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Recent discoveries and studies reveal its increasing importance
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WHEN THE APOCRYPHA was dropped from the commonly circulated Bible of the seventeenth century, it nearly disappeared from sight altogether. For two hundred years it was known only to scholars and to inquisitive boys. The scholars knew it as the extra books in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, which were not in the Hebrew or canonical Old Testament. The curious boys knew it as the rather interesting group of books in the ponderous family Bible, printed in small type between the Old and New Testaments, the part they had been forbidden to read and therefore had read with avidity.
As for the Pseudepigrapha, the “false signature” books of the Jews, which failed to get into the original collection of the Apocrypha, that name was until very recently merely a tongue-twister to trouble theological students.
Within the last decade, however, the extra canonical books have begun to attract in England, at least, a little of the attention which they deserve. In 1908, Prof. H. T. Andrews of New College, London, made the statement that “a knowledge of apocryphal literature is even more essential for the study of the New Testament than a knowledge of the Old Testament itself.” To a public that had inherited the orthodox conception of the Apocrypha, that it was a “human composition replete with error,” “a deadly snare for the souls of men,” a dreadful abomination, abundantly interspersed with falsehoods, false doctrines, superstitions, and contradictions of itself and the word of God,” Professor Andrews’s statement came as a startling and presumptuous assertion.
To be sure, the Church of England has always recognized the spiritual worth of parts of the Apocrypha, and the oath in the law courts was not binding if sworn on a copy of the Bible minus these books, but their importance as revealing the background of the New Testament was almost unknown, and the free churches of England and America have absolutely neglected these Jewish writings for years.
In 1913, Dr. R. H. Charles of Oxford published his monumental work in two huge volumes on “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English with Introduction and Critical and Explanatory Notes,” bringing together in one work for the first time the important pre-Christian Jewish books not in the Old Testament. Although Dr. Charles, now Canon Charles, had previously published a dozen monographs on the separate books, the large two-volume edition attracted considerable attention and would doubtless have given rise to a large literature upon the subject, had not the war intervened. One important little book did come out, Dr. F. C. Burkitt’s Schweich lectures, given in November, 1913, and published in March, 1914, under the title, “Jewish and Christian Apocalypses.”
Now that the war is over, it is to be doubted if even the stirring reconstruction days will keep scholarly Englishmen from interpreting the vast amount of material made available by Dr. Charles’s industry. In the last year of the war, 1918, one very interesting book upon the subject appeared, by Rev. Frank Streatfeild of Oxford, pointing out the startling number of parallels and quotations in the New Testament from the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books, and asserting the importance of a wider knowledge of these books if the New Testament is properly to be understood. He calls his book, “Preparing the Way,—the Influence of Judaism of the Greek Period on the Earliest Developments of Christianity.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury recently said that “a systematic effort should be made to extend the knowledge of people generally about the Apocrypha and to encourage its more careful study.”
Even a casual examination of the books of Enoch, for instance, one of which lay buried in Russia for twelve hundred years, and the other of which was only recently recovered from Abyssinia, shows that Jesus and Paul knew and used these books, which Christians have long neglected. Or take an apocrypha like Tobit, avoided perhaps because it has parts almost as naive as some in the Old Testament, and you will find it entirely familiar to Jesus and Paul, both of whom knew and used it. Paul’s letters have in them no less than eleven reminiscences of, and parallels to, a single chapter in Tobit.
IT HAS been a common custom in Sunday schools and even in some theological institutions to precede a course of New Testament study with the Old Testament, imagining that the latter was the background of the former. There is some connection between the Hebrew Old Testament and the Christian New Testament, to be sure, but not so close an affinity as there is between the Apocrypha and the New Testament. It is a simple fact, easy of verification, although startling to those ignorant of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, that were these Jewish writings, instead of the Old Testament, bound with the New Testament as a text-book for the study of the origins of Christianity, we should understand Jesus and the Apostolic Church much better than we do now.
