The Apocrypha is the name given to a group of writings found in some versions of the Old Testament but not in others. These texts are usually included in Catholic bibles but not in Protestant ones. They were, however, included in Protestant versions until the second quarter of the nineteenth century. When, in the year 382 A.D., Jerome was commissioned by the pope to make a new translation of the Scriptures, he went to Palestine rather than to Alexandria, Egypt, to obtain original copies. By doing so, he discovered fourteen books included in the Alexandrian, or Greek, version of the Old Testament that were missing in the Palestinian version. The question then arose concerning the status of these newly discovered books. The name Apocrypha, which means "hidden things," was given to these books because of the belief that the men who wrote them were not addressing their contemporaries but were writing for the benefit of future generations; the meaning of these books would be hidden until their interpretation would be disclosed at some future date by persons qualified to do so.
The books in the Apocrypha include histories, short stories, wisdom literature, and additions to canonical books. Among the historical writings are 1 and 2 Maccabees and 1 and 2 Esdras. The two books of Maccabees contain accounts of the Maccabean wars written from different points of view. 1 Maccabees tells the story from what came to be known as the position of the Sadducees, and 2 Maccabees reflects the position of the Pharisee sect. The two books of Esdras are apocalyptic in character, but they portray certain aspects of Jewish history presented as fulfillments of predictions made in the distant past. The wisdom literature includes Ecclesiasticus, or what has sometimes been called "The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach." Ecclesiasticus, which resembles the Book of Proverbs but covers many more topics, concludes with a famous discourse introduced by the words "Let us now praise famous men." The author includes himself in the list of Israel's most famous men. Another text, "The Wisdom of Solomon," appears to have been written as a reply to the argument given in the Book of Ecclesiastes. In it, the author affirms his belief in Yahweh, whose activities influence the course of Hebrew history. Interestingly, the author believes in a life after death.
Tobit and Judith are short stories included in the Apocrypha. Tobit, called Tobias in some versions, discusses Jews who have been faithful to the ritualistic requirements of their religion and have been abundantly rewarded for their good works. Judith, which in many ways is similar to the Book of Esther, tells of a Jewish woman living in the city of Jerusalem at a time when the city is besieged by the Assyrians and her people are in a desperate situation. She is not only a faithful Jew but a courageous person who invades the camp of the enemy and succeeds in a plot that enables the Jews to achieve a remarkable victory.
Several additions to the Book of Daniel are included in the Apocrypha. One of these, "The Prayer of Azariah," is said to be a record of the prayer that was offered by a Hebrew who was thrown into a fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar. Another addition, "The Song of the Three Children," claims to be the song of praise that was sung by Hebrews as an expression of gratitude for the marvelous way in which they were delivered from Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. "The History of Susanna" tells of a woman who has been accused unjustly of the sin of adultery. The wickedness of her accusers and the innocence of the woman are established by the prophet Daniel. The story "Bel and the Dragon" relates how Daniel was delivered from the hands of his enemies, who were trying to put him to death. An addition to the Book of Esther reports a dream given to Mordecai in which forthcoming events are revealed to him. The Book of Baruch is an addition to the Book of Jeremiah. In some versions, it contains a section called "An Epistle of Jeremiah." The "Prayer of Manasseh" supplements a story recorded in the Book of Chronicles, telling how Manasseh, who had done so many wicked things during his life, repented of his sins before he died.