Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


Additional Links

APOCRYPHA . The term ‘Apocrypha’ is applied to a body of literature that has come down to us in close connexion with the canonical books of the Bible, and yet is not of them. This term (Gr. apokryphos , ‘hidden’) seems to have been used to specify certain documents or writings that were purposely hidden from general public contact, either because of their supposed sacredness, or to retain within the precincts of a certain sect their secret wisdom and knowledge. The name was given either by those who hid the books or by those from whom they were hidden.

All such books bore, as their alleged authors, the names of notable men in Hebrew history. These names were not sufficient of themselves to carry the books over into the canonical collection of the Bible. The term applied to them as ‘apocryphal,’ that is, withheld from public gaze and use, was at first rather complimentary to their character. But their rejection by the Jewish Palestinian body of worshippers, as well as by the larger proportion of the early Church, gradually stamped the name ‘apocryphal’ as a term of reproach, indicating inferiority in content and a spurious authorship. Henceforth such books lost their early sacredness, and became embodied in a collection that remained entirely outside the Hebrew Bible, though in general found in the Septuagint and the Vulgate.

The word ‘Apocrypha,’ as used by Protestant Christians, signifies the books found in the Latin Vulgate as over and above those of the Hebrew OT. Jerome incorporated in his revision and translation, in the main as he found them in the Old Latin Version, certain books not found in the Hebrew canonical writings. These books had been carried over into the Old Latin from the Septuagint.

The real external differences, then, between the Protestant and Rom. Cath. Bibles to-day are to be traced to the different ideas of the Canon on the part of the Jews of Palestine, where the Hebrew Bible was on its native soil, and on the part of the Jews of Alexandria who translated that same Hebrew Bible into Greek. With this translation, and other books later called the Apocrypha, they constructed a Greek Bible now called the Septuagint (the Seventy).

In the transfer of the works from the Septuagint to the Old Latin and to the Vulgate, there is some confusion both as to their names and their order.

These so-called Apocryphal books may be roughly classified as follows:

1. Historical : First and Second Maccabees, and First Esdras [Third Esdras in Vulgate].

2. Legendary : Additions to Esther, History of Susanna, Song of the Three Holy Children, Bel and the Dragon, Tobit, Judith.

3. Prophetical : Baruch (ch. 6 being the ‘Epistle of Jeremy’), Prayer of Manasses.

4. Apocalyptical : Second Esdras [Fourth Esdras in Vulgate].

5. Didactic : Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon.

In some classifications Third and Fourth Maccabees are included.

Most of these books are found in their original form in Greek, with the exceptions noted below, and not in the Hebrew; therefore the Jewish religious leaders did not regard them as inspired. Furthermore, some of their writers ( 1Ma 4:46; 1Ma 9:27 , 2Ma 2:23 ) disclaim inspiration as the Jews understood it. The NT writers do not quote these books, nor do they definitely refer to them. Their existence in the Greek Bible of the times of Christ does not seem to have given them any prestige for the Jewish authorities of that day. The Church Fathers made some use of them, by quotation and allusion, but were not so emphatic in their favour as to secure their incorporation in the regular canonical books of the Bible.

Jerome, in his revision of the Old Latin Bible, found the Apocryphal books therein, as carried over from the Septuagint; but in his translation of the OT he was careful not to include in the OT proper any hooks not found in the Hebrew Canon. In fact, he regarded his time as too valuable to be spent in revising or translating these uninspired books.

It was not until the Council of Trent, April 15, 1546, that the Roman Catholic Church publicly set its seal of authority on eleven of the fourteen or sixteen (including 3 and 4 Mac.) Apocryphal books. This Council names as canonical the following hooks and parts of books: First and Second Maccabees, Additions to Esther, History of Susanna, Song of the Three Holy Children, Bel and the Dragon, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, and Wisdom of Solomon; omitting from the above list the Prayer of Manasses, First and Second Esdras [Vulgate Third and Fourth Esdras].

The Council of Trent settled the Canon of Scripture for the Roman Catholic Church, and decreed an anathema against any one who did not agree with its statement. Even before the meeting of that famous Council, Coverdale, in 1535, had introduced the Apocrypha into the English Bible edited by himself. It was published in the first edition of the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] in 1611, but began to be left out as early as 1629. It was inserted between the OT and NT. As a result of a controversy in 1826, it was excluded from all the Bibles published by the British and Foreign Bible Society.

