Growing up, I thought the Bible was the just the King James Bible, unless you could read Greek and Hebrew. At some point I learned that Catholics had more books in their Bibles, and later still that some books didn’t count somehow, being “apocryphal.” The King James Bible had had them too, but separated out into a section between the Old and New Testaments, the same ones the Catholic Bibles had, so I thought, until some time in the 1800s when most publishers took the section of apocrypha out of the KJV.
So Christians disagree about just what is part of the Bible and what isn’t, and I want to err on the side of reading too much. I finished the Jerusalem Bible last year, and I hope to work through the King James, especially the Psalms and New Testament. My purpose in reading is not exclusively religious. I figured if Handel wrote an oratorio about Judas Maccabeus, it must be important enough for me to read, if only for the cultural references. Divinely inspired, canonical, duterocanonical, or apocryphal, Judith Beheading Holofernes is a common theme of art, likewise Tobit and the Archangel Raphael.
Turns out the KJV apocrypha and the ‘extra’ books in the Catholics’ Bibles are not quite the same books. Some material is divided differently among the books, the names of the books are confusing and variable, and there is material in the KJV apocrypha that isn’t in the Catholic canon: First Esdras, Second Esdras, and The Prayer of Manasseh. These three do appear in the appendix to the Vulgate, along with Psalm 151 and the Letter to the Laodicieans.
A year or so ago, I thought I had finally read the Bible, but is seems I missed those books. I missed 1 and 2 Esdras because I thought those were different names for Ezra and Nehemiah (and if you look at that link, I think you’ll agree my error was understandable). Until now I didn’t have a Bible that included 1 and 2 Esdras. The other day I got a copy of the King James Bible of 1611. I saw Esdras there in the Apocrypha, and gradually it dawned on me that there was material here I had not read.
So, now I’m reading First Esdras. If I’m going to say I have read the Bible, I don’t want to seem to quibble. “What about Tobit, and Second Esdras?” some wise guy would ask, and I wanted to answer “Oh sure; Esdras, of course, is apocryphal, but everyone who’s anyone reads Tobit.” That should be a conversation starter, but the conversation probably won’t really get going until I leave the room.