MANASSES, THE PRAYER OF
2. Canonicity and Position
4. Original Language
6. Author and Motive
8. Text and Versions
The Prayer of Manasses purports to be, and may in reality be, the prayer of that king mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33:13,18 f.
A. it is called simply "A Prayer of Manasses," in the London Polyglot "A Prayer of Manasses, King of the Jews." Its title in the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) is "A Prayer of Manasses, King of Judah, when He Was Held Captive in Babylon." In Baxter's Apocrypha, Greek and English this Prayer appears at the end with the heading "A Prayer of Manasses, son of Ezekias" (equals Hezekiah).
2. Canonicity and Position:
The Greek church is the only one which has consistently reckoned this Prayer as a part of its Bible. Up to the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563 AD), it formed a part of the Vulgate, but by that council it was relegated with 3 and 4 (1 and 2) Esdras to the appendix (which included uncanonical scriptures), "lest they should become wholly lost, since they are occasionally, cited by the Fathers and are found in printed copies. Yet it is wholly absent from the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) of Sixtus V, though it is in the Appendix of the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) of Clement VIII. Its position varies in manuscripts, versions and printed editions of the Septuagint. It is most frequently found among the odes or canticles following the Psalter, as in Codices Alexandrinus, T (the Zurich Psalter) and in Ludolf's Ethiopic Psalter. In Swete's Septuagint the Psalter of Solomon followed by the odes (Odai), of which The Prayer of Manasseh is the 8th, appear as an Appendix after 4 Maccabees in volume III. It was placed after 2 Chronicles in the original Vulgate, but in the Romanist Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) it stands first, followed by 3 and 4 (1 and 2) Esdras in the apocryphal Appendix. It is found in all manuscripts of the Armenian Bible, where, as in Swete's Septuagint, it is one of many odes. Though not included in Coverdale's Bible or the Geneva VS, it was retained (at the close of the Apocrypha) in Luther's translation, in Mathew's Bible and in the Bishops' Bible, whence it passed into our English Versions of the Bible.
According to 2 Chronicles 33 (compare 2 Kings 21) Manasseh was exiled by the Assyrians to Babylon as a punishment for his sins. There he became penitent and earnestly prayed to God for pardon and deliverance. God answered his prayer and restored him to Jerusalem and to the throne. Though the prayer is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33:13,18, it is not given, but this lack has been supplied in the The Prayer of Manasseh of the Apocrypha. After an opening invocation to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Judah and their righteous seed, the Creator of all things, most high, yet compassionate, who has ordained repentance, not for perfect ones like the patriarchs who did not need it, but for the like of the person praying, there follows a confession of sin couched for the most part in general terms, a prayer for pardon and a vow to praise God forever if this prayer is answered.
4. Original Language:
The bulk of scholars (Fritzsche, Reuss, Schurer, Ryssel, etc.) agree that this Prayer was composed in Greek. The Greek recension is written in a free, flowing and somewhat rhetorical style, and it reads like an original work, not like a translation. Though there are some Hebraisms, they are not more numerous or striking than usually meet us in Hellenistic Greek. It is of some importance also that, although Jewish tradition adds largely to the legends about Manasseh, it has never supplied a Hebrew version of the Prayer (see VERSIONS; TEXT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT). On the other hand, Ewald (Hist. Isr, I, 186; IV, 217, note 5, German edition, IV, 217 f), Furst (Gesch. der bibl. Lit., II, 399), Budde (ZAW, 1892, 39), Ball (Speaker's Apocrypha) and others argue for a Hebrew original, perhaps existing in the source named of 2 Chronicles 33:18 f (see Ryssel in Kautzsch, Die Apocrypha des Altes Testament, 167).
