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Translator’s Perspective on the Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books
By Gary F. Zeolla
This article is continued from Translator’s Perspective on the Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books: Part One. I am commenting on the recently completed Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint): Volume V: The Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books (ALT). This article is adapted from Facebook posts I made while translating these books.
A/D – Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical; the extra OT books found in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles as compared to Protestant and Jewish Bibles and about which there is debate if they are inspired or not.
NT – New Testament
OT – Old Testament
proto – protocanonical; the OT books included in Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Bibles and which all groups accept as inspired and thus a part of the canon of Scripture.
Wisdom of Sirach
I finally finished the first draft of the Wisdom of Sirach. I say “finally” as I have been working on it for weeks. It was very slow going as it contained very difficult Greek. Not only was the grammar difficult, but so was the vocabulary. There were many words in Sirach that only appear in Sirach and that makes it very hard to get a handle on their meanings. It is also a very long book, 51 chapters.
Sirach contains a mishmash of very good advice mixed with some rather strange advice. For an example of the good advice, consider the following paragraph:
O child, you shall not defraud the life [or, livelihood] of the poor [person], and you shall not draw away from needy eyes. 2You shall not grieve a hungering soul, and you shall not provoke a man in his despair. 3You shall not trouble a heart having been provoked, and you shall not draw away a gift from one having need. 4Stop rejecting a suppliant [fig., beggar] being oppressed, and do not turn away your face from a poor [person]. 5Do not turn away [your] eye from one begging, so you do not give a place [fig., reason] to a person to curse you. 6For cursing you in [the] bitterness of his soul, his petition will be heard [by] the One having made him. 7Be making yourself pleasing to [the] congregation, and be humbling [fig., bowing] your head to a noble. 8Bow your ear to a poor [person], and answer to him a peaceable [word] with gentleness (Sirach 4:1-8).
But for an example of strange advice, consider Sirach 31:21, “And if you were forced with meats [fig., to overeat], arise; vomit far away, and you will have relief.” This verse might be taken by those with bulimia as a support of their very dangerous habit. To me, that argues against the inspiration of this book, as God would not provide such support for someone to continue in an eating disorder. Moreover, contrast this attitude with Proverbs 25:16, “Having found honey, eat [only] the sufficient [amount], lest having been filled, you vomit.”
Sirach 3:10 echoes the verses from Tobit about alms quoted in Part One, “Water will quench a flaming fire, and alms will propitiate [or, make atonement for] sins.”
Then there are the following passages directed towards slave owners:
25Fodder [i.e., animal food] and a stick and burdens for a donkey; bread and discipline and work for a house slave. 26Work by a slave, and you will find rest; loosen a hand to him, and he will seek freedom. 27A yoke and a strap bow [the] neck, and instruments of torture and torments to a criminal house slave. 28Throw him into labor that he shall not be idle, for such idleness teaches much evil. 29Set [him] to work, just as is fitting to him; if he shall not be obedient, weigh down his fetters (Sirach 33:25-29).
30But do not be excessive against any flesh; and without judgment [or, discretion] do not do anything. 31If a house slave is to you, be letting [him] be as you [fig., treat him as yourself], because you acquired him with blood. 32If a house slave is to you, lead [or, treat] him as a brother, for you will be in want to [or, will need him], as your [own] soul. 33If you mistreat him, and having departed, he runs away, by what way will you seek him? (Sirach 33:30-33).
Do not be ashamed … to strike so as to make [the] side of an evil house slave bloody (Sirach 42:1,5).
The attitudes in the first and third passages seem to conflict with the attitude in the second, and contrast those attitudes with Paul’s comments in this regard in the NT:
9And the masters, be doing the same [things] to them, giving up threatening, knowing that also your* own Master is in [the] heavens, and [there] is no accepting of faces [fig., prejudice] with Him (Ephesians 6).
1The masters, be providing the just [thing] [fig., justice] and equality [or, fairness] to the slaves, knowing that you* also have a Master in [the] heavens (Colossians 4:1).
Baruch/ Epistle of Jeremiah
I just finished the first draft of Baruch. I thought this would be an easy book, as it is only six chapters. And the first five chapters were relatively easy to translate, but chapter six was another story. It is actually a separate book, the Epistle of Jeremiah. But it obviously was not written by Jeremiah or Baruch, as the Greek is much different than those books.
Both the grammar and vocab were very difficult. There were many words in the 72 verses that only occur in the epistle, and the wording at times was hard to make sense of. Making things even more difficult is the numbering of the verses varies between the six versions I’ve been comparing and between them and the Greek text, so some of them have 73 verses.
