The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


Festival Edition 2011

The Secret Writings

In February, whilst attending the Church of St Lawrence, Christ Church, Barbados, Rod heard an impressive sermon preached by the Revd Sandra Hazell, the priest-in-charge, on the subject of the Apocrypha. Curiosity was stirred within him to do some research in order to amplify what he already was aware of in outline, and being assisted by a transcript of the sermon with which the priest had generously provided him, entered into an investigation.

The word Apocrypha is from the Greek. In its original meaning it refers to writings which contained secret truths to be known only to the initiated. Thus, they were coded scrolls in the Greek language, not to be divulged to others. They grew out of both the Old and New Testament, differing therefrom by early scholars as not being canonical (authoritative). Later the term was applied to writings of doubtful authenticity. In the Roman church some of these were accepted as genuine at the Council of Trent in 1546. Apocryphal writings are generally rejected by Protestants, and the Church of England with some other Reformed churches study and read from them for edification. Indeed, the Articles of Religion of the Church of England states:

“...the Church doth read them for example of life and instruction of manners, yet it does not apply them in order to establish any doctrine.”

A single volume of Apocryphal texts is in the possession of Rod. These are:

Esdras I and II



Esther (extension)

Wisdom of Solomon



Song of the Three Holy Children

History of Susanna

Bel and the Dragon

The Prayer of Manasses

Maccabees I and II

The three Holy Children is an extension of the Book of Daniel, as also is Susanna (rejected because it was not in the Hebrew). Susanna is a tale where false witness would be given against her (blackmail) should she not accede to the desires of wicked men. One example of ambivalence in the validity of another text is the off-quoted verse (accompanied with great gravitas) in Ecclesiasticus 44 which starts - ‘Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us…’ and which is frequently wrongly attributed to Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament.

In these disputed texts there are social and historical writings such as Esdras and Maccabees (exploits of Judas Maccabeus). Philosophical works occur - The Wisdom of Solomon. There are moralistic novels-Tobit, Judith and Susanna - which repay close study. There are apocalyptic visions, prophetic and allegorical writings in Baruch and Esdras.

Rod particularly enjoyed the outwitting of the priests of Bel in the extension to the Book of Daniel, called “Bel and the Dragon”. In style and content some sections of the Apocrypha are very similar to the OT Book of Hebrews and the NT Book of Revelation of St John the Divine.

Whatever the canonical validity, a reading of these texts is most rewarding and instructive.

Rod Dawson