AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE APOCRYPHA. By W O E Oesterley D D Litt D. © W O E Oesterley 1935. First published S.P.C.K. 1935. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


(King of Judah, when he was holden captive in Babylon.)
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In Cod.A and many cursives the title is "Prayer of Mannasseh" (Προσεθχὴ Μανασσή - Proseuche Manasse); but in Cod.T (Turicensis, in the Municipal Library of Zurich) it is: "Prayer of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah" (Προσεθχὴ Μανασσὴ τοῦ θἱοῦ Εζεκίου - Proseuche Manasse tou uhiou Hezekiou). The RV title is from the Vulgate: "Oratio Manassae regis Iuda cum captus teneretur in Babylone." *[But it is not the work of Jerome (see below ? VI).]

In the Didascalia Apostolorum (see below) it is simply Oratio Manassis.

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(The verse-divisions, which are not given in the RV or in the VuIgate, are from Swete's text, The Old Testament in Greek, iii.824-826 (1899).)

An address to the Almighty, with an ascription of praise for His works of creation, His power, glory, and mercy (vss.1-7, ending with the words: "For thou art the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long suffering, and abundant in mercy, and repentest of bringing evils upon men)."
A confession of sins (vss.8-12, ending with the words: "I have sinned, 0 Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge mine iniquities").
A prayer for pardon (v.13, ending with the words: "For thou, O Lord, art the God of them that repent").
An expression of trust in God's mercy (v.14, "... for thou wilt save me, that am unworthy, according to thy great mercy").
A final ascription of praise (v.15: "And I will praise thee for ever all the days of my life; for all the host of heaven doth sing thy praise, and thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen").

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In view of the various other additions inserted in the Septuagint text of canonical books it might have been expected that this Prayer would have been added after II Chron.xxi.13, for that this Prayer is meant to be that which was uttered by Manasseh is obvious when it is compared with what is said in II Chron.xxi.19, and this in spite of the fact that the name of Manasseh is nowhere mentioned in our Prayer. In II Chron.xxi.1 ff., we are told of how, by his idolatrous practices, Manasseh led the people of Judah astray, in consequence of which, by the will of Yahweh, the Assyrians came and carried him off in chains to Babylon. Then in verses 12, 13 it continues: "And when he was in distress, he besought Yahweh his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And he prayed unto him, and he was intreated of him, and he heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh he was God."

After these words the Prayer would have come in appropriately. (Cp. the prayer, or rather psalm, added to the text in Jon.ii.1 ff.)

But as a matter of fact it never has formed part of the Septuagint text. In II Chron.xxi.18, 19 it is said: "Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake to him in the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel, behold, they are written among the acts of the kings of Israel.

His prayer, also, and how (God) was intreated of him, and all his sin and his trespass, and the places wherein he built the high places, and set up the Asherim and the graven images, before he humbled himself; behold they are written in the history of Hozai." (For this proper name, which never occurs elsewhere, the Septuagint reads Hozim, "seers," referred to in verse 18.)

From this it would appear that the Prayer had been preserved in a Hebrew historical record. But there are convincing reasons against accepting the Chronicler's statements here: the records of the reign of a king of Judah are not likely to have been preserved in "the acts of the kings of Israel". In II Kgs.xxi.17 they are, naturally enough, written in the book of the Chronicles of the kings of Judah. More important is the fact that in the account of Manasseh's reign in II Kgs.xxi.1-18 there is not a word about his repentance.

And in many other particulars it differs from the Chronicles record. In view of the unreliability of so much that is written in Chronicles, and of its generally tendencious character, it cannot be doubted that the Kings record is to be preferred. (See Oesterley and Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament, p.118 (1934).)

More particularly is this so in the present case where the purpose which the Chronicler had in view in recording Manasseh's repentance is obvious; this was in order to explain the anomaly that a wicked king should have reigned so long - fifty-five years. According to the traditional doctrine of retribution it is only the righteous whose days are prolonged; but since Manasseh repented he could be pointed to as an example of God's mercy towards a penitent sinner; that the repentance did not take place until after many years of a wicked life would presumably have been explained on the principle of divine prescience. This also tells us why the Prayer was originally written, namely to reveal the state of heart of a true penitent.

But while the Chronicler's statement that the Prayer was preserved in an ancient Hebrew record cannot be accepted, it is likely enough that a redactor was acquainted with some writing of later date in which it appeared, and added it to the text of Chronicles; that the text has been worked over by some later hand is evident, verse 19 is clearly a doublet. Many legendary details about the life of Manasseh were current; they occur in both Jewish and Christian writings.
(See Fritzsche, op. cit., i.158; Ball, op. cit., ii.362 ff.; Charles, The Apocalypse of Baruch, pp.107 f. (1896); Friedlander, Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, pp. 339 f. (1916); Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum, pp.68 ff. (1929).)

Though these are of late date, the traditional material incorporated in them is much older.

Thus II Chron. xxi. 13, 14, 18, 19 would be the work of a later scribe, and they reflect details embodied in some early writings, though of later date than Chronicles.

