Man’s quest for immortality appears opaquely in the Old Testament. For example, we read in 2Samuel 18:18: “Now Absalom in his life-time had taken and reared up for himself the pillar, which is in the king’s dale; for he said: ‘I have no son to keep my name in remembrance’; and he called the pillar after his own name; and it is called Absalom’s monument unto this day.” Evidently, Absalom reached for immortality via this pillar. It may be that the levirate marriage functioned in the same capacity: Deuteronomy 25:5-10 sets forth the procedure by which the brother of the deceased is obligated to perpetuate the name of his brother, “that his name may not be blotted out in Israel.”
James reminds us in James 4:14: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” If a man understands that his life is short, and if he does not have a strong eternal hope, he will seek to immortalize himself here on earth –through great deeds or possibly via some kind of memorial in his name. Solomon said, “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The word “world” (olam in Hebrew), means “eternity.” Man has an inner voice telling him that if he doesn’t live forever, he ought to. The skeptic can argue that it is cultural, and seek to drum it out of his life, but that inner voice will not be quieted. Thus, men with sons and grandsons long to perpetuate the family name. Kings and leaders of industry seek to establish their dynasties. Even those who profess faith in Christ, and who ought to know better, find themselves preoccupied with their legacies. The only thing that will quiet that inner voice is an eternal hope. Because the follower of Christ hopes in the promises of God, he does not seek to create or build anything; his sole preoccupation is being the obedient follower of Christ. Why invest his energies in the temporal when God offers him immortality, which is not only infinitely better, but also where God wants him to direct it?
The word Apocrypha originally meant “esoteric, hidden, concealed,” and pertained to literature meant to be understood only by the initiated and capable of being understood by no others. Later, the term came to connote “spurious.” Many of the Patristics used the term with this negative connotation. The Christian Bible is not a work of literature the understanding of which is limited to the initiated or select few.
The Apocrypha came to be known as a collection of religious writings written mostly during the years between the close of the Old Testament canon (Malachi) and the beginning of the New Testament. A list of the books in the order in which they occur in many Bibles: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The Rest of Esther, The wisdom of Solomon, Ecclessiasticus (also called Sirach), Baruch (with the Epistle of Jeremiah), The Song of the Three Holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, and 1 & 2 Maccabees. “Uncertain as may be the dates of individual books, few, if any, can be thrown farther back than the beginning of the third century B.C. The latest, the 2nd Book of Esdras, is probably not later than 30 B.C…”
We find an absence of the prophetic element in the Apocrypha; no one speaks because the word of the Lord came to him. “…the rhetorical narrative of the Exodus in Wisd. xvi-xix indicates the existence of a traditional, half-legendary history side by side with the canonical. It would seem, indeed, as if the life of Moses had appeared with many different embellishments. The form in which that life appears in Josephus, the facts mentioned in St. Stephen’s speech and not found in the Pentateuch, the allusions to Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim. Iii, 8), to the disputes between Michael and the devil (Jude 9), to the ‘rock that followed” the Israelites (1Cor x, 4), all bear testimony to the wide-spread popularity of this semi-apocryphal history.”
The Church Fathers (Patristics) differed among themselves regarding what to do with the Apocrypha. For example, Irenaeus argued that they had no place in The Christian canon, while Clement of Alexandria recognized 2 Esdras as fully canonical. In the eastern and western churches the books of the Apocrypha formed an integral part of the canon. The Reformers included the Apocrypha in their translations of Scripture, but considered them non-canonical. By a national synod held at Jamnia in 90 A.D., the Old Testament canon was, for all practical purposes, closed. Probably the fact that the Apocrypha is absent from the Hebrew canon influenced the Reformers in their decision.
In this study, I will look at the Apocrypha in the order used by Charles.
Reflections on the Historical Books – 1 Esdras though 3 Maccabees
1 Esdras – The book covers the time from Josiah, King of Judah to the time of Ezra and his dealing with mixed marriages after the captivity. I found no reference to an eternal hope or the thought that Heaven is where people go after death.
1 Maccabees – deals with the High Priest Mattathias and his sons as they perpetually fight the descendents of Alexander the Great to keep their country free. Filled with intrigue, betrayal, and continuous war, the book records the hopeless struggle waged against Israel’s enemies. I can find no reference to the eternal or any hope of an afterlife.
2 Maccabees – This is not a sequel to 1 Maccabees, but rather a second book dealing with the Maccabean struggle. It chronicles the heroic deeds of Judas Maccabaeus, the death of Antiochus, and the two festivals of the Hanukka and Nicanor’s day. I have gleaned from the book the following pertaining to the after-life: We are told of the godly Eleazar refusing his eat swine, suggesting it was better to be “dispatched to Hades (Sheol) at once” rather than disobey God.
