My Friend's Bible Has More Books In It Than Mine

My Bible has 66 books.

66 seems like a lot.

It's hard to talk people into reading one book. But 66?

I don't even like to spell out the number 66 (so I don't). Why would anyone want to read 66 books?

But here's the thing. Not all Bibles have 66 books. Some have more than 66.

More? Really? More than 66? That seems excessive.

It's true. Some have more. You might know this if you have Catholic relatives. Or if you've used the popular Bible App.

Someone asked me about these extra books not long ago. She was using the trusty Bible App and the translation she selected, the Common English Bible, included them. My friend wanted to know if it was ok that an app identifying itself as "The Bible" included these books.

I have to be honest. I got way too excited about this question. I'm sorry. There's really nothing I can do to stop this sort of behavior. It's nice to get asked a question I can answer.

"My car is making a strange sound? Can you hear that? What is that?"

Yep, I can hear it, but you are barking up the wrong tree. Have you tried kicking it?

"Why isn't the drain working?"

No idea. Have you tried kicking it?

"What is with these extra books in the Bible I've never really heard about?"

Oh now we're talking.

So here's the short answer. Well, here's the shortest answer I can offer. Okay it's probably not a short answer at all.

These books are what some folks call the Apocrypha. Others call them Deutero-Canon. I know, both those names sound a little daunting. Apocrypha was a Greek word that meant hidden or obsure. A guy named Jerome was the first record of someone calling these books the Apocrypha, but it's not very clear how or why they came to be known by this title. Catholicism calls them Deutero-Canon, which means second canon (canon is a word used to refer to the accepted collection of the books of the Bible).


This copy of the Apocrypha belonged to my grandmother and I'm honored that it was recently passed on to me.


Okay, but what are they? Simply put, they are a group of books written roughly between the time of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek New Testament, though some may have been completed after the New Testament. They are wonderful examples of Jewish literature from this time period. They also have a lot in common with the Bible. They include teachings about right and wrong, stories of the people of God sometimes acting like the people of God and sometimes not, and even some favorite folks from the Bible. I'll list several below, along with some relevant information. This isn't all of them, but it is most of them.

Baruch - Baruch was a scribe of Jeremiah. Check out Jeremiah 36 for a story that includes Baruch. This little five chapter book includes a confessional prayer and a poem of encouragement.

Letter of Jeremiah - A letter written by Jeremiah to Judean prisoners about to be shipped to exile in Babylon.

Prayer of Manasseh - Manasseh was a king of Judah in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to 2 Chronicles 33, Manasseh was taken captive by the Assyrians, prayed to God for deliverance, and was restored as king of Judah. This one-chapter book claims to be the prayer he prayed.

1 Esdra - Mostly a retelling of biblical history from the time of Josiah's reinstating of the Passover to Ezra's reforms. Sometimes in old manuscripts it's called 3 Ezra.

2 Esdra - This book is filled with visions and strange imagery, kind of like Revelation in the New Testament. It was probably finished around the 3rd century AD (yeah, 200 years after Jesus) and includes a core written by a Jewish author but was probably finalized by a Christian author. Sometimes in old manuscripts it's called 4 Ezra.

Judith - A great story about a woman (whose name means "female Judean") from Bethulia (which means something like "house of God, YHWH") who stands in her devotion to God against a general in the army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Assyria (historically, he was actually king of Babylon). Most folks think the story is meant for edification, but is a work of fiction. If it is fiction, that would explain the historical inaccuracies and the possible pseudonyms.

Tobit - Tobit, his wife Anna, and his son Tobias are successful Jews living in exile in Nineveh under Assyrian rule. Unfortunately, Tobit falls into disfavor with the Assyrians, loses his wealth, and loses his eyesight (after sparrows poop in his eyes... I'm not joking). Tobit sends his son Tobias with a travel companion to recover some money he left in the region of Media. The travel companion goes by the name Amaziah, but is actually the angel Raphael. Along the journey, Tobias gets in a wrestling match with a fish, and Raphael tells Tobias to cut the fish open and keep its heart, liver, and gall. Eventually, the heart and liver are used to heal a woman of demon possession (Tobias would marry her), and the gall is used to heal his father Tobit of his blindness. And they lived happily ever after. Oh, by the way, the name Raphael means "God heals."

1-2 Maccabees -  Two books about 2nd century BC Jewish history.

Wisdom of Ben Sirah - Sometimes called Ecclesiasticus (not the same as Ecclesiastes), this book focuses on, you guessed it, wisdom. Reading this book is a lot like reading Proverbs. Kinda.

Wisdom of Solomon - Like the Wisdom of Ben Sirah, this book spends a lot of time talking about wisdom, but it's different in its approach and style. There are no collections of proverbial sayings or wisdom poems (like those found in the book of Proverbs).

Additions to Esther - These additions serve the purpose of making the original book of Esther more religious. You see, Esther is the one book of the Hebrew Scriptures that doesn't mention God. It doesn't. Go look for yourself. In fact, the book isn't very religious at all. These additions try to fix that by supplying prayers, a prophetic dream, and by giving God all the credit for saving the Jews.

Additions to Daniel -These additions include two stories (Bel and the Dragon, Susanna), a prayer prayed by one of the young men in the fiery furnace (Prayer of Azariah), and a song the three young men sung to God while in the furnace (Song of the Three Young Men). Susanna is a wonderful story about Daniel coming to the aid of a young women wrongly accused, and reminds me of an episode of Law & Order. It takes about two minutes to read. You should check it out.

I'm serious, Ice-T. Y'all just copied Susanna. Don't be mad about it. It's just true.

So you might be wondering, "Why aren't these books in my Bible and why are they in my aunt's Bible? Should I even read these things?"

Well, yeah, you should. They're good books. They offer a lot of background information about the time period leading up to the New Testament and, like I said earlier, they include lots of stories and teachings about right and wrong.

But are they Bible? For Protestants, no. For Judaism, also no. Historically, in Judaism they seem to have been read though not held as sacred, and Protestants followed suit. Catholics took a different approach, accepting them as deutero-canon, although even they didn't make it official until a council in 1546.

Regardless, I invite you to read them, even if they're not part of your canon. I mean, neither is most of the stuff you read, right?






Comments

  1. How neat! In the old testament I also notice in Chronicles they mention books and records that are not included in the Holy Bible.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yep. The writers of some of the books in the Hebrew Bible thought it was worth noting that there were other sources out there as well.

    ReplyDelete

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