The Apocrypha

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Tobit Judith Esther Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiasticus Baruch Letter of Jeremiah Prayer of Azariah & The Song of the Three Jews Susanna Bel and the Dragon 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Prayer of Manasseh Psalm 151 3 Maccabees 1 Esdras 2 Esdras 4 Maccabees
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The Apocrypha forms a link between the Old and New Testaments, both in the time they were written and in theological understanding. Many of the books relate to Jews in exile or diaspora, and promote prayer and piety rather than sacrifices as the way to secure God's help. Consequently they typically urge salvation by works.

The Apocrypha also records the awful events under Greek dominion in the centuries preceding the birth of Christ. The Greeks tried to force the Jews to abandon Yahweh, and they used much more violence to support this demand than previous empires such as Assyria ever had. Therefore the need to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (and thus not to render to Greek gods or emperors the position that is Yahweh's by right) was stronger than ever, yet more costly.

This cost was not without benefit. The Greeks had been thinking about eternity and had decided that the human soul was, or could be, eternal. This was the culture in which the Jews were operating, and it forced them to think through their own position regarding eternal life. Some (the Pharisees, typified in the New Testament by Saul, who became St Paul) believed that a human being was eternal. Others, the Sadducees, did not. This argument often surfaces in the New Testament, and is implied by many other incidents such as the question of the young ruler to Jesus "what must I do to inherit eternal life", a question that suggests that the old religion, with its disagreeing interpreters, did not give all the answers.

The Oxford University Press includes the following "apocryphal / deuterocanonical" books in its NRSV with Apocrypha:


Chapter 12 v 15 presents Raphael as one of seven chief angels, and Jones p.38 tells us that Raphael means "God has healed". Jones p.41 accuses Jerome of translating ch.4 v 17 so as to foster anti-semitism, and (p.43) of translating ch.6 v 17 so as to promote the idea that priests should be celibate.

Judith 2:7

Jones p.53 explains that the Medes and Persians expected to be given offerings of local earth and water as a sign of submisison.

Judith 2:12

The king boasts in the power of his hand, but Judith's hand will prevail.

Judith 8:10

Judith had sufficient influence to be able to summon the town council to a tent on her roof (v.5).

Judith 15:12

Jones p.61 suggests that the wands wrapped in ivy are a reference for the benefit of later Greek-speaking readers to bacchanalia, which is being mocked because the General's drunkenness and lust led to his death.

Esther (the expanded Greek version)

Jones p.64 explains that Jerome found six Greek additions to the Hebrew text, and numbered them as chapters 11–16; modern translations keep this numbering but place them in sequence within the text, so the chapters are not in numerical order. The additions present Mordecai and Esther as ritually pure (e.g. in ch.14 v 7 Esther claims to have refused royal food that was not kosher) and dependent on God, who is not mentioned in the Hebrew version.

The Wisdom of Solomon

According to Jones p.xiii, Martin Luther described this book as an exposition of the first commandment. On page 71 he says "Anyone who wants to understand the Apostle Paul needs an acquaintance with the Apocrypha, and in particular with the Wisdom of Solomon." Page 78 says that "the writer of the book of Wisdom stands between the Jewish and hellenistic traditions, unwilling to part with either and unwilling that either should discredit the other."

Wisdom 3:1–5

At first sight verse 5 might seem to refer to purgatory, but verse 1 denies it. Verse 5 is clearly linked to verse 4. The troubles that the righteous experience (want of worldly pleasures) occur before they are wholly in God's hands.

Wisdom 3:7

cf. Paul's "twinkling of an eye" in 1 Corinthians 15:52.

Wisdom 11:16

As in Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado, Wisdom makes the punishment fit the crime!

Wisdom 14:3

Addressing God as "Father" is unusual but not unknown in pre-Christian writing.

or The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach
or Sirach

Jesus is a form of the Hebrew name Joshua — see comment on Luke 1:31. The name Jesus was not uncommon which is why it is necessary to qualify it here as "Jesus son of Sirach".

Many versions of the book exist and consequently the title and verse numbering varies.

