Apocrypha

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Michael Shermer: Most biblical theologians who study this stuff seriously will tell you that, in fact, we don't know exactly "who" wrote the Bible. There's other gospels, that we're just now beginning to hear about, that didn't make the Bible.

[Sarcastically replying to himself]: They didn't ma- What do you mean they "didn't make the Bible"?! What are you talking about, this is the inspired word of God!

Michael Shermer: The fact that we have books not in the Bible that are still recognized as, in many ways, canonical — they're sacred books, just not in the Bible — you have to ask: why aren't they in the Bible? And the answer is: because the committee that decided didn't put them in.

[Sarcastically replying to himself]: Committee?! Committee?! What, they voted?!

Michael Shermer: Yeah, that's how it happened! Obviously, it's an edited volume.
Michael Shermer, Penn & Teller: Bullshit![1]

In the broad sense, apocrypha are texts or statements whose authorship or historical accuracy is uncertain. The word apocrypha more usually means those parts of the Bible which are not accepted by all churches, or which have been removed over time.

Terms and definitions[edit]

Apocrypha is a relative term. What the Protestant churches call apocrypha, the Catholic Church calls the deuterocanonicals (or "second canon"), but it considers three books held as canon by the Eastern Orthodox churches as apocrypha. Judaism holds all the books of the New Testament - as well as the deuterocanonicals and anything else found in the Greek translation of the Law and Prophets (the Septuagint) - as apocrypha. Some Orthodox prefer the Eastern term anagignoskomena ("things that are read" or "profitable reading") instead.

Jews rejected these books, in part on the grounds that they were written in Greek rather than Hebrew. While some of them were originally composed in Greek, others are in origin Hebrew — for example:

  • The Book of Sirach:[2] while it only survives in its entirety in Greek translation, around two-thirds of it survives in the original Hebrew
  • The Books of Enoch: 3 Enoch has survived in Hebrew[3]
  • The Book of Jubilees[4] (accepted by the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches) was originally in Hebrew, while the Ethiopian Books of Meqabyan[5] may have originally been written in Ge'ez.
  • From the Dead Sea Scrolls we know that Psalm 151, surviving in Greek, is actually a combination of two separate Psalms in Hebrew (sometimes called 151a and 151b).

Protestants refer to these books as apocrypha (meaning spurious, hidden, obscure), but Catholics reject that phrasing. Sometimes one sees Deuterocanon/Apocrypha used as a joint term to express both groups' perspectives. Catholics do however call those books accepted by Eastern Orthodox but not by Catholics apocrypha. Protestants use the term pseudepigrapha to refer to those books which were not traditionally accepted by any major Christian groups. The Protestant Apocrypha, while not considered a reliable source for doctrines or morals, was still considered worthy of sufficient respect as to be printed in Protestant Bibles (at least in the earlier centuries of Protestantism), while the pseudepigraphical books were purely of scholarly interest. While that was originally a Protestant thing, Catholic scholars accept this usage of "pseudepigraphical".

Pseudepigrapha (from the Greek for false writing) refers to books which claim to be authored by someone other than their actual author. In the Classical world it was a common practice to publish new works under the names of one's dead predecessors; thus for example, there are a number of works claiming to be by Plato, which most scholars believe were written by his students after his death. In the ancient Hebrew tradition, it was common to write under the name of important historical and mythological figures, especially Biblical patriarchs such as Abraham or Moses. When reading any contemporary collection of these ancient writings (such as the Christian Bible, Torah Scrolls, or various Hebrew books included in the Tanakh) scholars always take this practice into account when attempting to date works.

As the Christian Church began the Biblical canonization process,[6] there were a collection of books that had been traditionally included in the Greek translations of the Hebrew Testament, which were not included in the Hebrew tradition. In the first three centuries of the new Christian religion, strong debate took place over the inclusion of these books into the formal Bible. These books are frequently called the Pseudepigrapha, though they are more accurately identified as the Greek Apocrypha.

The term has come to be used to also refer to works which do not claim some false authorship, and instead to any ancient work written in the style of the accepted biblical works but not accepted by any mainstream Christian church.

The term pseudepigrapha overlaps somewhat with the term apocrypha (from Greek for obscure), but with differences in meaning. In the context of the Old Testament, Protestants generally use the term apocrypha to refer to books accepted by other Christian churches (Catholic or Orthodox), but not by themselves, and the term pseudepigrapha to refer to books not accepted by any major Christian church. By contrast, Catholics do not refer to those books the Protestants do not accept as apocrypha, but rather as the deuterocanon, and then use the term apocrypha for those books Protestants would call the pseudepigrapha. The New Testament situation is simpler, since Catholics and Protestants agree on the canon of the New Testament, and hence in that context can use the terms apocrypha and pseudepigrapha interchangeably.

Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books (canonical in some churches)[edit]

The Deuterocanon are works of Hebrew origin that are included in Catholic or Greek Orthodox churches, but not Protestant churches. They are:

King James Bible[edit]

The King James Bible (1611) contained a section named "Books called Apocrypha" which contained the following:

  • 1 Esdras (Vulgate 3 Esdras)
  • 2 Esdras (Vulgate 4 Esdras)
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Rest of Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24)
  • Wisdom
  • Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach)
  • Book of Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremy (all part of Vulgate Baruch)
  • The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24-90)
  • Susanna (Book of Daniel) (Vulgate Daniel 13)
  • Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14)
  • Prayer of Manasseh
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees

Roman Catholic[edit]

In addition to the Protestant canon:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Rest of Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4-16:24)
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
  • Wisdom
  • Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach)
  • Baruch 1
  • Letter of Jeremiah
  • The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24-90)
  • Susanna (Book of Daniel) (Vulgate Daniel 13)
  • Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14)

Eastern Orthodox[edit]

In addition to the books considered canonical by the Roman Catholic Church:

  • 3 Maccabees
  • 4 Maccabees (Georgian church only)
  • 1 Esdras
  • 2 Esdras (Georgian church only)
  • Odes
  • Psalm 151
  • Psalm 152-155 (Syriac Peshitta only)
  • Baruch 2 (Syriac Peshitta only)
  • Prayer of Manasseh

Ethiopian Orthodox[edit]

In addition to the books considered canonical by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox:

Apocryphal/Pseudipigraphical books (not canonical)[edit]

A number of apocryphal books dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries exist, often "lost" Gospels, and other early Christian writings like the Didache, 2 and 3 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Peter. There are also several infancy Gospels about the birth and childhood of Jesus. They are not part of the canon in any church. They have attracted recent interest though, both in what ways they depart from the theology in the canonical New Testament as well as whether and to what degree the decision to exclude them from the canon was driven by political motivations. Sometimes these works are known as the pseudepigrapha—that term technically means a work claiming false authorship, something true of many of these works (but not all; some make no such claims)—but by extension the term has come to refer even to those which do not, to clearly distinguish those books accepted by no contemporary mainstream church from those accepted by some of them.

Several of these are of Gnostic movement origin:

The Gospel of Thomas is often classified as a Gnostic text but some scholars believe it to be the earliest gospel account (from around 50 CE). Others date it well into the second century when Gnosticism was all the rage.

Several Gnostic texts were recovered with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts. Most of these are in fragments but the Gospel of Thomas is complete, and subsequently has attracted the most interest.

Modern forgeries[edit]

Like z0mG! I found this old scroll hidden deep in the vaults of the caves of Palmyra, New York Egypt!!

External links[edit]

  1. Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, S02E01, The Bible - Fact or Fiction
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Sirach.
  3. See the Wikipedia article on 3 Enoch.
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Book of Jubilees.
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Meqabyan.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Development of the Christian biblical canon.