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UNCANONICAL JEWISH BOOKS
I. ESDRAS (THE GREEK EZRA) • This book presents many critical problems, which it is impossible in so small a space to do more than mention. It is the book which appears in our official Apocrypha as 1 Esdras, the contents of which run parallel to those in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and which by its divergencies from the latter raises important questions.
It was written in Greek at any time during the first century A.D. by one of the Pharisaic school, most probably not in Palestine, with the object of glorifying everything connected with the Temple and its worship, and exalting the fame and work of Ezra the scribe. The rebuilding of the Temple represented to the Jewish mind the continuance of Israel's sacrificial approach to God, and Ezra stood for the importance of the Law. The Altar and the Law were the two great privileges of Israel. It is these with which the writer is chiefly concerned, and he seems to regard historical events as an unimportant background to these two ideas.
I Esdras seems to stand in the following relation to the Biblical Ezra. The latter with Nehemiah was originally the conclusion of the Chronicles, and an integral part of them, written after the Exile in order to give a special trend to Jewish historical ideas. Chronicles was not at once admitted into the Canon, as the ground was already covered by 1 and 2 Kings. But as there was no record in the Hebrew Bible of the events recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah, they were recognized as canonical.
And thus they appear in the Septuagint as Esdras 1 and 2. But it is significant that they are there placed after the book we are considering, and also that Josephus uses our book as his authority, and does not seem to recognize the canonical account. The ground covered by the two versions is not quite the same, for our book embraces 2 Chron. XXXV.-xxxvi. 1-23, in addition to Ezra and Nehemiah vii. 6-viii. 12, while the interesting passage iii. I-v. 3 has nothing corresponding to it in the Biblical material.
The contents of 1 Esdras are as followi. 1-24, Josiah's Passover , 25–33, death at Megiddo ;
34-58, reigns of kings to Fall of Jerusalem
(586 B.c.). ii. I-15, Cyrus's decree to rebuild Jerusalem
(538 B.c.); 16–30, Samaritans' letter to Arta
xerxes, and rebuilding ceases till Darius (520 B.C.). iii. I-iv. 46, Zerubbabel's victory in the competi
tion; iv. 47-v. 3, allowed to return and rebuild
walls and Temple. V. 4-46, List of exiles; 46-65, rebuilding; 66–73,
the Samaritans cause suspension. vi. 1-6, Building of Temple begun; 7-34, letter
of Sisinnes and favourable reply of Darius.
vii. 1-15, Dedication and Passover (516 B.C.). viii. I-ix. 36, Ezra comes by permission of Arta
xerxes (458 B.C.); he brings Priests and Levites,
and stops mixed marriages. ix. 37-55, He reads the Law of Moses (444 B.C.).
It will be seen by the above that our book differs from the canonical
(i) By reversing the order of the Persian kings, which was in reality
Cyrus (533-529 B.C.),
Artaxerxes I. (465-425 B.C.), although it starts correctly with Cyrus in ii. I seq.
(ii) By taking no account of Neh, i, i-vii. 72, and thus making the story of Ezra continuous.
There is no doubt that the writer reflected a somewhat hazy view of the chronology of the Return from Exile in the Hebrew records which he strung together, and it is possible that portions of the Hebrew were already misplaced and names wrongly given. Dr. Oesterley supposes there were two Hebrew documents in existence, represented in translation respectively by the canonical Ezra and our book. The former is by no means historically impeccable, and the nearest approach to truth is probably to be found by combining the two accounts.
The story of the three young men and of Zerubbabel's victory, as has been said, is peculiar to the book. It is a specimen of a type of Eastern tale familiar to readers of the Arabian Nights, and, of course, memorable for its great word: Magna est veritas, et prævalet. The young guardsmen in the story compete together to phrase the wisest sentence, and each puts his writing under Darius's pillow. The first writes, “Wine is the strongest”; the second, “The King is strongest”; and Zerubbabel, “ Women are strongest, but truth above all things beareth away the victory." Each sentence is next day defended at some length in the King's presence, Zerubbabel is proclaimed the winner, and craves as his reward the rebuilding of the Jewish walls and Temple. Dr. Oesterley suggests that this story, being such an obvious patch on the rest of the book, was an attempt made by a Hellenistic reviser to minimize what seemed to him an excessive stress on the personality of Ezra, and to present Zerubbabel, the more prophetic name, as also in the foreground of the picture.
Note.--The fullest recent discussion of the problems connected with the book is contained in Prof. Č. C. Torrey's Ezra Studies (Chicago University Press); 1909.
THE First Book of Maccabees seems to have been written between 100 and 90 B.C., after the death of John Hyrcanus in 105 B.C. Our present Greek text bears many signs of having been translated from the Hebrew. The writer was an ardent patriot and a a rigid adherent of orthodox Judaism," and a native of Palestine. Dr. Oesterley ranks him with the Sadducees, and the writer's laudation of John Hyrcanus, who definitely broke with the Pharisaic party, would support this. Much that was good in Pharisaism, however, appealed strongly to him. He is a true historian with an easy flowing style, takes great pains to present original documents, and is in the main, in spite of an occasional tendency to exaggeration, unprejudiced and impartial. Of some of the later events recorded he was perhaps himself an eye-witness, and the graphic touches in the earlier history show him to have used the accounts of eye-witnesses.
The course covered by the story is from 175 B.C. to 135 B.C., i. e. from the accession of Antiochus Epiphanes to the death of Simon Maccabæus. Our limits of space make it impossible to follow in detail the course of the Maccabæan struggle. The story is readily accessible in the Apocrypha, and is told simply and straightforwardly, though it becomes involved in the somewhat tortuous history of the Seleucid dynasty. It groups itself round the commanding personalities of Mattathias, Judas - the
Maccabee," or "Hammerer," whose greatness conferred name on his whole family—and of Jonathan and Simon. It records how by the firm stand made by one family, combined with fortunate external
events, the Jewish people, shorn of political independence, with their religious liberty jeopardized, browbeaten by a powerful monarch, and cankered with inward decay, reasserted their national independence, re-established their Altar and Priesthood, and became amid the jarring politics of their neighbours, the deciding factor of the stability of thrones. It shows how by the faithfulness of a determined few the capture of Judaism by the spirit of Hellenism was prevented, and the policy of the clique who had
joined themselves to the Gentiles, and sold themselves to do evil,” effectually countered. The great career of Judas, untimely in its end, assured religious freedom; the energy and diplomacy of Jonathan and the establishment of the High Priesthood in his family made the Maccabees or as they came to be called, the Hasmoneans-supreme in Church and State, all power being centralized in their persons, while under Simon and John the Jews won their way to an independence which was only destroyed by Pompey in 63 B.C.
The official documents preserved in this book naturally arouse inquiry. Can they be trusted as authentic? In the main, yes. “The documentary sources shed a most valuable light on the external policy of the Jews as well as on the important role they played in shaping Syrian politics." 1° The ones that rouse suspicion are the “ Letter from Jonathan to the Spartans” (xii. 6-18), the letter of the Spartans to Simon (xiv, 20–22), and the letter from Lucius, the Roman Consul, to Ptolemy (xv. 16-21), though even beneath these there may be a historical foundation. There is no reason to doubt the genuineness of the letter of the King of Sparta to Onias (xii. 20-23), the treaty of alliance between Rome and the Jews (viii. 23–32), or the letters from Syrian kings to the Jewish leaders.
The religious outlook of the writer differs from that of the Old Testament. He refrains from emphasizing
1 Oesterley, p. 423.