One of the most well-known Jewish celebrations can’t even be found in the Hebrew Bible. Of course, I’m talking about the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. The events being remembered occurred about 165 BCE, long after the end of the return from Babylonian captivity and the final prophet, Malachi, around 430 BCE. The story is found in Jewish history in the books of the Maccabees, but not in the TANAKH (Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament).
The other major Jewish celebration not commanded in the Torah, Purim, originates in the book of Esther. But there is additional narrative beyond the Megillah (scroll) of Esther in the TANAKH. A Greek copy of the text tells of a prophetic dream of Mordecai, the actual events of the plot against the king, the text of the king’s letter, prayers of both Mordecai and Esther and the final decree of the King. And although never mentioned in the Hebrew scroll, the Lord God is found in this Greek text.
Where can we find these books of the Maccabees and the additional parts of Esther? These books, along with several others, are found in The Apocrypha.
What Is The Apocrypha?
The word “apocrypha” derives from a Greek verb meaning to conceal. This definition comes from Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of American English:
“Literally such things as are not published; but in an appropriate sense, books whose authors are not known; whose authenticity, as inspired writings, is not admitted, and which are therefore not considered a part of the sacred canon of the scripture. When the Jews published their sacred books, they called them canonical and divine; such as they did not publish, were called apocryphal. The apocryphal books are received by the Romish Church as canonical, but not by Protestants.”
The Roman Catholic Church would disagree somewhat with this definition. They, along with the Eastern Orthodox Church and some other Protestant denominations, consider only some of these books to be canonical. They are called Deuterocanonical, comprising a “second canon.” Those not considered Deuterocanonical are called apocryphal.
This “second canon” includes additional books in the Christian Old Testament. While there are Apocryphal books for both the Old and New Testaments, in this post we will only be concerned with the Old Testament Apocrypha.
These are the Roman Catholic Deuterocanonical books:
- Additions to Esther
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Wisdom (of Solomon)
- (Wisdom of) Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
- Baruch (including the Letter of Jeremiah)
- Additions to Daniel:
- Azariah and the Song of the Three Hebrew Children
- Bel and the Dragon
Other religious groups include some of these Apocryphal books:
- 1 Esdras
- 2 Esdras
- Prayer of Manasseh
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees
- Psalm 151
- 2 Baruch
In addition to these, there are also books considered pseudepigrapha, books of highly questionable origin whose supposed authors are not the actual authors or that assume the name of another work – books like Enoch, Jashar and Jubilees. Be very careful with these. Jashar is NOT the ancient book mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18. Jubilees and Enoch present some variant calendar issues that do not square with the rest of Scripture. Whether or not Jude quotes Enoch in Jude 14-15 or what we now have called Enoch quotes Jude is debated.
Why are these not in the TANAKH?
Some historians say that the canon of the Hebrew Bible formally came to be after the preliminary establishment of the Christian New Testament canon in the fourth century CE. Others date it back to 90CE, shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. The final canon of books considered to be divinely inspired consisted of the Torah, Prophets and Writings – or in Hebrew, the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim, abbreviated with the acronym TNK (in Hebrew of course) and pronounced TaNaK. Yeshua made reference to these Scriptures when he said, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24: 44).
All of these were written in Hebrew, except for a small portion of Daniel written in Aramaic. It is interesting that Daniel is not considered of the Prophets, but of the Writings. A group of 72 Hebrew scholars translated these books of Torah, Prophets and Writings into Greek in the third and second centuries BCE, indicating that some sort of accepted canon was already known. This work, known as the Septuagint, also included several other books separate from the Tanakh that we call the Apocrypha.
There are a number of suggested reasons why these books are not part of the Hebrew Bible. They are written in Greek with no extant Hebrew originals, and none of these have been preserved in the same manner as the Hebrew text of the Tanakh. Perhaps their rejection is also associated with of the conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the later being the Hasmoneans who are the subject of the Maccabean books.
They are dated after the “last prophets,” Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi. Could that be a reason to not only reject the books of the Apocrypha, but also any further word form God, including Yeshua? Most of Judaism considers the Masoretic Hebrew to be the authoritative, divinely inspired text. The predominant Jewish view of the Septuagint seems to be that it is Christian. This presents an interesting scenario, in that the Hanukkah story is preserved in Christian writings.
The Talmud actually forbids reading these books, especially the Wisdom of Sirach, also called Ben Sira.
“The Mishna teaches that Rabbi Akiva says: Also one who reads external literature has no share in the World-to-Come. The Sages taught in a baraita: This is a reference to reading books of heretics. Rav Yosef says: It is also prohibited to read the book of ben Sira, due to its problematic content” (From Sanhedrin 100b).
