Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Are The Jewish Apocrypha Inspired Scripture? Pt. 1

Sam Shamoun

Muslims like to bring up the subject of the canon in order to cast doubt on the inspiration and reliability of the Holy Bible. Muslim apologists particularly like to highlight the fact that the Roman Catholic Bibles contain seven additional books and extra chapters to specific books which Protestant Bibles do not have. This means that Roman Bibles have a total of 73 books, as opposed to the 66 books contained within Protestant versions of the Holy Bible. An example of a Muslim raising this canard would be the late Ahmad Deedat.

These additional books and chapters are called the Jewish Apocrypha, since these were books composed by Jews before the time of Christ. Roman Catholics, however, prefer to call them deutero-canonicals.

Since this happens to be a common objection that is often brought up against the authority of the Holy Bible we have decided to provide a thorough response in order to equip Christians in their witness to Muslims.

What are the Jewish Apocrypha?

As we just mentioned, the books which the Roman Catholics accept as canonical are commonly referred to as the Jewish Apocrypha (Apocrypha from now on). The Apocrypha refer to a collection of books written anywhere between 400 B.C. and the time of Christ, and consist of the following writings: Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the rest of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), the additions to Daniel, Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and the Prayer of Manasseh.

Both Jews and Protestants reject the Apocrypha as part of the OT canon, whereas Roman Catholicism accepts some of them as inspired revelation. The books which Roman Catholics accept as Scripture include: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach and Baruch, as well as longer versions of Daniel and Esther. These were officially recognized as part of the Roman Catholic Bible at the Council of Trent on April 8, AD 1546, yet not without some opposition since a certain minority which included Cardinals Seripando and Cajetan objected to the inclusion of these books within the OT canon.

The questions that both Christians and Muslims need to find answers to include: Is the Roman Catholic Church correct in recognizing these books as part of sacred scripture? Or are Protestants right for rejecting their canonical status?

These are the questions which we will try to answer.

The Jews and the OT Canon

The answer to the questions is found in the respective Scriptures of the Christians and Muslims, specifically the New Testament and the Quran.

Both the inspired Christian writings and the Muslim scripture affirm that the Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Old Testament, was entrusted to the children of Israel. The New Testament states:

"What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with THE VERY WORDS OF GOD." Romans 3:1-2

"For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; THEIRS IS the divine glory, THE COVENANTS, THE RECEIVING OF THE LAW, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." Romans 9:4-5

The OT itself confirms this point:

"He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD." Psalm 147:19-20

The Quran also concurs that God gave his Scripture, along with a host of other blessings to the Children of Israel/Jews:

But why do they come to thee for decision, when they have (their own) law before them? – therein is the (plain) command of God; yet even after that, they would turn away. For they are not (really) People of Faith. It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to God's will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of God's book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what God hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers. We ordained therein for them: "Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal." But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what God hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers. And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God. S. 5:43-46 Yusuf Ali

We gave Moses the Book, and made it a Guide to the Children of Israel, (commanding): "Take not other than Me as Disposer of (your) affairs." S. 17:2

We did aforetime give Moses the (Book of) Guidance, and We gave the book in inheritance to the Children of Israel, – A Guide and a Message to men of Understanding. S. 40:53-54

We did aforetime grant to the Children of Israel the Book, the Power of Command, and Prophethood; We gave them, for Sustenance, things good and pure; and We favoured them above the nations. And We granted them Clear Signs in affairs (of Religion): it was only after knowledge had been granted to them that they fell into schisms, through insolent envy among themselves. Verily thy Lord will judge between them on the Day of Judgment as to those matters in which they set up differences. S. 45:16-17 Y. Ali

The Islamic scripture even exhorts Muslims to ask the Children of Israel concerning OT events such as Moses and the Exodus:

To Moses We did give Nine Clear Signs: Ask the Children of Israel: when he came to them, Pharaoh said to him: "O Moses! I consider thee, indeed, to have been worked upon by sorcery! S. 17:101

Therefore, since both the New Testament and the Quran affirm that God revealed his laws and decrees to Israel, and not to any other nation, this means that Christians and Muslims must turn to the Jews to discover whether they ever accepted the Apocrypha as part of the OT canon.

