Book Reviews

Book Review: Introducing the Apocrypha (2nd Ed.), David deSilva

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David deSilva has written my favorite NT Introduction (reviews here) and is an expert on the time between the Old and the New Testaments. DeSilva has revised his first edition of Introducing the Apocrypha, but if you’re a Protestant, and if the Apocrypha isn’t canon, why should you care at all?

DeSilva argues that the apocryphal books teach you about the faith of Jews who lived between 300 BC to 100 AD. Early church fathers such as Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine read them and knew them. Even Jesus, Peter, Paul, James, and John (in Revelation) allude and paraphrase these writings. Though it could be that the text made its way into the culture’s way of thinking and so was “in the air” (like someone quoting a line from Shakespeare without knowing it was written by Shakespeare), it still means the NT author agreed with content that is also found in the Apocryphal books.

DeSilva helps you to “comprehend the message, context, and significance of these ancient Jewish compositions” (xi). Rather than being heretical, they “bear witness to what it meant to remain faithful to the God of Israel during a tumultuous period of history” (2). In the midst of trouble and hostility, the Apocrypha tell of Jews who remained loyal to God. They ask the same questions that Christians ask today: how do we persevere in the midst of our secular culture while still using the good things created by that culture? Being familiar with the Apocrypha means we will see that Judaism continued to develop until the time of Jesus. It would be like only knowing about Luther and Calvin and the last thirty years of our Protestant Christian timeline (13-14). How did we get from there to here? It is certainly not a detriment to see how the testaments are connected.

Interestingly, as deSilva notes, it was the early church that held on to these texts, preserving them “carefully and conscientiously,” not the Jewish communities (14). The church saw them as having value for the disciple, more so than the Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the works of Philo and Josephus. Even Luther translated and placed the Apocrypha in his German Bible, and it was in the first edition of the KJV. Aside from Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, some Protestant churches still include section of the Apocrypha in their Sunday lectionary readings. Luther believed that “familiarity with the Apocrypha provides essential background for understanding the undisputed canonical books” (28).

But they do more than inform our minds about history. Christian biographies are full of people facing difficult trials, pressures from family, culture, missionary agencies, natives, and governments. Yet we are encouraged when we see how the missionary remains loyal to God, even if he or she is imprisoned, beat, or killed. The Apocryphal books can help us to keep our resolve in the midst of trials and receive encouragement to remain loyal to God.

But how can they be valuable if they are not canonical? Without getting into deSilva’s discussion of canonicity, he writes that an author (like Jude) can refer to another text (like 1 Enoch) without thinking of it as “canonical.” What we can know is that Jude “regarded it as a valuable resource for the exhortation and edification of Christians” (15).

In chapter two deSilva explains the historical context of the time between the testaments. These books were written out of trials, struggles, and a love for God. Knowing the situations that helped prompt these writings will give you a better appreciation for those writings. In the following sixteen chapters, deSilva gives you a nuanced understanding of each book of the Apocrypha.

For the second edition, chapters have been revised. The bibliography has been greatly expanded and is organized by topic and text/book, and the book is roughly 100 pages longer than before. Plenty of articles, dissertations, and books have been written on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha since the first edition, and deSilva has been able to harness much of that and put it toward this new edition.

How does deSilva treat each book? 

Generally, each book has the following structure:

  • Structure and Contents
  • Original Language and/or Textual Transmission
  • Author, Date, and Setting
  • Genre and Purpose
  • Formative Influences
  • Theology
  • Women
  • Influence

Some chapters on the shorter books (Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151) don’t fit this scheme. Instead of trying to fit each book into this structure, deSilva has sections particular to each book. For Tobit, he has a section called “Tobit and the Values of Second Temple Judaism.”

  • Judith: “Lies, Seduction, and Murder: A Cultural Perspective.”
  • Greek Esther: “The Additions as a Window into Jewish-Greek Relations.”
  • Wisdom of Solomon:
    • “Reinforcing Group Commitment amid the Tensions of Diaspora Life,”
    • “Critique of Gentile Society,”
    • “Universalism versus Particularism,”
    • “The Personification of Wisdom.”
  • 2 Maccabees:
    • “Honor, Shame, and Jewish Cultural Values,”
    • “Eschatology.”
  • 1 Esdras: “The Contest of the Three Bodyguards.”

Recommended?

As I said above, DeSilva’s NT Introduction is my favorite. His knowledge of the historical and cultural background helps to orient the reader to the Bible’s text. His expertise is seen in this book. Rather than learning about these books from some random website, consider reading about them from someone who has spent the time studying these texts, the situations that prompted them, how they influenced the NT writers, and how they can impact our lives today as Christians. DeSilva’s work is an excellent introduction to the Apocrypha. I highly recommend it.

Lagniappe

  • Author: David A. deSilva
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2nd edition (February 20, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon or Baker Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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