|(Released October 24, 2018)
This is not a verbatim transcript.
Some grammar and wording has been modified for clarity, and timestamps are approximate.
|LAURA HALES 00:00
||This is Laura Harris Hales, and I’m here today with Jared Ludlow to talk about the Apocrypha. Jared Ludlow has taught in the Ancient Scripture Department at BYU since 2006. His PhD is in Near Eastern Studies from UC–Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. His primary research interests are in ancient Judaism and early Christianity.
Recently he authored the book Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective.
I feel like I’m talking about something forbidden like I stole it out of my mom’s room or something, the Apocrypha.
|JARED LUDLOW 00:43
||It’s how some kind of treat it. Yes. Mysterious.
|LAURA HALES 00:47
||Mysterious, not part of our canon, not quite up to snuff or something. We’re going to explore it today. What does the Greek word apocrypha even mean, Jared?
|JARED LUDLOW 01:01
||It kind of means hidden things, something that should be covered. It’s the opposite of apocalypse—something that we uncover, that we reveal. You could approach this term in a couple of ways. If you’re looking at it positively, these are things that should be kept sacred and not just shared out in the public at random—not casting pearls before the swine. Some took the approach that these are things that should be covered up and hidden and buried and forgotten, that they are not worth reading. The term came to be connected with a group of texts that we call with a capital “A,” the Apocrypha. And that’s really where we mostly hear about this term as the Apocrypha.
|LAURA HALES 01:54
||We’re talking about the Apocrypha, but in order to do that, we need to talk about the Septuagint first. How does that fit into our story?
|JARED LUDLOW 02:04
||The Septuagint, in a simple definition, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. This comes as the result of the spread of Greek colonies and especially with Alexander the Great coming into the ancient Near East, tremendous growth in Greek language, thought, philosophy, and so forth.
Many Jews started living throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and Greek became a common educated language for them as well. It seemed to get to the point that for Jews, for example, living in Alexandria, Egypt, Greek was more common for them than Hebrew. And so, they decided at some point that they needed to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek for these Greek-speaking Jews.
In the process of this Greek translation, additional texts were included that had not been part of the Hebrew Bible, so basically these additional texts we group together in the collection that we call the Apocrypha. These are additional texts in the Greek Septuagint that were not in the Hebrew Bible.
|LAURA HALES 03:19
||I was surprised when I heard your account of the Septuagint that you have in the book. That wasn’t the story I was told as a youth. I thought that it was written in 72 days or something like that and there were seven scribes from each tribe, which makes an awesome story. How much historical basis is there to that story?
|JARED LUDLOW 03:46
||That story comes from a text called the Letter of Aristeas that tells this account of the librarian at Alexandria. Alexandria had one of the greatest ancient libraries, and they wanted a copy of as many books as they could and especially books of law. They knew the Jews had their Book of Law, the Torah, and so they wanted, according to this account, a copy of it for their library.
That’s where you get the tradition of taking representatives from each of the 12 tribes, bringing them to Egypt, and sequestering them to make a translation. According to some accounts, they all come back with the exact same translation, and then that becomes known as the Septuagint. The truth of that is a little shaky because we don’t really have definitive 12 tribes at that time. Many of the tribes had been scattered and merged and so forth. You also have the issue of how it would truly be a miracle to have 70-plus different translations all saying the same thing, and really, how much would they have wanted a copy of the Jewish laws for their own library?
|LAURA HALES 05:04
||I thought that was a really funny point, their classic propaganda. Of course, they want the Israelite religious history in their library.
|JARED LUDLOW 05:16
||In reality, it’s probably a long-term process. It probably did start with the Torah, the first five books of Moses, but then other books needed to be translated—the Psalms, and all the prophets, and so forth. It would be quite a while, I would say, before you have a complete translation of the Hebrew Bible.
|LAURA HALES 05:39
||Like the Old Testament, the Apocrypha is a library. What types of books do we find in the Apocrypha?
|JARED LUDLOW 05:46
||Among these texts that we classify in the Apocrypha, we have some that we could call biblical expansions. They’re like additional stories about Daniel, a retelling of the book of Esther, more text associated with Ezra, and Manasseh, the king, and the Wisdom of Solomon. These are all biblical figures, and there are more stories told about them.
