The Controversial Question: Did Mary Have One Child or Several Children?
Clare Merry April 2021
KEY IDEAS: By identifying who Jesus’ disciples were and who “Jesus’ brothers and sisters” could have been – from the gospel texts themselves, it is possible to give a definitive answer to this question.
Having answered the question of whether Mary had other children apart from Jesus, we can address the question and examine the Catholic belief in Mary’s continued virginity.
I’ve been writing my own family history and got really into it. Then through a sermon I heard online on the Feast of St Joseph I started to wonder about Jesus’ family history and if I wrote it out, how it would sound as a family history.
I started to investigate using the documents of the New Testament as my sources. What sprang out is the realness of the story surrounding Jesus – he came from a real family and like us he had some of the problems we have all had with our own families.
I originally wrote this article in May 2020 when I was going to a Catholic church online. Since then I have been going to some Evangelical churches so I’m not quite sure whether this article will sound very Catholic or whether it will come over as an Evangelical view on a traditionally Catholic subject? Whichever angle I’m coming from, my aim is to dig down to the truth behind the Bible.
I have ascertained that Jesus’ immediate family actually came from Judea, probably Jerusalem on both sides of the family – Joseph’s and Mary’s family. When I say both sides what I mean is that Joseph played the paternal role of father, but Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
- Was the Virgin Mary a virgin only until she gave birth to the Saviour, or was she perpetually virgin as claimed by Catholics?
- Who were Jesus’ brothers and sisters mentioned quite a few times in the gospels and in Acts?
- What sort of deal did Joseph get in this marriage?
I will attempt to answer these three questions such that everyone can agree on what the Bible actually teaches.
I mentioned a sermon. Catholics will immediately say, the Feast of St Joseph is on the 19th of March. But, in fact, this was the Feast of St Joseph the Worker which is on the 1st of May. This shows from the outset that a thing can appear to be obviously wrong, which later emerges is true. Joseph the Worker was a carpenter and Jesus became a carpenter. The priest who gave the sermon in this feast day mass was explaining that as Catholics we believe that the Virgin Mary was virgin at the conception of Jesus (the Incarnation), virgin at the birth of Jesus, and virgin in her marriage to Joseph.
He explained that the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the gospels were children of a previous marriage of Joseph. In other words, when Joseph’s first wife had died, he had married Mary and been much older than her. He had a normal first marriage producing about eight children, and then when he married Mary he did not have union with her during this, his second marriage. This virginal marriage is not what Joseph would have chosen, the priest stated.
I had always been given to understand that the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the gospels were, in fact, first cousins of Jesus. I now see, however, that this would not make sense at all of the Bible texts.
If the ‘brothers’ mentioned had been first cousins, they would have a different set of parents and they would have remained living in Jerusalem and not gone to Nazareth with Joseph and Mary. Also, they would have spent their time with their own parents and not gone everywhere with Mary.
Joseph came from the tribe of Judah whose territory was Jerusalem and Judea. He had no connection to Nazareth and did not come from there. Mary also had her relatives in the hill country of Judea and all of them connected to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. They also descended from King David.
To say that Mary came from Nazareth appears to be totally untrue. Tradition and extra biblical sources say that Mary was a ward of the Temple in Jerusalem and lived there in the Temple. It took me a long time to sort this out, and I was thinking that it was an error on the part of the gospel writer Luke until I discovered the truth behind it. Mary through her mother Anne was from the tribe of Asher. The tribe of Asher was amongst the ten lost tribes of the Northern Kingdom, and their territory was in Galilee. Their town was Nazareth. Mary went to Nazareth because she had relatives there on her mother’s side, and in the tribal sense ‘came from Nazareth.’
Thus, the storyline is that Joseph who is living in Jerusalem becomes betrothed to Mary. She is living at the Temple as a ward of the Temple. She is from the tribe of Asher on her mother’s side and Maccabean Jews who were priests in the Temple on her father’s side. Mary is aged about 30 and Joseph is aged about 50. Joseph has children from a previous marriage.
The betrothed Mary feels compelled to go to Nazareth without Joseph. Nazareth is where her mother’s family come from so she has relatives to stay with there. It is here that the angel Gabriel announces that she will become the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:26). Not only is she a virgin, but her betrothed is not there with her.
When she hears that her aunt Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age, Mary goes to the hill country of Judea to help Elizabeth during her pregnancy (Luke 1:39). Mary stays there for six months until after John the Baptist is born, then returns to Nazareth.
While Mary helps Elizabeth who is quite old with the birth of her child, it is equally important that Elizabeth and Zechariah protect Mary from prying eyes and gossiping tongues. They know that the baby she carries is no accidental happening or single mother occurrence. But Mary must be hidden because others would not understand this. It would, for example, have been impossible for the angel Gabriel to go to Mary when she was at the Temple because it would produce the appearance of her becoming a single mother there and that would be totally inappropriate. It was right for Mary to go to Nazareth where no one knew her. She had to be shielded from view, since if accused of adultery she could have been stoned to death.
Six months pregnant Mary returns to Nazareth and Joseph goes to join her there. She becomes part of his household, though in Orthodox Jewish households man and wife sleep in separate rooms so she would have her own room to sleep in.
The Roman Empire census comes along, and Mary’s relatives register in Nazareth and maybe she does too, but Joseph has to go to Bethlehem in Judea. Therefore, he takes Mary and they go to Bethlehem south of Jerusalem, but find no place at the inn.
Jesus is born in a cave in Bethlehem amongst animals and hay. On the eighth day they travel the short distance to the Temple in Jerusalem to circumcise the child and offer sacrifices. At this point they meet Simeon and Anna who have waited all their lives in expectation of seeing the Messiah.
The atmosphere in Jerusalem is bad when Herod catches wind that a king has been born. The child’s life is being threatened. Herod has all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed since, although he expanded the Second Temple into a magnificent building to his own glory, he certainly didn’t want a messiah turning up. Joseph takes Mary and baby Jesus and flees to Egypt until after Herod dies.
When they return from Egypt they would normally have gone back to live in Jerusalem where they both came from. However, Joseph is warned in a dream to keep away from Jerusalem and go to Galilee instead. The text of Matthew 2:21 implies that they expected to return to Jerusalem, but saw that it was wise not to. So they go to Nazareth far enough away from Jerusalem for the holy family to be safe.
This scenario explains exactly what is written in the gospel of Luke and gospel of Matthew, and the reasons why it had to be like that. The scenario makes both gospels true. The toing and froing between places allowed Mary to bear the special child without comments from onlookers.
Therefore, Joseph was many years older than Mary. He took on Jesus as his ninth child with mother Mary and offered them protection. In return Mary became a mother to his eight children when they moved from Jerusalem to Nazareth.
Joseph and Mary lose Jesus
Every year Joseph, Mary and family went up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was 12 years old, they were coming back from the festival in Jerusalem to Galilee when after a days travel they realize they lost Jesus and spend three days looking for him.
When you only have one child, you don’t lose him. You could say that this is evidence that Mary, by this time, had six other children – when you don’t use contraception and don’t use plastic bottles to feed a baby, women have a child about once every two years.
I think that Mary was occupied with other relatives and children, but she was not giving birth to them. The youngest of Joseph’s children would have been aged about 20 at this time, and the seven others older than this. So Mary was probably taken up with looking after their children i.e. her and Joseph’s grandchildren.
At any rate, Jesus might have been the Son of God, but he was not a spoilt child. He disappeared and no one even noticed he was gone. Jesus had stayed behind in the Temple – which in typical 12 year old fashion he said was his father’s house, as if it were obvious.
The Temple was filled with Mary’s lot: the prophetess Anna was probably Mary’s grandmother, while Simeon was probably Mary’s uncle on her father’s priestly line side. Although Jesus’ great grandmother and great uncle would not still have been there as they were both very old when he was born, the Temple would still be full of people who remembered them and remembered Mary living there as well. When Jesus remained in the Temple there was more of home about the place for him than most people would think.
Wedding at Cana
There’s a brief glimpse into Jesus’ identity before he started his public ministry. Early on Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Mary is there because the wedding involved either friends or relatives of hers; maybe it was the wedding of one of Jesus’ sisters. They are trying to keep up appearances, but run out of wine.
Mary is distressed – so it probably was the wedding of one of Joseph’s daughters and she was the ‘bride’s mother.’ Mary already knew that Jesus could fix things. Jesus turns water into wine – only Mary and the servants knew what had happened; all the guests at the wedding thought it was very good wine.
This is to show that Jesus didn’t receive a ministry at a point in time as someone with a healing ministry does, but even as a child he was able to perform miracles if he so wished.
It all gets hectic
Jesus started his ministry in Capernaum beside the lake called the Sea of Galilee. First he called four fishermen who were brothers and cousins of each other. Later he called a diverse bunch of other disciples to make up the twelve. He starts to teach the people on the shores of the lake, and soon there are so many people that Jesus has to get into a boat as a platform from which to preach. All the crowds following him line the shores of the lake.
After this Jesus and the twelve start to go on mission all around Galilee, where Jesus teaches the people by use of parables and explains things in greater depth to his disciples. Many people come to him for healing. By the time they return to Capernaum, there are so many people pressing around Jesus’ house that you can’t get either in or out of the house. It was getting really hectic.
Just at the time when Jesus’ ministry was really taking off, Joseph died of old age. Jesus had started his ministry aged about 30, and Joseph by then was aged 80 so he died of natural causes. Jesus’ brothers, being older than him, had always been quite bossy. In fact, he went to Capernaum away from the synagogue in Nazareth partly to get away from them, and their always knowing best and telling him what to do.
So Jesus’ elder brother and the others came to his house in Capernaum with Mary to say that Joseph had died, and he’d have to go back to Nazareth to assume his responsibilities towards the family. They were unable to get anywhere near the house because of the crowds. Then they heard Jesus call out, who are my mother, my brothers and my sisters? The crowd thought they’d be sent away because family always comes first. But Jesus said, you who hear God’s word and put it into practice are my mother, brothers and sisters.
Mary had infinite patience, but Jesus’ brothers were irritated. They said, you’ve got to drop this crazy mission and come back to Nazareth to look after Mary, your mother, and be a carpenter again.
So Jesus did what they asked; he did go to his home town with his disciples, and he stood up in the synagogue to preach. He preached with such wisdom, the people said, isn’t this the carpenter’s son? The son of Mary? We know his brothers and his sisters. They kicked him out of the synagogue, jeering at him.
Jesus wisely returns to Capernaum. He’s registered here for Temple Tax, but has no money to pay it. Simon (Peter) also has no money. Miraculously a fish coughs up a four drachma coin they use to pay the tax for both households.
Each year Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. He’s done this his entire life. Jesus’ brothers like to keep things in order and tell Jesus that he should go with them. Jesus replies to them that the time is not right. They goad him saying, if you want to be famous and get known, you need to go to Jerusalem and show yourself to the world. What’s the point of only doing stuff among us? Jesus says, for you any time is the right time, no one is going to make attempts on your life – sounds a bit harsh, but true. The greater the healing miracles performed by Jesus, the greater the threat to his own life.
Jesus does go to Jerusalem, but in secret, then returns to Galilee where he can move about with his disciples freely. Mary goes about the place in the company of Jesus’ brothers. She probably lived with them and their families, and with his sisters as a woman would not live alone after her husband died. Though, technically speaking Mary belonged to Jesus’ household after Joseph died and was his responsibility.
Mary’s relationship to Jesus’ brothers is important in forming the early church. Despite an unpromising start in some ways, and some family tensions, it is the four brothers who will administer the early church in Jerusalem in the company of Mary. Mary was the family bond of the church of Jerusalem.
Foot of the cross
When the time is right Jesus heads towards Jerusalem. As we all know it ends with his crucifixion. At the foot of the cross stood Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and other women. The disciples had fled leaving only the women and the youngest disciple – who would not be arrested on account of being women or under-age.
The account of Jesus’ words from the cross given in John’s gospel (John 19:25-27) were the words spoken to himself:
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
Quite apart from Jesus caring about those left behind more than about his own agony hanging on a cross, this tells us a crucial thing:
Mary, being Jesus’ actual mother, was his responsibility. It fell to him to decide what to do for her welfare. Mary did not belong to any of Jesus’ brothers’ households because she was not their actual mother; they were Joseph’s grown up children. Jesus gives Mary to ‘the disciple whom he loved’, the person to whom he was closest to care for Mary as a mother. Thus, John takes Mary into his household and becomes responsible for her. This shows that Mary was, in fact, the mother of only one child.
The young disciple John, the one who Jesus loved and Mary his mother understood Jesus’ mission on a level that the others did not understand. There can be an intimate joining of souls that has both meaning in life and eternal significance. Both of their lives were completely given to what Jesus stood for.
Mary’s house at Gethsemane
Apostles James and John stayed in Jerusalem after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Their mother who had supported Jesus’ mission had probably gone back to Galilee to care for her husband Zebedee.
Simon was given the new name of Peter by Jesus and appointed as head of the early church of Jerusalem. Peter generally went around with John. John’s brother James was martyred early on. The apostle James was beheaded under orders from Herod Agrippa in AD 44 for following The Way. James, the brother of Jesus also remained living in Jerusalem and was prominent in administration of the early church.
Mary lived in the household of John, and not the household of brother James in Jerusalem – if Jesus’ brother James had been Mary’s actual son, she would have lived in his house. Her house with the apostle John was in the Kidron Valley, at Gethsemane below the Mount of Olives. This is known because the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary was built there. During the first centuries AD many pilgrims went to see her empty tomb which was situated at the house because a miracle had occurred at this tomb.
If Mary was aged about 30 when she had Jesus, then she would be about 63 when he was crucified. She may then have lived for another 15 years and died aged about 78 in about AD 48 of natural causes. She died before the Apostolic Council of AD 51 took place.
Mary chose to live at Gethsemane, the place of the garden where Jesus had prayed in his last hours when his sweat had turned to blood, the place of his arrest in the hours of darkness. But above the garden was the hillside from which he had ascended to return to the Father. Simeon, in the Temple, had prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart (Luke 2:25-35). Mary lived with this sword for the remainder of her life. However, through forgiveness of the perpetrators of a very great wrong, a person can know mystical union with God.
