagint, it was the foundational Scripture in the ancient Christian Church for determining what books belonged in the Christian version of the "Old Testament".

The oldest extant manuscripts of the entire Christian Bible are written in Greek, the language of the apostles and the early Christian Church, representing the text of the Holy Bible as it was before the time of Jerome's 5th century Vulgate translation of the scriptures into Latin. These are the Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Codex Alexandrinus. They demonstrate that all of the books and parts of books that have been separated and designated as Apocrypha since the 16th century were included as integral parts of the whole Bible as handed down from the time of the apostles without any distinction or difference, as sacred scripture.[5]


While most of the content of 1 Esdras closely parallels the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and 2 Chronicles, the writer changes the order of some sections, updates the text to suit his theological views, and adds significant new material, particularly in chapters 3–5. The book's contents can be summarized as follows.

Chapter 1 ( = 2 Chron 35:1-36:21). Josiah's celebration of Passover and his death. 1 Esdras states it was the prophet Jeremiah, not Pharaoh Necho II, whom God inspired to warn Josiah not to attack Egyptian forces en route to Babylon. Josiah's death is thus attributed to his disobedience to a command from God through a known prophet, rather than from God through the Egyptian king. Then the history of Jerusalem unto its destruction and the Babylonian exile of the Jews.

Chapter 2:1-14 ( = Ezra 1:1-11). Cyrus authorizes the Jews of Babylon to return to Jerusalem.

Chapter 2:15-26 ( = Ezra 4:7-24). The first attempt of the Jews to rebuild the Temple is blocked by Samaritan opposition.

Chapter 3:1-5:3 (original). The story of Zerubbabel as the Jewish deliverer. Three young courtiers of King Darius debate what is the strongest thing in the kingdom, the winner of the debate to receive great honor and favors from Darius. One of the courtiers is Zerubbabel, a descendant of the Jewish King David. The three publicly debate the matter before the king and his court. The first holds that wine is strongest, the second claims the king is the strongest, and Zerubbabel declares that it is women who are strongest, but that Truth is stronger than women. Darius concurs with Zerubbabel and grants his request to be appointed leader of a new wave of Jewish exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem to complete the restoration of the Temple. Zerubbabel arrives in Jerusalem from Babylon (1 Esdras 5:5)

Chapter 5:4-6 (original). Beginning of a list of exiles who returned.

"And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." (Ezra 3:11 and 1 Esdras 5:62)

Chapter 5:7-73 ( = Ezra 2:1-4:5). An extensive list of exiles returning with Zerubbabel. Beginning of Temple reconstruction and Zerubbabel's rejection of Samaritan assistance, followed by their opposition and another interruption of building.

Chapter 6-7:9 ( = Ezra 5:1-6:18). Correspondence between the governor of Syria and Darius regarding authorization to rebuild the Temple, followed by the completion of construction.

Chapter 7:10-15 ( = Ezra 6:19-22). Dedication of the Temple and the celebration of Passover.

Chapter 8:1-9:36 ( = Ezra 7:1-10:44). Return of additional exiles under Ezra, as the agent of king Artaxerxes. Ezra's preaching and legislation against mixed marriages requires Jewish men divorce their Gentile wives and send them away with their children.

Chapter 9:37-55 ( = Nehemiah 7:73-8:12). Ezra reads the Law, reaffirming God's covenant with the Jews.

Historical-critical textual analysis

Josephus used 1 Esdras in his Jewish history. Some scholars believe it was likely composed in the first century B.C. or as late as A.D. the first century. However, most place it earlier, around 150 B.C.. The writer updated his historical information to reflect his theological views.

Many Protestant and Catholic scholars see no historical value in the "original" sections of the book, thought by them to resemble those accounts in the Book of Daniel which they consider legendary. However, citations in 1 Esdras of the other books of the Bible are of considerable value to textual scholars, providing a unique, pre-Septuagint translation of those texts. 1 Esdras also provides important insights into the character of Second Temple Judaism, and the importance of the figure of Zerubbabel which otherwise would be harder to discern.

An apparent ignorance of the historical sequence of events, attributable to its author(s), presents a difficulty. Artaxerxes is mentioned before Darius, who is mentioned before Cyrus. The person called "Attharias" and "Attharates" in the text (5:40; 9:49) is apparently a Greek transliteration of a word meaning "governor," which is used for Nehemiah in the Book of Nehemiah (8:9; 10:1 "Tirshatha" in KJV). So Nehemiah does not appear by name in 1 Esdras.

The various discrepancies in the account suggest to many scholars that the work has more than one author. In the current Greek texts, the book breaks off in the middle of a sentence, and the verse had to be reconstructed from an early Latin translation. It is generally presumed that the original work continued to the Feast of Tabernacles, as described in Nehemiah 8:13-18, and that this portion of the text was lost.


  1. The Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian body comprised of several distinct "Rites". The Catholic Church (Latin Rite) is the largest religious body in the United States, with over 60 million adherents (4 times as large as the second largest church, the Orthodox).
    “The Global Catholic Population,” © 2011, Pew Research Center.
    The Largest Catholic Communities
    The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church, and also referred to as the Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy, is the second largest Christian church in the world, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents, most of whom live in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Russia.
    The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Of America (1983). Retrieved on 7 May 2014.
    Christianity:Basics:Eastern Orthodox Church Denomination. about.com. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
    Christianity. Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents. adherents.com. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
  2. See Percentage of Christians in Protestant Denominations (29.5%) (888c.com/worldChristianDenominations).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pew Research. Religion & Public Life Project. Christian Traditions. "About half of all Christians worldwide are Catholic (50%), while more than a third are Protestant (37%). Orthodox communions comprise 12% of the world’s Christians." December 19, 2011.
  4. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were established in 1563 and are the historic defining statements of Anglican doctrine in relation to the controversies of the English Reformation; especially in the relation of Calvinist doctrine and Roman Catholic practices to the nascent Anglican doctrine of the evolving English Church. The name is commonly abbreviated as the Thirty-Nine Articles or the XXXIX Articles. See Thirty-nine Articles of 1563
  5. See especially the following three valuable sources: These are also listed below, as External links.


  • Coggins, R. J., and Michael A. Knibb. The First and Second Books of Esdras. The Cambridge Bible commentary, New English Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. ISBN 9780521097574.
  • Myers, Jacob Martin. I and II Esdras. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974. ISBN 9780385004268.
  • Talshir, Zipora. I Esdras: From Origin to Translation. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1999. ISBN 9780884140061.
  • Taylor, Leslie John. Extra-Biblicals: Forgotten Books of the Bibles. [S.l.]: 1st Books, 2003. ISBN 9781410735676.

External links