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Esdras (Greek: Ἔσδρας) is a Greco-Latin variation of the name of Hebrew Ezra the Scribe (Hebrew: עזרא‎). The name is found in the titles of several books attributed to or associated with the scribe that are in or related to the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.

Naming conventions[edit]

The books associated with Ezra are titled differently in different versions of the Bible. The following table summarizes the various names (note that Roman numerals may replace Arabic numerals):

# Masoretic Hebrew Most English versions[a] Jerome's Vulgate Clementine Vulgate,
English Douay–Rheims
Greek versions Old Latin version Slavonic versions Ethiopic version[1] Alternative names
1 Ezra Ezra Ezra 1 Esdras Bʹ Esdras
Bʹ Ἔσδρας
Second Ezra 1 Esdras 1 Ezra Ezra–Nehemiah
2 Nehemiah 2 Esdras
3 absent 1 Esdras (Apocrypha) absent 3 Esdras (Apocrypha) Aʹ Esdras
Aʹ Ἔσδρας
First Ezra 2 Esdras 2 Ezra Greek Esdras
4 2 Esdras (Apocrypha) 4 Esdras (Apocrypha) absent absent 3 Esdras Ezra Sutuel (Ch. 3–14) 4 Esdras
or Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra
or Apocalyptic Esdras
Latin Esdras
5 absent absent (Ch. 1–2) 5 Esdras
6 (Ch. 15–16) 6 Esdras

The Thirty-nine Articles that define the doctrines of the Church of England follow the naming convention of the Clementine Vulgate. Likewise, the Vulgate enumeration is often used by modern scholars, who nevertheless use the name Ezra to avoid confusion with the Greek and Slavonic enumerations: 1 Ezra (Ezra), 2 Ezra (Nehemiah), 3 Ezra (Esdras A/1 Esdras), 4 Ezra (chapters 3–14 of 4 Esdras), 5 Ezra (chapters 1–2 of 4 Esdras) and 6 Ezra (chapters 15–16 of 4 Esdras).

Historical development[edit]

The two books universally considered canonical, Ezra and Nehemiah (lines 1 and 2 of the table above), were originally one book titled Ezra (= Esdras). Origen, at the beginning of the third century, proposed that Ezra comprised a 'double book', so as to bring it in line with the other 'double' historical books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles.

Otherwise, however, early Christian citations of the 'Book of Ezra' without qualification commonly denote the alternative Greek translation of Ezra represented by 1 Esdras; so that when early Christian writers talk of 'two books of Ezra', it is 1 Esdras and Ezra–Nehemiah that are being identified, and both of these two books are found as Ezra texts in surviving Old Latin biblical manuscripts.[2]

In the Greek canon, and in all surviving early Greek pandect bibles, 1 Esdras and Ezra–Nehemiah are termed Esdras A and Esdras B respectively. For Ambrose 1 Esdras was the 'first book of Esdras', Ezra–Nehemiah was the 'second book of Esdras', and 2 Esdras was the 'third book of Esdras'.[3] According to Pierre-Maurice Bogaert when the Council of Carthage (397) and Synod of Hippo (393), under the influence of Augustine of Hippo, determined that only 'two books of Ezra' were to be considered canonical, it was Ezra–Nehemiah and 1 Esdras which were stated as being included in scripture, while 2 Esdras was being excluded.[4]

Jerome however, in his new Vulgate translation of the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew of the early 5th century, affirmed in his prologue to Ezra that there was only one canonical book of that title, corresponding to Ezra–Nehemiah; and in all early manuscripts of the Vulgate (as with the 7th century Codex Amiatinus) this book is presented without division, and Greek Esdras A and Latin Esdras are omitted.[4] Jerome adds that Greek Esdras A (3 Esdras) and Latin Esdras (4 Esdras) were considered apocryphal.[5] This practice is followed in the 9th century Vulgate bibles of Alcuin and Theodulf of Orleans, but from the 9th century onwards Vulgate manuscripts are found sporadically which split Ezra–Nehemiah into two books; and this becomes standard with the Paris Vulgate bibles of the 13th century, while Greek Esdras and Latin Esdras also came to be included in the Paris bibles so that the Ezra portion becomes 1 Esdras, the Nehemiah portion becomes 2 Esdras, Greek Esdras becomes 3 Esdras and Latin Esdras becomes 4 Esdras. The naming conventions of the Paris bibles were taken over into the Clementine Vulgate; but in the Stuttgart Vulgate critical editions of the Vulgate Old Testament, Ezra–Nehemiah is once again printed as a single text with the title 'Ezra', while (Clementine) 3 Esdras and 4 Esdras are in an appendix.[6]

Since the English Reformation, most English translations[a] have split the book of Ezra–Nehemiah under the titles 'Ezra' and 'Nehemiah'; while the Douay–Rheims version has followed the Clementine Vulgate.

