Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2 Esdras

The scribe Ezra (Esdras in Latin)
From Wikipedia entry on "2 Esdras":
2 Esdras or Latin Esdras is the name of an apocalyptic book in many English versions of the Bible (see "Naming conventions" below). Its authorship is ascribed to Ezra. It is reckoned among the Apocrypha by many Protestant churches. Although Second Esdras exists in its complete form only in Latin, it was originally written in Hebrew. Nonetheless, 2 Esdras has not been preserved in modern Jewish tradition, typical for works dating from the period of the Second Temple.


The book is considered one of the gems of Jewish apocalyptic literature. While it was not received into European Christian canons, the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra, i.e. 2 Esdras 3–14, is regarded as Scripture in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and it was also widely cited by early Fathers of the Church, particularly Ambrose of Milan. It may also be found in many larger English Bibles included as part of the Biblical Apocrypha, as they exist in the King James version, the Revised Standard Version, and the earliest editions of the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, among others.

The introitus of the traditional Requiem in the Catholic Church is loosely based on 2:34–35: "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them." Several other liturgical prayers are taken from the book. In his Vulgate, Clement VIII placed the book in an appendix after the New Testament with the rest of the Biblical apocrypha, "lest they perish entirely".
The exact status, naming and just about everything else about 2 Esdras is very confusing. It is not included in any current Catholic Bibles that I am aware of. And yet it does seem to be recognized as scripture by the Church as far as I can tell.

I happened upon this book quite accidentally when I was doing a search for the word "tribulation" in the online RSV edition of the Catholic Bible. Providentially, the online version includes 2 Esdras. When I tried to find 2 Esdras in my Ignatius Press version of the RSV-CE (Catholic Edition) Bible, it wasn't there.

To add to the confusion, some versions of 2 Esdras have substantially less verses than others (and this means that the verse numbering is not consistent among versions).

I have just briefly scanned parts of 2 Esdras. There are a few entries that I want to highlight because they are like nothing I had ever come across while reading the Bible. While at the same time, they seem to be completely consistent with the rest of the Bible.

The weeping woman

From the end of 2 Esdras Chapter 9 and continuing into 2 Esdras Chapter 10:
[38] When I said these things in my heart, I lifted up my eyes and saw a woman on my right, and behold, she was mourning and weeping with a loud voice, and was deeply grieved at heart, and her clothes were rent, and there were ashes on her head.
[39] Then I dismissed the thoughts with which I had been engaged, and turned to her
[40] and said to her, "Why are you weeping, and why are you grieved at heart?"
[41] And she said to me, "Let me alone, my lord, that I may weep for myself and continue to mourn, for I am greatly embittered in spirit and deeply afflicted."
[42] And I said to her, "What has happened to you? Tell me."
[43] And she said to me, "Your servant was barren and had no child, though I lived with my husband thirty years.
[44] And every hour and every day during those thirty years I besought the Most High, night and day.
[45] And after thirty years God heard your handmaid, and looked upon my low estate, and considered my distress, and gave me a son. And I rejoiced greatly over him, I and my husband and all my neighbors; and we gave great glory to the Mighty One.
[46] And I brought him up with much care.
[47] So when he grew up and I came to take a wife for him, I set a day for the marriage feast.

