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The definition for the title word is: The word “pseudepigrapha” literally means “falsely ascribed writings,” and refers to works that falsely claim to be written by a specific author. (Rachel Klippenstein, J. D. B., & III, E. J. H. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Pseudepigrapha, Old Testament. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

And while some may be such works we have a hard time accepting the broad generalization applied to those works scholars reject as honest, legitimate documents. By that we mean that while some scholars claim a work is a false claim we call their judgement and assessment into question. Case in point:

Bauckham and Davila define the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha as “ancient books that claim to be written by a character in the Old Testament or set in the same time period as the Old Testament and recount narratives related to it, but which do not belong to the Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant biblical canons (IBID)

A book titled, for example, The Acts of Job, does not make the claim that Job wrote it. It merely tells us that the main character is a person named Job. Scholars would have to submit the actual passage where an author claims to be a biblical character before suggesting that the work is a falsely ascribed work.

What follows are excerpts from different works on this topic.


In the times immediately preceding and succeeding the commencement of

the Christian era there arose among the Jews a style of writing to

which the name Pseudepigraphic has been given, because most of the

works so composed appeared under the assumed name of some famous

person. They must not be considered in the light of literary

forgeries; they are not like Macpherson with his Ossian, or Chatterton

with his Rowley, fraudulent attempts at imposture; but the authors,

having something to say which they deemed worthy of the attention of

contemporaries, put it forth under the ægis of a great name, not to

deceive, but to conciliate favour.

A writer who ventured to

appropriate a celebrated title would take care to satisfy the

expectations raised by his pseudonym, and readers would believe that

no one would dare to challenge comparison with a great original who

was not qualified to sustain the character assumed. The most familiar

instance is, perhaps, the book known as the Wisdom of Solomon, wherein

the writer assumes the person of the great Israelite king, certainly

with no idea of deceiving his readers (for the language of the

treatise, the date and place of its composition, alike forbid any

notion of fraud), but with the view of supporting his opinions by the

highest authority, and as embodying sentiments which are such as the

son of David might have enunciated.

A similar impersonation is

familiar to us in the Book of Ecclesiastes, where Koheleth utters his

varied experiences through the mouth of Solomon, "son of David, king

in Jerusalem." Such a use of fiction has been common in all ages; it

is found in classical authors. Plato and Cicero introduced real

characters as vehicles for supporting or opposing their views. The

Apologies of Socrates, the speeches in Thucydides and Livy, are never

deemed to be intentional deceptions; the animus decipiendi is lacking;

and though they utter the words of the writers, and not those of the

persons represented, no one sees in them fraud and chicanery, but

every one regards them as legitimate examples of dramatic personation.

The Old Testament authors do not prefix their names to their works, as

they write, not for self-glorification, but to serve far higher


The only exception to this rule is found in the case of the

prophets, whose names and credentials were necessarily required, in

order to give weight and credibility to their announcements. In

accordance with this practice the uninspired apocalyptic writers

publish their visions, and lucubrations under the appellation of some

earlier worthy, whom with transparent impersonation they introduce

into their compositions. They might also claim the authority of the

titles of many books in the Old Testament which are presented under

the names of authors who certainly did not write them. No one supposes

that Ruth or Esther composed the books which bear their names, and

very little of the two books of Samuel are the work of that great


The Psalmists adopted the designations of David, or Asaph, or

the sons of Korah, because they echoed the spirit or employed the

forms found in their prototypes. Those who followed the footsteps of

these great predecessors, without their claim to inspiration, thought

themselves justified in winning attention to their utterances by

adventitious means, and boldly personated the eminent characters in

whose spirit they wrote. [1]

The value of these writings is considerable, and this for many

reasons; but that which chiefly concerns us is the light which they

throw upon Jewish belief at the most important era. Those which are

plainly antecedent to Christian times have their own special utility;

while the later productions, which belong to the first Christian

centuries, show the influence of new ideas even on those who retained

their affection for the old religion.

