Jared W. Ludlow’s new book, Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2018) is a valuable resource for Latter-day Saints seeking to better understand an important part of the sacred texts of Christianity and Judaism. Though not part of our official canon, they have been a part of the canon in several other faiths and are included in a majority of the Bibles used by Christians around the world. For Latter-day Saints, according to a statement regarding the Apocrypha in Doctrine and Covenants 91, we are told that “There are many things contained therein that are true” (vs. 1) and that “whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom” (vs. 5), in spite of the “interpolations by the hands of men” that are also at play (vs. 2).
Latter-day Saints, unfortunately, have tended to ignore the Apocrypha, but there is value that we should be extracting. Ludlow’s book, in my opinion, is precisely the kind of guide that many of us need in order to know where the richest sources of value can be found and what the key lessons are that we can learn.
Ludlow begins with a helpful overview of what the Apocrypha is. The 183 chapters in that collection come from early Jewish writers well after the latest books in our current Old Testament were written (ca. 400 BC), with many dated to around the first and second centuries BC. These texts were circulated among Greek-speaking Jews as the Septuagint translation from Hebrew to Greek was conducted. Many appear to be original Greek compositions rather than translations from Hebrew or Aramaic to Greek. Ludlow groups them according to three categories and considers each text in this order:
- The Additions to the Book of Esther
- Daniel Stories: Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon
- First Book of Esdras (Greek form of the name Ezra)
- Second Book of Esdras (the only Apocrypha text not from the Greek Septuagint but found in several Old Latin manuscripts)
- Prayer of Manasseh
- Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah
- 1 Maccabees
- 2 Maccabees
- Wisdom of Solomon
- Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach
As Ludlow reviews each of the books of the Apocrypha, he thoroughly illustrates how “the Apocrypha can be a valuable tool for helping us understand the political, cultural, and religious background of Jesus Christ and his contemporaries” (p. 4) and how these texts provide teachings and stories relevant to Latter-day Saints.
Ludlow explains that as Jewish and Christian groups debated the value of these texts, they were given the label apocrypha, or “things that are hidden.” It was a positive label for some and a negative label for others. The term is also applied to many other texts outside the Apocrypha that were falsely attributed to various prophets and apostles (generally known as the “Pseudepigrapha,” a Greek term describing texts with a “false superscription”), but Ludlow only considers the closed set of books formally known as the Apocrypha.
Ludlow reviews the history of the debate over these books, where views have varied widely. The Catholic Church in the 1546 Council of Trent declared all the books to be deemed canonical except 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh. Protestants have generally rejected them but some such as Martin Luther saw value in some of the Apocrypha and portions have often been printed in Protestant Bibles.
Despite the Apocrypha’s checkered canonical history, there can be no doubt that it has impacted Christian and Jewish cultures. In Jewish practice, Hanukkah has become a central festival and the Maccabees form a part of Jewish identity. In the Christian world, the Apocrypha has influenced poets, artists, hymn-writers, dramatists, composers, and even explorers such as Christopher Columbus, who used a passage in 2 Esdras about the earth being composed of six parts land to seek financial support for his journey westward. Even in early Christian sites like the catacombs of Rome, depictions of Apocrypha scenes have been found. (p. 12)
Ludlow devotes a chapter to reviewing the history of LDS views regarding the Apocrypha. The beginning of LDS inquiry into the Apocrypha comes from Joseph Smith, wondering if his inspired translation of the Bible should include the Apocrypha. The answer through revelation on March 9, 1833 is now printed in Section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha—
There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly
2 There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are
interpolations by the hands of men.
3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha
should be translated.
4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit
5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;
6 And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. Therefore
it is not needful that it should be translated. Amen.
Joseph made other statements that points to the value of the Apocrypha, and apparently respected them enough to include the Apocrypha in the “complete Bible” that was deposited in the Nauvoo Temple (p. 24). However, they don’t seem to have influenced his sermons or teachings (p. 27), though a few other early LDS leaders occasionally used small portions from the Apocrypha.
Ludlow’s review of the contents and highlights of each of the books of the Apocrypha provides valuable historical information that will help readers better appreciate the cultural, religious, and political setting as the New Testament begins. One can also sometimes see influence from the Apocrypha on New Testament writers, such as the Book of Judith’s treatment on searching the depths of God and not knowing his mind, which appears to have influenced Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7,12 (p. 133).
There are also occasional nuggets of particular interest to LDS readers, such as the Wisdom of Solomon’s teaching on the Creation, praising God for his all-powerful hand “which created the world out of formless matter” (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17, see Ludlow p. 188), an acknowledgment that creation was not ex nihilo.
The Wisdom of Solomon also has brief references to the premortal existence (p. 193). Indeed, it was the final section on the Wisdom literature of the Apocrypha that I most keenly enjoyed, and I think many LDS readers will find particular value in those books and that portion of Ludlow, though the entire treatment is clear, interesting, and well suited for a broad LDS audience.
In his closing remarks, Ludlow nicely summarizes the nature of the diverse and complex texts he has treated:
The Apocrypha consists of a variety of texts making it both interesting and challenging. Comprising wisdom literature, apocalypses, tales, and scriptural expansions, the Apocrypha runs the gamut of ancient religious literature. Its eclectic collection is reflected in how each book of the Apocrypha is handled in this work; varied approaches are used in different chapters because of the diverse styles of the texts. Yet despite their diversity, the texts give us a glimpse into the world of Second Temple Judaism and its Hellenistic influence. These texts are also important to understanding the historical background to Jesus and the early Christians and the concerns and aspirations of early Jews and Christians. (p. 223)
I strongly recommend Ludlow’s thoughtful work for any LDS reader interested in better understanding the broad body of treasured ancient texts encompassed in the Apocrypha.
