The Prayer of Manasseh
Invocation#Although the Prayer of Manasseh is not regarded as canonical by Judaism, Protestantism, or Roman Catholicism, it is accepted as authoritative by the Eastern Orthodox churches. This document is not uniformly a part of Septuagint manuscripts. However, at the end of the Psalter the Greek manuscript codex Alexandrinus has some fourteen Odes, one of which is the Prayer of Manasseh. Apart from the title, the prayer itself does not indicate the name of the supplicant. It is thus possible to envision the prayer as appropriate to situations other than that of king Manasseh. Whether there may have been an original Hebrew or Aramaic form of this text is not known for certain. Most scholars seem to think that Jerome was unfamiliar with the Prayer of Manasseh, since he makes no mention of it when commenting on the biblical account of Manasseh. In addition to the Greek text of this prayer there are also translations into Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Old Slavonic, and Armenian. The present translation is based on the Greek text of the Göttingen edition.Of all the Davidic kings of the Old Testament none reigned longer than Manasseh (698-642 B.C.). He came to the throne as a twelve-year-old boy and reigned for some fifty-five years (2 Kgs 21:1; 2 Chr 33:1). However, his administration was not one viewed with favor by the biblical writers due to the enormity of his religious failures and his advocacy of many pagan practices. Reversing the reforms of his father Hezekiah, Manasseh encouraged the building of pagan altars and the worship of foreign deities; he was also responsible for putting to death many innocent people (2 Kgs 21:16). The following summary of his life is not encouraging: “He did evil before the Lord and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations whom the Lord drove out from before the Israelites” (2 Kgs 21:2; 2 Chr 33:2). Eventually Manasseh was deposed by the Assyrians who took him captive to Babylon, a humbling fate that the biblical historians interpreted as a fitting consequence of his sins. But while captive in Babylon Manasseh is said to have repented of his prior sins, praying for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. In answer to his prayer the Lord forgave him and restored him to his throne in Jerusalem (2 Chr 33:12-13). Although his prayer is not recorded in the Hebrew Bible, it is said to have been preserved in the archival records of the kings of Israel and in those of the prophets, neither of which has been preserved (2 Chr 33:18-19). It is the absence of this prayer from the biblical record that the apocryphal Prayer of Manasseh seeks to rectify. The author of this work voices a petition of the sort that Manasseh might have prayed while repenting and turning to the Lord during his stay in Babylon. The sincere piety so beautifully expressed in this prayer led to its finding considerable acceptance in early Christian liturgy. Apparently the earliest appearance of this work is found in the third century A.D. writing known as the Didascalia, which a couple of centuries later was included in the Apostolic Constitutions. The inclusion of the Prayer of Manasseh in these works probably played a significant role in later Christian familiarity with this work. The date of composition for the Prayer of Manasseh is uncertain, although most scholars favor a date in the first or second century B.C. The provenance of the Prayer is unknown, although some scholars suggest that its theology more closely resembles that of Palestinian Judaism during this period than that of Hellenistic Judaism (so, e.g., B. M. Metzger, Introduction to the Apocrypha, 125).
1 O Lord Almighty,
God of our ancestors#tn Grk “fathers.”
Abraham,#tc The Syriac translation adds “the God of” here for clarity. (The Leiden edition of the Peshitta presents two Syriac versions of the Prayer of Manasseh. The first is the text found in the Syriac biblical manuscripts and in the Didascalia Apostolorum, and the second is a very different recension found in the Melkite Horologia. References to the Syriac translation in the present notes have the first of these two texts in view.) Isaac, and Jacob,
and their righteous descendants,#tn Grk “seed.” The phrase seems to suggest that not all the descendants of the Patriarchs are actually to be included among the righteous. Cf. Rom 9:6.
2 you who created#tn Grk “made.” heaven and earth with all their orderly arrangement,#tn Or “decoration,” “ornamentation.” See J. Lust et al., Lexicon of the Septuagint, 2:264. The meaning of the Greek word kosmos here is not entirely clear. Since the writer is alluding to Gen 2:1, kosmos may be used in the sense of Hebrew sa’ba’ (“host”). In that case perhaps the reference is to the stars.
3 who shackled#tn Or “fettered.” the sea#tc The Syriac translation has an additional verb here: “and established it.” by the word#tc The Syriac translation reverses the order of this phrase, reading “by the command of his word.” of your command,#sn Cf. Job 38:8, 10, 11; Ps 104:9.
who closed up the abyss and sealed#sn This figurative use of sealing suggests ideas of ownership and security. The figure of speech is verbal hypocatastasis. it by your awesome#tn Or “fearful,” “terrible.” and glorious name;
4 at whose power#tn Grk “from before your power.” all things shudder#tn Or “quiver.” and tremble,
5 for your glorious magnificence#tn Grk “the magnificence of your glory.” is unbearable,#tn Or “unendurable” (so J. Lust et al., Lexicon of the Septuagint, 1:67). This is the only place this word is used in the Septuagint.
and the wrath of your threat against sinners cannot be resisted.#tn Or “is overwhelming.” Cf. Ps 123 :5.