We have others that I would classify as heroic stories that tell of great exploits of individual Jews or as a nation of the Jews. For example, the account of the Maccabees and their uprising against the Greeks, or we have a woman, Judith, who single-handedly, basically, stops an attack of an army, and Tobit also tells a story of going off and succeeding in this quest. And then we have a couple of wisdom texts, the Wisdom of Solomon that I mentioned earlier, and then also a text called Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach or Ben Sira. It’s also sometimes known as Ecclesiasticus not to be confused with Ecclesiastes in the Bible, but Ecclesiasticus.
|LAURA HALES 07:02
||We know scripture isn’t written in a vacuum. When we look at the language that the Apocrypha is written in, what does it tell us about the purpose of the writings?
|JARED LUDLOW 07:13
||The language of these texts has been quite a scholarly debate over the years because we know they were written in Greek at some point because that’s the form that we find them in. Some of them we have found fragments of among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in Aramaic or in Hebrew. Many think that some of these texts were originally written in Hebrew and/or Aramaic and then later translated into Greek.
What all of that, I think, tells us is this is a time period that, like in New Testament times, you have these three languages floating among the Jewish community. You have Hebrew that always remains the religious language, Aramaic a common spoken language, and then Greek an educated language. Jews are conversing and doing things in all three of them as a community.
|LAURA HALES 08:07
||The Apocrypha has been accused of being a collection of pseudepigrapha. Why would that be a problem and what is pseudepigrapha?
|JARED LUDLOW 08:18
||The term pseudepigrapha means a text that is falsely attributed to somebody else. For example, the Wisdom of Solomon is one of these texts. Did Solomon actually write these snippets of wisdom, or is somebody later using his authority and placing it under his name? It was a common practice in these later Jewish and early Christian texts to use the authority of earlier figures for their own writings. I think there are a few reasons for this. It’s not like today where they’re trying to plagiarize or pass it off as it has to be from this person, but it’s more in the spirit of this person or as maybe a disciple or follower of this person. We want to honor this person with these texts.
When you have scribes and a scribal community, very little is actually written by an author. Think of the letters of Paul. Most of what is written is written by scribes and others. Jeremiah had a scribe, Baruch, and he shows up in the Apocrypha also. And yet, just because it’s written by a scribe doesn’t mean it’s not from the person because they are connected. But when you add centuries between the time that the person lived and when the text might have been written, then they’re drawing more on the authority of that person.
|LAURA HALES 09:58
||If these works are pseudepigrapha, do we know who wrote them?
|JARED LUDLOW 10:05
||In most cases, we don’t know because they’re never signed or told the author. The one case in the Apocrypha that’s different is the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira, which begins by talking about how a grandson decides to translate these, basically, school exercises for a scribal school of his grandfather. A lot of these sayings he used, apparently, in his school for the scribes to copy and practice on either that he came up with or that were wisdom sayings of his day that he was passing on. But that’s the only one that seems to be specifically attributed to an author from the actual historical time period.
|LAURA HALES 10:56
||The Apocrypha is not part of the LDS canon. It is part of the Catholic canon. The Jewish people have used parts of the Apocrypha in the past but have rejected other parts. What role has the Apocrypha filled in various Christian sects?
|JARED LUDLOW 11:15
||For the very earliest Christians, speaking of during the New Testament period, we see particularly, for example, the Apostle Paul when he quotes from scripture, it seems to be from the Greek Septuagint. Occasionally it’s Hebrew, and occasionally it’s his own translation. For the most part, it seems like the earliest Christians use the Septuagint as their Bible.
|LAURA HALES 11:41
||And the Apocrypha was part of the Septuagint.
|JARED LUDLOW 11:43
||And the Apocrypha was part of the Septuagint. Interestingly, we don’t really have quotations from the Apocrypha in the New Testament, but we do see them in some other early Christian writings. Among what we call the early Christian fathers, the bishops and so forth after the apostles, they referred to the Apocrypha. They used it in their sermons and copied it into some of their writings. And yet, it wasn’t universally accepted, and so some Orthodox Eastern Christians for a while decided to go away from it, but then they seemed to come back to it.
