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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

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Language, Translation, Versions, and Text of the Apocrypha

Michael A. Knibb

Introduction

The meaning of the term ‘Apocrypha’, as discussed later in this volume in the chapter ‘The Growth of the Apocrypha’ (Chapter 29), is ambiguous in both early Christian and modern usage. Here it is perhaps sufficient to state that the present essay is intended to cover the apocryphal and deutero-canonical books included in the NRSV, and that the term ‘Apocrypha’ is used with this specific meaning. As in the later chapter, reference will also be made to the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) because it, like the Book of Jubilees, is regarded as canonical by the Ethiopian Church.

The writings of the Apocrypha have in common the fact that although none belong in the Hebrew Bible, they all, with the exception of 2 Esdras, are included in manuscripts of the Greek Bible. However, the appearance of homogeneity that this suggests disguises the fact that while some of these writings were composed in Greek, others were composed in Hebrew or Aramaic and were translated into Greek as part of the wider process by which the books of the Hebrew Bible were translated into Greek, and for similar reasons. So far as the Apocrypha is concerned, it is possible from the point of view of language of composition to distinguish three main groups of writings. (1) Works whose Greek style shows that they were composed in Greek: additions B and E to the Book of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 2 Esdras 1–2, 15–16, 4 Maccabees, and probably the Prayer of Manasseh. (2) Works for which the discovery of Hebrew or Aramaic manuscripts of their texts—particularly, but not only, as part of the discoveries at Qumran—has confirmed the view that they were composed in one or other of these languages: Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, and Psalm 151. (3) Works for which composition in Hebrew or Aramaic seems very probable, or is at least suspected, even though we lack textual proof of this: Judith, the additions to the Book of Esther (except for additions B and E), Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, the additions to the Greek Book of Daniel, 1 Maccabees, and 1 Esdras. In addition, 2 Esdras 3–14 was also probably composed in Hebrew, but neither the original Hebrew nor the Greek translation of this have survived, and we are dependent on the evidence of the versions made from the Greek, particularly the Latin version.

The discovery of Aramaic manuscripts of 1 Enoch at Qumran has confirmed the view that this work, or at least the major part of it, was composed in Aramaic. In addition to these Aramaic fragments of 1 Enoch, portions of the Greek translation have also survived, but for the book as a whole we are dependent on the Ethiopic version.

The fragments of four Aramaic manuscripts and one Hebrew manuscript of Tobit found in Cave 4 at Qumran are clearly of great importance for the text of this book, and the same is true of the Hebrew psalm manuscript from Qumran Cave 11 that includes Psalm 151, and of the fragments of a number of Hebrew manuscripts of Ecclesiasticus, of which some were found in the store-room of a Cairo synagogue, one at Masada, and two at Qumran (see further below). But even for these writings, the Greek text is of primary importance, and this is all the more true for the remaining writings of the Apocrypha except for 2 Esdras. Study of the text of the Apocrypha thus forms part of Septuagintal studies (for introductions to the Septuagint, see Swete 1914; Jellicoe 1968; Dorival, Harl, and Munnich 1988; Jobes and Silva 2000; Fernández Marcos 2000; Siegert 2001, 2003; Dines 2004).

As in the case of the translation of the books of the Hebrew Bible, there are three types of witness to the Greek text: (1) Greek manuscripts and papyri; (2) the versions; (3) quotations in early Christian writings. For what follows it should be pointed out that while Esdras a of the Septuagint is 1 Esdras of the Apocrypha, Esdras b of the Septuagint gives the Greek translation of Ezra–Nehemiah, and is not the same as 2 Esdras of the Apocrypha.

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