Why it’s good for Protestants to hear from the Apocrypha.

When Cardinal Timothy Dolan moved to the podium to pray at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, his prayer may have struck you as oddly familiar.

The passage he prayed from is very similar to Solomon’s prayer for wisdom in 1 Kings 3. But, it’s not the version Protestant Christians know, because it’s not in the Bible that we read.

It comes, instead, from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book included in the Catholic and Orthodox churches’ Old Testament, but not included in Protestant churches’ Old Testament.

Wisdom of Solomon is one of the books found in a collection of early Jewish writings that Protestants call “The Apocrypha.” The books included in this collection were mostly written between 250 BC and AD 50; some within the land of Israel, others in a diaspora context (Jews living outside of Israel); some in Hebrew, others originally in Greek. The collection includes historical books (1 and 2 Maccabees), wisdom texts (Wisdom of Ben Sira, Wisdom of Solomon), liturgical works (Prayer of Azariah, Song of the Three, Prayer of Manasseh), historical fiction (Tobit, Judith, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon), prophetic literature (Baruch), apologetics (Letter of Jeremiah), and a much more “religious” version of Esther. While these are all Jewish texts, it was the reading practices and canonical debates of Christians that resulted in these representative texts becoming identifiable as a “collection” at all, because they are drawn from a much larger body of Jewish literature from the period.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians read the books of the Apocrypha as part of their Old Testament. They sometimes refer to these as the “Deuterocanonical” books—a …

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