Prayer of Manaseh
Who is Manasseh?
He was the son of King Hezekiah, who died when he was only 12 years old, according to 2 Kings 21:1, and reigned 55 years over Jerusalem. Scholars date his reign from 687 to 642 BCE (according to W.F. Albright). As much as his Father pleased Yahweh, Manasseh displeased him by letting in foreign gods, building altars for them, making his son pass through the fire, practicing incantations and divination, installing necromancers and diviners, shedding innocent blood.
When the author of 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 takes up this account, he rewrites the story: no doubt influenced by Manasseh's long life of 55 years, thus a blessing according to the Jewish vision, his life now unfolds in two parts: in the first part, we see in action the sinful man who does everything that is abominable in the eyes of Yahweh, exactly the list that the book of Kings told us about; but all this triggers the anger of Yahweh who makes the Assyrian generals intervene to capture Manasseh and take him as a prisoner to Babylon, which begins the second part of the story: to appease Yahweh, Manasseh humbles himself and begins to beg him, recognizing him as the true God, finally leading to his forgiveness, so that he is reinstated in his kingdom. In this second part, we find a new Manasseh who removes foreign deities from Jerusalem, re-establishes the altar of Yahweh, offers sacrifices of communion and praise and orders the Judeans to serve Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Origin of the prayer
This prayer probably originated with a Jew in Jerusalem in the second or first century BC who, upon rereading 2 Ch 33:13 (Manasseh prayed to Yahweh and he yielded to him), felt the need to fill in a gap, i.e., the content of the Prayer of Manasseh. Scholars have much debated the original language of the prayer, many proposing that it was first written in Greek. Indeed, the earliest evidence for the prayer comes from the Didascalia or Didascalia Apostolorum, a third-century writing purporting to be written by the Apostles on the occasion of the Council of Jerusalem around 51 CE; yet, the version we have of the Didascalia is a Syriac translation of an original Greek version. Moreover, the Apostolic Constitution, a Greek writing of the 4th century, largely repeats the Didascalia, including the Prayer of Manasseh. Thus, it was natural to assume that the prayer was first written in Greek.
But careful study of the prayer has brought out the same Semitic style found in hundreds of prayers, hymns and odes of early Judaism. This has been observed by someone like J.H. Charlesworth who notes that this prayer shares with the other prayers of Judaism the idea that God is near and that he listens to the voice of the humble who repents. Moreover, this prayer is an expansion of the second book of Chronicles, just as Bel and the Dragon, Susanna and the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Men in the Furnace are an expansion of the book of Daniel.
E. Nodet, in an article published in the Revue Biblique, goes even further: not only was this prayer originally written in Hebrew, but it was part of a version of the 2nd book of Chronicles where it was added, a version known to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. The latter is wont to refer to the Hebrew version of the Bible, and in his Jewish Antiquities (10:42-47) he refers to the story of Manasseh, and although he does not quote the Prayer of Manasseh as it stands, in keeping with his habit of never quoting a prayer as it stands, he does pick up some of its ideas with a number of Hebraisms. Nodet adds to the record the discovery at the geniza in Cairo of a Hebrew fragment entitled: Prayer of Manasseh, a variant of the version of the prayer found in Greek and Syriac; although many elements of the fragments found are a retroversion of the Greek and Syriac, they reflect an ancient tradition of the Jewish community. Finally, the remains of a non-canonical hymnbook that includes a Prayer of Manasseh have been found in Cave 4 of Qumran (4 Q 381): although the vocabulary is different, the content is similar. What to conclude? The Hebrew witnesses found at Qumran and at Cairo are very different, without direct dependence. One must therefore consider at least two versions of the Prayer of Manasseh, and this is what is suggested by 2 Ch 33:18-19, which indicates that the prayer is preserved in two distinct collections: it appears with the Acts of Manasseh in the archives of the kings of Israel (cf. 2 Kgs 21:17), but without God's response, and it is also in the words of Hozai with God's favorable response as well as the details of the cultic faults.