Jerome who was the one who translated the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate, that the Catholic world used for centuries, wasn’t a big fan of the Apocrypha. He didn’t think that they were very authoritative, but under pressure he included it in his translation. But, he always had a little heading that set it off to note that he didn’t really think these were scripture.
|JARED LUDLOW 12:49
||And that’s been the thought of these texts throughout Christian history. It wasn’t until later in specific councils that both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians solidified the notion that these are scripture. They tend to refer to them as deuterocanonical, meaning they’ve entered the canon later, not that they are of a secondary status. They’ve entered the canon later, but they are part of scripture.
When the Protestants came along they, for the most part, read them, valued them as stories, but didn’t treat them as authoritative scripture. Similarly, with the Jews even though they come from Jewish communities, they didn’t really incorporate them into their authoritative scripture. A lot of that was their feeling that prophecy had ceased with Malachi, and so forth, around 400 BC and a lot of these texts come later, and so it was after the Age of Prophecy.
|LAURA HALES 13:53
||As I mentioned earlier, the Jews had a time in their history where they did refer to the Apocrypha. Do we know when and why the Jews rejected the Apocrypha?
|JARED LUDLOW 14:04
||The Jews, following the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD, started gathering in councils in Yavneh, for example, and it’s where the rabbinic movement takes over. It seems to be from these councils that they determined what should be scripture and what should not be included. They had some issues with some of these additional texts found in the Septuagint. Some of it is because they were written in Greek; whereas, the religious sacred language was Hebrew. Then the other issue was chronology. They seemed to have come later after the time period that they believe the prophecy had ceased with Malachi, and so forth, around 400 BC. For the most part, they did not accept them as part of scripture, but still would read them. And they were the foundational text to the celebration of Hanukkah because the story of the Maccabees tells the story of Hanukkah and their victory over the Greeks. The text in the Apocrypha is not read in the synagogue, and so forth, as part of their liturgy.
|LAURA HALES 15:17
||There’s a famous quote from Joseph Smith regarding the Apocrypha that goes something like, “There are many fine things in there, and you need to study them out to see if they’re right.” We know that a couple of general authorities have quoted the Apocrypha in their talks. Besides that, has the Apocrypha had an impact on the LDS Christian tradition?
|JARED LUDLOW 15:41
||The Apocrypha hasn’t had much of an impact on the LDS Christian tradition. The primary canonical response to the Apocrypha is Section 91 of the Doctrine & Covenants. As part of the Joseph Smith translation project, Joseph Smith asked the Lord if he should also translate the Apocrypha, and the Lord’s response was, “No.” Then as you mentioned, the Lord goes on and says there are good things in there, and if one reads with the spirit they can gain benefit therefrom, but there are also interpolations of man.
Joseph Smith and other early church leaders would occasionally refer to the Apocrypha mostly in the sense of it’s part of the complete Bible, but they really wouldn’t turn to it for authoritative scripture. There are a couple of church history episodes where splinter groups felt like text, especially Ezra, would be revealed later, that they could now reveal those books. Some people followed after them even though Joseph Smith said it was false and so forth. We do have some Saints even leaving the main body of Saints because of a text in the Apocrypha and leaders trying to use that to lead them away. But besides that, just occasional references in conference talks, or what have you, that, again, are mostly wisdom sayings or occasionally things about maybe some prophecies that are in there that maybe have some relevance to LDS beliefs.
|LAURA HALES 17:28
||We’ve been talking about the influence of the Apocrypha on various religious sects and whether the Apocrypha is part of the canon or not. This might be a good time to talk about what it even means to be part of a canon of scripture and how a scripture makes it into the canon? How does that work in the LDS tradition?
