Pummer, Reinhard. The Samaritans: A Profile. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 376 pp. Pb; $30.   Link to Eerdmans

In his introduction to this new history of the Samaritan people, Pummer cites an anonymous reviewer of James Montgomery’s 1907 monograph on the Samaritans that wondered if the Samaritans were worthy of a 360 pages book! The situation has changed one hundred years later. Following the publication of Magnar Kartveit’s The Origin of the Samaritans (Brill 2009) and Gary Knoppers’s Jews and Samaritans: The Origins and History of Their Early Relations (Oxford, 2013), interest in the Samaritans seems to be on the rise. Pummer’s new volume contributes to this developing interest in the history of the Samaritans by going beyond the confines of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament to explore the history of the Samaritans.

Pummer-SamaritansThe first section in the book deals with the identity of the Samaritans. Popular preachers and teachers have denigrated the Samaritans, calling the half-breeds and implying their religion is a subset of Judaism. This mischaracterization is often corrected in scholarly literature, but a full description of “Samaritan” is often lacking. Pummer begins his definition by contrasting what the Samaritans claim for themselves (they are the true heirs of Israel) with the typical Jewish view than the Samaritans are the descendants of the kingdom of Israel as described in 2 Kings 17. Modern scholarship on the Samaritans tends to reject both of these extremes. Kartveit argued there was a split in the fourth century caused by the building of a temple on Mount Gerizim. Knoppers argued for more interaction between two Yahweh sects at Samaria and Judea. The destruction of the Gerizim temple by John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.) was the cause of a split, but not an absolute schism between the two similar religions. Pummer thinks the evidence shows the Samaritans were not a sect that broke away from Judaism, not a “branch of Yahwehistic Israel in the same sense as the Jews (25).

The next three sections of the book trace references to the Samaritans in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and early Jewish literature. He adds a question mark to the title of his chapter on the Old Testament since it is possible the polemic in 2 Kings 17 does not refer to a long standing enmity between Samaritans and Jews. In fact, there appears to be an amicable relationship even after the Gerizim temple was destroyed. In the New Testament, Pummer suggests Samaritans are neither Jew nor Gentile, although Jesus did not engage in a systematic mission to the Samaritans (37). Luke for example, does not see the Samaritans as either pagans or syncretists (41), an no text in the New Testament looks back to 2 Kings 17 as an explanation of the origins of the Samaritans. Pummer only briefly deals with the Gospel of John, suggesting that John 4 expresses concern over Christian mission to the Samaritans. He does not think there is any Samaritan influence on Stephen’s speech or the book of Hebrews, although there may be some shared interests. Following the biblical data, Pummer surveys references to Samaritans in other ancient Jewish Writings including the Apocryphal (Sirach and 2 Maccabees), Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, and Rabbinic literature. Josephus has the most data, although it is possible Josephus has enhances his positive view of the Jews be contrasting them with the Samaritans, an unreliable people from the Roman perspective (55).

 

The fifth section of the book examines the archaeological excavations at Mount Gerizim. Although today’s Samaritans deny there was a legitimate Yhwh temple on the mountain (89), Josephus reported the presence of a temple as well as the destruction of the temple by John Hyrcanus. Pummer surveys modern excavations on Mount Gerizim and concludes it is “very likely that a temple once existed in this area” (80). There are nearly four hundred fragments with palaeo-Hebrew or Aramaic texts. Among these fragments are words like YHWH, priests, sacrifice, house of sacrifice. In addition to these inscriptions, a small golden bell was found which may have been part of a priestly ephod (84).

Pummer surveys several diaspora synagogues which have dedications implying they were Samaritan synagogues. Of primary importance is the synagogue a Delos where two inscriptions were found honoring a patron who made contributions to a sanctuary on argarizin. Pummer takes this as a reference to the temple on Mount (har) Gerizim, concluding this is evidence for “Samarian Yahwehists whose religious center is Mt. Gerizim” (93). This chapter includes many photographs and diagrams illustrating Samaritan synagogues both in the diaspora and in Palestine. Pummer admits the number of excavates Samaritan synagogues is small compared to Jewish synagogues, he asserts there is enough evidence to support the existence of these religious centers among the Samaritans in antiquity. Finally, Pummer briefly summarizes smaller discoveries such as amulets and oil lamps and Samaritan ritual baths (miqvot). Pummer believes the fact no mikvoth were found on Mount Gerizim is an indication they were not used until after then temple was destroyed (116).