Greek Esdras or 1 Esdras (line 3 of the table above) is the version of Ezra most commonly cited as scripture by early Christians, and consequently was included in the Old Testament in late 4th century Greek and Latin canon lists before Jerome; but with the increasing dominance of Jerome's Vulgate translation it dropped out of use in the West; although from the 13th century, it was commonly reintroduced under the title 3 Esdras. This Latin text of 3 Esdras, found in later medieval Vulgate manuscripts and the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, is however a completely different (and likely earlier) translation of Greek Esdras A from that found in the Old Latin, as witnessed in the Codex Colbertinus. Where the Vulgate text of 3 Esdras is woodenly literal in its rendering of the Greek, the Old Latin text of 'First Esdras' tends towards free paraphrase.[7] The Douay–Rheims version followed the Clementine Vulgate title, while Protestant English versions chose a separate numbering for apocryphal books and called it 1 Esdras (using the Greek form to differentiate the apocryphal book from the canonical Ezra).

Latin Esdras or 2 Esdras (lines 4, 5 and 6 of the table above) is contained in some Latin bibles as 4 Esdras; and in some Slavonic manuscripts as 3 Esdras. Except for the Douay–Rheims version (which follows the Vulgate), most English versions containing this book call it 2 Esdras (again using the Greek form for the apocryphal book). The book is not included in the Greek Septuagint and no complete copy of the Greek text has survived, though it is quoted by the Church fathers.[8] Due to its apocalyptic content, the book also has been called Esdras the Prophet, Apocalyptic Esdras or Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra. Because the most complete extant text is in Latin, the book is also called Latin Esdras.[9]

The Latin version differs from other versions of 2 Esdras in that it contains additional opening and closing chapters, which are also called 5 Ezra and 6 Ezra by scholars.

Other books associated with Ezra are the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra, the Vision of Ezra, the Questions of Ezra and the Revelation of Ezra.


The Jewish canon considers the Book of Ezra–Nehemiah to be canonical. All Christians consider the separate books Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah to be canonical. Jews, Roman Catholics, and Protestants do not generally recognize 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras as being canonical. Eastern Orthodox generally consider 1 Esdras to be canonical, but not 2 Esdras. The Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra (2 Esdras), whose authorship is ascribed to Ezra,[10] is canonical in the Syriac and Ethiopian traditions; and is included in the Apocrypha of the Armenian Church.


  1. ^ a b Including KJB, RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, and GNB


  1. ^ Cowley, R. W. (1974). "The Biblical Canon Of The Ethiopian Orthodox Church Today". Ostkirchliche Studien. 23: 318–323. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  2. ^ Gallagher, Edmon L.; Meade, John D. (2017), The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity, OUP, p. 269
  3. ^ Bogaert, Pierre-Maurice (2013), "The Latin Bible", in Paget, James Carleton; Schaper, Joachim (eds.), The New Cambridge History of the Bible; Volume 1; from the Beginnings to 600, CUP, pp. 505–524
  4. ^ a b Bogaert, Pierre-Maurice (2000). "Les livres d'Esdras et leur numérotation dans l'histoire du canon de la Bible latin". Revue Bénédictine. 110: 5–26.
  5. ^ "St. Jerome, The Prologue on the Book of Ezra: English translation".
  6. ^ Biblia Sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem. Robert Weber, Roger Gryson (eds.) (4 ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. 1994. pp. XXXIV. ISBN 978-3-438-05303-9.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ The Latin Versions of First Esdras, Harry Clinton York, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Jul., 1910), pp. 253–302
  8. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Esdras, Books of Archived February 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ NETBible: Apocalyptic Esdras Archived 2007-09-26 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Stone, Michael Edward (1990). Fourth Ezra; A Commentary on the Book of Fourth Ezra. Hermeneia. Fortress Press. p. 37. ISBN 0-8006-6026-9.

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