Friday, October 23, 2015

The Hidden, Concealed Books of the Bible 1913

The Hidden, Concealed Books of the Bible, article in the Methodist Review 1913

See also Over 100 Lost, Hidden, & Strange Books of the Bible on DVDROM (Gnostics, Gospels), and Over 180 Forbidden & Lost Books of the Bible on CDROM

There can be no doubt that the collection of Jewish books known as the Apocrypha has been too much neglected during the past fifty years, and nowhere more so than in the churches of the United States. This arises largely from the fact that these books have not been in circulation to any great extent since the middle of the nineteenth century.

The earliest versions of the English Bible, beginning with that of Coverdale, almost without exception, had the apocryphal books placed usually between the Old Testament and the New. This continued till the appearance of the Authorized Version, in 1611, but from 1629 editions of this version without the Apocrypha were frequently published. Many of the lessons read in the services of the Church of England are taken from the apocryphal books.

Little by little the collection became less and less favored, especially in the nonconformist churches of English-speaking countries, so that a copy of the Bible including the Apocrypha was a rarity. This accounts very largely for the dense ignorance of many Christians regarding these old Jewish writings.

It is a matter of interest to know that a society for the study of the Apocrypha has been organized recently in England. Being international in character, its membership is composed of very many distinguished biblical scholars in Europe and America. In the list of officers and council we find a long array of university professors and church dignitaries. Such a society cannot but give added zest to the study of this branch of Jewish literature, which forms, as It were, the connecting link between Judaism and Christianity. It would be too much to say that a symmetrical conception of Jewish faith in its relation to Christianity cannot be gained without some knowledge of the Apocrypha, but no one will deny the advantage which may be derived from the study of these uncanonical books.

The word Apocrypha Is from the Greek word for "hidden", or "concealed." The exact reason for such a designation is not clear. It may be that the books were at one time literally hidden and kept concealed from the people at large and open only to the select few. Such a proceeding was common to many religions. Indeed, we know from Josephus and Phllo that the Essenes and the Therapeutae and other Jewish sects had their hidden books containing esoteric doctrines known only to Initiates. Judaism in the main was very free from occult priestly rites and doctrines; at the same time It did not fully "escape from the charm which mystery exerts over the human mind." This accounts for the large number of apocalyptic Hebrew writings. Whatever may have been the original signification of the term, it gradually acquired the meaning to many people of spurious, or forged; unfit for reading in the public congregation.

The collection, as we shall see farther on, is not exactly the same in the many versions, but the title is applied by Americans to the following uncanonical books. The list is that given In the Revised Version (1905):

1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah, The Song of the Three Holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees.

Several of the above were written in Hebrew, or rather Aramaic. This may be true of portions of Baruch, Judith, and 1 Maccabees. Quite a fragment of Ecclesiasticus in the original Aramaic has been lately found and published by Cowley and Neubauer. The larger portion, however, was In the Greek language, perhaps by the Hellenistic Jews of Alexandria. There are portions, like 2 Esdras, where no Greek original has been discovered.

The age of the Apocrypha is not easily settled. It will be safe to conclude that It was written between the time of Ezra and the beginning of our era, and yet there are passages In some of the books which, could not have been written till after the destruction of Jerusalem, A. D. 72. These, however, may be simple Interpolations. It is characteristic of these books that they are, with one or two exceptions, anonymous. This fact adds to the difficulty of the question of age.

The Apocryphal books differ greatly in style, content, and value. Some—like Tobit and Bel and the Dragon—are pure Inventions, with little or no historical basis. The Son of Sirach. wrote with keen intellectuality, representing not only the thought of his own time, but also of the past ages. This book, as well as Baruch, as Churton observes, "might have been produced in times of comparative peace and prosperity, before the faith of the nation was tried by the persecution of the heathen." Not so the first book of Maccabees and the Wisdom of Solomon; they display less rationalism and more dependence upon the power of Jehovah to save. While persecuted and dismayed, the eye of faith pierces the clouds and is made to catch a glimpse of immortality and the resurrection of the body. "The author of Wisdom describes the state of the soul after death in language derived from the Psalms and Isaiah, and his faith In the ressurrection may be Inferred from his expression in chapter 16. 13, 14. . . . The doctrine of the prophet Daniel concerning the awakening of those who sleep in the dust is more clearly realized in the books of Maccabees, where the mother and her devoted sons are put to death with the confesslon of the resurrection on their lips." Future rewards and punishments are clearly taught. So, too, the efficacy of prayer and masses for the dead.

