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.

The text is known from a fifteenth century Syriac manuscript (Rylands Syriac MS).  The original may have been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, although Aramaic is more likely if the provenance is Alexandria, as Charlesworth thinks it is.  The book was dated by Charlesworth to the early twenties B.C. based on the implication the author knows the battle of Actium and some details of Anthony’s political maneuvering in Egypt.  Collins, however, notes there is no clear evidence of this date and it could come from much later (Athens, 164, n. 37).

John Collins called the Treatise of Shem “the most striking endorsement of astrology by a Jewish author” (Athens, 42, n. 63). While astrology is generally associated with evil and demonic forces (1 Enoch 8.3, SibOr 3.220-236, Jub. 12), we find a remarkable number of zodiac-related material in Judaism. Despite the anti-astrology statement in 1 Enoch 8.3, 1 Enoch 72.1-37 adapts the zodiac signs as gateways or portals.  The zodiac is also present at Qumran: 4QCryptic (4Q186): a man’s characteristics are determined by the zodiac sign under which he was born. A man born under the sign of Taurus, for example, will be poor and have long thin toes.

MagiInterest in the zodiac may have been more common in Judaism than we expect: “paganism, at least via astrology, had become attractive to, and made an impression upon, numerous Jews during the Hellenistic and Roman periods” (Charlesworth, “Jewish Astrology”, 200 note 59, commenting on the work of David Flusser, “Paganism in Palestine” in The Jewish People in the First Century (Compendia rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, section 1) 1065-1099).

Each section of the Treatise describes the year beginning in a particular sign of the Zodiac.  These oracles are stereotypical, using several repeated elements important to describing the general year.  Nearly every chapter has a reference to the flood of the Nile (only 10 and 11 are missing this feature.)  The activities of Rome are important in chapters 1, 2 and 11, the activities of Egypt are found in 1, 2, 6 (Alexandria), 9, and 12.

A striking feature of many oracles is that people whose names contain certain Hebrew letters will have misfortunes if the year begins in a particular Zodiac sign. For example, in chapter 2, if the year begins in Taurus, all those whose names contain a Beth, Yod, of Kaph will become ill or be wounded by iron. This feature is found in every chapter except 4 and 5. There is a tacit acceptance of fate in this sort of text.  The general flow of a year is determined by the sign of a Zodiac.

Since the text dates to just before the first century, the Treatise of Shem is important for New Testament studies in showing that at least some of the Jews were interested in astrology. While the text is clearly Diaspora (Egyptian as the interest in the Nile indicates), we know the Qumran community preserved similar texts dealing with astrological predictions (4QCryptic = 4Q186).

An example of astrology in the New Testament is the Magi from the east who used a star to known when the King of the Jews had been born. While the Treatise of Shem deals simply with general predictions based on the beginning of a year, other astrological texts appear to have been in use by Jews despite the prohibitions of the Law.

 

Bibliography:

James Charlesworth, “Jewish Astrology in the Talmud, Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Early Palestinian Synagogues,” Harvard Theological Review 70 (July-Oct 1977) 183-200.

Francis Schmidt, “Ancient Jewish Astrology: An Attempt to Interpret 4QCryptic (4Q186),” in Biblical Perspectives (Leiden : E J Brill, 1998), 189-205.

This Oracle continues the themes of book 11, extending the history into the currant era. Augustus is described as a ruler no other Roman will ever exceed, a man God approved for this hour (14-35). There is a brief “Christian insertion” in 30-34 which predicts the coming of the Messiah, the “bright star like the sun.

Roman EmperorsThe book includes sections on the emperors of Rome, including a comment about their character and history, usually a comment about their appearance, hair color, etc. and a hint at their name (the one with the number three hundred as his first initial). This serves to show the “riddle” of Rev 13:18 (the number of the beast) was common enough in the ancient world. NB: the numbers in parenthesis are lines in the oracle, not dates.

  • Tiberius (37-47, he will rule wearing purple, and “sack the city with high gates”).
  • Gaius (48-66, a man with “deceitful locks”).
  • Claudius (68-75, terrible signs accompany his reign, darkness at noon). OTP 1:447, note m states there were four solar eclipses during his reign.
  • Nero (78-94), “a terrible snake, an athlete, charioteer and murderer” who later flees and perishes wretchedly).
  • Galba, Otho, and Vitelius (95-98)
  • Vespasian (99-116, a “great destroyer”).
  • Titus (117-123, a noble lord who falls by deceit).
  • Domitian (124-143, all mortals will love him but he will receive a wound in the middle of his chest). This is rarely mentioned as a potential background to the wounding of the beast in Revelation 13, which is remarkable since Domitian is often cited as the emperor in the immediate context of Revelation.
  • Nerva (143-146, a majestic man, slain and gone to Hades).
  • Trajan (147-163, a mighty warrior who will die on foreign soil).
  • Hadrian (164-175, a silver-haired man who will bring a long peace).
  • The Antonines (176-185, three who rule for three decades).
  • Marcus Aurelius (186-205, a man who knows many wise things, at whose prayer it will rain).
  • Commodus (206-223, he will live dangerously and will suffer evil in a bath).
  • The Death of Commodus (224-235, when the destructive time is near for Rome).
  • Pertinax (236-244, a man who will shed blood with sharp bronze swords).
  • Didius Iulianus (245-249, he will have a swift fate, mighty in war and smitten by iron).
  • Pescennius Niger (250-255, another warrior, will die on the Assyrian plains).
  • Septimus Severus (256-268, a resourceful and crafty man who knows what is expedient).
  • Alexander Severus (269-288, he will reign with an infant and have the name of a Macedonian prince).

The conclusion to the book is a warning that those who honor God and forget idols will have joy (289-299).  What is remarkable about this conclusion is that none of these kings could be said to have honored God in the least.  In general this review of history is quite complimentary to the Roman emperors.  One might expect a Christian writer to have portrayed Domitian, for example, as a great evil ruler because of his persecution of the church. Unless, of course, Domitian was not a great persecutor as many scholars have claimed.

This may help several scholars who have argued external persecution is not the problem in the book of Revelation.  See for example Alan James Beagley, The “Sitz Im Leben” of the Apocalypse with Particular Reference to the Role of the Church’s Enemies (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1987).  For a brief summary of Beagley’s position, see his article “Babylon” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity, 1997), 111-112.

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