When we do turn to the history of the Jews we find evidence showing that sometime prior to Christ the Jews divided the Old Testament into three sections: Torah or The Law, containing the five books of Moses. The second section was called Neviim or The Prophets. This included two subdivisions. The first is called "the Former Prophets" and included the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel and Kings. The second is called "the Latter Prophets" which included the books beginning with Isaiah to Ezekiel with the exception of Lamentations; and from Hosea to Malachi. These books were also subsumed into smaller lists such as combining the books from Hosea to Malachi together into one scroll called "the minor Prophets."

The third section was called Ketuviim or the Writings, also referred to as Psalms. This section consisted first of Psalms, Proverbs and Job; then the "Scrolls" of Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther and finally Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles. This gives us a total of 39 OT books, the precise canon of books alluded to by Christ. Some debate existed regarding the canonicity of five OT books: Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs/Solomon, and Ezekiel. Despite this, the Jews never included the Apocrypha within this three-fold division.

Secondly, certain OT books were combined together, bringing the total number of books down to 24 or 22. For instance, the twelve Minor Prophets were combined into one scroll (1). The following books were also combined together: 1&2 Samuel (1), 1&2 Kings (1), 1&2 Chronicles (1), and Ezra-Nehemiah (1). This brings the number of OT books to 24. At times Ruth was appended to Judges and Lamentations to Jeremiah, making the number 22. As we shall shortly see, these numbers figure prominently in demonstrating that the Jews did not accept the Apocrypha as part of the inspired OT canon.

With the foregoing in perspective we can proceed to an examination of the evidence itself by turning our attention to the testimony of two first-century Jews, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC-AD 50) and Flavius Josephus. Their testimony regarding the canon is foundational since the OT version that they used was the Septuagint (LXX), which is sometimes referred to as the Alexandrian Canon. It is often claimed that the LXX included the Apocrypha. However, if it can be shown that the LXX in use at the time did not include the Apocrypha as part of the inspired canon, then the claim that the Alexandrian canon was somehow different from the one held by Palestinian Jewry lacks any real historical weight.

Here is what Philo wrote in regards to the revelation given to the Jews:

In each house there is a consecrated room which is called a sanctuary or closet and closeted in this day in this they are initiated into the mysteries of the sacred life. They take nothing into it, either drink or food or any other of the things necessary for the needs of the body, but LAWS and ORACLES DELIVERED THROUGH THE MOUTH OF PROPHETS, and PSALMS and anything else which fosters and perfects knowledge and piety. (On the Contemporary Life 25)

F. F. Bruce writes:

"Philo of Alexandria (c 20 BC-AD 50) evidently knew the scriptures in the Greek version only. He was an illustrious representative of Alexandrian Judaism, and if Alexandrian Judaism did indeed recognize a more comprehensive canon than Palestinian Judaism, one might have expected to find some trace of this in Philo's voluminous writings. But, in fact, while Philo has not given us a formal statement on the limits of the canon such as we have in Josephus, the books which he acknowledged as holy scripture were quite certainly books included in the traditional Hebrew Biblehe shows no sign of accepting the authority of any of the books which we know as the Apocrypha." (Bruce, The Canon of the Scripture, pp. 29-30; bold emphasis ours)

Roger Beckwith states:

"The De Vita Contemplativa gives a significant account of things which each of the Therepeutae takes with him into his oratory. He takes none of the common things of life, but ‘(the) Laws, and (the) Oracles given by inspiration through (the) Prophets, and (the) Psalms (hymnous), and the other books whereby knowledge and piety are increased and completed…’ (De Vit. Cont. 25).