Ecclesiasticus 5:4–7

indicates that a sequence of developing thoughts has occurred:
1) God has covenanted to bless obedience and punish sin,
2) God has seen that people still sin yet he is inclined to be merciful,
3) God has covenanted to forgive sinners, but
4) God still hates sin and will not forgive forever where there is no repentance.

This analysis arose in the context of discussion of the way the terms of some of the covenants imply a degree of forgiveness that might be used as an excuse for sin, but it was recognised that God seeks a holy people, so he cannot be expected to forgive those who have no intention of doing better next time. Repentance is the key to a close relationship with God (Ecclesiasticus 5:7 and 34:26). Thus the events of history have shown people God's nature through the successes and failures of the covenants.

Ecclesiasticus 5:7

Repentance is the key to a close relationship with God (cf. Ecclesiasticus 34:26).

Ecclesiasticus 9:16

Jesus was often criticised for eating with sinners.

Ecclesiasticus 19:11–17

Much evil has been done by people acting on hearsay without going to the horse's mouth to hear the other side of the story.

Ecclesiasticus 28:2

cf. Matthew 6:12, Luke 11:4.

Ecclesiasticus 34:26

Repentance is the key to a close relationship with God (cf. Ecclesiasticus 5:7).


The book purports to date from the exile to Babylon but commentaries cite many reasons why it is much later. It describes people becoming resigned to life under Babylonian overlords, and godly people responding not by fighting or cursing but by praying for them (ch.1 v 11) and praying to prosper under them (ch.2 v 14). That would be an appropriate message for Israel's subjection under the Seleucids.

Letter of Jeremiah

The Vulgate and Authorized Version present Letter of Jeremiah as the final chapter of Baruch, but commentaries reject that identification, leaving the source and purpose of the book uncertain. NRSV presents it, confusingly, as a single chapter numbered 6.

Prayer of Azariah and The Song of the Three Jews

Additions to Daniel. The Song describes the incident with Nebuchadnezzar's burning fiery furnace; Wisdom 19:19–21 explains that God can make fire ineffective. The youg men respond with the song that we call the Benedicite and use in worship.


Another addition to Daniel

Bel and the Dragon

Another addition to Daniel

Prayer of Manasseh
Psalm 151 (as found in the Septuagint)
1 Esdras

Both the introduction and the references to people and events seem to support the idea that this book was written by, or on behalf of, the Ezra who was associated with Nehemiah.

1 Esdras 5:40

According a footnote in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Anglicized Edition, 1998 Edition, the Septuagint translates "Urim and Thummim" as "Manifestation and Truth".

2 Esdras

The introduction and mentions of people and events seem to support the idea that this book was written by, or on behalf of, the Ezra who was associated with Nehemiah, but Jones p.15 says it was a grief-stricken and sometimes incoherent response to the disastrous losses in the time of the Romans, questioning God (via an angel) as Job did. Page 16 adds that the copies available to us are so late that it may be a Christian rather than a Jewish compilation. Parts of it are similar to parts of Matthew and Revelation.

According to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Anglicized Edition, 1998 Edition, Ezra and Nehemiah are combined into one book titled "2 Esdras" in the Greek Bible.

2 Esdras 2:42–48

Ezra seems to have had a vision of Jesus welcoming Christians into Heaven — cf. Revelation 7:9.

1 Maccabees
1 Maccabees 2:19

This appears to record the start of the Maccabean rebellion, which happened in 167 BCE [1].

1 Maccabees 4:36

cf. Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14.

2 Maccabees
3 Maccabees
4 Maccabees

Other apocryphal books are sometimes referred to:


"... the oldest 'history' of Jerusalem in 1 Enoch has no place for Moses. The so-called Apocalypse of Weeks describes the law being given, but there is no mention of Egypt or the Exodus (1 En. 93.6). There was a vision of the holy and righteous and the law was given." [2]


  1. Roland, Rev. Andy: Bible in Brief (Croydon: Filament 2016) p.102
  2. Barker, Dr Margaret Who was Melchizedek and who was his God? 2008 pp.4–5. Online, available from:, accessed 5 February 2017

© David Billin 2002–2018