Holman Bible Dictionary
Meaning “things that are hidden,” apocrypha is applied to a collection of fifteen books written between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 100. These are not a part of the Old Testament but are valued by some for private study. The word “apocrypha” is not found in the Bible. Although never part of the Hebrew Scriptures, all fifteen apocryphal books except 2Esdras appear in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. They were made a part of the official Latin Bible, the Vulgate. All except 1,2Esdras and the Prayer of Mannasseh are considered canonical (in the Bible) and authoritative by the Roman Catholic Church. From the time of the Reformation, the apocryphal books have been omitted from the canon of the Protestant churches. The Apocrypha represent various types of literature: historical, historical romance, wisdom, devotional, and apocalyptic.
First Esdras is a historical book from the early first century A.D. Paralleling material in the last chapters of 2Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, it covers the period from Josiah to the reading of the law by Ezra. In a number of places, it differs from the Old Testament account. It is believed that this writing drew from some of the same sources used by the writers of the canonical Old Testament books. The Three Guardsmen Story, 1 Esdras 3:1-5:3 , is the one significant passage in 1Esdras that does not occur in the Old Testament. It tells how Zerubbabel was allowed to lead the exiles back to Palestine.
The most important historical writing in the Apocrypha is 1Maccabees. It is the primary source for writing the history of the period it covers, 180 to 134 B.C. The emphasis is that God worked through Mattathias and his sons to bring deliverance. He did not intervene in divine, supernatural ways. He worked through people to accomplish His purposes. The writer was a staunch patriot. For him nationalism and religious zeal were one and the same. After introductory verses dealing with Alexander the Great, the book gives the causes for the revolt against the Seleucids. Much detail is given about the careers of Judas and Jonathan. Less attention is given to Simon, although emphasis is placed upon his being acclaimed leader and high priest forever. Brief reference to John Hyrcanus at the close suggests that the book was written either late in his life or after his death, probably shortly after 100 B.C.
Second Maccabees also gives the history of the early part of the revolt against the Seleucids, covering the period from 180 to 161 B.C. It is based upon five volumes written by Jason of Cyrene, about which volumes nothing is known. Second Maccabees, written shortly after 100 B.C., is not considered as accurate historically as 1Maccabees. In places the two books disagree. This book begins with two letters written to Jews in Egypt urging them to celebrate the cleansing of the Temple by Judas. In the remainder of the writing, the author insisted that the Jews' trouble came as the result of their sinfulness. He emphasized God's miraculous intervention to protect the Temple and His people. Great honor was bestowed upon those who were martyred for their faith. The book includes the story of seven brothers and their mother who were put to death. The book clearly teaches a resurrection of the body, at least for the righteous.
Tobit is a historical romance written about 200 B.C. It is more concerned to teach lessons than to record history. The story is of a family carried into exile in Assyria when Israel was destroyed. The couple, Tobit and Anna, had a son named Tobias. Tobit had left a large sum of money with a man in Media. When he became blind, he sent his son to collect the money. A man was found to accompany the son Tobias. In reality he was the angel Raphael. Parallel to this is the account of a relative named Sarah. She had married seven husbands, but a demon had slain each of them on the wedding night. Raphael told Tobias that he was eligible to marry Sarah. They had caught a fish and had preserved the heart, liver, and gall. When burned, the heart and liver would drive away a demon. The gall would cure blindness. Thus Tobias was able to marry Sarah without harm. Raphael collected the money that was left in Media, and the blindness of Tobit was cured by means of the fish's gall. The book stresses Temple attendance, paying of tithes, giving alms, marrying only within the people of Israel, and the importance of prayer. Obedience to the law is central along with separation of Jews from Gentiles. It introduces the concept of a guardian angel.
The book of Judith, from 250 to 150 B.C. shows the importance of obedience to the law. In this book Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Assyrians, reigned at the time the Jews returned from Exile. This shows it is not historically accurate, for Cyrus of Persia was king when the Jews returned from Exile (538 B.C.). The story may be based upon some event where a woman played an heroic role in the life of her people. In the story Nebuchadnezzar sent one of his generals, Holofernes, to subjugate the nations in the western part of his empire. The Jews resisted. Holofernes laid siege to the city of Bethulia (unknown except for this reference). Because of a shortage of water, the city decided to surrender in five days if God did not intervene. Judith had been a widow for three years and had been careful to obey all the law. She stated that God was going to act through her to save His people. She went with her maid to the camp of Holofernes, claiming that God was going to destroy the people because of their sin. She promised to show the general how he could capture the city without loss of a life. At a banquet a few days later, when Holofernes had drunk himself into a coma, she cut off his head and took it back to the city. The result was a great victory for the Jews over their enemies. This book places emphasis upon prayer and fasting. Idolatry is denounced, and the God of Israel is glorified. The book shows a strong hatred of pagans. Its moral content is low, for it teaches that the end justifies the means.
Additions to the Book of Esther
The Apocrypha contains additions to the book of Esther. The Hebrew text of Esther contains 163 verses, but the Greek contains 270. These additions are in six different places in the Greek text. However, in the Latin Vulgate they are all placed at the end. These sections contain such matters as the dream of Mordecai, the interpretation of that dream, the texts of the letters referred to in the canonical book, (Esther 1:22; Esther 3:13; Esther 8:5 ,Esther 8:5,8:10; Esther 9:20 ,Esther 9:20,9:25-30 ) and the prayers of Esther and Mordecai. The additions give a more obviously religious basis for the book. In the Old Testament book of Esther, God is never named. This omission is remedied by the additions which were probably made between 125,75 B.C.
