Studying the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals/Anagignoskomena

Whew! What a mouthful that title is. I got all the titles from the Wiki page on “Apocrypha”, which links helpfully to “Biblical Apocrypha” and “Deuterocanonical Books”. What you will get out of reading those three articles at its most basic is that one person’s apocrypha, etc. is another person’s holy writ. There is no totally agreed upon selection of Old Testament apocrypha, our subject in this post.

Some brief definitions:
Apocrypha:That hidden away. Originally things were hidden because they were too esoteric for the average joe.  Later the idea became that these things were hidden because they were false, or at least questionable.

Deuterocanonical: of the second canon. The first canon are the universally received books of the Hebrew Tanakh or Protestant Bible. The division was cooked up during the sixteenth century during the debates on Old Testament canon revolving around the Council of Trent.

Anagigoskomena: things read. This fits the classic idea that these books not found in the Hebrew Tanakh are to be read as instruction, devotion, and example, but not to establish doctrine. This is a distinction practiced by some Roman Catholic authorities before the Council of Trent, the Anglican Church, and at least part of the Orthodox church.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, the Jewish reaction to these eighteen books is interesting. Most of them were never considered part of Jewish scripture, but over the centuries many rabbis have been very interested in some of them (Sirach/Ecclesiasticus in particular). Much of the material might have entered Jewish consciousness more through oral sources as the actual documents, for the details in the various Maccabees and Judith (who somehow along the way got associated with Hanukkah) stories in Jewish literature don’t necessarily match those in the actual books.

Those of you whose religious tradition accepts the importance of these books will have to bear with me now as I make a very short case for Protestant/Evangelical study of them, all of which most people have probably heard before. Nevertheless, in short, the reasons are three:

1. Tradition: Protestantism didn’t spring from nowhere. These books and the debate about them are part of the history and foundation of the various Protestant denominations. Studying them makes one more aware of his roots and his extra-denominational Christian fellows’ viewpoint.

2. History and historical background: 1 Maccabees in particular is a main source of the history of the intertestamental period, and even the mangled history in some of the books point to actual events. Likewise even those apocryphal books which are regarded as historical fiction still serve as background to the thought and culture of the bible, as a number of the books were plainly popular in the Second Temple period, based on discovered remains of copies.

3. Theology:  Religious cultural background, in short. What people were thinking and writing in the times that lead to our New Testament. These books are a distinct Jewish part of that thought process from roughly 300 BC to 100 AD. There’s plenty more books, including a mountain of Greco-Roman ones and what are termed apocrypha and pseudepigraphia to form that background of thought, but these apocrypha are the most familiar in style and content of the lot.

There, having laid out all that background, I can now get to the real point of this post: What’s an easy way to study the “Apocrypha” in the internet age?

1. Try the resources listed on one of my most popular blog posts, about electronic apocrypha and pseudepigraphia, unsurprisingly. Add to that a trip to e-Sword Users where you can get “A Catholic Commentary on Scripture” and “Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859” for esword 8.x and 9.x.

2. Buy a bunch of books. Lock up your wallet and credit cards, this gets expensive fast:

a. Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Editions of the Bible:

1. NRSV with Apocrypha: The standard bearer, with the most complete selection of apocrypha in its day.

2. ESV with Apocrypha: A reader’s edition of the popular conservative formal translation with the addition of the same apocrypha as the NRSV.

3. New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS): Recent translation of the Greek OT, which includes the standard apocrypha, thus doubly useful for apocryphal study and examining the OT translation the apostles used.

4. The Apocrypha translated by Edgar Goodspeed: One of the first twentieth century modern english translations of most of the apocrypha, and one of the more easy to read.

5. New Living Translation Bible, Catholic Reference Bible: Out of print but still often available used or in bookstore backstock, this is probably the easiest to read translation of the various apocryphal books (together with Today’s English Version, aka the 6.  Good News Translation, Catholic Edition (GNT)), but not officially approved by the Roman catholic hierarchy. My leather-like edition has cross-references, a small concordance, and a useful verse finder for topics in the front.

7. The Parallel Apocrypha: Out of print, pricey but still available used and lurking in bookstore corners. This is your one stop multiple translation source, including Greek, KJV, Douay, Knox, TEV, NRSV, NAB and NJB. It also has very interesting and useful essays about the apocrypha and various churches’ views on them preceding the actual apocrypha that I used to craft the introductory part of this blog.

“Okay”, you say, “but what if I want to do more than read these books? What if I want to actually study them a bit?”

