According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Phillip J. Long - Discussion of 4 Ezra

Book Review: Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski, Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch (Part 2)
https://readingacts.com/2014/07/04/book-review-gabriele-boccaccini-and-jason-m-zurawski-interpreting-4-ezra-and-2-baruch-part-2/

by Phillip J. Long
July 4, 2014

Boccaccini, Gabriele and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00. Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001. (Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts, the first is here.)

Part three of the book collections five articles which deal with exegetical details of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Jason M. Zurawski discusses the passage in 4 Ezra the state of the present world is a consequence of Adam’s sin (“The Two Worlds and Adam’s Sin: The Problem of 4 Ezra 7:10-14”). In 4 Ezra 7:74 the author claims God is in control of all things via his initial, foreordained plan. But 7:10-14 seems to state the opposite, Adam’s sin resulted in hardship and evil in the world. Zurawski argues this “complication is more apparent than real” since it can be reconciled with the rest of the book by understanding that God made the world difficult in the first place and Adam was the first to fall into the traps of the world (105). In the book, Ezra thought the world was made only for Israel, but Uriel explains “this world was never intended as the inheritance of the righteous.” This stands in contrast to 2 Baruch, where the world was filled with toil and evil only after Adam’s sin.

Daniel M. Gurtner studies “Eschatological Rewards for the Righteous in Second Baruch.” Baruch’s readers live “between two worlds,” the present evil world where the Temple has been destroyed and the future Paradise that was created for Israel (114). The writer of 2 Baruch exhorts his readers to persevere through their present tribulation because they will receive divine blessing in the future. The specific blessings are “presented in familiar Second Temple terms” (111) such as afterlife and a world to time, a Paradise where there is no suffering, heavenly bliss and a heavenly Jerusalem, complete with a new temple.

In a related article, Jared Ludlow explores “Death and the Afterlife in 2 Baruch.” Because of the view of death in 2 Baruch, the book is an “exhortation to good works, a nondescript ethical liked which may have more in common with Jewish tradition than Christian” (116). After Adam’s sin, the realm of death was prepared (23:4) and after death a soul will face final judgment (books, scales, fire). The judgment is on the basis of the righteousness of the individual, and every secret thought will be exposed (89:3). The final state of the righteous is a crown of glory and a glorified transformation.

Basil Lourié contributes a technical article on the problem of “The Calendar Implied in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: Two Modifications of the One Scheme.” After surveying the chronological notices in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra he concludes both books are using a 364-day calendar and both books conclude their revelation on Pentecost, the day Moses received the Law. The difference is that 2 Baruch begins his sequence on Wednesday, resulting in 31 interval days in the book (as in Jubilees), while 4 Ezra begins the year on Sunday, resulting in 33 interval days (as in 3 Baruch). Lourié suggests that if Rev 1:10 is an initial revelation on a Sunday and the series of sevens are taken as seven days, then the interval days in Revelation also work out to 31. This requires the three non-seven visions to be single days, and ignores the seven thunders in Rev 10:3. Since John is told to not write what the thunders said, Lourié’s scheme may have merit.

Finally in this section of the book, Carla Sulzbach focuses on Jerusalem in these books (“The Fate of Jerusalem in 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: From Earth to Heaven and Back?”) Sulzbach observes that Baruch is in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, while Ezra is living in Babylon some thirty years later. This difference in perspective may affect the portrayal of the city as well as the eschatology of the books. In both books “Jerusalem has become cosmicized and elevated,” but this process was already underway in the later prophets (143). The city is developed upwardly, toward Heaven, and conflated with the Land and Temple. This is especially true in 4 Ezra 10, where the prophet encounters a mourning woman who is transformed into an eschatological Zion.

The final part of the book proposes to study 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch in their Social and Historical Settings. James Charlesworth’s article “4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: Archaeology and Elusive Answers to Our Perennial Questions” has two related themes. First, he argues both authors could have written from the vicinity of Jerusalem between A.D. 70 and 135. There is evidence of a Jewish “large Jewish settlement” at Shu’afat which was occupied between the two revolts. The site has well-constructed mikvoth and five ink wells were found in the upper level of a building. At the very least this implies the site could have served as an administrative center and possibly other literary activity. His point is that Jerusalem was not depopulated nor were Jews banned from the city after A.D. 70., so it is at least possible these books were written within sight of the destruction of the city.