Chapter 10

[1] "But it happened that when my son entered his wedding chamber, he fell down and died.
[2] Then we all put out the lamps, and all my neighbors attempted to console me; and I remained quiet until evening of the second day.
[3] But when they all had stopped consoling me, that I might be quiet, I got up in the night and fled, and came to this field, as you see.
[4] And now I intend not to return to the city, but to stay here, and I will neither eat nor drink, but without ceasing mourn and fast until I die."
[5] Then I broke off the reflections with which I was still engaged, and answered her in anger and said,
[6] "You most foolish of women, do you not see our mourning, and what has happened to us?
[7] For Zion, the mother of us all, is in deep grief and great affliction.
[8] It is most appropriate to mourn now, because we are all mourning, and to be sorrowful, because we are all sorrowing; you are sorrowing for one son, but we, the whole world, for our mother.
[9] Now ask the earth, and she will tell you that it is she who ought to mourn over so many who have come into being upon her.
[10] And from the beginning all have been born of her, and others will come; and behold, almost all go to perdition, and a multitude of them are destined for destruction.
[11] Who then ought to mourn the more, she who lost so great a multitude, or you who are grieving for one?
[12] But if you say to me, `My lamentation is not like the earth's, for I have lost the fruit of my womb, which I brought forth in pain and bore in sorrow;
[13] but it is with the earth according to the way of the earth -- the multitude that is now in it goes as it came';
[14] then I say to you, `As you brought forth in sorrow, so the earth also has from the beginning given her fruit, that is, man, to him who made her.'
[15] Now, therefore, keep your sorrow to yourself, and bear bravely the troubles that have come upon you.
[16] For if you acknowledge the decree of God to be just, you will receive your son back in due time, and will be praised among women.
[17] Therefore go into the city to your husband."
[18] She said to me, "I will not do so; I will not go into the city, but I will die here."
[19] So I spoke again to her, and said,
[20] "Do not say that, but let yourself be persuaded because of the troubles of Zion, and be consoled because of the sorrow of Jerusalem.
[21] For you see that our sanctuary has been laid waste, our altar thrown down, our temple destroyed;
[22] our harp has been laid low, our song has been silenced, and our rejoicing has been ended; the light of our lampstand has been put out, the ark of our covenant has been plundered, our holy things have been polluted, and the name by which we are called has been profaned; our free men have suffered abuse, our priests have been burned to death, our Levites have gone into captivity, our virgins have been defiled, and our wives have been ravished; our righteous men have been carried off, our little ones have been cast out, our young men have been enslaved and our strong men made powerless.
[23] And, what is more than all, the seal of Zion -- for she has now lost the seal of her glory, and has been given over into the hands of those that hate us.
[24] Therefore shake off your great sadness and lay aside your many sorrows, so that the Mighty One may be merciful to you again, and the Most High may give you rest, a relief from your troubles."
[25] While I was talking to her, behold, her face suddenly shone exceedingly, and her countenance flashed like lightning, so that I was too frightened to approach her, and my heart was terrified. While I was wondering what this meant,
[26] behold, she suddenly uttered a loud and fearful cry, so that the earth shook at the sound.
[27] And I looked, and behold, the woman was no longer visible to me, but there was an established city, and a place of huge foundations showed itself. Then I was afraid, and cried with a loud voice and said,
[28] "Where is the angel Uriel, who came to me at first? For it was he who brought me into this overpowering bewilderment; my end has become corruption, and my prayer a reproach."
[29] As I was speaking these words, behold, the angel who had come to me at first came to me, and he looked upon me;
[30] and behold, I lay there like a corpse and I was deprived of my understanding. Then he grasped my right hand and strengthened me and set me on my feet, and said to me,
[31] "What is the matter with you? And why are you troubled? And why are your understanding and the thoughts of your mind troubled?"
[32] I said, "Because you have forsaken me! I did as you directed, and went out into the field, and behold, I saw, and still see, what I am unable to explain."
[33] He said to me, "Stand up like a man, and I will instruct you."
[34] I said, "Speak, my lord; only do not forsake me, lest I die before my time.
[35] For I have seen what I did not know, and I have heard what I do not understand.
[36] Or is my mind deceived, and my soul dreaming?
[37] Now therefore I entreat you to give your servant an explanation of this bewildering vision."
[38] He answered me and said, "Listen to me and I will inform you, and tell you about the things which you fear, for the Most High has revealed many secrets to you.
[39] For he has seen your righteous conduct, that you have sorrowed continually for your people, and mourned greatly over Zion.
[40] This therefore is the meaning of the vision.
[41] The woman who appeared to you a little while ago, whom you saw mourning and began to console --
[42] but you do not now see the form of a woman, but an established city has appeared to you --
[43] and as for her telling you about the misfortune of her son, this is the interpretation:
[44] This woman whom you saw, whom you now behold as an established city, is Zion.
[45] And as for her telling you that she was barren for thirty years, it is because there were three thousand years in the world before any offering was offered in it.
[46] And after three thousand years Solomon built the city, and offered offerings; then it was that the barren woman bore a son.
[47] And as for her telling you that she brought him up with much care, that was the period of residence in Jerusalem.
[48] And as for her saying to you , `When my son entered his wedding chamber he died,' and that misfortune had overtaken her, that was the destruction which befell Jerusalem.
[49] And behold, you saw her likeness, how she mourned for her son, and you began to console her for what had happened.
[50] For now the Most High, seeing that you are sincerely grieved and profoundly distressed for her, has shown you the brilliance of her glory, and the loveliness of her beauty.
[51] Therefore I told you to remain in the field where no house had been built,
[52] for I knew that the Most High would reveal these things to you.
[53] Therefore I told you to go into the field where there was no foundation of any building,
[54] for no work of man's building could endure in a place where the city of the Most High was to be revealed.
[55] "Therefore do not be afraid, and do not let your heart be terrified; but go in and see the splendor and vastness of the building, as far as it is possible for your eyes to see it,
[56] and afterward you will hear as much as your ears can hear.
[57] For you are more blessed than many, and you have been called before the Most High, as but few have been.
[58] But tomorrow night you shall remain here,
[59] and the Most High will show you in those dream visions what the Most High will do to those who dwell on earth in the last days." So I slept that night and the following one, as he had commanded me.
It seems to me that the weeping woman that appears in this passage can only be the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is as if she is transformed and transported at the moment of Jesus' death and while she is in mourning appears to Ezra. The vision seems to confirm the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. (Remember that the Virgin Mary that appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes said her name was the Immaculate Conception.) And even seems to support the doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Concerning death

