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2 Esdras (sometimes also referred to as Ezra/Shealtiel) is a Jewish apocalypse that some many scholars purport to be written toward the end of the first century AD. It is not accepted as scriptural by most Christians, who list it among the Apocrypha. However the Ethiopian and Russian Orthodox churches consider it canonical, and it was often cited by the Fathers of the Church.
Naming, numbering, and language:
As with 1 Esdras, there is some confusion about the numbering of this book. Some early Latin manuscripts call it 3 Esdras, and Jerome denoted it 4 Esdras. Once Jerome's 1 and 2 Esdras were denoted Ezra and Nehemiah in more recent times, the designation 2 Esdras became the most common. The Russian Orthodox Church, which accords this book canonical status in the Slavonic Bible, calls it 3 Esdras, with Ezra-Nehemiah being "1 Esdras" and 3 Esdras as "2 Esdras."
Among Greek Fathers of the Church, the book is generally cited as Εσδρας Προφήτης ("The Prophet Esdras") or Αποκάλυψις Εσδρα ("Apocalypse of Ezra"). Wellhausen, Charles, and Gunkel have shown that the original composition was in Hebrew, which was translated into Greek, and then to Latin, but the Hebrew and Greek editions have been lost. Sometimes widely differing Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Georgian, and Armenian translations have also survived; the Greek version can be reconstructed (without absolute certainty, of course) from these different translations, while the Hebrew text remains a bit more elusive.
The first two chapters of the Latin version of the book are definitely assumed by most scholars to be Christian in origin; it describes God's rejection of the Jews in favor of the Christians. These are generally considered to be late additions (possibly third century) to the work, and they are found only in the Latin, not in the Eastern translations.
The rest of the book comprises seven visions of Ezra the scribe. The first vision takes place as Ezra is still in Babylon. He asks God how Israel can be kept in misery if God is just. The archangel Uriel is sent to answer the question, responding that God's ways cannot be understood by the human mind. Soon, however, the end would come, and God's justice would be made manifest. Similarly, in the second vision, Ezra asks why Israel was delivered up to the Babylonians, and is again told that man cannot understand this and that the end is near. The third vision asks why Israel does not possess the world. Uriel responds that the current state is a period of transition. Here follows a description of the fate of evil-doers and the righteous. Ezra attempts to intercede for the condemned, but is told that no one can escape his destiny.
The next three visions are more symbolic in nature. The fourth is a woman mourning for her only son, who is transformed into a city when she hears of the desolation of Zion. Uriel says that the woman is a symbol of Zion. The fifth vision concerns an eagle with three heads and twenty wings (twelve large and eight smaller wings "over against them"). The eagle is rebuked by a lion and then burned. The explanation of this vision is that the eagle refers to the fourth kingdom of the vision of Daniel, with the wings and heads as rulers. The final scene is the triumph of the Messiah over the empire. The sixth vision is a man who burns a crowd that is attacking him. This man then turns to another peaceful multitude, which accepts him. The man represents the Messiah, who is attacked by sinners but accepted by the tribes of Israel.
Finally, there is a vision of the restoration of scripture. God appears to Ezra in a bush and commands him to restore the Law. Ezra gathers five scribes and begins to dictate. After forty days, he has produced ninety-four books: the twenty-four books of the Tanakh and seventy secret works. (This vision is omitted in the Latin translation of the text.):
"Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people." (14:45–46 RSV)
The "seventy" might refer to the Septuagint, most of the apocrypha, or the Lost Books that are described in the Bible.
The last two chapters, which are found in the Latin but not in the Eastern texts, predict wars and rebuke sinners. Many assume that they probably date from a much later period (perhaps late third century) and may be Christian in origin. It's possible that they are Jewish in origin, however; it should be noted that 15:57-59 have been found in Greek, which most scholars agree was translated from a Hebrew original.