The Apocrypha is particularly topical because one of its books, 1 Esdras, is the subject of an important recent discovery made by an American scholar: the earliest known draft of any part of the King James Bible. The following is a taster of the type of additional pages that might follow.
Page numbers in the following new sections refer to pages in
the paperback edition of The Writing on the Wall (Buy now)
The word Apocrypha (meaning hidden or secret) is used to denote scriptures of doubtful authenticity. In the King James Bible (KJV) the Apocrypha comes between the Old and the New Testaments. Nowadays many copies are printed without it so readers wonder what these missing books are all about. The main Jewish scriptures were collected together around 200 BCE into a Greek version known as the Septuagint (see pages 87 and 99). Most of this consists of translations from Hebrew texts but for some books and parts of books there are no Hebrew originals. Because there were also various inconsistencies and contradictions in these Greek texts that lacked Hebrew originals, the translators grouped them together as The Apocrypha. For the KJV Old Testament itself, they took the original Hebrew texts, rather than the Greek versions in the Septuagint, and rendered them directly into English. The parts they left out, which form the Apocrypha, either stand alone as individual books, or belong to the Septuagint versions of books in the KJV Old Testament. Some apocryphal texts may be centuries earlier than the Septuagint but 2 Esdras has been dated as late as first century CE and is not part of the Septuagint.
The following table lists the KJV order of the books of the Apocrypha, (the nature of their content) with their position in the Septuagint. Titles in bold type indicate the addition of new material in a similar style to that used in the published book.
1 Esdras (similar to Ezra) after 2 Chronicles (page 23)
2 Esdras (apocalyptic) not in Septuagint
Tobit (educative) after Nehemiah (page 26)
Judith (legendary) before Esther (page 27)
The rest of Esther (legendary/historical) Esther 10:4-16:24)
The Wisdom of Solomon (a 'wisdom book', see page 3)
after Song of Solomon (page 34)
Ecclesiasticus (a 'wisdom book', also known as Sirach)
after Wisdom of Solomon
Baruch (legendary) after Jeremiah (page 37)
Letter of Jeremiah (legendary) after Lamentations (page 38)
but KJV includes it with Baruch
Song of the Three Holy Children
(legendary/historical) Daniel (see page 41) 3:24-90
The History of Susanna [in Daniel] (legendary/historical) Daniel 13
The History of the destruction of Bel and the Dragon
(legendary/historical) Daniel 14
The Prayer of Manasses (legendary/historical)
before Job (page 29)
1 Maccabees (apocalyptic, see page 97) after Esther (page 37)
2 Maccabees (legendary/historical) after 1 Maccabees
NB Page numbers given above and in the articles that follow refer to the paperback edition of The Writing on the Wall.
Truth beareth away the victory
Honesty is the best policy
Esdras is a Greek version of the Old Testament name Ezra, the scribe associated with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem at the end of the Exile (see pages 24-26). 1 Esdras is a compilation made a century or two BCE and has no connection with 2 Esdras, of a much later date. Central to the book and unique to it is a debate between three henchman of the Persian king Darius, who had succeeded Cyrus, as to whether the power of wine, or of the king, or of woman is the strongest (3:4-4:41). The third adds a rider: 'Women are strongest: but above all things Truth beareth away the victory' (3:12). After the third, named Zorobabel, has extolled the virtues of women, Darius asserts that truth is indeed stronger than all three and the victorious henchman claims as his reward the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem and its plundered treasure (4:46-47 see Ezra 1). This story was placed in context by preceding it with historical narrative taken from 2 Chronicles and Ezra (see pages 23-25) and following it with more narrative from Ezra. The book ends with extracts about the reading aloud of the Hebrew law taken from The Book of Nehemiah, but without any mention of his name.
About the phrase
The words ‘but above all things truth beareth away the victory’ are much quoted. They are inscribed on a plaque by the main entrance to the New York Public Library and on the plinth of a monumental sculpture, known as The Crusader, dedicated to the publisher of the Chicago Daily News. This saying has had immense influence in western civilisation, establishing the pursuit of truth already championed by Plato as the greatest human endeavour.
