The Unity and Coherence of 4 Ezra: Crisis, Response, and Authorial Intention

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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Scholarly interpretations of 4 Ezra have very often endeavoured to resolve the issue of the apparent disunity and inconsistency in its form and content. The approaches used are largely divided between the psychological perspective on the one hand, which understands the work as describing Ezra’s religious transformation as a result of his dialogue with Uriel and his visions, and the theological approach on the other, which views it as an intra-Jewish debate, with Uriel and Ezra representing conflicting theological views. While the theological perspective often neglects the significance of the visions and the epilogue for the work as a whole, the psychological perspective often fails to give due consideration to authorial intention. This article argues that the author of 4 Ezra intends to propose a solution to the crisis created by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 ce and to give scriptural authority to his solution. The key to interpreting his purpose in writing lies in the choice of Ezra as his pseudonymous mouthpiece and in the epilogue. With this authorial intention in mind, the different parts of the book become a coherent whole.

The Unity and Coherence of 4 Ezra: Crisis, Response, and Authorial Intention

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




See Michael E. Stone“On Reading an Apocalypse,” in Mysteries and Revelations: Apocalyptic Studies Since the Uppsala Colloqiumed. John J. Collins and James H. Charlesworth (Sheffield: jsot 1991) 65-78 esp. 69.


Richard KabischDas vierte Buch Esra auf seine Quellen Untersucht (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht1889); G. H. Box The Ezra-Apocalypse (London: Pitman 1912)


For a detailed analysis see StoneFourth Ezra28-30.


Egon BrandenburgerDie Verborgenheit Gottes im Weltgeschehen: das literarische und theologische Problem des 4. Esrabuches (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag1981). His earlier work Adam und Christus: exegetisch-religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zu Röm 5:12-21wmant 7 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 1962) influenced Harnisch.


H. Gunkel“Das vierte Buch Esra,” in Die Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testamentsed. E. Kautzsch 2 vols. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 1900) 2:331-402.


Stone“On Reading an Apocalypse” 66 72.


Ibid.73-75. This experience is described elsewhere by Stone as “the Odyssey of Ezra’s soul” (Fourth Ezra 32).


Gunkel“Das vierte Buch Esra” 348. See also Earl Breech “These Fragments Have I Shored Against My Ruins: the Form and Function of 4 Ezra” jbl 92 (1973): 267-74 esp. 274.


Stone“On Reading an Apocalypse” 75-77.




NajmanLosing the Temple25.




Ibid.66 and 75.




SandersPaul and Palestinian Judaism409.


LongeneckerEschatology and the Covenant282.


SandersPaul and Palestinian Judaism417 418.


LongeneckerEschatology and the Covenant113-32.


DiTommaso“Who is the ‘I’ of 4 Ezra?” 121-23.


Samuel SandmelJudaism and Christian Beginnings (New York: Oxford University Press1978) 182.


See StoneFourth Ezra35 374 431. Michael P. Knowles “Moses the Law and the Unity of 4 Ezra” NovT 31 (1989): 257-74 at 261-65 associates the first forty-day fast in the first six episodes with the number of days of intercession Moses made on behalf of the people after the Golden Calf episode (Deut 10:1-5 10). By this association Knowles establishes a stronger theme of sin repentance renewal and restoration leading to the second giving of the law. Martin Hogan on the other hand points out that Ezra’s primary activity over the first forty-day fast is the reception of revelation rather than intercession for his people. Thus it should be associated with the forty-day period during which Moses received God’s instructions on the mountain (Exod 24:18; cf. 34:28) to which the author alludes in 4 Ezra 14:4. See Martin Hogan Theologies in Conflict 206 n.4.


StoneFourth Ezra441. Here the number may be identified with the twenty-two books of scriptures mentioned by Josephus Ag. Ap. 1.8. Najman Losing the Temple 152 also attaches a symbolic significance to the number twenty-two: it is the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet “the minimal number of units with which every meaningful utterance may be formed.”




Martin HoganTheologies in Conflict227.


Jonathan A. MooCreation Nature and Hope in 4 Ezra (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht2011) 155-56.


Martin HoganTheologies in Conflict212.


See Knibb“Apocalyptic and Wisdom in 4 Ezra” 65-66.


Knibb ibid. 65-66; Martin HoganTheologies in Conflict102.


Michael Stone“Lists of Revealed things in the Apocalyptic Literature,” in Selected Studies in Pseudepigrapha and Apocrypha with Special Reference to the Armenian Traditionsvtp 9 (Leiden: Brill1991) 379-418.

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