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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are Some Books Missing from the Old Testament?

Don Stewart :: What Are the Contents of the Various Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha?

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Question 2

What Are the Contents of the Various Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha?

The Old Testament Apocrypha consists of eleven or twelve writings, depending upon how they are divided, that make up part of the Old Testament Scripture of the Roman Catholic Church. Some of these writings are complete books while others are additions to existing books.

Other ancient Christian communities, such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, not only accept these writings as canonical, they add three additional writings to the Old Testament. These writings constitute three separate books.

Because these works are believed to be Holy Scripture by millions of professing Christians, it is important that we have some understanding of the contents of the various writings which make up the Old Testament Apocrypha.

We can summarize the contents of these works as follows:

  1. The Book of Tobit

    The Book of Tobit was likely composed in the second century B.C. The author is unknown. It is named after its main character. The book tells the story about a man named Tobit who was taken captive to Nineveh in 721 B.C. along with the northern kingdom of Israel. While in Nineveh, Tobit rose to prominence in the Assyrian government. However, he eventually lost his position as well as his wealth. Through all of this, Tobit still continued to live a righteous life before God. To add to his problems, Tobit was blinded by an accident. Because of this and the other problems he was enduring, Tobit asked the Lord to allow him to die.

    Tobit then remembered that he had deposited a large sum of money in Media. The story goes on to tell about how Tobit sent his son Tobias to retrieve the family treasure. The traveling companion of Tobias on this journey was the angel Raphael (although his identity was unknown to either Tobit or Tobias). On the way to Media, when he was bathing, Tobias was attacked by a large fish. The fish was killed. Raphael then told Tobias to remove the heart and lung from the fish because it would make “useful medicine.”

    At the same time Tobit was asking the Lord to take his life, there was a woman in Media named Sarah who was also requesting to die. She had lost seven husbands; each on the night of their honeymoon! A demon named Asmodeus had entered into their bedchamber and killed each one of these men. Thus, Sarah wished to die.

    When Tobias arrived in Media, he was urged by Raphael to marry Sarah. Instead of becoming the eighth victim of the demon, Tobias used the liver and heart of the dead fish to drive the demon from their bedchamber.

    When Tobias and Sarah returned to Nineveh, he used part of the fish to rub onto the eyes of his blind father. At that moment, Tobit was cured from his blindness. Raphael then revealed his true identity to Tobit; he was an angel sent by God to answer Tobit’s prayer. This led Tobit to praise the Lord for answering his prayer. The story ends with Tobit telling Tobias and Sarah to leave Nineveh because the Lord was going to judge the wicked city.

    The book seems to have been written to teach the Jews how to act properly toward God even in the midst of tragedy. There are a number of obvious historical and geographical errors in this book that make it historically impossible. As noted, legendary elements are also found in this story.

  2. The Book of Judith

    The Book of Judith is the work of an unknown author in the second century B.C. This story has its setting, however, during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Judith is the account of a Jewish woman who saves her people by killing an enemy leader. There does not seem to be any historical basis for this story. The book contains a number of historical and chronological errors. In fact, Judith begins with a couple of obvious historical errors. It says:

    It was the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. In those days Arphaxad ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana. (Judith 1:1 NRSV)

    Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler of the Babylonians, not the Assyrians. Furthermore, he ruled in Babylon ? not Nineveh. These are grave historical errors that show the legendary character of this book.

    In fact, the New American Bible, a Roman Catholic translation, makes the following admission concerning the Book of Judith:

    Any attempt to read this book directly against the backdrop of Jewish history in relation to the empires of the world is bound to fail. (Prologue to Judith)

    What this simply means is that the entire account of the Book of Judith is fictional.

    There is a more serious problem. According to the Book of Judith, God assists Judith in telling a number of lies. Judith lies to the Assyrians by saying that she is hiding from her people. Once she has gained their trust, she is able to kill their leader by her deceit. This is a serious problem. The Bible never gives any justification for someone telling a lie. Yet, the entire success of Judith is based upon her untruths. This is certainly not consistent with the rest of the teaching of Scripture. This is a further reason to reject Judith as Holy Scripture.

  3. The Additions to Esther

    The biblical story of Esther is given a number of additions in the Old Testament Apocrypha. These stories seem to have been written with the idea of including them with the canonical Book of Esther. The author is unknown. In fact, the additions may have been written at different times by different authors. The additions are usually dated in the 2nd or 1st century B.C.

