The First Christians in Their Social Worlds: Social-Scientific Approaches to New Testament Interpretation

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

The social function of 4 Ezra

A SOCIAL FUNCTION FOR 4 EZRA?

The Jewish apocalypse entitled 4 Ezra presents itself as a work composed by a Jewish exile in Babylon some thirty years after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The actual apocalypse (leaving aside an introduction added later) begins like this:

In the thirtieth year after the destruction of our city, I, Salathiel, who am also called Ezra, was in Babylon. I was troubled as I lay on my bed and my thoughts welled up in my heart, because I saw the desolation of Zion and the wealth of those who lived in Babylon. My spirit was greatly agitated and I began to speak anxious words to the Most High.

(3.1-3; Stone 1990:53)

The work actually dates to the end of the first century CE, but uses the dramatic garb of the earlier catastrophe to address issues thrown up by the devastation wreaked on Jerusalem and its population by the Romans in 70 CE. It is a work of towering moral integrity and imaginative power. According to Michael Stone in his recent commentary on 4 Ezra, however, little can be known of its ‘social matrix and function’. He observes that we ‘do not know how the book functioned and to whom it was directed’ and is willing to venture the following as the only more or less secure facts known of 4 Ezra: first, that it was written in response to the destruction of the second Temple and expressed yearning for the end of the Roman Empire and the vindication of Israel; and secondly, that it seems to have been composed in Hebrew in Israel, about 100 CE (Stone 1990:40 and 1987:216). Professor Stone is hardly a lone voice in raising the problem of determining

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