Postings on the Books of the Apocrypha -- Summer 2020
Below, Al Zimmer provides background information on the Apocrypha in weekly installments.
I do not digress here, but add that some scholars consider the Dead Sea Scrolls as part of literature between the Old and New Testaments. Discovered in 1947 in a cave, The Dead Sea Scrolls have been studied by many with various interpretations.
The complete book of Isaiah, plus other manuscripts that reflect on early Christian thinking, are found in the scrolls. Jesus is not mentioned, but some of his teachings can be found in the scrolls. The 25,000 fragments and 9 books are dated between 250 BC and 68 AD.
We will look at the Dead Sea scrolls, when we look at what the Apocrypha tells us about Jesus between his being in the Temple at age 13 and the starting of his ministry at age 31. And we will look at the latest updates from Hershel Shanks, who has written several books on the scrolls, and was responsible for making them available to the public.
During the 100s and 200s AD, Christians began to evaluate and list Christian writings for the purposes of research, teaching and worship. A consensus began to emerge about certain texts—the four Gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul—but real clarity did not come until 367 AD when Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria devised his list of 27 works of the New Testament. This was the first definite listing of accepted books of the Bible.
The Apocrypha books represent several types of writing. There are pieces of outright fiction based loosely on Jewish history, legends, and ancient folktale, wisdom books and historical works that are particularly useful in presenting a picture of Jewish life in Judah in the years leading up to the birth of Jesus. An example is the book of Tobit.
Tobit, a Jew, was a God-fearing man who has gone blind (a fragment of this book can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls in Hebrew). The archangel Raphael pays him a visit. A magical fish restores his eyesight. A girl named Sara has had seven husbands, all dying on their wedding night, and his son Tobias, being rewarded, will become number eight. The story was to show that God will reward you if you are faithful.
My email address is email@example.com. Please let me know your thoughts.
Solomon dies around 977 BC. The kingdoms that followed were weakened by idolatry and small wars. The northern kingdom of Israel fell in 738 BC to the Assyrians. Sometime later, the Babylonians overpowered the Assyrians. These conquests by other countries and kings and generals go on until Persia, in 430 BC, becomes a world power. For the next 200 years, not much is known about Jewish history.
The Greek period followed with the rise in power and influence by Greeks and Pericles, and the conquest of Israel by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. Alexander treated the Jews with great consideration. He spared Jerusalem and the Jews, and Jews came to Alexandria. Greek culture spread amongst the Jews. The Greeks translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Septuagint. Alexander died in 323 BC, and his empire was divided among four generals.
The Old Testament Apocrypha, although not included as divine canon, do give us some clues as to the thought during the first centuries of the Christian Movement. Christian writers produced lots of texts. These writing came in many different genres. The first Christian writings were letters, letters that Paul wrote in the 50s after Jesus’s crucifixion. The letters he wrote to the new Christian congregations in cities like Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, and Rome.
According to Professor David Brakke (The Apocryphal Jesus), during the next decades, more Christian letters followed from leaders like Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. They became so popular that forged letters appeared, some in the name of Peter, Paul, and James. He goes on to say that around 70 AD an anonymous Christian produced the first Gospel, the Gospel of Mark.