John knew Jesus and how he thought like no one else did, he was the beloved disciple. But knowing Jesus so well also came to him through caring for Mary until she died. When you stay with parents until they die, you take on what they were.
Who were the apostles and who were the brothers of Jesus?
If you can find an answer to this question, then you can answer the question concerning the perpetual virginity of Mary and her relationship to Joseph.
First let us clarify that Jesus’ brothers were called James, Joseph, Simon and Judas.
Jesus had twelve apostles whose names were:
Jesus had two apostles called James: The older one was the son of Zebedee and the younger one the son of Alphaeus. The other son of Zebedee was John.
There were two apostles called Simon: Simon son of John who became Peter and Simon the Zealot The other son of John was Andrew.
There were three apostles called Judas: Judas son of James or Thaddeus; Judas Iscariot; Judas known as Thomas
Thomas or Talmai means ‘twin’ in Aramaic. His name was not twin, but Judas. Bartholomew is bar-talmai which means ‘son of twin’. This apostle’s actual name was Nathaniel.
The other apostles were Matthew also called Levi, Philip and Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot. This totals twelve apostles plus one.
Basically there are three people here called James and four people called Judas. If we can identify who ‘Judas son of James’ was, then the key questions can be answered.
Firstly, ‘Judas son of James’ is always distinguished from Judas Iscariot – this is understandable since Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Mark call ‘Judas son of James’ by his nickname Thaddeus. This is because the name Judas became tarnished by its association to betrayal. The gospel writers do not want us to get confused about which Judas is which.
So, if his father was James, which James does this refer to?
- Is the apostle James son of Zebedee and brother of John the father of Judas?
The mother of James and John, and wife of Zebedee went round helping provide for Jesus and his disciples, and she was present at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:55-56). For her to be active in this way she could not have been aged more than 45 to 50.
Her son John was the youngest apostle. He may have still been under age at the time of the crucifixion. James son of Zebedee could have been aged 26 to 32 maximum if she had her first child aged 18.
If this James had been married – of which there is no evidence – any son of his could not be aged more than 6 to 12 years old. None of the apostles were children, therefore, James son of Zebedee was not the father of Judas.
2. Was James son of Alphaeus the father of Judas?
In Mark 15:40-41 speaking of Mary the mother of James, James is described as ‘James the younger’. This text indicates that this apostle James son of Alphaeus was younger than James son of Zebedee. This makes it even more unlikely that he would be married or have a son, and if he did have a son, he would be only a baby.
‘James the younger’ implies that his age was only just above that of the youngest apostle John meaning that he would not be anybody’s father.
3. So we come to Jesus’ brother James.
Was Jesus’ brother James the second son of Mary his mother, or the first son of a first wife of Joseph with Jesus being the ninth child of Joseph?
If Jesus was aged 30 when he started his ministry, a younger brother could not be aged more than 28 at the time. If this were the case, and he was the father of the apostle Judas, then Judas could not be aged more than 8 years old, which he would not be.
If, however, James was the first son of Joseph and Joseph had about eight children in his first marriage before his first wife died, then when Jesus was born to Mary, James would be aged at least between 16 and 21 years old.
This would mean that brother James was aged between 46 and 51 when Jesus went to Capernaum and started calling disciples. If this were the case, it is easy to see that James would already be married and very probably have a son aged between 16 and 21 if he became a father aged 30.
What this all means is that the apostle ‘Judas son of James’ or Thaddeus was the son of Jesus’ elder brother James; Judas was Jesus’ nephew.
Analysis of the Biblical texts to trace relationships and calculating their ages shows that Jesus’ brothers were, in fact, older than him. The fact that James was very bossy with Jesus, telling him what to do, also implies that he was the elder brother and not a younger brother of Jesus.
This means that Mary could not have been their genetic mother. It means that Mary herself had only one son, Jesus. This makes her perpetual virginity possible.
4. Of course, there is still Jesus’ brother Judas.
Brother Judas is not the apostle Judas – if he were he would be identified as ‘Judas son of Joseph’, and not ‘Judas son of James’.
In the gospel of John there is a question to Jesus sounding typical of his brothers: “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) Whether this was said by brother Judas or nephew Judas who was an apostle, it is difficult to say, but it sounds like the brother not the apostle.
As I mentioned in a previous section, brother James became prominent in running the church in Jerusalem. He was one of the elders and he addressed the Council of Jerusalem concerning the Gentiles – see Acts 15:13-23. Brother James became known as ‘James the Just’. He was martyred in AD 62 or 69. It was he who wrote the Letter of James.
There is another letter called Jude. Jude is another form of Judas. The author introduces himself as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James”. Jude is Judas the brother of Jesus since he says ‘brother of James’. If he had been Judas the apostle he would have put ‘Judas son of James’.
James, Simon and Jude, the brothers of Jesus become principle people in the early church of Jerusalem and contribute to the New Testament. When Paul went to Jerusalem he saw only Peter and James, “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19).
Acts 1:23-26 mentions Joseph called Barsabbas also known as Justus. Acts 15:13-23 mentions Judas called Barsabbas. Barsabbas means ‘son of the sabbath’. I believe that these two, Joseph Barsabbas and Judas Barsabbas may have been the brothers of Jesus.
There is a high family contribution to the early church, but Jesus’ brothers never claim actual kinship with Jesus. This, I believe, is because they were Joseph’s sons and not Mary’s.
Therefore, in conclusion to this section, the Bible supports the Catholic view concerning the identity of the brothers of Jesus and not the opposing view often held by Protestants. These brothers were certainly older than Jesus, and the eldest one James was at least 20 years older.
First of all, who were the brothers and sisters of Jesus?
St Jerome thought that the brothers of Jesus were first cousins. The Biblical texts do not indicate this since cousins have a separate set of parents of their own. What is recounted is that Mary was always going round with the brothers of Jesus, in other words playing the role of mother towards them and they sons towards her. After Joseph their father died, the brothers and sisters had no other parents apart from Mary to be attached to.
Christians have long disputed the Bible texts referring to the brothers of Jesus, and by extension to this argument the perpetual virginity of Mary.
A simple reading of the gospels, without any probing or calculation of ages, appears to indicate what constitutes the Protestant view: that Mary as a virgin conceived Jesus and gave birth to him in Bethlehem. Then after that she lived a normal marriage and had about eight other children with Joseph in Nazareth. Joseph died leaving Mary with nine children. If this were the case, Jesus was aged about 32 when Joseph died, and any younger children would be aged about 30, 28, 26, 24, 22, 20, 18 and 16.
In the Catholic view the brothers and sisters of Jesus are proposed as being Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. These children would all be much older than Jesus. By my calculations when Jesus was 32 they would be aged about 53, 51, 49, 47, 45, 43, 41 and 39.
In support of the Catholic view is the information that from the cross, Jesus gave his mother to the apostle John as a mother; and he to her as a son.
Let us remember that women lived in their father’s household, then they married and lived in their husband’s household, and if he died they lived in their son’s household. Women did not live alone. To be an abandoned widow or orphan was the worst thing ever.
If, when Jesus died, there had been eight younger siblings to look after, Mary would have returned to Nazareth to take charge of them and look after them.
If, however, the siblings were older, with the sisters already married and some of the sons such as James also already married, then she would have no obligation to look after them.
Did the brothers of Jesus have an obligation to look after Mary? The four brothers remained in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection, and they became pillars of the early church. It would be natural that one of the brothers would take Mary into his household in Jerusalem, but this did not happen. The Catholic argument goes that this did not happen because she was not their genetic mother, she had not given birth to any of them; they were Joseph’s sons.
Jesus himself had an obligation towards Mary his mother, to whom he was actually genetically related, and he passed the responsibility to John.
Thus, the balance of evidence from the New Testament shows that the brothers were not the sons of Mary; she had one child, not nine children. The Catholic view is borne out by the Bible.
What of Joseph?
Joseph died many years before Mary died, and before Jesus himself died. This, I believe, is because he was much older than Mary and simply died of old age. If Joseph had been aged 45 to 50 when he married Mary who was about 30, then he would be aged 77 to 82 when he died.
From Joseph’s point of view, he had previously had a normal marriage with plenty of children. It may have been a great relief to find a second wife willing to look after them. Mary seems to have spent her time going round with these sons when Joseph was no longer on the scene.
Mary and Joseph lived as a family – but in Orthodox Jewish households husband and wife do not sleep in the same bed, they have separate beds in different rooms. They are only permitted to have union on certain days of the woman’s cycle. It is Catholic belief that Mary and Joseph had no union, and Mary remained ‘ever virgin’.
From the recounting of Jesus’ life story, we see the threat to his life right from birth. Joseph played the role of protecting Mary and the child, and taking them first to Egypt and then up to Galilee for this reason.
Jesus and his brothers:
It emerges how obscurity in Galilee was a wise option when Jesus started his ministry. Jesus chose the time to go to Jerusalem publicly when the time was right.
Jesus, as the youngest of nine children, had quite a few problems with his immediate family as all of us do. His older brothers were often bossy and overbearing. Jesus was not genetically related to these brothers and sisters, but he had been brought up with them.
Eventually, the brothers become part of the early church in Jerusalem. This was probably helped by the fact that originally the family came from Judea and had maintained ties there by going every year from Galilee to visit Jerusalem and the Temple for religious festivals.
The brothers of Jesus never make any claim of kinship with Jesus. They make a point of not seeking priority for being Jesus’ brothers. James becomes known as ‘James the Just’ and there is mention of ‘Joseph the Just’ – this comes from relinquishing ‘the elder brother thing’.
The Messiah’s story is an extraordinary story written in the small everyday details of a real life and a family life.
The virginity of Mary:
The Marian Dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary is not something well-accepted or understood today.
The grace of God in Mary’s life has to be something of acceptance and not of understanding maybe. The majority of people only embrace a life devoid of sexuality very late in life.
For those close to God, as Mary was close to God, it is revealed that spiritual union far surpasses physical union. While marriage is right for most people, it is not the only way to happiness and a fulfilled life.
Clare Merry 2020 reflections and 14th May 2021 write up (5542 words)
Bibliography NIV Study Bible
Story of Jesus from the four gospels combined
Clare Merry May 2021
KEY IDEAS: This is the storyline of the life and death of Jesus Christ taken from the four gospels combined. What emerges is the threat to Jesus’ life at many points along the way and how he knew when was the right time for what he came to do.
Authorship of the Gospels
The four gospels basically tell the same story, but a few discrepancies occur. For example, the genealogies for Jesus given in Matthew and Luke are not exactly the same. It turns out that this can be explained. Sometimes sequences of events are different – this is not a major problem since people’s memories of real events can vary. The focal point for each gospel may be different so the emphasis is different.
Two of the gospels were written by apostles: the Gospel of Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew also known as Levi the tax collector. This tax collector was called by Jesus for a reason; apart from keeping records, he was also quite a good writer.
The Gospel of John was written by the apostle John, who with his brother James were known as the ‘sons of thunder’. Three short letters in the New Testament are also written by John. John culminated his great literary and theological feat by writing the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Both the Gospel of John and Revelation are full of imagery and symbolic meaning; both soar to the heights of inspiration as if to touch the heavenly realm.
In disputed sequences of events I am going to go with the gospels of Matthew and John as eye-witness accounts.
The Gospel of Mark was written by a friend of the apostle Peter and based on Peter’s sermons. His actual name was John Mark. This account is contemporary, but slightly removed from events giving the gospel more simple clarity. It is the most straight forward of the gospels.
The Gospel of Luke was written by the doctor Luke, a friend of Paul. It is addressed to Theophilus who must have been a Greek with a name like that. Paul’s co-worker Titus was also a Greek. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. Gentiles means non-Jews.
Luke gathered stories from all sorts of witnesses to Jesus’ life and wrote the most beautiful gospel with exclamations called ‘songs’ and anecdotes recounted by many people concerning Jesus’ extraordinary life. The gospel is a compilation of eye-witness accounts. One of the informants must have been Mary herself concerning the birth of Jesus.
The four gospels are, in my opinion, reliable sources of information as to the life of Jesus Christ as they are based on sources that come directly from first-hand accounts of the events.
Life Story of Jesus Christ
This is the storyline of Jesus’ life taken from the four gospels combined together.
Mary aged about 30 is pledged to be married to Joseph aged about 50. The angel Gabriel visits the virgin Mary in what is known as the Annunciation. She accepts the plan of God. Her acceptance of the plan of God allows her to conceive Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is the Incarnation.
Joseph, when he finds out, decides to break the engagement quietly without public fuss. However, the angel Gabriel visits him in a dream and explains.
Mary joins Joseph’s household as his wife. But Mary then goes off to the hill country in Judea to visit her aunt Elizabeth for three months. Elizabeth is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Her husband Zechariah is a priest in the Temple where he also had a visit from the angel Gabriel. Zechariah is instructed to call the child that will be born to them in their old age, John rather than Zach.
John first meets his cousin Jesus while they are both in wombs, and they do somersaults as babies do in the womb when happy.
John is born to Elizabeth happy to no longer be barren. Mary returns to Nazareth (where her family came from) and Joseph joins Mary in Nazareth from Jerusalem. They find out there is going to be a census of the whole Roman Empire and Joseph has to go to Bethlehem to register.
It is near her time to give birth but it is decided that Mary must stay with Joseph so they go to Bethlehem together. They planned to get lodging at an inn, but everywhere is full. Finally, an inn-keeper offers them a stable to share with animals, and it is there that Mary gives birth.
The stable where Jesus was born was actually a cave as depicted in Eastern Orthodox art. When Mary and Joseph hear people outside, they quickly hide the baby in the trough for hay to feed cattle (called a manger) out of fear for him (in traditional societies newborn babies are not put in cots so the manger was not like a cot). But the people outside turn out to be shepherds come down from the hills. They have been told by angels that a saviour has been born and they go to worship the babe. They are surprised to find him lying in a manger, but this is also a sign. Amazingly enough, some wise men also turn up from the East. The wise men are Zoroastrians from Persia who studied the stars for signs. They saw the ‘star of the Messiah’ rise in the heavens at that exact time. (The bright star could have been a supernova as these occur from time to time).
On the eighth day after giving birth, Roman Empire census registration done, Joseph and Mary take the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. They take him to the Temple for circumcision and to offer a pair of doves as a sacrifice. When they enter the Temple they meet Simeon who prophesies over the child.
