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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

History.

1. Septuagint.

The creation of the Apocrypha is part of the history of the translation of the HB into Greek. The Septuagint, so-called because of the foundation legend that it was the work of seventy (or seventy-two) translators, was produced gradually during the third and second centuries BCE. According to the Letter of Aristeas, the translation of the Pentateuch was produced by translators sent to Alexandria from Jerusalem by the high priest Eleazar at the behest of King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (283–246 BCE) and, although the detailed historicity of this legend is dubious, and it is more likely that the work was commissioned by Greek-speaking Jews, the Alexandrian origin of the work is plausible since a festival to celebrate the translation was held there regularly in the first century CE (Philo, vit. Mos. 2.7 (41)). But the other books were translated piecemeal and quite possibly in other parts of the Greek-speaking diaspora. All that is certain is that the main body of the Writings and the Prophets were available by the late second century BCE, when the grandson of the author of Ecclesiasticus, Jesus son of Sira, referred, in the prologue to his translation of his grandfather's work, to the existence of Greek versions of ‘the Law, the prophecies and the rest of the books’. In the same passage the grandson of Jesus son of Sira referred to the impossibility of precise translation: ‘What was originally expressed in Hebrew does not have exactly the same sense when translated into another language.’ In this he was quite correct, and the translators of different books in the Septuagint varied between those who aimed at a very literal rendering and those who apparently aimed more at reproducing the mood of the original. In the latter case the Greek version often necessarily included a great deal of interpretation and (to a lesser extent) elaboration; the authors both inspired and were part of a much wider movement of translating Jewish texts into Greek in this period, often producing work so distinctly Hellenic that they should be treated as compositions in their own right. It is in this context that the material now found in the Apocrypha was composed.

2.

The transmission of the Septuagint in antiquity was almost entirely through Christian rather than Jewish copyists. Some fragments of the Pentateuch, the minor prophets, and indeed some of the apocrypha survive in Jewish MSS from pre-Christian times, and further papyrus fragments including parts of Wisdom and Sirach from the second to third centuries CE was found at Antinoopolis in Egypt, but the main witnesses to the text are the Christian MSS of the fourth century, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, and the rather later (between the late fourth and early sixth centuries) Codex Alexandrinus. Christians from the beginning treated the Septuagint as a sacred text in its own right and not simply as a translation of the Hebrew.

3.

At the time when the Septuagint translations and the apocrypha were composed, books were written on papyrus or leather scrolls and each book would normally have been written on a separate scroll. Thus the issue of what was to be included together with the other books of the Greek Bible only really arose with the Christian adoption of the Codex. Most of the books of the apocrypha are to be found in each of the great codices of the Septuagint from late antiquity without any indication that they are not part of the canon of Scripture, but they are found in different places within the text and not all are consistently included. Thus, for example, the Prayer of Manasseh is not in any of our ancient copies of the Septuagint, but some Septuagint MSS include 3 and 4 Maccabees and Ps 151 , which were not to be treated as part of the Apocrypha when the corpus was defined in the Reformation, and by contrast 2 Esdras is not found in any Greek codex of the Septuagint. From all this it is clear that Christians in late antiquity on the whole treated the Apocrypha as part of the canon of sacred Scripture, but since the limits of the canon were still disputed, some books were more consistently treated in this way than others.

4.

Confirmation of this view can be found in the lists of canonical works of the OT compiled by Christian authors in late antiquity, in which the books of the apocrypha are found in varying numbers and order. Many Greek Christian writers of the second and third centuries regularly cited apocryphal books, using the same formulas to introduce quotations that they used to cite texts from the OT. However, a few Christian authors, such as Melito of Sardis in the second century and Origen in the third, were aware that although the apocryphal books were to be found in the Septuagint and were therefore ‘Scripture’ they were not in use among Jews as part of the HB, and in the fourth century Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Amphilochius did not include any of the apocrypha in the lists of canonical books that they drew up.

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