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The term apocrypha is used with various meanings, including "hidden", "esoteric", "spurious", "of questionable authenticity", ancient Chinese "revealed texts and objects" and "Christian texts that are not canonical".
The word is originally Greek (ἀπόκρυφα) and means "those hidden away". Specifically, ἀπόκρυφα is the neuter plural of ἀπόκρυφος, an adjective related to the verb ἀποκρύπτω [infinitive: ἀποκρύπτειν] (apocriptein), "to hide something away."
The general term is usually applied to the books in the Roman Catholic Bible, and the Eastern Orthodox Bible, but not the Protestant Bible on their claim that it is not God's word. So, it is misleading in this sense to refer to the Gospel according to the Hebrews or Gnostic writings as apocryphal, because they would not be classified in the same category by orthodox believers: they would be classified as a heretical subset of antilegomenae, to distinguish them from now-canonical ancient antilegomenae such as 2 Peter, 3 John and the Revelation of John, and non-canonical but non-heretical books which were quoted by the Early Fathers such as the pseudepigraphic Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, or The Shepherd of Hermas. The gnostic writings are generally not accorded any status, not even a negative one: they are ignored, as they are incompatible with the accepted canon prima facie. Non-canonical books are texts of uncertain authenticity, or writings where the work is seriously questioned. Given that different denominations have different beliefs about what constitutes canonical scripture, there are several versions of the apocrypha.
During 16th-century controversies about the biblical canon, the word acquired a negative connotation, and has become a synonym for "spurious" or "false". This usage usually involves fictitious or legendary accounts that are plausible enough to be commonly considered true. For example, Laozi's alleged authorship of the Tao Te Ching and the Parson Weems account of George Washington and the cherry tree are considered apocryphal.
Apocrypha has evolved in meaning somewhat, and its associated implications have ranged from positive to pejorative. Apocrypha, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means "books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament."
The word "apocryphal" (ἀπόκρυφος) was first applied, in a positive sense, to writings which were kept secret because they were the vehicles of esoteric knowledge considered too profound or too sacred to be disclosed to anyone other than the initiated. For example, it is used in this sense to describe A Holy and Secret Book of Moses, called Eighth, or Moyseos holy books citing esoteric eighth St (Μωυσέως ἱερὰ βίβλος ἀπόκρυφος ἐπικαλούμενη ὀγδόη ἢ ἁγία). This is a text taken from a Leiden papyrus of the third or fourth century AD. The text may be as old as the first century, but other proof of age has not been found. In a similar vein, the disciples of the Gnostic Prodicus boasted that they possessed the secret (ἀπόκρυφα) books of Zoroaster. The term in general enjoyed high consideration among the Gnostics (see Acts of Thomas, pp. 10, 27, 44).
Renowned Sinologist Anna Seidel refers to texts and even items produced by ancient Chinese sages as apocryphal and studied their uses during Six Dynasties China (220 to 589 AD). These artifacts were used as symbols legitimizing and guaranteeing the Emperor's Heavenly Mandate. Examples of these include talismans, charts, writs, tallies, and registers. The first examples were stones, jade pieces, bronze vessels and weapons, but came to include talismans and magic diagrams. From their roots in Zhou era China (1066 to 256 BC) these items came to be surpassed in value by texts by the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 CE). Most of these texts have been destroyed as Emperors, particularly during the Han dynasty, collected these legitimizing objects and proscribed, forbade and burnt nearly all of them to prevent them from falling into the hands of political rivals. It is therefore fitting with the Greek root of the word, as these texts were obviously hidden away to protect the ruling Emperor from challenges to his status as Heaven's choice as sovereign.