Then they meet Anna, a prophetess who also prophecies. Tradition has it that Mary’s mother’s name was Anne. Anna’s age shows that she could have been Mary’s grandmother. It is possible that the prophetess Anna was the actual great grandmother of Jesus.
At this point Joseph is warned in a dream to take Mary and the child and escape to Egypt. Herod, in an attempt to eliminate all rivals to his kingship, had all the male children in Bethlehem killed.
Here we see the threat to Jesus’ life right from his very birth. We also see the protective role played by Joseph who makes all the decisions of what to do to keep Mary and Jesus safe. Joseph takes Mary and Jesus and they flee to Egypt until it is safe to return to Israel because Herod is dead. At this point they are the ‘Holy family’ the three of them.
When they return to Israel, Joseph after having another dream decides it is too risky to live in Jerusalem (where they had been living originally) and he takes the family up to Galilee. They settle in Nazareth where Joseph starts up a carpentry business.
Mary thinks she’ll adapt to a quiet life with her child Jesus. However, as I mentioned elsewhere, Joseph had been married previously and his wife had died. In this first marriage Joseph had four sons and several daughters. These sons were the four brothers of Jesus called James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. Joseph had left them with their grandparents when he went to Egypt with Mary, and in any case the eldest one was aged about 21 and the youngest about 7 at the time. The Judean grandparents now deliver the children back to Joseph. These details may be conjecture, but they make sense of the parts of the story that are told later. The upshot is that the virgin Mary who had one child, now actually had nine children to look after, and several of them teenagers.
Every year the family went to Jerusalem for festivals and participated in the Temple rituals. On one of these occasions Joseph and Mary mislaid Jesus. If you have one only child, you don’t lose him, but when you have nine children and other relatives it is easy to forget one. And so Jesus aged 12 stayed in the Temple to argue with the teachers of the Law. This was not a sin, but just a thing which 12 year olds do; they never realize how much trouble they are going to cause with their parents worried sick about them.
Jesus learnt his father’s trade and became a carpenter. Like all Jewish boys he also studied the Scriptures with the Pharisees in the local synagogue. The Pharisee movement had decentralized Judaism towards local synagogues instead of only having a central Temple for worship. They had made obedience to laws in everyday life their thing along with the reading of Scriptures kept as scrolls in the synagogues.
Jesus starts His ministry
By the time Jesus was thirty most of his older brothers and sisters had got married and left home. The wedding of one of his sisters was at Cana in Galilee. Jesus then felt the call to start his mission. One Sabbath Saturday he went down to the local synagogue as he always did and it was his turn to read. He took the scroll and found a passage written about himself in Isaiah and read it, then sat down. Everyone stared at him, at first they wondered, then got cross and indignant.
Jesus made the decision to relocate to Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, really a large lake. This turned out to be a good move. He left his mother Mary with Joseph, by this time quite old, being aged nearly 80.
Jesus started to call disciples who were fishermen on the lake. The first four disciples were fishermen and cousins to each other: Simon and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John. Many people started to follow Jesus and out of these followers he chose eight more disciples to make up the twelve. The twelve men shared Jesus’ actual life and ministry of preaching.
The cousins John and Andrew had started off as disciples of John the Baptist who was baptizing people in the River Jordan in Judea. Jesus went to John the Baptist at the river to be baptized. When he came up out of the water there was a sign that Jesus was indeed the Messiah – something like a dove descending from heaven lighted upon him and the Father’s voice was heard. John and Andrew then left John the Baptist excited to follow Jesus.
John the Baptist’s mission was preparatory to Jesus mission. Technically speaking John was Jesus’ first cousin once removed. John’s call to true religion was to lead to him being thrown into prison.
Jesus gets a following
In Galilee crowds had started to follow Jesus everywhere. He had followers from as far away as Idumea in the south, Tyre and Sidon in the north and regions across the Jordan to the east. Jesus even had to start employing a small boat to preach to people lining the shore of the lake so as to be heard as there were so many crowds of people.
Later came the news that Jesus’ cousin John had been beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Herod Agrippa acceded to the throne after Herod). When this happened Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to grieve. This was another sign to Jesus to stay up in Galilee out of the way, and not go down to Judea until the time was right. The mixed blessing of popularity was that it would now be dangerous to go openly to Jerusalem.
So many people came to the house in Capernaum where Jesus stayed that the disciples often were not able to eat, you couldn’t get in or out of the house with all the people looking for healing, and after the paralytic being let down through the roof incident (Mark 2:1), the roof was leaking and there was no money to fix it. Jesus’ ministry was really starting to take off and it was getting really hectic.
It was, I believe, at this point that Joseph died in Nazareth. Due to this new situation, Jesus’ older brothers decided that a stop had to be put to this mission that was getting out of hand; they decided to bring Jesus home to Nazareth where he could go back to being a carpenter.
“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”” (Mark 3:20-21)
Jesus’ brothers went with Mary to Capernaum to see Jesus and take him back home. They couldn’t get into the house so waited outside. Jesus’ reaction was to ask those sitting around him “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:21). Jesus says to those gathered around him that they, his followers, are his mother, brothers and sisters.
Matthew records that Jesus said, at the renewal of all things, …… “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:28-30)
A prophet without honour in his home town
Jesus’ brothers would surely have reminded him that since he was Mary’s actual son, when Joseph her husband died, he had a duty to take his mother into his own house and assume his responsibility as a son.
Jesus then took his disciples and went to visit his home town. He went into the synagogue in Nazareth to teach. The people there said “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us? And they took offence at him. Jesus said to them, “Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.”” (Mark 6:1-4) The people who knew Jesus as he grew up and knew his family kick him out of the synagogue, jeering at him.
Jesus obviously did not stay in Nazareth, but went back to Capernaum. A short time after this Jesus is paying temple tax as a resident of Capernaum. He and Simon-Peter had so little money they had nothing with which to pay the tax until Jesus got a fish to cough up a four-drachma coin to pay the tax for both their households (Matthew 17:24-26).
My guess is that Mary officially became resident at Jesus’ house in Capernaum at this point. As a woman she would have little choice in this. But she may well have spent her time going round visiting relatives and staying with them for many months as women do in traditional cultures. Mary always appears in the company of Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
“After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 2:12)
Festivals in Jerusalem
Jesus habit was to go to Jerusalem for festivals and to visit the Temple; his family had always done this, however, as his mission expanded, going to Jerusalem became increasingly dangerous.
Mary always supported Jesus, knowing many things she stored up in the secret of her heart. At the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee she had called upon him to sort out the problem of running out of wine. Jesus had changed water into wine. However, while Mary totally trusted her son Jesus, his brothers often thought they would sort him out.
Jesus’ brothers, all older than him, tried to get Jesus to fall into line with their plans and customs. Sometimes they goaded him about becoming famous and showing himself to the world – which can only happen if he goes to Jerusalem.
“After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No-one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:1-5)
Apparently Jesus answers them quite bluntly – “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me …” and he says “The right time has not yet come.”
Jesus’ brothers leave and go to the Feast in Jerusalem, and Jesus does go, but in secret. Then unannounced Jesus pops up in the Temple to teach people. The Sadducees want to have him arrested, and the Pharisees want him stoned.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were not happy – they were sad-you-see because of Jesus’ success. The greater the healing miracles performed by Jesus, the more threat there is to his own life.
Popularity in Galilee
Jesus stays away from Judea, having an enormous following among the descendants of the tribes whose regions were Galilee, but also the north and south of Israel, the coast and west of the River Jordan.
So many people followed Jesus in Galilee by this time that even the surrounding farms would not have enough food to sell to them for the journey home. On one occasion Jesus multiplies loaves of bread and fish for five thousand men. There could have been ten thousand with women and children. On another occasion he feeds four thousand. This is a sign to show how many times God can multiply a small gift we make to him, even if it were only two small fishes and five rolls of bread.
Jesus’ popularity was at its height in Galilee, but he knows that he must take his mission to Judea. Jesus goes to Jerusalem when he decides the time is right; he knows full well the consequences. On a human level it would have been nice to stay in Galilee and enjoy success and popularity.
Jesus has friends in Bethany, two sisters Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus dies, is buried in a cave and raised to life by Jesus. This is the pivotal event. It leads to the acclamation of Jesus by the people of Judea and an actual plot by the religious authorities to have him killed.
The final journey
It is now only a matter of time, and Jesus prepares his disciples who understand absolutely nothing.
The last supper is celebrated with the twelve apostles in the upper room. Jesus says one of them will betray him, and they have no idea which one. John ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’ asks him, Who? And gets an answer: the one who dips his hand into the bowl with me (Matt 26:23).
The one who is to betray him goes out. Then with only hours left, they go to the Mount of Olives and the disciples fall asleep. The authorities arrive at the hour of darkness when Jesus is alone with only the eleven dosing. They ask for “Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus steps forward and says “I AM”, and the soldiers and Judas the betrayer fall back. They cower before Jesus because he is strong and unafraid. Jesus speaks to the guards while the disciples slip away; they scatter terrified, knowing that they too will die if associated with Jesus.
Jesus is arrested and taken to the house of Caiaphas, High Priest and his father Annas. The Jews charge Jesus with blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah. They take him to the Roman governor’s palace where he is questioned by Pilate.
How are the details about the trial given in the gospel of John known – if, at this point, Jesus is alone with no followers present?
The answer is that Jesus did have followers in Judea, even in Herod Agrippa’s own household. The wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household, whose name was Joanna was, I believe, the witness who saw and memorized everything (see Luke 8:3). There is also Susanna who accompanied Joanna.
Condemned to death
Jesus is condemned to death and Pilate has the charge written and fastened to the cross: it read ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’.
Women could move silently, heads covered, without fear of arrest because they were not recognized as entities before the law. They stood at the foot of the cross.
Mary Magdalene was there with Mary wife of Alphaeus, the mother of the young apostle James, and Joses and Salome. Joanna stood by with Susanna. In the Gospel of John, Mary the mother of Jesus and his mother’s sister (sister-in-law), Mary the wife of Clopas were there.
John, himself stood nearby – maybe because he was too young to be arrested, it was safer for him than for the apostles who were older men, and maybe he was braver.
Jesus died in the most extraordinary way with a loud cry. Others who died on a cross had nothing left in them by the time they expired.
Joseph of Arimathea was given permission to take Jesus’ body for burial. Some of the women followed him and noted where the tomb was so that they could return to perform the proper rituals. Then the Sabbath descended upon them and they went home.
Risen from the dead
On Sunday, the first day of the week, the women returned to the tomb carrying spices. There was Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, her daughter Salome and Joanna. They find the tomb empty and bump into an angel, they are distressed but the angel says that Jesus rose from the dead and is going to meet them in Galilee. They hurry back to the apostles with startling news.
Peter and John run to the tomb, but John being younger runs faster and gets there first, but does not dare go in. Peter catches up and goes in and finds the strips of linen with which the body was bound lying there discarded. Then John goes in and sees the empty tomb. They go back with the news, but Mary Magdalene stays and weeps by the tomb believing the body to have been stolen. A man addresses her who she thinks is the gardener, until he says “Mary”. Then she sees it is the Teacher, and reaches out to touch him, but he says no, go tell the disciples.
After rising from the dead Jesus appeared to his disciples many tines. On one occasion they are fishing on the lake in Galilee and have caught nothing, and Jesus appears on the shore. He instructs them to throw out their nets again, and they bring in a huge catch of fish. At this sign, “the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Peter jumps out of the boat and wades in to shore, while the others bring the catch of fish in. Jesus cooks them breakfast on the beach. “None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.” (John 21:1-14)
Bible Books and Apocrypha in Chronological Order
Clare Merry November 2022
Key Ideas: *Neither Catholic nor Protestant Bibles have the books in chronological order so the reader finds following the story line of the Old Testament confusing. *I have put the books in order mainly using the clues given in the texts themselves. *Catholic Bibles have more books than Protestant Bibles because they have varying numbers of Apocrypha books. *I describe the contents of the books of the Apocrypha and assess their value. *I contend that the Old Testament authors should number 24, but Protestant Bibles only have 22, so two books are missing from their canon.
In this article I am going to place the books of the Bible in chronological order. In between these books that belong to the Protestant Bible canon, I will place the books of the Apocrypha also in chronological order. The Apocryphal books are found in Orthodox and Catholic Bibles.
How did I arrive at this chronology?
I read the books themselves to find out which author each book is ascribed to in the book itself. If no author is named, I looked at which king was reigning at the time and mentioned in the book, then looked up the dates of the reigns of kings.
As I read the books, I memorized the names of certain prophets who are mentioned by other prophets. This way I knew that if one prophet had met another prophet, they lived at the same time as, for example, was the case for Elijah and Obadiah.
Also, genealogies in the books of Kings and Chronicles show who was a son of whom. Some prophets are descended from other prophets.
These four lines of inquiry may seem simple, but they are largely ignored by modern scholarship who I think have got too ‘clever’ for their own good. They’ve got so clever that they now know nothing, and this is folly.
For each book of the Bible I’ve tried to state simply the genre of the writing and what it contains. Many will recognize the familiar stories and thus see where they come from.
At the end of this article I will make an assessment of the value of each book of the Apocrypha based on what it contains, who wrote it and which language it was originally written in. Although all books of the Apocrypha appear in Greek in the Septuagint Old Testament, some of them were originally written in Hebrew.
I will make some of my own comments on authorship of the Old Testament, wisdom literature, and the role of the prophet, but my main theme is to trace the history of Israel and Judah leading up to the Jewish nation prior to the coming of Jesus as Messiah.
There is a 400 year gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament in Protestant Bibles, but if some books of the Apocrypha are admitted as legitimate books of the Bible, there is an almost unbroken history.
2. Septuagint Bible
The Septuagint is the Old Testament in Greek translated by 70 Jewish scholars. ‘Septuagint’ or ‘LXX’ means ‘70’. It was written in the 3rd century BC and may have been commissioned by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 BC) to put in the library in Alexandria. It was used by Alexandrian Jews living in Egypt.
The Septuagint was translated from Hebrew into Greek from the Hebrew Bible with the Hebrew canon of scripture. In addition to this, mainstream books used by rabbis were included in the appropriate locations in between the other books. These additional books are now known as the Apocrypha or ‘hidden books’.