Land of/flowing with milk and honey
Foreseen land or state of fruitfulness and prosperity
A scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers
A false god or idol, standing lifeless and absurd
Baruch was attendant and secretary to the prophet Jeremiah (page 37) during the turbulent times in the sixth century BCE when the Hebrews were deported to Babylon (see page 37). His activities are described in Chapter 36 of Jeremiah. The book of Baruch takes the form of a letter to accompany gifts to those left behind in the ruins of Jerusalem, calling them to pray both for their own forgiveness and for their compatriots in exile. They are reminded of their disobedience in the face of God's promise of a land that floweth with milk and honey (1:20). An elaborate confession is followed by poems about divine Wisdom, consolation for their plight, promises of God's rescue and a new Covenant (2:35, see pages 6 and 88). The absence of Hebrew texts to back up the Greek texts led Bible scholars to doubt the authenticity of this book as being the work of Baruch. Nevertheless, the book's themes of turning away from God, confession of sins and renewed encouragement are as much a challenge for today as they would have been both when Baruch was alive and centuries later, when the Septuagint was assembled. Some Hebrew fragments of Baruch have turned up in the discoveries at the Qumran, Dead Sea Scrolls site.
Chapter 6 is a letter of the prophet Jeremiah which comes after Lamentations in the Septuagint but has been tagged onto the end of Baruch in the KJV. It reiterates the theme of the Hebrew's sin of idol worship which resulted in their downfall. Since idols are lifeless objects created by men, without the powers of speech, hearing, or self-preservation Jeremiah says 'fear them not. For as a scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers keepeth nothing: so are their gods of wood, and laid over with silver and gold' (6:69-70).
About the phrases
The first phrase also appears in the Book of Exodus (3:8; see page 6) where Moses receives God's promise of a land flowing with milk and honey if he leads the Hebrews out of captivity in Egypt. The Hebrew word translated as honey can also mean the nectar that overflows from the fruit of date palms when the land is particularly fertile. The phrase has spawned numerous titles of books and anthologies, often about hopes of a better future and the proverbial promised land. Many are shortened to just Milk and Honey, as in the 1984 album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
In the Letter of Jeremiah, the phrase likening a lifeless idol to a scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers (6:70, Epistle of Jeremiah 1:70) is so figurative that it was used as the title of a 1972 arthouse film and deserves to be better known. A similar phrase about idols, a scarecrow in a field of cucumbers, occurs in several modern translations of Jeremiah 10:5 but in contrast the KJV translates this: ‘upright as the palm tree’.
The History of Susanna [in Daniel]
Bear false witness
To lie, especially to shift blame onto an innocent person
This book only appears in the Greek Septuagint (see page 99) where it forms Chapter 13 of the book of Daniel, a prophetic hero of the Babylonian exile (see page 41). The story relates to an incident in Daniel's early life. Susanna is a God-fearing and beautiful wife of a certain wealthy Babylonian who is benevolent to the Hebrew exiles and has a private garden where Susanna bathes herself. But two scheming judges lust after her and plot to hide together in the garden. As soon as she is alone they surprise her and demand her favours threatening that if she refuses them they will bring a false charge that she sent her maids away to be alone with a young lover. Shunning their advances, Susanna cries out that she would rather take the consequences than 'sin in the sight of the Lord.' Next day when she is falsely accused and condemned to death Susanna prays to God out loud "Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me, and, behold, I must die" at which Daniel steps forward crying "I am clear from the blood of this woman … Are ye such fools, ye sons of Israel, that without examination or knowledge of the truth ye have condemned a daughter of Israel?". Whereupon he demands to examine the judges separately about the incident. Each is asked under what tree they discovered Susanna with her lover. When each names a different tree they are convicted of false witness by their own mouth. Under the law of Moses they suffer the death penalty that they had maliciously intended for their neighbour.
About the phrase
This phrase has its origin in the ninth of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:16 (see page 6): Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. A lie is especially damaging when aimed at discrediting an innocent person and the story of Susanna highlights the potential consequences of this particular type of lying. The modern practice of keeping suspected criminals apart and interviewing them separately may have its origin in this story. In his book Following the Equator Mark Twain heads Chapter 50 (page 524, American Publishing Co., Hartford, 1897), with an epigraph which he ascribes to a ‘New Calendar’ of his fictional character, Pudd'nhead Wilson (The Century Magazine, 1893–4):
"There are 869 different forms of lying, but only one of them has been squarely forbidden. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
Last updated 10 November 2017