|JARED LUDLOW 17:50
||That’s a great question because you really have a whole range of what we sometimes refer to as canonized scripture. The standard works that we carry around, is bound and collected. But then we also say that conference talks can be scripture, Ensign articles can be scripture, or certain statements by the church leaders can be scripture.
|LAURA HALES 18:20
||I think you mentioned that one of the primary criteria to determine whether it’s canon or not is whether it’s been used. And as we just recited, the Apocrypha simply hasn’t been used very much.
|JARED LUDLOW 18:34
||One of the criteria used by early Christians in determining their canon was to ask if it was being used. Also, is it consistent with other teachings? And if it’s not really used and nobody’s really quoting from it, copying it, and so forth, they felt like, “Well, do we really need it?”
That’s probably what a lot of LDS feel like. Yes, the word shows up in Section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants, so they feel like they should know something about this. But because it’s not part of our curriculum and Gospel Doctrine, or seminary, or something like that, it’s really not used, and we’re not that familiar with what’s actually in the Apocrypha.
|LAURA HALES 19:22
||Let’s move on to the hidden gems of the Apocrypha. The Greek story of Esther in the Apocrypha is quite different than the Hebrew one in the Bible. What are the differences and why might the Greek Jews have felt a need to correct the Book of Esther?
|JARED LUDLOW 19:45
||Well, let me start with that last question first. Why do they feel a need to tamper with, change, add to, the Hebrew version? I think the bottom line is they felt like God was too much in the background. The name of God never shows up in the Hebrew version of Esther. Even though it’s assumed that He’s behind the deliverance of the people during the time of Esther, it’s never really implicitly designated that way.
These later Greek translators seemed to be uncomfortable with that and so in the Greek version of Esther, the name of God shows up dozens of times, much more religious activity is highlighted involving prayer and fasting and going to God to seek His help. The other thing that they may have felt uncomfortable with is, “What is a good Jewish girl doing in a gentile king’s harem?” In the Hebrew version, there doesn’t seem to be any issue with that; whereas there—
|LAURA HALES 21:01
||There really should be an issue.
|JARED LUDLOW 21:03
||—there really should be, right? I mean eating-wise, kosher-wise, and intermarriage is a big deal in a lot of Bible text, and yet, here she’s being encouraged to marry a Gentile. The Greek version of Esther gets a little bit more into the mind of Esther and how she felt about this, that she didn’t really like this, that she felt like she needed to do this to help her people, but she was not going to enjoy it a single day. To wear that crown to her was more of a curse than some great fulfillment of fantasy that I’m wearing a princess or queen crown, tiara.
|LAURA HALES 21:44
||I loved that story in the Hebrew version though. It was really fun growing up as a young maiden myself, but the Greeks corrected it for us.
|JARED LUDLOW 21:55
||She still becomes queen, and she still delivers her people, but what’s emphasized a lot clearer is that she and Mordecai are instruments in God’s hands not just moving things on their own to deliver the people but are working through God’s plan.
|LAURA HALES 22:15
||There are also additional stories about Daniel the prophet famous for being thrown in the lion’s den. What can we take away from these additions?
|JARED LUDLOW 22:27
||A lot of these additional stories just continue in the same characterization of Daniel as this wise man who is faithful to God in the midst of a gentile environment and shows that his God is more powerful.
One of my favorite stories is of Susanna, a beautiful woman, who is lusted upon by two elders of the community who regularly meet at her husband’s home, at Susanna’s home, and they decided independent of each other, initially, that they were going to observe Susanna bathing in her garden. They stumble upon each other and realize they both have the same intention, so they decide together to collude to get Susanna to lie with them.
|LAURA HALES 23:21
||I feel like the first part of the story is a Netflix movie plot. I can see that it would be intriguing in the ancient Near East when there’s not much entertainment to be passed around.
|JARED LUDLOW 23:36
||And that’s one of the values, I think, of the Apocrypha is it has stories that are romantic, or mystery-solving, or adventurous.
|LAURA HALES 23:49
|JARED LUDLOW 23:49
||Or scandalous. And this would definitely fit into the culture now of #MeToo movements where we have these two men who because of their position and their status can try to force her because they know that the people will believe them over her.