The second point he makes in this article is perhaps more controversial. Charlesworth argues 2 Baruch knew at least the pessimistic theology of 4 Ezra, if not the book itself. To support this view, he shows that the implied author of 4 Ezra did not have answers for the destruction of the Temple and did not even think a future messiah would provide much hope. The messiah in 4 Ezra rules for 400 years and then dies; Charlesworth takes this as an implicit rejection of the messianic hopes leading to the revolt. 2 Baruch, on the other hand, provides an answer. The fall of Jerusalem was a punishment for sin; therefore the message of the book is “keep the Torah.” Charlesworth recognizes this suggestion cannot be proven, but offers it as a matter for ongoing discussion.

Stephen Pfann’s fascinating article (“The Use of Cryptographic and Esoteric Scripts in Second Temple Judaism and the Surrounding Cultures”) begins with Ezra’s instructions to five scribes in 4 Ezra 14 as he dictated 94 books: the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible and 70 secret books, kept for the “wise among your people (14:26). Pfann sees this practice as similar to the use of Cryptic A script at Qumran and elsewhere. The article offers an overview of cryptography, but concludes that this script was used at Qumran for texts [and] esoteric documents reserved for the elite members of the community, possibly to be read alongside the Bible itself (194).

The last article in the collection seems to be outside the focus of the volume. In “Apocalyptic as Delusion: A Psychoanalytic Approach,” J. Harold Ellens offers an assessment of the psychology of apocalyptic movements in general, calling the “psychotic Jewish worldviews” (209). He moves quickly from Second Temple documents like 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch to modern “gurus” like Jim Jones and David Koresh, and even Adolf Hitler an examples of delusional and communal psychosis. Finally, he thinks Jesus’ apocalyptic thinking fits the [psychoanalytic reference encyclopedic] DSM IV criteria for delusion, including megalomaniacal and narcissistic behavior, especially in his belief he would return to judge the world (208). He concludes “it is clear that a generalized delusional ideation had pervaded an entire community of people in the Jesus Movement, in 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Qumran Community, the Maccabees, and the followers of Bar Kochba” (209). The collection of essays would have been just as valuable if this essay were left out.

Conclusion. The essays in this collection are an excellent contribution to the ongoing discussion of these two important Second Temple apocalypses.

NB: Thanks to Bloomsbury for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


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A Christian Introduction to 4 Ezra
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/23/a-christian-introduction-to-4-ezra/

by Phillip J. Long
August 23, 2016

Because it was written about the same time as the book of Revelation, 4 Ezra is one of the more important apocalyptic books. The Jewish apocalypse (chapters 3-14) was probably written about A.D. 100 based on the opening verse which states the book was written thirty years after Jerusalem was destroyed. This verse claims to be the words of the main character in the story, Ezra, at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Since the book discusses the problem of the fall of Jerusalem it is applicable to either A.D. 70 or 135.

Metzger finds it unlikely a Jewish book would find popularity in the post-Bar Kokhba world, so probably the central section was not written after even A.D. 120 (OTP 1:520. Charles 2:552 concurs with this date, although he tries to separate various sources in the text in order to date them earlier. Michael Stone dates the book to the last decade of the first century, see “Esdras, Second Book of,” in ABD 2:611-614).

The Christian framework was added in the second half of the third century. Collins states there is a “consensus” the Jewish apocalypse was written in Palestine at the end of the first century while Metzger takes the reference to Babylon in 3:1 as Rome; the book is therefore the product of Diaspora Jews (Apocalyptic Imagination, 196).

Chapters 1-2 of 4 Ezra are a Christian composition known as either 2 Esdras or 5 Ezra. After a brief genealogical introduction (1:1-3) Ezra is called to prophetic ministry (1:4-11). Ezra is to declare to the people of Israel their sins. To do this, Ezra describes the Exodus (1:12-14), the wilderness journeys (1:15-20) and the conquest (1:21-23) and shows that God did great things for the people, but they responded by breaking the covenant.