    Most of these additions were probably originally written in Greek, though some of them may indicate they are a translation from Hebrew. The fact that parts were originally composed in Greek is another testimony to its late date because the canonical Book of Esther was written entirely in Hebrew.

    These additions contain the following: the record of the dream of Mordecai; an edict of Artaxerxes; prayers from Esther and Mordecai; an account of Esther before the king; a counter edict of Artaxerxes, and an epilogue. There is no historical basis for any of them.

    In the dream that Mordecai supposedly had, he saw two dragons which were representing coming conflict. It was only later that Mordecai understood that one of the dragons was representing Haman, the high-ranking official in the Persian government who, according to the canonical Book of Esther, plotted to destroy the Jewish people. The second dragon in the dream was actually Mordecai himself. It was he who was instrumental in saving the Jews from annihilation. This, of course, was with the help of his adopted daughter, Queen Esther, the wife of the King.

    Interestingly, the additions to Esther add something to the story that the biblical Book of Esther does not; prayers to God. The Book of Esther is well-known for the fact that the name of God is never once mentioned in the Book. Nor do we find a reference to prayer. The additions of Esther make up for this by adding prayers of both Esther and Mordecai. In fact, in the additions to Esther there are over fifty references to God. These additions are added to the Book of Esther in Roman Catholic translations (Esther 10:4-16:24) while Protestants print them as a separate book or writing.

  4. The Wisdom of Solomon (the Book of Wisdom)

    This work was probably composed in Greek about 100 B.C. The author is not the famous King Solomon of the Bible, as the title suggests. However, at times, the author of this work speaks as the person of Solomon. Hence, the name: the Wisdom of Solomon. The fact that this work was written in Greek, rather than Hebrew, further demonstrates that King Solomon was not the author.

    Basically, the work elaborates on the teachings about wisdom found in two of Solomon’s works ? Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The teachings resemble Greek thought more than Hebrew thought.

    There is a passage from the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon that sheds light upon the taunting of Christ at His crucifixion. It reads:

    Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death. (The Wisdom of Solomon 2:17-20 NRSV)

    This gives us some insight concerning what those who were at Jesus’ crucifixion were saying to Him. They assumed if Jesus was righteous, then God would deliver Him from His unjust death on the cross. However, they did not realize that the death of Christ had an even greater purpose; He was dying for the sins of the world.

  5. Sirach, the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach (the Book of Ecclesiasticus)

    This work has a number of different names. The Greek title is “Sirach” or “The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach.” In some Greek and Latin manuscripts of this work, there is the title Liber Ecclesiasticus. This is Latin for “Church Book.” It was given this name because many in the church made extensive use of its teachings.

    While this book is usually dated about 180 B.C., it could have been written earlier. The work was originally written in Hebrew and then later translated into Greek by the grandson of the author. He also added his own preface to the work.

    The author was a sage who used the Book of Proverbs as a model for his work. This work was held in high esteem among Jews and Christians. For example, John Bunyan, the author of “A Pilgrims Progress,” testified that a passage from the Book of Ecclesiasticus gave him much comfort during a time of need. The passage reads:

    Consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken? Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress. (Ecclesiasticus 2:10,11 NRSV)

    While this passage does not teach anything new about the Lord, it certainly summarizes biblical truth.

    Among other things, the Book of Ecclesiasticus does provide us with valuable insights about the existence and extent of the Old Testament canon. The writer cites every book of the Old Testament either directly, or indirectly, with the possible exception of the Book of Ruth. Furthermore, he makes a clear distinction between his writings and those of Holy Scripture.

    Thus, Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, is helpful in that it lets us know that a canon of Scripture existed in 200 B.C. Furthermore, it is helpful in determining the exact contents of this canon.

  6. Baruch

    This book was written as a series of addresses to the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. Most likely it was originally written in Hebrew in the second or first century B.C. The style of writing is different in the five major sections of this book. The first and last are written in prose but the middle three are written as poetry. Baruch is unique among the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha in that its style is similar to that of the Old Testament prophets; it has the ancient prophetic fire!

    It seems that the work was intended to instruct these exiled Israelites as to how to make their annual pilgrimage back to Jerusalem. The author, at least in the first part of the work, is supposedly the same Baruch who was Jeremiah’s scribe. However, since it was written centuries after the time of Baruch, the work is a pseudepigraphical work or a false writing.