Despite the extremely small number of Samaritans, there are some subgroups which can be described as sectarian. In the sixth section of the book, Pummer gathers this information from Samaritan, Muslim and Karaite sources, supplemented with a few Patristic sources. This evidence is sketchy, but seems to indicate there were as many as four types of Samarians in the fourth century. This is reported by Epiphanius of Salamis (312-403), but by the early nineteenth century Samaritans denied some of this evidence as relating to their history (127).

Perhaps the most useful section of the book is Pummer’s history of the Samaritans from Hellenistic and early Roman times through the modern period. Most introductions to the Samaritans are content to deal with the biblical period, Pummer traces the Samaritans through the Early Muslim and Crusade, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods. One of the most fascinating aspects of this history is what Pummer calls the “Modern Period,” introducing the reader to the current state of the Samaritan people. This short section of the chapter should be read alongside chapter 12, the Samaritans today. Chapter 8 concerns the geographical distribution and demography Samaritans over their history, in both Palestine and the Diaspora. Although estimates for the total number of Samaritans in antiquity vary from ninety thousand to as many as five hundred thousand in the Hellenistic-Roman periods, the numbers today are extremely low. In 1954 there were as few as 313 Samaritans but in a 2013 study, the number had risen to 756.

Chapters 9 and 10 concern the literature of the Samaritans. Of primary interest to most readers is the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) and the differences between this ancient translation and the Masoretic Text (MT). Pummer contributed a monograph on the topic (Early Christian Authors on Samaritans and Samaritanism: Texts, Translations and Commentary, Mohr Siebeck, 2002). Although most readers will be familiar with the “sectarian changes” introduced to the Pentateuch in order to support Gerizim as the location for the Temple, but there is far more to the SP than this popular characterization. It is true there are minor modifications to increase the sanctity of Mount Gerizim, but other differences between the SP and the MT are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and it now appears the Hebrew text behind the SP is older than the MT. Pummer offers examples of both in this chapter. For example, in the SP expands on the Decalogue to include a command to build an altar at Gerizim (205).  As with other sections of the book, Pummer includes a short history of the study of the Samaritan Pentateuch western scholarship.

No Samaritan literature has survived from the Hellenistic or Roman periods, and even the hints such a literature existed in patristic sources is debatable. For most Samaritan literature available today, there are no critical editions or translations available. Pummer summarizes a few examples of exegesis, halakhah and liturgy as well as some historical chronicles and folktales. Of some interest is the dialogue with European scholars. Since the Samaritan religion was virtually unknown at the time, Robert Huntington (1637-1701) wrote a series of letters to Samaritan leaders asking questions about their beliefs and practices. This sort of interaction continued into the twentieth century and is rarely considered in introductions to the Samaritans.

Chapter 11 summarized what is known of Samaritan rituals and customs, including the unique Samaritan calendar, their practice of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Weeks and the Day of Atonement. Some practices are similar to Judaism (pilgrimage to Mount Gerizim, circumcision, redemption of the first born and reading of the torah). Pummer includes a few short sections on the culture of Samaritans (betrothal, weddings and funerals, prayer, music and art). Overall these descriptions are dependent on modern practice since it is virtually impossible to know anything about Samaritan culture in antiquity due to the total lack of literature or material evidence. The brevity is frustrating to the reader, but given the available data, Pummer is not to be faulted for this.

The book concludes with a few comments the challenges the Samaritans face today. Since the Samaritan community is very small it is difficult to know how they can survive in the modern state of Israel.

Conclusion. Pummer’s introduction to the Samaritans goes beyond the usual topics to include the whole history of Samaritan culture. By blending literary and archaeological sources, Pummer presents a clear and concise picture of the Samarians both in antiquity and in the modern world. Although the arrangement of topics is sometimes odd, this book will be a useful contribution to the ongoing study of the Samaritans.

 

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

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).

St-john-eagleEzra 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.

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)?

city-fieldUriel 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.

