Friday, 4 September 2015

4 Ezra in Syriac lectionary manuscripts – three points for further reflection

In the article, “On a Bilingual Copto-Arabic Manuscript of 4 Ezra and the Reception of this Pseudepigraphon in Coptic Literature,” recently published in the September issue of the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha (here), Alin Suciu brings to our attention a new Sahidic fragment of 4 Ezra, containing 4 Ezra 5:33-35 and 37-40 (BnF Copte 1321). New manuscript fragments of 4 Ezra do not appear every day, and certainly not Coptic ones. As Suciu points out, this is but the third fragmentary manuscript leaf containing portions of 4 Ezra in Sahidic to be published so far. The other two were published in 1904 by Johannes Leipoldt (P. Berol. 9096, containing 4 Ezra 13:30-33 and 40-46) and by Hans-Gebhard Bethge in 2004 (Or. 6201 C, containing 4 Ezra 10:32-47).
There is still much research to be done on the reception history of 4 Ezra in the Christian East and, as Suciu’s article has shown, new manuscript evidence may still surface. Inspired by this publication of this Sahidic fragment, and drawing on my own work on Syriac manuscripts containing 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, I will post two short pieces on the manuscript attestation and research history of 4 Ezra on this blog. This is the first. The second will appear in late autumn. 
One of the aspects of the reception history of 4 Ezra that has still not received enough scholarly attention is the fact that passages excerpted from 4 Ezra are attested in a handful of Syriac lectionary manuscripts. This means that passages excerpted from 4 Ezra were scripted to be read as lections from the Old Testament in worship contexts by some Syriac Christians. This post will present them briefly, suggesting three points for further methodological and theoretical reflection.  
To my current knowledge, lections from 4 Ezra survive in four Syriac lectionary manuscripts: Add 14686 and Add 14736 of the British Library, Dayr al-Suryan Ms 33 (DS Syr 33, noted on this blog before), as well as in Ms 77 of the A. Konat Library in Pampakuda, Kerala. Whereas Ms 77 is dated 1423, the other three manuscripts have been dated to the thirteenth century (Add 14686 is dated 1255 in the colophon; Add 14736 is dated to the thirteenth century by William Wright [Catalogue, p. 174]; Ds Syr 33 is dated by Sebastian Brock and Lucas van Rompay [Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts, p. 249]).
DS Syr 33 contains two lections from 4 Ezra. 4 Ezra 7:26–42 was scripted to be read on the Sunday of the Departed (folios 72v–74v). 6:18–28 is found among the lections for the Feast of Mount Tabor (folios 222r–223r). Add 14686 contains the same lections at the same events (folios 75v–77r; 195r–196v), but also includes a third lection, 12:31–38, to be read at the Revelation of Joseph (folio 16r–v; note that the relevant folios in DS Syr 33 are lost). Add 14736 survives in fragments only, but one of the few remaining folios of this codex contains 4 Ezra 12:31–38 at the Revelation of Joseph (folio 18v) as well.
Ms 77, our fifteenth-century manuscript, assigns 7:26–42 for reading on the Sunday of the Departed (folios 49v–50r), and 12:31–38 on (probably) the Revelation of Joseph (folio 10v; this sheet is worn and repaired, and the event rubric is no longer showing properly). It should be noted that this much used lectionary manuscript does not include a lection from 4 Ezra on the Feast of Mount Tabor.
Thus, in these Syriac lectionary manuscripts, three excerpted passages of 4 Ezra (6:18–28; 7:26–42; 12:31–38) are variously scripted to be read on three Sundays of the Church Year (The Feast of Mount Tabor; Sunday of the Dead; The Revelation of Joseph).
Based on these surviving bits and pieces of manuscript information, I want to shed light on three issues:
First, it is likely that the excerpts from 4 Ezra were read primarily in monastic contexts (not a big surprise). At least in the thirteenth century, the lectionary manuscripts containing lections from 4 Ezra were produced, used and kept in monastic settings. The colophon and notes in Add 14686, for instance, state explicitly that this lectionary was produced in order to be read and recited by the monks in the Dayr al-Suryan (folio 205v), and the codex was later kept there.  
However, we should not assume that lections from 4 Ezra were standard scriptural readings even in these milieus. The large majority of extant Syriac lectionary manuscripts do not contain lections from 4 Ezra. Furthermore, most of the manuscripts that do contain them are in various ways related to each other; for instance, by copying and by co-circulation. What we may be looking at is the remains of a chain of transmission circulating a given list of lections – one among many.
We cannot, of course, assume that the sources that have been kept until today provide us with a full picture of the circulation of lections from 4 Ezra, but the manuscript evidence that has survived suggests that these passages from 4 Ezra have been read by some, at some locations, during the Middle Ages – not by all at all times. Thus, it is an interesting contribution to our theoretical thinking about scriptural status to ponder how we conceptualize and categorize a work that displays these features: is it ‘sometimes scriptural’, or ‘scriptural to some’? (Cf.  Lied, ‘Die syrische Baruchapokalypse’).
Second, the surviving manuscripts suggest that lections from 4 Ezra co-circulated with lections from 2 Baruch. With the exception of Add 14736 (from which only a few sheets survive) all the lectionary manuscripts mentioned above also contain excerpts from 2 Baruch. On the occasion of the Sunday of the Departed, 4 Ezra 7:26–42 and 2 Bar 44:9–15 are even scripted to be read together, one after the other, after Ezek 37:1–14 and before James 4:6–5:11.
Furthermore, this co-circulation of excerpts of the two works in lectionary manuscripts mirrors the general fact that the book of 2 Baruch never occurs in extant Syriac manuscripts without the book of 4 Ezra. In fact, with the exception of a small fourth- or fifth-century Greek fragment of 2 Bar 12:1–13:2 and 13:11–14:2 (mentioned here), all surviving manuscript witnesses to 2 Baruch, stemming from the sixth or seventh to the fifteenth centuries, also contain 4 Ezra.
This situation may matter to studies of 2 Baruch. What are the implications of this co-circulation for our broader assumptions of the relationship between the two compositions, and for our hypotheses about the production, revision and transmission of 2 Baruch in particular? Scholarship on the two writings has long noted the close relationship between the two apocalypses, explaining the similarities between them in context of the first centuries ce. As far as I know, the manuscript basis of 2 Baruch has never been brought up and debated in this discussion. Including this consideration in the debate may not change the scholarly consensus, but in the name of methodological transparency we should allow for the following question: based on the manuscript material that we in fact have, how do we know that 2 Baruch’s similarities with 4 Ezra are not the result of later co-circulation? Note that I pose this in the form of a question, we may not arrive at a fixed conclusion; but the very fact that the source material allows for this question means that we should indeed pose it. I am addressing this issue in further detail in my ongoing work.

