Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Off to the Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense

I'M OFF TO LEUVEN for the Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense, whose topic this year is Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures. I will be leading two seminars on the use of scripture in ancient Ezra pseudepigrapha.

I have already circulated a draft paper on "Seven Theses Concerning the Use of Scripture in 4 Ezra and The Latin Vision of Ezra" among the conference attenders. I don't have a short version to post here, but I will give you the opening paragraphs and the seven theses below. You can read an English translation of 2 Esdras here. No English translation of the long (more original) version of the Latin Vision of Ezra has been published yet but, as you will see below, that is about to change.

I have preposted something for each of the next several days, so do keep coming back, but I shall be very busy through the weekend and I don't know how much more I will be able to add. Have a good week.

The paper:
This paper sets out to explore the use and exegesis of scripture in two non-canonical works that circulated under the name of the biblical character Ezra. The first, 4 Ezra (2 Esdras 3-14) is well known and needs little introduction here. It is a Jewish apocalypse written around the end of the first century C.E. It survives mainly in a Latin and a Syriac version, as well as translations into a number of other languages from these. Both of these versions were translated from a now lost Greek version, which in turn may (or may not) have been translated from a Hebrew original.

The second, the Latin Vision of Ezra, is a new version of a Latin text known as the Vision of Ezra, which is found in three other recensions, all shorter than this one. The shortest is comparatively well known due to its being translated in the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha corpus. The long text survives in a single manuscript (B) that was published in 1984 by P.-M. Bogaert. An English translation by Richard Bauckham is forthcoming. The Latin work is a translation of a lost Greek work that is, however, preserved in part in heavily revised form in the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra. Bauckham has argued compellingly that the manuscript published by Bogaert is (in translation) the earliest surviving version of the text, on which the other Latin recensions and the Greek work depend and I will assume this in what follows. The Latin Vision of Ezra was composed in the second half of the fourth century C.E., if not earlier. The text before us is obviously a Christian composition, but the possibility that is it based on a somewhat earlier Jewish work cannot be discounted. This paper works from the surviving Christian document without regard to possible earlier recensions.

Two challenges for the study of the use of scripture in 4 Ezra and the Latin Vision of Ezra are worth noting at the outset. The first is that, although both documents make pervasive use of scripture, they only rarely quote it verbatim. We are thus left to work mostly with allusions and echoes. The second challenge makes the first even more difficult. The original text of both documents is lost and we are forced to rely on translations—and in the case of the Latin Vision of Ezra a revision of part of the document that remains in the original language but is so thoroughly reworked as to amount to a completely new version of the story. In addition, the lost Greek text of 4 Ezra, of which we have only the Latin and Syriac translations and those dependent on them, may itself have been a translation of a Hebrew Vorlage, in which case our surviving sources for the text are secondary and tertiary.

So then, as a result of our poor textual resources, our access to the use of scripture in these two works is mainly limited to infrequent quotations, general references to scriptural passages, allusions, and echoes. In addition it will require extra effort to study the use of scripture in these two documents with any fineness of detail and there will be a limit to the subtlety of our analysis which would not apply if we had them in their original languages. With all these factors in mind, this paper is intended only as a preliminary synthesis that seeks to pluck the low-hanging fruit. For the Latin Vision of Ezra my starting point has been the scriptural parallels collected by Bauckham in his translation, although I have used these selectively and added to them as other parallels became apparent to me. I have used various sources for scriptural parallels in 4 Ezra, along with my own observations. In neither case can I make a claim to anything like an exhaustive collection of references or analysis of them. Instead I have gathered obvious references to scripture in both works, looked at how these were used individually, and then drawn some generalizations that I have formulated into seven theses. I have said nothing about some passages and some references simply because they did not present me with patterns of scriptural use that struck me as interesting. Further study of them may well produce a different result. Some of my observations in what follows are not new, but such are applied in a new context that I hope will prove illuminating. This paper is intended to open a conversation, not close it.

Preliminary matters having been addressed, I now turn to the seven theses.

I. In the dialogues between Ezra and Uriel (4 Ezra 3-9), Ezra normally invokes the authority of scripture as the foundation of his arguments, while Uriel's arguments sometimes do the same, but more often he use scripture for atmosphere and his arguments rest on independent reasoning or even on simple divine authority.

II. The dream and its interpretation in 4 Ezra 11-12 offer a reinterpretation of Daniel 7. The reinterpretation is implicit in the content of the vision, but it is also said explicitly that God provides the new vision as a follow-up to the old one, with an improved interpretation.

III. The first section of the Latin Vision of Ezra (vv. 1-59f) uses scripture mainly as a source for laws transgressed by the damned and as inspirations for descriptions of the features of hell.

IV. The Antichrist passage in the Latin Vision of Ezra (vv. 69-78) draws mostly on the New Testament as inspiration for its description of the Antichrist.

V. Both 4 Ezra and the Latin Vision of Ezra use scripture to present Ezra as a Moses figure.

VI. The narrative of 4 Ezra is nearly oblivious to the scriptural background for Ezra himself, and is even contradictory to it. The Latin Vision of Ezra makes some use of Ezra traditions in scripture.

VII. The Latin Vision of Ezra also uses traditions from 4 Ezra to develop the figure of Ezra.