The Prayer of Manasseh in History
As mentioned, the earliest evidence comes from the Syriac version of the Discalogue of the Apostles from the 3rd c., and then from the Greek text of the Apostolic Constitution from the 4th c., and it is also found in the Alexandrinus (5th c.) and Turicensis (7th c.) codices; thus, the prayer is present in some versions of the Septuagint. Several Church Fathers such as John Chrysostom (349-407) (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew) or Cyril of Alexandria (378-444) (Homily 14 on Death and Parousia) mention this prayer or quote from it to illustrate the theme of conversion and the possibility of salvation for sinners.
Until at least the sixth century, the Latin translation of the Prayer of Manasseh was part of the corpus of biblical hymns used in some Latin liturgies. Manuscripts of the 13th-century Parisian version of the Vulgate (St. Jerome's Latin version) as well as early printed editions of the Vulgate, including the Mainz Bible 1452, include it following chapter 36 of the second book of Chronicles, sometimes with a title, sometimes without distinction. In the Summa Theologica (III, 84, 5 and 10), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) quotes verses 8 and 9 as if the prayer were at the end of the 2nd book of Chronicles.
The presence of this prayer in Luther's Bible (1534) among the "apocrypha" is explained by Luther's admiration for this prayer. It is also found in the Olivetan Bible (1535, with the apocrypha), in the Geneva Bible (1546, at the end of 2 Ch 33), and in the King James (1611, with the apocrypha). On the Catholic side, the Sixto-Clementine version of the Vulgate, promulgated in 1592 in application of the decrees of the Council of Trent, places it after all the biblical books (as an appendix), specifying that the Prayer of Manasseh is not part of the corpus of Scripture defined by the Council of Trent, but that it is appropriate to preserve its memory, since it is quoted by certain Fathers and is found in certain manuscripts of the Bible.
Today, in the Orthodox monastic tradition, the prayer is read each evening at the service of High Compline during Lent. It is still found today in the Book of Common Prayer of the American Episcopal Churches.
- James H. Charlesworth, Prayer of Manasseh, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, v. 2, ed. James H. Charlesworth. Doubleday: Garden City, 1985, p. 525-537
- Stefan Munteanu, Prière de Manassé et Psaume 151: new French edition of the Ecumenical Bible Translation (2010) in https://www.bible-service.net/extranet/current/pages/200031.html
- Étienne Nodet, Prières de Manassé (2 Ch 33,1*; TSK 1.144*; 4 Q 381), Revue Biblique, 117(2010), 345-360.
General invocation (1-4)
- Titles of God : God of our fathers
- God the creator: he made heaven and earth
- God the savior: evocation of the exit from Egypt
Reminder of the characteristics of God (5-7)
- Even if no one can counter God's anger, it is his mercy that prevails
Call for God's forgiveness (8-13)
- General principle: it is the sinner, like Manasseh, who needs to repent
- Manasseh confesses the multitude of his sins
- His sins are so numerous that there is no forgiveness possible
- Call for God's forgiveness as he acknowledges his faults and repents
Expression of confidence that he will be forgiven (14-15)
- God will save him by his mercy
- And Manasseh will praise God all his life
Note: The Greek text is mainly the Septuagint text found in the Odes, more specifially Ode 12. The English translation of the Greek text is from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), with minor edits for a more literal meaning. We have also provided the English translation by J.H. Charlesworth which is based on the Syriac text.