It is obvious that the scribes who copied the text did not take much care, and the original text was awkward. Both of these factors play into the decision about whether the book is inspired or not.
Additions to Daniel
I just finished the first draft of the three, one-chapter “Additions to Daniel.” They are:
Susanna (Prologue to Daniel in the LXX, or Daniel 13 in the Latin Vulgate and some English versions)
Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:24-90)
Bel and the Dragon (Epilogue to Daniel in the LXX, or Daniel 14).
My mom has told me that Susanna is her favorite book among the A/D books. If you’re a virtuous woman, you’ll understand why. And it is intriguing how Daniel exposes Bel and the Dragon as not to be gods. And the second book is an uplifting psalm of praise to the Lord.
The Greek of these books was not harder than the Book of Daniel itself to translate. However, I did have difficulties translating them. But that was because my BibleWorks program had two Greek texts for each, which differed significantly, much more so than Greek texts of the NT differ, and that textual difficulty might be an argument against inspiration, as it is obvious the scribes did not take much care in copying the text.
In any case, I wasn’t sure which text to use. I decided to follow the one that seemed to most closely follow the six English versions of the A/D books found in BibleWorks. But that text was separate from the versions, so I had to translate without having versions to compare as I went along. But when I finished the draft, then I went back over it while comparing the versions.
I just finished the first draft of The First Book of Maccabees. If you read just one apocryphal book, this would be the one to read. It is a straightforward history of the Jewish nation from 175-135 B.C. Most Protestants are not aware of the many events of this time period shortly before the events of the New Testament begin, but it is important history as it sets up those events.
First, during this time, the Jews and the Romans sign a peace treaty and refer to each other as “friends and allies.” Seeing their much different relationship in the NT shows how such national alliances can turn sour rather quickly.
Second, the hero in the final chapter is named “John.” This is probably why you have so many people named John in the NT.
Third, chapter 4 records the origin of Hanukkah, a.k.a. The Festival of Lights. Jesus was probably attending this festival in John 7-8. It is thus the background to His statement in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world.”
I just finished the first draft of 2Maccabees. Once again, translating this book was extremely difficult. But this time it was due to there being no rhyme or reason to the word order, so I really had to struggle to put the words in an order that made sense in English. It was like putting together a puzzle.
Now I should clarify that the word order in Greek is always different from English, so no translation slavishly follows the Greek word order. But usually there is a pattern to the Greek word order that is easy to rearrange into proper English order once you get used to it. But I could find no such pattern in 2Maccabees.
But more importantly, this book contains the two passages that primarily fuel the heated debate between Protestants and Catholics as to whether the A/D books are inspired or not and thus whether they should or should not be included in the Bible.
In the first passage, Jewish soldiers had been killed in battle because of their sin. When this sin was discovered, prayers and sacrifices were offered in order for them “to be released from sin.” If inspired, this passage would give support to the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and the Catholic practice of praying for dead people to be forgiven in the afterlife.
39And the next [day], the [men] about Judas came, according to which time had become the need, to carry up the bodies of the ones having fallen and to bring [them] back to their ancestral tombs with their relatives. 40But they found under the tunics of each of the ones having died amulets of the idols from Jamnia, from which the Law debars the Jews. And to all it became clear, because of this reason these to have fallen. 41Therefore all praising the [ways] of the Lord, the righteous Judge, making manifest the [things] having been concealed, 42they were turned to supplication, entreating the sin having happened to be completely blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the multitude to keep themselves to be sinless, having seen by sight the [things] having happened because of the sin of the ones having fallen.
43And having made [a collection] throughout a gathering of soldiers to two thousand drachmas [about 15.6 pounds or 7.1 kilograms] of silver, he sent [it] to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice concerning sin, doing altogether well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44For if he was not expecting the ones having fallen to arise, [it would have been] superfluous and frivolous [or, silly] to be praying on behalf of dead [people], 45[but] if looking to the good being stored up to the ones falling asleep with godliness, [it was] a devout [or, pious] and godly thought. Therefore he made the propitiation [or, atonement] concerning the ones having died to be released from sin (2Maccabees 12:39-45).
In the second passage, the Jewish military leader Judas Maccabeus has a dream in which the prophet Jeremiah appears to him and assures him of victory in an upcoming battle. To understand the importance of this, you need to know that 2Maccabees covers events that occurred in the 2nd century B.C., while Jeremiah lived in the 6th century B.C., so he was long dead when he appeared to Judas. Thus this passage, if inspired, would give support to the Catholic practice of invoking departed saints for help with current problems on earth.
