The Additions to the Book of Esther. During the second or the first century B.C. an Egyptian Jew translated the canonical Book of Esther into Greek, and at the same time interpolated a total of 107 verses into six places where he felt that a religious note should be added. These pious insertions mention the name of God, and prayer, neither of which appear in the canonical Esther. The Apocryphal additions add ten verses to Esther 10, and six additional chapters, numbered 11 to 16. In the Greek Septuagint, however, the supplementary verses are distributed through the text so as to make one continuous narration.
The Wisdom of Solomon. An Alexandrian Jew, sometime between 150 and 50 B.C. composed an ethical treatise that he named The Wisdom of Solomon in order to gain for it a wider reading. He sought to protect the Jews in Egypt from falling into skepticism, materialism, and idolatry, and to teach his pagan readers the truth of Judaism and the folly of heathenism. The book begins with an exhortation to the rulers of the earth to seek wisdom and follow righteousness. Its theology is based on the Old Testament with modifications derived from Greek philosophical ideas current in Alexandria. Unlike the Old and the New Testaments which honor the body, the Wisdom of Solomon regards it as something that “weighs down the soul,” a mere “earthly tent” which “burdens “the thoughtful mind” (9:15). The pre-existence (8:19-20) and immortality (3:1-5) of the soul are maintained, although the Hebrew-Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection is absent.
Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach. Ecclesiasticus, an ethical treatise extolling the virtue of wisdom, was written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 B.C. by a pious scholar from Jerusalem, Jesus the son of Sirach. The author’s grandson, an Alexandrian Jew, translated the work into Greek and added a prologue (ca. 132 B.C.). It is the longest of the apocryphal books, and the only one with a known author. Like the canonical Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus deals with a wide variety of practical subjects —everything from diet to domestic relationships! The longest continuous section of the book (chapters 44 to 50) is the Praise of Famous Men that briefly characterizes a long series of Hebrew worthies from Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, down to Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, and finally the High Priest Simon, a contemporary and friend of the author.
Baruch. The Book of Baruch, ostensibly written by Jeremiah’s friend and secretary (Jer. 32:12; 36:4; 51:59), is a composite work that was not completed until the first century B.C. or later. Although the final section was written in Greek, some sections may be traced to Hebrew originals. The book begins with a prayer of penitence, recognizing that the tragedies that befell Jerusalem are the just recompense for her sins (1:1-3:8). A second poetical section explains that Israel’s misfortunes are due to her neglect of Wisdom (3:9-4:4). This Wisdom, whose praises are sung by a philosophically minded writer, is equated with God’s Law (4:1-3). The third section of the book, also poetic, is a message of comfort and hope for distressed Israel. The enemy will be destroyed and the children of Jerusalem will return in triumph! Baruch is the one book of the Apocrypha which breathes something of the fire of the Old Testament prophets, although it is lacking in originality.
The Letter of Jeremiah. Some time about 300 B.C. or thereafter an unknown author wrote an impassioned sermon based on Jeremiah 11:10, in which he snowed the utter impotence of gods of wood, silver, and gold. This sermon, known as The Letter of Jeremiah, was originally written in Hebrew (or Aramaic), although it is extant only in Greek and translations derived from the Greek. Since many Greek and Syriac manuscripts, as well as the Latin version, attach the Letter of Jeremiah to the Book of Baruch, it appears as the sixth chapter of Baruch in most English translations of the Apocrypha. The Letter has no relation to Baruch, however, and some ancient codices place it after the Biblical Book of Lamentations.
The Prayer of Asariah and the Song of the Three Young Men. (Additions to Daniel, inserted between 3:23 and 3:24.) Some time during the second or first centuries B.C. the three “additions” to canonical Daniel which exist as separate books of the Apocrypha were written by unknown authors. The first of these, The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, was probably written in Hebrew by a pious Jew during the period when his people were suffering at the hand of Antiochus Epiphanes or in the period of the Maccabean revolt which followed. During the ordeal of the fiery furnace, Azariah is represented as praising God, confessing his people’s sins, and praying for national deliverance. The angel of the Lord then came into the furnace and drove out the fiery flame so that the youths were unharmed. Then from the furnace, they sang their praises to God in the Song that is reminiscent of Psalm 148 as to content, and Psalm 136 as to antiphonal form.
