Why Aren’t the books of the Apocrypha part of the Bible?

September 1st, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 3 comments

Thank you Rabbi and Susan for your valuable information.  I am a born, raised and practicing Catholic. I find your Ancient Jewish Wisdom very helpful and insightful.

I thought you may be able to answer this question a bit better than the many Google searches I have done. The books (I believe there are seven) that are not included in the canonized Jewish teachings or Bible but are in the New Testament of the Bible that Catholics use, which I believe you may call the Apocrypha and Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books, are something I would like to learn more about from the Jewish aspect. From searches, I see that the Jewish Bible or teachings was canonized between 200 BC and or even up to 200 AD. Can you clarify when it was? Why were those seven books not canonized?

I have read several different reasons but would like to know what the Jewish teaching is. And before the canonization of Jewish teaching, were any of the works of those seven books taught or referred to when teaching the Jewish people? I read that the story inspiring Hanukkah is in one of those books, I believe Maccabees. Can you tell me if that is true and if so, why it is? I read many different things online and would love to know what Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches and find that you are a much more reliable source than Googling. Thank you so much!

Alicia

Dear Alicia,

We have to admit that we were not familiar with the term ‘Deuterocanonical books.’ However, while we cannot address the decisions of either the Catholic or Protestant church, we can explain the Jewish TaNaCH without resorting to any search engine.

Before endeavoring to answer your question, Alicia, it is our duty to inform you that we place little stock in Academia’s view of the Bible. We’d as soon take detailed marital guidance from a lifelong celibate as accept information on God’s Message—the Bible—from a secular or atheistic university “Professor of Bible”.

That said, Jewish Scripture is known by the acronym TaNaCH, תנ“ך. The three Hebrew letters, reading right to left have the sound of T, N and CH. The T stands for Torah, which technically refers only to the five books of Moses. The N stands for Nevi’im – the prophets. These include the books starting with Joshua and going through Malachi. The CH has the sound of K when it is at the beginning of a word and stands for Ketuvim – the writings. These range from Psalms to Chronicles and include the books of Esther, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.

The three sections correspond to the decreasing level of prophecy with which the respective books were written. Moses had direct conversation with God and as such the Torah is the transmission of God’s dictation. It is for this reason that we explore each and every letter to discover the oral tradition that accompanied the dictation – what we term ancient Jewish wisdom.

No one after Moses had the same closeness with God. The prophets—whose levels of prophecy were not necessarily identical—had visions and revelations, but the language of the books is largely their own. We scrutinize these as well for ancient Jewish wisdom, and there is much there, but not to the same extent.

The Writings, Ketuvim, were authored by King David, King Solomon, some of the prophets such as Samuel and others. In some cases, they are expansions of ancient Jewish wisdom on a piece of the Torah, in others, they are songs and odes, but they are all holy writings. Even the book of Chronicles is not a history but connected to the Divine. As such, there is oral transmission, ancient Jewish wisdom, on these as well.

In contrast, the book of Maccabees you mention (that is the only piece of the Apocrypha of which we have any knowledge) is a historical account of a period of history. There is no Divine component. It can be supported or questioned as historians wish. Hanukkah, on the other hand, is referenced in the Torah (our audio CD Festival of Lights shows where) and was a pre-ordained festival. The historical events of the time turned the major concepts of the festival into an observance and are interesting, but the reasons for the eight days of celebration themselves trace back to the beginning of Genesis.

In summary, the books of the TaNaCH have the purpose of capturing the entirety of God’s Message for mankind delivered through Moses at Sinai.  For instance, the details in the Hebrew account of Samson and Delilah in Judges 16 clarify important and useful information in Genesis 28.  Psalms 81 resolves an otherwise baffling mystery in Genesis 41 and so forth.

After many years of requests to recommend a Hebrew/English Bible, we have settled on a beautiful edition with many fine features. For one thing, it shows the correct Biblical paragraph breaks in a way that most printed Bibles do not. You might enjoy taking a look at it.

Wishing you enlightenment from Genesis through Chronicles,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Our Newest Resource!
Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s Recommended Hebrew/English Bible

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3 comments

Stefan says:

Alicia,
Your question of “why are some books considered part of the Christian Canon in the Catholic Church but not in the Protestant Church” has hundreds of years of history behind it. The formation of which books should be included in the Christian Bible took centuries and was not without debate among the ancient Church elders.

I teach classes on Church history at our local congregation and very highly recommend the book “Church History in Plain Language: Fourth Edition” by Bruce Shelley that we use as our “textbook” when I teach. It is written by a Catholic scholar and I am a conservative LCMS Lutheran so I disagree with his assessment of Martin Luther as being a renegade, but other than that one chapter this book is spectacular. It covers the formation of the ancient church, the gradual split between Judaism and Christianity, and the gradual 300-year-long formation of the Christian Canon in exquisite detail. Really it was this text that showed me finally why the Christian sect of Judaism had no choice but to eventually break off and formally split. It it very well written. It would answer your questions in spades.

The Lord be with you!

Joanne says:

Rabbi! I just read Genesis 41, which I have read a few times, but not understanding ancient Jewish wisdom, I cannot pick out the baffling mystery to compare to Psalm 81! Would you briefly explain? (the connection between Judges 16 and Genesis 28 is more clear to me.)

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Joanne–
The baffling mystery is why Pharoah immediately promoted Joseph. He should have said “Many of my courtiers have offered explanations of my dreams–so far I don’t know if yours is any better so let’s wait for 8 years, if we find 7 good years and then a bad year, I won’t even wait for years 9, 10, 11, etc. I’ll elevate you but until then, back to prison with you”. There was apparently nothing in what Joseph said that proved that his explanation was true. Why was Pharaoh convinced that God was with Joseph? That is answered in the Hebrew text (only) of Psalm 81. I’ll do a Thought Tool on this soon.
Cordially
RDL

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