Wednesday, November 28, 2007

apocryphal history lesson

At Bible study last night, someone asked me, "So what is the Apocrypha anyway?" Wedged into the middle of the Bible, between the Hebrew Testament and the Christian one--is a whole other book. It's got more prophets, apocalypse, history and historical fiction, wisdom, letters, and a dragon. That's right, there's a dragon in the Bible. These writings aren't canonical; that is, they're not officially part of the Bible and not authoritative the way we consider the Hebrew and Christian Testaments to be. However, they were once.

In the 3rd to 1st century BCE, a group of seventy scholars got together in Alexandria, Egypt to translate the Hebrew Testament into Greek, that text eventually called the Septuagint. The story goes that the seventy each translated the entire thing individually and every one of their translations was identical to the next. Whether or not that happened, the list of books they translated was different than the list we currently consider the Hebrew Testament. A similar thing happened when a similar (but not identical) list of books were translated into Latin to form the Vulgate in the early 400s CE. The books that didn't make it into either one were still canonical to some Christians, regardless of whether the church considered them so. Eventually they were collected into the Apocrypha and smooshed into many versions of the Christian Bible.

The word "apocryphal" means many things, from the negatively charged "of doubtful authorship or authenticity" to the more mysterious and positive "hidden things" (from the introduction of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 2001). Scholars are still in disagreement about what it means and just why these books got the name. The key is to remember that though they are not canonical, they are still of great worth.
In the current struggles in the Episcopal Church over human sexuality and authority, it might do us good to remember that, though we disagree violently, our brothers and sisters are still of great worth.

3 comments:

Bonnie said...

Ooooh! Just what was missing last night - a history lesson. Last night was major fun, but I did miss the part where we learned new stuff. After Jeopardy, I'm looking forward to the "best stories never written in the bible" one. And yes, I'm a total geek. (c:

aliceatredeemer said...

You're not the only one...

Joe said...

"In the current struggles in the Episcopal Church over human sexuality and authority, it might do us good to remember that, though we disagree violently, our brothers and sisters are still of great worth."

Well said!

Grace and Peace,
Joe