“The first three groups of books here listed (without the article, as is common in titles) seem to correspond closely to those referred to by the grandson of Ben Sira and especially by Jesus, in Luke 24. {Hymnoi as Conybeare remarks, is Philo's regular name for the Psalms; and that here again it refers not simply to the Psalter but to the Hagiographa in general is suggested by Philo's appeals to Job and Proverbs as Scripture, and by the Qumran community's appeals to Proverbs and Daniel as Scripture ... The Therapeutae, with their monasticism, their calendrical peculiarities and their sectarian books and hymns, were clearly akin to the Qumran community, and Philo's statement may indicate that not only he, with his Pharisaic leanings, but also the Therapeutae, with their Essene leanings, were accustomed to divide the canon into three sections. The only problem is what is meant by ‘the other books (or things) whereby knowledge and piety are increased and completed.’ These are also evidently books, both because of the context and that they ‘increase knowledge.’ The most likely explanation is that they are books outside the canon to which the Therapeutae ascribed almost equal authority. Philo does not necessarily share their view himself, any more than on some other points on which he records the Therapeutae's distinctive views." (Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon, p. 117; bold emphasis ours)

Herbert Edward Ryle observes:

"The writings of Philo, who died about 50 A.D., do not throw very much positive light upon the history of the Canon. To him, as to other Alexandrine Jews, the Law alone was in the highest sense the Canon of Scripture, and alone partook of divine inspiration in the most absolute degree. Philo's writings, however, show that he was well acquainted with many other books of the Old Testament besides the Pentateuch. He quotes from Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Minor Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Ezra. According to some scholars he is said to show acquaintance with books of the Apocrypha. But this is very doubtful; and, even if it be granted, he certainly never appeals to them in support of his teaching in the way that he does to books included in the Hebrew Canon, and never applies to them the formulae of citation which he employs, when referring to the acknowledged books of the Jewish Scriptures. By comparison with his quotations from the Pentateuch, his quotations from the other sacred writings are very scanty; but it is observable that even in these few extracts he ascribes an inspired origin to Joshua, Samuel, Kings, Ezra, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and Zechariah. The negative value of his testimony IS STRONG, though not conclusive, against the canonicity of any book of the Apocrypha, or of any work not eventually included in the Hebrew Canon." (Ryle, The Canon of the Old Testament [MacMillan: London, 1904], pp. 159-160; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Now turning our attention to Josephus, who wrote during the 90s AD, here is what he stated:

“We do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly accredited, ARE BUT TWO AND TWENTY, AND CONTAIN THE RECORD OF ALL TIME.

“Of these, FIVE ARE THE BOOKS OF MOSES, comprising the laws and the traditional history from the birth of man down to the death of the lawgiver. This period falls only a little short of three thousand years. From the death of Moses until Artaxerxes, who succeeded Xerxes as king of Persia, THE PROPHETS subsequent to Moses wrote the history of the events of their own times IN THIRTEEN BOOKS. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life.


“We have given practical proof of our reverence FOR OUR OWN SCRIPTURES. For, although such long ages have now passed, NO ONE HAS VENTURED EITHER TO ADD, OR TO REMOVE, OR TO ALTER A SYLLABLE; AND IT IS AN INSTINCT WITH EVERY JEW, from the day of his birth, TO REGARD THEM AS THE DECREES OF GOD, to abide by them, and, if need be, CHEERFULLY TO DIE FOR THEM.” (Against Apion 1.37-42 and The Jewish War 10.35)

Josephus’ statement is so foundational to our understanding to the OT canon that Ryle states:

“We must remember that Josephus writes as the spokesman of his people, in order to defend the accuracy and sufficiency of their Scriptures, as compared with the recent and contradictory histories by Greek writers… In this controversy he defends the judgment of his people. He does not merely express a personal opinion, he claims to represent his countrymen ... How then does he describe the Sacred Books? He mentions their number; he speaks of them as consisting of ‘twenty-two books’. He regards them as a well-defined national collection. That is to say, Josephus and his countrymen, at the beginning of the second cent. A.D., recognised a collection of what he, at least, calls twenty-two books, and no more, as the Canon of Holy Scripture. This Canon it was profanation to think of enlarging, diminishing, or altering in any way." (Ibid., pp. 173-174; bold emphasis ours)

