The Religious Literature
of the "Intertestamental" Period
(The Apocrypha and Septuagint)

by Al Maxey

(Apocrypha) (Pre-Maccabean Writings) (Maccabean Writings)
(Post-Maccabean Writings) (Septuagint)


During the 400+ "silent centuries" a great deal of religious literature was produced. The Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Septuagint, and the writings of the Qumran community -- the Dead Sea Scrolls -- are only a few of the better known examples of the type of sacred literature produced during this period. Some of the writings from this era are of great religious and historical significance; others are less so. All of them, however, shed light upon the thinking of their time, and are thus of importance to a better understanding of this historical period.

Perhaps the most significant collection of intertestamental writings is the Apocrypha, which means "doubtful." They are so characterized because very few actually accept them as inspired of God; they are of doubtful origin. The ancient Jews never accepted them as part of the Old Covenant canon, nor did the early church. Most scholars characterize them as "a lower level of writing" since they contain numerous historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms, and because they "do not breathe the prophetic spirit so evident in Canonical writings."

The Apocrypha is accepted, however, by the Roman Catholic Church, although they were not declared to be inspired of God (thus making them authoritative as recognized Scripture) until the Council of Trent (1546 AD). The Catholics, even given this declaration of inspiration, only include about half the books of the Apocrypha within their versions of the Bible. Indeed, some scholars feel the only reason the Catholic Church declared these writings to be inspired in the first place was to spite Martin Luther, who opposed them.

The Westminster Confession (1643 AD) states: "The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture, and are therefore of no authority in the Church of God, or to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings." The Anglican Church, in its Thirty-nine Articles, takes a mediating position between the Protestant and Catholic viewpoints: "The Church doth read (the Apocryphal books) for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to confess any doctrine." It should be noted that the Jews, whose literature and history this is, do not accept these books as being inspired, and thus they are not a part of their Scripture.

Interestingly enough, the Apocryphal book of II Esdras, which was probably written about the time the apostle John was penning the book of Revelation (the end of the first century AD), displays an awareness of the acknowledged and accepted OT canon of that time. In II Esdras 14:44-48 there is a distinction made between the recognized canonical books (the 39 books of the OT which we have today) and an additional 70 books which were to be "kept back" and not given into the hands of the common people. These apparently were the disputed Apocryphal writings.

Following is a list of the major Apocryphal books, along with their date of composition (according to the widely accepted scholarship of W.O.E. Oesterley) and a brief summary of their contents.


I ESDRAS (300 BC) --- Esdras is the Greek form of Ezra. This book is a compilation of passages from Ezra, II Chronicles, and Nehemiah. It relates a series of historical episodes from OT history, beginning with the Passover celebration in Jerusalem instituted by King Josiah (c. 621 BC) and ending with the public reading of the Law by Ezra (c. 444 BC). It also contains additional, non-biblical legends about Zerubbabel (known as the Tale of the Three Guardsmen). Its purpose was to portray the liberal, benevolent natures of Cyrus and Darius toward the Jewish people, perhaps hoping the Ptolemies would follow the same practice.

TOBIT (250 BC) --- This book is a romance; a book of religious fiction, which is entirely devoid of any real historical value. It is the story of a rich young man of Israel who is taken captive and sent to Nineveh at the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC. An angel leads this young man to a virgin-widow (she had lost seven different husbands -- all on their wedding day -- when they were killed by an evil spirit), and the two soon fall in love. He escaped death on his wedding day by burning the insides of a fish, the smoke of which drove the murderous evil spirit away.

SONG OF THE THREE HOLY CHILDREN --- This consists of a hymn (written about 200 BC) and a prayer (written about 160 BC). It is an addition to the OT book of Daniel, and was supposed to be inserted between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24. It purports to be the prayer of the three men in the fiery furnace, and their song of praise for deliverance.

ECCLESIASTICUS (200 BC) --- This is also known as The Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach. This work is an ethical treatise extolling the virtue of wisdom. It is very similar to the OT book of Proverbs, and is the longest of all the Apocryphal writings. It is also the only one with a known author. It deals with a wide variety of practical subjects, and gives rules for conduct in all areas of civil, religious, and domestic life. It is fascinating reading, and gives a great deal of sound spiritual advice.


JUDITH (150 BC) --- This book is a historical romance about a rich, beautiful, devout Jewish widow who delivered her people from the Assyrian commander Holofernes, who was besieging her city of Bethulia. Risking great personal danger, she made her way to his tent, seduced him and got him drunk, and then cut his head off with his own sword. She brought his head back to her city to show that God had delivered the people from his hand. This is somewhat reminiscent of the account of Jael and Sisera in Judges 4:17-22.

ADDITIONS TO THE BOOK OF ESTHER (140 - 130 BC) --- The OT book of Esther never mentions the name of God. This caused some of the writers who translated the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language (the Septuagint) to believe that an error had occurred somewhere with regard to this book. As a result, some of the Alexandrian Jews who did the work of translating Esther into Greek added 107 verses -- placing them in six different locations throughout the book of Esther. These "pious insertions" mention the name of God, prayer unto God, and other matters "left out" of the original. This was done in an effort to "spiritualize" the book of Esther. These additions were later gathered and grouped together by Jerome (340 - 420 AD), one of the great scholars of the early centuries of the church's history, and also the man who translated the Bible into Latin -- The Latin Vulgate.