The later books of the Apocrypha such as Maccabees and Sirach were added to the Septuagint Bible in the 2nd century BC. Thus, there was more than one version of the Septuagint.
During the Second Temple era most Jews could not read Hebrew so they read the Bible in Greek. The Septuagint written in Greek was in widespread use among Hellenized Jews.
The apostles and other Christians, both Jews and gentiles, read the Septuagint Bible. St Paul’s letters quote the Septuagint Bible. This implies that Jesus approved of the Bible in Greek with all of the canonical and non-canonical books in it. Jesus himself would have read the Greek Bible.
It was natural that Orthodox Christians who were Greek-speaking adopt the Septuagint as the basis to their Christian Bible. The Septuagint was the basis for Armenian, Coptic, Syriac and Slavonic Bibles. The Catholics followed suit and also included all of these Apocryphal books when they translated the Bible into Latin.
Most of the church fathers knew the Bible from the Greek versions of it. St Augustine promoted the Septuagint Bible when St Jerome started to compile his Latin Vulgate Bible by translating the Hebrew Bible into Latin. St Jerome wanted to leave out the books written in Greek, but was persuaded to put them in.
The Jews who were exiled after the destruction of the Second Temple found themselves as rivals to Christians in a new Christian world. These exiled Jews wanted to distinguish themselves from Christians and show that they had the more authentic tradition. For this reason they reverted from the Septuagint Bible in Greek to the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew called the Tanakh with the books of Moses called the Torah.
At the Reformation, Protestant reformers were seeking to throw off all the overlays that were obscuring the Christian faith under Catholicism with its centuries of church traditions. One major thing they did was to translate the Bible into the language of the people from the Hebrew. They adopted the Hebrew Bible canon of scripture which excluded the Apocryphal books. Thus, Protestant Bibles in English, German or French etc have less books than Orthodox and Catholic Bibles.
Orthodox and Catholic Bibles have now been translated into languages other than Greek and Latin, but they retain the additional books of the Septuagint Bible in varying numbers.
One Protestant Bible, the King James Bible written in quaint old English, retains the Apocrypha but as a separate section.
3. Old Testament Books Reordered into Chronological Order
After reordering the Protestant canon of Scripture for the Old Testament, I have placed the books of the Apocrypha in chronological order in between these Bible books.
I have used capital letters for the books belonging to the Protestant canon, and small letters in bold for the additional books of the Catholic canon of Scripture.
For each book I’ve tried to ascertain the following:
- Who the author was
- The date it was written
- The subject matter
- The genre or type of writing it belongs to
- The book of Job was written before the Patriarchs or any events relating to Israel took place. No events of Hebrew history are mentioned because it predates them.
- Author: there is a strong argument that Job was Jobab, youngest son of Joktan who lived in about 2200-2500 BC, sometime after the Flood but four generations before Abraham.
- There is a special younger-son genealogy for Joktan and Jobab in Genesis 10:21-31. Genealogies are recorded for people who have importance for some reason.
Jobab was descended from Noah via Shem and Arphaxad – thus he was a Semite. Arphaxad’s line leads to Abraham through his son Shelah, his son Eber and his son Peleg. Eber’s second son was Joktan. Joktan had 13 sons, of which Jobab was the youngest. Genesis 10:21-31 has a special genealogy side-shoot that leads to Jobab. This indicates that it was important to know who Joktan’s sons were because the youngest one was probably Job who wrote a very important book of the Bible.
Another reference to Jobab is in 1 Chronicles 1:20 in the genealogy from Adam to Abraham. Abraham lived in about 2000 BC:
Noah – Shem – Arphaxad – Shelah – Eber – Peleg/Joktan – Reu – Serug – Nahor – Terah – Abram
In Genesis chapter 36 there is the genealgy for the descendants of Esau the Edomites. In the region of Edom there were the Horites, the sons of Seir. One of them was Dishan, whose sons were Uz and Aran.
Job came from the land of Uz. From the Genesis chapter 10 genealogy Uz was Jobab’s great great great uncle.
Eliphaz the Temanite who appears in the book of Job, is named as a descendant of Esau in Genesis 36.
There were kings of Edom long before there were kings of Israel. Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah was the second king of Edom in Genesis 36.
Thus, Job appears to have been a descendant of Seir and to have come from the region of Uz in Edom close to the territory of the Temanites where his friend Eliphaz came from. Job was very rich before his ordeal and became fabulously rich after it. Job may even have been descended from Jobab son of Zerah, the King of Edom.
- The subject of the book of Job is the human condition and why suffering is allowed.
- God is portrayed as speaking with a voice of thunder; He is a God of the natural elements. There are poetic descriptions of thunder storms over what is now the desert of Arabia.
- Job displays an ancient literary style used when writing was first invented. It was probably one of the first books written in a Semitic language using Cuneiform writing. It would have been transcribed into Hebrew with alphabetic writing later on. It is for this reason that some words in the book of Job are not translatable as no one knows what they mean.
- Genre: Wisdom
GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY 5 books written by Moses in about 1446 BC
JOSHUA Written by Joshua
JUDGES, RUTH Written by Samuel
- Psalms means stringed instruments. The book was called ‘Praises’ in the Hebrew Bible. Some psalms are prayers rather than praises and songs.
- The psalms were written mainly by King David (1040–970 BC) as songs of praise to be sung in the First Temple. Solomon also wrote some psalms.
- The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms. Korah was descended from Levi, he revolted against Moses in the desert and died, but his three sons did not die. One of his sons was called Abiasaph. The Korahites were later put in charge of ‘things made in pans’ in the Temple. Chronicles 20:19 has them down as singers. Thus, they composed some psalms as they were singers in the Temple.
- Asaph, a Levite music composer composed psalms that were sung when the foundations to the Second Temple were laid in 515 BC onwards. He was a descendant of the son of Korah, Abiasaph.
- Asaph and his descendants are mentioned by Ezra as Levites and singers. The sons of Asaph sounded cymbals in praise as the foundations of the Second Temple were laid (Ezra 3:10).
- 1 Chronicles 6:31-46 has all the genealogies of the Temple musicians written by Ezra. These include the genealogy of Asaph as well as that of Heman. Asaph and Heman worked together to lead the music at the Second Temple. Heman was descended from the prophet Samuel and his son Joel.
- Each psalm is attributed to someone: David wrote 73 psalms, Solomon 2 psalms, the sons of Korah 11 psalms, Asaph wrote 12 psalms, , Ethan the Ezrahite 1 (ancestor of Asaph), Heman the Ezrahite 1 and Moses 1. The psalms with no title are continuations of preceding psalms.
- The Temple musicians first ministered in front of the Tabernacle containing the Ark of the Covenant and in front of the Tent of Meeting before the Temple was built. But most of the psalms were written around 1000 BC for the First Temple, and 500 years or more later for the Second Temple.
- The numbering of psalms may differ in Catholic and Protestant Bibles depending on whether certain psalms are presented as one or split into two.
- Genre: Prayer book to music of the First Temple and Second Temple, but also of Jewish synagogues from the 3rd century BC.
- In Protestant Bibles the last psalm is psalm 150. Psalm 151 is attributed to David in some Catholic Bibles and omitted in others.
SONG OF SONGS, ECCLESIASTES, PROVERBS Written by King Solomon
- In 1 Kings chapter 18 the prophet Elijah, King Ahab, and his administrator the prophet Obadiah all meet up to sort out a famine in Samaria.
- Obadiah was an Edomite who converted to Judaism. He was a descendant of Eliphaz who appears in the book of Job. Obadiah became a servant to King Ahab and his wife Queen Jezebel from Sidon who reigned in 869-850 BC. Obadiah hid a hundred prophets from Jezebel so that they would not be killed. He was wealthy and used his money to fund poor prophets. He himself was also given a prophecy against Edom.
- The Philistines and Arabs invaded Jerusalem in 853-841 BC. The prophecy may have arisen from this invasion coming from Edom.
- The Edomites are descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother, Isaac and Rebecca’s son. Genesis 25:26 recounts how Esau was born before Jacob but Jacob later steals Esau’s birthright.
- Edom later became known as Idumea, and today is part of Jordan.
- Genre: Minor prophet
- Written by Jonah son of Amittai, from Gath Hepher in Zebulun. Zebulun is in Sidon in Lebanon now.
- Jonah was contempoary with Elisha and outlived him. Elisha was born in 910 BC and died in 800 BC, so Jonah lived after 800 BC.
- The prophet Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 during the reign of Amaziah in Judah and Jeroboam in Israel in the year 793 BC. Jeroboam king of Samaria restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Sea of Arabah “in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah ….”
- Assyria defeated Damascus and this put a stop to Damascus controlling parts of the northern kingdom of Israel.
- Jonah is sent to Nineveh by the Lord, but doesn’t want to go. He tries to take a ship going in the opposite direction. A storm blows up and Jonah is thrown overboard, gets swallowed by a whale and spat out three days later back on land. After this experience Jonah goes to Nineveh and calls for repentance and they repent.
- There is a shrine to Jonah in the Nineveh ruins; the prophet Jonah was well-known in Persia.
- Genre: Minor prophet
AMOS, HOSEA, MICAH, JOEL – Prophets who wrote their own books
ISAIAH – Much has been written about the prophet Isaiah so I am not going to expand too much. He began his ministry in 740 BC. In verses 44:28; 45:1; and 45:13 of Isaiah he names Cyrus as a ruler chosen to subdue nations and cause Jerusalem and the Temple to be rebuilt. This prophecy was given 200 years before it came to pass.
Isaiah 45:13 “I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free ……”
- The book is introduced as the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. Elkosh is probably Alqosh which is a village in the Nineveh Plains of Northern Iraq.
- Nahum belonged to the Hebrew diaspora. The Tomb of Nahum is found inside the synagogue of Alqosh.
- In 700 BC King Sennacherib made Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire. The preaching of the prophet Jonah in about 800 BC had caused repentence and averted the destruction of Nineveh, but the people had soon dropped back into wickedness.
- Most of Nahum’s prophecies concern Nineveh and its coming woe. It will have a problem with grasshoppers – which sounds like the prophecy of Joel.
- Nahum asks the Ninevans, ‘Are you better than Thebes on the Nile?’ Thebes in Egypt was sacked in 663 BC. Thus, Nahum was prophesying sometime after 663 BC but before 612 BC which is the date when Nineveh fell.
- Nineveh was destroyed by the Babylonians, Medes and Persians. It would never rise again, and is now marked only by ruins across the river from modern-day Mosul.
- Genre: Minor prophet
Book of Tobit
- Tobit is a devout Hebrew from the tribe of Naphtali in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His family have turned to worshiping the golden calf “Baal” set up by King Jeroboam in Dan, but he alone goes to Jerusalem to worship God on feast days.
- When the Assyrians attack Israel in 722 BC Tobit and his wife Anna are deported to Nineveh.
- Tobit becomes a purchaser for the Assyrian ruler King Shalmaneser and goes to Media to do business on behalf of the king until the king dies. His wife Anna works in a rich Assyrian household.
- Tobit secretly helps people of his own tribe of Naphtali. The new king Sennacherib finds out and confiscates all of Tobit’s goods and detains him. But Sennacherib is killed by his sons, and Esarhaddon becomes king. Sennacherib reigned from 705 – 681 BC.
- Tobit’s nephew Ahikar is appointed head cup bearer, keeper of seals, accountant and chief administrator to King Esarhaddon ruler of Assyria. He intervenes for Tobit to be released and return home to Anna in Nineveh.
- Tobit and Anna’s son Tobias seeks a wife with the help of the angel Raphael. He finds Sara who comes from Ecbatana in Media, Persia.
- Tobit proclaims a song of praise to God and prophecy for Jerusalem aged 112 and then dies.
- Tobias and Sara leave Nineveh and go to live in Ecbatana. Tobias lived to age 127 and before he died he saw the destruction of Nineveh with the Assyrians reduced to slavery.
- The book of Tobit starts off written in the first person by Tobit. But the final chapter must have been written by Tobias and one of his descendants.
- The book is about caring for other people’s needs as both Tobit and Tobias help their fellow Hebrews. (The archives of the citadel of Ecbatana will later play a key role in the return of the Jews from exile as the decrees of Persian kings are kept there).
- The Dead Sea Scrolls have some Aramaic and one Hebrew fragment of this book, but it was not included in the Hebrew Bible. Only the Greek copies of this book survived.
- Genre: Personal story of exiled Hebrew (Apocrypha)
- Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC).
- He was descended from the royal line of King Hezekiah and moved in court circles in Jerusalem.
- His prophecies concern the coming punishment of Jerusalem.
- Zephaniah was also an end times prophet.
- Genre: Minor prophet
1 Chronicles 6:31-46 lists the descendants of the Levite Korah. Zephaniah is among these descendants and is the father of Azariah.
This Azariah may be the same one as the Azariah thrown into a furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. In Babylon he was known as Abednego. Azariah and two other young Jewish men who survived the furnace were the friends of the prophet Daniel (Daniel chapter 3).
This is the genealogy from Patriarch Israel to Zephaniah and Azariah in 1 Chronicles chapter 6:
Israel – Levi – Kohath – Izhar – Korah – Ebiasaph – Assir – Tahath – Zephaniah – Azariah –
- Habakkuk lived around 612 BC and probably saw the initial attack on Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 597 BC.
- Habakkuk argues with God about his ways and whether they are just. He wrestles with God. The book is written as Habakkuk’s complaints and the Lord’s answers.
- Liturgical notations show that this text was used in Jewish liturgy.
- Genre: Minor prophet
Daniel when thrown into the lion’s den is said to have been accompanied by the prophet Habakkuk. This aided Daniel’s miraculous escape from the lions. There are two references to Daniel escaping from lions:
The Apocryphal part of the book of Daniel named ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’ may refer to the incident described in Daniel chapter 6 when King Darius has Daniel thrown into a lion’s den but Daniel survived unharmed. But the Septuagint additional chapter states that the Persian priests of the idol of Bel and of the dragon are upset with Daniel for exposing their trickery. They have Daniel thrown into another den of lions.