And both series are necessary for every study of the religious history of the Jews. It is perhaps

true that this apocalyptic literature was regarded with little favour

by the Rabbinic schools, and no dogmatic authority was attributed to

it; but it can be used as indicating current thought, just as we refer

to any contemporary document to denote popular opinion, though it be

not stamped with the authority of a teaching body.

The number of these

writings which are still extant, and the many more of which the titles

only have remained to our times, prove the wide prevalence of the

feelings which are embodied in them, and the profound impression which

such thoughts had made on the hearts of the people.

Omitting the works

which either in whole or in part have been submitted to modern

criticism, we have notices of the existence of many other apocalyptic

and pseudepigraphic compositions, whose titles pretty fairly explain

their contents. Of course, very many of the works enumerated in the

catalogues of extra-canonical writings are of Christian origin; but

even these are framed on the same lines as the earlier, and very often

repeat the ideas and give expression to the hopes found in the others.

The documents fall naturally into three classes. The first, of which

few representatives have reached us, may be called Lyrical. There is a

spurious production of this nature assigned to David in the Apostolical Constitutions, [4] but it is no longer extant. The only

important contribution to this class is the Psalter of Solomon, a

collection of eighteen psalms, written probably originally in Hebrew,

about half a century before the Christian era, but known to us only in

a Greek version.

The second class may be called Prophetical, and may be divided into

two sections, composed respectively of Apocalypses and Testaments.

Apocalyptic writings are very numerous, the most celebrated being the

Fourth Book of Esdras and the Book of Enoch. The former of these, as

it forms a portion of the Apocrypha in the Authorised Version of our

English Bible, has been copiously annotated of late years; the latter

from its length and importance demands special study.

The third class takes a historical or Haggadistic character. Its chief

representative is the Book of Jubilees, or Micro-Genesis, an enlarged

account of Biblical history down to the institution of the Passover,

with the chronology reduced to Jubilee periods. Other works of which

little is known are these: the History of Jannes and Jambres, the

magicians who opposed Moses at the court of Pharaoh; the Conversion of

Manasses, a different work from the Prayer of Manasses in our

Apocrypha; the Life of Adam; the Revelation of Adam; the Repentance of

Adam; the Daughters of Adam; the Gospel of Eve; the Story of Asenath,

Joseph's wife, and that of Noria, the wife of Noah.

#2. Rachel Klippenstein, J. D. B., & III, E. J. H. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Pseudepigrapha, Old Testament. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press

List of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

Organizing the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha can be difficult due to numerous factors, including the uncertainty of the dating of all the writings, as well as different writings having different titles. Charlesworth categorizes the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha into 65 works based upon their literary type (Charlesworth, OTP 1, xvi). The following list of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha broadly follows Charlesworth’s classification but does not include exactly the same list of works.

(This list does not cover literature that resembles the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha but is known only from the Dead Sea Scrolls; for more information on these works, see this article: Dead Sea Scrolls, Nonbiblical.)

Apocalyptic Literature

This broad literary type contains writings in which an Old Testament hero claims to receive further revelation or disclosure, often concerning the end of time and history as well as information about heaven. This genre often contains visions. There is a heavy emphasis on angels in this genre.

  •      1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch—Dating between the second century BC and the first century AD, this book is a composite work written by numerous authors at numerous times, yet claims to be from the biblical Enoch, an early descendant of Adam.

  •      2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch—This possibly late first-century AD work is an amplification of Gen 5:21–32; it covers events from Enoch’s life to the onset of the flood.

  •      3 (Hebrew Apocalypse of) Enoch—This book from the fifth—sixth centuries AD claims to be the account of Rabbi Ishmael (prominent circa AD 110–135) and his journey into heaven, where he learned that the biblical character of Enoch was transformed into the angel Metatron.

  •      Sibylline Oracles—These various oracles, dating from the second century BC to the eighth century AD, are mainly concerned with predicting woes and disasters on specific nations and peoples, often functioning as examples of political propaganda.

  •      Treatise of Shem—A first century BC calendologion (an astrological work containing 12 chapters that correspond to the 12 zodiac signs).

