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APOCRYPHAL LITERATURE

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Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 177 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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APOCRYPHAL LITERATURE. The history of the earlier usage of the term "Apocrypha" (from aaroKpii rrew, to hide) is not free from obscurity. We shall therefore enter at once on a short account of the origin of this literature in Judaism, of its adoption by early Christianity, of the various meanings which the term " apocryphal " assumed in the course of its history, and having so done we shall proceed to classify and deal with the books that belong to this literature. The word most generally denotes writings which claimed to be, or were by certain sects regarded as, sacred scriptures although excluded from the canonical: scriptures. Apocrypha in Judaism.—Certain circles in Judaism, as the Essenes in Palestine (Josephus, B.J. ii. 8. 7) and the Therapeutae (Philo, De Vita Contempl. ii. 475, ed. Mangey) in Egypt possessed a secret literature. But such literature was not confined to the members of these communities, but had been. current among the Chasids and their' successors the Pharisees.' To this literature belong essentially the apocalypses which were published in fast succession from Daniel onwards. These works bore, perforce, the names of ancient Hebrew` worthies in order to procure them a hearing among the writers' real contemporaries. To reconcile their late appearance with their claims to primitive antiquity the alleged author is represented as " shutting up and sealing " (Dan. xii. 4, 9) the book, until the time of its fulfilment had arrived; for that it was not designed for his own generation but for far-distant ages (1 Enoch i. 2, cviii. 1.; Ass. Mos. i. 16, 17). It is not improbable that with many Jewish enthusiasts this literature was more highly treasured than the canonical scriptures. Indeed, we have a categorical statement to this effect in 4 Ezra xiv. 44 sqq., which tells how Ezra was inspired to dicta' e the sacred scriptures which had been destroyed in the overthrow of Jerusalem: In forty days they wrote ninety-four books: and it came to pass when the forty days were fulfilled that th e Highest spake, saying : the first that thou hast written publish openly that the worthy and unworthy may read it; but keep the seventy last that thou mayst deliver them only to such as be wise among the people; for in them is the spring of understanding, the: fountain , of wisdom and the stream of knowledge." Such esoteric books are apocryphal in the original conception of the term. In due course the Jewish authorities were forced to draw up. a canon or book of sacred scriptures, and mark them off from those which claimed to be such without justification. 1 Judaism was long accustomed to lav claim to an esoteric tradition. Thus though it insisted. on the exclusive canonicity of the 24 books, it claimed the possession of an oral law handed down from Moses, and just as the apocryphal books overshadowed in certain instances the canonical scriptures, SO often the oral law displaced the written in the regard of Judaism. The true scriptures; according to the Jewish canon (Yad. Toseph. Yad. ii. 3), were those which defiled the hands of such as touched them. But other scholars, such as Zahn, Schurer, Porter, state that the secret books with which we have been dealing formed a class by themselves and were called " Genuizim (wins), and that this name and idea passed from Judaism over into the Greek, and that aar&pvdia f t(3hia is a translation of sins, n'-taa. But the Hebrew verb does not mean " to hide " but " to store away," and is only used. of things in them-selves precious. Moreover, the phrase is unknown in Talmudic literature. The derivation of this idea from Judaism has there-fore not yet been established. Whether the Jews had any distinct name for these esoteric works we do not know: For writings that stood wholly without the pale of sacred books such as the books of heretics or Samaritans they used the designation Hisonim, Sanh. x. r (n'iisn tenao and n'rni'i ). To this class in later times even Sirach was relegated, and indeed all books not included in the canon (Midr. r. Num. 14 and on Koheleth xii. 12; cf. Jer. Sabb. 16).1 In Aqiba's time Sirach and other apocryphal books were not reckoned among the 1:14onirn; for Sirach was largely quoted by rabbis in Palestine till the 3rd century A.D. Apocrypha in Christianity.