Apocrypha in the fourth century was the name Jerome gave to those books he considered "reprehensible." The name was later used to refer to all books which were not accepted as part of the official canon.
To help students who have not yet had a chance to read these books, the following resume provides a quick look.
A somewhat longer synopsis (that of Kurt Kuhl, The Old Testament, John Knox Press) has been used as the basis for this information
The Greek Septuagint places this book before Ezra, thus the title I Esdras. This book corresponds with the Chronicler writings (II Chronicles 35-Ezra 10.44 and Nehemiah 7:73-8.13 and Ezra 4.7-24).
This book tells the story of the contest between the three members of the bodyguard of King Darius of Persia to decide what is the strongest thing on earth (3.1-4.32). The answers are king, wine, women, and truth (4.33-42).
The purpose of the book is to show how the worship of the Jews and their religious organization were established under Josiah, Zerrubbabel, and Ezra. The book is probably of later origin than Daniel (c. 160 B.C.E.), assumed to have originated at the end of the second or the beginning of the first century B.C.E.
The Book of Tobit
The protagonist of this story is a pious Jew who becomes a model. Tobit of Nineveh goes blind; his son Tobias, who is accompanying his father and is able with an angel's help to restore his father's sight.
The story shows connections with the god Chonsu of Thebes and with the Aramaic Achikar novel, Persian demonology (Aeshma Daeva: Asmodaeus) and the folk tale of the grateful corpse.
The book was probably written by a Jew of the Diaspora in Egypt the second century B. C. E. before the Maccabe an rising.
The Book of Judith
Judith, a beautiful and devout Jewish widow, goes into the enemy camp of Holofernes, commander-in-chief for Nebuchadnezzar. Judith wins the favor of the commander. She cuts off his head and takes it back with her. Disheartened by the loss of their commander, the besieging forces are defeated. Judith is greatly revered, sought after by many as a wife, but she remains a widow, and dies at great age.
This is a historical novel full of fanaticism and passion, placing emphasis on piety as expressed in the Law.
The book was written in the period after the Maccabe an rising and in the early days of the prominence of the Pharisaic movement, about 150 B.C.E.
Additions to Esther
The additions to Esther contain prayers, the purpose being to give Esther something of a religious tone; decrees, to make the story more authentic, and a third group consisting of Mordecai's dream, which is probably pure literature in origin.
The date is 114 B.C.E, quoted in the subscription as being he fourth year of Ptolemy, but we can't determine whether this is Ptolemy VIII or IX.
The Wisdom of Solomon
The Wisdom of Solomon is placed after Job in the Septuagint. This book contains an apologia of the Jewish belief in God and is addressed primarily to unfaithful Jews. The reward of piety is represented as wisdom (chs. 1-4). Piety is praised in song (6-9). A third part of the book describes the sway of wisdom in Israel's history from Adam to Moses (10-19), interrupted by a long discourse on idolatry (8-15).
The author was a pious Jew, who probably lived in Alexandria and published under the pseudonym Solomon. Origin, Jerome, and Augustine deny the authorship of Solomon.
The author reveals a Hellenist education and is familiar with Plato and Xenophon, the teachings of the Epicureans and Stoics and the philosophy of Heraclitus.
Next to Philo, Wisdom is the most important product of the Hellenist Jews and was well known to PAUL as well as to the authors of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the First Peter. Luther ascribed the book to Philo, but it differs from Philo in its teaching and language and should probably be dated to the first century B.C.
This is the most extensive book in the wisdom literature by Jesus ben Sirach. It has much in common with Proverbs and presents its sayings in couplets and uses parallelism. The book is an important document of culture of the period. In contrast to Proverbs, the utterances are arranged according to points of view and carry special headings. From a theological point of view, Ecclesiasticus suppresses the generally human in favor of the specifically Jewish; to this author, wisdom is not the fear of God (Job 28.28). Rather, this writer sees wisdom as observance of the Law and the wise man is a learned scholar (38.25 ff.).
The book also contains poems on wisdom, hymns, and songs of thanksgiving; prayers, and an alphabetic song (51.13-30). Special attention should be given to the praise of the fathers from Enoch to Nehemiah (chs.44-49) and the appreciation of the high priest Simon II (d. 199 B.C.E.; 50.1-21). The book ends with praise: "And now bless the God of all."
The preface says the author's grandson translated the book from Hebrew. The original Hebrew text should be placed about 190 B.C.E.
The Book of Baruch
This book in the Septuagint follows directly after Jeremiah. It contains a long prayer of repentance (1.15-3.8), very similar to Daniel's prayer (9). The book was intended as a festival lesson for the Temple.