When she decides she’s not going to lie with them, then they turn to the people and say, “Look, we caught her with a young man who, unfortunately, escaped from us, but she was being unfaithful with this young man.” At that point, it looks like everybody believes them, and Susanna is going to be put to death.
But that’s where Daniel enters the story. He asks each of them separately, “Where was she when she was with this young man?” And they both said different trees. Then they were able to see that they were actually lying, and it was they who were trying to lie with her. And so, it preserves her innocence. It shows Daniel’s wisdom, and it’s an interesting tale against the elders of the community, which maybe many felt were corrupt at that time.
|LAURA HALES 25:07
||You mentioned that it gives us a good glimpse into Diaspora Jews.
|JARED LUDLOW 25:12
||The Apocrypha spends a lot of time in their stories with the Gentile–Jewish relationship. It must have been very challenging for Jews to remain faithful to their very unique practices and beliefs in the midst of Gentiles that are quite different and very open about a lot of things.
To maintain kosher eating, to observe the Sabbath, to go to synagogue, or to study would be quite different. There’d be a real temptation to just assimilate, to just become like the Gentiles. And some of the text, like the Maccabees, point out that there were many Jews that just went that way and would study in the Greek schools, the gymnasiums, and so forth. But the overall purpose of a lot of these is to help the Jews to remain faithful in the midst of that gentile environment, somewhat like for LDS that we have this phrase of “being in the world but not of the world.” How do we negotiate when it’s too far to become of the world and yet not just live isolated in a bubble when we’re living in the world. We want to reach out and be good neighbors and so forth, but how do we negotiate that so it doesn’t become too much? That’s a lot of what the Jews, I think, faced, and that’s what a lot of these texts, I think, address.
|LAURA HALES 26:51
||Unlike some other stories we have in the Old Testament, I love that Susanna turns out well. She prevails in the end. She made the right choice, and she’s believed. It’s the world’s first courtroom drama. It’s definitely a drama and engaging and definitely a gem of the Apocrypha.
You’ve mentioned the Maccabees a few times. It’s a great source for that period of history. What do we learn from the Maccabees?
|JARED LUDLOW 27:28
||The Maccabees tell the account of the Jews standing up against their Greek overlords and gaining semi-independence for about a period of 100 years. As you know with the Old Testament history, the Assyrians came in and conquered. Then the Babylonians came, and then the Persians, and then the Greeks. The Jews were under one empire after another. And when they got really pushed with some religious changes trying to be forced upon them, then they rose up and were able to gain some military victories and then also regain control of the temple that had been desecrated with sacrifices of pigs on the altar and bringing of false gods into the courtyards and so forth.
The Maccabees becomes this great symbol to the Jews of rising up and being strong against these imperial powers. And even today, they are a symbol for when the State of Israel was being formed of rising up and fighting for their land. It even stretches to athletics. Most of the basketball teams are named Tel Aviv Maccabi or Jerusalem Maccabi or whatever. The Maccabees are the symbol of strength and military victory.
|LAURA HALES 28:56
||Don’t they have the Maccabiah Games too?
|JARED LUDLOW 28:59
||Yes. They do have a Maccabiah Games, which is like the Olympic games, but it’s for Jewish athletes to come and compete against each other—
|LAURA HALES 29:04
||—from all over the world. I was actually in Jerusalem when they were holding the Maccabiah Games, and it was really fun to see these worldwide Jewish athletes.
|JARED LUDLOW 29:16
||Which is ironic because they’re mimicking the Olympic games, which are the Greek games, and yet, the Maccabees are the ones that overthrew the Greeks during this revolt.
|LAURA HALES 29:28
||There is some irony there.
|JARED LUDLOW 29:30
||There’s some irony there.
|LAURA HALES 29:31
||What interests you about the Book of Tobit, and why do you think it was so popular among Diaspora Jews?
|JARED LUDLOW 29:39
||The Book of Tobit is, I think, just a fun read. It’s a great tale. It interweaves a couple of different plot lines in it. Even though it probably is not the best-written story because it foreshadows things very clearly, so the reader knows exactly what’s going to happen. But in some ways, that builds the drama because the characters don’t know what’s going to happen, and so those who read or listen to the story know more than the characters within the story.
