Thursday, June 26, 2008

July Quick Guide: Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Literature (Part 1)

Tobit, Judith, Esther (Greek), The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch,
The Letter of Jeremiah, Azariah and the Three Jews, Susanna

These books did not make the canon of the Protestant Bible, but they are found in the sacred canons of other Christian traditions. These are the writings of Jewish people between the third century BCE and the first century CE. Many of these texts were written in Greek, some in Aramaic or Hebrew. Many respond to the Hellenization of the region since the conquest of Alexander the Great. While some of the writings incorporate Greek thought, much of it resists Hellenization and prizes faithful Jewish resistance.

The apocrypha includes some fun stories in the genre of historical romances:

Tobit is a found in the Roman Catholic canon. It is a fictional story that praises faithfulness and courage. Tobit gives us the concept of the guardian angel and provides a reason why young men may be frightened to death on their wedding night.

Judith is fiction in the form of history. Lest anyone doubt that women should be in combat, here is a how a brave, faithful, woman gets ahead.

In the Greek version of the Book of Daniel are three more stories not found in the Hebrew text. They are Azariah and the The Three Jews, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.

1) The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews is what the three men pray to the Lord when they were tossed into the fiery furnace.

2) Susanna is the story of a woman who is wrongly accused. Thankfully Daniel comes to her rescue--just like Matlock.

3) Bel and the Dragon tells the story of how Daniel outwits the religious phonies, kills a dragon, and survives six days in a lion’s den.

The Greek version of Esther is the same story as the canonical Esther with some additions. These additions are pious, in that they contain explicit references to God not found in the Hebrew text.

In addition to fun stories, the Apocrypha contains wisdom literature:

The Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach is skillful literature. It is a blending of Greek and Hebrew thought. These two works as well as 2 Maccabbees 6-7 had a great influence on the theology of the early Christian church, including the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

Baruch, named for the scribe of Jeremiah is really a praise for Wisdom and for Israel: “The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command.”

The Letter of Jeremiah was supposedly written by Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon. It is really a scathing attack on non-Jews: “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber bed, which guards nothing, so are their gods of wood, overlaid with gold and silver.”

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