The Septuagint chapter of Daniel starts with the label: “From the prophecy of Habakkuk, son of Joshua, of the tribe of Levi”. It explains that in this den of lions there were seven lions and that Daniel was in there for seven days. Daniel escapes unharmed because the prophet Habakkuk is called up and feeds either the lions or him such that the lions don’t eat Daniel. Daniel is taken out of the den of lions and his accusers thrown in instead, and devoured immediately.
Habakkuk was translocated to Babylon by an angel. This means that Habakkuk was not called up as a spirit after he died, but translocated while alive from Judea to Babylon.
EZEKIEL – in Babylon
JEREMIAH – in Judea
- 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings were written by Baruch who was Jeremiah’s scribe. Originally these four books were one book called The Book of Kings. In Catholic Bibles the four books can be labelled 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 3 Kings and 4 Kings.
- The history covers 1105 BC to 586 BC. It was written during the Babylonian exile.
- Baruch compiled the books using the Annals of King David, the Annals of the Kings of Judah, the records of Samuel the Seer, the records of Nathan the Prophet, and the records of Gad the Seer. These records were kept in the First Temple but destroyed when the Temple was destroyed.
- The book opens with the birth of Samuel. Elkanah and Hannah Samuel’s parents lived at Ramah 8 km north of present-day Jerusalem.
- Samuel went to serve in the sanctuary at Shiloh 31 km north of Jerusalem under the priest Eli when he was about three years old.
- The Ark of Covenant was captured by the Philistines and then returned, Samuel the prophet anoints Saul as King of Israel, Saul fails, Samuel anoints David King of Israel, David and Goliath, David spares Saul’s life, Saul’s son Jonathan is helpful to David, Saul is finished.
- Genre: History of Saul and David, the first kings of Israel and the prophet Samuel.
- King David consolidates his reign, the Ark is brought to Jerusalem, the prophet Nathan advises David, God’s promises to David, David and Bathsheba, Nathan rebukes David, David’s son Absalom organizes a rebellion against his father but dies, David’s wars against the Philistines, David’s song of praise.
- King David reigned from 1010 to 970 BC.
- Genre: the Kingdom of David and consolidation of Israel as one nation.
- Adonijah and Solomon vie to be king as David is old, David favours Solomon. Solomon’s throne is established, God gives Solomon wisdom, Solomon has the First Temple built, the Ark is brought into the Temple and the Temple is dedicated. Visit from the Queen of Sheba, Solomon’s splendour, Solomon’s many wives and trouble starting. Solomon’s failure and death. The prophet Ahijah opposes Jeroboam who set up golden calfs at Bethel and Dan. A series of bad kings of Israel and Judah. The prophet Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Elisha joins Elijah and opposes Ahab king of Samaria and his wife Jezebel. Ahab is killed in battle.
- King Solomon reigned from 970 to 931 BC.
- Elijah (900–849 BC) lived in the Northern Kingdom; Elisha (892-832 BC) also went to Samaria after visiting Mount Carmel.
- Genre: History of the King Solomon and then the divided kingdom.
- Elijah is taken up to heaven and Elisha becomes the chief prophet. The story of Elisha is told with the various miracles performed by him. There is a series of kings of Israel and kings of Judah whose rule causes idolatry to take hold of the land. Assyrian invasions of Israel and Judah occur during the 8th century BC. Hoshea is the last king of Israel, Samaria comes under siege and the Isrealites (the ten tribes) are deported to Assyria. Judah and Jerusalem are delivered from the Assyrians with the good king Hezekiah in Judah. Manasseh and then Josiah succeed as kings of Judah, the book of the Law was found in the Temple, and the covenant with God renewed. Despite King Josiah being a good king, the situation cannot be saved.
- Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign against Judah takes place in 605-586 BC. The King of Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem, sets fire to the First Temple having plundered all the gold, silver and bronze from it. The Temple priests are taken prisoners, executed and the tribe of Judah goes into captivity.
- Genre: Story of the prophet Elisha and history of the loss of the Northern Kingdom, some good kings in Judah, but it ends with the fall of Jerusalem.
- Jewish and Christian tradition ascribes Lamentations to Jeremiah. It is written in the style of the book of Jeremiah by Baruch.
- Lamentations describes the divine judgment on Jerusalem in 586 BC. Jeremiah and Baruch were eye-witnesses of this event.
- The book was written after 586 BC and before 575 BC.
- It is a poetic book consisting entirely of laments. Ancient literature has a tradition of laments over the destruction of cities.
- It is read on Jewish festival days commemorating the destruction of the two temples.
- Genre: Poetic metaphor
- This book belonging to the Apocrypha is written in Jeremiah’s style by Baruch son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s secretary.
- It was written in the 5th year of the destruction of Jerusalem when Baruch had joined the exiles.
- Baruch read this book to the exiles living in Babylon near the River Sudi.
- It is a prayer, a lament and a warning to do what is right.
- Chapter 6 is a copy of a letter sent by Jeremiah to the captives in Babylon.
- It is apparent that after 586 BC Baruch has ended up as an exile in Babylon, while Jeremiah became an exile in Egypt where he was martyred.
The above 7 books were written by Baruch
- The book of Daniel was written by the prophet Daniel about his own life between 586 BC and sometime after 486 BC. Daniel was aged about 20 when he was deported from Judea to Babylon so he must have lived a very long life to about age 120.
- Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon has dreams, but no one can interpret them. Daniel is given a vision explaining the dream that he tells to the king. Daniel is recompensed by being made governer over Babylon.
- Daniel’s three fellow Jewish administrators Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are put in a fiery furnace but they come out unsinged.
- Nebuchadnezzar finally goes insane and his son Belshazzar takes over. However, Belshazzar is no more after the writing on the wall episode.
- Nebuchadnezzar II reigned from 605 BC until 562 BC when he died aged 80 in Babylon. King Belshazzar ruled in Babylon from 556 to 539 BC. Then the Mede Darius from Persia takes the throne. Darius I or Darius the Great reigned the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire from 522 to 486 BC.
- Daniel becomes one of King Darius’ administrators.
- Darius makes an unwise decree for everyone to worship himself which leads to Daniel being thrown into a lion’s den but Daniel is unharmed.
- The book of Daniel has the theme of God’s sovereignty over the kingdoms of men. The visions of Daniel speak not only of his own time, but also of the end times with prophecies referring to events far in the future.
- Daniel has a vision and identifies four empires. These empires could be those of the ancient world: Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Ancient Greece. Or they could be the four empires of modern industrial society that bring the end times to an end. It is possible that both interpretations are true – this is because symbolic things can refer to an actual thing and a metaphorical thing as well.
Apocryphal chapters of the book of Daniel
- Daniel chapters 1-6 are about the court of Nebuchadnezzar and then King Darius written in Aramaic and chapters 7-12 are Daniel’s prophetic visions concerning empires written in Hebrew. Chapters 13 and 14 are Apocryphal chapters mainly about Daniel at the court of Cyrus the Great in Persia written in Greek.
- Cyrus the Great ruled from 559 to 530 BC from the capital city he built at Pasargadae in Iran where his tomb is still found amongst the ruins of the ancient city.
- The dates of the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar II, the Akkadian king, of Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great, and Darius I of Persia indicate that:
- Daniel was first of all an advisor for King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon until King Belshazzar took over – Daniel chapters 1 to 5. This covers the time period from the exile in 586 BC to 539 BC.
- It appears that Daniel then goes to be an advisor for King Cyrus II at his court at Pasargadae in Persia from 539 to the death of King Cyrus in 530 BC. During this time the Apocryphal chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Daniel are lived and written. After a gap of 8 years Daniel becomes an advisor to King Darius whose reign started in 522 BC. This is covered by Daniel chapter 6 when he is thrown into a den of lions. The Apocryphal chapter Bel and the Dragon also has Daniel thrown into a den of lions.
- Darius I was king of the whole Achaemenid Empire including what is now Iran and Iraq so Daniel is likely to have travelled with him from Pasargadae to Babylon and to other places in Persia.
In Daniel 6:3 King Darius wanted to put Daniel as chief administrator over the whole kingdom but other administrators who are jealous of Daniel cause him to be thrown to the lions. King Darius frets in his palace. Nothing in this chapter says that these events took place in Babylon. In fact, they are unlikely to have taken place in Babylon and much more likely took place in Pasargadae.
- Daniel’s visions occur during the reign of King Belshazzar (this name means the idol ‘Bel protect the king’) between 556 to 539 BC.
- Therefore, it would appear that after serving King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, Daniel served King Cyrus II in the Persian court and then King Darius also in the Persian court. Thus, the Apocryphal chapters 13 and 14 should precede chapter 6.
- Daniel’s influence in Persia was long-lasting as it brought monotheism to the empire during the 6th century BC.
- The rabbinic Babylonian Talmud claims that Daniel was killed by Haman who was a royal official in the court of King Ahasueras / Xerxes I. Haman is in the Book of Esther as the man who hated Jews and plotted to destroy them in Persia. Daniel’s body is reported by the Jewish historian Josephus to have lain in the tower of Ecbatana with the bodies of the kings of the Medes and Persians. It is said he was later buried at Susa.
- Genre: Daniel and other Jewish administrator’s service at the courts of Babylonian and Persian kings. Prophecies concerning empires.
Three apocryphal stories of Daniel
Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children
- Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are the three young Jewish administrators who end up in the fiery furnace due to Nebuchadnezzar’s unwise decree. In Daniel chapter 3 they are called by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
- In the furnace the three youths are joined by a fourth man who “looked like the son of God.”
- The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men come from this miraculous rescue.
- This prayer and song are sung in Orthodox church matins. Thus, this additional chapter is one used for church liturgy.
Susanna and the Elders
- Susanna bathing in a pool is spied upon by two elders. When accused, they lie about her to save their own reputation. They accuse her of committing adultery near the pool, and for this she will be stoned to death. Daniel employs wisdom to expose the two elders as liars, and thus saves Susanna’s life.
- It is a Persian tale that is uncomfortable for Jewish leaders who would not want to be caught out in this manner. This could be a reason for cutting this chapter out of the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible.
Bel and the Dragon
- Bel is an idol in a temple in Persia. Cyrus the Great believes in this idol and that each night it eats quite a lot of food, proving it to be a god. Daniel reveals the idol to be a fake set up by the priests who serve it. (The priests, their wives and children go each night through a secret tunnel into the temple and eat the food themselves, then say the idol ate it).
- Having lost their statue idol and its temple, the people bring in a dragon and say it is a god. Cyrus says he can see it is a living animal and it eats a lot, so it must be a god. Daniel feeds the animal tar inside barley cakes. There is a note that dragon slayers fed the animals hot embers wrapped in skins that caused the animals to breathe out smoke before dying. Anyway, the stomach of the dragon busts open and it dies, so it cannot be a god.
- Daniel shows King Cyrus that the God of the Jews is the true God. Cyrus adopted monotheism and made a decree that the Jews in his empire should be set free to return to Jerusalem and build a temple to their God.
Exiled Jews Close to Kings
When I examined the lives of the Old Testament prophets and the rulers under which they lived, I realized that half of them lived as exiles outside Israel. I realized that many Jews became governors and administrators in the kingdoms they were exiled in. Daniel was one of these exiled Jews close to kings. I found that every king had been directly influenced by a Jewish prophet, but I could not find which prophet had influenced Cyrus the Great. Through the influence of someone, Cyrus had decided to drop idol worship, take on belief in the one God of heaven and make a favourable decree. It is when I read this Apocryphal book ‘Bel and the Dragon’ that I got the answer to my question. I knew for certain that a Jewish prophet had taken Cyrus in hand, but I needed this evidence to know which one: it was the prophet Daniel.
HAGGAI, ZECHARIAH Wrote their own books while exiled in Babylon.
- Esther was married to Xerxes I – Xerxes the Great who ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 486 to 465 BC. He was also called King Ahasuerus. He was the son of King Darius and was born in 518 BC. The name Xerxes is pronounced ‘zerk zeez’.
- The central purpose of this book is to record the institution of the annual festival of Purim as a Jewish festival, although it was only later that the Jews in Judea celebrated Purim.
- King Xerxes reigned from the citadel of Susa over the Persian kingdom that stretched from India to Ethiopia. Queen Vashti who is vain and superior disobeys her husband, but there is a decree that every man should rule over his household and his wife, so a search starts for a new bride for the king – a Jewess called Esther is found of the household of Mordecai. Esther is put in the king’s harem. Esther becomes the king’s favourite and he makes her queen instead of Vashti. Esther uses her influence to annul the persecution of her people the Jews put in place by Haman. When the persecutors are killed and the Jews get back their freedom they celebrate with feasting on the Day of Purim.
- Vashti was the grand daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and daughter of King Belshazzar.
- The events of this book which took place in Persia post-date the return of some of the Jews to Judea.
- The story of Esther was probably recorded by Mordecai who appears in the story. Mordecai raises Esther who is an orphan when her parents, Mordecai’s uncle and aunt die. Mordecai is from the tribe of Benjamin. He becomes a governor in the Persian Empire second in rank to the king. The book of Esther may have been written up by Ezra the priest.
- Genre: Story of how a Jewess becomes queen of Persia and uses her influence to free her people.
Esther chapters 10:4 onwards, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 are additional parts of the same text and story belonging to the Apocrypha. These chapters include the text of the first and second decrees of King Xerxes I / Ahasuerus to governors of the provinces of the Persian Empire. These Apocryphal chapters of the book of Esther amplify the story of Esther and the setting free of the Jews in Persia.
- The author of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles is thought to be one and the same person – the priest Ezra (also called Esdras in Greek).
- Ezra was key in organizing the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. Before leaving he secures the Decree of Cyrus found in the archives of Ecbatana. It is also in Ecbatana, Susa and Babylon in Persia that I believe Ezra managed to gather up copies of the book of Daniel, the book of Esther and the book of Tobit to bring back to Jerusalem.
- Ezra followed the instruction of the disciples of Baruch ben Neriah who was Jeremiah’s secretary, as these disciples had remained in Babylon.
- Ezra returns during the reign of Artaxerxes I who reigned from 465 – 424 BC (see Ezra chapter 7). He has a strong influence over King Artaxerxes to cause the return to happen.
- The book of Ezra is compiled from official documents, letters, and personal memoirs.
- The book opens with the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia for the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, there is a list of the exiles who return. These returnees include Nehemiah, Mordecai (Queen Esther’s relative) but not Ezra himself.