God addresses the people through Ezra, wondering what he will do with his rebellious people (1:24-32). God declares that he will reject his people and no longer listen to their pleas (1:25) and drive them away like straw in the wind (1:22-37). God did send them leaders such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then the 12 Minor Prophets (listed in the order of the LXX). Israel is to be scattered and God has become as a widow (2:1-7).

After a short “woe” against Assyria which seems out of place, God says the Kingdom of Jerusalem will be taken away from Israel and given to “my people,” presumably Christians. God has rejected the nation of Israel as his people, and according to this text, he has turned to the gentiles. In 2:33-41 Ezra calls to the nations because Israel has rejected God: “O nations, await your true shepherd” (The editor of OTP inserts “Ezra turns to the Gentiles” as a section heading for 2:33-41, which seems a bit more than the text says).

Chapter 2:15-32 is an ethical section inserted between the sections on Israel’s rejection. Beginning in verse 20 there is a list of actions which are expected from the people of God. Isaiah and Jeremiah are described as the servants of God sent to help Ezra as he reminds his readers of the ethical demands required of them. Some of the ethical statements which following in verse 20 are in fact drawn from Isaiah 1:17 and Jeremiah 7: guard the rights of the widow and the orphan, clothe the naked, care for the injured and weak, protect the lame and the blind, protect the old and properly bury the dead. Burial of the dead is not a factor in Isaiah and Jeremiah, but it is an important issue to first century Judaism. That Second Temple Judaism considered proper burial important is seen in the apocryphal book of Tobit. One of the “good deeds” of Tobit is the burial of the dead, see 1:18-20, 2:3-8, 4:3-4; 6:15; 14:10-13.

There is a hint of resurrection in 2:16: “I will raise up the dead from their places and bring them out from their tombs.” Since it is followed by ethical commands, it is possible that some sort of spiritual resurrection is in mind here (the passing from death to life at the salvation, etc.) Coupled with the reference to the shepherd in 2:34, it is possible the writer has Ezekiel 34 and 37 in mind. There is a resurrection in 37:1-14 (the valley of dry bones) and the true shepherd in 34:1-19.

The Christian section draws to a close with a vision of a great multitude in Zion (2:42-48). This crowd received crowns and are given palm branches by the Son of God because they have confessed him in the world (2:47). This Son of God is described briefly as a young man of great stature, taller than the rest and more exalted as well.


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Ezra’s First Vision – 4 Ezra 3:1-5:20
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/23/ezras-first-vision-4-ezra-31-520/

by Phillip J. Long
August 23, 2016

Ezra’s first vision sets the stage for all that follows. He is troubled in his spirit over the fall of Jerusalem and calls out to the Lord in prayer asking about the justice of the destruction of the city (3:1-11). He reviews the history of Israel with a special emphasis on the promise of God (3:12-19) and frankly acknowledges the “evil heart” of the people and their disobedience (3:20-27). But Ezra wonders how Babylon could be allowed to survive and prosper while Israel is destroyed and her people taken captive (3:28-36). Surely Babylon is far worse that Israel? What nation in the whole world has kept the commands of God? In this complaint to the Lord, Ezra stands in the tradition of Job, who complained about his personal experience with evil, and Habakkuk, who asks very similarly about the justice of allowing Babylon to prevail over Israel.

After giving this “complaint,” the angel Uriel is sent to Ezra to discuss the problem over the next few chapters. Like Job and Habakkuk, the answers given are not exactly as expected and Ezra continues to probe and question the angel on the problem of God allowing evil to prosper in the world. Uriel begins by telling Ezra that he is arrogant to think he can understand God’s ways. He gives Ezra three “problems” which are impossible for a human to understand, not unlike God questioning Job on Job 38-41. Ezra’s response is to fall on his face. He says it would be better if humans were never born rather than to have come into the world to live in ungodliness, suffer, and not to understand why.