  7. The Letter of Jeremiah

    This work consists of one chapter that is sometimes added to the Book of Baruch (as Baruch chapter six). Sometimes the letter of Jeremiah is placed on its own. That fact that this is sometimes added to Baruch is why we say the Old Testament Apocrypha of the Roman Catholic Church consists of a total of six or seven books; depending upon how they are divided.

    The work is basically an attack upon idolatry. It shows that they have no power over anyone. Jeremiah the prophet supposedly wrote this letter to the Jews who were about to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. However, there is no evidence that this letter was actually written by Jeremiah.

    A copy of the Letter of Jeremiah has been found in cave seven among the Dead Sea Scrolls. All of the fragments found in this cave were written in Greek. This may suggest that the original language of the letter was not Hebrew, but rather Greek. Since Jeremiah would not have written in the Greek language, this is further evidence that this work did not come from the biblical prophet. However, there are those who argue that the Greek fragments are translations from the original Hebrew. The letter of Jeremiah is usually dated somewhere in the fourth century B.C.

  8. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men

    These are actually two separate works. Azariah is the Hebrew name of one of the three young men whom King Nebuchadnezzar threw into the fiery furnace for not bowing to the king’s golden image. Azariah’s prayer is an acknowledgment that the Babylonians captivity was God’s divine justice against Israel. He then prays that God will save him and his two friends from the flames of the fiery furnace.

    God responds to this prayer by sending His angel into the furnace with them. This causes the three young men to sing to the Lord. They sing of the great acts of God among the Jewish people as well as in all the earth. In doing so, these three young men give thanks for their deliverance from the fiery furnace. These two works are usually thought to have been written about 160 B.C. Since these events in the Book of Daniel take place around 550 B.C, there is no evidence whatsoever for the authenticity of either of these works. In Roman Catholic translations, these two portions are added to Daniel 3 (Daniel 3:23-90), while in Protestant translations they are separate works.

  9. Susanna

    This is a beautiful story. It tells how Daniel saved a woman named Susanna from death. Two elders falsely accused her of immorality. As she was being led away to execution, she cried out to God. At that moment young Daniel appeared. He separated the two accusers and compared their stories. When he found that they did not match, they were executed instead of Susanna. Daniel was considered a hero from that day forward. While this story is well-written and has been considered one of the best short stories in all literature, it has no historical basis whatsoever.

    Add to this the fact that this work was originally written in Greek. Twice during this short story we find a play on words that will work in Greek but will not work in Hebrew. This testifies to the late date of the writing. The Book of Daniel was written in Hebrew and Aramaic with no part originally composed in Greek. The story of Susanna is added as a thirteenth chapter to Daniel in Roman Catholic translations which Protestants print as a separate work.

  10. Bel and the Dragon (Bel and the Snake)

    Bel and the Dragon, or Bel and the Snake, consists of two short stories. These two account ridicule idolatry and show how the gods of Babylon are without power.

    The first story describes the Babylonian god called Bel. It reveals how Daniel showed the king that Bel was just a human-made idol without any real existence or substance. The king told Daniel that Bel was real because he ate the food that the priests left for him each night. However, Daniel showed the king that Bel did not eat the food that was left for him each night ? rather the priests of Bel and their families came in through a secret door and ate the food left for the idol. When the king discovered this hoax, he put the priests and their families to death. The idol was then handed over to Daniel for destruction.

    In the second story, Daniel asked permission of the king to kill the dragon they were worshipping. He said:

    But give me permission, O king, and I will kill the dragon without sword or club. The king said, “I give you permission.” Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon. The dragon ate them, and burst open. Then Daniel said, “See what you have been worshiping!” (Bel and the Dragon 1:26-27 NRSV)

    The Babylonians then became upset because Daniel had destroyed two of their idols. They convinced the king to throw Daniel into a den of lions. The story concludes by showing that God protected Daniel from the lions during the six days that he was in the den. On the seventh day, the king arrived at the lions den to find Daniel safe:

    On the seventh day the king came to mourn for Daniel. When he came to the den he looked in, and there sat Daniel! The king shouted with a loud voice, “You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!” Then he pulled Daniel out, and threw into the den those who had attempted his destruction, and they were instantly eaten before his eyes. (Bel and the Dragon 1:41-42 NRSV)

    These stories are without any historical basis. They were probably written in Hebrew about 150 B.C. Bel and the Dragon is added to the Book of Daniel as Daniel chapter fourteen in Roman Catholic translations and as a separate work in Protestant translations.

