Introductory Thoughts on the OT Pseudepigrapha (1997)

(Summary of a lecture by J. R. Davila on 6 February, 1997)

I. According to James Charlesworth (OTP I, xxiv) the term “Pseudepigrapha” was first used in the late second century by Serapion (bishop of Antioch in the early third century) in his work _The So-Called Gospel of Peter_, in which he argues that the Gospel of Peter (a noncanonical gospel still extant today) is one of the writings “falsely attributed” to the apostles. But the term was first used in a technical sense in the early 18th century by J. A. Fabricius who edited a volume of texts entitled _Codex Pseudepigraphus Veteris Testamenti_. The term Pseudepigrapha is a modern coinage, not an ancient usage, so it is exceedingly important to be clear what we mean by it. It is also a very artificial term, since it distinguishes a group of texts in part on the basis of arbitrary criteria (e.g., they aren’t known *only* from the Dead Sea Scrolls [i.e., the Pesher to Habakkuk]; they aren’t stories about Christian heroes from the apostolic era [or else they would belong to the NT Apocrypha]). But we are stuck with the word at this point, so with due fear and trembling I propose a definition of what I mean by it. This definition is mainly heuristic and I invite challenges and refinements to it in the list discussion. Perhaps by the end of the course we will have a definition that we’re all happy with. (Dream on….)

THE OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA ARE: the literary remains of the anonymous/pseudonymous revelatory stream of tradition that originated in response to (or sometimes alongside of) the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament accepted in the major Jewish and Christian canons. These literary remains were adopted, preserved, developed, and augmented, mostly by early Christianity, through late antiquity.

II. It is also worthwhile to look briefly at the contents and genres found in the OT Pseudepigrapha. I will be dealing with the question of genre in much more detail as we cover individual texts, but for now just a sentence or two on the major genres found in the texts covered this semester, with the relevant texts noted in parentheses. Again, this offers a good opening for discussion. How would other specialists like to refine my definitions, and what other categories and genres belong in the OT Pseudepigrapha as a whole?

THE REWRITTEN BIBLE. This type of narrative is less a genre than a (reasonably useful) broader category. The rewritten Bible rewrites the biblical narrative from the contemporary viewpoint of the (rewriting) author. (Jubilees, Pseudo-Philo, Jannes and Jambres?, Eldad and Modad??)

TESTAMENTS. Testaments are discourses delivered by a leader (patriarch, father, etc.) to his followers (sons, etc.) just before his death. They come in a third person narrative framework with the actual testament quoted in the first person. (The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Job, but NOT the Testament of Solomon.)

LITURGICAL TEXTS. Literature meant to be recited as part of a (Jewish, Christian, pagan, whatever) religious service. (More Psalms of David, Odes of Solomon)

SAPIENTIAL LITERATURE. Literature associated with the wisdom tradition going back to Bible (e.g. Proverbs, Job) and the ancient Near East (Ahiqar, Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature). (4 Maccabees, Ahiqar)

MAGICAL LITERATURE. Generally a subset of Liturgical Texts. Basically religious cult and texts of ritual power disapproved of by the speaker. (The Prayer of Jacob and the Testament of Solomon are magical tractates. Jannes & Jambres is a cautionary tale about the dangers of magic.)

APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE. The genre “apocalypse” is a narrative presenting revelations of heavenly secrets given to a human being by a divine mediator (e.g. an angel). Apocalyptic seems to have roots in prophetic, sapiential, and royal traditions from ancient Israel and the ancient Near East and seems to have developed all over the Mediterranean world in the closing centuries BCE. (Apocalypses of Sedrach, Adam, Zephaniah, 3 Enoch)

III. Next, some general comments on the texts to be covered in this course and my reasons for choosing them. I have tried very hard to select a representative group of documents based mainly on the following four criteria (which I also ignored when it suited me).

1. The selection is limited mostly to documents preserved in languages that I read or at least have studied at some point. That excludes Ethiopic, Armenian, and Slavonic. The main exception is Jubilees which is preserved in full only in an Ethiopic translation. However, much of the book is known also from fragments in languages that I do read, including parts of the original Hebrew from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

2. The selections are limited to those that have generated a good modern scholarly literature in English. Since DI3216 is an undergraduate module I do not assume any knowledge of other languages (ancient or modern) on the part of the students or the listmembers. I will refer sometimes to work in modern languages, and some of the other specialists will no doubt want to do the same, but the undergraduate papers will rely mostly on the English literature.

3. My colleague at St. Andrews, Professor Richard Bauckham, teaches a related course called “Judaism from the Maccabees to Bar Kokhba” (DI3106). Since this course was taught last semester I have done my best to select texts not covered in it. The main exception is 1 Enoch, and Professor James VanderKam, who is an expert on the Enoch literature, will be giving us an online lecture on the topic in the spring which should be a very useful second look at the material for student who took the other course.

4. Once the other criteria were satisfied, I picked documents that I found interesting.

IV. Finally, a quick note on Pseudepigrapha material on the Web. There are a number of Web sites that include translations of some of the OT Pseudepigrapha covered in this course. Copyright issues for the Web are not yet fully resolved and copyright law varies from country to country, but at least some of them may make use of material that is still under copyright in Britain. In particular, I note that the very old edition of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha edited by R. H. Charles is *not* in the public domain in Britain. Because of the copyright concern, I want to emphasize that none of these Web sites are officially endorsed for this course. You will find what you find as you surf, but the use you make of that material is entirely up to you and is your responsibility. I request that no one share addresses online of sites containing OT Pseudepigrapha translations. If anyone does so, it is not to be construed as an official endorsement by this list. I recommend that you read the published edition by Charlesworth or the other editions in book form.

(c) 1997
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

Contact details

St Mary’s College
The School of Divinity
University of St Andrews
South Street
St Andrews
Fife KY16 9JU
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 462850 
Fax: +44 (0)1334 462852