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(Connolly, op. cit., pp.72 f. it may here be pointed out that the third century Didascalia, a manual giving detailed information about an ancient Christian community, was originally written in Greek. But the Syriac translation is the only form in which it now exists in its entirety, though many fragments are found in an ancient Latin translation. But many portions of the Greek are embedded in the first six books of the Apostolic Constitutions, a Church Order belonging to the fourth century. This latter must not be confused with the Apostolic Canons and the Apostolic Church Order (= the Didache); see Maclean, The Ancient Church Orders, pp.25 ff. (1910). The Prayer of Manasseh is preserved in lib. ii.21 of the Didascalia.)

The books of the Chronicles belong to about 300BC, while the Prayer itself occurs for the first time in literature in the Didascalia Apostolorum circa 200-250AD.
(Funk, Die Apostolischen Konstitutionen, p.50 (1891); Connolly, op. cit., lxxxvii ff.)

We have seen reason to believe that the passages in Il Chronicles in which mention is made of the Prayer are considerably later than the book itself. On the other hand, its incorporation in the Didascalia points to an earlier date than this work, for it will hardly be contended that the author of the Apostolic Constitutions composed it. (This was the contention of Fabricius, Libri Veteris Testamenti apocryphi, p.208 (1694), referred to by Ryssel, in Kautzsch, op. cit., i.167)

The writer was, without doubt, a Jew. The references to the Patriarchs, and their sinlessness, the forms of expression, and the general mode of thought, stamp it as Jewish. At the same time, such unbiblical phrases as "the God of the just," and "the God of them that repent," point to a post-biblical time. The devotional spirit of the Prayer would suggest that a Hasid composed it. (See I. Macc.vii.13-15)

Ryssel thinks it may have been composed, like other apocryphal literary pieces, during the Maccabaean period, with the object of bringing home to the Jews the lesson that by repentance they would be delivered from their present dire peril, however much on account of their sins they were suffering according to their deserts.

The date of composition may, therefore, be tentatively given as the middle of the second century BC. That the Prayer does not appear in literary form until some centuries after this would not necessarily militate against this date. It is too short and unimportant a piece of literature to have attracted much notice, and may well have lain hidden for long before it was brought to light.

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If the date tentatively suggested be accepted we should expect the Prayer to have been originally written either in Aramaic or Hebrew, more probably the latter in the case of a literary piece. Ball contends strongly for a Hebrew original, and Charles gives a convincing piece of evidence for this. (Op. cit., i.614 f. (editorial footnote).)

But the majority of scholars favour a Greek original; Ryle, e.g., while recognizing the difficulty of giving a certain answer in the case of so short a piece, feels, nevertheless, that " the general impression produced by the flexible style and ample vocabulary favours the view that Greek is the language in which it was composed." (Op. cit., i.p.615.)

The suggested date would not necessarily have to be modified in this case; we have seen other instances of apocryphal literature of approximately the same date having been originally written in Greek. (See above, pp.114, 191.)

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The Prayer of Manasses is not contained in any Greek MSS of II Chronicles, where we should expect to find it. Doubtless, its preservation among the Canticles appended to the Psalms in Cod. AT and a number of cursives is due to the fact that it was put to liturgical use. Portions of the Greek text, "too often, only in an approximate form" of the Apostolic Constitutions are extant. (Connolly, op. cit., p.xi, and the textual notes on pp.72 ff.)

In most of the printed editions of the Septuagint the Prayer does not appear, though there are a few in which it does. (For details see Ryle, op. cit., i.616.)
Swete, in The Old Testament in Greek, iii.824-826 (1899) also gives it.

The Syriac Version is contained in a manuscript which Ryssel has used for his commentary, and which he describes as a "very good text"; it has not been published. (Op. cit., i.168.)
This version is also contained in four Syriac MSS of the Didascalia, (They are described by Connolly, op. cit., pp.xi ff. See also Ryle, op. cit., i.617.) the earliest of which belongs to the eighth or ninth century.
(Sangermanensis (ed. by Lagarde, [1854]). Like the other Syriac MSS it contains the part of verse 7 which has fallen out of the Greek text; the RV has added it: "Thou, 0 Lord, according to thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness ... that they may be saved." For another Syriac MS see Mrs. Gibson in Horae Semiticae (1903).)

The Latin Version is of unknown date, but it is much later than the time of Jerome and cannot, therefore, be called Old Latin; as the Prayer was not contained either in the Hebrew or Greek Bible, it found no place in the Vulgate itself, but was added in later days after II Chronicles. The Prayer is not contained in any Latin MS. earlier than the thirteenth century. (Edited by Sabatier, op. cit., iii.1038 ff.)

The Armenian Version follows the Greek Version in placing the Prayer among the Canticles after the Psalms. Similarly in the Ethiopic Version of the Psalms the Prayer is given in the appendix to these; it is also contained in the Ethiopic Version of the Apostolic Constitutions. According to Howorth, the Prayer occurs in the Slavonic Version. (Proceedings of the Soc. for Bibl. Arch., xxxi.89 ff. (1909).)

An Arabic Version of the Prayer is also found in Arabic MSS. of the Apostolic Constitutions. (Ryssel, op. cit., i.169.)



Fritzsche, op. cit., i. 157 ff. (1850).
Ball, in Wace, op. cit., ii. 361 ff. (1888).
Ryssel, in Kautzsch, op. cit., i.165 ff. (1900).
Andre, op. cit., pp.237 ff.
Ryle, in Charles, op. cit., i. 612 ff. (1913)