BEL AND THE DRAGON (150 BC) --- This is another unauthorized addition to one of the books of the OT canon: the book of Daniel. It is one of the world's oldest detective stories. The purpose was to ridicule idolatry, and to discredit heathen priests and their work.


I MACCABEES (90 - 70 BC) --- This book is an extremely valuable historical work on the famous Maccabean period, and it discusses events relating to the heroic struggle of the Jewish people for liberty and independence. It begins with the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes to the throne (175 BC) and ends with the death of Simon (135 BC).

II MACCABEES (50 BC) --- This is also an account of the Maccabean struggle, but it confines itself to the period 175 to 160 BC. It professes to be an abridgment of a five volume history written by Jason of Cyrene. Although far less objective and historical than I Maccabees, and written from the Pharisaic viewpoint, it nevertheless does stress the miraculous nature of the Jewish struggle and displays the power of God at work on their behalf.

THE HISTORY OF SUSANNA (1st - 2nd century BC) --- This book is recognized by most scholars as one of the great short stories of world literature. It is another inauthentic addition to the OT book of Daniel. It relates how the godly wife of a wealthy Jew in Babylon was falsely accused of adultery and sentenced to death, and how she was ultimately cleared by the wisdom of Daniel.

THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON (40 AD) --- Some scholars disagree with Oesterley's date of 40 AD for the composition of this work, feeling it was more likely produced by an Alexandrian Jew between 150 - 50 BC. It is very similar to parts of the books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. It is a fusion of Hebrew thought and Greek philosophy in which the author seeks to prevent the Jews in Egypt from falling into skepticism, materialism, and idolatry. He also seeks to teach his pagan readers the Truths of Judaism and the folly of heathenism. However, like Plato, this book teaches the pre-existence and inherent immortality of the soul, and that the body is nothing more than an evil prison in which this so-called "immortal soul" is trapped until its release at death. It was during the "intertestamental" period that this false doctrine began to rise in prominence.

BARUCH (70 AD) --- This work purports to have been written by Jeremiah's scribe Baruch, who is said in the book to be spending the last years of his life in Babylonian captivity. It is addressed to the exiles, and shows that the tragedies which befell Jerusalem were a just recompense for the sins which they committed against God, and for their neglect of divine wisdom. It also contains a message of comfort and hope for the exiles; stating they will soon be restored to their homeland. It is the only one of the Apocryphal books which comes close to having the same spirit as the OT prophetic books. It consists largely of paraphrases of passages in the books of Jeremiah, Daniel, and other OT prophetic books.

II ESDRAS (100 AD) --- This is also known as IV Esdras (in the Latin Vulgate). It purports to contain seven apocalyptic revelations given to Ezra in Babylon which deal with God's government of the world, a coming new age, and the restoration of certain lost Scriptures.

THE PRAYER OF MANASSEH (1st or 2nd century BC) --- This work claims to be the prayer of King Manasseh of Judah, who was taken to Babylon where he repented of his idolatry (II Chronicles 33). In II Chron. 33:19 mention is made of a prayer he prayed while in Babylon, and which was said to have been written down and placed in the records of Hozai. This is supposedly that prayer.


The word "Septuagint" comes from the Latin word Septuaginta which means "Seventy." One will often see the symbol LXX used to designate this work (which is simply the number seventy in Roman numerals). The name comes from the belief that the work on this Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was completed in 70 days by 70 scholars. Most biblical scholars, however, set the number of days and translators at 72. The Septuagint is an ancient translation of the OT Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language for the benefit of the Greek speaking Jews of the Dispersion.

There are many theories as to the origin of the LXX, but the most likely is the one based upon the ancient document known as The Letter of Aristeas. The earliest writer to mention this document by name was Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, Chapter 2, Sections 2-3). This document is extant today in 23 different Greek manuscripts dating from the 11th century AD forward. The first printed edition of The Letter of Aristeas was the Latin translation of Matthias Plamerius of Pisa, which was incorporated into the first Latin Bible to be published in Rome. This letter claims to present an historical account of the origin, purpose, and outcome of the mission of Aristeas to the High Priest Eleazer at Jerusalem during the reign of Ptolemy II of Egypt (285 - 246 BC). The king desired to acquire copies of all the books in the world for his massive library. In order to include a copy of the Jewish Law (the Pentateuch ..... the first five books of the OT writings), a translation from the Hebrew language into the Greek was necessary.

Six elders/scholars from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (72 men), who were to be "men of exemplary life and learned in the Law," were selected to produce this translation. They were also required to be noted scholars in the fields of both Hebrew and Greek. These 72 scholars were taken by a man named Demetrius to the island of Pharos. Here, in a secluded area by the sea, they were commissioned to translate the Jewish books of Law into the Greek language for the king's library. They were provided with all the materials necessary to carry out this task.