Uriel tells Ezra a parable (4:13-21): the sea tries to take the territory of the forest, and the forest the territory of the sea. Uriel asks Ezra which is more likely to succeed in their plan. Ezra correctly responds both have foolish plans, neither can take the other’s territory. Uriel points out that as a human Ezra might remember his place and not try to understand the things of heaven.

Ezra makes a second complaint to the angel in 4:22-25. He asks why God has allowed Israel to become a reproach before the gentiles. It is as if the covenant no longer exists! Uriel responds much as the Lord did in Habakkuk 2 – have some patience! “If you live long enough,” Uriel says, “you will see the end of the age” (4:46-32). The seeds of ungodliness have already been sown, it will not be long the threshing floor is filled. Ezra asks how long it will be until the end of the age (4:33-43). Uriel’s response is as evasive as his previous ones – go and ask a pregnant woman if after nine months she can hold the child in a bit longer. His point is simply that there is a time which has been appointed and it will surely come.

Hades is like a womb, he says, and once the birth pangs begin, there is no escaping the birth. The time of the birth is more or less fixed and there are signs which point to the soon-ness of the birth. Once started, these birth pains cannot be stopped. The imagery of the end of days as “birth pangs” seems common in the apocalyptic; Jesus makes use of this image in Matthew 24:8. Ezra attempts a second time to know how long it will be until the final days, and once again Uriel answers with imagery which suggests a time is ordained and nothing can stop it (4:44-52).

Finally in 5:1-13 Uriel gives Ezra a series of “signs” which will accompany the end of the age. Those who dwell on the earth will be seized with great terror and people will fall away from true faith. Unrighteousness will increase and the land of Israel will be a waste and trodden under. In verses 4-5 there are a few of the typical cosmological signs: the sun shines at night, the moon during the day; blood will drip from wood and stones will speak. Other natural oddities will occur – birds will fly away and the Dead Sea will give fish. Menstruating women will give birth to monsters and chaos will reign.

Ezra awakens from this vision and fasts for seven days, mourning and weeping because of what the angel had shown him (5:14-20). Some of these “signs” are found in the biblical material, but in most cases the apocalyptic in the New Testament are quite sedate in comparison. The end of the age will be chaos and is described in terms of the natural order run amok, but the writers tend to hold back on the gory details as we have them here in 4 Ezra.


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Ezra’s Second Vision – 4 Ezra 5:21-6:34
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/24/ezras-second-vision-4-ezra-521-634/

by Phillip J. Long
August 24, 2016

After seven days of fast, Ezra returns to the Lord in prayer (5:21-30) He reminds the Lord that out of all of the forest he has chosen a special vine which he planted in Zion, from all the cities of the world he has chosen Jerusalem. Why then has the Lord dishonored his people? Does he now hate Israel and Zion? Uriel once again is sent Ezra to respond to his complaints (5:31-40).

The first response to Ezra’s complaint is once again to ask him “imponderable” questions which God alone knows. Wait long enough, Uriel says, and you see the goal of the suffering. Ezra accepts this, but continues his complaint: what will we do while we wait (5:41-55)? The answer once again lies in the natural order of creation. Things happen because that is the way they have been planned.

Ezra then asks about the end of the age: How will the Lord visit creation (5:56)? This is answered in chapter 6. First, the plan was set before time (6:1-6). All of history has been divided by key events, for example Esau is the end of one age while Jacob is the beginning of the next (6:7-10). Oddly enough, this is proven by the fact that Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel with his hand. The heel is the end of a man while the hand is the beginning of a man.

Rather than expand on this “division of ages” concept, Ezra asks for more signs of the end of the age (6:11-28). In this case Uriel describes the period after Zion’s humiliation is over. Infants will speak with a mature voice, women will give birth to premature children of three or four months and they will live and dance. Sown places will suddenly appear unsown and storehouses suddenly empty, a trumpet will sound and all will be terrified and the whole world will be stilled. At that time people who have been taken up without experiencing death will return (presumably Enoch and Elijah are in mind here). All of the earth’s inhabitants will have a changed spirit and evil will be blotted out.

