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PSEUDEPIGRAPHA (sū'dē-pĭg'ra-fa). Intertestamental books not in the Hebrew canon or the Apocrypha, ascribed to earlier authors. They include The Ascension of Isaiah, Assumption of Moses, Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees, Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, Letters of Aristeas, 3 and 4 Maccabees, Psalms of Solomon, Secrets of Enoch, Sibylline Oracles, Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, Epistle of Baruch, and Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. They are important for their disclosure of Jewish ideas in the intertestamental period.

The term is the technical designation of a large collection of Jewish writings not included in the OT canon, ranging from 200 b.c. to a.d. 200, some of which contain Christian additions. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, they include apocalypses, legendary histories, psalms, and wisdom literature. The fact that some of them are ascribed to Adam, Enoch, Moses, Isaiah, and Ezra caused them to be known in Protestant circles as “Pseudepigrapha.” In the Roman Catholic Church they are called “apocryphal,” which is to be distinguished from those other writings known by Protestants as the “Apocrypha,” since the latter are known to Roman Catholics as “deuterocanonical.” The term “Pseudepigrapha” is unsatisfactory in that it fastens attention on a feature of the literature which is not of major importance. In any event, the material contains many works which are anonymous. The rabbinical designation, “outside books,” is used by some scholars, but this also gives rise to difficulties since other such writings, particularly the Dead Sea Scrolls,* would properly come under this category. In view of its usage over the years it is probably wisest to retain the term “Pseudepigrapha,” on the understanding that it is being used in a technical sense without any judgment being expressed as to the nature of the contents.

There is no agreed order in the arrangement of the material. Generally it is classified according to its Palestinian (written in Hebrew or Aramaic) or Hellenistic (Greek) origin, and dated as follows.

(1) Palestinian.

1 Enoch, or Ethiopic Enoch (165-80 b.c.)

Book of Jubilees

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (140-110 b.c.)

Psalms of Solomon (70-40 b.c.)

Testament of Job (first century b.c.)

Assumption of Moses (a.d. 7-28)

Lives of the Prophets (first century a.d.)

Martyrdom of Isaiah (a.d. 1-50)

Testament of Abraham (a.d. 1-50)

Apocalypse of Abraham (a.d. 70-100)

Apocalypse of Baruch, or 2 Baruch (a.d. 50-100)

Life of Adam and Eve, or the Apocalypse of Moses (a.d. 86- 110)


Letter of Aristeas (200 b.c.--a.d. 33)

Sibylline Oracles (fifteen books, three of which are missing; written over six centuries, some by Christian authors; Book III dates 150-120 b.c., IV c. a.d. 80, V before a.d. 130)

3 Maccabees (toward end of first century b.c.)

4 Maccabees (toward end of first century b.c.)

2 Enoch, otherwise known as Slavonic Enoch or the Book of the Secrets of Enoch (a.d. 1-50)

3 Baruch, or the Apocalypse of Baruch (a.d. 100-174)

The largest and most influential of the surviving Pseudepigrapha is 1 Enoch. The story in Genesis 5:18-24 gave rise to the belief that Enoch was taken into heaven and shown the secrets of God. 1 Enoch purports to describe Enoch's experiences. It contains visions, cosmology, angelogy, demonology, eschatology, the vindication of the Jews, the heavenly Jerusalem, the tree of life, eternal rewards and punishments. One is reminded of the Book of Revelation. Of particular interest to Christian readers is the description of the Messiah in the middle section of the book, chapters 37-71 which are known as the “Parables of Similitudes.” He is called “the Elect One, the Son of Man.” He is a preexistent heavenly being, who dwells close to God and pronounces judgment upon men and angels (46:1ff.).

By contrast, the Psalms of Solomon reflect the more staid Pharisaic background. Modeled on the canonical Psalter, these eighteen psalms contain such traditional themes as sorrow and consolation, exhortation and praise, human injustice and divine mercy, punishment for the wicked and rewards for the righteous. The nation is depicted as divided into two groups, the righteous (almost entirely the Pharisees to whom the author belongs) and the sinners (the Sadducees). Jerusalem has been captured and the Temple plundered by an arrogant Gentile invader (probably Pompey). The description of the Messiah in Psalms 17 and 18 is especially interesting: he is of the house of David, and will cleanse Jerusalem, gathering together the people of God and ruling both Jews and Gentiles.

