Reviewed by Barbara GREEN , Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Graduate Theological Union
Harrington traces the origins of the book to the happy confluence of two situations: the conclusion of a regularly-taught class on suffering, the Bible and theology coincided with a request from his publisher to consider a book on the apocryphal texts, a long-standing area of interest for him. As he began searching for the appropriate optic for the apocrypha books, he noted how prominent the discussion of suffering was in those texts. Thus was born the current work, which examines sixteen apocryphal texts in terms of issues of theodicy: how to reconcile a just and powerful God with ubiquitous and multifaceted human suffering. Harrington rightly sees the book as best suited to graduate and undergraduate students rather than to scholars--though actually to both, insofar as some scholars need to teach these perhaps unfamiliar texts. He opens with an introductory essay (chapter 1) offering useful review information about the material under consideration, a clear summary of terminology, and a slightly wider matrix for these texts in Judaism and early Christianity. He examines each book using a set format: beginning with basic information, he reviews the content of the book and offers a suitably detailed outline; he then suggests the significance of each work; and he concludes with classic as well as recent bibliography. My review will synopsize his sense of the significance of these apocryphal books, i.e., issues to which they may serve as invitation, rather than summarizing his outlines. His chapters follow the order of the NRSV.
Chapter 2, on Tobit, raises issues of justice which pious individuals may anticipate in this life. Set in exile, the work nonetheless confirms the importance of the temple for Jewish life and shows at the same time an openness to the world outside Judaism. Chapter 3, dealing with the book of Judith, highlights the problem posed by the suffering of a people which has been faithful and suggests that the threat of evil is shown as a discipline and a test. Remarking briefly some of the gender issues which the text embeds, H. also comments on its popularity and fruitfulness in art and music. A fourth chapter, discussing the Esther additions, clarifies succinctly the complex textual traditions available for Esther and then characterizes the additions as making God's present more explicit in the narrative. Esther raises key questions about vengeance and gives nascent anti-Judaic sentiments to certain characters in the story. A similar chapter (9) lists the additions to canonical Daniel, which push to the fore issues of composition while also raising questions about innocent suffering, divine intervention (and the lack thereof), and the non-reality of other gods.
Chapter 5 treats Wisdom of Solomon, reviewing its philosophical arguments for the power and justice of God, particularly sketching God's action in history via Sophia. The strong case for immortality constrains the issues of suffering, and the character of Sophia shows links between the world of Judaism and both Hellenistic and early Christian texts. Chapter 6 treats Ecclesiasticus, which makes practical statements about a wide variety of subjects. The work also sees suffering as a test and a discipline, indeed as an inescapable part of human life--granted the possibility of the virtuous and shrewd to avoid it to some extent. H. notes some of its dismissive attitudes toward women and the unfortunate. His chapter 7 reviews the letter of Baruch (which H. distinguishes from other texts bearing that name), concerned with the sixth-century exile and its questions of how suffering can be related to the past and present of God's people. The letter raises, with a number of these other texts, the question of how to relate to one's enemies. The Letter of Jeremiah (chapter 8) shares the exilic situation with Baruch, anticipating temptations posed by idols and advising the community as to its response to this old and new temptation. The chapter reflects on the paradox of "Jeremiah's" parodic dismissal of this primal sin and offers some valuable insight into the emergence of monotheism from monolatry.
Harrington offers chapters (10, 11, 15 and 17 respectively) on 1,2,3 and 4 Maccabees, summarizing their issues of history and historiography, the suffering of the innocent--martyrs in particular--that they narrate while bringing into focus the sovereignty of God. Two chapters (12 and 16) also set straight the potentially confusing terminology of 1 and 2 Esdras, clarifying their relation to Ezras and to Nehemiah and 1 Chronicles. The Esdras-titled works highlight issues of exclusivity and ethnicity, with 1 Esdras detailing the rebuilding of people and cult after the Babylonian exile and 2 Esdras assaying imaginatively the final fraying of God's patience with the Jewish people. Finally, two chapters offer insight into apocryphal resettings of canonical topoi. The Prayer of Manasseh (Harrington's chapter 13) amplifies that evil king's repentance, thus raising the question of how God may respond to such action. And Psalm 151 (chapter 14) resets 1 Samuel 16-17 from the angle of David and gives Harrington an opportunity to suggest the significance of Qumran discoveries for the way in which we may understand all of these works to have been crafted, preserved and handed on.