Books Of Esdras, two apocryphal books of the Old Testament, given as the third and fourth books of Ezra (the second being properly the book of Nehemiah) in several manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate, as well as in all printed editions anterior to the decree of the council of Trent, which declared the two additional books uncanonical. In the English authorized version of the Apocrypha they are called 1st and 2d Esdras; in the Clementine and Sixtine versions of the Vulgate they appear at the end of the volume, being inserted, as expressly stated, in order to "preserve from being altogether lost books which had been sometimes cited by some of the holy fathers." Luther denounced the two books as worse than AEsop's fables; but the first was received into the Lutheran Bible, among the Apocrypha, while the second is counted among the pseudepigrapha. In all the manuscripts of the Septuagint, the first of these books, or the so-called third of Ezra, precedes the canonical books of the Jewish scribe, which in this version include that of Nehemiah. It is a recapitulation of the history related in the canonical book of the same name, interspersed with some interpolations taken from 2 Chronicles, Nehemiah, and other sources.
It is written in an elegant style, resembling that of Symmachus, though it appears to be rather a version than an original work. The name and age of the author or translator are unknown. The 2d Esdras or 4th Ezra is of a different character from its apocryphal predecessor, and seems to owe its place among the uncanonical writings of the Old Testament only to the historical name which it bears. It contains a number of visions resembling those of the Apocalypse, related in a style acknowledged by prominent critics to rise occasionally to great sublimity of thought, energy of conception, and elegance of expression. This book also is supposed by some to be a translation from the Hebrew or Chaldee. But both the original and the Greek translation mentioned by Clement of Alexandria having been lost, the book was believed to exist only in the old Latin version, until more recent discoveries enriched Biblical literature with Arabic, Syriac, and Ethiopic translations. This book is ascribed to Ezra the scribe by Clement of Alexandria, and was regarded as prophetic by most of the fathers of the church, though it does not appear to have been known to Josephus. Jahn supposes the author to have been a Jew educated in Chaldea, and converted to Christianity, who flourished about the beginning of the 2d century.
Dr. Laurence maintains that the author was a Jew who lived shortly before the Christian era; and he accordingly rejects as interpolations the first two chapters of the book, which furnish the chief argument for his acquaintance with the doctrines of Christianity. Dr. Lee conjectures the author to have been also the author of the book of Enoch. The Latin text is given in Hilgenfeld, Messias Judoeorum (1869), and in the edition of the apocryphal books by Fritz-sche (1871). The Ethiopic translation was published by Laurence in 1820.