By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 18, 2008

From the Greek for “those having been hidden away” — apo means away, and crypha is related to script and encrypt — Apocrypha refers to books not included in the biblical canon, which was closed around 100 CE.

Whereas the Five Books of Moses were shoo-ins for inclusion, the Book of Esther and Song of Songs were subjects of debate among those of the Great Assembly. Acceptance into the canon required indubitable prophetic inspiration and eternal relevance. In the words of the Talmud, “it must be needed for generations to come”.

The best known of the Jewish Apocrypha (there are Christian Apocrypha as well) are the Books of the Maccabees. It is from the first volume of this work that we learn the details of the persecution of the Jews by the Syriac Greeks. The story in I Maccabees of Matisyahu beginning the revolt with the Mosaic call of “Whoever is for God, come to me!”

appears nowhere in rabbinic literature. Incidentally, the story of Hannah and her seven sons choosing death over complying with Antiochus's idolatrous commands is apocryphal, meaning of dubious veracity, as it is a later invention of the early Middle Ages.

Today, only I Maccabees is of enduring relevance, with the other works of the Apocrypha the preoccupation of academics alone.

Last updated: 12:04pm, December 18 2008