  •      Apocryphon of Ezekiel—Only small portions of this first century BC to first century AD work attributed to Ezekiel exist. The longest surviving excerpt is a story about a blind man and a lame man.

  •      Apocalypse of Zephaniah.—This apocalypse dating from the first century BC to the first century AD is attributed to Zephaniah and claims to record a vision in which Zephaniah was shown heaven and Hades.

  •      The Fourth Book of Ezra—This late first-century AD book forms the core of what is known as 2 Esdras in the Apocrypha of some English Bibles. The book contains a diverse and extensive eschatology and offers numerous parallels to Rev 7:9 and 14:1–5.

  •      Greek Apocalypse of Ezra—Dating between the second—ninth centuries AD, this work claims to be a vision received by Ezra in which he was taken up to heaven and much was revealed to him.

  •      Vision of Ezra—This Christian-influenced apocalyptic work from the fourth—seventh centuries AD claims to be a collection of the visions of Ezra and has similarities with many other Pseudepigrapha from earlier periods.

  •      Revelation of Ezra—A Christian-influenced calendologion dating prior to the ninth century AD designed to show the importance of Ezra as an astrological figure.

  •      Apocalypse of Sedrach—Dating between the second—fifth century AD, this work claims to be an account of Sedrach (either Shadrach [Dan 3:12] or Ezra/Esdras) and his dialogue with God.

  •      2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch—An early second-century AD work containing various concepts such as lamentations, prayers, question and answers, and visions. This work sheds important light on the rabbinic Judaism that arose after the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

  •      3 (Greek Apocalypse of) Baruch—A work from the first—third century AD in which Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah, is so upset over the destruction of the temple that God sends an angel to comfort him and also to reveal to him the five heavens.

  •      Apocalypse of Abraham—A first—second century AD work purporting to be from Abraham; deals with Israel’s election, special status as a nation, and covenant with God.

  •      Apocalypse of Adam—A clearly gnostic work dating from the first—fourth century AD; claims to be extra revelation from Adam in support of gnostic theology.

  •      Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah—This work, dating from the first—fourth century AD, is not really an apocalypse but claims to be a prophecy. While it is named for Elijah, he is only mentioned twice.

  •      Hebrew Apocalypse of Elijah—This work probably dates from the third—seventh century AD. In it, the angel Michael tells Elijah about the end of the age.

  •      Apocalypse of Daniel—This ninth-century AD work is an adaptation of the coming of the antichrist to the current times in which the work was written.

  •      Seventh Vision of Daniel—A fifth-century AD text purporting to tell of a vision in which the angel Gabriel foretold events of Roman and Byzantine history to Daniel.

  •      Questions of Ezra—A Christian-influenced work of uncertain date preserved in Armenian which claims to report a dialogue between Ezra and and an angel concerning the fate of the wicked and the righteous after death.

  •      Apocalypse of Noah—A modern title for a possible lost work cited as by Jubilees as having been written by Noah. It may have been a source for portions of 1 Enoch as well as Jubilees.

For further details, see these articles: Enoch, Books of; Enoch, First Book of; Enoch, Second Book of; Enoch, Third book of; Sibylline Oracles; Treatise of Shem; Apocryphon of Ezekiel; Esdras, Books of; Esdras, Second Book of; Apocalypse of Ezra, Greek; Vision of Ezra; Revelation of Ezra; Apocalypse of Sedrach; Baruch, Second Book of; Baruch, Third Book of; Apocalypse of Abraham; Apocalypse of Adam; Apocalypse of Elijah, Coptic; Apocalypse of Elijah, Hebrew; Apocalypse of Daniel; Daniel, Seventh Vision of; Questions of Ezra; Apocalypse of Noah


This literary type is based on the genre of a last will and testament, as seen in Gen 49. These writings claim to record the last words of certain biblical characters, providing their final monologues and dealing with theology and ethics.

  •      Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs—A work from the second century BC claiming to be the final utterances of Jacob’s 12 sons.

