apocrypha

The Book of Tobit (Part 1)

Tobit is an apocryphal book that is included in various early Septuagint editions of the Greek Old Testament. It is canonical in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Ethiopian Orthodox traditions. However, it is certain the earliest Christians, who used various editions of the Septuagint, were familiar with Tobit. It is set during the Assyrian exile, and written sometime between 400 and 175 B.C. The book is fascinating because it presents a beautiful portrait of a faithful Jewish man living in the second-temple period, after the Book of Malachi. This excerpt is from the Revised Standard Version.

Chapter 1

The book of the acts of Tobit the son of Tobiel, son of Ananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, of the descendants of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali, who in the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, was taken into captivity from Thisbe, which is to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher.

I, Tobit, walked in the ways of truth and righteousness all the days of my life, and I performed many acts of charity to my brethren and countrymen who went with me into the land of the Assyrians, to Nineveh. Now when I was in my own country, in the land of Israel, while I was still a young man, the whole tribe of Naphtali my forefather deserted the house of Jerusalem. This was the place which had been chosen from among all the tribes of Israel, where all the tribes should sacrifice and where the temple of the dwelling of the Most High was consecrated and established for all generations for ever.

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Theology Thursday - The Problem of Evil from 2 Esdras

The book of 2 Esdras is usually grouped with the Old Testament Apocrypha, even though that really isn’t accurate. It’s actually a composite book containing three documents. The largest is a Jewish apocalypse from the late first-century (also known as 4 Esdras), likely written just after the destruction of the temple in the aftermath of the Jewish Wars. It’s book-ended by two, shorter Christians works: the first from the second century and the other from the third century. 

The writer of the Jewish apocolypse wrote from Ezra’s point of view and, in a literary floruish, set the piece in Ezra’s time period in the aftermath of the sack of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon. In reality, the writer used Ezra as a foil to describe his own thoughts on theodicy in the aftermath of the destruction of the second temple, some time soon after 70 A.D. In this excerpt (2 Esdras 7:1-74, from the RSV), an angel talks with Ezra as he ponders God’s goodness:

When I had finished speaking these words, the angel who had been sent to me on the former nights was sent to me again, and he said to me, “Rise, Ezra, and listen to the words that I have come to speak to you.”

I said, “Speak, my lord.”

And he said to me,

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Theology Thursday ... On Friday: The Maccabean Revolt

"The Maccabees," by Wojciech Stattler (ca. 1842)

Many Christians don’t send time reading the so-called Old Testament “apocryphal books.” These are a series of works (the number varies, depending on the source) which appeared in versions of the Greek Old Testament in the 400 years or so before Christ’s advent. Protestants have not traditionally considered these as canonical, but they’re an invaluable historical bridge to help us better understand the intertestamental period.

In this excerpt from 1 Maccabees 1:54 – 2:70,1 we read about how the Maccabean Revolt began as the Seleucids, under Antiochus Epiphanes IV (yes, the one from the Daniel commentaries) attempted to Hellenize the region of Judea by force in 169 B.C., desecrating the temple and outlawing the Israelite religion.

And on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they set up upon the altar an ‘abomination of desolation’, and in the cities of Judah on every side they established high-places; and they offered sacrifice at the doors of the houses and in the streets. And the books of the Law which they found they rent in pieces, and burned them in the fire. And with whomsoever was found a book of the covenant, and if he was (found) consenting unto the Law, such an one was, according to the king’s sentence, condemned to death. Thus did they in their might to the Israelites who were found month by month in their cities.

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