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Apocrypha

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In Judeo-Christian theology, the word apocrypha (Greek απόκρυφα, neuter plural of απόκρυφος, "hidden") refers to texts that are not considered canonical, part of the Bible, but are of roughly similar style and age as the accepted Scriptures.

R.M. Wilson has written:

"The Greek word apocryphos did not always have the disparaging sense which later became attached to it. In Gnostic circles it was used of books the contents of which were too sacred to be divulged to the common herd, and it was in fact the heretical associations which it thus came to possess which led to its use as a term of disparagement. In the Nag Hammadi library, for example, one document bears the title Apocryphon or Secret Book of John, another that of Apocryphon of James, and several Gnostic gospels contain solemn warnings against imparting their contents to any save the deserving, or for the sake of material gain."
—from Studies in the Gospel of Thomas (the "apocryphal" Gospel of Thomas)</blockquote>

Apart from the broad sense mentioned in the first paragraph above, Protestants use the word "apocrypha", in a narrow sense, of those books that they exclude from their canon of Scripture, but that other Churches view as canonical and venerate as divinely inspired, written under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Disagreement between Christian Churches is almost non-existent about the canon of the New Testament, but the inclusion of some books in the Old Testament canon is disputed. Since these books were of late composition, Protestant scholars sometimes call them "intertestamental", i.e. intermediate between the Old and New Testaments, and hold that God imposed a period of silence, with no prophecy or Scripture, to prepare for the coming of Jesus.

The books that come under the description "apocrypha" in the broad sense but not in this narrow sense are called apocrypha by Catholics and Jews, but Protestants usually call them Pseudepigrapha. Many of them have apocalyptic themes.

Contents

The Council of Jamnia

At least until the Council of Jamnia in 92 CE, Jews did not have a single unified canon of Scripture. Some ancient Jewish sects (including the Essenes, as evidenced in the Dead Sea scrolls) included as Scripture much that modern Jews consider non-canonical. The Council explicitly excluded certain books for reasons that included their late composition or because they were not written in Hebrew (although some parts of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh itself are in Biblical Aramaic). The word Apocrypha means hidden writing, and it was given to such books by the Jews to distinguish them from the books which they accepted as canonical.

Christians continued to use a Greek translation made in the period from the third to the first centuries BCE, in Alexandria, Egypt. This work, which became known as the Septuagint, included several books that were rejected at Jamnia.

While Jews do not accept these books, saying they lack the unction of the prophetic books of the canon, they regard them as consistent, for most part, with the wisdom which rests on the fear of God and loyalty to His law, and some Jews have at various times drawn from them as a legitimate part of Jewish literary creativity, even using elements from them as the basis for two important parts of the Jewish liturgy.

In the Mahzor (High Holy Day prayer book), a medieval Jewish poet used the book of Sirach as the basis for a beautiful poem, Ke'Ohel HaNimtah.

A closing piyyut in the Seder Avodah section, in the Yom Kippur Musaf begins:

"How glorious indeed was the High Priest, when he safely left the Holy of Holies.
Like the clearest canopy of Heaven was the dazzling countenance of the priest."

Mahzor replaces the medieval piyyut with the relevant section from Ben Sira, which is more direct.

Apocrypha have even formed the basis of the most important of all Jewish prayers, the Amidah (the Shemonah Esrah). Sirach provides the vocabulary and framework for many of the Amidah's blessings, which were instituted by the men of the Great Assembly. The description of the origins of Hanukkah is also to be found in the books rejected at Jamnia.

While the texts themselves may not be accepted as canonical, some of their contents are regarded as historical truth. In particular, 1 Maccabees is cited by Jewish scholars as highly reliable history and was used by Josephus in his history of the Maccabean revolt.

Majority Christian usage

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches(thus the great majority of Christians) accept as part of the Old Testament some books excluded from the Jewish canon. Roman Catholics refer to them as deuterocanonical books, a term first used by Sixtus of Siena in 1566, signifying that definitive recognition of their canonical status came later than that of the other books. Catholics and Orthodox do not call these books "apocrypha", a term they apply only to other books that fall within the definition given in the first paragraph of this article.

The deuterocanonical books are Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch, as well as some parts of Esther and Daniel.

Eastern Orthodox Churches sometimes also consider 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 3 Ezra and/or 4 Ezra to be deuterocanonical and include Psalm 151 with the Psalms, while the Ethiopian Orthodox venerate additional books, such as Jubilees, Enoch, and the Rest of the Words of Baruch. The inclusion of Enoch is justified on the grounds that the Book of Jude quotes it as Scripture. See here (http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Canon/ethiopican.html) for conflicting accounts on what is actually included in the Ethiopian canon.

Since there was no fixed canon even among Jews until the Council of Jamnia, it is not surprising that, historically, there have been hesitations among Christians, especially in the early centuries, about which Old Testament books to consider canonical. The inability of Christians to use in controversy with Jews books that the latter did not accept as divinely inspired was one reason why some attributed lesser authority to these books. St Jerome explicitly denied the canonical character of any Old Testament book not included in the Hebrew Bible; but later, in his Preface to the Book of Tobit (PL 29, 24-25), stated that he translated the deuterocanonical books into Latin as a concession to the authority of the bishops; and in 402 CE declared he had not really denied the inspiration of these books, but had only given the opinion of the Jews (Apol. contra Ruf. 11, 33. PL 23, 476).

In view of that controversy, a list of canonical books (with the deuterocanonical books included) was drawn up at councils in Africa and approved (though not in ex cathedra form, which would have been anachronistic, in any event) by the Pope of the time. This was generally accepted in the West, while in the East, particularly in Syria, general agreement was reached only in the seventh century. Within the Roman Catholic Church, individual leaders and scholars, even at a later date, sometimes expressed contrary views, but the matter was definitively settled in 1546, when the Council of Trent, reacting to the views of the Protestant Reformers, declared that it accepted all the books of the Old and New Testaments with equal feelings of piety and reverence, and named them in accordance with the list of the fifth-century African councils. The First Vatican Council reaffirmed this declaration.