John Wenham adds:

“Josephus, born about AD 37, was perhaps the most distinguished and most learned Jew of his day. His father was a priest and his mother was descended from the Maccabean kings. Given the best possible education, he proved to be something of a prodigy ... What is particularly interesting about the statement of Josephus is the clear distinction between the canonical books which were completed in the time of Artaxerxes, and those written later which were not considered worthy of like credit ‘because the exact succession of the prophets ceased’. The idea evidently is that the canonical books were either written (or accredited) by the prophets, but that when the prophetical era was over, no more books suitable for the Canon were written… Josephus commits himself to a fairly precise date for the closing of the Canon. Artaxerxes Longimanus reigned for forty years, 465 to 425 BC. Ezra came to Jerusalem in the seventh, and Nehemiah in the twentieth, year of his reign (Ez. 7:1,8; Ne. 2:1). In addition to Josephus there are several other witnesses who point to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, with occasionally a reference to the ministries of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, as the time of the collection, completion and recognition of the Old Testament Canon." (Wenham, Christ and the Bible [Baker: Grand Rapids, MI, 1994], pp. 134-136; bold emphasis ours)

Thus we see that the evidence from both the Palestinian and Alexandrian quarters of Judaism conclusively establishes that the Apocrypha were not recognized as part of the inspired OT canon.

The Testimony of Rabbinic Judaism

We conclude this part of our discussion with the witness of the Talmud concerning the OT canon. Here is a reference which helps us understand the rabbinic position concerning the Apocrypha:

Our Rabbis taught: Since the death of the last prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the Holy Spirit [of prophetic inspiration] departed from Israel. (Sanhedrin 11a)

According to the rabbis, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel after the time of Malachi. To the Jews this would have meant that the Apocryphal books were not part of the Old Testament since they were written long after the time of Malachi when there were no more Holy Spirit-inspired prophets.

We also read in Baba Bathra 14 that:

Our Rabbis taught: the order of the Prophets is, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the twelve Minor Prophets... [Our Rabbis taught:] The order of the Hagiographa is Ruth, the book of Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentation , Daniel and the scroll of Esther, Ezra and Chronicles... Who wrote the Scriptures? - Moses wrote his own book and the portion of Balaam and Job. Joshua wrote the book which bears his name and [the last] eight verses of the Pentateuch. Samuel wrote the book which bears his name and the book of Judges and Ruth. David wrote the book of Psalms, including in it the work of the ten elders, namely Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Yeduthun, Asaph, and the three sons of Korah. Jeremiah wrote the book which bears his name, the book of Kings, and Lamentations. Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote (mnemonic YMSHQ) Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The Men of the Great Assembly wrote (mnemonic QNDG) Ezekiel, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Daniel and the scroll of Esther. Ezra wrote the book that bears his name and the genealogies of the book of Chronicles up to his own time. This confirms the opinion of Rab (220-250), since Rab Judah (250-290) has said in the name of Rab: Ezra did not leave Babylon to go up to Eretz Yisrael until he had written his own genealogy. Who then finished it [the book of Chronicles]? - Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. (Source)

The late NT scholar F. F. Bruce notes that this Jewish tradition possibly stems from the first century:

One of the clearest and earliest statements of these three divisions and their respective contents comes in a baraitha (a tradition from the period AD 70-200) quoted in the Babylonian Talmud, in the tractate Baba Bathra. (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture [InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1988], pp. 29-30)

The above list excludes the Apocrypha from the sacred canon of the Hebrew Bible, and therefore gives us an idea of what the Jews thought of these books. It is clear that Jewry didn’t accept the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture and neither should Christians. After all, the NT verses which we cited earlier (cf. Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5) clearly attest that God had entrusted his words to the Jews, and we must therefore look to them to define and delineate the extent of the OT canon for us, a canon which excludes the books which Roman Catholics accept as Scripture.

With the foregoing in perspective, it is now time to proceed to the second part of our discussion.