12And the sight was such as this: Onias, having become high priest, an honorable and good man, indeed modest the meeting [fig., in person] and gentle the manner, and speech being freely given gracefully and having trained from a child all the [points] of virtue, this [one] stretching out his hands to be earnestly praying for the whole community of the Jews.
13Then in the same way a man appeared, and being distinguished with gray hairs and with glory [or, dignity], and to be about him a wonderful and majestic preeminence. 14Then Onias having answered to say, “This is the [one] having brotherly love, the one much praying concerning the people and the holy city, Jeremiah the prophet of God.” 15Then Jeremiah having stretched out his right [hand] to give to Judas a golden sword, and giving [it], [he] addressed [him] thus, 16“Take the holy sword, a gift from God, by which you will shatter your adversaries” (2Maccabees 15:12-16)
I won’t express my opinion on these matters here. Suffice it to say, it is for these reasons that both Catholics and Protestants need to be familiar with the contents of these books so as to be able to have intelligent discussion about them and their implications.
Catholic to Eastern Orthodox Books
I just finished the second draft of 2Maccabees. And with that I have completed the first two drafts of all of the Catholic deuterocanonical books. By that I mean, the “extra” OT books found in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles as compared to Protestant and Jewish Bibles. Now I will be starting the Eastern Orthodox deuterocanonical books, meaning the extra books only found in Eastern Orthodox Bibles.
But I’m not looking forward to it, as I know it is going to be difficult. The reason for that is twofold. First, from what I’ve seen of the books so far, the Greek is even more difficult than for the Catholic books. Second, I will only have three versions to compare rather than the six I had for the Catholic books.
For the Catholic books, I have been comparing my translation with the King James Version (KJV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), New American Bible (NAB), New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), and Douay-Rheims American Edition (DRA). But the latter three are Catholic translations, so they do not contain the Eastern Orthodox books. But without the extra help, it will make it even more difficult to figure out the difficult grammar and vocab of the Greek text. But with reliance on the LORD, I’ll manage somehow.
I just finished the first draft of 1Esdras. It is a unique apocryphal book, requiring some explanation, which I will be providing in the ALT volume. First is the name. 1Esdras is called 2Esdras in Eastern Orthodox Bibles. That is because the proto Book of Ezra is called 1Esdras. But 1Esdras is called just that by Protestants and Roman Catholics. The “1” is because there are 2-4 Esdras not found in any Bible. Second is the content. This book is a paraphrase of 2Chronicles 35-36, Ezra, and Nehemiah 8, and it contains an original story.
Throughout my translation work on the apocryphal books, I have been mentioning about my struggles with them, mostly over the difficult Greek. But I have not mentioned about feeling spiritually uplifted from any of them. That is because I haven’t. It has just been drudgery.
But it was different with 1Esdras. I did feel spiritual enrichment. Maybe this is because the Greek is not so difficult. But I think it is more because 1Esdras is mostly retelling stories that the LORD intended for our spiritual enrichment. In other words, it is mostly a paraphrase of stories from books that are God-breathed, unlike the rest of the A/D books, which all contain new content. Of course, this is a completely subjective observation, but as a translator, it’s something I couldn’t help but notice.
Prayer of Manasseh
The “Prayer of Manasseh” is the next Eastern Orthodox deuterocanonical book. This prayer is mentioned in 2Chronicles 33:13,18,19, but it is not given there. But I ran into a snag. BibleWorks, the Bible program that is my main resource for my translation work, does not contain the Greek text for this short book, and I was not able to find it on the Web either. So the best I could do is what I have been doing for the occasional “missing” verse in BibleWork’s LXX Greek text (Codex Vaticanus); I am including what I call the KJVU. This is the King James Version translation of the text, with the archaic language and the capitalization and punctuation updated. But for this prayer, I also made alterations as compared to the other three versions I have of this text to what looks most likely correct. This is not a perfect solution, but it is the best I could do.
Odes of the Bible
I just finished the first draft of probably the most unique book among the A/D books, the “Odes of the Bible.” This book consists of fourteen prayers and songs taken from various books of the Bible, except for the last Ode, which is a mostly original praise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I thought it would be easy, just copy and paste my translations for the passages from the original books. However, I thought it best to double-check my previous translations before duplicating them, and I am glad I did as I made a few changes in the process.
But more importantly, there were slight differences in the Greek text of the Odes as compared to the original books. Some were so slight they were hard to identify and were untranslatable, while the rest were very minor, like one text having an “and” or “the” that the other does not, as is often the case with textual variants.