In our discussion of the character and contents of these books, we must keep in mind the fact that the word ‘Apocrypha’ is used in the Protestant sense as inclusive of the fourteen books given in the RV [Note: Revised Version.] of 1895, eleven of which are regarded as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church.

The general character and the contents of these books are as follows:

1. First Maccabees . This is a historical work of rare value on the Jewish war of independence against the encroachments and invasions of Antiochus Epiphanes (b.c. 168 164). Its author is unknown, though thought to have been a Jew of Palestine, who wrote between b.c. 105 and 64. The book is known in a Greek original, though it was translated, according to Jerome, from a Hebrew original that was current in his day (end of 4th cent.).

2. Second Maccabees is an abridgment of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene ( 2Ma 2:23 ). It is prefaced by two letters said to have been sent from the Jews of Jerusalem to the Jews of Egypt. This book deals with the history of the Jews from the reign of Seleucus IV. (b.c. 175) to the death of Nicanor (b.c. 161). The multiplication of the marvellous and miraculous in the narrative discounts the value of the material as a source of historical data. The book was written somewhere between b.c. 125 and the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. It is extant in Greek.

3. First Esdras (Third in the Vulgate) is the canonical book of Ezra in Greek, which in reconstructed form tells the story of the decline and fall of the kingdom of Judah from the time of Josiah. It recites the overthrow of Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile, the return under Zerubbabel, and Ezra’s part in the reorganization of the Jewish State. Josephus refers to the legend regarding the three courtiers contained in this book. Its author is unknown. The Council of Trent placed it in an appendix to the NT as Third Esdras, and not among their regular canonical books.

4. Additions to Esther . The canonical Esther concludes with Esther 10:3; this chapter is filled out by the addition of seven verses, and the book concludes with six additional chapters (11 16). The regular text of the book is occasionally interpolated and amplified by some writer or writers, to give the story a fuller narrative and make the telling of it more effective. These additions sometimes contradict the Hebrew, and add nothing new of any value. This editorial work is thought to have been done by an Egyptian Jew somewhere in the reign of Ptolemy Philometor (b.c. 181 145).

5. The History of Susanna is an account of Daniel’s discovery of a malicious slander against the good woman Susanna. The story is prefixed to the book of Daniel. It is found in the Greek, and was prepared by an unknown author at an unknown date.

6. The Song of the Three Holy Children is found inserted between Daniel 3:23 and Daniel 3:24 . Its author and date are unknown.

7. The Story of Bel and the Dragon follows Daniel 12:1-13 . It is a proof by Daniel that the priests of Bel and their families ate the food set before the idol. Daniel slays the dragon, and is a second time thrown into the lions’ den. The origin of this story is unknown, though it is by some attributed to Habakkuk. The three preceding stories are found in the Septuagint of Daniel, and a MS of No. 6 has recently been found.

8. Tobit is a romantic story of the time of Israel’s captivity. Tobit is a pious son of Naphtali who becomes blind. He sends his son Tobias to Rages in Media to collect a debt. An angel leads him to Ecbatana, where he romantically marries a widow who was still a virgin though she had had seven husbands. Each of the seven had been slain on their wedding-day by Asmodæus, the evil spirit. On the inspiration of the angel, Tobias marries the widow, and, by burning the inner parts of a fish, puts the spirit to flight by the offensive smoke. The blindness of Tobit is healed by using the gall of the fish, the burning of whose entrails had saved the life of Tobias. The book is found in an Aramaic version, three Greek, and three Old Latin versions, and also in two Hebrew texts. Its date is uncertain, though it doubtless appeared before the 1st cent. b.c.

9. Judith is a thrilling tale of how Judith, a Jewish widow, secured the confidence of Holofernes, an Assyrian commander who was besieging Bethulia. Stealthily in the night time she approached him in his tent, already overcome with heavy drinking, took his own scimitar and cut off his head, and fled with it to the besieged city. This valorous act saved the distressed Israelites. The story bristles with absurdities in names, dates, and geographical material. It seems to have imitated in one respect Jael’s murder of Sisera ( Judges 4:17-22 ). It may have been written some time about b.c. 100, so long after the life of Nebuchadrezzar as to have made him king of Nineveh, instead of Babylon. The original text is Greek.