Stefan_Lochner_-_Last_Judgement_-_circa_1435After 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.

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.

ages_and_dispensationsEzra 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.

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 Visiondestroyed 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.

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.

EzraMetzger 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.

The Apocalypse of Zephaniah is a fragmentary piece of apocalyptic literature. Study of the book is hindered by missing sections in the two partially preserved manuscripts. Clement of Alexandria may have referred to the book (in Stromata), making the latest date possible about A.D. 175 and implying an origin for the book in Egypt.

Apocalypse-lambSince the book refers to both Daniel 3 and the apocryphal Susanna, implying a date no earlier than 100 B.C. The author was a Jew living in a Greek speaking Diaspora community. The book appears to have been used in the Coptic Apocalypse of Paul, found in Upper Egypt. E. A. Budge includes this in his Miscellaneous Texts in the Dialect of Upper Egypt (London 1915) but carefully distinguishes this Apocalypse of Paul from the Nag Hammadi text of the same name. There is nothing uniquely Christian in the text, despite the fact Christians preserved the text.

The fragment of the Apocalypse of Zephaniah which is preserved in Clement’s Stromata is a brief description of the prophet’s ascension into the fifth heaven. There he sees angels (called “lords”) being crowned by the Holy Spirit and seated on brilliant thrones. This sort of heavenly journey and throne vision is common in the apocalyptic genre based on Isaiah 6:1-8. The unique element is the activity of the “Holy Spirit.” Since this is a Jewish text, we need to be careful not te read the Christian Trinity into this text (OTP 1:508, note b). He explains his use of capital letters in his translation and notes the spirit of God is described in similar ways in the Jewish sources (WisSol 9:17; Martyrdom of Isaiah 5:14, 4 Ezra 14:22; PssSol 17:42, CD 2.10).

The Sahidic fragment describes a punishment scene. A soul is lashed a hundred times each day by each of five thousand angels. Zephaniah faints at the sight of this and is told by his angelic guide to be strong. He calls Zephaniah “the one who will triumph.” It is this line, specifically the title for Zephaniah,” which is found in Budge’s Coptic Apocalypse. A second scene describes a great, broad places with thousands of people. The description of the people breaks off after their hair “loose like that belonging to a woman.” Since this description appears in 4:4 of the Akhmimic text, it is possible the people described are the souls of the ungodly in Hades.

The Akhmimic text is much longer, although it is also fragmentary and sections are missing. The first fragment is the end of a section which deals with the burial of the dead. A dead person is to be carried out accompanied by the playing of the cithara and the chanting of psalms and odes. This could be construed as a Christian funeral rite, but as Wintermute notes, there is simply not enough here decide if this is Christian or Jewish (OTP 1:509, note b).

Bibliography: Wintermute, O.S. “Apocalypse of Zephaniah” in OTP 498-515.

[Andrew Harrington offered a link to the text of fragments 2-5 in the comments, I am adding the link here. Thanks Andrew!]

Fragment 2 as reported in 1 Clement 8:3 describes God’s mercy. Even if the sins are “redder than scarlet or blacker than sackcloth,” if the people simply call God “Father” he will forgive them.  In addition to Jesus’ use of Father for God, Gal. 4:6 and Rom. 8:15 refer to calling out to God as Father (“abba”).  Fragment 3 exists in several variations, but is only reported as coming from Ezekiel by Tertullian (De carne Christi 23). This saying concerns a cow which has “given birth and not given birth.”  Apparently Tertullian used this as a reference to the Virgin Mary.

Fragment 4 is a saying attributed to Jesus by Justin Martyr, although it appears to come from “the prophets” in Elias of Crete and Pseudo-Athanasius.

Fragment 5 is found in Clement of Alexandria.  This text describes the healing of the nation and is probably based on Ezekiel 34:14-16 and Isaiah 35:5-7.  The Ezekiel passage is in the context of the true shepherd, while Isaiah describes the joy of the restoration of the people.  Zeph. 3:19 and Micah 4:6-7 both use the restoration of the lame as an image of renewal.

It is too much to say these fragments had much impact on the thinking of first century Judaism, although it is clear from the writers who preserved them that early Christians read and used the Apocryphon of Ezekiel. While the Christians used texts which could be applied to Jesus as the Messiah, it is almost impossible to know how a Jewish reader would have taken these same texts.

These fragments at best indicate the currency of the idea of restoration in Judaism based on the classic texts of Isaiah and Ezekiel.  The idea of a true shepherd from Ezekiel 34 may have been a popular enough of an idea that when Jesus used sheep as images in parables (Luke 15:1-3-7; John 10:11-14).

 

Bibliography:

Bregman, Marc. “The Parable of the Lame and the Blind: Epiphanius’ Quotation from an Apocryphon of Ezekiel.” JTS ns 42 (1991): 125-138.

Cook, Stephen L. “The Five Fragments of the Apocryphon of Ezekiel: A Critical Study” JBL115 (1996): 532-534.

Mueller, James Raymond.  “The ‘Apocryphon of Ezekiel:’ A Critical Study of Pseudepigraphic Fragments.”  Unpublished Dissertation:  (Ph. D.) Duke University, 1986.

Mueller, J. R. and S. E. Robinson.  “The Apocryphon of Ezekiel ”in OTP 1:487-495.

Stone, Michael E., Benjamin G. Wright, and David Satran.  The Apocryphal Ezekiel.  Atlanta: SBL, 2000.

Wright, Benjamin G. “The Apocryphon of Ezekiel and 4QPseudo-Ezekiel” pages 462-480 in Dead Sea Scrolls Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 2000.

__________.  “Talking with God and Losing His Head: Extrabiblical Traditions about the Prophet Ezekiel” pages 290-315 in Biblical Figures Outside the Bible. Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press, 1998.

Jobes, Karen H., ed. Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2016. 351 pp. Hb; $20.00.   Link to Kregel Academic

Karen Jobes is well known for her Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker 2000) co-written with Moises Silva, now in a second edition (Baker, 2015). That previous volume is an excellent handbook for the study of the Septuagint (LXX), but it lacks any exercises for students in the text of the LXX itself. This new volume from Kregel is intended to assist a student read through significant sections of the Septuagint.

Discovering-SeptuagintThis reader includes about 700 verses from nine books from the Greek Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Additions to Esther, Psalms, Hosea, Jonah, Malachi and Isaiah). Her Exodus examples are divided into two separate chapters (Exod 14-15 and the Ten Commandments from Exodus and Deuteronomy). These selections give the student a wide range of experience in several genres as well as distinctive LXX styles.

Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the book in the Septuagint. Aside from a few obvious general comments, Jobes assesses the translation style of each book. Genesis, for example, is a “strict quantitative representation” of word order and syntax of the Hebrew Bible (19), while Hosea is in some respects quite different than the Hebrew text. This may indicate a different Vorlage or a corrupted text. The introduction concludes with a selected bibliography including a few recommended commentaries as well as monographs or articles on the Greek text of the book. The bibliographies are brief; in most cases these are about a half-page in length.

Each chapter is compiled by graduate students in Jobes’s LXX classes, including Wheaton doctoral students Carmen Imes and Caleb Friedman. After the introduction, the Greek text is presented verse-by-verse with comments on phrases. The Greek is drawn from the Rahlfs-Hanhart critical edition of the LXX. Not every word is glossed, and some a glossed several times with similar comments. For example, the common phrase και ἐγένετο begins both Ruth and Jonah. In both cases the word is parsed and compared to the conventional Hebrew וַֽיְהִי. In some cases rather simple words are parsed ( in Jonah 2:6, for example).

The comments on vocabulary begin by parsing verbs or identifying case, number and gender of nouns and offering a basic lexical gloss not included in Metzger’s Aids for Students of New Testament Greek. But as the introduction observes, some common words are glossed if they appear in unusual forms. In some cases the translation of the NETS is given. Occasionally a syntactical category is given (complementary infinitive, pendant nominative, etc.) The book concludes with a glossary of these terms.