- Jeshua, Zerubbabel and other priests supervise the rebuilding of the Second Temple amidst some opposition. King Darius made a decree to find the decree of King Cyrus. King Artaxerxes King of Persia commissions the priest Ezra to organize the return to Jerusalem taking silver and gold. List of those who return with Ezra. It is discovered that many of these Jews had intermarried with foreign women in Babylon, the offenders are listed and the women sent away.
- Genre: History of the return to Jerusalem and rebuilding of the Temple.
- Originally this was part of the book of Ezra, and not a separate book so its author – compiler was Ezra. It opens, however, with Nehemiah speaking in the first person.
- The book opens with Nehemiah’s prayer, Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and inspects the walls, he oversees the rebuilding of the walls and gates of the city. List of exiles who first returned from Babylon. Ezra the scribe reads the Book of the Law of Moses and Nehemiah the governor encourages people to celebrate. They built booths to live in for a week – this became the Feast of Tabernacles. They institute the Day of Atonement, with fasting, putting on sackcloth and confessing their sins. List of those who set seals to an agreement to observe the laws and not sin again. They cast lots to decide who will live in Jerusalem with the others living in the surrounding towns of Judah. Dedication of the wall of Jerusalem and Nehemiah’s reforms to observe the sabbath.
- Genre: Political and religious organization of Jerusalem under governor Nehemiah.
- This book was written as a supplement to the book of Samuel and the book of Kings.
- Ancient Jewish tradition attributes the book of Chronicles to the priest Ezra as the author. He used many other books of the Old Testament and annals of kings as sources.
- The purpose of the chronicler was to instruct the restored community after return from exile in the meaning of God’s covenant for them and address issues of continuity with the past before exile.
- The writer of Chronicles loved lists just as the writer of the book of Ezra loved lists – as they were the same person.
- Chronicles starts with the genealogy of the sons of Noah, sons of Abraham, sons of Israel, sons of David and the 12 tribes of Israel. There is the story of Saul the Benjamite and David becoming king. The Ark is returned to Jerusalem and the Levites celebrate. Genealogy of the Levites – priests, singers, gate-keepers, army divisions and the king’s overseers are listed. David’s desire to build the Temple, and the death of David.
- Genre: History of the monarchy with all the genealogies listed.
- 2 Chronicles continues from 1 Chronicles with the life of King Solomon.
- Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom, Solomon builds and dedicates the Temple, Solomon’s life and death. Subsequent kings do not do what is right but Hezekiah is a righteous king. Sennacherib King of Assyria invades Judah but with the help of the prayers of Isaiah, the angel of the Lord annihilated the camp of the Assyrian king and they retreat. Josiah’s reforms, more kings do evil in the sight of the Lord, leading to the fall of Jerusalem.
- Genre: History of the monarchy continued until Judah ceases political existence.
Prayer of Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33:11-13 – Part of the Apocrypha
- Manasseh, king of Judah repents of idolatry and is forgiven. He is one of the evil kings and later drops back into his wicked ways.
- Manasseh’s story also appears in 2 Kings chapter 21.
1 Esdras This is the Greek version of the book of Ezra which was written in Hebrew.
2 Esdras (4 Esdras)
- 2 Esdras is only conserved in Greek and was not included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. It is sometimes labelled 4 Esdras. It is part of the Apocrypha.
- This is a different book and not just a Greek translation. It describes the seven visions and questions of Ezra, with the archangel Uriel answering the questions.
- It is an apocalyptic book speaking about the rise of an empire symbolized by a three-headed eagle. It is explained that this empire is the 4th kingdom in the vision of Daniel. The Messiah appears who is the Son of God and he triumphs over this final evil empire.
- It is thought that the Jews did not want to conserve this book as it was too messianic, sounding like what Christians believe about Jesus.
- It is said that 2 Esdras (or 4 Esdras) only exists in Latin, but some parts of it have been found in Greek, translated from Hebrew.
- I think it is a valid book of the Bible. Ezra is always labelled as a scribe, but he was also a prophet, and probably the prophet Malachi.
- Genre: Apocalyptic vision
- Malachi means ‘my messenger’ so it may mean this or be his actual name. Chapter 3 “ I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” Some claim that Ezra was the prophet of the book Malachi, as this was not a name but a description. The messenger could be John the Baptist preparing a way for the Messiah or Ezra himself making a way forward.
- The message of this book is addressed to priests in the newly rebuilt Temple – serve God faithfully and distinguish what is right. Do not bring blemished sacrifices.
- Ezra’s entire focus was on the setting up of the Second Temple so it would make sense if he was, in fact, the prophet Malachi.
- Ezra may have returned to Jerusalem with the first returnees, gone back to Babylon and returned definitively with the second lot of returnees. Thus, some of this writing was done in Babylon, some in Jerusalem and again in Babylon and again Jerusalem.
- Genre: Minor prophet
The above 7 books were written by Ezra
- 2 Maccabees consists of a short and a long letter from Jews in Jerusalem to Jews in Egypt. The second letter is from Judas Maccabeus and the senators of Jerusalem to Aristobulus, a priest and teacher of King Ptolemy. Thus, the author of 2 Maccabees was Judas Maccabeus written in about 160 BC before he died.
- The author’s preface in chapter 2 tells how the story of Judas Maccabeus was recorded by Jason of Cyrene, a historian in five volumes (2 Macc 2:19-32). This letter – 2 Maccabees – is a simple summary of that very detailed series of history books.
- Thus, the Apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees was written by Judas Maccabeus; it covers stories of persecution of the Jews at the hands of the Syrians and Greeks from Athens and covers all the exploits of Judas himself as leader of the Jews.
- The High Priests of the Second Temple become the leaders of the Jews in Judea much like the ancient Judges of Israel. After 175 BC the Maccabee brothers Mattatias, Judas, Jonathan and Simon and then Simon’s son John rule as High Priests.
- 2 Maccabees opens with Onias the high priest and King Seleucus. Events take place between King Seleucus IV dying in 175 BC, the reign of King Antiochus Epiphanes from this date, and King Antiochus Eupator who reigned from 172 to 161 BC.
- Story of Heliodorus trying to rob the Temple and the problem with Greek customs making people reluctant to serve in the Temple.
- King Antiochus from Tyre, Syria attacked Egypt and then laid siege to Jerusalem and emptied the Second Temple of its treasures. Then an Athenian god is set up in the Temple. The Greeks had orgies in the Temple and forced Jews to join a procession for the feast of Dionysus and wear flowers.
- Eleazar, a teacher of the Law was forced to eat pork. He was 90 years old and they beat him to death. Seven brothers were also forced to eat pork in front of King Antiochus, but they spoke up and had their tongues cut out. Each brother was killed one by one in front of their mother. She declares that they will rise again to life at the resurrection.
- While this torturing of Jews was going on, Judas Maccabeus was organizing rebellion. Thus, 2 Maccabees covers the same time period as 1 Maccabees but starts before it.
- Genre: A collection of stories and what they mean for Maccabean period Jews. It is a major book of the Apocrypha written in Greek.
- This is the history of the region of Judea after the conquests of Alexander the Great.
- It outlines the events of the uprising of the Jews against the Greeks led by five men of the Maccabee family from 170 to 130 BC.
- Antiochus despoils the Temple, religious persecution of the Jews. Mattathias and Judas Maccabeus engage in battles with the Greeks.
- Joseph and Azariah, the sons of Zechariah lead the Jewish army. General Nicanor from Syria was defeated and beheaded.
- The Jews make an alliance with the Romans to get protection from the empires invading them as they cannot hold out any longer.
- Judas dies and Jonathan Maccabeus takes over and leads the Jews amidst multiple attacks and deceits. Jonathan is killed and Simon Maccabeus his brother becomes high priest and leader of Judah. Warfare with King Demetrius and his son Antiochus from Syria. Simon is murdered by Ptolemy son of Abubos, general of the Plain of Jericho in 134 BC. Ptolemy is Simon’s son-in-law and his treachery is renowned.
- John the son of Simon takes over as high priest and leader of Judah.
- The author of the book is given in 1 Macc 13:3 “I, my brothers and the family of my father ….”. ‘I’ refers to Simon, so he wrote the book of 1 Maccabees. However, Simon is murdered by his son-in-law, so the post-script must have been written by John, his son. It is signed off by John saying that the rest of his deeds are written in the annals of his pontificate as high priest. Simon Maccabeus must have written this book sometime prior to 134 BC when he died.
- Genre: History of the Maccabees period and major book of the Apocrypha.
Book of Judith
- Judith means ‘Jewess’. This book of the Apocrypha is about a woman.
- Plot of the story of Judith: Judith, a widow, uses her beauty and charm to get in and kill an Assyrian general in his tent. Thus, she saves Jerusalem from attack and siege by the Assyrian army.
- The book is found in fragments of the Septuagint Bible which dates it to the 1st or 2nd century BC (not to the Middle Ages as some have said). But it is not found in later versions of the Septuagint Bible.
- It actually refers to an event which took place in 161 BC, but the history is deliberately obscured in order to protect the author’s life. The real event involved the Syrian army and General Nicanor’s siege of Jerusalem. After their leader has been decapitated (whether at the hands of a woman in his tent or on the battle field), the Syrian army flee back to Syria and Jerusalem is saved (1 Maccabees 7:33-50).
- Author and date? It was written shortly after 161 BC by someone who knew all the details of Judith’s exploits. It was not written by Judas or Simon Maccabeus as their version of events differs to this one. It was probably written or dictated to a scribe by Judith herself as she was a pretty feisty woman who was not going to lose her place in history.
- Genre: Story of bravery shown by a woman. It reads like a historical novel or film script.
- 3 Maccabees was originally written in Greek. It was included in the Septuagint Bible. It’s original title is unknown. Some Orthodox churches include this book in their Bibles, but Catholics and Protestants do not.
- It has the same characters as 2 Maccabees: it has the prayers of Eleazar the teacher of the Law and Simon the high priest. They lived between 170 and 130 BC.
- The focus of the book was on martyrdom and the persecution of the Jews outside Judah. Some Jews were killed by trampling by intoxicated elephants. The historian Josephus confirms that this did take place in Egypt under Ptolemy VIII Physcon (146-117 BC).
- Genre: Little-known book of the Apocrypha.
- 4 Maccabees was written in Greek by the author. The original title was ‘On the Sovereignty of Reason’.
- It is a meld of Hellenistic Judaism and Greek philosophy. It praises pious reason over the passions.
- It recounts the martyrdom of the seven sons and of Eleazar described in 2 Maccabees who were forced to eat pork. It asks the reader to emulate these examples of obedience to Jewish law.
- The author makes mistakes about Jerusalem so obviously did not come from there.
- These books were only conserved in Constantinople by Orthodox Christians, and not by Jews in Jerusalem. It was also rejected by Catholics.
- Genre: Little-known book of the Apocrypha.
Sirach / Ecclesiasticus
- Sirach is the wisdom of Yeshua ben Sira. He was a Hellenistic Jewish scribe living in Alexandria in Egypt under the Ptolemaic kingdom in 180-175 BC.
- The book was translated into Greek by Yeshua’s grandson who went to Egypt in 132 BC. Sira in Greek is Sirach so this is where the book got its name.
- The name ‘Ecclesiasticus’ means ‘church book’ in Latin because it was frequently read in Catholic churches. It was also highly esteemed in Orthodox churches.
- Yeshua’s father Sira lived in Jerusalem. Sira was the son of Eleazar.
- Who was Eleazar? There were two men called Eleazar at the time of the Maccabees. 2 Maccabees mentions an elderly teacher of the Law called Eleazar. Aged 90 he was forced to eat pork, but preferred to die than break Jewish laws. He was martyred in front of King Antiochus Epiphanes. Another Eleazar appears in 1 Maccabees 6:42-45 during the battle at Beth-Zechariah. The army of King Antiochus V Eupator (172-161 BC) were advancing with armoured elephants towards the Jewish army who were quaking with fear. Eleazar noted a particularly strong elephant and supposed it to be the king’s elephant. He charged towards the elephant and got underneath the animal and stabbed it in the belly. In this way he sacrificed his life as the animal fell on top of him, crushed him and he died. Judas and the Jewish army retreated before the mulberry-juice maddened elephants and the battles continued.
- The dates show that the grandfather of Yeshua must have been the old teacher of the Law called Eleazar who was martyred.
- The first part of Sirach, chapters 1 to 42 offer the advice of wisdom on all aspects of life. This part could have been written between 180-175 BC by Yeshua (or Jesus son of Sira).
- The second part, chapters 42 to 50 of Sirach starts with the wonders of nature, and moves on to an overview of the history of Israel highlighting the contributions of holy men of renown. This history culminates with the magnificence of Simon the High Priest. Simon was murdered in 134 BC so this historical part of Sirach must have been written after this date. This implies that Yeshua’s grandson who translated the first part of the book into Greek, was the author of this part of the book. Chapter 51 is the prayer of Yeshua added to the end.
- The book is called Sirach and not the author’s name Yeshua or Jesus. If the book had been called ‘Jesus’ there would be a lot of confusion.
- Genre: Major book of the Apocrypha on wisdom, Jewish history and Simon Maccabeus, high priest.
Wisdom of Solomon
- The Apocryphal book named the ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ ‘was not written by Solomon, but by a learned Jew living in exile in Egypt in the 1st or 2nd century BC.
- There was one such person who was the correspondant of Judas Maccabeus, to whom he sent 2 Maccabees as a letter containing news from Jerusalem. The correspondant’s name was Aristobulus and he was a priest and teacher of King Ptolemy. This letter must have been sent in about 150 BC.
- This erudite Jewish priest named Aristobulus may have been the author of the book of Wisdom sometime after 150 BC.
- The book of Wisdom was written in Greek only.
- The book attempts to give a summary of Solomon’s wisdom to the reader. Wisdom is the perfection of knowledge given to the righteous by God. A king might be interested in how King Solomon became so great and so want to study this book.
- Chapter 6 opens with “Listen, O kings, and understand; rulers of the most distant lands, take warning.” Aristobulus, teacher of “King Ptolemy” seems a likely candidate to be proclaiming this.