At the end of the Old Testament, you find a Persian monarch rising to power. The New Testament has a Roman setting for every important scene from the taxing by Quirinius to Nero in the Apocalypse. Persian has been overthrown by Grecian Seleucid, the Greek by the Hasmonean Maccabee, and the decadent Hasmonean dynasty by the Idumean Antipater, whose infamous son Herod was vassal to Rome. Does the average New Testament reader know that? If he does. it is not from the Old Testament. But the people to whom Jesus and Paul spoke knew it only too well, and vermilion lights from that lurid background play all over the New Testament pictures.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew; the new in Greek. Why? Ask the Apocrypha. Both Old and New were written by Jews; but the former by narrow, tribal, one-tongue provincials; the latter by Jews who spoke and wrote Greek because the whole world had changed its language and ideas. Three hundred years had changed provincials to cosmopolitans, speaking the lingua franca.
PERHAPS the most informing comparison is to point out that in the Old Testament we find no Pharisees or Sadducees, no synagogue or Sanhedrin, no baptism or proselyting, no apocalyptic writing to any extent (save in Daniel, which is really a pseudepigraph and belongs in the Apocrypha), therefore no heaven or hell or millennium and only scant reference to angels and demons. In the New Testament all these are taken for granted and appear in developed form. Their origin and early development are not to be found in the Old Testament but in the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings which are called for convenience the Wider Apocrypha.
If Jesus had come in the days of Ezra, most of the precious seed must have fallen upon hard ground. The centuries between saw stirring times which ploughed the ground for the seeds of Christianity. Speaking of the two centuries before Christ, Dr. Charles says, “So far from being ages of spiritual stagnation and darkness, they might with justice be described as the two most fruitful centuries in religious life and thought in the history of Israel.”
The story of the comparatively recent discovery of much of this material, written in these fruitful centuries, is as fascinating to read as fiction.
There was a book written when Jesus was a little boy, a book which he read, and in which his disciples and fellow-countrymen were much interested, a regular “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for popularity. Indeed, it was an apocalypse itself, a form of literature peculiar to the time. It was written by a Jew in Alexandria, Egypt, but was very popular among both Christians and Jews for three centuries at least. It was quoted by many authors and was known to many of the early Christian fathers, including Origen and Irenaeus, and probably Clement. Yet for twelve hundred years the fact of its existence seems to have been unknown save to a few people in Russia.
We never heard of it in America, nor was it known in Europe, until 1892. In an article written that year in a German magazine by a Russian, a reference was made to a manuscript in Russia. Dr. Charles soon examined it and found it to be, not a version of another book, as the Russian had claimed, but the long-lost Book of the Secrets of Enoch. Another manuscript soon came to light in Belgrade, Serbia. Both were written in Slavonic, and it is therefore sometimes called Slavonic Enoch. Dr. Charles translated it with the help of Mr. Morfill, and calls it 2 Enoch.
The book purports to be the visit of Enoch to celestial regions after “he was not, for God took him.“ It was the custom of the writers of these books which we call pseudepigraphical (ie., falsely signed) to choose the name of some great Hebrew of former days and attribute the book to him. We have the Book of Daniel, the Assumption of Moses, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, etc., all of which were written long after the death of the men whose names they bear. Now Enoch was a name to conjure with,—-an ancient and very pious man who walked with God and who was translated to heaven. What a prize for an anonymous writer desiring a good name to put on his book! No wonder we have several Jewish books using this pseudonym.
2 Enoch reminds one of three well-known literary compositions,—the last book of the New Testament, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. It would be better to say that these three resemble 2 Enoch, for it antedates them all, and is their literary progenitor.
Enoch journeys through six heavens to the seventh, where God is. As we read the author’s vivid descriptions and quaint narrative, we are constantly reminded of the New Testament. The third heaven, especially, seems strangely familiar. Here is located Paradise, prepared for those “who turn their eyes from unrighteousness and accomplish a righteous judgment, and give bread to the hungry, clothe the naked, raise the fallen.” We think at once of Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross beside him, “To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” We are reminded, also, of that other time when he spoke of the place prepared from the foundation of the world for those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and did other social service.
Paul’s words, too, come to our mind from his second letter to the Corinthians, where he speaks of “visions and revelations of such a one caught up even to the third heaven,—caught up into Paradise.” In this third heaven, also, but on the western side, Enoch saw a “terrible place of savage darkness and impenetrable gloom” prepared for the wicked. It seems odd to us to have Paradise and the place of punishment in the same heaven, but we understand at once something in the New Testament that always before had confused us. We see now how Dives and Lazarus could converse together after death.