—Christianity as it springs from its Founder had no secret or esoteric teaching. It was essentially the revelation or manifestation of the truth of God. But as Christianity took its origin from Judaism, it is not unnatural that a large body of Jewish ideas was ineOrpolatedi tt the:system of Christian thought. The bulk of these in due course underwent transformation either complete or partial, but there was always a residuum of incongruous and inconsistent elements existingside by side with the essential truths of Christianity. This was no isolated phenomenon; for in every progressive period of the history of religion we have on the one side the doctrine of God advancing in depth and fulness: on the other we have cosmo' logical, eschatological and other survivals, which, however justifiable in earlier stages, are in unmistakable antagonism with the theistic beliefs of the time. The eschatology of anation-rand the most influential portion of Jewish and Christian apocrypha are eschatological—is always the last part of their religion to experience the transforming power of new ideas and new facts. Now the current religious literature of Judaism outside the canon was composed of apocryphal books, the bulk of which-bore an apocalyptic character, and dealt with the coming, of the Messianic kingdom. These naturally became the popular religious books of the rising Jewish-Christian communities, and were held by them in still higher esteem, if possible, than by the Jews. Occasionally these Jewish writings were re-edited or adapted to their new readers by Christian additions, but on the whole it was found sufficient to submit them to a system of reinterpretation in order to make them testify to the truth of Christianity and foreshadow its ultimate destinies. Christianity, moreover, moved by the same apocalyptic tendency as Judaism, gave birth to new Christian apocryphs, though, in the case of most of them, the subject matter was to a large extent traditional and derived from Jewish sources. Another prolific source of apocryphal gospels', acts and apocalypses was Gnosticism. While the characteristic features of apocalyptic literature were derived from Judaism, those of Gnosticism sprang partly from Greek philosophy, partly from oriental religions. They insisted on an allegorical interpretation of the apostolic writings: they alleged themselves to be the guardians of a secret apostolic tradition and laid claim to prophetic inspiration. With them, as with the bulk of the Christians of the 1st and 2nd centuries, apocryphal books as such were highly esteemed. They were so designated by those who valued them. It was not till later times that the term 'became one of reproach. We have remarked above that the Jewish apocrypha—especially the apocalyptic section and the host of Christian apocryphs—, became the ordinary religious literature of the early Christians. And this is not strange seeing that of the former such abundant 1 See Porter in Hastings' Bible Diet. i. 113. use was made by the writers of the New Testament.2 Thus Jude quotes the Book of Enoch by, name, while undoubted use of this book appears in the four gospels and i Peter. The influence of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is still more apparent in the • Pauline: Epistles and the Gospels, and the same holds true of Jubilees and the Assumption of Moses, though in a very slight' degree. The genuineness and inspiration of Enoch were believed in by the writer of the Ep. of Barnabas, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria. But the high position which apocryphal books occupied in the first two centuries was undermined by a variety of influences. All claims to the possession of a secret tradition were denied (Irenaeus ii. 27. 2, iii. 2. I, 3. 1; Tertullian, Praescript. 22-27) true inspiration was limited to the apostolic age, and universal acceptance by the church was required as a proof of apostolic authorship. Under the action of such principles apocryphal books tended to pass into the class of spurious and heretical writings. The -Term "Apocryphal."—Turning now to the consideration of the word " apocryphal " itself, we find that in its earliest use it was applied in a laudatory sense to writings,r (1) which were kept secret because they were the vehicles of esoteric knowledge which was too profound or too sacred to be imparted to any save the initiated. Thus it occurs in a magical book of Moses, which has been edited from a Leiden papyrus of the 3rd or 4th century by Dieterich (Abraxas, 1o9). This book, which may be as old as the 1st century, is entitled: " A holy and secret Book of Moses, called eighth, or holy " (Alcove-ices legit (3i f3Aos d r6 pv¢os Elrtica ovp. ij 6-S004 ayfa). The disciples of the Gnostic Prodicus boasted (Clem. Alex. Strom i. 15. 