The Prayer of Manasseh - Introduction
The Prayer of Manasseh is a poem attributed to Manasseh, king of Judah in the seventh century BCE. Its title recalls the story of Manasseh in 2 Chr 33 ; because of his idolatry (vv. 2–5 ), the Lord brought the Assyrians against Judah, and Manasseh was taken as a captive in chains to Babylon ( 10–11). In vv. 12–13 (and 18–19) the Chronicler states that Manasseh prayed in his distress. The Prayer of Manasseh was composed with 2 Chr 33 in mind (cf. Pr Man 10 and 2 Chr 33.10; Pr Man 9b–10 and 2 Chr 33.11; Pr Man 1,11 and 2 Chr 33.12 ) to fill a gap in 2 Chr, which does not give Manasseh's prayer.
The attribution of later writings to ancient figures was common in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods, and the Prayer of Manasseh was probably written by a second—or first‐century BCE Palestinian Jew; its original language may have been Greek, or perhaps Semitic (Hebrew or Aramaic). An anthological composition (i.e., a mosaic of biblical phrases and allusions), it is an acknowledgment of personal sin, with a petition for forgiveness. Similar to individual laments in the book of Psalms, especially Ps 51 , it differs from them in that an acknowledgment of divine justice and a confession of sin replace the complaint about God's inaction. Its closest biblical parallels are a number of late prayers expressing repentance: Ezra 9.1–15; Neh 1.4–11; 9.6–37; Ps 106; Dan 9.4–19; Bar 1.15–3.8 (and cf. 1 Kings 8.48–52 ).
The major themes of the Prayer are the mercy that God extends even to the worst of sinners (see the sins of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21.2–17; 2 Chr 33.2–9,19 ) and the effectiveness of sincere contrition. The poem has three parts: an acknowledgment of God's power, shown in his role as creator (vv. 1–4 ); a confession of sin, including trust in divine mercy to repentant sinners (vv. 5–8 ) and a prayer for forgiveness (vv. 9–13 ); and a final petition for salvation and concluding praise of God (vv. 14–15 ).
The Prayer of Manasseh is found in the Didascalia Apostolorum, a third‐century CE Syriac translation of an original Greek work, and in the Apostolic Constitutions (fourth century, Greek). In one manuscript of the Septuagint, the Codex Alexandrinus, it is one of fourteen canticles appended to the book of Psalms. For the Eastern Orthodox churches, it is a deuterocanonical work.