For my daily reading this year, I'm working through the Apocrypha and other non-canonical books of the Bible. It's something that I've always wanted to undertake, as I think it provides fascinating insight into what we consider the Biblical canon. It's also making an interesting parallel to Jamie and my study of Kings and Chronicles.
For example, I've started with First Esdras, a particularly interesting book as First Esdras seems to be an ancient Greek version of the canonical book of Ezra, with one additional section added. Comparatively, the text of First Esdras covers two chapters of II Chronicles, the whole text of Ezra, and a segment of Nehemiah.
In studying the background of First Esdras, it has taught me a few things about the canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Like the fact that Ezra and Nehemiah in many ways could be considered another "double book" in the Old Testament, like Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Ezra was sometimes recorded as Esdras 1 and Nehemiah was Esdras 2.
The most interesting study so far has been the part that is omitted from the canonical book of Ezra. The "Darius contest" or the "Tale of Three Guardsmen," the story of a speech-writing competition between three bodyguards of Darius I, in which the winner would receive honor and riches from the King. It's used to explain how Zerubbabel is given sanction to rebuild the temple and return the sacred Temple vessels, through his victory in the contest.
The speech writing competition is an interesting one, as the topic for argument is what the strongest force on Earth is. The first argues that wine is the strongest, given how it can control men through addiction, through change in temperament, through intoxication, etc. The second argues that the king is the strongest as he has the power to compel, whether by loyalty or by force. The third bodyguard, Zerubbabel wins by proclaiming that woman is the strongest, but truth is stronger. Zerubbabel particularly points out woman's power over the king. "If she smiles at him, he laughs; if she loses her temper with him, he flatters her so that she may be reconciled with him. Gentlemen, why are not women strong, since they do such things?" 1 Esd. 4:31-32. This makes for an interesting omission in the canonical text, particularly when other historians like Josephus include the account in his Antiquities of the Jews circa AD 94.
The passage on the ultimate supremacy on truth is also a beautiful inclusion regarding the higher power that we recognize in all things. "O ye men, are not women strong? Great is the earth, high is the heaven, swift is the sun in his course, for he compasseth the heavens round about, and fetcheth his course again to his own place in one day. Is he not great that maketh these things? Therefore great is the truth, and stronger than all things." 1 Esd. 4:34-35. "As for the truth, it endureth, and is always strong; it liveth and conquereth forevermore." 1 Esd. 4:38.
I'll finish First Esdras tomorrow and then transition to Second Esdras, a kind of Revelation of Ezra or the Jewish Apocalypse of Ezra. I look forward to the new discoveries in this process throughout the year and will keep updating here as new passages and revelations come to light.