6 Yet your promised mercy#tn Grk “the mercy of your promise.” cannot be measured or scrutinized.
7 For you are the Lord Most High,#tc The Syriac translation lacks “Most High.”
compassionate, longsuffering, and extremely merciful,#sn The language of the prayer at this point seems to be significantly influenced by the Septuagint of Joel 2:12-13, although echoes of other Old Testament passages (e.g., Exod 34:6; Ps 86:15; Jonah 4:2) can also be detected. In Ryle’s view certain aspects of the language used in a textual variant to v. 7 reflect a pre-Christian understanding, since it is unlikely that a Christian would have failed to mention in such a context as this that salvation comes through Christ. However, at best this would seem to mean only that the author was non-Christian (i.e., Jewish) but not necessarily pre-Christian, and even that does not seem to be a necessary conclusion. But see H. E. Ryle, APOT, 621-22.
and relenting at human#tn Grk “of men.” misfortunes.#tc The Syriac translation has the following plus: “You, O Lord, according to the kindness of your goodness promised forgiveness to those who repent of their sins. And by the multitude of your mercies you appointed repentance for the lives of sinners.” Certain Greek witnesses have a similar plus in v. 7.
Confession of Sin
8 Therefore, O Lord God of the righteous,#sn The writer uses phrases here (e.g., “Lord God of the righteous”) and elsewhere (e.g., “the God of those who repent,” v. 14) that are not drawn from the Old or New Testaments.
you have not appointed repentance for the righteous,
such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who have not sinned against you,
but you have appointed repentance to me a sinner.#sn The self-critical language used here (emoi to hamartolo) is almost identical to that used by the tax collector in the Gospels (moi to hamartolo). See Luke 18:13.
9 Because my sins outnumber#tn Grk “I have sinned beyond the number of.” the sand of the sea;
my lawless acts have increased, O Lord, they have increased,
and I am not worthy to gaze upon or to see the height of heaven
due to#tn Grk “from.” the multitude of my unrighteous acts.
10 I am bent over by the weight of many an iron bond;
consequently#tn The Greek infinitive construction (eis to ananeusai) is used here to indicate result or consequence. I am ready to give up#tn Grk “throw the head back” (as an expression of denial or refusal). See LSJ 113-14. The meaning here is rather unclear. Ryle in fact regards this as “the most difficult expression in the whole Prayer” and suggests that the text is probably corrupt (H. E. Ryle, APOT, 623). He suggests inserting a negative before the infinitive, a reading that is supported by codex Turicensis. This change yields the translation “I am bowed down . . . so that I cannot lift up my head” (cf. the Syriac translation). The English versions vary: “so that I am rejected because of my sins” (RSV); “that I cannot lift up mine head” (KJV); “I am crushed beneath the weight of my sin” (TEV); “so that I am rejected because of my sins” (NRSV). because of my sins.
I have no rest,
because I have provoked your wrath
and have committed evil in your sight,
erecting abominations#tc The Syriac translation renders this word by “idols” and the final noun in this line by “abominations.” and increasing the number of#tn Or “multiplying.” The words “the number of” are not in the Greek text but have been added in the translation for clarity. idols.#tn Grk “objects of wrath,” “offenses,” “provocations.”
Appeal for Forgiveness
11 So now I bow,#tn Grk “bend the knee of my heart.” The expression is a picturesque depiction of genuine humility and inner submission to God. begging for your kindness.#tn Grk “the kindness from you.”
12 I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I fully recognize#tn Grk “know.” my lawless acts.
13 I sincerely beseech#tn Grk “I ask, beseeching.” you:
forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!#tc The Syriac translation does not repeat the appeal for forgiveness.
Please do not destroy me along with my lawless acts!
Do not bear a grudge forever against me and thereby store up calamities#tn Grk “evils.” for me.
Do not sentence me to the lowest parts of the earth.#sn Presumably a reference to Sheol, or Hades, the unseen world of those who have died.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent.
14 May#tn The Greek construction used here is difficult. The verb deixes is a second person singular aorist active subjunctive; presumably it is employed here as a jussive to express a wish (“may you demonstrate”). However, such usage of the subjunctive is unusual (see J. H. Moulton, W. F. Howard, and N. Turner, Grammar of New Testament Greek, 3:94), although a jussive use of the future tense is common in the Septuagint due to Semitic influence (see F. C. Conybeare and St. George Stock, Grammar of Septuagint Greek, 72). The English versions usually translate this verb as a future, presumably following the Latin ostendes: “thou wilt shew” (KJV), “thou wilt manifest” (RSV), “you will manifest” (NRSV). you demonstrate#tn Or “show.” your goodness in me.
For although I am unworthy you will deliver#tn Or “save.” me by#tn Grk “according to.” your great mercy.
15 And I will praise you continually all#tn Grk “in.” the days of my life.
For all the powers of heaven sing praises to you.
And yours is the glory forever.#tc The Syriac translation has “and to you they sing forever and ever.” Amen.#sn Cf. the doxology at the end of the Lord’s prayer (Matt 6:13).