"Apocrypha" was also applied to writings that were hidden not because of their divinity but because of their questionable value to the church. Many in Protestant traditions cite Revelation 22:18-19 as a potential curse for those who attach any canonical authority to extra-biblical writings such as the Apocrypha. However, a strict explanation of this text would indicate it was meant for only the Book of Revelation. Rv.22:18-19f. (KJV) states: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." In this case, if one holds to a strict hermeneutic, the "words of the prophecy" do not refer to the Bible as a whole but to Jesus' Revelation to John. Origen, in Commentaries on Matthew, distinguishes between writings which were read by the churches and apocryphal writings: γραφὴ μὴ φερομένη μέν ἒν τοῖς κοινοῖς καὶ δεδημοσιευμένοις βιβλίοις εἰκὸς δ' ὅτι ἒν ἀποκρύφοις φερομένη (writing not found on the common and published books in one hand, actually found on the secret ones on the other). The meaning of αποκρυφος is here practically equivalent to "excluded from the public use of the church", and prepares the way for an even less favourable use of the word.
In general use, the word "apocrypha" came to mean "false, spurious, bad, or heretical." This meaning also appears in Origen's prologue to his commentary on the Song of Songs, of which only the Latin translation survives: De scripturis his, quae appellantur apocryphae, pro eo quod multa in iis corrupta et contra fidem veram inveniuntur a majoribus tradita non placuit iis dari locum nec admitti ad auctoritatem. "Concerning these scriptures, which are called apocryphal, for the reason that many things are found in them corrupt and against the true faith handed down by the elders, it has pleased them that they not be given a place nor be admitted to authority."
Other uses of apocrypha developed over the history of Western Christianity. The Gelasian Decree refers to religious works by church fathers Eusebius, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria as apocrypha. Augustine defined the word as meaning simply "obscurity of origin," implying that any book of unknown authorship or questionable authenticity would be considered as apocryphal. On the other hand, Jerome (in Protogus Galeatus) declared that all books outside the Hebrew canon were apocryphal. In practice, Jerome treated some books outside the Hebrew canon as if they were canonical, and the Western Church did not accept Jerome's definition of apocrypha, instead retaining the word's prior meaning (see: Deuterocanon). As a result, various church authorities labeled different books as apocrypha, treating them with varying levels of regard.
Some apocryphal books were included in the Septuagint with little distinction made between them and the rest of the Old Testament. Origen, Clement and others cited some apocryphal books as "scripture," "divine scripture," "inspired," and the like. On the other hand, teachers connected with Palestine and familiar with the Hebrew canon excluded from the canon all of the Old Testament not found there. This view is reflected in the canon of Melito of Sardis, and in the prefaces and letters of Jerome. A third view was that the books were not as valuable as the canonical scriptures of the Hebrew collection, but were of value for moral uses, as introductory texts for new converts from paganism, and to be read in congregations. They were referred to as "ecclesiastical" works by Rufinus.
These three opinions regarding the apocryphal books prevailed until the Protestant Reformation, when the idea of what constitutes canon became a matter of primary concern for Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. In 1546 the Catholic Council of Trent reconfirmed the canon of Augustine, dating to the second and third centuries, declaring "He is also to be anathema who does not receive these entire books, with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church, and are found in the ancient editions of the Latin Vulgate, as sacred and canonical." The whole of the books in question, with the exception of 1 Esdras and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, were declared canonical at Trent. The Protestants, in comparison, were diverse in their opinion of the deuterocanon. Some considered them divinely inspired, others rejected them. Anglicans took a position between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches; they kept them as Christian intertestamental readings and a part of the Bible, but no doctrine should be based on them. John Wycliffe, a 14th century Christian Humanist, had declared in his biblical translation that "whatever book is in the Old Testament besides these twenty-five shall be set among the apocrypha, that is, without authority or belief." Nevertheless, his translation of the Bible included the apocrypha and the Epistle of the Laodiceans.
The respect accorded to apocryphal books varied between Protestant denominations. In both the German (1534) and English (1535) translations of the Bible, the apocrypha are published in a separate section from the other books, although the Lutheran and Anglican lists are different. In some editions (like the Westminster), readers were warned that these books were not "to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings." A milder distinction was expressed elsewhere, such as in the "argument" introducing them in the Geneva Bible, and in the Sixth Article of the Church of England, where it is said that "the other books the church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners," though not to establish doctrine.