None of these books ever appeared with the canonical books of the Hebrew Scriptures. There is, thus; no doubt that so far as the Jewish church was concerned, they were regarded as uninspired. Indeed, some of the books confess their inferiority and disclaim inspiration. (See 1 Macc. 4. 46. 2. Macc. 15. 38.) There can be no reasonable doubt that our Saviour was acquainted with these apocryphal books, but there is no evidence in the Gospels that he ever referred to them. The same is true of the apostles, notwithstanding the fact that they were acquainted with the Septuagint version, which included the apocryphal books. The fact that they were not cited by Christ and the apostles is no conclusive evidence against their canonicity, for the same argument would exclude Ecclesiastes, Ezra, Nehemiah, as well as Esther and the Song of Songs.

When, however, the Septuagint translation was given the world, these books, without note or comment, or without any apparent distinction as to their value, were interspersed among the canonical books of the Old Testament. Now, the Greek translation was made in Egypt and intended for the Jews scattered abroad. Very naturally, the Jews residing in foreign lands did not adhere so rigidly to the traditions of the fathers as did their brethren in Palestine. It has been suggested that there were two canons, one by the Jews of Palestine and another by the Jews of Alexandria. If that were true, the insertion of the Apocrypha in the Septuagint would not be hard to explain. But there is no proof of such a supposition. There is not a passage in the New Testament, In Josephus, Philo, or any other Jewish authority, which favors the canonicity or inspiration of any one of the apocryphal books. Nor is there any proof that the Jews in or outside of Palestine paid the same reverence to this collection as they did to the books of the Old Testament.

As already stated, the Apocrypha found their way into the Greek version of the Old Testament, and through the Greek into the Vulgate, and again through these two versions to the other versions of different countries.

Before proceeding farther it would be well to call attention to the lack of uniformity In the number and arrangement of the apocryphal books In the translations into different languages. The following from Churton will make this matter clear: "Of the more modern versions into the various European languages, the earlier ones are based upon the Vulgate; some of the later ones follow the Greek. Some include those books only which were authorized by the Council of Trent; others add the fourth book of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh from the old editions of the Vulgate; or the third book of Maccabees from the Septuagint. In some the books are separated from the canonical books; in others, they occupy their old position, as in the Douay Bible. The old edition of the Vulgate was the basis of the English versions of the Reformation period."

There was no unanimity in the early church as to the exact value and nature of the Apocrypha. The fact, however, that they were included by the Septuagint and Vulgate among the canonical writings gave them a great prestige. Most of the Fathers held them in great estimation, and some went so far as to make them equal to the canonical books. The books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch were more frequently cited than even the books of the New Testament. The writings of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irensus, Tertulllan, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, and others, show a high degree of respect for the Apocrypha. And yet, notwithstanding the fact that the Fathers apparently made no distinction between them and the canonical writings, the earliest canons of Scriptures left us by the early church do not include them with the canonical Scriptures. This is true of the Canon of Melito of Sardis, and also of the list given by Euseblus. And yet some Fathers, like Origen, designate some apocryphal books as "Holy Word," as "inspired and authoritative Scriptures." While held in high esteem by the majority, they were, nevertheless, condemned by not a few as Irreligious; while not read in all churches, like the canonical Scriptures, they were usually recommended for private study. Jerome, a long-time resident of the Holy Land and influenced by the study of the Scriptures in Hebrew, was on the whole unfavorable to the Apocrypha. He had no hesitation in placing them among the uncanonical.

And so down through the middle ages to the Council of Trent there was practically no unanimity concerning the value of the Apocrypha.

