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The Apocrypha

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The Apocrypha (from the Greek word meaning hidden or stored away) is made up of those sacred books of Jewish scripture which the translators of the 1611 King James Bible, the so-called 'Authorized' version, excluded from the Anglican Old Testament. In this the translators followed the Hebrew Bible which had come around 100 CE to place these books outside the Jewish canon. But there exists an older version of the Jewish scriptures, the so-called Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of around 250 BCE which predates the later decision to keep certain well-established books from the Hebrew Bible.

Many of these 'apocryphal' books had been part of Jewish Wisdom literature, often considered too holy or precious to be made commonly available. That the Book of Tobit was certainly in use as a sacred text among the Jews around the first century CE is confirmed by its discovery among the Dead Sea scrolls finds at Qumran. (Interestingly, other textual finds at Qumran demonstrate tendencies towards the cosmology of Zoroastrianism, which perceives human life as a struggle between twinned forces of good and evil.) The Eastern Orthodox Church still uses the older Septuagint translation for its Old Testament, so the Book of Tobit remains in currency there; as it does in the Catholic Bible, which, since the Council of Trent, 1546, has included those books which the Anglicans, following the lead of Martin Luther, called 'Apocryphal. St Jerome's translation in the fourth century, which became the so-called 'Vulgate', has Tobit blinded by swallows' dung than sparrows'. In the context of the story of Tobias's marriage, it is interesting to note that both these birds have associations with Aphrodite and other Eastern love deities.

Tobit, like Judith, or Esther, or Susanna is an example of an edifying early novel: the pious Jew who, against all adversity maintains his integrity by observance of his religious tradition even in exile and at the risk of his own life. That the tale includes other, somewhat unJewish, elements may have contributed to its removal from the Jewish canon.

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