Interp 4 EzraBoccaccini, Gabriele  and Jason M. Zurawski, ed. Interpreting 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch: International Studies. Library of Second Temple Studies 87; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014. 240 pp. Hb, $125.00.  Link to Bloomsbury

This volume collects an additional fifteen essays from the Sixth Enoch Seminar held in Milan in June 2011. These papers were not included in Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall (Leiden: Brill, 2013). In their introduction, the editors Gabriele Boccaccini and Jason M. Zurawski state that contemporary scholarship has come to realize the importance of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch for understanding first century Judaism and the development of early Christianity (ix). This interest has made the work of the Enoch Seminar profitable since 2001. Since this review is lengthy, I will break it into two posts (part two).

The essays in the first part of the collection focus on how 4 Ezra relates to other texts in the Apocalyptic Tradition. Veronika Bachmann demonstrates how 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36) are both rooted in traditional ways of thinking about the history of the world in her article “More than the Present: Perspectives on World History in 4 Ezra and the Book of the Watchers.” Both works have a view of history consisting of a series of ages, although the focus is on the present evil world and the coming world promised to the righteous. Yet neither book is escapist, the readers are to affirm this world’s realities and live righteous lives (17). As such, both works emphasize the sovereignty of God. The Book of the Watchers is closer to the category of “sapiential wisdom” since the book stresses a good creation. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, is more “apocalyptic wisdom” since it is looking forward to an “other-worldly Jerusalem” (31).

Since the Qumran literature was written well before the destruction of the Temple and 4 Ezra just after, Bilhah Nitzan traces some development by comparing five specific apocalyptic ideas in his essay “Apocalyptic Ideas in 4 Ezra in Comparison with the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Both works hold a deterministic concept of history that attempts to explain the origin of evil, although the Qumran literature is more hopeful concerning the future punishment of gentiles. Both certainly look forward to judgment on the wicked, but 4 Ezra sees this as the work of God alone (not the righteous). One methodological problem with the essay is that the Qumran literature is a collection rather than a single book. It is difficult to know why a copy of 4Q Pseudo-Ezekiel appears among the Dead Sea Scrolls—did the community value the book because they agreed with it? The non-sectarian documents may not reflect the views of the community, although I think Nitzan is right to judiciously conclude that resurrection of individuals was widely held in the Second Temple period.

Laura Bizzarro’s essay compares the fifth vision in 4 Ezra and Daniel 7, specifically the meaning of the Eagle and the Lion (“The ‘Meaning of History’ in the Fifth Vision of 4 Ezra”).  She finds the fifth vision to be consistent with other Jewish apocalypses: history is linear, with an absolute and imminent end. 4 Ezra is adapting and updating the language of Dan 7 in order to predict the coming judgment of Rome in the near future. In Dan 7, the eagle image was used to describe wicked Hellenistic kings leading up to Antiochus, 4 Ezra “updates” the image to refer to the Julius-Claudian dynasty. The lion in 4 Ezra refers to the “defeat and annihilation of the eagle,” suggesting the “end of the Roman empire and the end of history” (35).

The second part of the collection compares 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, to Early Christian Literature. In his article,“The Woman Who Anoints Jesus for his Burial (Mark 14) and the Woman Who Laments her Dead Son (4 Ezra 9-10) – Twice the Same Person?”, Andreas Bedenbender argues the Gospel of Mark is implicitly dealing with the fate of the city of Jerusalem and this pericope treats the death of Jesus and the loving relationship of Jesus and Zion (46). Specifically in Mark 14, the breaking of alabaster bottle of perfume is an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem and the woman herself is an allegory for Zion. The perfume is nardos, a word only appearing in the LXX Song of Solomon, a marriage context. Her action therefore means something like “if you are really the messiah, then act now and save the city from destruction” (45). As Bedenbender points out, this is “highly speculative” but points to several hints in Mark’s gospel as well as parallels to the grieving woman in 4 Ezra 9-10 to support his claim.  This article was fascinating to me since I covered much the same ground in Jesus the Bridegroom, 174-6. As I pointed out there, the real problem for 4 Ezra as an example of a marriage metaphor is that the son/bridegroom is not the focus of the section, rather Zion as a grieving mother.

Calum Carmichael examines 4 Ezra’s view of creation as a model for understanding John 1-5 (“Days of Creation in 4 Ezra 6:38-59 and John 1-5”). That John models his Gospel on Genesis is well-known, although what his point in doing so was is not always clear. John reworks the creation story on a way that would be understood by his highly literate Hellenistic Jewish audience (51). Carmichael does not think the “pessimism of 4 Ezra is a negative counter-statement to the confident, triumphant claims of John’s Gospel,” although they “share a common pool of ideas about the created order” (60).

Eric F. Mason examines how Psalm 104:4 is used in Hebrews and compares it to 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra (“2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Three Approaches to the Interpretation of Ps 104:4”). In the Hebrew Bible the verse refers to the power and majesty of God, yet the trajectory in the Second Temple Period was to read the verse as a description the creation of angels from wind or fire. Mason doubts use of this verse in Hebrews 1:7 has anything to do with the creation of angels, although Jubilees 2:2-3 and 2 Baruch 21:6, 56:11 may allude to Ps 104:4 as a description of angels. Fourth Ezra, on the other hand, uses Ps 104:4 to underscore God’s incomparable dominion—God is able to transform his servants into fire or wind.

The final article in this section of the book Rivka Nir challenges the consensus view that the Epistle of Baruch was a Jewish composition. Her article, “‘Good Tidings’ of Baruch to the Christian Faithful (The Epistle of 2 Baruch 78-87),” argues the letter is best understood as a Christian composition “pervaded with Christian symbolism” (93). The Letter describes itself as a letter of “doctrine” and “hope.” While doctrine is a fair translation of the Syriac, she contends the translation “scroll of hope” is “baseless,” the word ought to be rendered “good tidings” or even “good news.” It is the very word used for Christian gospels. To support her contention, she points out the metaphors in 77:13-16 can all be applied to Christ: A lamp, a shepherd, and a fountain. While all three are developed from the Hebrew Bible, they are thoroughly Christianized in the Gospel of John (for example). In addition, the imminent expectation of the end of the ages is more like Christian apocalyptic than Jewish since it is looking forward to resurrection into a new world. The poem in 85:10-11 is “pervaded with Christological imagery” (79). She hears a faint echo of Jesus’ calming the sea in this poem and observes that the image of a “safe harbor” is common in early Christianity, especially among the Syrian fathers (83). The Hebrew Bible describes the “resting place” of God’s people as a return to the Land of Canaan, not a safe harbor. There is no hope for the restoration of the Temple or sacrifices, and even the commands to “remember the Law” are generic (no purity laws, no circumcision of food laws). I find her arguments persuasive, although the article falls short in explaining how a Christian composition became attached to 2 Baruch. Likely as not it was added by the Syrian Christians who preserved 2 Baruch itself, on the analogy of the expansions to 4 Ezra.

The review will continue in the next post.