Another passage that really struck me has to do with Heaven and Hell and the fate of souls in the afterlife.

From 2 Edras Chapter 7 (notice the alternate verse numberings at the end):
[78] Now, concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone forth from the Most High that a man shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High.
[79] And if it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, and who have despised his law, and who have hated those who fear God --
[80] such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, ever grieving and sad, in seven ways.
[81] The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High.
[82] The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance that they may live.
[83] The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High.
[84] The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days.
[85] The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet.
[86] The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will pass over into torments.
[87] The seventh way, which is worse than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame, and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High before whom they sinned while they were alive, and before whom they are to be judged in the last times.
[88] "Now this is the order of those who have kept the ways of the Most High, when they shall be separated from their mortal body.
[89] During the time that they lived in it, they laboriously served the Most High, and withstood danger every hour, that they might keep the law of the Lawgiver perfectly.
[90] Therefore this is the teaching concerning them:
[91] First of all, they shall see with great joy the glory of him who receives them, for they shall have rest in seven orders.
[92] The first order, because they have striven with great effort to overcome the evil thought which was formed with them, that it might not lead them astray from life into death.
[93] The second order, because they see the perplexity in which the souls of the ungodly wander, and the punishment that awaits them.
[94] The third order, they see the witness which he who formed them bears concerning them, that while they were alive they kept the law which was given them in trust.
[95] The fourth order, they understand the rest which they now enjoy, being gathered into their chambers and guarded by angels in profound quiet, and the glory which awaits them in the last days.
[96] The fifth order, they rejoice that they have now escaped what is corruptible, and shall inherit what is to come; and besides they see the straits and toil from which they have been delivered, and the spacious liberty which they are to receive and enjoy in immortality.
[97] The sixth order, when it is shown to them how their face is to shine like the sun, and how they are to be made like the light of the stars, being incorruptible from then on.
[98] The seventh order, which is greater than all that have been mentioned, because they shall rejoice with boldness, and shall be confident without confusion, and shall be glad without fear, for they hasten to behold the face of him whom they served in life and from whom they are to receive their reward when glorified.
[99] This is the order of the souls of the righteous, as henceforth is announced; and the aforesaid are the ways of torment which those who would not give heed shall suffer hereafter."
[100] I answered and said, "Will time therefore be given to the souls, after they have been separated from the bodies, to see what you have described to me?"
[101] He said to me, "They shall have freedom for seven days, so that during these seven days they may see the things of which you have been told, and afterwards they shall be gathered in their habitations."
[102] I answered and said, "If I have found favor in thy sight, show further to me, thy servant, whether on the day of judgment the righteous will be able to intercede for the ungodly or to entreat the Most High for them,
[103] fathers for sons or sons for parents, brothers for brothers, relatives for their kinsmen, or friends for those who are most dear."
[104] He answered me and said, "Since you have found favor in my sight, I will show you this also. The day of judgment is decisive and displays to all the seal of truth. Just as now a father does not send his son, or a son his father, or a master his servant, or a friend his dearest friend, to be ill or sleep or eat or be healed in his stead,
[105] so no one shall ever pray for another on that day, neither shall any one lay a burden on another; for then every one shall bear his own righteousness and unrighteousness."
[36(106)] I answered and said, "How then do we find that first Abraham prayed for the people of Sodom, and Moses for our fathers who sinned in the desert,
[37(107)] and Joshua after him for Israel in the days of Achan,
[38(108)] and Samuel in the days of Saul, and David for the plague, and Solomon for those in the sanctuary,