Third, the lections from 4 Ezra in the surviving Syriac lectionary manuscripts are entitled, variously, ‘From Ezra the Prophet’ (DS Syr 33, folio 222r; Add 14686, folio 195r), ‘From the Prophecy of Ezra’ (DS Syr 33, folio 72v; Add 14686, folio 75v), ‘From the Book of Ezra’ (Add 14686, folio 16r; Add 14736, folio 18v; Ms 77, folio 10v), and ‘From Ezra the Scribe’ (Ms 77, folio 49v). Adding to the generally bewildering historical identifications of Ezra literature in Greek, Latin, Coptic, etc. sources, take a moment to think about the information yielded by these titles in the Syriac lectionary manuscripts: to which book of Ezra do you think it is likely that the lections once excerpted from 4 Ezra would have been attributed by the Syriac Christians who heard them read in worship contexts in the thirteenth century? These titles do not provide a clear identification of the composition from which the excerpts were taken, and we should not expect it: this kind of ambiguity is what we commonly find in the manuscript material; biblical books were often identified by more names in lectionary manuscript and this practice could easy give rise to a certain confusion of books. An expectation of clarity would be ours. Apart from the fact that the confusion illustrates the efficiency of the phenomenon of pseudepigraphical attribution, what are the implications to the perceived circulation of 4 Ezra and the Ezra lections among Syriac Christians, and what are the implications to the ways we tend to think about the reception of one given work (e.g. 4 Ezra), vis-à-vis the reception of a (conceived) group of not so easily distinguishable books ascribed to Ezra?  


Select literature
Betz, Hans-Gebhard, “Neue Bibelfragmente: Ein Überblick. ” Pages 195-207 in Coptic Studies on the Threshold of a New Millenium: Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Coptic Studies. Leiden 27 August – 2 September 2000. 2 volumes. Edited by Mat Immerzeel and Jacques van der Vliet. OLA 133-34. Leuven: Peeters, 2014.
Bidawid, R.J. “4 Esdras.” Pages i–iv; 1–50 in The Old Testament in Syriac According to the Peshiṭta Version. Part IV, fascicle 3. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1973.
Brock, Sebastian and Lucas Van Rompay. Catalogue of the Syriac Manuscripts and Fragments in the Library of Deir al-Surian, Wadi al-Natrun (Egypt). Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 227. Leuven: Peeters, 2014.
Leipoldt, Johannes and Bruno Violet. "Ein säidisches Bruchstück des vierten Esrabuches." ZÄS 41 (1904): 137-40.

Lied, Liv Ingeborg. "Die syrische Baruchapokalypse und die 'Schriften' - Die syrische Baruchapokalypse als 'Schrift'." Pages 327-49 in Old Testamant Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures. Edited by Eibert Tigchelaar. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 270. Leuven: Peeters, 2014.

Outtier, Bernard. “Un fragment syriaque inédit de IV Esdras.Apocrypha 4 (1993):19–23.

  • In this article Bernard Outtier suggests that the Supplément turc 983, folios 113/116, containing 4 Ezra 8:33–41a and 41c–48, may also stem from a liturgical manuscript (p. 19). More here.

Suciu, Alin. “On a Bilingual Copto-Arabic Manuscript of 4 Ezra and the Reception of This Pseudepigraphon in Coptic Literature.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 25.1 (2015): 3-22.

Tarchnischvili, Michel. Le grand lectionnaire de l’Église de Jerusalem. 2 volumes. Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 188–189, 204–205. Scriptores Iberici volumes 9 and 10. Louvain, Secrétariat du CorpusSCO, 1959, vol. 9, p. 15 and vol. 10, p. 19.

  • In the Georgian Jerusalem lectionary, 4 Ezra 5:22–30 is scripted to be read on Epiphany.

Wright, William. Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the British Museum Acquired since the Year 1838. 3 volumes. London: The British Museum, 18701872. Online:

Thanks are due to Matthias Henze, James R. Davila, and Matthew P. Monger for their helpful inputs.

This blog post is based on my research and is part of the wider dissemination of my work. If you want to use the information in this post, please cite it!

 Lied, Liv Ingeborg. “4 Ezra in Syriac lectionary manuscripts – three points for further reflection,” posted on Religion – Manuscripts – Media Culture, 4 September 2015 (URL, retrieved [date]).

If you want to discuss any of the findings or hypotheses, feel free to contact me in the commentary field below.

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