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