For instance, compare the
following two verses (brackets indicate added words):
“You stretched out Your right [hand]; [the] earth swallowed them” (Deut 15:12).
“You stretched out Your right [hand], and the earth swallowed them” (Ode 1:12).
And in an interesting difference, Deuteronomy 32:43 has “sons of God” and then “angels of God” while Ode 2:43 has the phrases reversed.
That said; I spoke too soon about not having the Greek text for the “Prayer of Manasseh.” It is actually contained in BibleWorks as Ode 12. So I translated that prayer from that text for both places.
I just finished the second draft of 3Maccabees. The Greek of this book was incredibly difficult. All I have said before about the Greek text of the apocryphal books being difficult applies doubly to this book.
That said; it is a rather encouraging story, somewhat similar to the proto Book of Esther. In it, people who abhor the Jews convince the king to persecute them to “a vanishing.” But God miraculously delivers them. For this the Jews rightly praise “the Greatest God” (an oft repeated phrase in the book).
However, having been delivered from persecution by the king, the faithful Jews then want the king and his men to persecute the Jews who had recanted their Jewish faith. That is a rather sad turn of events, which renders the inspiration of this book questionable in my mind.
10Now having received this letter, they [i.e., the Jews] did not hasten to become about the departure immediately, but they demanded besides [of] the king, the ones from the race of the Jews having voluntarily transgressed against the holy God and the Law of God, through them, to receive the punishment being owed, 11having proposed [that] the ones having transgressed the divine ordinances for the sake of the belly would never be well-inclined either to the affairs of the king (3Macc 7:10-11).
I just finished the first draft of 4Maccabees. This was probably the hardest apocryphal book to translate, not because of the difficulty of the Greek but because of the content. It records stories in graphic detail of Jews being brutally tortured to death. The language is so graphic I will not quote it here. Suffice it to say, this is definitely “R-rated” material, not suitable for children. Kids would have nightmares if they read this book.
The purpose of this graphic language is to show how divine reasoning holds power over the passions of desiring to live, to avoid pain, and in the case of a mother being forced to watch her seven sons being tortured to death, maternal affections. But the graphic language is really unnecessary, which once again gives doubts to this book being inspired by God.
That said, what was the reason these Jews were being so horribly tortured to death? They refused to taste pig meat. That’s it. All they had to do is take one bite of pig meat, and they would have been released. But they knew that to do so would be a denial of their Jewish faith. And with this background in the Jewish culture shortly before the time of Christ, there is no way Jesus ever ate pig meat. If He had, He would have lost all credibility with the Jews of the time. Think about that before serving or eating ham on Easter Sunday. It does not make sense to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with a food Jesus would never have eaten.
Psalms of Solomon
I just finished the second draft of the Psalms of Solomon. This book is considered apocryphal by all major Christian groups, meaning it is not included in any Bible. But it is included in the LXX, and I had the Greek text for it, so I am translating and including it in my volume of the A/D books. There is another such book, the Odes of Solomon, but I do not have a Greek text for it, so I cannot include it.
And with that, I have finished two drafts of all of the A/D books. But before I start on the third draft of all of these books, I have one more item to translate that I will be including in this volume. I will post about that later.
Additions to 1Kings
I just finished the three appendixes for Volume Five of my ALT: OT: The Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books. The first is “Additions to 1Kings.” These are “extra” passages found in the LXX as compared to the Hebrew text. I did not include these extra passages in Volume Two: The Historical Books as they were mostly repetitious of material found elsewhere in 1Kings. But in retrospect, that was a mistake as they are part of the LXX, so I am including them in as an appendix in Volume Five. The other two appendixes are about my other books and my Web sites and newsletters.
And with that I have finished the first two drafts of all of the introductory pages, books, and appendixes for this volume. But now I will start the third of the five drafts I’ve been doing for all of the OT books. So I still got a long way to go. But I thank the LORD that I have progressed this far.
I thank the LORD for enabling me to finish the A/D books and to do so even faster than I thought it would take, in less than seven months. And having translated and studied the A/D books, I do not believe they are inspired by God in the same sense as the proto OT or the NT books. As such, I do not think they should be considered to be a part of the canon of Scripture. However, they do provide interesting background and insight into Jewish history and thought shortly before and during the time of NT events. As such, I would encourage all Christians to read these books.
The Analytical-Literal Translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint): Volume V: The Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books is available in various hardcopy and eBook formats. Follow the link for details.
Translator’s Perspective on the Apocryphal/ Deuterocanonical Books: Part Two. Copyright © 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla.
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
The above article first appeared in
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It was posted on this Web site March 4, 2015.
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