Once again Ezra is physically overcome by this vision and he must wait another seven days of prayer and fasting before his third vision (6:29-34). Uriel exhorts him to believe what he has seen and not be quick to “think vain thoughts,” a commentary on the questions he has asked of the Lord so far.


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Ezra’s Third Vision – 4 Ezra 6:35-9:25
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/25/ezras-third-vision-4-ezra-635-925/

by Phillip J. Long
August 25, 2016

After seven days of fasting, Ezra is still troubled in his spirit and once again brings a complaint before the Lord. He reviews creation (6:38-54) before asking his real question – if Israel really is God’s favorite people out of all those descended from Adam, how is it that the other nations domineer and devour her (6:55-59)?

Uriel once again comes to Ezra and gives him another parable (7:1-25). This time a city is in the middle of a plain, but the entrance to the city is very narrow so that only one man may walk along the path and dangers are on either side. If a man is given the city as an inheritance, how can the man take possession of it without passing through the dangers? The angel makes the analogy clear. Israel is in sin because of Adam and therefore all her entrances are narrow and filled with danger. Israel is coming into her inheritance shortly, but to get into that city they must pass through the “narrow gate” fraught with dangers.

Uriel does not pause for another question from Ezra this time but rather moves right into the “signs” section of the vision (7:26-44). A time will come when a city appears and Israel will be delivered from the dangers of this world. “My son the Messiah” will appear and people will rejoice with him for 400 years (v. 28). Translations of this verse shows considerable variation in this title (OTP 1:537, note e). The Armenian has “the Messiah of God,” Georgian has “the elect my Messiah,” while the Latin has “my son Jesus.”

After that time he will die (v. 29) and the world will return to primeval silence. After seven days the world will be roused and all corruptible will perish. The dead will be raised to life and the Most High will be seated on the seat of judgment in order to pass judgment. The unrighteous will go down into the “furnace of hell” while the righteous into the “paradise of delight.”

This part of the vision is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, there is an indication of a temporary kingdom after the coming of the Messiah. This is not quite like Rev. 20 and the thousand-year kingdom (in 4 Ezra this kingdom only lasts four hundred years), but at least there is an expectation here of a gap between the coming of Messiah and the eternal state during which time the messiah will rule in peace on earth. Secondly, the term Messiah is used for the coming deliverer. This single Messiah will reveal himself and rescue the people from the dangers of the present age. Third, the major difference is that the Messiah dies at the end of the temporary kingdom. This expectation does not seem to be found in the New Testament at all. The description of the judgment at the end of the temporary kingdom sounds much more like the judgment in Mt. 25:31-46, although Revelation has a “complete” judgment at the end of the thousand years as well (Rev. 20:11-15, the “lake of fire” sounds much like the “furnace of hell” here in 4 Ezra).

Ezra praised God because of this revelation, but expresses some fear that there will not be many who are judged worthy at this final judgment (7:45-61). Uriel agrees, just as precious stones are precious because they are rare, so too the righteous is precious because they are so few. In 7:54-57 there is a superficial parallel to 1 Cor 3:10-14 in that a man builds on his foundation either precious things or worthless things. In 4 Ezra the earth is said to produce wither precious or worthless things as well. The point of these two passages are quite different, as are the catalog of worthless things. Ezra once again laments on behalf of the human race since so many of them are born into a world to be tormented then judged unworthy (7:62-74).

Uriel responds the state of humanity is Adam’s fault, the judgment is fair and just (contra 1 Enoch 31). Ezra then asks the angel about the place of the dead and the sorts of things which await the unrighteous dead (7:75-101). Uriel will describe this to him, but first he admonishes him to not be associated with those who are tormented. Ezra is told he has a “treasure of works laid up with the Most High” which will not be shown until the final judgment. This “storehouse of works” and the later questions about praying for those in torment are obvious hooks to later Catholic theology. It is odd, therefore, that these sections do not appear in the Latin version of 4 Ezra. Verses 36-105 are missing. Uriel gives the seven ways the unrighteous put themselves in torment (verses 81-87) and the seven ways the righteous can enter into paradise (88-99). Essentially those who serve the Lord in this life are rewarded, if not, they are tormented.

