So far we have looked at Enoch, Tobit, 1-4 Maccabees, and 1 & 2 Esdras. We have several more to look at in our study, including Judith, Sirach, Baruch, Epistle of Jeremy, Song of the Three Children, Story of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Wisdom of Solomon, Additions To Esther, Prayer of Azariah, and Prayer of Manasseh.
Let’s look next at Judith. The author is unknown, but the time of writing is believed to be during the Hasmonean period (late 2nd century BC). Judith has some historical and geographical problems at the beginning of the book. The author of Judith presents King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria on the throne at the time the Jews returned from exile. The problem is that Cyrus of Persia was king when the Jews returned from exile in 538 BC. According to 2 Kings 24, Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon when he attacked Jerusalem and took Jehoiachin king of Judah and his family as prisoners. That was in the early part of the 6th century BC. Nebuchadnezzar was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of Jews, not returning Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild the city he destroyed. Plus, Nebuchadnezzar died years before King Cyrus conquered Babylon and That’s a big error in Judith. (You can learn more about the history of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel.)
Judith opens with a statement about two ancient kings: Nebuchadnezzar of the Assyrians, who ruled in Nineveh, and Arphaxad of the Medes, who ruled in Ecbatane.
“In the twelfth year of the reign of Nabuchodonosor, who reigned in Nineve, the great city; in the days of Arphaxad, which reigned over the Medes in Ecbatane.” Judith 1:1
History records that King Nebuchadnezzar ruled from his capital city of Babylon where he built the famous Hanging Gardens. History does not record that Arphaxad was ever king of Medes. The kings of Medes during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar were Cyaxares and Astyages. The only Arphaxad mentioned in history was the son of Shem (grandson of Noah). Several errors already in Judith and we’re just into the first sentence of the book!
What do scholars think of Judith? Many dismiss it as a historical romance written to teach Jews to depend on the covenant God made with Israel. That’s a good lesson, but not enough to place it among the Writings of Holy Scripture. What else does Judith have for us? Not much. Even Catholic theologians admit there are many problems with historical facts in Judith. Did a Hebrew woman named Judith become a hero to her people? We don’t know for sure, but what is written about her doesn’t match other historical information from the time period. While an interesting story, I find no compelling reason to believe Judith is God’s Word.
Next we move to Sirach, also known as the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, The Book of the All-Virtuous Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira, Wisdom of Sirach, The Book Ecclesiasticus, and Siracides. The author is believed to be Jesus ben Sirach, a Hebrew scribe from Jerusalem writing during the early part of the 2nd century BC. The book emphasizes the importance of the Jewish Law and obedience to it. The Hebrew Bible does not include the book of Sirach, but citations from the book are included in the Talmud (commentary and opinion about the Hebrew Bible written between 200 AD and 500 AD) and other rabbinic writings. The grandson of ben Sirach translated the book into Greek and added a prologue. As with Judith and the other books of the Apocrypha we’ve looked at so far, no prophets are involved. Hebrews 1:1 and other Scriptures make clear that God spoke before the coming of Christ Jesus through prophets.
The Wisdom of Sirach has much to say about “wisdom.” Reading the book reminds me of the writings of King Solomon. Here are the first seven verses from the King James Version of Sirach.
“All wisdom cometh from the Lord, and is with him for ever. Who can number the sand of the sea, and the drops of rain, and the days of eternity? Who can find out the height of heaven, and the breadth of the earth, and the deep, and wisdom? Wisdom hath been created before all things, and the understanding of prudence from everlasting. The word of God most high is the fountain of wisdom; and her ways are everlasting commandments. To whom hath the root of wisdom been revealed? or who hath known her wise counsels? [Unto whom hath the knowledge of wisdom been made manifest? and who hath understood her great experience?]” Sirach 1:1-7
As did Solomon in the Proverbs, ben Sirach personified wisdom as a woman.
“To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and it was created with the faithful in the womb. She hath built an everlasting foundation with men, and she shall continue with their seed. To fear the Lord is fullness of wisdom, and filleth men with her fruits. She filleth all their house with things desirable, and the garners with her increase. The fear of the Lord is a crown of wisdom, making peace and perfect health to flourish; both which are the gifts of God: and it enlargeth their rejoicing that love him. Wisdom raineth down skill and knowledge of understanding standing, and exalteth them to honour that hold her fast.” Sirach 1:14-19
While we should be concerned about a writer copying the inspired Word of God like Proverbs and presenting it as his own, a larger concern might be where the writer presents doctrines that are in opposition to Scripture. Keep in mind that many religious groups that call themselves Christians have used the teachings of the Apocrypha through the centuries to exercise theological authority over people who believe they are following the Word of God. The book of Sirach contains many errors in this regard, but here are a couple of examples for your consideration. I’ve included the problem verses from Sirach and the corrective verses from the Word of God.
“Whoso honoureth his father maketh an atonement for his sins: And he that honoureth his mother is as one that layeth up treasure.” Sirach 3:3-4
“Water will quench a flaming fire; and alms maketh an atonement for sins.” Sirach 3:30
Is it true that a son who honors his father makes an atonement for his sins? Can alms make atonement for sin? I’m sure the religious groups that claim Sirach is Scripture believe alms can make atonement for sin, but what do the protocanonical Books of the Old Testament teach about atonement? What does the New Testament teach about atonement? Clearly atonement is made by blood alone – not by good works, like honoring your father or giving alms. (e.g. see Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 17:11; Ezekiel 43:19-21; Acts 20:28; Romans 3:21-26; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7-8; Colossians 1:14, 19-21; Hebrews 9, 10, 13; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7)
“When thou wilt do good know to whom thou doest it; so shalt thou be thanked for thy benefits. Do good to the godly man, and thou shalt find a recompence; and if not from him, yet from the most High. There can no good come to him that is always occupied in evil, nor to him that giveth no alms. Give to the godly man, and help not a sinner. Do well unto him that is lowly, but give not to the ungodly: hold back thy bread, and give it not unto him, lest he overmaster thee thereby: for [else] thou shalt receive twice as much evil for all the good thou shalt have done unto him. For the most High hateth sinners, and will repay vengeance unto the ungodly, and keepeth them against the mighty day of their punishment. Give unto the good, and help not the sinner.” Sirach 12:1-7
This sounds like the writings of a Pharisee and reminds me of what Pharisees thought about Jesus – “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11) Jesus made it clear that He had come to save sinners, not the self-righteous Pharisees. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Jesus spoke out boldly about the incorrect teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, especially as concerning the issue of giving only unto the good and helping not the sinner.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
How could Sirach be inspired by the Spirit of Christ when Christ Himself taught the opposite? No book can be inspired if its teaching opposes the clear teaching of the protocanonical Books of the Old Testament and the Books of the New Testament. I find many compelling reasons to believe that Sirach should not be included in the Bible.
In the next part of our study we will look at Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”