Introducing the Apocrypha - deSilva

David. A. deSilva is a very well educated and intelligent scholar. This writer appreciates his contributions, but this reader was disappointed in this end with his introduction to the Apocrypha. I am critical of critical scholarship. I wrote a short and inadequate review of his text on Amazon, because Amazon offered and its Amazon not JBL or JETS. DeSilva responded with humor that I “returned disappointment for disappointment” (Amazon Review).

I was disappointed when I read deSilva’s text, Introducing the Apocrypha, to inform evangelicals (39–41). In deSilva’s intro to the chapter “Additions to Daniel,” he spoke of the legends and tales of Daniel in Daniel 1–12 (deSilva, 222 ). That is an appropriate position for a critical scholar, but not really evangelical. I must stand by Jesus’s attribution of the prophet Daniel to the book of Daniel (Matt 24:15).

In “Third Isaiah” of the Anchor Bible Dictionary, Christopher Seitz noted that critical analysis is speculation. He revealed, “It is one of the ironies of historical analysis in biblical studies that while skepticism over historical veracity rules in one part of the canon, other literary witnesses are accorded absolute historical reliability; the nature and dosage of selectivity is what produces different results” (3:502).

Are There Strengths to deSilva’s Introductions?

DeSilva’s introductions are very useful for presenting the author, date, and setting of each apocryphal writing. DeSilva provided more than simple dates. He explained how scholars date each document. He did not avoid admitting the limitations and difficulties of scholarship to date texts. A strength of deSilva’s book is that he provided the breadth of academic positions to become familiar. For instance, deSilva noted that the Jewish writer believed in the cessation of prophecy (1 Macc 4:46; 9:27; 14:41). Josephus also understood that prophecy ceased (Ag. Ap. 1.40–41).

Disappointment in deSilva’s Rejection of Biblical Inerrancy

What is so disappointing about deSilva’s introductions? DeSilva wrote to inform evangelicals (40). However, many of deSilva’s points appear to disregard

the inerrancy of the Bible. When deSilva addressed formative influences upon these texts, he placed much weight on redaction criticism and especially assuming at least portions of the Documentary Hypothesis even if for critical academic observations. For instance, deSilva identified a deuteronomistic pattern of sin leading to punishment in Tobit and Baruch (70, 207). This student can see his point, and that this pattern persists in apocryphal writings. However, deSilva’s assumption of redaction is a weakness to his text. DeSilva appeared to express disappointment that there was no deuteronomistic theology in 1 Maccabees (257). However, the Christian who accepts Moses’s authorship of Deuteronomy would expect Jews who keep the Torah to have a grasp of blessings for righteous living and curses for sinful living.

This reviewer finds that the author assumed the validity of the deuteronomist and asserted unattributed authors of these texts. In deSilva’s introduction of Baruch, he noted Second and Third Isaiah as actual authors of Isaiah (208). For the same reasons that some critical scholars accept the idea of Second Isaiah and reject Third Isaiah, this Christian rejects the assertion of Second Isaiah because of its speculative nature and inability to explain apocalyptic material throughout Isaiah 1–39 especially the Little Apocalypse (Isa 24–27). Critical scholars assuming redaction criticism push forward dates of OT books and splinter them into multiple redactors. The nature of critical scholarship appeals to the skeptical position of possibility over building a case for probability.

DeSilva also perceived, “Ben Sira has organized his material far better than the compilers of Proverbs did theirs, where it is rare to find two topical sayings side by side, his work still does not readily lend itself to outlines” (153). DeSilva’s position implies a human expectation of God-breathed Scripture when he asserted that Jesus ben Sirach better organized his material than the compilers of Solomon’s Proverbs. DeSilva placed biblical criticism over biblical inerrancy.

Did Jesus Get His Teachings from the Apocrypha?

DeSilva also attributed much of apocryphal writings to influencing the New Testament including Jesus. DeSilva stretched the NT to perceive allusions to the apocrypha. DeSilva declared that Jesus’s Great Invitation “brings together elements from Wisdom’s invitations to do the same” (195). These connections attribute a kind of plagiarism to the NT as though the NT claimed revelation from God from what an uninspired person had already written. Scholars should honestly consider any probable allusions of the apocrypha in the NT and not consider these as a threat to revelation because these share commonality. These writings share a common historical background. However, Jesus did not borrow from the apocrypha. If as deSilva presented that Jesus of Nazareth likely borrowed from Jesus ben Sirach, a believer may understand that Jesus Christ confirmed what Jesus ben Sirach deduced (194). Instead of Jesus taking the Golden Rule from Tobit, the agreements and similarities between Jesus’s moral teachings and other ancient sources like Tobit most probably confirm the natural moral law that Paul noted that is apparent in the Apocrypha (Rom 2:14–15). However, my concern is that deSilva and others assert that the NT present its teachings as revelation from God, yet critical academics credit these teachings to other sources like the Apocrypha. For instance, deSilva suggested the possibility that the ascension of the angel Raphael in Tobit 12 was the model of the NT writers to form the accounts of Jesus’s ascension. Furthermore, deSilva also noted that Jesus’s words resonate the angel’s words about doing God’s will. This is another stretch. DeSilva found that angelology and demonology in the NT developed from the Apocrypha rather than from the influence of reality and the OT (83).

Did Paul Borrow from the Apocrypha?

DeSilva made similar observations that Paul drew from the Wisdom of Solomon 13–14 concerning idolatry and wrote Romans 1 (150). However, this reviewer does not see much that is similar. One can expect similar conclusions about idolatry and its production of wickedness from most Jewish or Christian perspectives. DeSilva also appeared to miss that Paul’s panoply of God most likely came from Isaiah and certainly the guidance of the Spirit. This concept of armor is not from the Wisdom of Solomon 5:17–20 as deSilva asserted (151). One can expect the NT writers to express their humanity in the Bible. Their background may resemble the inherited worldview of Second Temple Judaism, yet this does not mean that the NT writers compromised the full guidance of God’s Spirit in writing Scripture. As Christ is fully God and fully human, the Scriptures are fully God-breathed and fully human.

Conclusion

I was looking for a reliable introduction to the apocrypha, but I get to read the speculations of critical scholarship. My concern increases when any scholar critiques the Bible especially when he professes that he believes. DeSilva disregards biblical inerrancy, and for that, I was disappointed.


Bibliography

David A. deSilva. Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance. Grand Rapids: Bakers, 2002.

Freedman, David Noel, ed. Pages 470–507 in vol. 3 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.