|Verse||Greek Text||NRSV Translation||Charlesworth Translation|
| ||προσευχὴ μανασση ||Prayer of Manasseh ||Prayer of Manasseh |
|Invocation and praise of the creator|
ὁ θεὸς τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν
τοῦ αβρααμ καὶ ισαακ καὶ ιακωβ
καὶ τοῦ σπέρματος αὐτῶν τοῦ δικαίου
|O Lord Almighty,|
God of our ancestors,
of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob
and of their righteous offspring;
|O Lord, God of our fathers,|
God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, and of their righteous offspring;
| || || || |
|2||ὁ ποιήσας τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν|
σὺν παντὶ τῷ κόσμῳ αὐτῶν
|you who made heaven and earth|
with all their order;
|He who made the heaven and the earth|
with all their embellishment;
|3||ὁ πεδήσας τὴν θάλασσαν τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ προστάγματός σου|
ὁ κλείσας τὴν ἄβυσσον
καὶ σφραγισάμενος τῷ φοβερῷ καὶ ἐνδόξῳ ὀνόματί σου
|who shackled the sea by your word of command,|
who confined the deep
and sealed it with your terrible and glorious name;
|He who bound the sea|
and established it by the command of his word,
he who closed the bottomless pit
and sealed it by his powerful and glorious name;
|4||ὃν πάντα φρίττει|
καὶ τρέμει ἀπὸ προσώπου δυνάμεώς σου
|at whom all things shudder,|
and tremble before your power,
|He (before) whom all things fear and tremble;|
(especially) before your power.
|5||ὅτι ἄστεκτος ἡ μεγαλοπρέπεια τῆς δόξης σου|
καὶ ἀνυπόστατος ἡ ὀργὴ τῆς ἐπὶ ἁμαρτωλοὺς ἀπειλῆς σου
|for your glorious splendor cannot be borne,|
and the wrath of your threat to sinners is unendurable;
|Because the grandeur of your magnificence|
cannot be endured,
and none can endure or stand before
your anger and your fury against sinners;
|6||ἀμέτρητόν τε καὶ ἀνεξιχνίαστον|
τὸ ἔλεος τῆς ἐπαγγελίας σου
|yet immeasurable and unsearchable|
is your promised mercy,
|But unending and immeasurable|
are your promised mercies;
|7||ὅτι σὺ εἶ κύριος ὕψιστος|
εὔσπλαγχνος μακρόθυμος καὶ πολυέλεος
καὶ μετανοῶν ἐπὶ κακίαις ἀνθρώπων
Σὺ, Κύριε, κατὰ τὸ πλῆθος τῆς χρηστότητός σου
ἐπηγγείλω μετάνοιαν καὶ ἄφεσιν
τοῖς ἡμαρτηκόσιν σοι,
καὶ τῷ πλήθει τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν σου
ὥρισας μετάνοιαν ἁμαρτωλοῖς εἰς σωτηρίαν.
|for you are the Lord Most High,|
of great compassion, long-suffering, and very merciful,
and feeling sorry over the evils of men.
You, Lord, according to your great goodness
you have promised repentance and forgiveness
to those who have sinned against you,
and in the multitude of your mercies
you have appointed repentance for sinners,
|7a Because you are the Lord,|
long-suffering, and merciful, and greatly compassionate;
and you feel sorry over the evils of men.
7b You, O Lord, according to the sweetness of your grace,
promised forgiveness to those who repent of their sins,
and in the multitude of your mercies
appointed repentance as the salvation for sinners.
|8||σὺ οὖν κύριε ὁ θεὸς τῶν δικαίων|
οὐκ ἔθου μετάνοιαν δικαίοις
τῷ αβρααμ καὶ ισαακ καὶ ιακωβ τοῖς οὐχ ἡμαρτηκόσιν σοι
ἀλλ ἔθου μετάνοιαν ἐμοὶ τῷ ἁμαρτωλῷ
|Therefore you, O Lord, God of the righteous,|
have not appointed repentance for the righteous,
for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against you,
but you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner.
|You, therefore, O Lord, God of the righteous ones,|
did not appoint grace for the righteous ones,
such as Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob,
those who did not sin against you;
but you appointed grace for me, (I) who am a sinner.
|9||διότι ἥμαρτον ὑπὲρ ἀριθμὸν ψάμμου θαλάσσης|
ἐπλήθυναν αἱ ἀνομίαι μου κύριε ἐπλήθυναν
καὶ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἄξιος ἀτενίσαι καὶ ἰδεῖν τὸ ὕψος τοῦ οὐρανοῦ
ἀπὸ πλήθους τῶν ἀδικιῶν μου
|For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea;|
my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord, they are multiplied!
