I fully admit to approaching the topic of the Apocrypha with a skeptical eye to its value for contemporary Christians. My definition of value, in retrospect, was very narrow and preconceived, which I imagine is common in layperson circles. The readings this week expanded my definition of value to surpass what the text itself might say, outwards towards what role the text might have played for Jews and Christians who found their faith at a moment when nearly all aspects of the literary world were substantially different than ours. The collection of works contained in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha serve to give us insight into a world quite foreign to our own.
If we want to understand the New Testament, we must understand the human writers who contributed, and furthermore the world in which they are living. DeSilva encourages the study of these books to provide a “fuller, more reliable picture” of the Judaism that immediately predates Christianity, and which goes on to eventually become or influence contemporary Judaism (DeSilva, 20). They serve to help us understand certain shades of the friction Paul might have encountered as he enters the synagogues to proclaim Christ. The literature being read in those spaces, how regularly, and the degree of acceptance (if it defiles the hands) would positively shape comparisons and critical thoughts of those coming into contact with the Apostles and teachers during the times described in our New Testament. These primary texts, then, have value in helping us rebuild the world of Early Christianity.
Beyond understanding the worldview of Jewish converts to Christianity, it’s also potentially helpful for us to consider the implications of early church choices to hold onto these texts, while Jewish communities abandoned them (DeSilva, 27). The reasons that these works disappeared from Jewish tradition may have much more to do with the language of origin or the recognition that God had stopped inspiring words of the prophets than any opposition to Christianity, per se.
Simultaneously though, what value did early Christianity see in these books? Was the inclusion of these extra-canonical works the result of the early father’s perspective (or lack thereof) concerning canon, or rather deliberate inclusion of works that displayed practical value? Perhaps the statement McDonald makes about contemporary choices of texts applies in antiquity, that “[t]he texts that speak to our immediate needs and circumstances are the ones that we tend to favor…” (McDonald, 62).
While I ultimately land in opposition to both Jerome’s suggestion to divide the Old Testament into “canonical” and “ecclesiastical” books as well as Augustine’s outright advocacy for the Septuagint text, my appreciation of the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal literature has increased. I expect that I will find myself much more interested in the ongoing discussions about the influence these texts had on the formative years before and during the rise of Christianity and how they might have shaped the worldview of Christians and Jews alike.