Protestant views

Martin Luther rejected the books that do not appear in the Jewish Tanakh, partly because of the stress the Reformers laid on translating from the original text, and partly because some passages contradicted his views, especially where 2 Maccabees speaks, by implication, of purgatory: "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins" (12:45).

Protestants called the deuterocanonical books apocrypha. Luther and the Anglican Church regarded them as useful for edification, but not to be relied upon for doctrine, while Calvin and in general his followers attached no value whatever to them and objected to any use of them in church.

In 1615, the Archbishop of Canterbury imposed a years imprisonment for publishing Bibles without the "Apocrypha"; but in later printings of the Bible in English these books were omitted more and more. In the early nineteenth century, the Edinburgh Bible Society denounced them as superstitious and absurd, and soon all the Bible Societies decided not to publish them. More recently, in spite of the expense involved, Protestant Bibles in English have again sometimes included them, placing them in a separate section either between the Old Testament and the New or at the end.

What most Christians consider to be integral parts of Esther and Daniel are in some instances counted by Protestants as additional books. In the book of Esther, it is difficult to separate these from the rest, since they are tightly integrated into the Greek text, and even the common parts of the book contain small variations from the Hebrew text. Protestant Bibles therefore sometimes give the entire book of Esther in two versions, one, based on the Hebrew text, as part of the Protestant Old Testament, and one, translated from the Greek, in the "Apocrypha" section.

Not all Protestants have omitted the deuterocanonical books. For example, all Luther Bibles in the Lutheran areas of Germany included them until World War II. Only after the war, when American Bible Societies offered funding on condition that the Apocrypha were omitted, they began to be dropped from most editions. Additionally, the original edition of the KJV (1611) included them between the Old and New Testaments.

See also: Books of the Bible, a side-by-side comparison of the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox canons.

Apocrypha of the New Testament

New Testament apocrypha — books similar to those in the New Testament but rejected by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants — include several gospels and lives of apostles. Some of them were clearly produced by Gnostic authors or members of other groups later defined as heterodox. Many were discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, and produced lively speculation about the state of affairs in early Christianity.

Though Protestants, Catholics and, in general, Orthodox agree on the canon of the New Testament, the Ethiopian Orthodox are reported by some scholars to add I & II Clement, and Shepherd of Hermas to the New Testament. Others deny this. See this link (http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Bible/Text/Canon/ethiopican.html) for details.

Martin Luther considered the Epistle of James apocryphal, because he highly doubted its authorship by any of the several New Testament figures named James, and because it contains a statement that seemed to contradict his teachings of salvation by faith alone: "Faith without works is dead" (2:26). He had a similar feeling about the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of Jude and the Revelation, and relegated those four books to an appendix in his Bible. Later Lutherans included these books as full parts in their New Testament, but kept them behind all the other books. The Lutheran New Testament (at least in German) is thus arranged slightly differently from that of most other Churches.

The New Testament apocryphal book that is most famous today is the Gospel of Thomas, the only complete text of which was found in Nag Hammadi along with other works, most of which were New Testament apocrypha. The entry on Gnosticism lists more recovered texts considered to be of Gnostic origin.

While the New Testament apocrypha are not seen as divinely inspired, artists and theologians have drawn on them for such matters as the names of Dismas and Gestas and details about the Three Wise Men. The first explicit expression on the perpetual virginity of Mary is found in the pseudepigraphical Infancy Gospel of James.

An extensive online archive of New Testament Apocrypha is available at www.comparative-religion.com/christianity/apocrypha/ and comprises more than 80 works, including fragments.

See also: New Testament Apocrypha, a listing of books rejected by most Christians.

Latter Day Saints views

Adherents of Latter Day Saints denominations believe that Joseph Smith, Jr., as a prophet, received a revelation from Jesus Christ in answer to a question about the validity of the (Protestant) Apocrypha at Kirtland, Ohio on March 9, 1833, which is now Section 91 (http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/91) of the Doctrine and Covenants. The section reads in part:

There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; there are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men—Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom.

This echoes the sentiment of most American Protestants of his day.

Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the largest Latter Day Saints denomination, typically uses editions of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible that do not currently include the Apocrypha, these have been used by members and leaders in the past, especially when they were still printed in most editions of the KJV. In non-English-speaking lands, Latter Day Saints use Bibles other than the KJV, some of which include the Apocrypha. The LDS Church plays a part in distributing such Bibles.

Latter Day Saints, and most Mormon sects in the wider sense, believe that more "hidden" or apocryphal texts will come to light prior to the second coming of Jesus.

Catholics and Protestants sometimes describe specifically Latter Day Saints texts, such as the Book of Mormon, as apocryphal, but this term is usually reserved for books uncontroversially known to have existed in antiquity, and the Book of Mormon fails this standard, since there is no uncontroverted evidence of its existence prior to the 1820s.

Non-religious use

In everyday conversation, apocryphal typically denotes "of highly questionable or no authenticity", when describing a story nevertheless frequently told and widely believed. In literature, apocrypha are works that purport to have been created by somebody other than their real author, usually a famous figure, as in the case of the Ossianic cycle invented by James Macpherson.

External links

de:Apokryphen fr:Apocryphe it:Apocrifo ja:外典 la:Apocrypha nl:Apocrief no:Apokryfer pl:Apokryf pt:Livros Apcrifos ru:Апокриф sv:Apokryferna uk:Апокрифи zh:偽經

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