10. Baruch . This is a pseudepigraphical book attributed to Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah. Its purpose seems to have been (1) to quiet the souls of the Jews in exile by telling them that they would soon return to their native land; and (2) to admonish them to flee the idolatry that was everywhere prevalent in Babylonia. Bar 6:1-73 is called the ‘ Epistle of Jeremy ,’ and is nominally a letter of that prophet, warning the exiles against worshipping idols. This book is thought to have originated sometime about b.c. 320. Its original language is Greek, though there is reason for believing that Sir 1:1 to Sir 3:8 was first written in Hebrew.

11. Prayer of Manasses , king of Judah, when he was a captive of Ashurbanipal in the city of Babylon ( 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 ). It probably originated in some of the legends current regarding this notable king, and may have been intended for insertion in the narrative of 2 Chronicles 33:13 . Its original is Greek. It is not a part of the Vulgate adopted at the Council of Trent, but is in the appendix thereof.

12. Second Esdras [Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] Fourth Esdras. If First Esdras is the reconstructed Ezra, and the canonical Ezra and Nehemiah are taken as one book, then this is Third Esdras (as in the Septuagint). If Ezra and Nehemiah are left out of account, this book is Second Esdras (as in the Apocrypha of RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). If, as in the Vulgate, Ezra is reckoned as First Esdras, and Nehemiah as Second Esdras, and the reconstructed Ezra as Third Esdras, then this book is Fourth Esdras]. This work is a peculiar combination of matter. It is not history at all, but rather a religious document imitative of the Hebrew prophets, and apocalyptic in character. Its Greek original, if it had one, has been lost, and the work is extant in Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Armenian. It is attributed to at least two different dates, the 2nd and 3rd cents. a.d. The character of the matter shows that some Christian interpolated the original to give it a Christian colouring. This matter does not appear, however, in the Arabic and Ethiopic texts. It stands in the appendix to the NT of the Vulgate.

13 . Ecclesiasticus, or, The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach . This is one of the most valuable of the Apocryphal books. It resembles the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job in its ethical characteristics. It was written by a Jew called Jesus, son of Sirach, probably early in the 3rd cent., though the Greek translation was issued about b.c. 132. The book was originally written in Hebrew, and in this language about one half of it has recently been discovered in Egypt and published. It is one of the works that give us a vivid idea of the Wisdom literature produced in the centuries preceding the Christian era.

14. Wisdom of Solomon lauds wisdom and a righteous life, but condemns idolatry and wickedness. The author employs, in the main, illustrations from the Pentateuch. He purports to be Solomon, and makes just such claims as one would imagine Solomon would have done if he had been the author. He is thought to have lived anywhere between b.c. 150 and b.c. 50, and to have been a Jew of Alexandria. The book possesses some valuable literary features, though in its present form it seems to be incomplete. Its original text was Greek.

If we should include Third and Fourth Maccabees in this list, as is done by some writers (but not by the Vulgate), we find these peculiarities:

15. Third Maccabees describes an attempt to massacre the Jews in the reign of Ptolemy Philopator (b.c. 222 205), and a notable deliverance from death. The work is extant in Greek (in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ), but not in the Vulgate.

16. Fourth Maccabees is a discussion of the conquest of matter by the mind illustratively, by the use of the story of the martyrdom of the seven Maccabees, their mother and Eleazar. The work is found in the Alexandrian MS of the Septuagint, and in Syriac.

In addition to these Apocryphal books, but not included either in the Septuagint, the Vulgate, or the RV [Note: Revised Version.] , there is an ever-increasing list of works that scholars have chosen to call pseudepigrapha . These were written at various periods, but mainly just before, during, and just after the times of Christ. Many of them deal with the doctrinal discussions of their day, and present revelations to the author under strange and even weird conditions. These writers attached to their books as a rule the name of some famous personage, not by way of deception, but to court favour for the views set forth. It would carry us too far afield to take up these works one by one. Merely the titles of some of them can be mentioned. As a piece of lyrical work the Psalms of Solomon is the best example in this group. Of apocalyptical and prophetical works, there are the Book of Enoch , quoted in Jude, the Assumption of Moses , the Apocalypse of Baruch , the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs . Legendary works are the Book of Jubilees and the Ascension of Isaiah . One of the curious cases of mixed material is that of the Sibylline Oracles , See Apocalyptic Literature.

To these might be added scores of lesser lights that appeared in that period of theological and doctrinal unrest, many of which are now published, and others are being discovered in some out-of-the-way place almost yearly. Their value lies in the revelations that they give us of the methods adopted and the doctrines promulgated in the early centuries of the Christian era, by means of such works.

Ira Maurice Price.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Apocrypha'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse: