Apocrypha: Biblical literature
Alternate titles: Old Testament Apocrypha, a deuterocanonical book
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Last Updated: Mar 16, 2023
Apocrypha, (from Greek apokryptein, “to hide away”), in biblical literature, works outside an accepted canon of scripture. The history of the term’s usage indicates that it referred to a body of esoteric (obscure) writings that were at first prized, later tolerated and finally excluded. In its broadest sense apocrypha has come to mean any writings of dubious authority. A brief treatment of Apocrypha follows.
There are several levels of suspicion within the general concept of apocryphal works in Judeo-Christian biblical writings. Apocrypha per se are outside the canon, not considered divinely inspired but regarded as worthy of study by the faithful. Pseudepigrapha are spurious works ostensibly written by a biblical figure. Deuterocanonical works are those that are accepted in one canon but not in all.
At the time when Greek was the common spoken language in the Mediterranean region, the Old Testament—the Hebrew Bible—was incomprehensible to most of the population. For this reason, Jewish scholars produced the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament books from various Hebrew texts, along with fragments in Aramaic, into Greek. That version incorporated a number of works that later, non-Hellenistic Jewish scholarship at the Council of Jamnia (AD 90) identified as being outside the authentic Hebrew canon. The Talmud separates these works as Sefarim Hizonim (Extraneous Books).
The Septuagint was an important basis for St. Jerome’s translation of the Old Testament into Latin for the Vulgate Bible; and, although he had doubts about the authenticity of some of the apocryphal works that it contained (he was the first to employ the word apocrypha in the sense of “noncanonical”), he was overruled, and most of them were included in the Vulgate. On April 8, 1546, the Council of Trent declared the canonicity of nearly the entire Vulgate, excluding only the Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, and the First and Second Books of Esdras. Eastern Christendom, meanwhile, had accepted some of the Old Testament apocrypha—Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach)—but rejected the rest.
The other apocryphal writings, canonical only to Roman Catholicism, with an exception or two, include the Book of Baruch (a prophet) and the Letter of Jeremiah (often the sixth chapter of Baruch); the First and Second Books of Maccabees; several stories from Daniel, namely, the Song of the Three, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon; and extensive portions of the Book of Esther.