The Song of the Three Young Men is one of three additions to the book of Daniel. It follows Daniel 3:23 in the Greek text. It satisfies curiosity about what went on in the furnace into which the three men were thrown. The final section is a hymn of praise to God. It emphasizes that God acts to deliver His people in response to prayer. This writing, along with the other two additions to Daniel, probably comes from near 100 B.C.
The story of Susanna is added at the close of the Book of Daniel in the Septuagint. It tells of two judges who were overpowered by the beauty of Susanna and sought to become intimate with her. When she refused, they claimed they had seen her being intimate with a young man. Authorities believed their charges and condemned the young lady to death. Daniel then stated that the judges were lying, and he would prove it. He asked them, separately, under what tree they saw Susanna and the young man. When they identified different kinds of trees, their perjury became apparent. They were condemned to death, and Susanna was vindicated.
Bel and the Dragon
The third addition to Daniel is Bel and the Dragon, placed before Susanna in the Septuagint. Bel was an idol worshiped in Babylon. Large quantities of food were placed in Bel's temple each night and consumed before the next morning. King Cyrus asked Daniel why he did not worship Bel, and Daniel replied that Bel was only a man-made image. He would prove to the king that Bel was not alive. Daniel had ashes sprinkled on the floor of the temple and food placed on Bel's altar before sealing the temple door. The next morning the seals on the doors were intact, but when the doors were opened the food was gone. However, the ashes sprinkled on the floor revealed footprints of the priests and their families. They had a secret entrance and came at night and ate the food brought to the idol. The second part of the story of Bel and the Dragon concerned a dragon worshiped in Babylon. Daniel killed the dragon by feeding it cakes of pitch, fat, and hair. The people were outraged, and Daniel was thrown into the lions' den for seven days. However, the lions did not harm him. These stories ridicule paganism and the worship of idols.
Wisdom of Solomon
The next four apocryphal books are examples of Wisdom literature. The Wisdom of Solomon which was not written by Solomon, was probably written about 100 B.C. in Egypt. The first section of the book gave comfort to oppressed Jews and condemned those who had turned from their faith in God. It shows the advantages of wisdom over wickedness. The second section is a hymn of praise to wisdom. Wisdom is identified as a person present with God, although it is not given as much prominence as in some other writings. The final section shows wisdom as helpful to Israel throughout its history. This writing presents the Greek concept of immortality rather than the biblical teaching of resurrection.
Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach is also known as Ecclesiasticus. It emphasizes the importance of the law and obedience to it. Written in Hebrew about 180 B.C., it was translated into Greek by the author's grandson shortly after 132 B.C. The book has two main divisions, 1–23,24–51, each beginning with a description of wisdom. The writer was a devout Jew, highly educated, with the opportunity to travel outside Palestine. Thus he included in his writing not only traditional Jewish wisdom but material that he found of value from the Greek world. He pictured the ideal scribe as one who had time to devote himself to the study of the law. Sirach 44-50 are a praise of the great fathers of Israel, somewhat similar to Hebrews 11:1 . Wisdom is highly exalted. She is a person made by God. She goes into the earth to seek a dwelling place. After she is rejected by other people, she is established in Zion. Wisdom is identified with the law.
The Book of Baruch is also in the wisdom category. It is a combination of two or three different writings. The first section is in prose and claims to give a history of the period of Jeremiah and Baruch. However, it differs from the Old Testament account. The second section is poetry and a praise of wisdom. The final section is also poetic and gives a word of hope for the people. As in Sirach, wisdom and law are equated. It was written shortly before 100 B.C.
Letter of Jeremiah
The Letter of Jeremiah is often added to Baruch as chapter 6. As the basis for his work, the author evidently used Jeremiah 29:1-23 , in which Jeremiah did write a letter to the exiles. However, this letter comes from before 100 B.C. It is a strongly worded condemnation of idolatry.
Prayer of Manasseh
The Prayer of Manasseh is a devotional writing. It claims to be the prayer of the repentant king whom the Old Testament pictured as very wicked (2 Kings 21:10-17 ). Second Kings makes no suggestion that Manasseh repented. However, 2Chronicles 33:11-13,2 Chronicles 33:18-19 states that he did repent and that God accepted him. This writing from before 100 B.C. is what such a prayer of repentance might have been.
The final book of the Apocrypha Isaiah 2 Esdras, written too late to be included in the Septuagint. 2 Esdras 1-2 and 2 Esdras 15-16 are Christian writings. 2 Esdras 3-14 , the significant part of the work, are from about 20 B.C. This writing is an apocalypse, a type of writing popular among the Jews in the Intertestamental Period and which became popular among Christians. See 2 Esdras 3-14 . Daniel in the Old Testament and Revelation in the New Testament represent this type of writing. Apocalyptic calls attention to the difficult circumstances of God's people and centers upon the end of the age and the new age which God will inaugurate. Second Esdras contains seven sections or visions. In the first three, Ezra seeks answers from an angel about human sin and the situation of Israel. The answer he receives is that the situation will change only in the new age that God is about to inaugurate. The third section pictures the Messiah. He will remain four hundred years and then die. The next three visions stress God's coming intervention and salvation of His people through the pre-existent Messiah. The final section states that the end will be soon and reports that Ezra was inspired to write ninety-four books. Twenty-four are a rewrite of the canonical Old Testament while the other seventy are to be given to the wise. The last two chapters of 2Esdras contain material common to the New Testament. See 2 Esdras 3-14 .
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Apocrypha'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/a/apocrypha.html. 1991.