Glossary of Terms

The Prayer of Manasseh


Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Prayer of Manasseh, the, a penitential prayer composed by a pious Jew sometime during the second or first century b.c. It is typical of Jewish prayer during the intertestamental period (ca. 160 b.c.-a.d. 45; cf. Tob. 3:2-6, 11-15; Jth. 9:2-14; Rest of Esther 13:9-11; 14:3-19; Song of the Three Children 3-22), yet goes beyond the typical to provide perhaps the finest example of the genre. Its parts include:

I. Invocation of God (v. 1)

II. Ascription of praise, mentioning both God’s wrath and his mercy to sinners (vv. 2-8)

III. Confession of sin (vv. 9-10)

IV. Supplication for God’s pardon (vv. 11-15a)

V. Doxology (v. 15b).

The prayer was suggested by 2 Chron. 33:12-13, 18-19, where the idolatrous king, Manasseh, is said to have prayed to God for forgiveness, and its intended audience may have been Jews who had broken the first or second commandment (Exod. 20:1-6) in responding to the lure of Hellenistic culture. The theme is the efficacy of repentance in securing God’s pardon for the wicked. In speaking of guilt as a weight or burden (v. 10), the work contains perhaps a hint of the Hellenistic theme of the psychological self-punishment of the guilty (cf. Wisd. of Sol. 17:1-21; Philo Flaccus 162-80). The metaphors for this experience seem also to reflect the details of the punishment of the fallen angels in 1 Enoch 9:4, 11-12; 13:5; 54:1-5; 56:1-4—the petitioner is weighed down by iron fetters, cannot lift his face to heaven, and asks God not to condemn him to the depths of the earth (vv. 9-10, 13).

Because of its brevity, the Prayer of Manasseh cannot be dated with any certainty, nor can its place of composition or original language be easily fixed. It is not found in the Hebrew Bible, and is attested only in the third century a.d. in Christian sources. Appearing in only a few Septuagint (lxx) manuscripts, generally appended to the Psalms, the Prayer of Manasseh was apparently unknown to the Bible scholar Jerome in the fourth century b.c. Protestants include it among the Apocrypha. It was not present in the edition of the Vulgate declared canonical by the Council of Trent and, when printed in Catholic Bibles, it is placed with 1 and 2 Esdras in an appendix to the nt. It is considered canonical in Eastern Orthodoxy.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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