Today I had to check a few references to 4 Ezra and before I knew it, I became engrossed in reading this very exciting book which has such an interesting “reception history”. In case you did not know, Christopher Columbus quoted from 4 Ezra (called 2 Esdras in the NRSV) in order to persuade the Spanish royal couple that crossing the ocean towards the Indies was reasonable. 🙂
(Turns out that, although 4 Ezra was wrong, Columbus was right, but by a huge margin and in a different sense than he had supposed).
There are many interesting passages which deserve close attention on the part of the informed biblical scholar. Here’s one passage to ruminate on (from the NRSV translation).
4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 16:40-50
40 Hear my words, O my people; prepare for battle, and in the midst of the calamities be like strangers on the earth. 41 Let the one who sells be like one who will flee; let the one who buys be like one who will lose; 42 let the one who does business be like one who will not make a profit; and let the one who builds a house be like one who will not live in it; 43 let the one who sows be like one who will not reap; so also the one who prunes the vines, like one who will not gather the grapes; 44 those who marry, like those who will have no children; and those who do not marry, like those who are widowed. 45 Because of this, those who labor, labor in vain; 46 for strangers shall gather their fruits, and plunder their goods, overthrow their houses, and take their children captive; for in captivity and famine they will produce their children. 47 Those who conduct business, do so only to have it plundered; the more they adorn their cities, their houses and possessions, and their persons, 48 the more angry I will be with them for their sins, says the Lord. 49 Just as a respectable and virtuous woman abhors a prostitute, 50 so righteousness shall abhor iniquity, when she decks herself out, and shall accuse her to her face when he comes who will defend the one who searches out every sin on earth.
And now ponder this bit of Pauline advice as given in 1 Cor. 7:29-31.
29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
Of course, 4 Ezra is considered to have been composed at the end of the first Christian century, whereas Paul would have written his letter in the early 50’s. But both texts sprang from a milieu which shared some common assumptions.