  11. First Maccabees (100 B.C.)

    First Maccabees is an account of the struggles of the Jewish nation from 175 B.C. to 135 B.C. This was the era in which the Jews of Palestine fought for and gained their national independence. First Maccabees was written to give us a history of the nation during this turbulent time. Indeed, some of the parts of First Maccabees are genuinely historical and are extremely helpful in understanding the history of that period. However, it also contains historical errors and parts that are anachronistic.

    Though the work is called “Maccabees,” this name is only applied to one character in the Book; Judas Maccabaeus; the “hammer.” Judas was the third son of Mattathias; a priest who led a revolt against the Seleucid kings who were persecuting the Jews.

    In First Maccabees, Judas is the one credited with overthrowing these enemies of Israel. In doing so, he cleansed the temple which had been defiled. As a result of the temple being cleansed and rededicated, the “Festival of Lights,” or Hanukkah, was established. According to First Maccabees, this feast was to be perpetually celebrated by the Jews.

    First Maccabees was written in Hebrew about 100 B.C., and soon afterwards translated into Greek. The Hebrew text is now lost but it did exist at the time of Jerome (4th century A.D.). We do not know who authored this book. It is possible that he was a Palestinian Jew who lived in Jerusalem and wrote shortly after the death of the High Priest John Hyrcanus I (134-104 B.C.). Thus, the writer may have had some firsthand information of the events.

    As mentioned, this book is profitable to us for a number of reasons. To give one example: from First Maccabees we know that there was a canon of Scripture which existed at this time. It was made up of the Law and the Prophets. While copies of these sacred writings were taken from the temple archives and destroyed during this difficult time in Jewish history, other copies, which existed, were used to replace them. They were also placed in the temple archives as the previous copies had been. Thus, First Maccabees is extremely helpful in tracing the history of Old Testament Scripture.

  12. Second Maccabees

    The author of Second Maccabees is not known. Neither is the time of its composition; though it is usually assumed to have been written around 75 B.C. Although the work is entitled, “Second Maccabees,” it is not a sequel to First Maccabees. In fact, it covers the same basic time period as parts of First Maccabees; 180-161 B.C. This parallels the events described in First Maccabees 1:10-7:50.

    Second Maccabees, however, gives a somewhat different account of the events. It is more of a theological interpretation of Jewish history. Indeed, Second Maccabees is not as historically accurate as First Maccabees. It has several chronological errors and also contains a number of contradictions as well as some fanciful and legendary material. The interest of the writer of 2 Maccabees was more religious than historical.

    The writer tells us that his work is a condensed version of a five-volume work by someone named Jason the Cyrene. He wrote:

    All this, which has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes, we shall attempt to condense into a single book. (2 Maccabees 2:23 NRSV)

    Nothing exists of this five volume work.

    Second Maccabees can be divided into three basic parts: the first part, chapters one and two, consists of two letters from the Jews of Jerusalem to the Jews of Egypt. The second part, chapter 3-10:9, deals with events relating to the Temple, priesthood, and the Syrian persecution of the Jews from 176-164 B.C. The final section, chapter 10:10-15:39, relates the successful military campaign of Judas Maccabaeus and the defeat of Nicanor. As mentioned, much of this material is unhistorical.

    Roman Catholic doctrines such as purgatory, prayers for the dead, and the intercessory work of glorified “saints” finds support in Second Maccabees.

There Are Three Other Books from the Septuagint Plus

Apart from these writings, there are three other books from the Septuagint plus that are not part of the Old Testament Apocrypha ? First and Second Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh.

First Esdras (Third Esdras)

Roman Catholics know this work as Third Esdras. It compiles historical material from various parts of the Old Testament as well as adding some other material that is not from Scripture. The additional material contains historical errors. The Roman Catholic Church does not consider this book authoritative. However, it is accepted as Scripture by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church as well as some other ancient Christian communities.

Second Esdras (Fourth Esdras or Fourth Ezra)

Roman Catholics know this work as Fourth Esdras or Fourth Ezra in their Bible translations. It also has this title in the Latin Vulgate. In this work, the scribe Ezra, in a series of visions, mourns the predicament of Israel and looks forward to the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel to its former glory. It also contains an account of Ezra restoring the sacred Scripture which had been destroyed. Although this work is considered part of the Septuagint plus, it did not find its way into copies of the Septuagint. The church Father Tertullian accepted this book as authentic.

