‘Esdras’ is the Greek version of the name Ezra. The Septuagint, the standard Greek translation of the Old Testament, contains two books under this name. The second one (different from the book called 2 Esdras in some English Bibles and in this Wiki) is simply a Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic book(s) of Ezra and Nehemiah. The first one is the subject of this page.
Place in the canon
1 Esdras is a part of the contents of the Septuagint translation. It is placed in the so-called Apocrypha in most English Bibles that include the Apocrypha. The book is not part of the Deutero-canonical books in the Roman Catholic canon but it is part of the Greek Orthodox canon.
It is known only in a Greek version, though it has often been assumed that there was a Hebrew/Aramaic original for most of it (1 Esd 3:1–5:6 is more problematic).
1 Esdras is a writing which parallels 2 Chr 35:1-36:21, the entirety of Ezra, and Neh 7:73–8:12. A more detailed indication of the parallel texts is this:
1 Esdras 1 = 2 Chr 35:1–36:21
1 Esdras 2:1-11 = Ezra 1:1-11
1 Esdras 2:12-26 = Ezra 4:7-24
1 Esdras 3:1–5:6 [no parallel: contest of three guards]
1 Esdras 5:7-42 = Ezra 2:1-67 and Neh 7:6-69
1 Esdras 5:43–7:15 = Ezra 2:68-70 and Neh 7:70-73a; Ezra 3:1–4:5, 4:24–6:22
1 Esdras 8:1–9:36 = Ezra 7:1–10:44
1 Esdras 9:37-55 = Neh 7:73–8:13a
Date and authorship
Dating 1 Esdras is very much dependent on one’s assessment of the book’s origin and growth (discussed below). If the book was originally compiled from the Hebrew/Aramaic books of 2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah, it would naturally postdate those writings. However, if it is an earlier version of some of the material in Ezra-Nehemiah, it would be dated before that writing. On the other hand, in the latter case 1 Esdras, as we have it today, might have undergone further developments (see below). This puts the original form of the book anywhere from the late Persian to the early Greek period.
It was long the convention to see 1 Esdras as independent of the Hebrew Ezra-Nehemiah, e.g., as a fragment of what was originally the work of the ‘Chronicler’ (which was considered to include the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah). According to this theory, 1 Esdras comprised the end of 2 Chronicles, most of the material in the book of Ezra, and the Ezra material in Nehemiah (discussed and summarized, e.g., Pohlmann 1970). The thesis of such a ‘Chronicler’s work’ has been generally given up, and a number of recent scholars contend that 1 Esdras was created by taking excerpts from Ezra-Nehemiah and 2 Chronicles (Williamson 1977, 12-36; 1996; Eskenazi 1986; Talshir 1999; 2001; De Troyer 2002).
The thesis that 1 Esdras is independent of Hebrew Ezra-Nehemiah has been revived in recent years in a different form (cf. the essays in Fried 2001; see specifically Böhler 1997; 2016; Grabbe 1998, 69-81, 109-15; 2001). A possible conclusion is that 1 Esdras is a Greek translation and adaptation of a Hebrew/Aramaic work that also served as a source for the later Hebrew Ezra-Nehemiah. Note that 1 Esdras was not the specific source used but is itself also a development of that source. The tradition picked up by the Hebrew Ezra-Nehemiah apparently did not have the story of the youths’ contest. There seems no reason why this story would have been omitted in the Hebrew Ezra if it was extant in the source, so it was probably added at a later date to 1 Esdras. Similarly, 1 Esd 1 which parallels 2 Chr 35-36 could well have been added to give a more suitable introduction to the Ezra tradition. It seems to have been a simple copying out of 2 Chr 35-36 with some minor changes. If so, the Ezra tradition used by the compiler of the Hebrew Ezra-Nehemiah was probably close to that now found in 1 Esd 1-2, 5-9. Finally, the original form of 1 Esdras probably ended with the celebration of Sukkot (as in the present Neh 8:13-18), but this ending was somehow lost. The arguments for this are (a) the strange way in which the present book ends; and (b) the way in which the first and last chapters echo each other. The book begins with a significant Passover, the one celebrated by Josiah. If the book originally included the rest of what we now find in Nehemiah 8, the echo would be even more striking, because it would end with the last festival of the year, the Feast of Tabernacles, just as it began with the first festival of the year, the Passover.
There has been little work on the interpretation of 1 Esdras on its own. See ‘Ezra’.
The same can be said of its reception.
Fried, Lisbeth S., ed. Was 1 Esdras First? An Investigation into the Priority and Nature of 1 Esdras. Edited by Lisbeth S. Fried. Society of Biblical Literature Ancient Israel and Its Literature 7. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.
Grabbe, Lester L. Ezra and Nehemiah. Old Testament Readings. London; New York: Routledge, 1998.
Grabbe, Lester L. “Chicken or Egg? Which Came First, 1 Esdras or Ezra-Nehemiah?” Pages 31-44 in Was 1 Esdras First? An Investigation into the Priority and Nature of 1 Esdras. Edited by Lisbeth S. Fried. Society of Biblical Literature Ancient Israel and Its Literature 7. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.
Böhler, Dieter. Die heilige Stadt in Esdras α und Esra-Nehemia: Zwei Konzeptionen der Wiederherstellung Israels. Orbis Bublicus et Orientalis 158. Freiburg (Schweiz): Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997.
Böhler, Dieter. 1 Esdras. International Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2016.
De Troyer, Kristin. “Zerubbabel and Ezra: A Revived and Revised Solomon and Josiah? A Survey of Current 1 Esdras Research.” Currents in Biblical Research (2002) 1:30-60.
Eskenazi, Tamara C. In an Age of Prose: A Literary Approach to Ezra-Nehemiah. Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series 36. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986, 1988.
Pohlmann, K.-F. Studien zum dritten Esra: Ein Beitrag zur Frage nach dem ursprünglichen Schluss des chronistischen Geschichtswerkes. Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 104. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970.
Talshir, Zipora. 1 Esdras: From Origin to Translation. Society of Biblical Literature Septuagint and Cognate Studies 47. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999.
Talshir, Zipora. 1 Esdras: A Text Critical Commentary. Society of Biblical Literature Septuagint and Cognate Studies 50. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.
Williamson, H. G. M. Israel in the Books of Chronicles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Williamson, H. G. M. “The Problem with 1 Esdras.” Pages 201-16 in After the Exile: Essays in Honour of Rex Mason. Edited by John Barton and David J. Reimer. Macon, GA: Mercer Press, 1996.