Ever Try Reading … The Apocrypha?

The Apocrypha is a word that means ‘hidden’.  Although not particularly accurate in this case, this is what several books are referred to that were written in the time between the Old Testament and New Testament eras (although one or two were likely written during or even after the NT was completed); it can also be referred to as the ‘OT Apocrypha’.  There are 18 total books in the Apocrypha (as referred to by Protestants).  They are: 1, 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees, 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Letter of Jeremiah, Baruch, Additions to Esther (Greek), Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews (in Daniel ch. 3), Susanna & Bel and the Dragon (chapters 13 & 14 of Daniel, respectively), Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Ben-Sirach (a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus), Prayer of Manasseh, and Psalms 151.  

I had heard of the Apocrypha for most of my life (my dad told me about it when I was little; I only knew just a little of it then).  I had never read it until this past year; I recently finished, so I decided to post some about it.  It took a while to finish reading, as I tended to stray away and back again over the year; it is actually about the same length as the NT, so it is not very long, relatively speaking.  I decided to read it in the Good News Translation with Deutercanonicals / Apocrypha from the American Bible Society; this is a modern language version that I especially like.  It is extremely straightforward and easy to read.  For the meticulous student, however, there are other translations that might be more appealing (I will mention some that I know of later in this post). 

It turns out that the Apocrypha books were familiar to the early church.  The early church fathers (era after the apostles) quoted them and read them.  They were written, for the most part, in Greek in the intertestament period (1 Maccabees may have been written in Hebrew, then translated; however, no Hebrew original has ever been found).  Anyhow, they were not considered to be the same as authentic Scripture, but as useful for the instruction of the church (several other books written in the NT era can also qualify for this; in fact Shepherd of Hermas and The Didache (pr. did’-A-k) were nearly included as NT Scripture!).  However, the Catholic Church (in the Counter Reformation Council of Trent in 1546) declared 12 of the 18 to be ‘Scripture’; they were designated ‘deuterocanonical’ (meaning 2nd canon), as opposed to the protocanonical (or 1st canon = our OT books).  The 12 were put into a ‘Catholic’ version of OT Scripture; they were condensed into seven books by counting: 1 & 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, and Wisdom of Sirach and Baruch while incorporating Letter of Jeremiah into Baruch, putting the 3 Daniel stories into Daniel, and adding the six Greek additions to Esther.  In the original Latin Vulgate, translated by Jerome in the 4th century and used by Catholics for centuries after that, three more were included in an appendix: 1 & 2 Esdras and Prayer of Manasseh.  Interestingly, the Orthodox churches have variously accepted the aforementioned ’12’ as well as several more of the remaining six; one church, the Slavonic Orthodox Church, includes all 18, but relegates 4 Maccabees to an Appendix (talk about a back seat driver Scripture!!).

Well, I was quite satisfied when I finished.  I have already started re-reading 1 & 2 Maccabees.  They are fascinating.  They detail in historical fashion the plight of the Jews in part of the intertestatment (~170 B.C. to ~135 B.C.) period.  If you ever want to know what Jesus and Daniel meant by “abomination of desolation”, then you must read 1 Maccabees.  The ‘abomination’ was something pagan in the Temple area: in the case of the Maccabees, it was an altar to Zeus built by Antiochus Epiphanes IV, a very wicked Seleucid king (inheritors of part of Alexander’s Greek empire).

I also found Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon really neat wisdom literature (like Proverbs).  1 Esdras is a combo of a little of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and most of Nehemiah, but with one additional story extolling the wisdom of Zerubbabel.  All the others were pretty interesting as well.  Judith and Tobit, although containing some historical errors, have inspiring tales in them.  The hardest one to read IMO was 2 Esdras, written in the Christian era; wow, that was long and drawn out!  I also really liked 4 Maccabees, which extols the power of reason over the emotions.  Two very detailed examples are used from the Antiochus IV times; they are quite moving martyrdom accounts.

So, having giving a long-winded intro, I will stop after listing a few resources:  Bibles with part or all of the Apocrypha, in my current order of preference: the GNT mentioned above, the New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha (it and the previous RSV w/ Apocrypha are the only English versions with all 18 books), the New American Bible (translated by Catholic scholars), the New Jerusalem Bible (and older JB), and the Revised English Bible w/ Apocrypha (and the corresponding older New EB w/ Apocr.).  There is also a version of the impressive modern language New Living Translation that also has a Catholic edition.  And, believe it or not, when the revered King James Version of 1611 was translated, it was released with a version of Apocrypha books!!!  This was amazing to me.  For a comparative translation, there is the out of print Complete Parallel Bible, which has the OT, Apocrypha, and NT, or there is a Parallel Apocrypha for the true fanatic (someone recently said that I have problems!). 

I have only started to become familiar with this ‘hidden’ treasure.  And, although at times it is obviously NOT Scripture, it does teach many good lessons that would be profitable for the church to know … even today!

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 2:58 am  Leave a Comment  

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