According to the Orthodox Anglican Church:
On the other hand, the Anglican Communion emphatically maintains that the Apocrypha is part of the Bible and is to be read with respect by her members. Two of the hymns used in the American Prayer Book office of Morning Prayer, the Benedictus es and Benedicite, are taken from the Apocrypha. One of the offertory sentences in Holy Communion comes from an apocryphal book (Tob. 4: 8-9). Lessons from the Apocrypha are regularly appointed to be read in the daily, Sunday, and special services of Morning and Evening Prayer. There are altogether 111 such lessons in the latest revised American Prayer Book Lectionary [The books used are: II Esdras, Tobit, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, Three Holy Children, and I Maccabees.] The position of the Church is best summarized in the words of Article Six of the Thirty-nine Articles: “In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority there was never any doubt in the Church… And the other Books (as Hierome [St. Jerome] saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine…”
The adjective apocryphal is commonly used in modern English to refer to any text or story considered to be of dubious veracity or authority, although it may contain some moral truth. In this broader metaphorical sense, the word suggests a claim that is in the nature of folklore, factoid or urban legend.
Although traditional rabbinical Judaism insists on the exclusive canonization of the current 24 books in the Tanakh, it also claims to have an oral law handed down from Moses. The Sadducees - unlike the Pharisees but like the Samaritans - seem to have maintained an earlier and smaller number of texts as canonical, preferring to hold to only what was written in the Law of Moses (making most of the presently accepted canon, both Jewish and Christian, apocryphal in their eyes). Certain circles in Judaism, such as the Essenes in Judea and the Therapeutae in Egypt, were said to have a secret literature (see Dead Sea scrolls). Other traditions maintained different customs regarding canonicity. The Ethiopic Jews, for instance, seem to have retained a spread of canonical texts similar to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, cf Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol 6, p 1147. A large part of this literature consisted of the apocalypses. Based on prophecies, these apocalyptic books were not considered scripture by all, but rather part of a literary form that flourished from 200 BC to AD 100.
During the birth of Christianity, some of the Jewish apocrypha that dealt with the coming of the Messianic kingdom became popular in the rising Jewish Christian communities. Occasionally these writings were changed or added to, but on the whole it was found sufficient to reinterpret them as conforming to a Christian viewpoint. Christianity eventually gave birth to new apocalyptic works, some of which were derived from traditional Jewish sources. Some of the Jewish apocrypha were part of the ordinary religious literature of the Early Christians. This was strange, as the large majority of Old Testament references in the New Testament are taken from the Greek Septuagint, which is the source of the deuterocanonical books as well as most of the other biblical apocrypha.
Slightly varying collections of additional Books (called deuterocanonical by the Roman Catholic Church) form part of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox canons. See Development of the Old Testament canon.
The Book of Enoch is included in the biblical canon only of the Oriental Orthodox churches of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Epistle of Jude quotes the book of Enoch, and some believe the use of this book also appears in the four gospels and 1 Peter. The genuineness and inspiration of Enoch were believed in by the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria and much of the early church. The epistles of Paul and the gospels also show influences from the Book of Jubilees, which is part of the Ethiopian canon, as well as the Assumption of Moses and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which are included in no biblical canon.
The high position which some apocryphal books occupied in the first two centuries was undermined by a variety of influences in the Christian church. All claims to the possession of a secret tradition (as held by many Gnostic sects) were denied by the influential theologians like Irenaeus and Tertullian, which modern historians refer to as the Proto-orthodox, the timeframe of true inspiration was limited to the apostolic age, and universal acceptance by the church was required as proof of apostolic authorship. As these principles gained currency, books deemed apocryphal tended to become regarded as spurious and heretical writings, though books now considered deuterocanonical have been used in liturgy and theology from the first century to the present.