Susanna. It is uncertain whether the original of Susanna was written in Hebrew or Greek. Its unknown author lived sometime during the second or the first century B.C., but we are ignorant of other details concerning his life. Yet the book itself is recognized as one of the great short stories of world literature. It tells how two immoral elders threatened to testify that they had found Susanna, the beautiful wife of an influential Babylonian Jew, in the arms of a lover if she would not submit to them. When she repulsed them, they charged her with adultery and at the mouth of two witnesses she was convicted and sentenced to death. A young man named Daniel, however, interrupted the proceedings and questioned the two witnesses separately. He asked each to identify the tree under which he had seen Susanna and her supposed lover. Betrayed by their own inconsistent answers, the guilty elders were put to death and Susanna was saved. In the Septuagint, the Story of Susanna precedes the canonical Book of Daniel; in the Vulgate it follows it.
Bel and the Dragon. The stories of Bel and the Dragon were probably written in Hebrew toward the middle of the first century B.C, and added to the Book of Daniel by its Greek translator. In the Septuagint it directly follows Daniel, while in the Vulgate it comes after Susanna. The story of Bel is one of the world’s oldest detective storks. It tells how Cyrus, the Persian king, asked Daniel why he did not worship Bel, the god of Babylon. Cyrus told Daniel how much flour and oil and how many sheep the god Bel consumed each day. Thereupon Daniel persuaded Cyrus to deposit the usual provisions in the temple, and then to close and seal the temple doors. In the meantime, Daniel scattered ashes over the temple floor. When morning came the food was gone, and the floor was covered with footprints of the priests, their wives, and children who had used a secret entrance under the table to come by night into the temple and consume the provisions. The king, convinced of the perfidy of Bel’s priests, ordered them slain and their temple destroyed. The Dragon is really a serpent which the king worshiped until Daniel killed it by feeding it lumps of pitch, fat, and hair. The Babylonians, furious at the destruction of their god, demanded that Daniel be put to death. Reluctantly the king consented and Daniel was placed in a den of lions £cf. Dan. 6:1-28). The lions did not molest Daniel, who was miraculously fed by the prophet Habakkuk who was caught up by an angel in Judea and taken to the lion’s den in Babylon. On the seventh day the king took Daniel from the lion’s den and cast his enemies into it, whereupon they were immediately devoured. The stories of Bel and the Dragon were intended to ridicule idolatry and discredit heathen priestcraft.
The Prayer of Manasseh. The apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh was probably written sometime during the last two centuries B.C. by a Palestinian Jew. Scholars are uncertain whether it was composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. The Prayer is ascribed to Manasseh, the king of Judah who, according to II Chronicles 33 was taken to Babylon where he repented of the idolatry that had characterized the years of his reign. Mention is made of a prayer offered by Manasseh (II Chron. 33:19), and a pious Jew appears to have attempted to write such a prayer as Manasseh would have uttered. The Prayer is typical of ancient Jewish liturgical forms. It opens with the ascription of praise to the Lord whose majesty is seen in creation (1-4) and in his mercy toward sinners (5-8). This is followed by personal confession (9-10) and supplication for pardon (11-13). The prayer concludes with a petition for grace (14) and a doxology (15). I Maccabees. I Maccabees is a valuable historical record of the forty years beginning from the accession of Antiochus Epipbanesto the Syrian throne (175 B.C.) and ending with the death of Simon the Maccabee (135 B.C.). It was probably written by a Palestinian Jew, in Hebrew, about 100 B.C. The book gives us our best account of the Jewish resistance to Antiochus, and the
Maccabean wars which ultimately brought independence to the Jewish state. It relates the exploits of three of the sons of Mattathias, the priest who defied Antiochus and sparked the revolt; Judas (3:1-9:22); Jonathan (9:23-12:53) and Simon (13:1-16:24). The annual Jewish festival of , celebrated at the same season as Christmas, commemorates the rededication of the temple as a result of the bravery of the Maccabees. The festival is mentioned in the New Testament as “the feast of dedication” (John 10:22).
II Maccabees. II Maccabees is in the main parallel to the first seven chapters of I Maccabees, covering the period from 175 to 160 B.C. It professes to be an abridgement of a five-volume history written by Jason of Cyrene (2:19-23), whose identity is a matter of conjecture. The author of II Maccabees was evidently an Alexandrian Jew who wrote in Greek. He may have written as early as 120 B.C. or as late as the early first century A.D. II Maccabees is less historical and more rhetorical than I Maccabees. It is written from the Pharisaic viewpoint and stresses the miraculous and the marvelous in contrast to the more prosaic and objective I Maccabees.