Following glossed verses for a biblical chapter, the editors provide the NETS English translation and a list of quotations in the New Testament where applicable. Some of the examples are not strictly quotations. For example, Jonah 2:1 is presented as cited in Matt 12:40 but this is an allusion to the story of Jonah rather than a formal quotation. The quotation section could have been improved by including the Greek text side-by-side and providing some commentary on any differences between then LXX in Rahlfs-Hanhart and the NA28 Greek text. Although Isaiah 7:14 is quoted exactly in Matthew 1:23, the allusion to Isaiah 54:13 is not as precise.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the book is the lack of engagement with the Hebrew text. There are many times in the examples given where the LXX differs from the MT in significant ways. For example, in Jonah 2:3, the phrase τον θεόν μου appears in the LXX but not in the MT. There is no notice of this addition in the reader’s guide to Jonah 2:3. In Jonah 2:6, the LXX translator used ἐσχάτη for the סוּף, reed. The ESV translates the Hebrew word as weeds, “weeds were wrapped about my head.” The LXX translator appears to have read the MT as סוֹף, “end.” The NETS therefore translates the word as modifying the abyss, “the deepest abyss.” The notes indicate only that the “this reading of the Heb results in a different division of the clauses” (245), when the LXX has read a Hebrew word with a different vowel, resulting in a different translation.

Both of these examples were found using Emanuel Tov, The Parallel Aligned Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Texts of Jewish Scripture (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2003). In both cases it is possible the translator had a different Hebrew text than what ultimately became the Masoretic text, or the translator added to the text for clarity or theological reasons. A third possibility is the translator misunderstood the text, something most beginning Hebrew students can appreciate. Ultimately this shortcoming is the nature of the book, it is a guided reader for the Septuagint, not a commentary on the differences between the MT and LXX. Perhaps the book could have been improved if the editors had chosen one or two such examples per chapter in order to demonstrate some of the problems facing those who work on the text of the Septuagint.

Regardless of this criticism, Discovering the Septuagint will be a good textbook for a seminary class on the Septuagint or Hellenistic Greek. I might have preferred a workbook style with more space for students to work out the translations, like Kregel’s Handbook for Intermediate Greek (Bateman) or Koine Greek Reader (Decker). Anyone who has a year or two of Greek could use this book to continue to improve their Greek skills by reading these selections from the LXX outside of a classroom setting.

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

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel is a lost work known only through a fragment preserved in Epiphanes (Against Heresies 64.70, 5-17), the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 91a, a fragment preserved in 1 Clement 8:3, a number variations of a saying Tertullian attributed to Ezekiel, a fragment in Justin Martyr (Dialogue, 47), and a fragment in Clement of Alexandria (Paedagogus, 1:9).  A late date for the larger work can be set by First Clement is normally dated to A.D. 95.  Josephus seems knows of Ezekiel (Ant. 10.5.1 mentions two books).  Dates for Apocryphon of Ezekiel therefore range from 50 B.C. to A.D. 50 (Mueller and Robinson, 488).

Roman Feast 01The first fragment contains a parable used by Epiphanes to discuss the relationship of the body and the soul.  A king drafted his entire population into the army so there were no civilians except a blind man and a lame man. The king gave a wedding banquet for his son and invited the entire kingdom except the two civilians. They were insulted at this snub and made a plan to work together to enter the king’s garden. The blind man helps the lame man walk, the lame man led the blind man. (The version in the Talmud is slightly different in that the two men simply enter the garden and steal new figs without the wedding banquet.)

When the king discovers what the men did he questions them, but they deny responsibility.  The blind man could not have entered the garden because he cannot see, the lame man cannot walk.  In Epiphanes’ version the king flogs the men to discover the truth – the one blames the other.  In both versions of this parable the point is to illustrate the relationship of the soul and the body.

This parable is a potential parallel to the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-14 or the Great Banquet in Luke 14:15-35. In both biblical parables and the Apocryphon version a king gives a banquet and invites many guests.  But in the biblical version the invited guests do not come to the banquet and are replaced by the blind, lame, etc.

The point of the parable of Jesus is to describe his ministry (those who were invited to the wedding banquet reject the invitation and are replaced with “outsiders”) rather than a description of the body and soul.  In the Apocryphon’s version the guests all accept the invitation, the two “outsiders” are not among those who should be at the banquet. What is clear from this fragment is that the metaphor of a wedding banquet was common, but also flexible enough to be used in different ways.

A wedding banquet is not always about the coming Kingdom of God.

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