writings books ancient writers
APOCRYPHA. This term is a Greek word meaning hidden, secret. It occurs, for example, in Col. ii. 3, " In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," and elsewhere in the New Testament. It is first found applied to writings in Clemens Alexandrines, Stroinata, c. 4. When applied to writings (erarimpusba sc. flLfasa) the name may be supposed to have first expressed the nature of their contents ; the writings were secret, embodying an esoteric teaching, profounder than that contained in the ordinary books of the system, and unknown to the ordinary people who professed it. Such writings were held to exist in connection with almost all the ancient systems of religion.
From the nature of the case, the same word might very well describe such writings further, either in respect of their use or in respect of their origin. In use these writings were, of course, like the doctrines they contained, private and secret ; they were not read in general meetings, and did not belong to the publicly recognised books of the system. Only some were admitted to the knowledge of them. That which formed the subject of public reference and instruction was the general doctrines of the system, while these peculiar and more recondite works were at most brought forward on rare occasions. And naturally the same secrecy which hung over their use generally also shrouded their origin. In some cases this might be a real mystery ; the books were sometimes of ancient and uncertain date, and their authorship unknown. But oftener the mystery was fictitious, created for the purpose of securing respect for the doctrines inculcated in the writings, which themselves were forgeries of very recent times. Works of this kind were of very common occurrence in the East during the centuries immediately preceding and following the birth of Christ. In order successfully to float them and give them impulse, they were generally launched under some ancient and famous name; and books existed, bearing to be the productions of almost every renowned patriarch or sage from Adam downwards. Even when sent out anonymously, and of an historical rather than a doctrinal character, the scene of their narratives was laid in far back times, and famous personages were introduced acting and speaking, the design being to recommend to the living generation the conduct pursued or the sentiments expressed by the ancient hero or saint.
The term Apocrypha appears in this way to have passed through several stages of meaning, and from expressing a meaning good, or at least neutral, it came at last to have a very bad sense, differing very little from spurious. From the use of the word in ancient writers it does not appear that this progress from a good or indifferent to a bad sense was a matter of time, for the indifferent and bad meanings of the word seem to have existed side by side. Some ecclesiastical writers divide the sacred books into three classes, - recognising first, some that are canonical ; second, some that are not canonical, but of inferior value, profitable to be read for moral uses, but not to be founded. on for doctrine - to this class the name ecclesiastical was sometimes given ; and third, some that are apocryphal. Other writers know of only two classes, embracing both the second and third classes of the former division under the name apocryphal. This difference indicates a milder and a severer use of the term.
Besides those books known distinctively as the Old Testament Apocrypha, a very large number of apocryphal writings were in existence in the early centuries of our era. Some of these are still extant, but many of them have perished, or are known only through MS. translations lying in our great libraries. Our only information regarding many of then is derived from references to them in ecclesiastical writers. These references are sometimes so general that we cannot be sure whether the book referred to was a Jewish or a Christian production. By far the largest number even of those bearing Jewish titles were works by Christian writers. Of the extant writings of this class the most important are fully treated in the article APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE immediately preceding. In addition to those discussed there may be mentioned the very interesting collection of hymns called the Psalms of Solomon. This small work consists of eighteen poems of varying length, to appearance all by one writer, and existing now only in Greek, though in all probability originally written in a Shemitic dialect. These poems arose in a time of trouble to the Jewish people, most probably in the Greek persecution, and they were designed to sustain the nation under its trials, partly by moral considerations, but chiefly by picturing the certain glories of the Messianic kingdom. The hymns are remarkable no less for the vigour of their poetry than for the fervid theocratic hopes and distinct faith in the resurrection and kindred doctrines which find expression in them. 0. F. Fritzsche has appended this little work, along with other select Pseudepigraphi of the Old Testament, to his edition of the Old Testament pocrypha.