I Esdras.  A Text Critical Commentary.  By Zipora Talshir.  SBSSCS 50.  Atlanta:  Society of Biblical Literature, 2001.  xiv and 556 pages.  Cloth.  $67.95.


In this volume, Talshir builds on her earlier comprehensive introduction to First Esdras, I Esdras--From Origin to Translation, published in 1999, and delivers on what the book title promises:  a text critical commentary on every verse in this apocryphal writing.  First Esdras consists of a Greek translation of 2 Chronicles 35-36, Ezra 1-10, and Neh 8:1-13 and the Story of the Youths in 3:1-5:6, whose Semitic original is no longer extant.  There are also two verses without canonical parallel at 1:21-22.

            For the parts of 1 Esdras having canonical parallels, Talshir prints out  the consonants of the Masoretic Text and the Greek translation taken from the Göttingen Septuagint as edited by Robert Hanhart and published in 1974.  A simple set of sigla indicating pluses and minuses, changed word order and the like are added to the MT.  Raised numbers after individual Hebrew or Aramaic words are keyed to the subsequent text critical commentary.  A Hebrew Vorlage for 1:21-22 is reconstructed.  She maintains that these supplementary verses could not have been written originally in Greek nor could they have been written by the Chronicler since they conflict with his ideas.

            As in the earlier volume, Talshir insists that the Story of the Youths is the raison d'etre of 1 Esdras.  Its insertion required some rearrangement of the canonical text, leading to the early part of Ezra appearing in the following order:  chapter 1; 4:6-24; 2:1-4:5, with the latter pericope following the Story of the Youths.  This text is retroverted into its original Aramaic form by Talshir and her husband David, who alert the reader to the tentative character of their reconstruction:  "We may have discovered a certain amount of the original, but we may also have come to the wrong conclusion on many occasions." (p. 129).  Annotations in this section primarily justify the translation rather than deal with text critical issues.  Since 1 Esd 5:1-6, in their judgment, was written by the redactor who joined The Story of the Youths with the canonical materials, he may have written either in Aramaic or Hebrew and so two translations, in Aramaic and in Hebrew, are provided for these six verses.

            Talshir believes that the text underlying 1 Esdras 1-2 and 5-9 (those parts taken from canonical books) was much like that preserved in the MT, with its differences judged to be "in the main characteristic of standard processes of textual transmission." (p. ix; greater attention is paid to this issue in chapter 2 of her 1999 publication, pp. 111-179).  Both texts, therefore, have changed somewhat after the Vorlage of 1 Esdras split off from the text that would become MT.  Retroversion of the Greek into the original Hebrew and Aramaic is complicated by the fact that the translator wrote a "reasonably fluent Greek," without providing a literal translation of every word and pattern in the Vorlage.  She eschews comment on the meaning of the canonical texts in their original setting, leaving that to the commentators on the biblical books.  Her goal instead is to determine the Vorlage to the Greek text of 1 Esdras and to determine the relationship of that text to MT.    

            Talshir is a careful, diligent, and insightful text critic, who has provided a model textual commentary that deserves to be duplicated for other canonical writings.  While similar data appears in comprehensive critical commentaries to other books, these data often get lost amid abundant other material treated in a commentary, and/or the section providing textual notes often addresses lexicographical and even exegetical questions as well.      

Ralph W. Klein

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago