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What is the Apocrypha?
After the close of the Old Testament era and Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets (around 450 B.C.), the Hebrews in Israel developed a body of works which were later referred to as the Apocrypha. The word "Apocrypha" is a Greek term which means "hidden" or "secret" because the work was not to be studied by the common people, but only to certain authorities. As time went on the name was applied generally to those works which had biblical or religious flavor, but which were not accepted as authoritative. They could be studied and read for educational and moral purposes only, but would not be regarded as Scripture. The Old Testament Apocrypha became an integral part of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). Centuries later the Apocrypha appeared in the Latin Vulgate (against the Latin scholar Jerome's wishes) and later in certain English versions, such as the Great Bible of 1539 and the original King James Version of 1611.
The apocryphal books are given as follows in their usual order:
I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, The Song of the Three Holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, I Maccabees, II Maccabees.
This order is not chronological. Exact dating is impossible, but an approximate dating system would be something like this:
I Esdras - 300 B.C.
Tobit - 250 B.C
Ecclesiasticus - 200 B.C
The Prayer in the Song of the Three Holy Children - 160 B.C
Judith - 150 B.C
The Rest of Esther - 140 B.C
Bel and the Dragon - 150 B.C
I Maccabees - 90 B.C.
II Maccabees - 50 B.C.
The Wisdom of Solomon - 40 A.D.
Baruch - 70 A.D. or later
II Esdras - 100 A.D.
Most of these books were written during the period between the return from the captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem when the national life of the Jews were continually unsettled. They reflect the restlessness and the dissatisfied spirit of the Jews, who were still dreaming of an independent commonwealth. The major themes reveal the Jewish reaction to the oppression, uncertainty, and hope that characterized the entire period.
Of the list given above, three are historical: I Esdras, which corresponds in content somewhat to Ezra and Nehemiah; I Maccabees, which is a simple and straightforward narrative of the revolt of Mattathias and his sons in 168 B.C. that terminated in the defeat of the Syrians and the establishment of the Hasmonean state; and II Maccabees, an inferior digest of the work of Jason of Cyrene, which supplements in some degree the content of I Maccabees. Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, and The History of Susanna are romantic tales illustrating God's justice in vindicating His people. Bel and the Dragon, a spurious addition to the book of Daniel, belongs in the same category. The Wisdom of Solomon. and Ecclesiasticus are philosophical treatises in the form of epigrams, somewhat like the book of Proverbs. The Song of the Three Holy Children and The Prayer of Manasses are expressions of devotion to God and of hope in His promises.
The language and style of all these books resembles that of the canonical Old Testament; but with the exception of the book of I Maccabees their historical allusions are not accurate and they have no solid connection with identifiable characters as authors. Their effect on the writers of the New Testament was slight, although occasionally there seem to be references to them in the text, for example:
Ecclesiasticus 44:16, "Enoch pleased the Lord, and was translated,"
Hebrews 11:5: "By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God."
These two passages do not translate exactly so that one can be called a quotation from the other. Both could originate from independent comments on the account given in Genesis.