The Glossary of Terms

1 Esdras

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Esdras, the First Book of, an alternative version of 2 Chron. 35:1-36:23, all of Ezra, and Neh. 7:38-8:12. It is included in the Septuagint (lxx), the Greek version of the ot in use in the early church. The lxx also includes the primary translation of the works of the Chronicler (1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah). The book is called 3 Esdras in the Vulgate. Since the sixteenth century, it sometimes appears in Catholic Bibles with 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh in an appendix following the nt. Protestants treat it as one of the Apocrypha.


The First Book of Esdras

I. Josiah’s Passover and the account of his death (1:1-33; cf. 2 Chron. 35:1-27)
II. The fall of Jerusalem (1:34-58; cf. 2 Chron. 36:1-21)
III. Cyrus the Great’s edict permitting Jews to return and restore the Temple (2:1-30; cf. Ezra 1:1-11; 4:7-24)
IV. The contest of the three bodyguards in the court of Darius (3:1-5:6)
V. Lists of the exiles returning under Zerubbabel and their efforts to reconstruct the Temple (5:7-73; cf. Ezra 2:1-70; 3:1-5:5)
VI. The completion of the Temple under Haggai and Zechariah (6:1-7:15; cf. Ezra 4:24-6:22)
VII. Ezra’s reforms (8:1-9:55; cf. Ezra 7:1-10:44 and Neh. 7:73-8:12)

The work is either the remnant of a distinct Greek translation of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah or a selection of parts of these books edited and translated into Greek sometime late in the second century b.c. Its Greek reflects greater freedom and style than that of the more extensive version of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah in the lxx. Along with the Rest of Esther and the additions to Daniel, the existence of 1 Esdras suggests that the format and content of some of the latest books in the ot were still in flux in the second and first centuries b.c.

What the purpose of 1 Esdras was is not certain, although concentration on the Temple, its worship, and leaders who reformed or restored its worship suggests that it may have been intended to make a statement of some sort concerning the Temple cult or its leadership. The book begins with the Passover celebrated at the culmination of Josiah’s reform of the Temple (ca. 621 b.c.), then moves swiftly to the restoration of the Temple and its worship under Jeshua and Zerubbabel (516 b.c.), and concludes with Ezra’s reform a generation or so later. It builds up the role of Zerubbabel at the expense of Sheshbazzar, the leader of the first group of returned exiles in 538 b.c., and minimizes that of Nehemiah in relation to Ezra, whom it calls the ‘high priest’ (1 Esd. 9:40, 49). Unique to the ot is its fanciful account of the three bodyguards in the court of Darius (1 Esd. 3:1-5:6), an account told in order to honor the wisdom of Zerubbabel and to explain how Darius came to commission him to return to Jerusalem and restore the Temple. The history of the restoration is confused in 1 Esdras, although the first-century a.d. Jewish historian Josephus used this book as his primary source for the period when he wrote his Antiquities.


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Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer
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