Second Esdras is thought to have been written after the time of Christ. Indeed, it is thought that parts of 2nd Esdras are possibly Christian and Latin in their origin.

The Prayer of Manasseh

This is a short psalm of repentance. It is supposed to represent Manasseh’s prayer for mercy after he acknowledged his sin against the Lord. Manasseh’s repentance is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:13-16. However, there is no historical basis for believing this was the actual prayer of Manasseh. While the Roman Catholic Church does not accept this book as part of the Old Testament, the Greek Orthodox Church does.

Observations on the Old Testament Apocryphal Books

There are a number of observations that we can make about the content of these fifteen apocryphal writings. They are as follows:

  1. First Esdras Is Similar in Content to Existing Old Testament Books

    We find that one of these books, First Esdras, is similar in content to books found in the Old Testament. It basically retells the stories found in three Old Testament books; the Book of Ezra, Nehemiah 7:6-8:12, and Second Chronicles 35:1-36:23. It also adds other material that is found nowhere in the Old Testament.

  2. Writings Add New Content to Existing Old Testament Books

    Other writings of the Old Testament Apocrypha add new information to existing Old Testament books. There are a number of additions made to the Book of Esther as well as additions made to the Book of Daniel. There are also two books associated with the prophet Jeremiah; the Letter of Jeremiah and Baruch. Sometimes these writings are added to the Book of Jeremiah instead of standing alone.

    Thus, each of these writings attempts to add content to existing Old Testament books. The prayer of Manasseh is added to explain the repentance of Manasseh as recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.

  3. There Are Two Wisdom Books in the Old Testament Apocrypha

    Two of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha, are what is known as “wisdom literature.” Old Testament wisdom literature would include such works as Psalms and Proverbs. Instead of adding content to actual Old Testament stories, these two works attempt to teach the proper use of wisdom.

    The Wisdom of Solomon is attributed to the biblical character Solomon while Ecclesiasticus was written by a Jewish teacher named Jesus, Son of Sirach.

  4. Two Books Center Around Unknown Characters

    While many of the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are connected with actual Old Testament characters and real events, two of the writings concern two unknown characters; Judith and Tobit. Their stories are set in Old Testament times, but they themselves are nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament. As mentioned, there is no historical basis for these stories.

  5. Two Books Deal with Material Between the Testaments

    There are two writings contained in the Old Testament Apocrypha that deal with the time of the Maccabees, or events that occurred between the testaments. These are the two books of the Maccabees. First Maccabees gives a more historical understanding of this period, while Second Maccabees provides a more theological or spiritual understanding. First Maccabees, in particular, is helpful in filling in important information about this period.

  6. Second Esdras Is an Apocalypse: Similar to the Book of Revelation

    Second Esdras, though supposedly written by Ezra, was actually composed to respond to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. It speaks of God’s judgment on sin. It is similar to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.

This briefly sums up the apocryphal books as well as their contents.

Summary - Question 2
What Are the Contents of the Various Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha?

The Roman Catholic Church adds a number of writings to the existing Old Testament of the Jews and Protestants. The contents of these writings vary from book to book. Some contain credible history while others are fanciful and unhistorical. Many of the books contain historical and geographical errors. Some of them were originally written in Greek and not Hebrew. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of these were written under divine inspiration.

The content of these books can be divided into six different categories. One book, First Esdras, merely retells Old Testament events. It adds nothing to our knowledge.

A number of books, such as additions to Esther, Bel and the Dragon, Susanna, the prayer of Azariah, the prayer of Manasseh, Baruch, and the Letter of Jeremiah, add content to existing Old Testament books.

Two wisdom books, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus are stand-alone writings that are similar to the wisdom literature found in the Old Testament.

Judith and Tobit are books set in Old Testament times but are unknown characters as far as the Scriptures are concerned. They purport to record heroic stories during difficult periods of the history of the nation.

The two books of the Maccabees are set in the period between the testaments; they do not deal with persons or events recorded in Scripture. These writings add to our knowledge of the time after the Old Testament was completed, but they are not historical.

Finally, Second Esdras was written as an apocalyptic book, similar to the Book of Revelation.

As previously stated, there is no reason whatsoever to add any of these writings to the existing Old Testament Scripture.

What Is the Old Testament Apocrypha? ← Prior Section
What Is the History of the Old Testament Apocrypha? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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