Author Archives: Jacob Cytryn

Jacob Cytryn

About Jacob Cytryn

Jacob Cytryn is a doctoral candidate in Jewish Studies and Education at Brandeis University. A Wexner Graduate Fellow, Jacob has a B.A. in Classical Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also serves as the year-round Program Director for Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.

External Texts

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Apocrypha

1 Esdras (also known as 3 Esdras): A retelling of three parts of the biblical narrative: the Josianic Passover of 621 BCE (based on 2 Chronicles), and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Tobit: An account of Tobias and his trip from Nineveh (to where the family was exiled after the Assyrian conquest of 722 BCE) to Media. Guided by the angel Raphael, Tobias weds a woman whose previous husbands had been killed by a demon. The couple (and Raphael) then returns to Nineveh to cure Tobit, Tobias’ father, of blindness.

Judith: Set in the concluding years of the First Temple (destroyed in 586 BCE), Judith saves the inhabitants of a besieged fortress, Bethulia, from the enemy general Holophernes. Judith seduces Holophernes and murders him.

Esther: The Septuagint’s Esther includes six passages not included in the Tanakh. These include: (1) a description of how, exactly, Mordechai saved the king’s life; (2) the specifics of Esther’s appeal to Ahashverosh; (3) the text of the king’s decree to kill the Jews; (4) the text of the king’s letter reversing his decree and requesting support and defense for the Jews; (5) a prayer uttered by Mordechai; and (6) a prayer uttered by Esther.

Daniel: The Septuagint’s Daniel includes three passages not included in the Tanakh. These include: (1) a prayer uttered by Azariah and a poem by Shadrakh, Meshakh, and Abednego from their experience in the oven; (2) a story about Susanna, a righteous woman saved by Daniel when she is falsely accused of adultery, which also serves as a way of introducing Daniel as a paragon for wisdom, even at an early age; and (3) tales of Daniel proving the illegitimate claims of false gods.

Baruch: Ascribed by the text to Baruch, the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe, this work includes the Jews’ confession of their sins (notably the ill-fated rebellion against the Babylonians that led to the destruction of the First Temple, the exile to Babylonia and, for all intents and purposes, the end of the first Judaism) and an assertion that wisdom rests with God and that God’s people will be returned to their land.

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Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

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The formation of the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) as we know it was not a foregone historical conclusion. The contents of today’s Tanakh are the results of a process of selection and codification that took place over the course of some centuries around 2,000 years ago. By acknowledging that the structure of the canon was the result of an historical process, we must also recognize that there were other Jewish texts that did not make it past this selection.apocrypha

What are the works?

This lead us to a discussion of two different sets of ancient texts that are not included in the Hebrew Bible, but whose existence speaks to the richness, creativity, diversity, and complexity of the emerging Judeo-Christian community of Palestine and its surroundings during roughly 200 BCE to 70 CE. One such set is called “Apocrypha” (meaning hidden things in Greek) and refers to a set of works deemed canonical by the Egyptian Jewish community, based in Alexandria, but not included in the smaller canon of the Palestinian Jewish community which became the present-day Tanakh. The early Church preserved these works, in the Latin (Vulgate) and Greek (Septuagint) versions of the Old Testament, and they remain a part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons. Examples of this genre include additions to the books of Esther and Daniel, the Wisdom literature of Solomon and Ben Sira, and the first two books of Maccabees.

The other set is called “Pseudepigrapha,” a collection of texts whose authorship is unknown and ascribed to characters from the Hebrew Bible, thus the name pseudepigrapha, meaning “false-writing” in Greek. The term also includes some texts from the same period, whose extant manuscripts exist in Greek, Ethiopic, Syriac, and Slavonic, and have been preserved by the Eastern branches of the Christian Church, primarily the Ethiopian one.

Why are they important?

There is great scholarly merit in studying these texts as well as their historical neighbors–the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered throughout the Judean desert, most notably at Qumran. Foremost, it sheds light on the political, ideological, and historical reality of the authors and their audience’s time period. These texts not only divulge religious belief and practice, but also give insight into the mundane, yet retrospectively intriguing, daily activities. These ancient texts also elucidate the possible ideological debates surrounding the canonization of Tanakh and the various sectarian forces at play.

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