[39(109)] and Elijah for those who received the rain, and for the one who was dead, that he might live,
[40(110)] and Hezekiah for the people in the days of Sennacherib, and many others prayed for many?
[41(111)] If therefore the righteous have prayed for the ungodly now, when corruption has increased and unrighteousness has multiplied, why will it not be so then as well?"
[42(112)] He answered me and said, "This present world is not the end; the full glory does not abide in it; therefore those who were strong prayed for the weak.
[43(113)] But the day of judgment will be the end of this age and the beginning of the immortal age to come, in which corruption has passed away,
[44(114)] sinful indulgence has come to an end, unbelief has been cut off, and righteousness has increased and truth has appeared.
[45(115)] Therefore no one will then be able to have mercy on him who has been condemned in the judgment, or to harm him who is victorious."
[46(116)] I answered and said, "This is my first and last word, that it would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or else, when it had produced him, had restrained him from sinning.
[47(117)] For what good is it to all that they live in sorrow now and expect punishment after death?
[48(118)] O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.
[49(119)] For what good is it to us, if an eternal age has been promised to us, but we have done deeds that bring death?
[50(120)] And what good is it that an everlasting hope has been promised to us, but we have miserably failed?
[51(121)] Or that safe and healthful habitations have been reserved for us, but we have lived wickedly?
[52(122)] Or that the glory of the Most High will defend those who have led a pure life, but we have walked in the most wicked ways?
[53(123)] Or that a paradise shall be revealed, whose fruit remains unspoiled and in which are abundance and healing, but we shall not enter it,
[54(124)] because we have lived in unseemly places?
[55(125)] Or that the faces of those who practiced self-control shall shine more than the stars, but our faces shall be blacker than darkness?
[56(126)] For while we lived and committed iniquity we did not consider what we should suffer after death."
[57(127)] He answered and said, "This is the meaning of the contest which every man who is born on earth shall wage,
[58(128)] that if he is defeated he shall suffer what you have said, but if he is victorious he shall receive what I have said.
[59(129)] For this is the way of which Moses, while he was alive, spoke to the people, saying, `Choose for yourself life, that you may live!'
[60(130)] But they did not believe him, or the prophets after him, or even myself who have spoken to them.
[61(131)] Therefore there shall not be grief at their destruction, so much as joy over those to whom salvation is assured."
[62(132)] I answered and said, "I know, O Lord, that the Most High is now called merciful, because he has mercy on those who have not yet come into the world;
[63(133)] and gracious, because he is gracious to those who turn in repentance to his law;
[64(134)] and patient, because he shows patience toward those who have sinned, since they are his own works;
[65(135)] and bountiful, because he would rather give than take away;
[66(136)] and abundant in compassion, because he makes his compassions abound more and more to those now living and to those who are gone and to those yet to come,
[67(137)] for if he did not make them abound, the world with those who inhabit it would not have life;
[68(138)] and he is called giver, because if he did not give out of his goodness so that those who have committed iniquities might be relieved of them, not one ten-thousandth of mankind could have life;
[69(139)] and judge, because if he did not pardon those who were created by his word and blot out the multitude of their sins,
[70(140)] there would probably be left only very few of the innumerable multitude."
This reminded me once again of the visions of Marino Restrepo of Heaven and Hell. The question that keeps coming to my mind is, "Does God condemn us or is it that we condemn ourselves by rejecting God?" I believe that it is mostly the latter. Even if we are given a final chance after passing from this life to the next, will those who have rejected God all their earthly lives suddenly accept God when they come face to face with His Glory? Or will they turn away from the blinding light and seek comfort in the darkness? I think those who are not used to standing in the light of God will find it unbearable and will go crawling away on their own into the depths. At least this is what the vision of Marino Restrepo seems to suggest. And I believe that this is in conformity with the Bible, and the teachings of Jesus and the prophets, and also with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (Although, it may not be expressed in exactly this way.)