- “King Ptolemy” could have been Ptolemy Apion. He never had the title of Pharaoh, but he did become King of Cyrenaica in 116 BC and ruled there until his death in 96 BC. Ptolemy Apion’s mother came from Cyrene and he was probably born there. The historian Jason of Cyrene also came from there and wrote five volumes about the Maccabees – thus, there are various links between Cyrenaica and the Maccabees. Ptolemy Apion did not marry, had no heirs and left his royal estates to the Roman Republic when he died.
- It is unlikely that “King Ptolemy” would refer to his father, Ptolemy VIII Physcon who reigned from 169 to 116 BC because this Pharaoh was reputed to be cruel, degenerate and married his niece Cleopatra III. This king is unlikely to have had much interest in being taught wisdom.
- Genre: Wisdom in the Jewish Hellenized world.
Book of Odes
- The Book of Odes is only found in Eastern Orthodox Bibles. It consists of prayers and songs lifted from the Old Testament and sung during Orthodox matins.
- It would have been compiled by the Greek-speaking church as a liturgical song book.
- Genre: Minor Apocryphal book with songs copied from the Old Testament.
4. Bible Books, Authors and Dates Summary
- Job – from Uz or Edom, written by Jobab around 2200-2500 BC
- Genesis – compiled by Moses from early sources
- Exodus – The Israelites flee from Egypt in about 1440 BC, written by Moses
- Leviticus – Laws received by Moses
- Numbers – history written by Moses
- Deuteronomy – summary of events written at the end of Moses’ life in 1400 BC after 40 years in the desert
- Joshua – 1400-1340 BC, written by Joshua
- Judges – written by Samuel ~1020 BC
- Ruth – story collected by Samuel
- Psalms – written by King David (1st Temple) ~990 BC and Temple musicians (2nd Temple)515 BC
- Song of songs ~970 BC, written by young King Solomon
- Ecclesiastes ~940 BC, written by old King Solomon
- Proverbs collected by King Solomon
- Obadiah – Edomite in Jerusalem 845 BC
- Jonah – from the Northern Kingdom, he died in Nineveh in 800 BC
- Amos – from Judah but prophecies for the Northern Kingdom 760-750 BC
- Hosea – from the Northern Kingdom but went to Judea 750 BC
- Micah – predicted the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC
- Isaiah – Jerusalem 740-680 BC
- Joel – prophesies attacks on Judah
- Nahum – Nineveh, prophesying 663-612 BC
- Tobit – exiled to Nineveh in 722 BC, died ~630 BC
- Zephaniah – prophesying in Jerusalem between 640-609 BC
- Habakkuk – prophesying in Jerusalem between 597-530 BC
- Ezekiel – started his ministry in Babylon in 593 BC
- Jeremiah – called in 626 BC and exiled to Egypt in 586 BC, written by Baruch prior to exile
- 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings written by Baruch prior to exile using sources kept in the 1st Temple but later destroyed in 586 BC when the Temple was burned down.
- Lamentations written by Baruch shortly after exile
- Baruch – 581 BC, written by Baruch in the 5th year of exile
- Daniel – 606-486 BC, taken into exile, worked as an administrator, he must have lived for 120 years
- Haggai – returned to Jerusalem in 538 BC, message proclaimed in 520 BC
- Zechariah – returned from exile in Babylon in 538 BC
- Esther – married to Xerxes I (zerk-zeez) King of Persia 486-465 BC
- Ezra / 1 Esdras – written in Babylon before returning to Jerusalem in 465 BC during the reign of Artaxerxes I
- Nehemiah written by Ezra from various sources at the time of return
- 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles written by Ezra using the Book of Kings written by Baruch and other sources
- 2 or 4 Esdras – a vision of the final empire given to Ezra
- Malachi – Ezra’s prophecy written in old age
- 2 Maccabees – letter written by Judas Maccabeus in 160 BC
- 1 Maccabees – history covering 170-130 BC written by Simon Maccabeus with post-script
- Sirach – written by Yeshua ben Sira in 180 BC / translated and additions made after 132 BC by his grandson.
This is a total of 45 books. Six of these books belong to the Apocrypha, so only 39 of them are found in Protestant Bibles. There are five other books belonging to the Apocrypha, but I would not include them in the Bible (Judith, Wisdom, 3 and 4 Maccabees and the Book of Odes).
This chronology of the Bible shows that the Old Testament was written over the course of more than 2000 years.
5. Twenty Four Authors of Scripture
Hebrew Old Testament
- Job / Jobab from Uz near Edom – one of the earliest examples of writing
- Moses – wrote the 5 books of the Law
- Samuel – wrote 2 books
- King David – Psalms
- King Solomon – wisdom literature, 3 books
- Baruch (secretary of Jeremiah) scribe – wrote 6 books plus one not in the Hebrew / Protestant canon
- Ezra priest and scribe – wrote 6 books plus one not in the Hebrew / Protestant canon
Each prophet wrote his own book for the most part, but Jeremiah did not. The main prophets were Isaiah and Ezekiel apart from Jeremiah, but also Daniel. This adds 3 authors.
The twelve minor prophets came from different eras and just wrote shorter books. This adds 11 authors if Malachi was Ezra.
Thus, there were 8 authors, 3 major prophets who wrote their own books and actually 11 minor prophets if Malachi was Ezra = 22 authors.
Septuagint Old Testament in Greek
In addition to the above authors:
- Tobit wrote the book of Tobit (where the first person is used).
- Judas Maccabeus wrote 2 Maccabees.
- Simon Maccabeus wrote 1 Maccabees.
- Yeshua ben Sira wrote most of the book of Sirach.
= 4 more authors
The Hebrew and Protestant Bibles recognize 22 authors, but they should recognize 24 authors of the Old Testament. Two books are missing from the canon.
Why 24 authors of Scripture?
The last book of the Bible, at the end of the New Testament, is the book of Revelation. In chapter 4 there are 24 elders seated on 24 thrones in heaven, dressed in white, wearing golden crowns. The 24 elders worship God on His throne in heaven (Rev. 4:4). What do the 24 elders represent?
I think, having looked at the canon of Scripture, that they represent the 24 authors of Old Testament Scripture. If this is the case, the Hebrew canon of Scripture taken up by Protestants at the Reformation is correct except that it lacks two books and two authors.
I think that Tobit written by Tobit and Sirach written by Yeshua ben Sira should be recognized as part of the canon as these two Apocryphal books were originally written in Hebrew.
1 and 2 Maccabees recount the history of the Jews between the Old Testament and the New Testament. These two books were written in Greek not Hebrew. They throw light on New Testament history, but are maybe not actually part of the Old Testament.
The New Testament authors number 9: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James and Jude. This makes the total number of authors of Old and New Testaments = 33. With two in-between-the-Testaments authors of Maccabees who were Judas and Simon Maccabeus there were a total of 35 authors.
6. The Authors of the Bible were Prophets
It is certain that each of the authors of the Bible was a prophet or someone who had the gift of prophecy. It is through this gift that the Bible was inspired as a true revealing of God and His purposes. The Holy Spirit speaks through chosen people who are His prophets (and not through committees taking a vote on what to say and do).
The Old Testament names three major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel plus Daniel, and twelve minor prophets.
The prophets foresee attacks on the Northern Kingdom inhabited by the ten tribes and on Judea of the tribe of Judah. It was foreseen that first the Northern Kingdom and later Judah would fall. They warn that exile will occur. Most of the prophets warning of impending disaster come from Jerusalem and the tribe of Judah.
Jonah and Nahum were exiled from the Northern Kingdom to Nineveh by the Assyrians. Tobit was also carried off from Naphtali in the Northern Kingdom to Nineveh. Hosea from the Northern Kingdom took refuge in Judea.
Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were taken into captivity in Babylon. Jeremiah goes into exile in Egypt while Baruch his secretary goes to Babylon. Thus, there were as many prophets in exile as living in the land of Israel. Eight of the prophets lived in exile.
It was the prophets who actually got the people back from exile in foreign lands to return to Jerusalem and Judea. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi return themselves to Judea with the first returnees from Babylon. These prophets are involved in the rebuilding of the Temple, and reforming of Judaism for this new era of the Second Temple.
7. The Shadowing of Kings
In exile it has happened time and again that Jews became administrators in the empires in which they were held captive. Jewish administrators used their gifts to help the rulers of empires enact just and wise decrees to the benefit of the diverse peoples of empires. They also used their influence to save their own people – the Jews in foreign lands.
Some of these administrators were the prophets of the Old Testament.
The first well-known story of an Israeli administrator was Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt (Genesis chapters 37, 39). Joseph becomes the second in command to Pharaoh in Egypt in about 1700 BC.
The book of Tobit is among the Apocryphal books. Tobit who was exiled in Nineveh became a purchaser for the Assyrian king who had taken him captive, King Shalmaneser. Tobit gets into trouble with the next king Sennacherib and is put in prison. Sennacherib is killed by his own sons, and one them Esarhaddon becomes king.
Tobit’s nephew Ahikar gets the top job in the administration of King Esarhaddon and uses his influence to get Tobit released from prison.
Tobit’s son Tobias marries and goes to live in Ecbatana. It is in this city that the Persian Empire archives are kept including the decree of Cyrus. Could a Jewish descendant of Tobit and Tobias have become an archivist there? At any rate, it is there that the decree for the release of the Jews from Babylon and Persia is unexpectedly found.
When Daniel was taken into exile in Babylon he at first worked for King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar witnesses extraordinary miracles, but ends up going mad and eating grass. Later Daniel worked for King Darius, the Persian king who took over the Babylonian Empire. Darius started to adopt belief in the God of the Jews after also witnessing miraculous rescues of Daniel from lions. But the ruler who reversed the fate of the exiled Jews was Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.
Cyrus ruled the Achaemenid Empire which stretched across the whole Middle East after conquering the Assyrians and the Babylonians. He started off as a polytheist pagan worshiping idols but became a monotheist. Why did Cyrus make the just decree that the Jews should be set free to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple?
I knew that things don’t just happen, and people don’t just make decisions like this. There is always a prophet who influences the course of events somehow. There is always a shadowing of kings. But for Cyrus II I could not locate the Old Testament prophet who influenced him.
That is not until I started to read the additional Apocryphal chapters of the book of the prophet Daniel. Chapters 13 and 14 show that Daniel served Cyrus the Great at the royal court in Persia – this occurred in between serving King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius.
From the chapters on Bel and the Dragon in the book of Daniel, we learn that the prophet Daniel became an advisor to Cyrus the Great. He influenced him to become a monotheist and abandon belief in idols. The first idol that Daniel proves to be a fake is called Bel. Daniel discredits the priests of the temple of Bel showing that the statue is not, in fact, eating the food offerings brought to it. Cyrus concedes, but immediately turns to a living idol which is a dragon with a ferocious appetite. This idol does eat food and appears invincible. Daniel feeds it burning tar wrapped up in barley cakes, its stomach burns through and bursts open, so this idol is also dead. After this Cyrus is convinced that there is only one God and it is the God of Daniel.
Without the additional part of the book of Daniel, it made no sense that Cyrus set the Jews free. These texts show that he too was shadowed by a prophet and this brought about God’s plans.
The foundations laid by Daniel are built upon by Ezra. Ezra works in conjunction with King Artaxerxes I who reigned the Achaemenid Empire from 465 – 424 BC. Under Ezra’s influence, Artaxerxes I sends him back to Jerusalem with silver and gold previously stolen from the First Temple.
Ezra builds on the influence of Queen Esther on Xerxes I – Xerxes the Great who ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 486 to 465 BC, and who was the father of Artaxerxes I.
The empires of the ancient world are very confusing, but when you start to see how God placed a prophet beside each ruler, the rise and fall of empires starts to make sense.
8. Historical Books of the Bible
The history books of the Bible were written by Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Baruch and Ezra – only five people. The period between the two Testaments has histories written by Judas and Simon Maccabeus, and by Yeshua ben Sira’s grandson.
Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah starting with Genesis. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are his own story of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The real history book is Deuteronomy which summarizes all the events of the exodus out of Egypt.
Genesis would have been compiled by Moses from genealogies and other very ancient texts already in existence. Moses source materials probably went back to when cuneiform writing was first invented. Genesis includes the stories of the Patriarchs leading up to slavery in Egypt.
Joshua wrote his own book about entry into the Promised Land. Samuel wrote the book of Judges and like Joshua was one of the judges leading Israel himself at this time.
In the Septuagint Bible, 1 and 2 Samuel were named First and Second Books of Kingdoms. 1 and 2 Kings were named Third and Fourth Books of Kingdoms. These four books read as one continuous story as if written by one single author. That is because they were all written by Baruch, the scribe who accompanied Jeremiah.
The books were compiled using the Annals of the Kings of Judah, the Annals of the Kings of Israel, the Annals of King David, the Annals of Solomon, the records of Samuel the Seer, the records of Nathan the prophet, and the records of Gad the Seer. These records were kept in the First Temple and destroyed when the Temple was destroyed.
Evidence that Baruch compiled this history of Israel is that 2 Kings goes right up to the year 586 BC when the tribe of Judah was taken into captivity in Babylon. In that year Baruch parted company with Jeremiah and went into captivity in Babylon with his fellow Jews.
Baruch had already redacted the book of the prophet Jeremiah and Lamentations. Jeremiah didn’t write his own books, but dictated them to Baruch his secretary.
Five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Baruch wrote a book with his name on it. It is included in the Apocrypha – the book of Baruch.
Essentially, Baruch salvaged the history of Israel by incorporating it into the Hebrew Bible before the original records were destroyed with the Temple. These history books contain minuscule detail about the life stories of every king and associated people of importance – exactly as if the account had been taken from eye-witness records – which indeed it had.
The books 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles are history books that go over the history of Israel again. They are an edited version of the books of Samuel and Kings. The priest Ezra wrote these books for the returning exiles to give them a sense of nationhood.
Ezra also wrote the history of the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Second Temple in the books Ezra and Nehemiah.
The painful history of many bad kings in both Judah and Israel interspersed with a few good ones shows that collective salvation is not possible; only individual salvation makes sense. Any situation resembling salvation on earth was short-lived no matter how hard the prophets worked to make God’s word known.
There is a gap in the history of Judea between the last prophets of the Old Testament and Ezra and the New Testament of about 440 years. This gap is filled in by the history of the Maccabees.
