Prayer of Manesseh

The ‘Prayer of Manasseh’ is a very brief text which appears in neither the Jewish nor Christian canons of Scripture but which does appear in an appendix to the Vulgate. It was constructed on the basis of a passing remark in 2 Chronicles 33:18-19 which mentions a prayer by the wicked King Manasseh as an explanation for his exceptionally long reign. Since no prayer was included in the Chronicler’s account, one was constructed by a pious tradent, possibly in Greek, though no ancient Hebrew or Greek manuscript has yet been discovered.

1:2-7 The power of God extolled
1:8-10 The sorrow of the sinful state
1:11-12 Confession of sin
1:13-15 Petition for forgiveness

Date and authorship

The Prayer was authored in the 1st or 2nd century CE, in Greek, though Charlesworth opines that it was doubtlessly composed before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. However our earliest exemplar is a Syriac version, contained in the Didascalia. It was then translated into Latin and appended to various editions of the Vulgate. However, at the Council of Trent it was listed as non-canonical and has since failed to be deemed ‘Scripture’ by any segment of the Christian Church. The author is anonymous.

Interpretation

The Prayer, which is really quite lovely and meaningful, is best taken in its intended sense: as a prayer of confession and petition for forgiveness. It’s function is to express sorrow for sin and hope in God’s merciful forgiveness.

Reception history

The Prayer seems to have been known to various tradents and editors of various Apocryphal texts. Echoes of the Prayer are to be found in, for example, Joseph and Aseneth 12:5,12, and 2 Baruch 64:8. It’s appearance in both the Didascalia and the Apostolic Constitutions show that it was part of the liturgy of at least some segments of the Church.

Further reading

Prayer of Manasseh.” Part IV Fasc. 6 of The Old Testament in Syriac According to the Peshitta Version. Edited by The Peshitta Institute. Leiden: Brill, 2017.
Gutman, Ariel, and W. Th. van Peursen. The Two Syriac Versions of the Prayer of Manasseh. Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies 30. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2012.
Charlesworth, James. “Prayer of Manasseh (Second Century B.C. – First Century A.D.).” Pages 625-37 in vol. 2 of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983.