  •      Testament of Job—A first-century BC to first-century AD testament that purports to contain Job’s final words.

  •      Testament of Abraham—Dating around the first to second century AD, this work presents itself as an account of how stubborn Abraham was in death; it depicts him trying to bargain with God and refusing to surrender his soul.

  •      Testament of Isaac—A second-century AD story in which Isaac, after delivering his last homily, is taken to heaven by the angel Michael, and overhears a conversation between God and Abraham.

  •      Testament of Jacob—A story from the second or third century AD with a plot similar to that of the Testament of Isaac.

  •      Testament of Moses—A partially preserved text dating in the first or second century AD which claims to be Moses’ farewell discourse to Joshua and outlines the history of Israel from their entrance into Canaan until the end of days.

  •      Testament of Solomon—Dating from the first to third century AD, this writing is a folkloric text about Solomon and his building of the temple; it includes sections on magic, astrology, angels, and medicine.

  •      Testament of Adam—This second- to fifth-century AD work is made up of three sections: a discourse attributed to Adam on the hours of the day and night, a purported speech of Adam to his son Seth, and a section on the hierarchy of angels and heavenly bodies that does not mention Adam.

For further details, see these articles: Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs; Testament of Job; Testament of Abraham; Testament of Isaac; Testament of Jacob; Testament of Moses; Testament of Solomon; Testament of Adam; Adam, Books of

Expansions and Legends

This literary type includes expansions of biblical narratives, new stories couched within the biblical context about the biblical figures, and legends surrounding the biblical text’s transmissions. Some of these texts are classified as parabiblical or rewritten Bible, while others are simply legends about the biblical figures or figures related to the Bible’s transmission.

  •      Letter of Aristeas—A letter probably dating to the second century BC that is an important source for understanding how the Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek Septuagint (LXX). An apologetic piece, this letter sought to prove the compatibility of the Jewish religion with Hellenistic Greek culture.

  •      Jubilees—Dating from the second century BC, the book of Jubilees seeks to provide an explanation for the unknown events that transpired during Moses’ 40 days on Mount Sinai (Exod 24:18).

  •      Ascension of Isaiah—A second-century BC to fourth-century AD book written in different sections at different times (known as a composite work) that seeks to provide an account for Isaiah’s death as well as establish a legend about his visions and ascent into heaven.

  •      Joseph and Aseneth—A first-century BC to second-century AD romance writing which tells a fanciful story about the Old Testament hero Joseph and an Egyptian woman Aseneth who would be his bride.

  •      Life of Adam and Eve (sometimes known as the Apocalypse of Moses in its Greek version)—The original form of this work was likely written between the first century BC and the first century AD. The work seeks to account for some of the events in the lives of the biblical Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the garden of Eden; the Latin version also contains an account of the fall of Satan.

  •      Pseudo-Philo—A book from the first century AD that provides a retelling of the history of Israel from Adam to David.

  •      The Lives of the Prophets—This first century AD work provides a summary account of the lives of the main prophets in the Old Testament and draws its material mainly from the scriptural accounts, with some legends and expansions added in.

  •      The Ladder of Jacob—A fragmentary story probably composed between 200 BC and AD 200 that expands upon Jacob’s dream as recorded in Gen 28:11–22.

  •      4 Baruch—A first—second century AD work that retells and expands upon certain events that occurred between the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the stoning of Jeremiah.

  •      Jannes and Jambres—This fragmentarily preserved text from the first to third centuries AD tells of the magicians of Pharaoh who sought to oppose Moses (named in 2 Tim 3:8–9 but anonymous in the Old Testament mentions in Exod 7–11).

  •      History of the Rechabites—Likely dating from the first—fourth centuries AD, this legend tells the story of a man whom God allows to visit the land of the Blessed Ones, a people whom are in a perpetual blessed states and live and commune with angels.

  •      Eldad and Modad—Only one line of this work about Eldad and Modad (Num 11:26–29 is preserved. It dates to sometime before to the second century AD.