69) that they possessed the secret (aaoap(lcaovs) books of Zoroaster. .4 Ezra is in its author's viewr a • secret work whose value was greater than that of the canonical scriptures (xiv. 44. sqq.) because of its transcendent revelations of the future. It is in a like laudatory meaning that Gregory reckons the New Testament apocalypse as iv itroxpt4 ots (Oratio in suam ordinationem, iii. 549, ed. Migne. cf. Epiphanius, Hoer. Ii. 3). The word enjoyed high consideration among the Gnostics (cf. Acts of Thomas, to, 27, 44). (2) But the word was applied to writings that were kept from public circulation not becathie of their transcendent, but of their secondary or question-able value. Thus Origen distinguishes between writings which were read by the churches and apocryphal writings; ypacaj pi; di€pouivp ;u is iv rois aotvois gal Se S7tgoo'tevjs vots ,fls(Dtiots Ebcb& S' list iv lerorcpb4ots' cbepouivp (Origen's Comm. in Matt., x. 18, on Matt. xiii. s7, ed. Lommatzsch iii. 49 sqq,): Cf. Epist. ad African, ix. (Lommatzsch xvii. 31): Eustis. H.E. ii. 13, 25; 3, 6. See Zahn, Gesch. Kanons, i. 126 sqq. Thus the meaning of aabapv4 or is here practically equivalent to " excluded from the public use of the church," and prepares the way for the third and unfavourable sense of this word. (3)' The word came finally to mean what is false, spurious, bad, heretical. If we may trust the text, this meaning appears in Origen (Prolog. in Cant. Cantle., Lommatzsch xiv. 325): "De script-this his, quae appellantur apocryphae, pro eo quod multa in its corrupta et contra fidem veram inveniuntur a majoribus tradita non placuit its dari locum nec admitti ad auctoritatem." In addition to the above three meanings strange uses of the term appear in the western church. Thus the Gelasian Decree includes the works of Eusebius, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, under this designation. Augustine ( De Cis.Dei, xv. 23) explains it as meaning obscurity of origin, while Jerome (Protogus Galeatus) declares that all books outside the Hebrew canon 'belong to this class of apocrypha. Jerome's practice, however; did not square with his theory. The western church did not accept Jerome's definition of apocrypha, but retained the word in its original meaning, though great confusion prevailed. Thus the degree of estimation in which the apocryphal books have been held in the church has varied much according to place and -time. As they stood in the Septuagint or Greek canon, along 2 The New Testament shows undoubtedly an acquaintance with several of the apocryphal books. Thus James i. 19 shows dependence on Sirach v. 11, Hebrews i. 3 on Wisdom vii. 26, Romans ix. 21 on Wisdom xv. 7, 2 Cor. V. 1, 4 on Wisdom ix. 15, &c. with the other books, and with no marks of distinction, they were practically employed by the Greek Fathers in the same way as the other books; hence Origen, Clement and others often cite them as " scripture," " divine scripture," "inspired," and the like. On the other hand, teachers connected with Palestine, and familiar with the Hebrew canon, rigidly exclude all but the books contained there. This view is reflected, for example, in the canon of Melito of Sardis, and in the prefaces and letters of Jerome. Augustine, however (De Doct. Christ. ii: 8), attaches himself to the other side. Two well-defined views in this way prevailed, to which was added a third, according to which the books, though not to be put in the same rank as the canonical scriptures of the Hebrew collection, yet were of value for moral uses and to be read in congregations,—and hence they were called ' ` ecclesiastical "—a designation first found in Rufinus (ob. 410). Notwithstanding the decisions of some councils held in Africa, which were in favour of the view of Augustine, these diverse opinions regarding the apocryphal books continued to prevail in the church down through the ages till the great dogmatic era of the Reformation. At that epoch the same three opinions were taken up and congealed into dogmas, which may be considered characteristic of the churches adopting them. In 1546 the council of Trent adopted the canon of Augustine, declaring " He is also to be anathema who does not receive these entire books, with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church, and are found in the ancient editions of the Latin Vulgate, as sacred and canonical." The whole of the books in question, with the exception of 1st and 2nd Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasses, were declared canonical at Trent. On the other hand, the Protestants universally adhered to the opinion that only the books in the Hebrew collection are canonical. Already Wycliffe had declared that " whatever book is in the Old Testament besides these twenty-five (Hebrew) shall be set among the apocrypha, that is, without authority or belief." Yet among the churches of the Reformation a milder and a severer view prevailed regarding the apocrypha. Both in the German and English translations (Luther's, 1539; Coverdale's, 1535, &c.) these books are separated from the others and set by themselves; but while in some confessions, e.g. the Westminster, a decided judgment is passed on them, that they are not " to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings," a milder verdict is expressed regarding them in many other quarters, e.g. in the " argument " prefixed to them in the Geneva Bible; in the Sixth Article of the Church of England, where it is said that " the other books the church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners," though not to establish doctrine; and elsewhere.
End of Article: APOCRYPHAL LITERATURE
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