Significant for its information of the origin on the Septuagint* is the Letter of Aristeas. The author claims to be an official of Ptolemy Philadelphus, whom, he claims, instigated what transpired to be a miraculous translation of the Scriptures into Greek. The legendary nature of the work detracts from its historical value, but the writing remains an interesting witness to the fusion of Jewish and Greek traditions in the Dispersion.

An ambitious example of Hellenistic Judaism is the Sibylline Oracles. Assuming the role of the great pagan prophetess Sibyl, the different authors of the Jewish Oracles sought on the one hand to keep alive the ancient hope of Israel and on the other hand to demonstrate to sophisticated Greeks that Zion easily vies with Hellas for the heart and mind of humanity. A few of the Oracles are either of Christian origin or edited by Christian writers.

Although the literary genre of the Pseudepigrapha differs greatly, it all has one common aim: to keep alive the faith of the Jews by offering a theology for the times.

The prophets of the OT had interpreted historical vicissitudes as the righteous judgment of God upon Israel for her sins. They promised forgiveness and restoration if Israel repented and obeyed God. Now a new interpretation seemed necessary. The centuries had passed, but Israel still suffered. It could not be reasserted that the nation was unfaithful, since the law was venerated and obeyed. Consequently faith was sorely tested. Hence the writers of the Pseudepigrapha, like those of the Apocrypha, sought to defend God and help Israel.

For the most part, they used the apocalyptic interpretation of history. They sought to explain the misfortunes of the nation by saying that God had consigned the world to evil. Deliverance would come not in this age but in the age to come. Since the world was irretrievably wicked, the most that the righteous could hope to do was to preserve their souls. This would be achieved by devotion to the law of God. At the great judgment day all will be called to give an account, the dead as well as the living. Thus those who grieve over the eclipse of righteousness can take comfort.

The message of the Pseudepigrapha made life tolerable for the Jews. It reaffirmed belief in the sovereignty of God and in His care for His dispossessed people. The description of the Messiah in 1 Enoch on the one hand and in the Psalms of Solomon on the other hand is evidence of the increasingly important role which this individual was expected to play in the great drama of the last days. But it is the doctrine of God in these writings which was most influential. God was now conceived of on a grand scale. Elaborate time schemes represent His rule as extending backward to Creation and forward to the age to come. It was this which gave history its unity and meaning. It also helped the Jews grow cosmopolitan in outlook. Israel was encouraged to see herself, not as an inferior downtrodden race, but as playing the central role in the panorama of world events. Prophetic insights were thus taken over and developed to meet the needs of the new situation.

The part played in this development by extraneous influence is often emphasized. Evidence of the Zoroastrian idea of a struggle between good and evil is clear enough in these writings. But the extent to which imported concepts were reshaped in terms of the traditional faith of Israel is more remarkable than is sometimes allowed. Thus the dualistic principle of Persian religion was strongly subordinated to the monotheistic one inherent in the Israelite tradition. Influenced as they were by ideas foreign to their biblical heritage, the pseudepigraphal writers sought to remain true to this heritage, while developing and enriching it in ways which would answer the questions of the times in which they lived. One may say that the theology of these writers is essentially a theology of hope.

The value of the Pseudepigrapha for Jews and Christians alike is considerable. No serious student can pass from a study of the OT to the study of either the NT or rabbinical Judaism without considering these writings. Along with the Dead Sea Scrolls they form an indispensable background for understanding the developments which took place after the OT was written. The discovery of fragments of these writings in the caves of Qumran serves to emphasize their importance.

R.H. Charles (ed.), The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (2 vols., 1913); C.C. Torrey, The Apocryphal Literature (1945); D.S. Russell, Between the Testaments (1960).