After seeing these things Ezra asks if the righteous will be allowed to intercede on behalf of the tormented (7:102-105). The Day of Judgment, Ezra is told, is decisive. No one will pray for another after the Day of Judgment and everyone will bear their own righteousness or unrighteousness. Ezra wonders about this, since Abraham was allowed to intercede on behalf of Sodom (7:106-111; The Latin text resumes at verse 36, after the strong negative answer on prayers for the dead in verse 105). He mentions the prayers of Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah and Hezekiah, all of whom prayed to the Lord on behalf of others and were heard. Uriel’s answer involves the difference between this age and the age to come. This age is weak, therefore the strong can pray for the weak with some effect. The coming age, however, is an age of glory and perfect righteousness (7:112-115). No one will be able to have mercy on the one who is judged in the coming age. Ezra once again laments over the seeming futility of mankind’s existence, but Uriel explains that the world is fair (7:116-131). Uriel quotes Moses – choose life that you may live!

Ezra then implores the Lord on the basis of his attributes (7:132-8:3). He lists seven divine attributes such as mercy, gracious, bountifulness, etc. If God is this good, how can he judge people so harshly? Uriel’s response is to repeat the parable of the earth. From the earth come many clay pots which are nothing but dust, but only a few pieces of gold. “Many have been created, but few will be saved” (verse 3, a similar line to Mt. 22:14, “many are called but few are chosen” but with a completely different application).

Ezra tries to implore the Lord on the basis of creation once again (8:4-36). The point of this long prayer is that God’s creation is good and well-ordered. Why then would God, who is good and righteous, destroy those who have taught his law the same way he destroys other “beasts?” This question comes back to the problem of the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezra is told that it is true that God does not care so much for the unrighteous as he rejoices in the righteous (8:37-40). Ultimately, whatever a farmer sows will grow and give fruit (8:41). Ezra tries to shift the blame back to God: if the crop does not come in, it is because the rains did not come. He therefore begs God to spare the people and have mercy on creation (8:42-45). The Lord responds to this accusation that while Ezra is righteous, he does not love creation more than God. Ultimately everything will be judged fairly; evil will be done away with and the righteous will enter into paradise (8:46-62). Judgment is in fact drawing near, a fact which is only revealed to a few.

As in the earlier visions, last part of this vision is a description of the signs which will precede the end of the age (8:63-9:13). As before, there will be earthquakes and political chaos, showing that everything the Lord has declared from the beginning will be shown to be true. The fate of the wicked is described one more time in 9:14-25. Ezra compares the wicked to the righteous as a wave is to a drop of water. The Lord compares this to wheat on the threshing floor, more is burned than is used for food. “Let the multitude perish which has been born in vain, but let my grape and my plant be saved, because with much labor I have perfected them” (verse 22). Ezra is sent into a field to contemplate this answer and the Lord gives him a series of dreams.


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Ezra’s Fifth Vision – 4 Ezra 11:1-12:51 (The Eagle Vision)
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/26/ezras-fifth-vision-111-1251-the-eagle-vision/

by Phillip J. Long
August 26, 2016

Ezra’s second dream in the field involves an eagle with twelve wings and three heads (11:1-35). The heads and the wings mutate in various ways throughout the dream, some becoming dominant while others wither and become puny. Ezra hears a voice from the body of the eagle rather than from one of the mouths. As Ezra watches this eagle, a creature like a lion appeared and addressed the eagle (11:36-46). The lion-creature says the eagle is the last of the four beasts which remain (probably referring to Daniel 7). The eagle has judged the earth, but not with truth, therefore it will be judged by the Most High. As the lion is speaking, the eagle’s heads disappears and the body of the eagle burns up and the earth is terrified (12:1-3).

