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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

- Introduction

The term ‘Apocrypha’, a Greek word meaning ‘hidden (things)’, was early used in different senses. It was applied to writings which were regarded as so important and precious that they must be hidden from the general public and preserved for initiates, the inner circle of believers. It also came to be applied to writings which were hidden not because they were too good, but because they were too good enough: because, that is, they were secondary, questionable, or heretical. A third usage may be traced to Jerome (ca. 342–420 C.E.). He was familiar with the scriptures in their Hebrew as well as their Greek form, and for him apocryphal books were those outside the Hebrew ‘canon’, the scriptures accepted as authoritative by the Jews.

It is the usage of Jerome that is adopted here. The Apocrypha in this translation consists of fifteen books or parts of books. They are works outside the canon adopted in Palestine; that is they form no part of the Hebrew scriptures, although the original language of some of them was Hebrew. They are all, except The Second Book of Esdras, in the Greek version of the Old Testament made for the Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt and known as the Septuagint. Gentile converts to Christianity over-whelmingly outnumbered those of Jewish origin, and so the Bible in Greek—the international language—with the extra books included in it, came to be adopted as the Bible of the early Church, and many early Christian writers quote them as scripture. With the exception of The First and Second Books of Esdras and The Prayer of Manasseh, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes these writings as part of the Old Testament, and designates them as deuterocanonical, that is added later to the canon. They are included in the Latin Vulgate Bible.

In Greek and Latin manuscripts of the Old Testament these books are dispersed throughout the Old Testament, generally in the places most in accord with their contents, and it was this arrangement which was traditionally followed by the Roman Catholic Church. The practice of collecting them into a separate unit dates back no farther than 1520 C.E., and explains why certain of the items are but fragments; they are passages not found in the Hebrew Bible, and so have been removed from the books in which they occur in the Greek version. To help the reader over this disunity and lack of context, the present revisers have adopted various devices used in The New English Bible: the name of Daniel appears in the titles of the stories of Susanna, and Bel and the Snake, as a reminder that these tales are to be read with The Book of Daniel; a note after the title of The Prayer of Azariah and The Song of the Three indicates that this item is to be found in the third chapter of the Greek form of Daniel; the six additions to the Book of Esther, which are disjointed as printed in older translations of the Apocrypha, are provided with a context by rendering the whole of the Greek version of Esther.

Due weight has been given to the variant readings given in critical editions of the Greek, the text of the ancient versions, and the suggestions of editors and commentators. The texts used for the revision were those edited by H. B. Swete in The Old Testament in Greek according to the Septuagint, and A. Rahlfs in his Septuaginta. In places these editions include two texts: the present revisers chose to use the Codex Sinaiticus text of Tobit together with the Old Latin version. They used Theodotion's version of the additions to The Book of Daniel, namely The Prayer of Azariah and The Song of the Three, Daniel and Susanna, and Daniel, Bel, and the Snake. The variant readings given in critical editions of the Greek were consulted throughout, and for Ecclesiasticus constant reference was made to the various forms of the Hebrew text. For The Second Book of Esdras, which apart from a few verses is not extant in Greek, the translation is based on the Latin text of R. L. Bensly's The Fourth Book of Ezra.

Alternative readings from Greek manuscripts and the evidence of early translations (Vss., that is Versions) are given, as footnotes, only where they are significant either for text or for meaning. In a few places where the text seems to have suffered in the course of transmission and in its present form is obscure or even unintelligible, a slight change was made in the text and the rendering marked prob. rdg. Where an alternative interpretation was thought to deserve serious consideration it was recorded as a footnote with or as an indicator.

No attempt has been made to achieve consistency in the treatment of proper names. Familiar English forms have been used, especially when the reference is to well-known Old Testament characters or places.

In The First and Second Books of the Maccabees the dates given are reckoned according to the Greek or Seleucid era. As a help to the reader the nearest dates according to the Christian reckoning have been added at the foot of the page.

This revision of the Apocrypha shares with the rest of The Revised English Bible the aim of providing a rendering which is both faithful and idiomatic, conveying the meaning of the original in language which will be the closest natural equivalent. Every attempt has been made to avoid on the one hand free paraphrase, and on the other a formal fidelity that would result in a rendering which was all too obviously a translation. It is hoped that these documents, valuable in themselves and indispensable for the study of the New Testament, have been made more intelligible and more readily accessible.

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