When Baruch reads the book in Babylon to King Jeconiah and his fellow prisoners, considerable sums of money are sent along with the book to Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar and the exiles are recommended for intercession in the Temple.
Distinct from Jeremiah, the book is a didactic poem on wisdom (3.9-4.4), the true source of which is faithful observance of the Law. The book contains seven songs (4.5-5.9) in the style of Deutero-isaiah and Lamentations, songs of consolation.
The Baruch portion should probably be dated at the beginning of the first century B.C.E. The Letter of Jeremiah, suggested by Jeremiah 29, contains a homily on Jeremiah 10, a warning against idolatry (Is. 44.9-20), with reference to the worship of Tammuz.
II Maccabees 2.2 assumes the existence of this epistle, placing it at the second or third century B.C.E.
The Prayer of Azariah
Three friends of Daniel are thrown into the furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. The book contains a prayer of Azariah, inserted from popular tradition.
This prayer shows typical national lament, by no means suited to the situations described in the story. The portrayal of contemporary distress is vague and general, but it seems to refer to the oppression of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
The Song of the Three Holy Children
The prose section forms a transition from the Prayer of Azariah to the song of the three men in the furnace. The song consists of a litany-like hymn fragment (29-34) styled in the form of a prayer, to which is attached another expanded hymn, another litany.
The hymn will originate from the second century B.C.E but should be older than the Prayer of Azariah.
Jewish elders pursue Susanna, the beautiful, God-fearing wife of Joakim; when she will not yield to them, they accuse her of adultery, distorting the facts of the case. She is condemned to death. Her protestations of innocence are in vain, but God hears her prayer and sends a yong man called Daniel to contest the verdict and to conduct a separate hearing of each witness. When the witnesses do not agree, Susanna is saved and her slanderers punished with death.
There is no connection between this book and the book of Daniel, evidenced by the absence of an historical framework, the way Daniel is introduced, and the content itself.
The theme is loyalty to the faith which triumphs over heathen persecution; here, it is a slandered woman and a wise judge, a secular story, the material borrowed from elsewhere and given a Jewish coloring.
This story owes its popularity to the allegorical interpretation of Susanna in referring to the persecution of the Christian church. The concern of the story is less with Susanna and Daniel than with the value of witnesses. It is directed against Deuteronomy 17.6: "On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses, he that is to die shall be put to death." The intention is to support the efforts of the Pharisees to have this law reformed.
This story is probably written by a Pharisee in Jerusalem at the beginning of the first century B.C.E.
Bel and the Dragon
The two additions belong together, the first after the story of Susanna, dealing with a bronze idol; the second, after Daniel, dealing with a living dragon. The king maintains both are alive, because they accept food and drink. Daniel uncovers a ruse, the fraud of seventy priests who secretly remove the sacrifices from the altar and use them to feed themselves and their families. The king has the priests killed and Daniel is allowed to destroy Bel and his temple.
In the second story, the king's assertion is disproved by Daniel's throwing small cakes made of pitch, fat, and hair into the jaws of the dragon until it bursts. A riot threatens because of the king's religious attitude, and he delivers Daniel to the crowd. He is thrown into a pit with seven hungry lions; after seven days, the king come to mourn Daniel. The rest of the story is analogous to Daniel 6.
A passage has been inserted to tell how Habakkuk in Judea saves Daniel from dying of starvation in the lion's den at the command and with the assistance of an angel.
The story has as its purpose the ridiculing of the worship of heathen gods. There is an echo of Bel-Marduk and Tiamat, but the serpent could as easily refer to the serpent of Aesclepios of Epidaurua, worshiped in Greek and Oriental cults at a later period.
Hypothesis places both stories at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century B.C.E.
The Prayer of Manasseh
This book is a short, lovely lament of an individual and is known as the Prayer of Manasseh. The account of Manasseh peculiar to the Chronicler (2 Chronicles 33.12ff.) mentions such a prayer.
Nothing can be said about the origin of the date of this song.
The First Book of the Maccabees
This book reports events from 137 to 177. It describes the oppression of the Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the struggle for freedom of the Maccabeans, the priest Mattathias from Modein and his sons Judas, Jonathan, and Simon. It forms a very important and reliable historical source for this period.
The book should be dated between 100 and 70 B.C.E.
The Second Book of Maccabees
For the period between 175 and 160 B.C.E., this book forms an important parallel to the first, to which it bears the same relationship as Chronicles to the Books of Kings. It purports to be a shortened version of the five volumn historical work by Jason of Cyrene.
The narrative is characterized by a strong belief in miracles, a belief in the resurrection and the conception of divine requital and punishment, faithfulness to the Law and Temple.
The style of writing points to a Hellenist Jew (probably from Alexandria). Opinion dates it about the middle of the first century B.C.E.