INTRODUCING THE APOCRYPHA—MESSAGE CONTEXT AND SIGNIFICANCEWritten by David A. deSilva Reviewed By John Byron
While numerous books have been written about apocryphal/deuterocanonical literature over the last century, not many have been able to appeal to both the scholar and layperson alike. With the publication of this volume deSilva has successfully bridged that gap. Introducing the Apocrypha is an engaging study of those books that sometimes find their way into the back of our Bible or in between the Old and New Testaments, but are not always given the degree of attention deserved. Aware of this neglect, especially among Protestant circles, deSilva sets out to neutralise the concern some have about these books potential threat to their faith. Readers are invited to discover that far from threatening one’s faith, the Apocrypha is actually ‘a vital witness to faith, specifically the faith of Jewish people living in the period between the third century BCE and the first century CE’ (16). DeSilva argues that readers of the Apocrypha will not only enhance their knowledge of Second Temple Judaism, but will also expose themselves to a body of literature that was a significant part of the formative influence on those earlier aspects of Christian theology that surpass many of the great schisms that so often divide us (25).
The first two chapters are introductory. The first chapter introduces the literature and addresses issues of canonicity and the various ways the books have been received throughout Jewish and Christian history. The second chapter provides an historical overview of the particular political/religious pressures that Jews were living under during the Greco-Roman period. The remaining sixteen chapters are each devoted to the individual analysis of: Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Ben Sira, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Additions to Daniel, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, 3 Maccabees, 2 Esdras and 4 Maccabees. Each chapter follows a standard outline covering the books’ structure, textual transmission, arguments about authorship, date and setting and the formative influence the books may have had on early Jewish and Christian developments. Particularly helpful is the way deSilva points out common theological themes found both in the Apocrypha and the NT.
In addition to the skilful handling of the introductory material, readers will benefit from the author’s socio-rhetorical expertise. This is demonstrated particularly well in the chapter on Judith. Here the issues of honour and shame and the place of woman in early Jewish society provide fresh insights and help us think about this literature in new ways. For instance, Judith’s use of deceit to bring about God’s victory is placed within the context of the Jewish/Hellenistic world. Rather than assume that Judith is guilty of deceit, deSilva encourages us to reconsider our own presuppositions about how the Ten Commandments were interpreted and applied by Jews in the Second Temple Period (102). In the chapter on 4 Maccabees, deSilva demonstrates how the author used Hellenistic philosophy to illustrate the disastrous results of the collision of Hellenism with Jewish piety.
This is an excellent introduction to the material and conceivably will become a standard textbook as well as a valuable reference tool. Those who have never read the Apocrypha, or have read it but remain tentative in their conclusions, will find deSilva a more than competent guide. The presentation is decidedly non-technical but not at the expense of substance. It is obvious that deSilva wants to remove as many obstacles as possible for those the has invited to read the Apocrypha. Those who respond to that invitation will find the volume a handy companion when actually reading the Apocrypha. Highly recommended.
University of Durham