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

Don Stewart

The Old Testament Apocrypha consists of eleven or twelve books, depending upon how they are divided, that make up part of the Old Testament Scripture according to the Roman Catholic Church. The contents of these books are as follows.

The Book Of Tobit

The Book of Tobit tells the story about a man named Tobit. He rose to prominence in the Assyrian government after the Assyrians had taken the northern kingdom of Israel captive. Though Tobit eventually lost his position and became poor he still continued to live a righteous life before God. To add to his problems Tobit became blinded by an accident.

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). Later in the story Tobias found a cure for his father's blindness.

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.

The Book Of Judith

This story has its setting during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Judith is the story of Jewish woman who saves her people by killing an enemy leader. There does not seem to be any historical basis for this account. The book contains a number of historical and chronological errors. Judith begins with historical errors.

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).

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

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 because the Bible never gives any justification for someone telling a lie. Yet the entire success of Judith is based upon her untruths. This is not consistent with the rest of the teaching of Scripture.

The Additions To Esther

The biblical story of Esther is given a number of additions. The stories seem to have been written to be included with Esther. These were probably written in Greek instead of Hebrew. This 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.

The Wisdom Of Solomon

This work was probably written about 100 B.C. The author is not the famous King Solomon as the title suggests. 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.

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).

The Book Ecclesiasticus (Sirach, The Wisdom Of Jesus The Son Of Sirach)

This work was also called "Sirach" or "The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach." While it is usually dated about 180 B.C. it could have been written a century 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.

The author was a scribe 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 Wisdom 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)).

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

Baruch

This book was written as a series of addresses to the Jews exiled in Babylon. The author is supposedly the same Baruch who was Jeremiah's scribe. But there is no evidence for this whatsoever. Sometimes the letter of Jeremiah is added to Baruch.

The Letter Of Jeremiah

This work consists of one chapter that is sometimes added to the Book of Baruch (as Baruch chapter six). 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. The work is basically an attack upon idolatry.

A copy of the Letter of Jeremiah has been found in cave seven among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This suggests that the original language of the letter was not Hebrew but rather Greek. Since Jeremiah would not have written in Greek this is further evidence that this work did not come from the biblical prophet.

The Prayer Of Azariah And The Song Of The Three Young Men

These are two separate works. Azariah's prayer is an acknowledgment that the Babylonians captivity was God's divine justice against Israel.

The Song of the Three Young Men is allegedly the song that the three Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, sang after their deliverance from Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace.

Susanna

This account 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. This story has no historical basis whatsoever.

In addition, 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.

Bel And The Dragon

This work consists of two stories that ridicule idolatry and show how the gods of Babylon are without power.

The first story describes the Babylonian god called Bel and how Daniel showed the king that Bel was just an idol without any real existence. The king told Daniel that Bel was real because he ate the food that the priests left for him each night. 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).

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).

These stories are without any historical basis.

First Maccabees

This work was written to give a spiritual history of the nation during the time of the Maccabees. This would have been similar to the intent of the Book of First and Second Chronicles which relates the spiritual history during the time of the kings of Israel. Some of the parts of First Maccabees are genuinely historical and are extremely helpful in understanding the history of that period.

Second Maccabees

Second Maccabees is not as historically accurate as First Maccabees. It has several chronological errors and also contains a number of contradictions. It covers the same historical period as First Maccabees.

There Are Three Other Books From The Septuagint Plus

There are three other books from the Septuagint plus that are not part of the Apocrypha - First, 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. Its contents include the Ezra legend - which limits the Old Testament Scripture to twenty-four books. The Roman Catholic Church does not consider this book authoritative.

Second Esdras (Fourth Esdras)

Roman Catholics know this work as Fourth Esdras In this work, the scribe Ezra, in a series of visions, mourns the predicament of Israel and looks forward to coming of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel to its former glory.

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.

Summary

The contents of the Old Testament Apocrypha 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.

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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