New Testament apocrypha—books similar to those in the New Testament but almost universally rejected by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants—include several gospels and lives of apostles. Some were written by early Jewish Christians (see the Gospel according to the Hebrews). Others of these were produced by Gnostic authors or members of other groups later defined as heterodox. Many texts believed lost for centuries were unearthed in the 19th and 20th centuries, producing lively speculation about their importance in early Christianity among religious scholars, while many others survive only in the form of quotations from them in other writings; for some, no more than the title is known. Artists and theologians have drawn upon the New Testament apocrypha for such matters as the names of Dismas and Gestas and details about the Three Wise Men. The first explicit mention of the perpetual virginity of Mary is found in the pseudepigraphical Infancy Gospel of James.
The Gnostic tradition was a prolific source of apocryphal gospels. While these writings borrowed the characteristic poetic features of apocalyptic literature from Judaism, Gnostic sects largely insisted on allegorical interpretations based on a secret apostolic tradition. With them, these apocryphal books were highly esteemed. A well-known Gnostic apocryphal book is the Gospel of Thomas, the only complete text of which was found in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. The Gospel of Judas, a Gnostic gospel, also received much media attention when it was reconstructed in 2006.
Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well as Protestants generally agree on the canon of the New Testament, see Development of the New Testament canon. The Ethiopian Orthodox have in the past also included I & II Clement and Shepherd of Hermas in their New Testament canon.
Joseph Smith, Jr. said that when compiling the inspired version of the Holy Bible, he inquired of Heavenly Father about what to do regarding the Apocrypha, the Deuterocanonical Books of the Catholic bible, that are not the 66 books contained in the 1769 edition of the Authorized King James Bible. What Smith claimed to receive from God is now stated in Section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha-There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the spirit manifesteth truth; And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen."
The 91st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants is the reason that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently uses the 1769 edition of the Authorized King James Bible along with excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). Furthermore, despite having canonized the 1769 edition of the Authorized King James Bible, Joseph Smith Jr. made a note that the Song of Solomon was not inspired, and therefore it is considered Apocrypha despite it being contained in the canon. The Community of Christ, another offshoot of the Latter Day Saint movement, has canonized the JST and therefore has excluded the Song of Solomon.
Prophetic texts called the Ch'an-wei were written by Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 CE) Taoist priests to legitimize as well as curb imperial power. They deal with treasure objects that were part of the Zhou (1066 to 256 BC) royal treasures. Emerging from the instability of the Warring States Period (476-221 BC), ancient Chinese scholars saw the centralized rule of the Zhou as an ideal model for the new Han empire to emulate. The Ch'an-wei are therefore texts written by Han scholars about the Zhou royal treasures, only they were not written to record history for its own sake, but for legitimizing the current imperial reign. These texts took the form of stories about texts and objects being conferred upon the Emperors by Heaven and comprising these ancient sage-king's (this is how the Zhou emperors were referred to by this time, about 500 years after their peak) royal regalia. The desired effect was to confirm the Han emperor's Heavenly Mandate through the continuity offered by his possession of these same sacred talismans. It is because of this politicized recording of their history that it is difficult to retrace the exact origins of these objects. What is known is that these texts were most likely produced by a class of literati called the Fang-Shih. These were a class of nobles who were not part of the state administration; there were considered specialists or occultists, for example diviners, astrologers, alchemists or healers. It is from this class of nobles that the first Taoist priests are believed to have emerged. Seidel points out however that the scarcity of sources relating to the formation of the early Taoist church make the exact link between the apocryphal texts and the Taoist church unclear.
Apocryphal Jatakas of the Pali Buddhist canon, such as those belonging to the Paññāsajātaka collection, have been adapted to fit local culture in certain South East Asian countries and have been retold with amendments to the plots to better reflect Buddhist morals.
Within the Pali tradition, the apocryphal Jatakas of later composition (some dated even to the 19th century) are treated as a separate category of literature from the "Official" Jataka stories that have been more-or-less formally canonized from at least the 5th century — as attested to in ample epigraphic and archaeological evidence, such as extant illustrations in bas relief from ancient temple walls.
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