I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven
because of the multitude of my iniquities.
|9a Because my sins multiplied in number more than the sand of the sea,|
and on account of the multitude of my iniquities,
I have no strength so that I can lift up my eyes.
9b And now, O Lord, I am justly afflicted,
and as I deserve I am harassed;
for already I am ensnared.
|Confession of Sins|
|10||κατακαμπτόμενος πολλῷ δεσμῷ σιδήρου|
εἰς τὸ ἀνανεῦσαί με ὑπὲρ ἁμαρτιῶν μου
καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν μοι ἄνεσις
διότι παρώργισα τὸν θυμόν σου
καὶ τὸ πονηρὸν ἐνώπιόν σου ἐποίησα
στήσας βδελύγματα καὶ πληθύνας προσοχθίσματα
|I am weighted down with many an iron fetter,|
so that I am rejected because of my sins,
and I have no relief;
for I have provoked your wrath
and have done what is evil in your sight,
setting up abominations and multiplying offenses.
|And I am bent by a multitude of iron chains,|
so that I cannot lift up my head;
for I do not deserve to lift up my eyes
and look and see the height of heaven,
because of the multitude of the iniquity of my wicked deeds,
because I did evil things before you,
and I provoked your fury,
and I set up idols and multiplied defilement.
|Supplication for Pardon|
|11||καὶ νῦν κλίνω γόνυ καρδίας|
δεόμενος τῆς παρὰ σοῦ χρηστότητος
|And now I bend the knee of my heart,|
imploring you for your kindness.
|And now behold I am bending the knees of my heart before you;|
and I am beseeching your kindness.
|12||ἡμάρτηκα κύριε ἡμάρτηκα|
καὶ τὰς ἀνομίας μου ἐγὼ γινώσκω
|I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,|
and I acknowledge my transgressions.
|I have sinned, O Lord, 1 have sinned;|
and certainly I know my sins.
|13||αἰτοῦμαι δεόμενός σου|
ἄνες μοι κύριε ἄνες μοι
μὴ συναπολέσῃς με ταῖς ἀνομίαις μου
μηδὲ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα μηνίσας τηρήσῃς τὰ κακά μοι
μηδὲ καταδικάσῃς με ἐν τοῖς κατωτάτοις τῆς γῆς
ὅτι σὺ εἶ κύριε ὁ θεὸς τῶν μετανοούντων
|I earnestly implore you,|
forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
|I make supplication before you;|
forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
and do not destroy me with my transgressions;
and do not be angry against me forever;
and do not remember my evils;
and do not condemn me and banish me to the depths of the earth!
For you are God of the repenters.
|14||καὶ ἐν ἐμοὶ δείξῃς τὴν ἀγαθωσύνην σου|
ὅτι ἀνάξιον ὄντα σώσεις με κατὰ τὸ πολὺ ἔλεός σου
|and in me you will manifest your goodness;|
for, unworthy as I am, you will save me according to your great mercy,
|And in me you will manifest all your grace;|
and although I am not worthy,
you will save me according to the multitude of your mercies.
|15||καὶ αἰνέσω σε διὰ παντὸς ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς ζωῆς μου|
ὅτι σὲ ὑμνεῖ πᾶσα ἡ δύναμις τῶν οὐρανῶν
καὶ σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας αμην
|and I will praise you continually all the days of my life.|
For all the host of heaven sings your praise,
and yours is the glory forever. Amen.
|Because of this (salvation) I shall praise you continually|
through all the days of my life;
because all the hosts of heaven praise you,
and sing to you forever and ever.