  •      History of Joseph—Written sometime before or during the sixth century AD, this fragmentary document seems to be a history and expansion of the account of Joseph in Genesis.

  •      Maccabees, Ethiopian Books of—The three Ethiopian books of Maccabees (or Meqabyan) are distinct from the books of Maccabees known outside Ethiopia, and focus on different figures. They were probably composed as late as the 15th century AD and are included in the Ethiopian Orthodox canon of the Old Testament.

  •      Book of Josippon—A 10th-century AD Jewish historical chronicle based primarily on Pseudo-Hegesippus’ Latin translation of Josephus’ Jewish War. A translation of this work became part of the Ethiopian broader canon of the Old Testament. It is no longer considered pseudepigrapha but a historical chronicle.

  •      Cave of Treasures—A fourth—sixth century Syriac history of the world from creation to the time of Christ.

  •      Conflict of Adam and Eve—A fifth or sixth century description of the conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan upon their expulsion from paradise.

For further details, see these articles: Aristeas, Letter of; Jubilees, Book of; Ascension of Isaiah; Joseph and Aseneth; Life of Adam and Eve, Text; Adam, Books of; Pseudo-Philo; Lives of the Prophets, Text; Jacob’s Ladder, Text; Baruch, Fourth Book of; Jannes and Jambres; History of the Rechabites; Eldad and Modad, Text; History of Joseph, Text; Maccabees, Ethiopian Books of; Josippon, Book of; Cave of Treasures; Conflict of Adam and Eve, Text

Wisdom and Philosophical Literature

This literary type represents a generic type of Wisdom literature dealing with practical living aspects of Judaism.

  •      Ahiqar—This text from between the seventh—sixth century BC became a well-known tale in the ancient Mediterranean world. Non-Jewish in origin, the work tells the story of Ahiqar, a scribe and counselor to the kings of Assyria. It also contains a collection of his wisdom sayings.

  •      4 Maccabees—A book from the first century AD that seeks to provide a philosophical treatise on reason over passion, using Old Testament heroes as examples.

  •      Pseudo-Phocylides—Dating sometime between the first century BC and the first century AD, this is a poem written under the name of Phocylides (circa sixth century BC), a famous poet in antiquity. However, it is not actually his work since the poem has a decidedly Jewish agenda.

  •      The Sentences of the Syriac Menander—A collection of wisdom sayings from approximately the third century AD, this work provides maxims for daily living.

  •      Alphabet of Sirach—22 proverbs in Aramaic and the same number in Hebrew, accompanied by medieval commentary and tales.

For further details, see these articles: Ahiqar, Book of; Maccabees, Fourth Book of The; Pseudo-Phocylides; Syriac Menander; Sirach, Alphabet of

Prayers, Psalms, and Odes

This literary type represents the poetic prayers, psalms, and hymns that Jewish people might have used in addition to the psalms found in the Old Testament.

  •      Syriac Psalms—Four psalms that are canonical only in the Syriac tradition; they were probably composed at various dates between the third century BC and the first century AD.

  •      Psalms of Solomon—A first-century BC collection of psalms that shows the response of a certain group of Jews to the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in the first century.

  •      Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers—A collection of prayers dating from the second—third century AD; representative of synagogue life during that time.

  •      Prayer of Joseph—A mid-second to early-third century AD text, available only through quotations; the surviving quotations do not contain a reference to Joseph, but instead make claims about Jacob’s authority and provide information about his supposed encounter with the angel Uriel.

  •      Prayer of Jacob—Dating sometime between the first—fourth centuries AD, this work purports to be a prayer of Jacob but is actually similar to Greek-Egyptian magical papyri which were believed to hold mysterious power when invoked.

  •      Odes of Solomon—A Christian hymnbook dating to around the end of the first century AD that is based on Jewish models.

For further details, see these articles: Syriac Psalms; Psalms of Solomon; Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers; Prayer of Joseph; Prayer of Jacob; Odes of Solomon

Fragments of Lost Judaeo-Hellenistic Works

While not pseudepigrapha in the traditional sense, these works are often included as a supplement to the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha because they provide insight into the diversity and character of Jewish literature during the time when the Pseudepigrapha were being written (Charlesworth, OTP 2, 776). Most of these works only exist in fragments but are valuable for study nonetheless.

  •      Philo the Epic Poet—A fragmentarily preserved epic poem from the third—second century BC dealing with Jerusalem.

  •      Theodotus—A poem from the second—first century BC; the surviving fragments deal with Gen 34 and Jacob’s daughter Dinah.

  •      Orphica—A Jewish poem claiming to be Greek; likely dates from the second century BC.

  •      Ezekiel the Tragedian—A tragic drama dating from the second century BC telling the story of the exodus.

  •      Fragments of Pseudo-Greek Poets—Poetic fragments composed by Jews likely in the third—second century BC

  •      Aristobulus—Fragments from the second century BC that deal with philosophical issues between Jewish culture and Hellenistic culture.

  •      Demetrius the Chronographer—Fragments dating probably to the third century BC that primarily deal with Old Testament chronology.

  •      Aristeas the Exegete—The surviving fragment of this work is a history of the life of Job. It dates to some time between the third and first centuries BC.

  •      Eupolemus—Fragments dating likely to the second century BC which are from the works of a Jewish historian detailing different aspects of Israel’s history.

  •      Pseudo-Eupolemus—Fragments dealing with Abraham, dating prior to the first century BC.

  •      Cleodemus Malchus—Fragments that date prior to the first century BC dealing with the history of the descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah (Gen 25:1–4).

  •      Artapanus’ On the Jews—A work of historical fiction from between the third and second century BC; the surviving fragments deal with Abraham, Joseph, and Moses.

  •      Pseudo-Hecataeus—Dating between the second century BC and the first century AD, these fragments are historical in context.

For further details, see these articles: Philo the Epic Poet; Theodotus the Epic Poet; Orphica; Ezekiel the Tragedian; Fragments of Pseudo-Greek Poets; Aristobulus the Jewish Philosopher; Demetrius the Chronographer; Aristeas the Exegete; Eupolemus; Pseudo-Eupolemus; Cleodemus Malchus; Artapanus; Pseudo-Hecataeus

#3. Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. (1990). When skeptics ask (pp. 155–156). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.


The Apocrypha is a set of books written between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D. It consists of fourteen books (fifteen if you divide the books differently) which are found in the several ancient copies of important Greek translations of the Old Testament and reflect some of the Jewish tradition and history that came after the time of Malachi (the last Old Testament prophet). Most of the Apocrypha was accepted as Scripture by Augustine and the Syrian church in the fourth century and was later canonized by the Catholic church. The apocryphal books are alluded to in the New Testament and by the early church fathers and have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran.

However, these books were never accepted by the Jews as Scripture and are not included in the Hebrew Bible. Though the New Testament may allude to them (e.g., Heb. 11:35), none of the allusions are clearly called the Word of God (Paul quotes pagan poets too, but not as Scripture). Augustine admitted that it has secondary status to the rest of the Old Testament. One reason for supporting it was that it was included with the Septuagint (a Greek translation), which he considered to be inspired; but Jerome, a Hebrew scholar, made the official Latin Vulgate version of the Old Testament without the added apocryphal books.

Those churches that have accepted the Apocrypha have done so long after it was written (fourth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries). The fathers who cited these writings are offset by others who vehemently opposed them, such as Athanasius and Jerome. In fact, these books were never officially added to the Bible until A.D. 1546 at the Council of Trent. But this is suspect in that they accepted these books on the basis of Christian usage (the wrong reason) just twenty-nine years after Martin Luther had called for some biblical support for beliefs like salvation by works and prayer for the dead (which the Apocrypha provides: 2 Maccabees 12:45; Tobit 12:9). As for the Qumran finds, hundreds of books have been found there that are not canonical; this offers no evidence that they accepted the apocryphal books as anything other than popular literature. Finally, no apocryphal book claims to be inspired. Indeed, some specifically deny that they are inspired (1 Maccabees 9:27). If God did not inspire it, then it is not His Word.