The work was completed in just 72 days, according to Aristeas, "as if this coincidence had been the result of some design!" Demetrius then assembled the Jewish community of Alexandria, and, with the translators present, this new Greek version of the Law was read to the people. The translators were then applauded for their great service to the people of the Dispersion. It was agreed that the translation had been executed "well and with piety," and it was further agreed upon that a curse would be pronounced upon any who dared to alter the text by addition, omission, or transposition.

The Letter of Aristeas does not mention whether there was ever any work done by these scholars on the remainder of the OT writings. The king had simply requested a translation of the Law; no mention was made of him desiring any of the other Hebrew Scriptures for his library. Several decades later, however, in the prologue to the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, the author stated that the remainder of the OT Scriptures had indeed been translated into Greek --- "For words spoken originally in Hebrew are not as effective when they are translated into another language. That is true not only of this book but of the Law itself, the prophets and the rest of the books, which differ no little when they are read in the original." It is safe to assume, then, that long before the Christian Era the Jews of Alexandria were in possession of the entire Old Covenant writings in the Greek language.

As is true of every version of the Scriptures that has ever been produced, in time critics arose to condemn this work. They either felt it was inaccurate, poorly done, or simply felt it did not meet their needs. Some just didn't like change, and wanted to go back to the original. Others, over the years, made attempts to produce a superior translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Several of the more prominent versions, and their authors, are:

AQUILA --- This man was related to the Emperor Hadrian (117 - 138 AD), and was the Emperor's construction superintendent overseeing several building projects in Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, Aquila was converted to Christianity by a group of believers who had recently returned from Pella. However, when he refused to abandon his practice of astrology, the church withdrew their fellowship from him. He then demonstrated his contempt for the church by submitting to circumcision and embracing the teachings of the Jewish rabbis.

As one of his projects, he set out to produce a new translation of the OT writings into the Greek language which would be written in such a way as to not be compatible with the teachings of Christianity. This is what some today might refer to as a perversion, rather than a version, of the Scriptures. It was a translation intentionally designed to support a particular religious view, even though it was done at the expense of accuracy and honesty.

As one might expect, Aquila's version received wide approval from the Jews (many of whom were also, like Aquila, unimpressed with the Christian faith, and who saw this "version" as an effective weapon to be used against it). By the time of Origen (184 - 254 AD), Aquila's version was trusted implicitly, and was used by most all Jews who did not speak Hebrew. It had, in effect, replaced the LXX in Jewish communities of the Dispersion. In the 4th and 5th centuries (as is indicated in the writings of Jerome and Augustine) it was also the version of preference among the native Jews. Even the Emperor Justinian (483 - 565 AD) got involved in the support of this version. When regulating the public reading of the Scriptures in the Jewish synagogues, he declared it "expedient to permit the use of Aquila."

THEODOTION --- According to Irenaeus (b. 115 AD), Theodotion was a proselyte to Judaism, and came from the city of Ephesus. He produced more of a revision of the LXX than an independent translation. The major defect of his version was his habit of transliterating Hebrew words rather than translating them. A scholar by the name of Field cites 90 such Hebrew words that Theodotion transliterates for no apparent cause. Although this practice would be no problem to one who knew both Hebrew and Greek, it nevertheless could cause a great deal of confusion to one who only knew Greek.

SYMMACHUS --- According to Eusebius (260 - 339 AD), this man was an Ebionite, a view which is also confirmed by Jerome (340 - 420 AD). The aim of Symmachus in his translation, as Jerome perceived it to be, was to express the sense of the Hebrew text, rather than trying to attempt a literal word-for-word rendering. He sought to "clothe the thoughts of the OT in the richer drapery of the Greek tongue" (H.B. Swete).

ORIGEN (184 - 254 AD) --- Origen was one of the great scholars of the early church, and had tremendous knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek. Through extensive study he soon began to realize that in many places the text of the LXX differed significantly from the Hebrew text of his day. Origen felt the church needed to possess a text of the LXX "in which all additions to the Hebrew text should be marked with an obelus, and in which all that the LXX omitted should be added from one of the other versions and marked with an asterisk. He also indicated readings in the LXX which were so inaccurate that the passage ought to be changed for the corresponding one of another version." With this goal in mind, Origen produced the two great works --- the Hexapla and the Tetrapla, which were divided into eight and four columns respectively. This was a kind of ancient forefather to our "parallel versions" of today.

There were two other early attempts to revise the LXX, aside from those mentioned above. In the early part of the 4th century AD, Lucian, a presbyter at Antioch, and Hesychuis, an Egyptian bishop, both undertook similar labors. These two revisions were used primarily in the Eastern churches. From the 4th century AD onward there were no significant attempts to revise the text of the LXX, or to correct the inaccuracies of the various extant copies.

The LXX had a great impact upon the NT writings. When the NT writers quoted from the OT, they did so far more often from the LXX than they did from the Hebrew texts available to them. "The careful student of the NT is met at every turn by words and phrases which cannot be fully understood without reference to their earlier use in the Greek OT. It has left its mark on every part of the NT, even in chapters and books where it is not directly cited. In its literary form and expression the NT would have been a widely different book had it been written by authors who knew the OT only in the original Hebrew" (Swete).

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