The word "apocrypha" means "hidden" or "concealed," and it is used by various people to mean various things. There are those who refer to all extra-biblical-writings-that-have-some-pretence-to-being-biblical as apocryphal. Some even refer to a New Testament apocrypha which would contain such books as the Gospel of Thomas and the Infancy Gospels. Many refer to most of these extra-biblical books as the pseudepigrapha, which means false writing. I am beginning to believe that it would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list of the pseudepigrapha, although I have a list here. The further one gets from the accepted canon of scripture the more variation there is. The line defining what is and is not scripture is far from being a vague line, the books of the Apocrypha are the only place where there is much disagreement as to the Old Testament Canon.

If you find a Bible that contains the Apocrypha in a separate section, it will likely consist of some or all of the 15 books in the following table. A Bible that is of Roman Catholic or Orthodox origin will have these books spread throughout the Old Testament. These books are Jewish literature most written during the intertestamental period, the time between the closing of the Old Testament Canon and the arrival of Jesus. Some of them are history like the Maccabees. Some are commentaries on the Old Testament, like Sirach and some are said to be prophetic. While some or most of the material was originally written in Hebrew most of the extant copies of these Apocryphal books are in Greek with the exception of II Esdras for which the oldest copies extant today are in Latin. This book is not to be confused with II Esdras in the Septuagint which we call the book of Ezra in English. Some of the Apocryphal books are in Aramaic. Portions of some of the apocryphal books were found in Hebrew among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the West the argument over the canonicity of these books is usually cast as an argument between the Protestant Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Many say that the Puritans were the ones that insisted that these book be removed from the King James Bible. But the controversy is actually older than the reformation or the Puritans as Jerome (ca 340-420) is credited for coining the term apocrypha to refer to some of these writings. The story goes that when he was preparing the Vulgate, a new Latin translation, he noticed that the Jews had a different collection of scriptures. He was schooled in Hebrew and made his initial translation from the Hebrew text of the Jews rather than the traditional Greek. Some claim that he was forced by the Pope to include the apocrypha. (He actually would never have gotten to these book working from the Hebrew.) Whether this story is true or not, the discussion is really wider than these books as can be seen from my other canons page.

The writings that make up the Apocrypha were preserved primarily in Christian circles and are part of the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament.) We have more and perhaps better texts today than Jerome had but the problem of these books is still the same: They are not in the Hebrew text preserved by the Jews. In the preface to the New American Bible, a Roman Catholic translation, we find a discussion of the underlying texts used in its preparation. On the Apocryphal books we read:

...Fragments of the lost Book of Tobit in Aramaic and in Hebrew, recovered from Cave 4 of Qumran, are in substantial agreement with the Sinaiticus Greek recension [a fourth century Christian manuscript of a Greek Bible] used for the translation of this book. The lost original Hebrew text of 1 Maccabees is replaced by its oldest extant form in Greek. Judith, 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther are also translated from the Greek. ...

 

The translation of Sirach, based on the original Hebrew as far as it is preserved and corrected from the ancient versions, is often interpreted in the light of the traditional Greek text. In the Book of Baruch the basic text is the Greek of the Septuagint, with some readings derived from an underlying Hebrew form no longer extant. In the deuterocanonical sections of Daniel (3:24-91, chapter 13 and chapter 14 ...), the basic text is the Greek text of Theodotion, occasionally revised according to the Greek text of the Septuagint. (Preface to the New American Bible)

In this quotation I have added links to other parts of this site to help explain the various Greek versions cited. In the Dead Sea scrolls, we find fragments of three deuterocanical books. Sirach, whose Hebrew text was already known from the Cairo Geniza, has been found in two scrolls (2QSir or 2Q18, 11QPs_a or 11Q5) in Hebrew. Another Hebrew scroll of Sirach has been found in Masada (MasSir). The Book of Tobit has been found in Qumran in four scrolls written in Aramaic and in one written in Hebrew. The Letter of Jeremiah (or Baruch chapter 6) has been found in cave 7 (7Q5) in Greek. (Wikipedia 6/10/06)

Still the fact remains that these books are not in the Jewish scriptures. This, even though the historical story that surrounds Chanukah is found in I & II Maccabees. (The Miricle of Chanukah is only found in the Talmud.) But, these books are part of a long tradition in Christian circles both East and West.

In the table the books that are called Deutercanonical by Rome are first and the others commonly included in the Old Testament apocrypha follow. Deutercanon really means second canon or perhaps added to the canon. These books were added to or affirmed to be in the canon, depending on your persuasion, at the Council of Trent (1545-1547) around the time of the reformation. These books are part of the traditional Greek text of the Eastern Church, so they have a long traditionin Christian circles.

 

Deuterocanonicals
(Considered inspired and confirmed or adopted into the canon by the Roman Church at the Council of Trent in 1546)
Tobit  c. 200 B.C.
Judith  c. 150 A.D.
Additions to Esther
(Because these are more than additions, the flow of the book has been rearranged, many Bibles that include the Apocrypha as a separate unit present the entire Greek version of Esther.)
 c. 130 B.C.
Wisdom of Solomon (or Wisdom)  30 B.C.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)  32 B.C.
Baruch  c. 100 A.D.
Letter of Jeremiah (sometimes attached to Baruch as chapter 6)  c. 200 B.C.
I Maccabees   c. 110 B.C.
II Maccabees  c. 100 B.C.
Additions to Daniel (This material is included in the place indicated in the Roman Catholic Old Testament and others that follow the Septuagint)
  Song of the Three  (follows Daniel 3.23)  c. 100. B.C.
  Daniel and Suzanna (Daniel 13)  c. 100 B.C.
  Bel & the Dragon (Daniel 14)  c. 100 B.C.
Some Additional Books
(These books are included in the Apocrypha as printed in many Bibles that include the Apocrypha in a separate section. In modern publications of the Vulgate they are often included as an Appendix.)
I Esdras (III Ezra)  c. 150 B.C.
II Esdras (IV Ezra)  c. 100 A.D.
Prayer of Manasseh  c. 150 B.C.
More Additional Books
(These books appear in some versions of the Septuagint and are often found in Orthodox circles.)
III Maccabees c. 100 BC
IV Maccabees c. 100-200 AD
Most dating from Robert J. Sargent  http://watch.pair.com/apocrypha.html 10/2/06  

 

So what about these books? Here are a few observations:

  • The Jews do not accept them as part of their Scriptures.
  • Melito of Sardis (110-190) does not list either the Apocrypha or the book of Esther in his canon which is probably the earliest canon list we have that is of Christian origin.
  • They are not in many versions of the Peshitta, the Syriac Bible (ca 200)
  • Protestants do not accept them as Scripture, although some ascribe value to them.
    • In the Anglican Articles of Religion we find: "... the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine..." (Book of Common Prayer)
    • In Luther's German Bible of 1534 they are in a separate section at end of the Old Testament
    • They are also in a separate section in:
      • Coverdale's English Bible
      • the Bishop's Bible
      • King James Bible of 1611 a.d.
    • Puritans rejected them - demanded they be dropped from King James Bible as early as 1629 a.d.
  • The Roman Catholic Church accepts the Deutercanonical books.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church has no firm Old Testament cannon but generally accepts the Septuagint as its Old Testament which does not contain the book called II Esdras in the above list. Additionally there are III and IV Maccabees that are sometimes included.
  • Some parts of Oriental Orthodoxy accept them along with additional books not mentioned on this page (see the Other Canons page).
  • Citations from many of these books are found in the writings of the Church Fathers.

 Some more words on what is in these books can be found here.