Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Pseudepigraphical Greek Apocalypse of Ezra

I have returned to my re-reading of a series of ancient documents associated with Jews or Christians of long ago. To what purpose? To learn more about the roots of my Judeo-Christian faith; but also to remind myself that men and women of every age have asked the same human questions: What of suffering? Does God judge justly? Why are we even here?

Tonight's reading was short and in essence, is the story of a man who got no answer to his burning question. But it also acquainted me with its first modern translator, the esteemed Constantin von Tischendorf, who traveled far and wide and labored diligently to prove to the world that the Bible had been faithfully transmitted over the centuries; as well as the recent translator of the work, Michael E. Stone, another great scholar,

Greek Apocalypse of Ezra

Once again, we have a strange little writing of unknown provenance, and a composition date that ranges from 150 to 850 A.D. We have no knowledge of whether it was ever accepted as a sacred writing, who wrote it or why, other than he was a Greek-speaking Christian and probably sought to build on existing Ezraic tradition, esp. 4th Ezra.

Though a 15th century Greek manuscript of the text was known to scholars, it fell to the great scholar Constantin von Tischendorf to publish the first edition for the modern age. (In Latin?) This was the same man who discovered the earliest extant version of the Bible, Codex Sinaiticus, in St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai; and who also published, in 1847, an account of his journeys, “Travels in the East.”

This edition is the work of Michael E. Stone, emeritus professor of Armenian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Another interesting scholar and a poet as well.

The writer’s God is one who can be approached, even argued with. And this Ezra does.
It begins with his request to be glorified that he may see God’s mysteries, and find an answer to his gloomy question: isn’t it better that mankind was never born?

God and Ezra both acknowledge that His judgment is just but Ezra, as noted above, wonders why sinful man was created. He gets no real response but seeks to see hell itself. The various torments bring forth his question, again, and still no answer.

Ultimately, God takes his soul to glory and the questions are never answered.

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