Talshir, Zipora. 1 Esdras: From Origin to Translation. SBSSCS 47. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1999. Pp. xii + 305. $57.
The author has published a steady stream of studies on 1 Esdras, including her dissertation in 1984, and this study of the book's formation is to be followed by a detailed text-critical commentary on the book.
In chapter one, pp. 1-109, Talshir defends her position on a number of controversial issues dealing with the composition of the book. She believes that 1 Esdras is a section deliberately cut out from Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah to form a framework for the Story of the Three Youths in 1 Esd 3:1-5:6. Against Sara Japhet and Hugh Williamson, she argues that the Chronicler's history originally contained Ezra and Nehemiah, or at least these three books were viewed as a continuous whole by the time 1 Esdras was compiled. I think she underestimates the theological and ideological differences that have been noted between Chronicles on the one hand and Ezra-Nehemiah on the other. The order in 1 Esdras, where the equivalent of Ezra 10 is followed by the equivalent of Nehemiah 8, is not original in her opinion, but it is dependent on the canonical books. The same can be said of the unusual position of the equivalent of Ezr 4:6-24 in 1 Esd 2:15-25. She argues that the author of 1 Esdras deliberately eliminated Nehemiah's Memoir from the book, with Zerubbabel essentially taking the place of Nehemiah. Ironically, many of the themes in the Story of the Three Youths have been taken from sections of Nehemiah. Zerubbabel, the scion of the house of David, and Ezra are the leaders of the restoration in 1 Esdras. The Story of the Three Youths is written in "translation Greek," with the original Vorlage being an Aramaic text. The interpolation of the story and the changes made in the book to accommodate it were accomplished before the translator began his own work. That is, there was a Hebrew-Aramaic work, whose sole reason for being was the Story of the Three Youths. The original ending of the book is lost. The book began in the reign of Josiah, but Talshir finds there is no conclusive evidence that it originally began with the account of his passover as in the present text of 1 Esdras (= 2 Chronicles 35).
In chapter two, pp. 113-179, she investigates the relationship between the Vorlage of 1 Esdras and the MT of 2 Chronicles 35-36, Ezra 1-10, and Nehemiah 8, a foretaste of her promised textual commentary. Rather than preferring one text type over another, she sees parallel evolution in both texts, often in explicit criticism of my Harvard dissertation of 1966. The comparison between the pluses in 1 Esdras and the MT shows little difference in the quality of text evolution represented in both texts. In addition to numerous pluses and minuses in both texts, she counts about one hundred variants between the texts, not counting differences in word order. She believes that it is impossible to reconstruct an Ur text. Finally, she concludes that the gap between the texts preserved in 1 Esdras and in the MT stands out in that it is "unconventionally deep,"
The third chapter, pp. 183-268, analyzes the translation itself. While the LXX generally strives for word for word translation, the translator of 1 Esdras takes the entire syntactical unit as the starting point. These two approaches are similar to the formally equivalent and dynamically equivalent translations described by Eugene Nida, of whom she is apparently unaware. She concludes: "Our examination of the translation technique employed in I Esd shows that we are dealing with a creative translator who sought to adapt the language of his Vorlage to the structure of the target-language, and who endeavored to present the 'Greek' reader with a pleasant and lucid reading experience." She compares him to the Greek translator of Daniel and dates his linguistic milieu to the second century B. C. E.
Her criticism of others is often sharply expressed and her overall estimation of the book a bit disappointing: 1 Esdras is, in her judgment, a rather incoherent composition. Students of textual criticism, however, will welcome the care and thoroughness with which she has examined both the translation style of 1 Esdras and the differences between its Vorlage and the MT. The forthcoming textual commentary will only enhance her contribution.
Ralph W. Klein
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago 63105