Apocrypha: Introduction

Many Christians include in their Bibles 15 books composed during the Intertestamental period, and these writings are known collectively as the Apocrypha.

Oh come on! As a religious donkey I know a little something about the Bible, and I refuse to acknowledge that anything called INTESTINAL could be sacred, and furthermore, what in the name of a scorpion's mother is A POKRIFA?!? It sounds like one of those abominable new children's cartoons!

Actually, the scholarly term is "I-n-t-e-r-testamental," meaning these were composed between the two testaments, after the Hebrew Bible and before the New Testament. That's roughly between the 4th century BCE and the 1st century CE. And the collective name for these writings is "Apocrypha," from the Greek words apo "away" and kruptein "to hide." There are three ideas about why these works were called "hidden away."

Why the Apocrypha is "hidden away" ...

  1. These books were seen to reveal such profound mysteries that average people wouldn't understand them, and so they were hidden. For example, in one Apocryphal writing, God tells Ezra to keep some writings away from the public and reserve them for the wise (2 Esdras 14:45-46).
  2. These books were "hidden" from certain Bibles. That is to say, these writings are not found in the Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible.
  3. These books were seen as controversial forgeries not on the same sacred level as the other books in the Bible, and thus they were hidden.

No matter why they were "hidden," the Apocrypha consists of awesome tales of dudes, dragons, wisdom, war, sexual intrigue, courtroom drama, prayers for forgiveness, end of the world stuff, and a sword-wielding woman warrior 2,000 years before Xena. And while none would deny their value as excellent stories from antiquity, there is a great deal of debate concerning their status as divinely inspired sacred literature. While Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians accept the Apocrypha into their Bibles, these same writings are not accepted into the sacred canons of Jews and Protestants.

Which alas, my darlings, is precisely why some Bibles are larger than others. But gentlemen, I'm curious as to why the Apocrypha isn't deemed authoritative by Jews and Protestant Christians? Why don't they include these writings into their Bibles?

No doubt because there aren't any donkeys in the Apocrypha! There are donkeys in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and they're not "hidden."

Well Methuselah, even though I too believe that the Apocrypha would benefit from more stories about donkeys, the answer to Cleopatra's question is slightly more complicated.

There arose a widespread belief within Judaism by the second century BCE that biblical prophecy and revelation began with Moses in about 1250 BCE and ended with Ezra about 800 years later. But the Apocryphal writings were formulated centuries after Ezra, even though many Apocryphal writings are attributed to earlier people, including Ezra himself. That is to say that someone long after Ezra wrote a book and said it was by Ezra. So, while a few scholars still hold that the Apocryphal books were actually written by the people named in their titles, the vast majority of scholars believe that many Apocryphal writings are pseudepigraphal.


Pseudepigraphal, based on the Greek words pseudo- "falsely" and epigraphein "to write upon." This isn't to say necessarily that the writings are false, just their claims at authorship. For example, in the Apocrypha there is a letter that says it was written by the biblical prophet Jeremiah, but we know from the language that it was written at least 500 years after Jeremiah died. It was common in antiquity to attribute writings to famous people who lived in earlier time periods. Thus, as I previously said, many Apocryphal stories are pseudepigraphal.

Although Judaism denied the sanctity of the Apocryphal writings due to the reasons Jeff so awesomely laid out before, early Christians, who believed that God's revelation continued into their own lifetime, embraced Apocryphal stories of prophecy and revelation, as these gave credence to their beliefs. It's as if the post-Ezra revelations recorded in the Apocrypha provided further evidence for Christians that God revealed Himself to New Testament characters.

Thus most Jews by the 1st and 2nd centuries CE rejected the Apocrypha as sacred; whereas most Christians accepted it.

But even in early Christianity debate arose as to the status of the Apocrypha. The early church fathers Augustine and Origen felt these stories belonged in the canon. Nevertheless, the great Bible scholar Jerome in the 4th century CE felt differently. Can you explain for us what happened Jerome?

When I produced the Vulgate, a translation of the Hebrew Bible from its original language into Latin, I noticed the Apocryphal books were different. On the one hand, I only had access to Apocryphal books recorded in Greek, while the other books of the Hebrew Bible were in Hebrew with a little Aramaic. I felt that sort of made these Greek books different, although we now know that many Apocryphal books were originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic. And on the other hand, many of the miraculous stories and the religious ideals in the Apocrypha seemed out of place in the Hebrew Bible. So, in my Vulgate, I called these books "additions" and labeled them "Apocryphal." But the Catholic Church soon thereafter added the Apocrypha to the Vulgate, and all Christian Bibles contained the Apocrypha for centuries. But by the time of the Reformation, the debate heated up again, didn't it Martin Luther?

Yes it did Jerome. When I translated the Bible into German, I decided to include the Apocrypha in my translation, but I placed these books at the end of the Hebrew Bible and gave them the separate heading "Apocrypha: These books are not held equal to the sacred scriptures, and yet are useful and good for reading." Eventually though Protestant Bibles eliminated these books altogether.

So no matter what your religious tradition, the awesome stories in the Apocrypha are certainly worth taking a look at, whether they be sacred or simply "good for reading." As a historian, I especially love these tales' presentation of the evolution of Jewish thought between the time of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. As you will readily notice, Apocryphal writings are heavily impacted by two things: Hellenism and Diaspora.

Simply astounding!

My darlings, in the next section, we'll examine what life was like for Jews during the Diaspora, and how Alexander the Great's spread of Hellenism changed the world forever.