That’s where study bibles come in, along with a couple of one volume bible commentaries:

8.  New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NRSVA): fast becoming the new scholarly standard. Available in several bindings.

9. Harper Collins Study Bible(NRSVA): The gold standard of the Nineties, revised in 2006. Several bindings available.

10. New Oxford Annotated Bible: Multiple editions, including a forthcoming fourth edition any second now. Not only in NRSVA but also an older 11. RSVA version.

12. New Jerusalem Bible: A Roman Catholic translation, noted for its literary style and in this edition, loads of short but very pointed and useful study notes.

13.  Harper Collins Bible Commentary: Another standard updated. Based on the NRSVA’s fuller canon.

14. Oxford Bible Commentary: Large in size as well as scope, this is Oxford’s answer to the Harper Collins and the next competitor:

15. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible: One of the latest of these scholarly one volume heavyweights, Eerdmans’ claim to uniqueness is that it also adds commentary on 1 Enoch to the apocrypha.

16. New Jerome Commentary: An increasingly dated Roman Catholic standard work that includes much material about specific Roman catholic thought about the bible, along with the more standard scholarly commentary.

“Yes”, you add,”but what if I want to actually study these apocrypha in depth? What then?”

Well, first you cry. See the price for one paperback commentary set here for why. The Anchor Bible commentary series is no better alternate, financially.

However, there is a less than optional alternate. Yes, e-books from the internet for free! They’re outdated,  and they use the KJV or the Revised Version for base text (some original translations are in there, but they’re still bible English, if you know what I mean). But they do really dig into the text and they are free (can’t say that too often).

So without further ado, here are the e-books I found on the Apocrypha for your amusement and edification. (At last! The real reason for this already over-long post!!)

17. The Story of the Apocrypha: Edgar Goodspeed, American translator of the Apocrypha, gives a brief overview of the Apocrypha including previous translations and summaries of each book’s contents. Almost new by archive standards.(1939)

18. Readings from the Apocrypha: A “greatest hits” selection from the various apocryphal books in the KJV translation.(1922)

19. An Introduction to the Books of the Apocrypha: Now we start the serious scholarly tomes. Relatively new for archive books (1935)

20 and 21. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphia of the Old Testament edited by R.H. Charles: vol 1: Apocrypha; vol 2: Pseudepigraphia. The same volumes as on my other blog post, but added here individually. A standard work still, I believe.(1913)

22. Lange’s Commentary on Holy Scriptures vol. 15: The Apocrypha: 1873, but it’s huge, with small print, and free.

23.  Holy Bible(KJV) with Revision and Commentary-Apocrypha: vol. 1 and vol. 2: Addition to the Speaker’s Commentary (1888)

24. 1 Maccabees: Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (1897)

25. The Apocrypha: Greek and English in Parallel Columns: For the hardcore researchers and Greek students wanting something less familiar than the New Testament to work with.(1871)

26. The Apocryphal Books of the Old and New Testament: A bonus; this is a brief layman-friendly summary of the apocrypha of both testaments.(1908)

And finally, if you want to read the bible through in a year with the apocrypha included, you can find several useful reading plans for this here, courtesy of Kevin Edgecomb and Esteban Vazquez. You can use the NRSVA or the ESVA for the whole bible, or the NETS for the OT alone.

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6 responses to “Studying the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonicals/Anagignoskomena

  1. Joel: Apologies for not having checked my spam box sooner.

    Thanks for bringing the God’s Word Apocrypha up. Frankly, I’ve never actually looked at that translation. So many translations, so little time….

    • Thanks, Chuck. I did a review of the GW a while back, but not seen the Apoc. yet. It’s at the local Cokesbury, so I might go check it out.

      • Yes, I’ll probably check the whole bible and the separate Apocrypha volume out tomorrow when I’m movie-ing and shopping.

        If nothing else, the Apocrypha might be a good easy to read version for those who want a copy but not bound in their Bible.

        Which reminds me: I plan on working in a quote from the Book of Concordance and verses study note at prayer meeting tonight. Pastor will be so pleased…

  2. The traditional Jewish treatment of the Maccabeans is based on Talmudic accounts, e.g., Shabbos 21b, Megilla 11a, etc.

    The traditional Jewish understanding is that the Apocrypha was explicitly considered and excluded from the canon; and furthermore, that the Apocrypha we have today may have been accidentally or deliberately altered from its original by its custodian, the Church.

  3. Theophrastus,

    Thanks for the references. I found it interesting how much cultural effect the Apocrypha had on Judaism, or how much shared memory.

    Speaking of altered from the original, this time of year my posts on Isaiah chapter seven are getting lots of hits.

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