Should Believers in Yeshua Read the Apocrypha?
Considering that it was Jewish scholars who put these books into the Septuagint, one would think that someone considered them to be worthwhile. Of course they are not on the same level as the Torah. And while the Jewish world does not consider them to be inspired, remember that they also hold the same view of the New Testament.
Historically, how have those who do believe the New Testament approached the Apocrypha? We know that the Roman Church considers at least some of these to be inspired. Here are some other views:
Martin Luther’s German translation of 1534 contained the Apocrypha between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He wrote, “Apocrypha, that is, books that are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures, and nevertheless are useful and good to read.” But many Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers don’t care much what Luther thought about anything, due to his perceived anti-Semitic views.
Myles Coverdale wrote, “Apocrypha. The books and treatises which among the fathers of old are not reckoned to be of like authority with the other books of the Bible, neither are they found in the Canon of the Hebrews.” His 1535 English translation included the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments as well.
The King James Version of 1611 also included the books of the Apocrypha in a section between the Old Testament and New Testament. They were later removed. The Westminster Confession of Faith (about 1646 CE), Chapter 1, Paragraph III, says “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.”
The New Testament never directly quotes anything from the Apocrypha. There are similar phrases and terms, and perhaps some of them are allusions to things previously said in these books. The Apocryphal writings are around 300 to 500 years older than the New Testament writings. There are some events mentioned in the New Testament that are recorded in the apocrypha, such as the John 10:21 reference to Hanukkah (1 Maccabees 4 and 2 Maccabees 10) and the Hebrews 11:35 reference to torturing and suffering (2 Maccabees 6 & 7).
Some of My Favorite Passages
The Song of the Three Hebrew Children
This book is inserted between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24. The first part is a prayer of Azariah (the Hebrew name for the one renamed Abednego by the Babylonians). Then it says this:
But the angel of the Lord cam down into the furnace to be with Azariah and his companions and drove the fiery flame out of the furnace and made the midst of the furnace like a moist whistling wind, so that the fire did not touch them at all or hurt or trouble them. Then the three, as with one mouth, praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace, saying, “Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and to be praised and highly exalted forever” (vss. 26-29).
This is followed by several verses beginning with “Blessed are you,” then several more beginning “Bless the Lord.” This one-chapter book ends with:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is god, for his mercy is forever.
Bless him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods,
Sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy is forever. (vss. 67-68)
The Prayer of Manasseh
One of the most evil kings of Judah – maybe even THE most evil – was Manasseh, son of Hezekiah. His story is told in 2 Kings 21:1-18 and in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20. However, the 2 Chronicles account has information not found in 2 Kings. Beginning with 2 Chronicles 33:12, the evil King Manasseh repents and humbles himself before God. In the Apocrypha, this one-chapter book is his beautiful prayer of repentance.
And now I bend the knee of my heart,
Imploring you for your kindness.
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
And I Know my transgressions.
I earnestly implore you,
Forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions,
Do not be angry with me forever or lay up evil for me;
Do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent (vss. 11-13).
The Wisdom of Sirach
Much like the Proverbs of Solomon, Sirach is 51 chapters of sayings, meditations, poetry and songs. Here is one of my favorite passages from Chapter 26:
Happy is the husband of a good wife;
The number of his days will be doubled.
A courageous wife rejoices her husband,
And he will complete his years in peace.
A good wife is a great blessing;
She will be granted among the blessings of the man who fears the Lord.
Whether rich or por, his heart is glad,
And at all times his face is cheerful.
Like the sun rising in the heights of the Lord,
So is the beauty of a good wife in her well-ordered home.
Like the shining lamp on the holy lampstand,
So is a beautiful face on a stately figure.
Like pillars of gold on a base of silver,
So are beautiful feet with a steadfast heart.
Bibles That Include The Apocrypha
Here are a few Bibles you can consider if you wish to read the books of the Apocrypha.
English Standard Version Bible with Apocrypha
If you can find it, my top recommendation is the English Standard Version Bible with Apocryphya (2007/2009). Unfortunately, this Bible is out of print. Personally I really like the ESV translation from Crossway Bibles / Good News Publishers. The ESV is a fresh translation, adapted from the Revised Standard Version by Oxford University Press. The ESV Bible Apocrypha was published by Oxford and includes the same books as the New Revised Standard Version listed below.