In such a manner does one short section from 2 Enoch illuminate four familiar New Testament passages. From this book, too, comes the first setting-forth of the idea of the millennium, a concept playing a part of tremendous importance not only in the New Testament but also in all Christian theology.
ANOTHER book of the Wider Apocrypha, recently come to light and of great assistance to those who would understand the beginnings of Christianity, is called 1 Enoch. Almost every book in the New Testament has been more or less influenced by it. Jude quotes it openly, “Enoch prophesied, saying,” and then gives 1 Enoch i. 9 and xxvii. 2. It is a fact, however, that this interesting book is practically unknown even yet to the great body of American Christians.
1 Enoch has as interesting a history as 2 Enoch, and a somewhat similar one. It, too, was very popular among the early Christians, was lost for many years, and was found again in our day. It was used by Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine, so there must have been many copies, but they all disappeared during the long period of literary stagnation known sometimes as the Dark Ages. Christian theologians have known for centuries, of course, that there was such a book and have wondered where and what it was.
Early in the seventeenth century there came a rumor that there was an Ethiopic translation of the book of Enoch “somewhere in-Abyssinia.” A monk accordingly went and bought there a manuscript which it was claimed was the veritable lost book, but it turned out to be a forgery.
An Englishman named James Bruce, undiscouraged by the deception, thought there might be something in the Abyssinian clew, and actually found there in 1769 not one only but three copies of the book, and brought them to Europe in 1773. One copy went to the Royal Library in France, one to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, and one Bruce kept himself. Pica della Mirandola and Guillaume Postel claimed to have seen copies in Europe before Bruce made his discovery, but to him belongs the real credit of restoring the valuable book to Christendom.
IT IS somewhat to be regretted that it was not until the next century that any translation of the book was made. Various translations, most of them rather poor, were made into German, Latin, and English during the nineteenth century, but only scholars paid much attention. Meanwhile other manuscripts of Enoch were being found, until there are now twenty-nine, — fifteen in England, eight in France, four in Germany, one in Italy, and one in America.
The best translation in English is to be found in Canon Charles’s 1913 two-volume book previously mentioned. We greatly need for Sunday-school libraries and theological students a small handbook containing a modern English translation with notes and commentary.
The one hundred and eight chapters of this book are really five books, written at different periods during the two centuries before Christ, collected, enlarged, and edited somewhat later. They are valuable for their contribution to our knowledge of the early Christian belief about angels, demons, and the problem of evil. Here, too, for the first time in Jewish literature, the word “Christ” is used, referring to the expected Messiah-King; and here the phrase “the Son of Man” is first used.
A person familiar with the Apocalypse of John, which we call “Revelation,” will feel perfectly at home with parts of 1 Enoch, such as lxxi. 10, “the Head of Days—his head white and pure as wool”; xiv. 20, “His raiment shone more brightly than the sun and was whiter than any snow.” Compare with these two passages—Rev. i. 14, 16. At such brightness Enoch says (1 Enoch xiv. 24), “I was prostrate upon my face, trembling,” while John says, “I fell at His feet as one dead” (Rev. i. 17).
Canon Charles finds twenty other parallels or quotations from 1 Enoch in Revelation, some of them very striking, and Rev. Frank Streatfeild finds six which Charles omitted. Neither of them mentions 1 Enoch xiv. 22 (Rev. v. 11), the well-known “ten thousand times ten thousand” passage which forms the first verse of Henry Alford’s famous hymn.
The careful examination of the Wider Apocrypha with reference to its great influence upon the beginnings of Christianity is only beginning. In Sanday & Headlam’s volume on “Romans” in the International Critical Commentary, page vii., it is pointed out that “it is by a continuous and careful study of such works that any advance in the exegesis of the New Testament will be possible.” Paul alone has twenty-five quotations and two hundred and forty-seven parallels from this literature which have been noticed in the last few months. The next great Life of Jesus will somewhat surprise those not familiar with current studies of Jesus’ relation to the Wider Apocrypha.
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