The Apocryphal Apocalypse: The Reception of the Second Book of Esdras (4 Ezra) from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

The Apocryphal Apocalypse: The Reception of the Second Book of Esdras (4 Ezra) from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

The Apocryphal Apocalypse: The Reception of the Second Book of Esdras (4 Ezra) from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

The Apocryphal Apocalypse: The Reception of the Second Book of Esdras (4 Ezra) from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment

Synopsis

This is the first study of the reception of the apocryphal Second Book of Esdras (4 Ezra) from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. Professor Hamilton discusses the concepts of biblical apocrypha and canonicity in connection with the increasingly critical attitude to religious authority which developed with the humanists and intensified with the Reformation. The Book owed its initial success to Hebraists such as Pico della Mirandola and Bibliander. It was used to account for the origins of Jewish Kabbalah and to prophesy political and religious events: the fall of the Ottoman empire, or the destruction of the papacy. Anabaptists, dissident Protestants of various persuasions, Rosicrucians and Paracelsians consulted it not only as a work of prophecy but, it is argued, as an emblem of dissent, rejected by the official Churches. At the same time more sober scholars, both Protestants and Catholics, scrutinized 2 Esdras with greater objectivity, endeavouring to date it correctly and establish its authorship. This study also investigates the interaction between their views and those of the Book's enthusiastic supporters.

Excerpt

The decision to attribute the pseudepigraphic 2 Esdras to Ezra was judicious. As he emerges from the canon of the Old Testament in the first two books attributed to him, Ezra and Nehemiah, Ezra, the priest or the scribe, is a tantalizingly obscure figure, the very stuff from which legends could be made. He was allegedly dispatched from Babylon to Jerusalem by the king of Persia at some time around the turn of the fifth and the fourth century BC. The date and the identity of the king, Artaxerxes I or Artaxerxes II, are still debated. The purpose of Ezra's mission was to legislate to the Jews who had returned to their homeland from the Babylonian Captivity. 'And thou, Ezra,' the king tells him in Ezra 7:25-26, 'after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river, all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgement be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.' Ezra thus remained the man who restored order and revived tradition at one of the most important moments of Jewish history.

The nature of Ezra's accomplishments was hinted at rather than specified. He was generally admitted to have taken an active part in the restoration of the Temple. Together with the other men of the Great Synagogue which he allegedly assisted in establishing in Jerusalem, he was supposed to have played a decisive role in the transmission of the text of the Torah. Accompanied by a number of officials Ezra is described in Nehemiah 8:7-8, reading the law to . . .

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