#4. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BR 19:05.

This literary genre is called pseudepigraphy, from the Greek for “false writing.” Early Jewish literature abounds with documents attributed to ancient figures such as Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Jacob’s twelve sons, Moses, Solomon, Ezra, and Ezekiel.2 Not all pseudepigrapha are out-and-out forgeries. Some were probably circulated anonymously and only later attributed to sages of old. But all contain clear evidence, such as anachronistic language, betraying their relatively late date of composition.

#5. (1983). Biblical Archaeologist, 46.

After all, the phenomenon of pseudepigraphy, that is, the attribution of books to “false” authors, was widespread in the ancient world and particularly prevalent in Greco-Roman antiquity, in Jewish, Christian, and pagan circles alike. We have Jewish books attributed to pagan authors, such as the Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, written by a Hellenistic Jew and credited to a proverbial Greek wise man of the sixth century BCE There were even Jewish and Christian oracles attributed to a legendary pagan prophetess, the famous Sibyl. There were works written by Greek pagans and attributed to Zoroaster, the Persian founder of the Zoroastrian religion, or to the legendary Egyptian king Nechepso. The same phenomenon is to be found in a broad range of Christian and Gnostic writing as well (see Speyer 1971; Stone 1983).

The Pseudepigrapha can be more specifically defined as Jewish writings of the Second Temple period resembling the Apocrypha in general character, yet not included in the Bible, Apocrypha, or rabbinic literature. The definition thus depends on an understanding of the nature and scope of the Apocrypha.

The term Apocrypha designates quite clearly those books that were included in the Latin Bible of the Middle Ages and which were excluded from the Protestant canon of Scripture, for the reformers took the Hebrew Bible as the basis for their Old Testament. The Apocrypha, then, were those books that were included in the Latin Bible but not in the Hebrew, that is the Jewish, collection of Sacred Scripture. Almost all of them are still found in the canon of the Old Testament of the Roman Catholic church.

These are Jewish books, chiefly, if not exclusively, written in the last pre-Christian centuries and the first century C.E. All the extra books which were found in the medieval Latin Bible, with one exception (4 Ezra, also called 2 Esdras), also occur in Greek. Some of them were originally written in a Semitic language (Hebrew or Aramaic), while others were composed in Greek. Gradually, these works in their Greek versions were incorporated into the Greek bibles in use throughout Christendom. As these bibles were translated into Latin, the extra books were included along with those of the Hebrew canon. When the Protestant reformers many centuries later sought a return to the Hebrew Old Testament, the Roman Church reacted by declaring these extra works to be canonical at the Council of Trent in 1546.

None of the books of the Apocrypha were preserved as such in the on-going tradition of rabbinic Judaism, in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. Certain of them, it is true, were transmitted back into the Jewish tradition in the Middle Ages, most often from Christian sources, but this was a secondary process. Thus, the Apocrypha is a fixed corpus that is the result of a historical development within the Christian tradition.

Other developments contributed to and stemmed from the process—the beginnings of archaeology, the decipherment of hieroglyphs and cuneiform, the beginning of scholarly study of the Holy Land, to name just a few. It was in this context that the first serious interest developed in those Jewish documents which might help to illuminate the New Testament. Many works were discovered, published, translated, and studied, and they came to be called the Pseudepigrapha. This was the first period in the study of the Pseudepigrapha. It culminated at the end of the nineteenth century and the very start of the twentieth in the works of Charles and Kautzsch. An English translation was made early in this century and was prepared under the guidance of the renowned scholar R. H. Charles (Charles 1913). He entitled the collection he edited, significantly, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament. The same conception of subject was reflected in the almost contemporary German collection edited by E. Kautzsch (Kautzsch 1900).