Ezra is perplexed and asks the Lord for an interpretation of this vision (12:4-9). The Lord speaks to Ezra and confirms the eagle is the fourth beast of Daniel’s vision (12:10-39). The wings are twelve kings which will reign over it, and the three heads are the final three kings which will arise in the final days. One will be poisoned while the other two die by the sword. These are probably to be taken as Roman emperors, although which is to be the start of the sequence is always a problem (Julius, Augustus, etc.) and if the three minor rulers are to be included in the sequence (Cf. Revelation 18 where there are a series of ten kings). The lion is the Messiah (12:32, cf. Rev. 5:5), who comes at the end of days from the line of David. He will denounce the final beast and deliver the remnant of the people of the Lord and make them joyful in the end on the Day of Judgment.

Since Ezra has been gone from the people from some time, the people make a search for him. When they discover him the field, they ask him how they have offended him (12:40-45). Ezra tells them to take courage because the Most High has not forgotten them in their struggle. He has been praying to the Lord on behalf of the desolation of Zion and will stay in the field another seven days (12:46-51).

Given the predominant imagery of an eagle, this vision seems to make the final empire in Daniel’s vision the Romans and describes the Messiah as overcoming the Romans and judging them for their ungodliness. The identity of the four kingdoms in Daniel is a debated subject, many scholars take the fourth empire to be Greece, especially in the light of chapter 11 and the predictions of Antiochus IV Epiphanies and Seleucid meddling in the politics of Palestine. Others take the fourth empire as Rome, arguing Rome is by far the most powerful and dominate of world empires. Collins (OTP 1:550 note b) considers 4 Ezra a re-interpretation of Daniel, applying the fourth beast to Rome; I would be inclined to see 4 Ezra as confirming the fact Daniel’s fourth beast is Rome.

This prophecy was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem by a Jew who desired to comfort other Jewish readers. God is aware of the evil of Rome, the fall has been predicted long ago by Daniel. Eventually the Messiah will come to deliver the Jews from the oppression of Rome. It is possible this hope existed well before A.D. 70, especially during the ministry of Jesus. We know there were a few small scale rebellions in the early part of the first century (Judas the Galilean in A.D. 6, for example) as well as several false messiahs.

4 Ezra represents a messianic hope for delivery from Rome some 70 years after the time of Jesus, but it may reflect a more long standing hope for deliverance. It was well known that after the fall of Jerusalem there were three generations, about 70 years, before the Temple was rebuilt. 4 Ezra seems to represent the thinking of people living in the “three generations” between A.D. 70 and the messianic fervor of A.D. 135. If there was an expectation for the Messiah even after the fall of Jerusalem, it is little wonder the Jews (Pharisees and disciples both) misunderstood Jesus as messiah. Certainly Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, but the method for establishing the kingdom was not exactly what they may have had in mind.


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Ezra’s Sixth Vision – 4 Ezra 13:1-58 (The Man from the Sea)
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/27/ezras-sixth-vision-4-ezra-131-58-the-man-from-the-sea/

by Phillip J. Long
August 27, 2016

After another seven days, Ezra experiences another vision (13:1-13.) A great wind stirs the sea and Ezra sees a figure of a man flying with the clouds, surrounded by a great multitude. The mountains melt like wax before him. A huge multitude has gathers to make war against him, but they are destroyed by flaming fire from his mouth. This man then came down from the mountain and called his people to him; some were joyful but others were sorrowful; some came bound while others brought offerings.

Ezra is perplexed by the vision and prays for an interpretation (13:14-20). The Lord responds by explaining that the world will make war city against city and all of the signs described before will come to pass. The man will come and the multitudes will gather to make war against him, but he will stand on top of Mt. Zion and judge the nations (13:21-39).

This man is called “my son” (verse 37). The people who gather to the man are the Jews, even the “lost” ten tribes (13:40-45). The man who is coming will destroy the nations while preserving the people of God (13:46-50).

Ezra asks why the man was coming from the heart of the sea (13:51)? The reason is that the sea is a great mystery, nor one can know when “my son” will come (13:52-58, cf. Mt. 24:36, 42, no one knows when the Son of Man will come, but one can know the “signs,” Mt. 24:32-35.) Ezra leaves the field and gives God great glory because he controls the times and governs whatever comes to pass.