Adam and Eve, Life of Adam and Eve

As. Mos., The Assumption of Moses

Asc. Isa., Ascension of Isaiah

2 Bar., 2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch

3 Bar., 3 (Greek Aposcalypse of) Baruch

1 En., 1 (Ethiopic) Enoch

2 En., 2 (Slavonic) Enoch

3 En., 3 (Hebrew) Enoch

Ep. Arist., Epistle of Aristeas

4 Ezra, 4 Ezra

Jub., Jubilees

3 Macc., 3 Maccabees

4 Macc., 4 Maccabees

Mart. Isa., The Martyrdom of Isaiah

Pss. Sol., Psalms of Solomon

Sib. Or., Sibylline Oracles

T. 12 Patr., Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

T. Reub., Testament of Reuben

T. Sim.,Testament of Simeon

T. Levi, Testament of Levi

T. Jud., Testament of Judah

T. Iss., Testament of Issachar

T. Zeb., Testament of Zebulun

T. Dan., Testament of Dan

T. Naph., Testament of Naphtali

T. Gad, Testament of Gad

T. Ash., Testament of Asher

T. Jos., Testament of Joseph

T. Ben., Testament of Benjamin

sōō’ də pĭg’ rə fə ψευδεπίγραφα). A name given to a large body of Jewish writings that are not included in either the canon of the OT or in what Protestants refer to as the Apoc. (q.v.); written originally in Heb., Aram., and Gr. c. 200 b.c.-a.d. 100.

Meaning of the designation.

The term “pseudepigrapha” arises from the fact that many of the writings gathered together under this heading bear the names of famous personalities from the OT (e.g. Enoch, Moses, Solomon, Isaiah, Baruch) but certainly did not come from their pens. The lit. is, however, much more extensive in scope than this and includes a large body of anonymous, rather than pseudonymous, lit. in addition. This fact, coupled with the uncertainty as to whether any of these writings were given in the names of OT personalities in the attempt to deceive their readers (see D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, 127-139), has led many scholars to question the practice of continuing to refer to the lit. concerned as “the Pseudepigrapha,” and to adopt the terminology of C. C. Torrey (The Apocryphal Literature), who grouped all extracanonical Jewish writings of the period under the heading “Apocrypha.” This is the term used by Roman Catholic writers, though they do not include under this heading those writings thus designated by Protestants. (The Protestant “Apocrypha” is called “the deuterocanonical writings” by Roman Catholics and are in a special category; see Apocrypha.)

List of the writings.

There is no definitive list of writings known as the Pseudepigrapha, nor are all that would be so classified available in a single collection (though R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, is reasonably comprehensive). The discovery of the DSS (q.v.) has further complicated the matter, since this has multiplied the number of extracanonical Jewish writings that are available, and has also provided scholars with new MSS (and even edd.) of works already known.

The following list includes the majority of these writings (excluding the newly discovered ones associated with the DSS; for these see Dead Sea Scrolls). No attempt has been made to classify the various documents by age, literary type, or origin (cf. section 3, below; see also the individual articles in this dictionary for the following writings).

Abraham, The Testament of

Adam, The Apocalypse or Testament of

Adam and Eve, The Life of

Aristeas, The Letter of

Baruch, The Greek Apocalypse of

Baruch, The Syriac Apocalypse of

Enoch, The Ethiopic Book of (1 Enoch)

Enoch, The Slavonic Book of (2 Enoch)

2 (4) Ezra

Isaiah, The Martyrdom and Ascension of

Jeremiah, The Paralipomena of

Job, The Testament of

Joseph and Asenath (The Prayer of Asenath)

Jubilees, The Book of

Lives of the Prophets, The

3 Maccabees (sometimes included in the Apocrypha)

4 Maccabees

Moses, The Assumption of

Psalm 151

Sibylline Oracles, The

Solomon, The Odes of

Solomon, The Psalms of

Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The

Most of these writings exist in fragmentary form; some of them are extremely fragmented. Many are available only in trs. (sometimes even trs. of trs.). Similar books have been lost and are known only by name (see M. R. James, The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament).

The problem of classification.

