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TitleResponsibility for evil in the theodicy of IV Ezra: a study illustrating the significance of form and structure for the meaning of the book
AuthorThompson, Alden Lloyd
Subject(s)Annexe Thesis Digitisation Project 2018 Block 19
Abstract

The primary purpose of this study is to analyze IV Ezra as theodicy and in particular to establish where the author would place the ultimate responsibility for evil.

Judging from the traditions which the author of IV Ezra apparently had available to him, there were four different levels at which he could establish responsibility for evil: first, he could affirm that each man is responsible for his own sin; second, he could place the blame on Adam or Eve; third, he could shift responsibility onto a supernatural evil being, Satan; or fourth, he could implicate God himself by means of the evil yetzer tradition. The development and use of these traditions in the OT and intertestamental Jewish sources has been noted in chapter I where it is shown that all four traditions may be woven together in the same literary work. Yet even when responsibility for evil is shifted onto Adam, Satan or God, the individual is consistently held to be responsible for determining his own destiny, the difference between the sources being only the degree of emphasis with which individual responsibility is maintained.

The theodicy-related matters of IV Ezra are taken up most specifically in chapters V and VI, but chapters II-IV focus on an aspect of IV Ezra which is an essential first step for the understanding of the content of the book, namely, the author's use of form and structure in developing his argument. The significant elements are the seven-episode structure and the dialogue format. By means of the dialogue between the distraught, complaining seer and the dogmatic, confident angel, the author has developed his theodicy-problem in episodes I-I.il; episode IV is transitional, establishing a tone of guarded optimism which is maintained in episodes V-VII. After the transition is accomplished in episode IV, the dialogue tension ceases as Ezra more-or-less adopts the angel's point of view. The crucial question for the interpretation of the book is: where do the author's true convictions appear—on Ezra's side of the dialogue or on Uriel's? This question in particular, and more generally, the interpretation of the seven-episode structure and the dialogue format have been the primary focus of attention in the survey of the history of research in chapter II.

Chapter III concentrates on the dialogue format, comparing and contrasting the dialogue elements in IV Ezra with those of its sister apocalypse, II Baruch. This establishes the points of reference for the detailed tracing of the author's argument in chapter IV. Ezra's interests are seen to progress from a predominant concern with Israel the nation, i.e., the. one in the hands of the many (3:1-7:16) to a primary interest in perishing mankind, i.e., the many who will be lost compared with the few who will be saved (7:17-9:25), with a final return to a concern for Israel. The author artfully accomplishes this return from an interest in the many to renewed interest in the one by means of four successive stages: first, he turns from his complaints and from fasting to feasting on flowers; second, he classes himself with sinners for the last time; third, he turns from his interest in the many to a renewed concern for the one, and fourth, he ceases his sorrow—thereafter, if not altogether buoyant in his hopes for the future, at least he is properly fearful in the presence of the divine. All of these transitional aspects are woven into the narrative of episode IV.

After the detailed treatment of the elements of form and structure in chapters II-IV, chapters V and VI return to the specific treatment of theodicy in IV Ezra. Chapter V seeks to define the author's theodicy-problem. The author is seen to be struggling with two issues. On the one hand are the narrower sectarian issues connected with the present physical distress of Israel the nation, and on the other hand, there are the universalistic concerns linked with the problem of moral evil and the impending judgement man must face. Though Ezra's initial concern is for Israel, this would appear to be primarily the catalyst for the author's real concern, namely, the problem of moral evil and man's inability to live a righteous life. Not only is this suggested by Ezra's unanswered challenge in 9:14-16, but also by the way his concern about moral evil has managed to permeate even those contexts where the primary interest is Israel.

Finally, the author's attempt at a theodicy is analysed in chapter VI. On both sides of the dialogue, the author has simultaneously placed the responsibility for evil on the individual, on Adam, and on God, thus making use of three of the four traditions available to him (surveyed in chapter I). He makes no use of a Satanic figure and by pushing the responsibility for evil back to God himself by means of the evil yetzer tradition, he shows his inclination for a solution to the problem of evil that is compatible with monotheism. Yet the author has failed to develop a coherent theodicy on the rational level, neglecting even to make use of those elements of the evil yetzer tradition which would seem to be best suited for constructing a theodicy. But in spite of the lack of a rational solution to his theodicy problem, the author indicates by the way that he has organised his book that he was able to attain an experiential solution. He thereby demonstrates his links with the theodicy traditions of the OT and the ANE where the realm of experience provided the answers that reason could not.

In addition to illustrating the importance of form and structure for the analysis of the elements of theodicy in IV Ezra, the present study has adduced a certain amount of evidence in favour of recognising the Ezra speeches as an integral part of the author's own viewpoint, rather than as an heretical position against which he is polemicizing as argued by Brandenburger and Harnisch. Not only is this suggested by the author's choice of pseudonym and the heart-rending pathos of the Ezra speeches but it is confirmed by the way in which the author has manipulated the various formal elements to preserve the "reputation" of his seer while at the same time giving credibility to his complaints. Accordingly, it is possible to typify the author as a truly sensitive person who was attempting a corrective to Jewish theology from within, rather than as a vigorous polemicist who was repulsing an attack on the fundamental principles of his faith. Thus the study of the form and structure of IV Ezra can be seen not only as essential for the proper understanding of the content of the book, but also for the proper appreciation of the author himself and his relationship to his Jewish faith.

Date2018-05-22T12:48:59Z
Date2018-05-22T12:48:59Z
Date1975
TypeThesis or Dissertation; Doctoral; PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Identifier
Relation
Formatapplication/pdf
PublisherThe University of Edinburgh