But Greek and especially Latin sources can be mighty confusing when Esdras is mentioned. Fortunately, again, Pierre-Maurice Bogaert has written an article that sorts out some of the confusion: "Les livres d'Esdras et leur numérotation dans l'histoire du canon de la Bible latine," Revue bénédictine 110 (2000): 5–26. This post will summarize Bogaert's article.
The Paris Bible (13th cent.) usually contained four books of Esdras:
- 1Esdras = canonical Ezra (in the Jewish canon, 10 chapters)
- 2Esdras = canonical Nehemiah (in the Jewish canon, 13 chapters)
- 3Esdras = Esdras A of the LXX (usually now called 1Esdras by scholars)
- 4Esdras = Apocalypse of Ezra (16 chapters, thus including what scholars now call 4Ezra, 5Ezra, 6Ezra, all sometimes called 2Esdras by Anglophone scholars)
The text known in the LXX as Esdras A (which I will call 1Esdras from now on) is very closely related to canonical Ezra. Wikipedia has a helpful table showing the similarities. The main difference is that 1Esdras has an extra story, the 'Story of the Three Youths'.
Donatien De Bruyne argued (p. xl n. 1) in 1932 that the Latin tradition knew only 1Esdras and Nehemiah, until Jerome translated Ezra-Nehemiah at the end of the fourth century. Three decades later Thomas Denter in his dissertation confirmed the total absence of Latin citations from canonical Ezra. But Bogaert points out that the main contention (no VL Ezra-Nehemiah) is wrong because we have a manuscript of the text, the ms. Vercelli from eleventh-century northern Italy (still unpublished; see below).
The Hebrew Bible contains one book of Ezra (= Ezra-Nehemiah). The Greek Bible contains two books, Esdras A (i.e., 1Esdras) and Esdras B (= a literal Greek translation of Ezra-Nehemiah). The Latin Bible has four books of Esdras, as explained above for the Paris Bibles.
L'unique livre d'Esdras-Néhémie
Here Bogaert stresses that Ezra-Nehemiah counts as one book in Hebrew and Greek. He asserts that the first time Ezra-Nehemiah was divided in a Hebrew Bible was in the First Rabbinic Bible edited by Felix Pratensis and published by Bomberg in 1516–17. The LXX has a single book in 23 chapters, though some later manuscripts do signal a new book with Nehemiah (citing Hanhart, pp. 144, 249). Same goes for the Latin. Jerome insists in his preface that he is translating only a single book that he finds in Hebrew, and no ancient Vulgate manuscript divides Nehemiah from Ezra (see the Roman edition, pp. 76–77). Further arguments support this notion.
Esdras-Néhémie divisé en deux livres
The division of Ezra-Nehemiah into two books seems to have happened first in the Latin tradition in the 8th century (Cologne manuscript) and became popular first in Spain, then gradually spread geographically. These two books were first called 1Esdras and 2Esdras, which makes little sense because Ezra is almost wholly absent from 2Esdras. To explain the popularity of this move, Bogaert appeals to a 'motivation canonique', since the earlier lists often mention two books of Esdras.
Deux livres d'Esdras dans les listes anciennes des livres canoniques
Ancient Latin lists frequently mention two books of Esdras: Breviarium Hipponense, Augustine, Pope Innocent, Decretum Gelasianum, etc. They must mean 1Esdras (= Esdras A of the LXX and VL) and Ezra-Nehemiah (= Esdras B of the LXX and VL), rather than Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerome's translation, because Jerome's version is explicitly and deliberately presented as a single book (thus matching the Hebraica veritas) and Jerome's version hadn't had time to circulate so widely anyway. But once Jerome's version became dominant, these lists mentioning two books of Esdras probably served as the motivation to divide Jerome's translation into two and name them 1Esdras and 2Esdras, so that the Bible would agree with the lists.
Omission d'Esdras dans les listes
Several ancient lists completely omit reference to Esdras (perhaps accidentally): Mommsen catalogue from 359 CE; some liturgical material; some manuscripts of the Decretum Gelasianum.
Esdras plutôt que Néhémie
Lucifer of Cagliari (De non parcendo 14) and Quodvultdeus (Liber Promissionum II, xxxvii) both attribute to Esdras words or an attitude of Nehemiah, showing once again that Ezra-Nehemiah was perceived as a single book.
Le Troisième d'Esdras chez Amroise
Ambrose (De Spiritu Sancto 2.6) cites 4Ezra 6:41 as coming from the third book of Esdras. He must mean that his first book of Esdras is 1Esdras, and his second book is Ezra-Nehemiah, so what we think of as 4Ezra becomes for him 3Esdras.
Le Prologue de Jérôme à sa nouvelle traduction d'Esdras
Jerome says in the prologue to his translation of Ezra-Nehemiah that it shouldn't surprise anyone that this is a single book, and that the third and fourth books of Ezra are just apocrypha that don't exist among the Hebrews and should be rejected. Bogaert thinks Jerome's third book of Ezra would be the same as Ambrose's, that is, our 4Ezra. But what about Jerome's fourth book of Ezra. Bogaert: "As for the fourth book of Ezra according to Jerome, one can only take guesses. One could see 5Ezra or 6Ezra. I prefer the hypothesis according to which it is both (5Ezra and 6Ezra), for in one part of the tradition of 4Ezra they follow the Jewish apocalypse (= 4Ezra 3–14) and they are not distinguished (chap. 15–16 + 1+2)" (p. 16). Bogaert cites (16n38) some manuscripts of 4Ezra that attest this procedure. If this argument is accepted--and Jerome's assertion that Ezra-Nehemiah form only one book in Hebrew makes it a pretty strong argument--then the two other books of Ezra, Jerome's 1Ezra and 2Ezra, will not be Ezra and Nehemiah (which would both count only as 1Ezra) but rather Ezra-Nehemiah and our 1Esdras. Jerome does in fact cite 1Esdras 5:64–65 in his Comm. Ezech. (Bogaert cites CCSL 75, p. 551). Bogaert also points out (16n39) that in the Prologus Galeatus Jerome mentions that Ezra is divided into two books among Greeks and Latins. So, Bogaert thinks that Jerome regards 1Esdras as some sort of corrupted form of Ezra-Nehemiah.
Esdras-Néhémie dans le manuscrit de Verceil
Old Latin Manuscript XXII (76) of the Archivio Capitolare of Vercelli. Eleventh century. 1Esdras precedes Ezra-Nehemiah. Nehemiah is not distinguished at all from Ezra. There is a textual inversion that Bogaert discusses.
La version latine du Vercellensis et son modèle grec
The first Latin translation of 1Esdras is ancient and from Africa. Latin Fathers cite rarely the Nehemiah section of Ezra-Nehemiah. They almost always prefer 1Esdras to Ezra-Nehemiah in their citations. But the Vercelli manuscript proves the existence of an Old Latin Ezra-Nehemiah. Bogaert argues against De Bruyne and especially Denter.
La numérotation des livres d'Esdras au moyen âge
Bogaert presents a chart of the different books of Esdras and which number was assigned to them in the different editions and manuscripts.
Conclusion et bilan
Mostly a summary of the article.
Appendice: le Prologue de Jérôme à Esdras en français
Bogaert closes with a French translation of Jerome's preface to Ezra, along with some notes.