No single method of classifying these documents has gained general acceptance among scholars. The most common approach is to divide them into two groups, determined by their probable provenance. Thus the majority of the writings can be classified as Hebrew-Aramaic or Palestinian (Test XII Pat, Jub, Mart Isa, Pss Sol, As Moses, Syr Apoc Baruch, Test Job, Paralip, Life of Adam and Eve, Lives of the Prophets) on the one hand, or as Greek or Alexandrian in origin (L. Aristeas, Sib Oracles, 3 and 4 Macc, 2 Enoch, Gr. Apoc Baruch) on the other hand; but there is some uncertainty regarding the original language of some, and it is not at all certain that those written originally in Gr. were all composed in Alexandria.

A more helpful system of classification would be to group the writings according to at least five genres: (1) narrative books, e.g. Jubilees, Life of Adam and Eve, The Paralipomena of Jeremiah, etc.; (2) testaments, e.g., Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Job, etc.; (3) liturgical writings, e.g., Psalms 151, Psalms of Solomon, the Hodayoth of the DSS; (4) apologies, e.g., Letter of Aristeas, 3 and 4 Maccabees, Sibylline Oracles; and (5) apocalypses, e.g., Enoch, As Moses, Apocalypse of Baruch. There is extensive overlapping in these designations also, since many of the books contain features of two or more literary forms.

Christian preservation of the Pseudepigrapha.

One factor neglected by the two abovementioned systems of classification is the Christian influence on these extracanonical writings. Although the majority of them are Jewish in origin, they have been preserved by Christian scribes. Before the discovery of the DSS the knowledge of these writings was practically limited to a variety of Greek, Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Coptic, Armenian, and other MSS and trs. that had been produced and handed down in Christian circles, often with definitely Christian interpolations and additions. There is a relative lack of MSS stemming from Jewish circles because the Pseudepigrapha, along with all other books of the period outside of the twenty-two books of the Heb. canon, were rejected by the rabbis. This was influenced by the destruction of Jerusalem, which drastically dimmed the eschatological hopes prevalent at that time. The leaders who led the restructuring of Judaism, which centered in Jamnia (q.v.), purged the apocalyptic element from their theology. But these writings had become popular among Christians and were adapted for Christian apologetic and devotional purposes. Because of Christian interpolations and additions it is difficult to determine whether some of these writings were originally Jewish or Christian. Not only were Jewish noncanonical writings read and adapted by Christians, but they also became models for Christian noncanonical writings (see NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA), though the newer genres of gospel, acts, and epistle provided additional models. The ideas and images of some of these OT pseudepigraphal books not only influenced the thinking of the postapostolic church, but also found a place in the art and popular piety of the Middle Ages.

The significance of the Pseudepigrapha.

Along with the Apoc., DSS, Josephus, and Philo, the extracanonical writings of the Pseudepigrapha are primary sources for understanding intertestamental Judaism and the theological milieu of early Christianity. The lit. of the Hebrews did not end with the final book of the OT. Strictly speaking, Judaism as such came into existence at the end of the OT period. Although all Jewish thought of the intertestamental and early Christian periods presupposes the OT (as does the thought of the early Christians), one must turn to the Pseudepigrapha to understand the development that had taken place in the theology of Judaism after the close of the OT canon.

Various new features are prominent in these writings. Among them are: a highly elaborate system of angelology; a concentration on the apocalyptic (the Pseudepigrapha has been called “the literature of apocalypticism”; cf. article on Apocalyptic Literature); speculation concerning the coming of Messiah and the nature of the Messianic age; and a strong doctrine of the resurrection of the body. In addition, there is a common body of religious ideas and terminology (e.g. the doctrine of the two ages, the Son of man, etc.) that the Pseudepigrapha writings share with the NT writings.

Although it is difficult to demonstrate that a particular NT writer made use of a specific pseudepigraphal writing, it is not an overstatement that it is impossible to understand the theological background of the NT apart from the study of these and other pre-Christian, Jewish writings.


R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, II (1913); G. H. Box and W. O. E. Oesterley, edd., “Translations of Early Documents,” Series I and II (1917ff.); C. C. Torrey, The Apocryphal Literature (1945); D. S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic (1964); O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Eng. tr. 1965), 571-573, 603-637; A.-M. Denis, Introduction aux Pseudepigraphes Greces d’Ancien Testament (1970).