Jewish Literature in New Testament Times

The Apocrypha


What is the Apocrypha?

Jerusalem Temple CoinAfter the close of the Old Testament era and Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets (around 450 B.C.), the Hebrews in Israel developed a body of works which were later referred to as the Apocrypha. The word "Apocrypha" is a Greek term which means "hidden" or "secret" because the work was not to be studied by the common people, but only to certain authorities. As time went on the name was applied generally to those works which had biblical or religious flavor, but which were not accepted as authoritative. They could be studied and read for educational and moral purposes only, but would not be regarded as Scripture. The Old Testament Apocrypha became an integral part of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). Centuries later the Apocrypha appeared in the Latin Vulgate (against the Latin scholar Jerome's wishes) and later in certain English versions, such as the Great Bible of 1539 and the original King James Version of 1611.

The apocryphal books are given as follows in their usual order:

I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, The Song of the Three Holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, I Maccabees, II Maccabees.

This order is not chronological. Exact dating is impossible, but an approximate dating system would be something like this:


I Esdras - 300 B.C.

Tobit - 250 B.C

The Hymn in the Song of the Three Holy Children - 200 B.C

Ecclesiasticus - 200 B.C


The Prayer in the Song of the Three Holy Children - 160 B.C

Judith - 150 B.C

The Rest of Esther - 140 B.C

Bel and the Dragon - 150 B.C


I Maccabees - 90 B.C.

II Maccabees - 50 B.C.

The History of Susanna - ?

The Wisdom of Solomon - 40 A.D.

Baruch - 70 A.D. or later

II Esdras - 100 A.D.

Prayer of Manasses - ?

Most of these books were written during the period between the return from the captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem when the national life of the Jews were continually unsettled. They reflect the restlessness and the dissatisfied spirit of the Jews, who were still dreaming of an independent commonwealth. The major themes reveal the Jewish reaction to the oppression, uncertainty, and hope that characterized the entire period.

Of the list given above, three are historical: I Esdras, which corresponds in content somewhat to Ezra and Nehemiah; I Maccabees, which is a simple and straightforward narrative of the revolt of Mattathias and his sons in 168 B.C. that terminated in the defeat of the Syrians and the establishment of the Hasmonean state; and II Maccabees, an inferior digest of the work of Jason of Cyrene, which supplements in some degree the content of I Maccabees. Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, and The History of Susanna are romantic tales illustrating God's justice in vindicating His people. Bel and the Dragon, a spurious addition to the book of Daniel, belongs in the same category. The Wisdom of Solomon. and Ecclesiasticus are philosophical treatises in the form of epigrams, somewhat like the book of Proverbs. The Song of the Three Holy Children and The Prayer of Manasses are expressions of devotion to God and of hope in His promises.

The language and style of all these books resembles that of the canonical Old Testament; but with the exception of the book of I Maccabees their historical allusions are not accurate and they have no solid connection with identifiable characters as authors. Their effect on the writers of the New Testament was slight, although occasionally there seem to be references to them in the text, for example:

Ecclesiasticus 44:16, "Enoch pleased the Lord, and was translated,"

Hebrews 11:5: "By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God."

These two passages do not translate exactly so that one can be called a quotation from the other. Both could originate from independent comments on the account given in Genesis.

Also see The Text of the Old Testament


Jewish Literature

Esther Scroll

John 10:34 "Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law.."

Rabbinical Literature and Second Temple Judaism

Jerusalem Temple CoinThe Rabbinic Writings, The Mishnah, and the Talmud. During the first century A.D. the Pharisaic rabbis created many commentaries on the Torah. When Jesus began his ministry He attacked the Pharisees for putting their traditions above the word of God. All the writings and commentaries of the first two centuries A.D. were compiled and organized into a collection by a man named Judah Hanasi around 200 A.D. forming a collection called the Mishnah. The Pharisaic rabbis were known as the "Tannaim" which in Hebrew is translated teachers, and these men were the teachers who regulated the law. There was another collection of their commentary which was much smaller, it was known as the Tosefta which in Hebrew means "enlargement". The later commentaries on the Mishnah were made by "expositors".

Brief Historical Background

The Jews and Torah
The Holy Scriptures
The Apocrypha
The Apocryphal Literature
The Oral Law
The Mishnah
The Gemara
The Halakah
The Haggadah
The Midrash
The Zugoth
The Tannaim
The Amoraim
The Tosefta
The Baraitha
The Talmud
The Tractates of the Mishnah
The Palestinian Talmud
The Babylonian Talmud

The Purpose and Heart of the Law - A Heart Message
Rabbinical Writings Chart

Historical Timeline

The Persian Period 430-332 B.C.
The Greek Period 331-167 B.C.
The Period of Independence 167-63 B.C.
The Roman Period 63 B.C. to the time of Christ
The Old Testament Canon
The Apocrypha
Other Writings
The Septuagint
The Text of the Old Testament
The Aramaic Language
The Targums
The Talmud
The Great Synagogue
The Sanhedrin
The Dispersion
Preparation for Christ




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