It, again, is another story of a man who’s trying to be very faithful to his beliefs, his covenants. In this case, it’s set in Assyria, but he tries to remain faithful. He wants his son to marry within the Israelite family. That’s part of one of the stories is sending his son off who then meets with a distant relative like what we see with Isaac and Jacob and their stories in the Old Testament. But the woman he meets has had really bad luck with her seven previous husbands. On the wedding night of each of them, they die. It sets up this dramatic wedding night making the reader wonder whether the same fate is going to happen to him. Even his new father-in-law is worried that his reputation is going to go down even more because another son-in-law is going to die. I won’t spoil it completely, but in the end, everything has a happy ending.
|LAURA HALES 31:20
||And who doesn’t like that? You mentioned Judith earlier. Tell us about her and what she accomplished.
|JARED LUDLOW 31:28
||The story of Judith is a great story of a strong woman who, as I mentioned, single-handedly takes down an army using her beauty and her wit. There’s a lot of irony in what she says, how it’s taken, and what she really means behind that.
There are a lot of historical problems with this text, which probably are put at the beginning particularly to maybe tell us this is a tale and not to take it too seriously. But I liken it to a lot of parables that are told in the New Testament. It’s not whether this really actually happened but that there’s a moral to the story. There’s some characteristic that should be developed in this story.
|JARED LUDLOW 32:24
||For example, the parable of the Good Samaritan, as far as I know, there wasn’t an actual Samaritan that stopped and helped somebody that Jesus saw or whatever. But He tells a story and it becomes so powerful and so strong that still 2000 years later, we call people who stop and help others Good Samaritans even though they’re not ethnically Samaritans or anything.
In the story, she is able to rise up within her own community to strengthen, again, the elders, there’s another little jab at some of the community leaders of her day, that were faltering. She said, “No, I will take care of this.” She and a handmaid go into the enemy camp. And, of course, because of her beauty, the general feels like, “She’s mine,” and she leads him on that maybe she will become his. But in the end, it’s just a trick to be able to defeat him. This is the “last stand” way of defending Jerusalem.
|LAURA HALES 33:38
||If you write a book about a subject, you usually love that subject. Jared, why do you love the Apocrypha?
|JARED LUDLOW 33:47
||There are a few reasons I love the Apocrypha. One is that it gives us a great window into what we sometimes refer to as Hellenistic Judaism, the Greek world that the Jews are a part of and, again, some of the challenges that they face trying to navigate within that new influence.
There are some very interesting stories, great tales. The wisdom literature has some great sayings. It’s just a variety of things some of which I really like because they’re dealing with biblical things, and I always like to see how later interpretation or development is made on earlier stories. I like learning a little bit more about the people just prior to the rise of the New Testament. The Jews and early Christians of Jesus’s day are pretty much the same as these people that are shown in the Apocrypha.
|LAURA HALES 34:57
||I liked the stories that I read from the Apocrypha. Of course, this was my first engagement at all with the Apocrypha, but I’m still not convinced that I necessarily need to study it. So, can you give me your elevator sales pitch for the Apocrypha?
|JARED LUDLOW 35:17
||Well, I think for understanding the world of the New Testament, the Apocrypha can be really valuable because we see what the Jews, who will become the early Christians, were concerned about, what they were dealing with, some of their history in the Maccabees and so forth.
I don’t necessarily place it on the same level as other books of scripture, but I think as Section 91 points out “there are many good things therein.” As we read with the spirit, I think we’ll be able to find things that will resonate with us and that will uplift and edify us. And then there are other things that I read and I go, “Well, that’s certainly not how I view the world, the gospel.”
|LAURA HALES 36:06
||Thanks, Jared, for coming in and talking with me today.
|JARED LUDLOW 36:09
||Thank you. I have enjoyed it.