It is difficult to know how to treat Apocrypha; Biblical themed texts which have been excluded from the Bible. Some appear to be the historical equivalent of fan fiction. Others purport to contain prophesies and recorded the words of God. Sometimes they are a mix, so the line of discernment is blurry.
In a time without radio, TV, or the internet, coupled with literacy rates under an estimated 5%, it is likely that the relatively few written text stories were read aloud by the literate people to illiterate people as a form of teaching and entertainment. But illiterate people could have memorized the stories as told to them (and often did), and shared them with others creating an oral tradition. As the oral tradition was shared, it is possible that works originally written as fiction evolved into being considered true by the masses.
On the flip side, it is also quite possible, if not probable, that the order of creation was the opposite of what is described above. The story could have originated orally, could have been shared so much that it was considered true, and then, because of its popularity and imagined authenticity, could have been written down for posterity.
There is another option; that it was just an entertaining story that nobody really believed but everyone loved to hear.
I've only pointed to a few explanations above, when there could be many more across the spectrum of belief. The point is that it is a complex puzzle for us to unravel so many years later. This is especially true given that beliefs are rarely homogenous; local pockets of people could believe in what others know to be myths.
Even if all of the Apocrypha could categorically be considered false, like any human writing, they can contain truths about the human experience at the time in which they were written. They can illuminate customs and cultures. They can show what people thought about the world in which they lived; highlighting what they thought was possible, if not factual, in realm of the real and the supernatural.
Yet even that is not the completely picture. The written text to which we have access is most often not the original text. Through generations, the text was copied to preserve it. Each copy invited error. Each copy invited tweaking of the story. That tweaking could have been anything from correcting gaps in logic, to adapting the story for later times, to modifying it with the intent to promote a particular idea or cause.
In the Apocrypha we will take a close look at, we will find the character Belial portrayed as a ruler of demonic forces. This is the same Belial from 2 Corinthians 6:15, where we see:
What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? NIV
In the minds of the majority of the people of that time, Belial could be almost anything from a just a fictional portrayal of the ultimate evil, like Lord Voldemort, to a figure considered just as real as Christ Himself. Yet with the Biblical undertones of the Apocrypha, I would guess that it is very likely that at least some people believed Belial was real.
In December, I'll begin the exploration of some Apocrypha on this blog. :-)