Prayer of Manasses

MANASSES, PRAYER OF mə nă’ ses (προσευχὴ Μανασση̂). The spelling Manasses in the KJV follows the Gr.; Manasseh, found in RSV, follows the Heb. spelling. It is a relatively brief (fifteen verses) penitential prayer which constitutes a separate book of the Apocrypha.

Background.

Of exceptional beauty and poignancy, this prayer embodies the best of Jewish piety and is attributed (but only in the title) to Manasseh, the king whose reign was the longest (696-642 b.c., but prior to 686 as co-regent with Hezekiah) and one of the most regrettable in the history of Judah. Manasseh, according to the OT account (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chron 33:1-9), turned from the ways of his father Hezekiah to a renewal of idolatry and to various iniquitous practices including the burning of his sons as offerings to pagan deities, as well as the shedding of “very much innocent blood” (2 Kings 21:16). The Chronicler gives us the additional information that God brought the Assyrians upon Jerusalem in judgment causing Manasseh to be taken captive to Babylon. (The exact date of this event is unknown, but it may have been c. 648 in connection with a widespread rebellion against Ashurbanipal.) In his dire need Manasseh turned to the Lord in repentance and the Lord heard his cry and brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem where he tried his best to undo in a few years the tragic deeds of his past. The Chronicler, in closing the narrative concerning Manasseh, twice refers to Manasseh’s prayer (2 Chron 33:18, 19) which, he says, is to be found in “the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” and also in “the Chronicles of the Seers (Hozai).” Unfortunately, neither these early sources nor the original prayer has survived. It is almost certain that what is known by the title “Prayer of Manasseh” is the creation of a much later author designed to fit the prayer mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33.

Author and date.

The author of the prayer is unknown. That he lived much later than the time of Manasseh seems probable from the form, content, and language of the prayer. The form follows a liturgical pattern which was common during the three or four centuries before the coming of Christ. Despite the fact that the author has specifically attempted to relate the content of the prayer to the situation of Manasseh (cf. the reference to the setting up of abominations and the iron fetters in v. 10), a number of the concepts of the prayer are more suitable to a later age, and particularly to postexilic Judaism. It seems probable that the author was a Hel. Jew, but it cannot be ascertained beyond doubt whether he wrote in Gr. or in Heb. If he wrote in Gr., his language contains several Hebraisms and possibly also reflects the influence of LXX phraseology. All of this uncertainty makes the determination of an approximate date difficult. The majority of scholars date the prayer sometime in the period 2nd cent. b.c. to the 1st cent. of our era, but the probability would seem to lie in favor of the earlier part of this time span, particularly the Maccabean era.

Content.

The author follows a well-defined pattern in formulating the prayer. He begins with an ascription of sovereignty and glory to the Creator who by virtue of His incomparable greatness is unapproachable, yet who has promised mercy and forgiveness having “appointed repentance for sinners, that they may be saved” (vv. 1-7). The vv. which follow (8-10) contain a moving confession of sin which is made in the first person. Thereupon comes the plea for mercy and forgiveness (vv. 11-14) and the prayer concludes with a doxology, the final words of which are reminiscent of the traditional ending of the Lord’s Prayer, “and thine is the glory for ever. Amen.”

Purpose and theology.

If the prayer may correctly be placed in the Maccabean age, the purpose in the author’s mind is readily apparent. Presumably it was written to fill the void caused by the unavailability of the documents which originally contained the prayer. The author, however, wrote not merely to satisfy this deficiency but also to speak a word to those of his own generation who had made the mistake of lapsing into idolatry. If there had been hope for the wicked Manasseh, the implied argument runs, how much more was there hope for the writer’s own contemporaries. A number of the theological ideas of the prayer although not impossible in an earlier period, fit well what is known of postexilic Judaism. This is particularly true of the emphasis upon God as “the God of those who repent” (v. 13), and the “God of the righteous” (v. 8), but also of other emphases such as the sinlessness of the patriarchs (v. 8), the combination of universalism and particularism (God, as sovereign Creator and as specially related to the patriarchs, vv. 1f., 8), and the power of the “glorious name” (v. 3). The prayer, however, by its nature centers upon the two main theological ideas of the abundance of God’s mercy and the efficacy of sincere repentance.

Canonicity and text.

Although the prayer appears among the Apoc., it is not included among those finally accepted as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church in the deliberations of the Council of Trent. It was not a part of the original Vul. (Jerome appears not to have known of it) nor was it originally to be found in the LXX. The earliest literary evidence concerning the prayer is its presence in the 3rd cent. Syr. Didascalia (II, 21), from which it was also taken up into the 4th cent. Apostolic Constitutions. (The lateness of this evidence has caused some scholars to date the prayer in the Christian era unnecessarily.) The prayer is found in Codex A (5th cent.) among the collection of Odes appended to the Psalms. Only in some later MSS was the prayer ever associated with 2 Chronicles, and after the Council of Trent the work was customarily relegated to an appendix.

The Gr. text is available in some eds. of the LXX (e.g., Rahlfs, as Ode 12). In Eng. tr. it is available in the Protestant Apoc. where it has held a place in the main editions of the Eng. Bible since its initial appearance in the Bible of Thomas Matthew (1537).

Bibliography

H. E. Ryle in R. H. Charles, APOT, I (1913), 612-624; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Books of the Apocrypha (1915), 404-410; E. J. Goodspeed, The Story of the Apocrypha (1939), 52-56; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949), 457-460; B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 123-128; L. H. Brockington, A Critical Introduction to the Apocrypha (1961), 100, 101; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (1965), 588.

See also

  • The Prayer of Manasses