At the Council of Trent, In 1546, after a long discussion and no little opposition, the Apocrypha, excepting 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, were pronounced canonical, and of equal value with the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. The list as adopted by this council differed from both the Old Vulgate and the Septuagint; from the former by omitting the third and fourth books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, from the latter by the omission of 3 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh, 3 and 4 Maccabees, as well as minor additions to Job and the Psalms. The arrangement was practically that of Jerome rather than the Septuagint. The Roman Catholic Church still adheres to the position taken by the Council of Trent.

The position of the Greek or Eastern Church is less clear, for It Is an open question whether this church has ever taken a positive stand on the Apocrypha. Indeed, from the fourth century on many of the leading lights in the Eastern church have made a clear-cut distinction between the apocryphal and canonical books. Nevertheless, the Septuagint, and not the Hebrew original, Is its recognized version. As the Septuagint contains the Apocrypha as apparently of the same value as the other books, It would seem natural that the former books should be regarded as inspired writings, and yet while the official Bible of the Greek Church contains some of the apocryphal books, the recognized catechism (from 1839 on), which has official sanction, gives to all books outside of the twenty-second (canonical Old Testament) a subordinate place.

The Protestant churches, though not uniform In their treatment of the Apocrypha, are practically united In placing a much lower value upon them than upon the canonical Scriptures.

Luther's position is not easily defined. To judge from his writings he changed his opinion more than once. Like Melanchthon and Erasmus, he placed, as was proper, much higher value upon some of the books than upon others. It is almost certain that he never regarded any of them as canonical, though he declared some of them more worthy of a place in the canon than the book of Esther. His first translation of the Bible (1534) contained the Apocrypha. The following explanatory note was Inserted: "Apocrypha, that is, books which, although not estimated equal to the Holy Scriptures, are yet useful and good to read." In his arrangement and translation he was influenced more by the Vulgate than the Septuagint. It should be added that his criticisms of first and second Esdras are very unfriendly.

The other Reformed churches, as a rule, are less partial to the Apocrypha. This is especially true of all nonconformists in English-speaking lands. Though the Apocrypha used In former years to be printed either as an appendix at the close of the New Testament, or more usually between the Old Testament and the New, there was always some kind of explanation. For example, in the Zurich Bible (1529-1530) we read: "These are the books which by the ancients were not written or numbered among the biblical books, nor are they found among the Hebrew Scriptures." In the French Bible (1535) the following note, presumably from Calvin's pen, is appended: "The volume of the apocryphal books, contained in the Vulgate translation, which we have not found in Hebrew or Chaldee."

The Synod of Dort (1618-1619), having discussed the Apocrypha at some length, declared that they were human, uninspired books, In many places at variance with the canonical Scriptures. It was also decided that If the apocryphal books should be bound in one volume with the Old and the New Testaments they should be carefully distinguished, both as to type and style of page, and, farther, that they should be placed as a separate appendix at the close of the New Testament and not between the Old and the New, as in most versions.

Though the Church of England has at all times regarded the Apocrypha as worthy of study, and has appointed several portions of the books for lessons to be read in the public services, it defines its position regarding them by saying that they were used for "example of life and instruction of manners, but yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine," There were loud protests against reading the Apocrypha in the public congregation even as early as the days of Queen Elizabeth, and also against binding them in the same volume as the canonical books. This opposition grew in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the Puritans attacked the Apocrypha with Increased vigor. It was, however, not until 1827 that the British and Foreign Bible Society was forced to leave out the Apocrypha from its editions of the Bible. From that time to the present copies of the Bible with the apocryphal books have become rarer and rarer. So that to-day the average Bible reader in nonepiscopal churches is In blissful ignorance of the Apocrypha.

Apart from the question of inspiration and canonicity, there can be no doubt that the study of the Apocrypha offers material nowhere else found for an intelligent understanding of both the Old and New Testaments. These books stand in the gap between the old and the new dispensations and furnish us much information concerning the Hebrews during the most eventful period of their history.

See also The Book of Enoch and Other Odd Bibles on DVDrom and Over 320 Forbidden and Lost Books of the Bible on DVDROM (Apocrypha)

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