Dealing with the martyrdom of the seven brothers, we find: “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.” As one of the brothers surrendered his body he says, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” Their mother seems to reference the resurrection when she encourages her sons to be martyrs: “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.” Again, the mother admonishes her sons: “Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.” Interestingly, each of the brothers, as they face death, testify that they are dying for their own sins. No thought is given to the idea that the righteous suffer unjustly, or in defense of the truth.
The author says of Judas Maccabees: “He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” In these short verses we find the justification for the Roman Church’s teaching that God’s people should pray for the dead, and that indulgences free souls from purgatory.
3 Maccabees – This book takes place in the reign of Ptolemy IV in 217 B.C., and narrates the pagan kings attempt to enter the Temple in Jerusalem. Defeated, Ptolemy wreaks vengeance on the Jews of Alexandria, Egypt, by allowing drunken elephants to trample them to death in the Hippodrome. An angel visits the king; he repents, and becomes a patron of the Jews. I could find no reference to a Messianic hope, apocalyptic ideas, or life after death.
Reflections on Quasi-Historical Books Written with a Moral Purpose
Tobit – a book of 14 chapters deals with an exiled family from Israel living in Assyria. The plot line has his son Tobias going to another part of the realm – led by the angel Raphael – where he obtains his father’s inheritance and a wife (Sarah) from his kin.
Tobit 4:17 notes, “Pour out your bread and wine on the tomb of the just, and give not to sinners.” As seen in our study of the Old Testament, Sheol was, for both saints and sinners, the abode of the dead. Evidently the ancients believed that the living could assist the spirits of the dead, and I can find nothing in the Old Testament prohibiting this practice. Regarding their tithe, in Deuteronomy 26:14 people had to vow before God: “I have not deposited any of it with the dead.”
I found traces of the supernatural (even fantastic), but no mention of an eternal hope or resurrection from the dead.
Judith – contains 16 chapters dealing with the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar toward the nations along the Mediterranean Sea who did not respond to his call to help him with one of his wars. He sends Holofernes his general, offering mercy to those who acknowledge their wrong and confess Nebuchadnezzar as their god. Israel, of course, refuses, and the army of Holofernes is arrayed against her. Judith, a godly widow from Bethulia, deceives her way into the company of Holofernes, beguiles him with her beauty, and when unsuspecting, cuts off his head. The army panics and Israel slaughters them. Judith is a type of Deborah the Judge. I found one reference to hell: “Woe to the nations that rise up against my kindred: The Lord Almighty will take vengeance of them in the Day of Judgment. By putting fire and worms in their flesh, and they shall be weak and feel their pain forever.” Charles dates this work about 50 BC.
All people are motivated by their hope; no other motivation can influence us like hope. Hope defines our sense of well being, how we perceive success, what constitutes security, as well as our expectations. We can allow it to move us in a course of action without taking time to evaluate its validity. The line between faith and greed is real but invisible. We can easily cross it without giving serious thought to what we are doing.
If a man makes himself truly accountable to a band of brothers “who watch for his soul as they that must give account,” he will find them calling into question proposed courses of action that appear valid, simply because he is motivated by his hope. Objectivity from an outside source can bring moral clarity to decisions that otherwise appear ambiguous.
As people of God, we must constantly call into question the object of our hope to ensure that it does not slip from a legitimate to an illegitimate hope. Jesus prayed for His disciples, “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” Keeping guard of our hope is essential if we wish to remain in the world and not become part of it.
Yours for a legitimate hope,
 “Levirate marriage:” from the Latin “husband’s brother.”
 Used in the NT in Mark 4:22, Luke 8:17 and Colossians 2:3.
 McClintock, John and Strong, James, General Editors, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1981, vol. 1, page 291.
 Ibid, page 292.
 Orr, James, General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1955, Vol. 1, pp. 177-183.
 Charles, R.H., general editor, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, Volume I, Oxford at The Clarendon Press, 1979, (First published in 1913.)
 2 Maccabees 6:23
 2 Maccabees 7:9
 Ibid, verse 11
 Ibid, verse 14
 Ibid, verses 22-23
 Ibid, verse 29
 2 Maccabees 12:43-45
 When Alexander the Great died, his kingdom was divided between four of his generals. Ptolemy controlled Egypt and the geography surrounding it. To the north, another general Seleucus controlled Syria and the geography surrounding it. Israel, standing between the two, found herself constantly contending with these dynasties.
 Judith 16:17.
 Hebrews 13:17, KJV
 John 17:14-15, KJV