Probably, from a theological perspective, there is a great deal more subtlety involved. But the lesson to me is that we need to take the opportunity that we have here on earth to prepare for the afterlife. I think the best preparation is participation in the Mass. I have come to believe that the Mass is almost like a dress rehearsal for what awaits us when we go before God in the hour of our death. In the Mass we are in front of the presence of God in the form of the Eucharist. Even if we only catch a glimmer of his radiance, then we will be better prepared to stand before him in our moment of final judgement.

Days of tribulation

I started out by saying that I came upon the book of 2 Esdras by searching for the word "tribulation". Here is but one example of where that word appears in 2 Esdras.

From Chapter 16:
[74] "Hear, my elect," says the Lord. "Behold, the days of tribulation are at hand, and I will deliver you from them.
[75] Do not fear or doubt, for God is your guide.
Woe to you, Egypt and Syria!

Also from Chapter 16 there is a prophecy about turmoil in the Middle East. Given the current events, you can see why it caught my eye. Remember that Babylon is modern day Iraq. Asia would probably refer to Asia Minor which is now Turkey.
[1] Woe to you, Babylon and Asia! Woe to you, Egypt and Syria!
[2] Gird yourselves with sackcloth and haircloth, and wail for your children, and lament for them; for your destruction is at hand.
[3] The sword has been sent upon you, and who is there to turn it back?
[4] A fire has been sent upon you, and who is there to quench it?
[5] Calamities have been sent upon you, and who is there to drive them away?
Although there is no fighting these days in Turkey, the conditions for Christians is not good. These are also days of tribulation for Christians in Iraq, Egypt and Syria.

Additional information

There is more information on 2 Esdras in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Sometimes 2 Esdras is referred to as the Fourth Book of Esdras, just to add even more confusion.
The Fourth Book of Esdras is reckoned among the most beautiful productions of Jewish literature. Widely known in the early Christian ages and frequently quoted by the Fathers (especially St. Ambrose), it may be said to have framed the popular belief of the Middle Ages concerning the last things. The liturgical use shows its popularity. The second chapter has furnished the verse Requiem √¶ternam to the Office of the Dead (24-25), the response Lux perpetua lucebit sanctis tuis of the Office of the Martyrs during Easter time (35), the introit Accipite jucunditatem for Whit-Tuesday (36-37), the words Modo coronantur of the Office of the Apostles (45); in like manner the verse Crastine die for Christmas eve, is borrowed from xvi, 53. However beautiful and popular the book, its origin is shrouded in mystery. The introductory and concluding chapters, containing evident traces of Christianity, are assigned to the third century (about A.D. 201-268). The main portion (iii-xiv) is undoubtedly the work of a Jew — whether Roman, or Alexandrian, or Palestinian, no one can tell; as to its date, authors are mostly widely at variance, and all dates have been suggested, from 30 B.C. to A.D. 218; scholars, however, seem to rally more and more around the year A.D. 97.


  1. After writing about the book of 2 Esdras, I was looking for more information about it. It turns out that the Angel Uriel that appears to Ezra became a controversial figure in the 8th century and this is the main reason that the Catholic Church under Pope St. Zachary (741-752) removed 2 Esdras from the Catholic Bible. See more here:
    Uriel's History in the Catholic Church: Archangel and Saint Not Recognized Since 8th Century

    But what is really strangely providential for me is that Uriel is described as the angel that "stands at the Gate of Eden with a fiery sword" by a very well respected Catholic theologian, Abbot Anscar Vonier (1875-1938). (See Wikipedia article on Uriel.) This struck me because I wrote recently about how an angel with a fiery sword appeared also in the apparitions of Fatima, and conjectured if that could be the angel described in Genesis that guards the Tree of Life. See my article here:
    The Word made Flesh

    I don't attribute any significance to all this, but I thought it was interesting enough to mention it in a comment.

  2. Uriel’s name means “fire of God” in Hebrew.