The discovery of fragments of ten manuscripts of Enoch among the Dead Sea Scrolls has gone a long way to answering many of these questions. The original language was Aramaic, the language of all the fragments of Enoch from Qumran. Study of these Aramaic fragments has allowed scholars to determine that the Ethiopic translation is fairly faithful in most sections of the book, although in one, which gives detailed astronomical and calendary descriptions, the surviving translation is abbreviated. Furthermore, the paleographic dating of the manuscripts shows that certain parts of Enoch are as old or older than the third century BCE (Milik 1976; Greenfield and Stone 1977; Stone 1978; for a survey of recent scholarship see Nickelsburg 1981). Consequently, with just this one example in mind, we can see that, though they are very fragmentary, the Qumran manuscripts of the Pseudepigrapha have considerable importance for the study of this literature.

Not only were pieces of Pseudepigrapha discovered; other, similar writings, which were not previously known, were also found. Through the Greek tradition we had an apocryphal psalm preserved (Psalm 151); in some Syriac manuscripts an additional four psalms of this sort were discovered. In the Psalms Scroll from Qumran, a number of other such compositions turned up (Sanders 1965), and among the unpublished material from Cave 4, even more such psalmodic texts are present. In this case the scrolls have not merely increased the corpus of texts at our disposal, which in itself is a very important contribution. They also enhance our knowledge of a literary genre, the later Psalms, which happen to be poorly attested in the Pseudepigrapha. Any study of Jewish literature of the Second Temple period must now take very seriously the Psalms that were written at that time. Their importance is not limited to the literary historian, for some of them provide a deep insight into the religious feelings and sentiments of their authors.

From the historical sources, primarily the works of Josephus Flavius and the New Testament, we have information about a large number of sects and groups that flounshed in the age of the Second Temple—Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, and Essenes are just a few of them. We also have a plethora of literature—yet there is very little literature that can be confidently attributed to any of these sects or groups within Judaism.

It was the opinion of scholars when these books were published that they originated from Jewish circles in the Second Temple period. In other words, and this was what interested and motivated scholars, they helped to provide a context for the understanding of the origins of Christianity. No longer was rabbinic Judaism to form the primary basis for comparison with earliest Christian literature, but rather the Jewish literature of the Second Temple period, and particularly the Pseudepigrapha, could contribute much insight. Many scholars painted the Pseudepigrapha as opposition literature representing the continuing flow of the “true stream” of Israelite religion forced underground by the growing authority of the Law and Rabbis developing in “Late Judaism” (see, for instance, Charles 1899: 202–03). It is true that some Christian scholars protested against these views, which were on the whole motivated by an animosity let the very least, theological in nature) to the continuing life of Judaism (Sanders 1977: 34–59). Nonetheless, this line of thinking continued to predominate in Christian scholarship of the literature. Jewish scholars, on the other hand, generally paid scant attention to this literature.

In addition to their direct contribution to religious and literary history, the discovery of Pseudepigraphal and other works has had a very great impact upon recent scholarship. When assessed from the point of view of the scholarly study of Jewish literature, one result has been to force scholars to face the issues of the interplay between documents and the way of life of their authors—to ask questions about the Pseudepigrapha or other Jewish documents that are not governed by concerns external to them. In other words, scholars have been made to begin to examine this literature as an expression of various types of Judaism and to undertake to describe those types.

But the study of the Pseudepigrapha has even further implications, on quite a different level of discourse. These books were transmitted by various Christian churches. Although some of them can be identified by external evidence as clearly Jewish and belonging to the period under discussion (such evidence includes the Dead Sea Scrolls or citations in ancient sources), many of them can be set into their historical context only by a careful study of their contents. Yet, all too often, scholars have tended to take works preserved in medieval manuscripts and, with no more ado, proceed as if they had a much older work perfectly preserved or at worst clumsily interpolated. In fact, it is only recently that the need to approach such works first of all in the context in which they were transmitted has become evident. It is a significant fact for the understanding of Byzantine Christianity, for example, that it cultivated and transmitted certain works, such as particular types of apocalypse, and did not conserve others. Which works were so transmitted and why? Which works provided inspiration for a series of medieval compositions? Which aspects of older works were repeatedly taken up and developed? Why? (Himmelfarb 1981).