New American Bible Revised Edition
Surprisingly, an excellent translation for Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers is the New American Bible (Amazon, Christian Book Distributors), not to be confused with the very popular New American Standard Bible (which does not include the Apocrypha). The New American Bible – Revised Edition (NABRE) is the officially sanctioned Bible of the Roman Catholic Church (don’t let that fact keep you from this translation). Unlike other English Bible translations, the NABRE has chapter and verse numbering that match the Hebrew Masoretic Text.
The book arrangement, however, matches other English translations following the Septuagint order except that the Deuterocanonical books (part of the Apocrypha) is placed in the appropriate sections, generally in chronological order. Remember, Roman Catholics believe these books to be divinely inspired. Tobit and Judith follow Nehemiah; 1 and 2 Maccabees follow an expanded Esther; Wisdom and Sirach follow Song of Solomon; Baruch follows Lamentations and Azariah, Suzanna and Bel and the Dragon are included in the book of Daniel.
New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, 1989) (Amazon, Christian Book Distributors) is an update of the Revised Standard Version (1952, Apocrypha in 1957) which is an update of the American Standard Version of 1901 (which did not include the Apocrypha). It is published by Oxford University Press. The NRSV (and RSV) includes the Deuterocanonical books plus a few others, but they keep them in a section by themselves apart from the Old and New Testament books. Here are the books of the NRSV Bible Apocrypha:
- Esther (Greek version)
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Letter of Jeremiah
- Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three
- Bel and the Dragon
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- 1 Esdras
- Prayer of Manasseh
- Psalm 151
- 3 Maccabees
- 2 Esdras
- 4 Maccabees
The Septuagint With Apocrypha
This is a widely accepted translation of the Septuagint by Sir Lancelot C. Brenton (Amazon, Christian Book Distributors). This hard cover edition in a nice library binding contains the Greek text along with the English translation. If Greek is meaningless to you, there is also an inexpensive paperback with just English. This was published in 1851, so the Old English language as well as some of the spelling might be more difficult to read. Also, this is only the Old Testament and Apocrypha and does not include any New Testament books.
An alternative to the Brenton translation is A New English Translation of the Septuagint (Amazon, Christian Book Distributors). This one is published by Oxford University Press, but the text of the Apocrypha is not the same as either the New Revised Standard Version or the English Standard Version mentioned above. It should not be confused with the NET Bible New English Translation published by Bible.Org, which does not include a translation of the Apocrypha.
You should be aware that there are places where the Greek Septuagint differs significantly from the Hebrew Masoretic Text upon which nearly all of the English translations of the Old Testament are based. Most quotes in the New Testament from the Old Testament are from the Septuagint, or more likely from a Hebrew text older than the Masoretic Text upon which the Septuagint was based.
The Septuagint Apocrypha does not include the book of 2 Esdras.
The Eth Cepher
You can read my review of The Eth Cepher here. The Eth Cepher contains other writings beyond the Old Testament, New Testament and Apocrypha.
King James Version
As mentioned, the 1611 King James Version did include the books of the Apocrypha. Facsimile editions are available, however the alphabet is written differently than we know today, and combined with inconsistent and unconventional spellings this is very difficult to read. For a King James Version With Apocrypha that has updated printing and spelling (not updated language), go here. You may also wish to consider just the Apocrypha from the KJV here.
The Apocrypha in the King James Version does not include 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees or Psalm 151.
The New Jerusalem Bible published by Doubleday (Amazon, Christian Book Distributors) is another product of the Catholic church, yet is generally considered to be an accurate translation. It includes the same books of the Apocrypha that are found in the New American Bible. Messianic and Hebrew Roots readers may find this version desirable because the Divine Name (Hebrew tetragrammaton) is translated as Yahweh. The Messiah’s name in the New Testament is translated as Jesus.
The New Living Translation Catholic Readers Edition by Tyndale House Publishers (Amazon, Christian Book Distributors) also includes the same books of the Apocrypha as the New American Bible. The Old Testament is the same as other New Living Translation Bibles, and the books of the Apocrypha are translated in the same style so it is very easy to read.
The Good News Bible with Deuterocanonicals / Apocrypha (Today’s English Version) by the American Bible Society and The New English Bible With The Apocrypha, another version from Oxford University Press, are both out of print. You may be able to find used copies at Amazon or on eBay.
Popular translations like the New American Standard Bible, New King James Version and New International Version currently do not have editions that include the Apocrypha. Messianic translations such as the Complete Jewish Bible or Tree of Life Version also are not published with the Apocrypha.
As you read any of these translations of the books of the Apocrypha, always judge them by the other Scriptures and especially the Torah.
Unless marked otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and The Apocrypha (ESV), © 2009 by Oxford University Press.