10 thoughts on “Praise for Jared W. Ludlow’s New Book, Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective”
Always glad to see people paying attention to the Apocrypha. But just in case anyone misunderstands: one hardly needs the Wisdom of Solomon (or the derivative thinking of Joseph Smith) to challenge the idea of creatio ex nihilo. The six-day creation account in Genesis itself characterized creation as the organization of existing material, as the NRSV translation makes plain with the word "when": In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
The primordial waters (anthropomorphized elsewhere as the sea monster Leviathan) already existed when God began the creation.
A key part of this creation account's organization of existing matter is the separation of the waters above from the waters below, which creates the ancient Hebrew version of the cosmos which we see again in the Flood story (and which looked something like this). The flood, you'll recall, results not just from the opening of the "windows of the heavens" but also from the opening of the "fountains of the deep." In this model, the created world was basically a dry space surrounded on all sides, and above and below, by the primordial chaos of waters. (This of course is one reason why the Flood story is indeed incompatible with modern science, and why the Church has been wrong to insist on reading it literally and historically.)
The claim that "the flood story" is "incompatible with modern science" leaves undefined what Mr. Anonymous means by that title. Is he referring to the actual text in Genesis, or to derived interpretations of it that depict the sea level of the entire planet being raised so that it exceeds the height of Mount Everest? The actual text of Genesis refers to the record keeper's concept of "the whole earth" beong covered in water, which is consistent with a persistent rain, such as experienced last year by Houston. Noah did not travel over the entire planet, and did not radio broadcasts from other continents or weather satellites that could tell him the weather in distant parts of the globe. Like the statements in the Book of Mormon about "the whole face of the land", the event in Genesis was a regional one. The Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon affirms that Noah and his vessel were known to the Jaredites and they built their boats to mimic the ark, even to using divinely energized clear stones to light their vessels as Noah did. The Book of Moses also affirms that Noah was a real prophet who escaped with a righteous remnant to a promised land to escape destruction, like Abraham and Lehi. And Joseph Smith somehow knew things about Noah that have been confirmed by modern scholarship.
Coltakashi, the Flood story in Genesis is incompatible with modern science because it is based on a scientifically disproven model of the cosmos. When the Flood story describes the flood as being caused, in part, by the breaking up of the foundations of the deep, it is assuming the existence of masses of "waters below" that we now know do not exist.
I mean, are you going to tell me that the Genesis model — in which the earth is a dry space completely surrounded by a watery chaos on all sides — is compatible with science? If we were to drill down all the way through the earth's crust, would we find water? No, we would find magma. Do you dispute this? And if we were to somehow rise beyond the "firmament of heaven," would we encounter a vast watery chaos? Again, no. But that's what the Book of Genesis says we we would find.
Why in the world is it so hard to accept that these biblical stories are, well, stories?
Show me a rank and file member of the LDS church who has any idea what the Apocrypha actually is, let alone what it contains. Move along.
Just going to nitpick here:
– When using Genesis as a baseline, everything else is derivative thinking. No need to single out Joseph Smith and his "derivative" thinking although you have no problem confirming your bias in your posts, it's more a matter of being honest with your arguments. Millions of people find satisfaction in Joseph's "derivative" thinking.
– We don't need NRSV's contorted translation of Genesis to come to the conclusion that God could have created out of nothing or used existing matter after all, the Hebrew verb bara can be used for create or shape or fashion. Why does the NRSV need so many clauses between "In the beginning when God created…" to His actual creative act (according to the NRSV) of "let there be light"? I think that the translators over the past thousands of years have weaseled out a lot of the nuances of the text of Genesis that we have now to give us the beautiful rendition as it exists in the KJV of the Bible.
Well, sure, Steve. But what was dishonest about my argument?
How about; we don't need any derivatives of Genesis to conclude that God created from existing material since the verb create used in Genesis is the Hebrew verb bara which means create, shape, or fashion.
Simple one liner, to the point, no unnecessary jabs. You come across as singling Joseph Smith out (but you have confirmed your bias) whereas, in my opinion, a more honest argument would look past what Joseph had written about the subject and recognized that there have been many Biblical scholars debating on creation from nothing or shaping from preexisting materials.
This looks interesting, I'll have to check it out!
Steve, what you call bias I would call context. This is not, after all, a blog about biblical scholarship generally. It's a blog about the religion created by (or, if you prefer, restored by) one man in particular: Joseph Smith. And I'm responding to a post in which Jeff wants us to see the apocrypha as supporting Smith's prophetic status. In such a context, why wouldn't I single Joseph out?
Perhaps you are confusing Jeff's apologetics with scholarship?
No confusion here. Jeff posts are about the mundane, scholarships, and apologetics most of which I find interesting.
I'll refer to my original post that you have confirmed your bias. I'll also go to my original post about the NRSV and it's clumsy translation of Genesis in a way for them to show knowledge about obscure Hebrew grammar even though Hebrew grammarians have been aware of these types of Hebrew constructs for thousands of years but yet have chosen not to translate Genesis in this way because it did not make sense nor was there the appropriate context for such a contorted translation.
I'll also refer to my original post that you were not being honest with your argument and your bias clouded your post. It's as if you are confusing your own un-apologetics with your scholarship by bringing in the NRSV translation as if that held any merit to the discussion of creation out of nothing or shaping from something.