Jason of Cyrene wrote a history book about the Maccabees of five volumes (see 2 Macc 2:19-32). Judas Maccabeus realized that this was far too detailed to read. So Judas M. wrote a letter about his exploits to Jews in Egypt starting in 175 BC. This letter is now known as 2 Maccabees.
The fourth Maccabee brother, Simon Maccabeus, was the author of the continuing saga of the Maccabee high priests of the Second Temple between 170 and 130 BC. Simon’s account is now known as 1 Maccabees (the chronological numbering of the books is inverted).
The final account of Israel’s history appears in a book written by Yeshua ben Sira. Yeshua came from a Maccabean supporting family in Jerusalem as he was the grandson of Eleazar who preferred to die rather than eat pork. Yeshua wrote about wisdom in about 180 BC in Hebrew in the book named Sirach. In 132 BC his grandson took the book to Egypt and translated it into Greek. The history runs from Abraham to the high priest Simon who was martyred in 134 BC. These dates mean that Yeshua could not have written the history; the history must have been added to the book by his grandson.
The book is called Sirach – meaning Sira in Greek. It is not called ‘Yeshua’ as this name is translated ‘Jesus’ and this would be confusing. It’s other name is Ecclesiasticus because it was read so much in Catholic churches. The history part of the book is from Chapter 42 to the end.
I have placed the books of the Bible in chronological order, rather than by order of importance of the author as is usually done. Another method of ordering Bible books is by the class of writing whether the law, history, prophecy, wisdom or writings. But the history of Israel emerges from the chronological order because the reader is less confused and starts to form a logical scheme in their mind. Thus, I believe this unorthodox approach is a valuable exercise.
9. The Apocryphal Book of Judith
The book of Judith describes how a Jewess used her beauty and charm to trick an Assyrian general into inviting her into his tent as he laid siege to Jerusalem. The story goes that she takes the opportunity of being alone with him to take his sword and cut off his head. She puts his head in her picnic bag that she uses for kosher food and escapes with her maidservant back to Jerusalem. The head is put on display and she gained great respect for her bravery. Thus, according to this book, it was a woman who saved Jerusalem from attack on this occasion.
The book of Judith appears to say that this story took place at the time of Nebuchadnezzar and that he was King of Assyria. This is not true, as Nebuchadnezzar was King of Babylon not Assyria. It also says that the chief of the Assyrian army was called Holofernes. This is also a dissimulation. Thus, certain historical details are not right.
The true event is described in 1 Maccabees chapter 7 and it took place in 161 BC.
1 Maccabees chapter 7 describes how Demetrius became King of the Seleucid Empire of Syria. King Demetrius sent Nicanor who had been governor of Cyprus, but was now a general of his army to Jerusalem to attack it.
The army of General Nicanor was opposed by Judas Maccabeus and his Jewish army. Nicanor sent false messages to Judas pretending to seek friendship. 1 Maccabees 7:33-50 describes how the two armies were camped near to each other. They met in battle and Nicanor’s army were defeated and fled.
The Maccabees story tells that Nicanor fell in the battle field and they later cut off his head and displayed it outside the walls of Jerusalem. The story of Judith tells how the night before the battle she entered the Syrian camp and his tent, and cut off his head, taking the head back to the city. Maybe the army of Nicanor went into battle against Judas and the Jewish army with their leader already dead?
It seems to be true that the Syrian army did suddenly cease their attack on Jerusalem and flee back home, even though up to that point they had been winning. Jerusalem was miraculously saved either by General Nicanor falling on the battle field and being beheaded or by a brave woman beheading him and making a mockery of him.
The false history and changed names was a deliberate dissimulation by the author to avoid retribution by the Syrian attackers of the Jews during the Maccabean period. The Jewish author may even have been exiled in Syria.
Although having a woman hero and protagonist of the plot is welcome, it is better to leave this book out of the Bible as it leads to confusion about historical details.
10. Wisdom Literature of the Bible
The Israelites have a very ancient tradition of wisdom literature that goes back at least to the time of King Solomon who became king in 970 BC. In comparison Ancient Greece and Athens only started to rise to power after 478 BC. Greek philosophy only took root with Socrates (470-399 BC), Plato (428-348 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC). Thus, while Biblical wisdom goes back to the 10th century BC, Greek philosophy only goes back to the 5th and 4th century BC.
The Greek philosophers were Theists who believed in One God, although not necessarily in a personal way. None-the-less light seems to have gone out of Judaism to pagans, rather than from pagans to Judaism.
The wisdom books of the Bible include Ecclesiastes and Proverbs written by King Solomon. He probably wrote these books of wisdom later in life as a reflection, while he wrote the poetry of love in Song of Songs when younger.
The Apocryphal book Sirach or Ecclesiasticus is mainly a book of wisdom. It was written by Yeshua ben Sira, the grandson of Eleazar a great teacher of the Law who was martyred aged 90. The wisdom part of it dates to about 180-175 BC, while the historical part dates to after 134 BC.
The book of Sirach affirms that wisdom comes from God. It gives sound advice on how to live an upright life. It speaks of the creation of wisdom by God. It speaks of the marvelous works of God’s wisdom. The author explains that all things have a purpose, and both good and evil serve a purpose and can be used by God.
Sirach was originally written in Hebrew.
The Wisdom of Solomon is the final book of the Apocrypha possibly written by Aristobulus teacher of King Ptolemy in Egypt after 116 BC.
The Wisdom of Solomon attempts to summarize the wisdom of King Solomon but was written nearly a thousand years after Solomon lived. It attempts to express faith in a way adapted to Greek culture, for Hellenized Jews. Some have said the text is based on Plato. The book of Wisdom is like Sirach, but not the same. The reader is encouraged to seek ‘lady wisdom’.
11. Discussion of ‘Lady Wisdom’
That Solomon was so wise and yet fell from grace is a cautionary tale. King Solomon asked God to give him wisdom rather than wealth. Solomon received this gift from God, as well as becoming fabulously rich.
However, Solomon was led astray by marrying foreign wives who came to the palace with foreign gods – idols in the form of statuettes. All subsequent wisdom after this warns against running after the wrong type of women – as this folly will lead to a man’s downfall.
There is a pitfall to wisdom: if you start to love the gift more than the Giver of the gift, ironically it can lead you away from God.
Wisdom is personified as ‘she’. ‘Lady Wisdom’ may only be a metaphor used for instruction. However, it is maybe one small step from the love of wisdom for herself to the worship of a personification of wisdom as a goddess. This may have been the trap that King Solomon fell into.
There is also the trap of the objectification of wisdom. You can put all your effort and energy into cataloging knowledge and discussing philosophy, and have no time left for God. This excessive love of knowledge occurred in Ancient Greek culture, but also in the Enlightenment that brought in modern society in the 17th century.
Today philosophy continues to be an alternative to religious faith. The fool can be both very clever and very far from God.
I would say that wisdom is profitable, but do not love the gift above the Giver. Wisdom is a gift given by God to the upright of heart.
The gift without the Giver leads to pride. The church has also been guilty of this. Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople built in 532 AD was the largest cathedral, with the largest dome in the world for nearly a thousand years. But this crowning glory of the church was removed in 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Muslims and the church became a mosque.
Again and again philosophy and ‘erudite’ knowledge has replaced faith in the church. This is not to say that knowledge is wrong, but the use given to it can be wrong.
To return to the Apocryphal book of Wisdom, in chapter 8:13 it is stated: “Thanks to her I shall win immortality, and to those who come after me I shall leave an everlasting memory.” In chapter 9:18 that the human race has been set on the right path by wisdom and “were saved by Wisdom.” This does not accord with the Christian message of salvation.
12. Value of the Apocryphal Books
Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran Caves date from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD. The scrolls include entire books of the Hebrew Scriptures, Apocryphal books of the Bible and extra-biblical manuscripts some of which relate to the Essene community. They throw light on Rabbinic Judaism of the Second Temple era and the emergence of Christianity. It is thought that the Jewish sect called the Essenes conserved the scrolls and hid them.
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain parts of all books belonging to the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) except the book of Esther. (Esther was married to a Persian king and the festival of Purim which this book describes did not feature in the Qumran calendar). The Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books found among these scrolls were Tobit, Baruch 6 (the letter of Jeremiah), Sirach and Psalm 151.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are labelled ‘Apokryphos’, ‘Apokalypsis’ or ‘Pseudepigrapha’:
‘Apokryphos’ means hidden. This word was used by Hellenized Jews for the deuterocanonical books which means ‘second canon’. Thus, the Apocrypha was a hidden second canon.
Other books found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls were those labelled ‘Apokalypsis’ which means the revelation of secrets. Apocalyptic writings include the book of Daniel.
In Judaism the ‘Apokryphos’ books called the ‘outer books’ were not canonized in the Hebrew Bible. Many of them were written by Jews during the Second Temple period after the Hebrew Bible had been compiled.
The Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church accept the books of the Apocrypha as part of their Biblical canon in various degrees, whereas all the Protestant churches that came after the Reformation do not have them in their Bibles. Some Protestants accept that some of these books have value, but they would not give them the status of books of the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls also contained books labelled ‘Pseudepigrapha’ which means writings under false names. These books include the Book of Enoch, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Assumption of Moses written with pseudonyms.
References in Jude in the New Testament to the Assumption of Moses and the book of Enoch (Jude chapter 9; Jude 14:15) shows that these books were read at the time of Jesus.
Book of the Wisdom of Solomon
As already mentioned, the author of the book of the Wisdom of Solomon could have been Aristobulus who corresponded with Judas Maccabeus in 150 BC. The book addresses kings, and Aristobulus was the teacher of King Ptolemy. It was not written by King Solomon.
The book seems to contain some theological errors. For this reason, I would not include this book in the Bible.
A second reason is that the book of Wisdom ends in a long discourse about the stupidity of the Egyptians who pursued the Israelites when they left Egypt in the Exodus. When you consider that Wisdom was probably written by a Jew living in Egypt, you could imagine that this discourse could lead to renewed persecution of the Jews living there, so this negative part of the book seems unwise. The objective of the author of Wisdom was to promote Jewish wisdom and learning, and win a place for exiled Jews including himself.
I would put the Wisdom of Solomon with the books labelled Pseudepigrapha.
Apocryphal books not included in Catholic Bibles:
3 and 4 Maccabees
The books 3 and 4 Maccabees were written in Greek and conserved only in Constantinople by Orthodox Christians. They are not used or recognized by Catholics or Protestants.
The theme of these two books follows the details of martyrdoms among Jewish Maccabean followers, especially the martyrdom of Eleazar.
The mention of Simon the High Priest who was martyred in 134 BC dates the books to after this time, and the mention of martyrdom by being trampled by elephants may refer to an event which according to the historian Josephus took place under Ptolemy VIII Physcon some time between 146 and 117 BC.
The author of 3 and 4 Maccabees could have been Yeshua ben Sira’s grandson who went to Egypt in 132 BC. The reason for this connection is the insistence on the martyrdom of Eleazar to whom this author was related. The books are a repetition of the history given in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. 4 Maccabees original name was ‘On the Sovereignty of Reason’ as it was also about wisdom.
It is as well not to include 3 and 4 Maccabees in the Bible as they are a repetition of previous books.
The Book of Odes
The Book of Odes is a collection of songs taken from the Old and New Testaments to use in Eastern Orthodox liturgy. It is therefore not a Bible book.
Apocryphal Books of Value:
1 and 2 Maccabees
These two books are historically valuable. Maccabees helps fill in the Second Temple time between the last of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament.
They show how Judaism formed during the centuries after the return from exile and how the Jewish nation survived in the years leading up to the coming of Christ.
The two books of Maccabees help fill the 400 year gap between the Old and New Testaments.
They give testimony to a strong belief in resurrection among those faithful to Judaism.
Extra parts of Bible books and additional books of Bible authors
There are extra Apocryphal chapters to the books of Daniel (chapters 13 and 14), Baruch has his own book called Baruch, and Ezra has 2 Esdras which is a messianic book with an evil empire appearing in the end times symbolized by a three-headed eagle. This final empire is overcome by the Messiah.
The additions to the book of Daniel: The Prayer of Azarias, Song of the Three Children, Susanna and the Elders, and Bel and the Dragon actually add a great deal of value and show the influence that Daniel had over Cyrus the Great who became a monotheist.
The book of Baruch has the letter sent by Jeremiah in Egypt to Baruch in Babylon. Ezra’s true messianic vision is revealed in books conserved by the church, but not conserved by Christian-era Jews.
Apocryphal books that should be excluded from the Bible are as follows:
- Book of Judith – due to it being attached to a pseudohistory
- Wisdom of Solomon – it is pseudepigrapha
- 3 and 4 Maccabees – repetition
- Book of Odes
Apocryphal books that should be included in the Bible canon:
- Book of Tobit
- Book of Sirach
1 and 2 Maccabees are valid as historical books allied to New Testament times.
I wrote that the authors of the Bible are represented by 24 elders who worship God in the book of Revelation. The Hebrew canon and Protestant Bibles only have 22 biblical authors. Two authors are missing. I suggest these two missing books are the book of Tobit and the book of Sirach. Both of these books are extremely valuable in their content.
The Apocryphal books found in conjunction with the Bible books among the Dead Sea Scrolls were Tobit and Sirach, as well as Baruch – an author already counted, and Psalm 151, a psalm of David already counted. Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls complete the canon of 24 authors of the Bible.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls Psalm 151 and Sirach are written in Hebrew, while Tobit is written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Other Apocryphal books found elsewhere at different archaeological sites are written in Greek only. Thus, on account of the original language being of importance, Tobit and Sirach pass the test setting them apart from the other books of the Apocrypha.
14 234 words
The NIV Study Bible – Introductory notes on each book in the Bible.
New Bible Commentary Carson, D. A., France R. T., Motyer J. A. And Wenham G. J. InterVarsity Press 1953, 1994
2 Esdras; 3 Maccabees; 4 Maccabees; Book of Daniel; Book of Odes; Book of Wisdom; Cyrus the Great; Darius I; Dead Sea Scrolls; Esra; Ben Sira; Book of Judith; Korahites; Land of Uz; LXX Septuagint; Nahum; Nineveh; Obadiah; Psalms; Samuel