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Ezra’s Seventh Vision – 4 Ezra 14:1-48
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/29/ezras-seventh-vision-4-ezra-141-48/

by Phillip J. Long
August 29, 2016

Ezra has his final vision three days later while sitting under an oak (14:1-18). The Lord calls to him and tells him to store up all of the visions he has received because the ages are growing old and the time of the end is drawing near. History has been divided into twelve parts, and nine of these parts are already past as well as half of the tenth part. The eagle of the last vision is “already hastening to come.”

Ezra the requests the Lord allow him to rewrite the scripture so the present generation will know what has happened (14:19-26). The Law was burned along with the Temple, therefore the people need new copies given to them by the Lord. The Lord allows this, but some of the books are kept secret (14:26). He announces his intention to rewrite the scripture to the people (14:27-36), and for forty days he goes into a field along with five scribes.

He is given a drink by an angel which will give him complete understanding and total recall as he dictates all day long. After forty days ninety-four books were created: the twenty-four canonical books and the seventy “hidden” books (14:37-48). This can be taken as a reference to an Old Testament canon since the 24 books are obviously the books of the Hebrew Bible. If 4 Ezra is dated to the end of the first century, then we have at least some indication that the canon was fixed by that date (for the author of 4 Ezra, at least!)


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The New Testament and 4 Ezra
https://readingacts.com/2016/08/30/the-new-testament-and-4-ezra/

by Phillip J. Long
August 30, 2016

The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra deals with the problem of the Jews in the post-70 world. Has God abandoned his people? This is extremely important for New Testament studies since the “Jewish problem” arises in nearly every context. The New Testament passage which deals with this problem in the most detail is Romans 9-11. While Paul reaches a similar conclusion, he does so in a non-apocalyptic manner. Paul is obviously writing well before the fall of Jerusalem, so this is not the “crisis” which has caused Paul to ask about the fate of the nation of Israel. In Paul’s case the “crisis” is the resurrection of Jesus in general and more specifically his own calling to be the apostle to the Gentiles which raises the question of what happens to the Jews in the new era of “church.”

Paul deals with the problem much differently than4 Ezra. Rather than question God’s fairness or badger God with questions about his management of the universe, Paul grounds his understanding of Israel in the election of the nation to be the people of God and in the unalterable promises of God (9:1-21). Even there, Paul is willing to accept that God makes some things for destruction, as objects of his wrath. But Israel is not by nature an object of wrath, although they have “experienced a hardening in part” (9:30, 11:25). Romans 10 makes clear it is God’s desire for Israel to be saved, they are not cut off from God and a remnant of Israel will be saved in the future. Romans 11:1 cannot be clearer: God has not rejected his people, and eventually “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).

Paul is writing in the pre-A.D. 70 world. Israel still exists as a political reality, Jerusalem and the Temple still stand. 4 Ezra is on the other side of the terrible destruction of Jerusalem asking a legitimate question – does God still care for Israel? This question may be at the heart of the closest parallel in the New Testament to 4 Ezra, the Book of Revelation.

While Revelation never states the question in quite the same way 4 Ezra does, the fate of Israel in the post-A.D. 70 world is near the center of the theology of the book. That Israel will continue to suffer and pass through torment is a given in the book; the nation will ultimately be tested to the point of death. At the last moment, the Messiah will appear and vindicate his people and establish them in peace and safety in Jerusalem (and later the New Jerusalem) with a restored temple and renewed worship. Revelation demonstrates, like 4 Ezra, that God has a plan to set things right in the future for the nation of Israel.

Another text which deals with the problem of Israel in the period after the fall of Jerusalem may be the book of Hebrews. This book deals with the theological problems caused by a belief in Jesus as Messiah, especially the sacrificial system in the light of the death and resurrection. The sacrifices are no longer necessary for a Jew to approach God since Jesus has given access to all through his blood. The temple and Jerusalem are therefore no longer needed. This is argued in non-eschatologically and would have appealed to Jews in the Diaspora.


[End of 4 Ezra]


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