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    The Apocrypha – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What are the Apocrypha?

    A. The Apocrypha are the “hidden or secret books” excluded from the Hebrew Bible though accepted in some Christian versions.

    The Apocrypha contains some colourful stories, though there are also some slight works which appear to lack classical Biblical quality.

    Apart from the contents of the Apocrypha in its present form, there were a number of “external books” prohibited to Jews. Examples, in the Talmudic view (Sanh. 100b), are Sadducean works, regarded as heretical, and the book of Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), deemed to be trivial. Bertinoro (the “Bar-T’nura”) adds the works of Aristotle, love songs and novels. The Tiferet Yisra’el adds the works of Homer and the writings of idolaters.

    Clearly these are books which the sages considered to be dangerous from either a theological or moral point of view or both. But they are books deriving from a later age when there was a fear that Greek culture would spread.

    As far as the Apocrypha itself is concerned the criterion appears to be that works written too late (after Ezra) and/or lacking sanctity (i.e. without evidence of the prophetic spirit or the ru’ach hakodesh) were regarded as unsuitable. The test was therefore the date and/or the content of the books. Since such works usually contained Divine names, they were not destroyed but “hidden away”.

    However, some Apocryphal material parallels passages in the Talmud (e.g. some parts of Ben Sirach); some material in the Apocrypha is esteemed for its wisdom; some (e.g. Maccabees) is useful as a historical source – but Apocryphal books are not found in the Tanach and are not part of the synagogue readings.

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