Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Lost Books of the Bible and the Septuagint by John James Given 1881

The Apocrypha and the Septuagint by John James Given 1881

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The Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, dating— most of it—from upwards of two centuries and a half before Christ, and containing all the books in our ordinary Bibles, affords a powerful support to the canonicity of those books.

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But this support is to some extent counterbalanced by an acknowledged difficulty and consequent objection. If we admit that the argument from the Septuagint is valid, and no one can question its admissibility, then, it has been urged, the argument proves too much, and constrains us to accept the apocryphal books as of equal authority with the canonical Scriptures. This version undoubtedly is chargeable, as already intimated, with redundancy, but not, there is good reason to believe, in its original condition; while the true history of this redundancy goes far to meet the objection which it occasions. It was among the sacred books of the Egyptian Jews that the admission, or rather intrusion, of the apocryphal books took place. Many special circumstances contributed to this disastrous result, The Jews of Egypt were not so scrupulously conservative of their sacred writings, neither were they so punctiliously exact in their treatment of them, as their brethren in Palestine. Into the causes of this difference it is not necessary to enter. Besides this difference, the form in which they possessed their books of Scripture had a good deal to do with their too facile introduction of apocryphal books into the canon. They were familiar with their books of Scripture only in the Greek version, made not by one person nor at one time, but by different translators and in successive parts. The production of this translation in such a piecemeal manner helped to weaken the notion of close connection and unity among its several portions as they were successively issued. The apocryphal books, moreover, would, as a matter of course, attain a high rank in their religious literature; and by and by they stealthily insinuated themselves among their sacred books. And yet we are firmly persuaded that they formed no part of the authoritative canon even of Alexandrian or Egyptian Jews. Sirachides, the translator of the Book of Wisdom, in a passage already referred to, when contrasting his own biblical studies in Egypt with those of his venerable grandfather, the author of the book, in Palestine, appears to assume the Biblical canon of both as identical, specifying its three well-known divisions as "the Law and the Prophets and the other books," that is, the Hagiographa. Philo in Egypt a little before, and Josephus in Palestine a little after, the beginning of our era, ignore, each in his own way, the Apocrypha. The former, a man of priestly origin and literary habits, a man intimately acquainted with the religious rites and customs of his fathers, has never once quoted any of the apocryphal books as of Scriptural authority. This is all the more remarkable, as it is certain, from his style and incidental notices, that he was well acquainted with the Apocrypha, and that they might have been adduced by him in several instances as confirmatory of his views.

What makes this still more conclusive is the circumstance of his quoting so many of the canonical books as divine in their origin and authoritative in their declarations. Josephus, moreover, so far from quoting an apocryphal book as of Scriptural authority, actually cuts them off from all connection therewith. After speaking of the twenty-two books of canonical Scripture being "deservedly regarded as divine," he pronounces the books written from the time of Artaxerxes till his own time as "not entitled to like credit with those which precede them," at the same time assigning an admittedly valid reason which will afterwards present itself for consideration. Are we not then justified in drawing the legitimate inference that the acknowledged canon of Hebrew Scripture, whether in Egypt or Palestine, was identical, and consisted of the very same books which all Protestants own as constituting the Old Testament Scriptures; while the apocryphal books were never admitted into that canon by that people whom Jehovah had constituted the conservators of His truth and the depositaries of His living oracles? In the third place, the matter is put beyond dispute by the fact that no apocryphal book is quoted directly or authoritatively by our Lord or His apostles, while they have quoted upwards of 600 times from the Old Testament canon, and from every book of it, with the exception of six, that is to say, Judges, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Another argument of considerable importance against the canonicity of the Apocrypha, is the language in which the apocryphal books were written. With two exceptions, they were all written in Greek, as we still have them. Now, a genuine Jew would shrink from uniting Greek books with those written in his own holy Hebrew tongue, to which he was so devoutly attached; so that however they may have obtained admission among the Greek books of the Septuagint version, they never gained, nor were likely ever to gain, a position among the canonical Hebrew Scriptures. Farther, taking the lowest reasonable date for the close of the canon of the Old Testament, we shall find that the Greek language was not sufficiently known to the Jews to be employed by them for literary purposes till a much later period. But there will be occasion to return to this. Meantime, it is sufficient to observe that of the two books written in Hebrew, one admits distinctly and decidedly its own inferiority to the books of the canon; while the other, with equal explicitness, disclaims all pretension to canonical authority, To all this must be added the fact that among the very copious and numerous quotations from the canonical Scriptures that abound in the early Christian writers, not one is taken from the apocryphal books—Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach), Baruch, and First and Second Maccabees. Even Justin Martyr has not a single quotation from them. In fact, the only Father during the first four centuries of Christianity that countenanced the introduction of the six apocryphal books into the canon was Augustine. But eminent as he was in the domain of theology and interpretation, he possessed little skill in historical criticism; while all the other Fathers, distinguished for critical discernment, give in their adhesion to the Hebrew canon. Among these Origen and Jerome may be specially referred to,—the former so pre-eminent for persevering devotion to critical studies as to justly earn the name of Adamantine, the latter superior to all the other Fathers in Hebraistic attainments. Even up till the famous Council of Trent the canonicity of the apocryphal books was left an open question. In 1546, at a session of that council, consisting of some 53 members, the decree was issued that all the books and all their parts found in the Latin Vulgate should be acknowledged as sacred and canonical. Since then, judicious and enlightened theologians of the Latin Church, as, for example, Du Pin and Jahn, have tried to evade the stringency of the decision by having recourse to the doubtful expedient of dividing the books of Scripture into proto-canonical and deutero-canonical; the former possessing dogmatic, the latter only ethical authority. But this compromise is inconsistent and equally objectionable with the Tridentine decision. The choice must lie between two courses. The alternative is canonical or uncanonical. The ground of that alternative, as we shall see by and by, is inspiration or non-inspiration—prophetical authorship or non-prophetical. Is any of these documents inspired? then it is fairly and properly entitled to a place in the canon. Is it an uninspired production? then must it without any hesitation be excluded from that rank. There is no halfway house in regard to this matter. There is no middle region. The history of the introduction of the Apocrypha is soon told. It made way gradually. The Septuagint, it must be owned, laid the foundation; Augustine helped to rear the structure; and the Tridentine Council laid the topstone on the work.

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