Have we here the authentic prayer of Manasseh offered under the circumstances described in 2 Chronicles 33? Ewald and the other scholars named (see foregoing section), who think the Prayer was composed in Hebrew, say that we have probably here a Greek rendering of the Hebrew original which the Chronicler saw in his source. Ball, on the other hand, though not greatly opposed to this view, is more convinced that the Hebrew original is to be sought in a haggadic narrative concerning Manasseh. Even if we accept the view of Ewald or of Ball, we still desiderate evidence that this Hebrew original is the very prayer offered by the king in Babylon. But the arguments for a Greek original are fairly conclusive. Many Old Testament scholars regard the narrative of the captivity, prayer and penitence of Manasseh as a fiction of the Chronicler's imagination, to whom it seemed highly improper that this wicked king should escape the punishment (exile) which he richly deserved. So De Wette (Einleitung), Graf (Stud. u. Krit., 1859, 467-94, and Gesch. Bucher des Altes Testament, 174) and Noldeke (Schenkel's Bibelwerk, "Manasse"). Nothing corresponding to it occurs in the more literal narrative of 2 Kings 21, an argument which, however, has but little weight. Recent discoveries of cuneiform inscriptions have taken off the edge of the most important objections to the historicity of this part of Chronicles. See Ball (op. cit., 361) and Bissell (Lange's Apocrypha, 468). The likeliest supposition is that the author of the Prayer was an Alexandrian Jew who, with 2 Chronicles 33 before him, desired to compose such a prayer as Manasseh was likely to offer under the supposed circumstances. This prayer, written in excellent Alexandrian Greek, is, as Fritzsche points out, an addition to 2 Chronicles 33, corresponding to the prayers of Mordecai and Esther added to the canonical Es (Additions to Esther 13:8-14:19), and also to the prayer of Azarias (The So of the Three Children (Azariah) 1:2-22) and the So of the Three Young Men (The So of the Three Children (Azariah) 1:29-68) appended to the canonical Book of Daniel.
6. The Author and His Motive:
That the author was an Alexandrian Jew is made probable by the (Greek) language he employs and by the sentiments he expresses. It is strange to find Swete (Expository Times, II, 38 f) defending the Christian authorship of this Prayer. What purpose could the writer seek to realize in the composition and publication of the penitential psalm? In the absence of definite knowledge, one may with Reuss (Das Altes Testament, VI, 436 f) suppose that the Jewish nation was at the time given up to great unfaithfulness to God and to gross moral corruption. The lesson of the Prayer is that God will accept the penitent, whatever his sins, and remove from the nation its load of sufferings, if only it turns to God.
Ewald and Furst (op. cit.) hold that the prayer is at least as old as the Book of Chronicles (300 BC), since it is distinctly mentioned, they say, in 2 Chronicles 33:13,18 f. But the original form was, as seen (compare 4 above), Greek, not Hebrew. Moreover, the teaching of the Prayer is post-Biblical. The patriarchs are idealized to the extent that they are thought perfect and therefore not needing forgiveness (33:8); their merits avail for the sinful and undeserving (33:1) (see Weber, Jud. Theologie, 292). The expressions "God of the Just" (33:8), "God of those who repent" (33:13), belong to comparatively late Judaism. A period about the beginning of the Christian era or (Fritzsche) slightly earlier would suit the character (language and teaching) of the Prayer. The similarity between the doctrines implied in The Prayer of Manasseh and those taught in apocryphal writings of the time confirms this conclusion. There is no need with Bertholdt to bring down the writing to the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Fabricius (Liber Tobit, etc., 208) dates the Prayer in the 4th or 5th century AD, because, in his opinion, its author is the same as that of the Apostolical Constitutions which has that date. But the source of this part of the Apostolical Constitutions is the Didaskalia (3rd century), and moreover both these treatises are of Christian origin, the Prayer being the work of an Alexandrian Jew.
8. Text and Versions:
The Greek text occurs in Codices Alexandrinus, T (Psalterium Turicence 262, Parsons). Swete (OLD TESTAMENT in Greek, III, 802-4) gives the text of Codex Alexandrinus with the variations of T. It is omitted from the bulk of ancient manuscripts and editions of the Septuagint, as also from several modern editions (Tischendorf, etc.). Nestle (Septuaginta Studien, 1899, 3) holds that the Greek text of Codices Alexandrinus, T, etc., has been taken from the Apostolical Constitutions or from the Didaskalia. The common view is that it was extracted by the latter from the Septuagint.
The Latin text in Sabatier (Bib. Sac. Latin, III, 1038) is not by Jerome, nor is it in the manner of the Old Latin; its date is later.
The outstanding literature has been cited in the foregoing article. Reference may be made to Howorth ("Some Unconventional Views on the Text of the Bible," PSBA, XXXI, 89:
he argues that the narrative concerning Manasseh, including the Prayer in the Apostolical Constitutions, represents a portion of the true Septuagint of 2 Chronicles 33).
T. Witton Davies
These files are public domain.