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Holman Bible Dictionary
Both Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews authored books in the Pseudepigrapha. They used a variety of styles and literary types—legend, poetry, history, philosophy—but apocalypse was the dominant literary type. See Apocalyptic . A review of the most important and representative books will show the significance of the Pseudepigrapha in understanding the background of the New Testament.
First Enoch has been preserved in the Ethiopic language. It is a composite work of five sections, written at different times. The first section (chs. 1–36) tells how Enoch was taken up into heaven and shown its secrets. The sons of God of Genesis 6 were seen as angels. They committed sin, and the children born to them were evil giants. Emphasis is placed upon judgment and punishment. Even the realm of the dead is divided into separate places for the righteous and the wicked. The second section (chs. 37–71) is the most important for its relation to the Bible. It is the Parables or Similitudes. These chapters refer to the son of man. Opinions differ as to how such references form part of the background to the New Testament teachings about Jesus as the Son of man. There is uncertainty about the date of this section, of chapters. The rest of the book comes from between 200,1 B.C., but the Similitudes may have been written later, shortly before A.D. 100. Fragments of all the other sections have been found in the caves of Qumran, but no fragments of this section have been discovered yet. The third section (chs. 78–82) deals with the heavenly bodies. The author argues for a calendar based on the movement of the sun in distinction to the standard Jewish lunar calendar. The fourth section (chs. 83-90) contains two dream visions dealing with the flood and the history of Israel from Adam to the Maccabean revolt. The final section (chs. 91–108) gives religious instruction concerning the end time. The entire book is apocalyptic.
Second Enoch is also an apocalypse preserved primarily in the Slavonic language. It was written between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. In it Enoch was taken up into heaven and commanded to write 366 books. He was allowed to return to earth for thirty days to teach his sons, after which he returned to heaven. This writing describes the contents of the seven heavens and divides time into seven one-thousand year periods.
Second Baruch is apocalyptic and shows how some Jews responded to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. It was written shortly before 100 A.D. Three visions seek to console the people by showing that even though destruction has come, God has prepared something better for them. The writings teach that the Messiah will be revealed to bring in a time of great plenty. Emphasis is placed on obedience to the Law.
The Sibylline Oracles were very popular apocalyptic writings in the ancient world. The Jews took over the originally pagan writings and modified them by inserting ideas about monotheism, Mosaic requirements, and Jewish history. Three of the fifteen books in the collection are missing. Book 3, from between 200,100 B.C., is the most important and the most Jewish. It traces Jewish history from the time of Abraham to the building of the second Temple. It pronounces God's judgment upon pagan nations, but holds out hope that they may turn to God.
The Testament of Moses (sometimes called the Assumption of Moses ) is also apocalyptic. The manuscripts are incomplete, and the missing portion may have contained an account of Moses' death and his being taken to heaven. Early Christian writers state that Jude 1:9 was to be found in the Assumption of Moses known to them. This book is a rewriting of Deuteronomy 31-34 . Moses is the chosen mediator of God, prepared from the beginning of time. The book traces the history of the people from their beginning to the author's own time. Since chapters 6,7 seem to refer to Herod the Great, the book was probably written shortly after A.D. 1. It emphasized that God has planned all things and keeps them under His control.
The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are patterned after Genesis 49:1 , the closing instructions of Jacob to his sons. Each of the sons of Jacob addressed his descendants, giving a brief survey of his life, with special attention to some sin or failure. For example, Reuben stressed his adultery with Bilhah (Genesis 35:22 ), and Simeon told of his jealousy of Joseph. Joseph, however, emphasized the maintaining of his purity. Using the confessed sin as a background, patriarchs urged their children to live in an upright manner. Special emphasis is given to love for the neighbor and sexual purity. In most of the testaments, the children are told to give honor to Levi and Judah. The book refers to two messiahs: one from Levi, one from Judah. The earliest portions of the testaments come from after 200 B.C.
The Book of Jubilees is a rewriting of Genesis and the opening chapters of Exodus from after 200 B.C. It traces the history of Israel from creation to the time of Moses, dividing time into jubilee periods, forty-nine years each. The calendar is based on the sun, not the moon. The sabbath was kept by the angels in heaven who were circumcised. The writer strongly opposed the Gentile influences he found coming into Judaism urging Jews to keep separate from the Gentiles. In the Book of Jubilees, Abraham was the ideal righteous man. The book shows how a conservative, priestly Jew about 150 B.C. viewed the world.
The Psalms of Solomon are a collection of eighteen psalms written about 50 B.C. They reflect the situation of the people in Jerusalem following its capture by the Romans under Pompey in 63 B.C. Psalms of Song of Solomon 17,18 are of special importance because of their references to the Messiah. According to these Psalms, the Messiah was to be a human figure, a descendant of David, wise and righteous, and without sin. The titles Son of David and Lord Messiah are used of Him.
Third Maccabees , written after 200 B.C., has nothing to do with the Maccabees. It tells about the attempt of Ptolemy IV to kill the Jews in Egypt. God foiled his efforts resulting in the advancement of the Jews. This book shows the vindication of the righteous.
Fourth Maccabees is based to some extent upon material found in 2 Maccabees 6-7 . It is a philosophical writing, stressing that pious reason can be the master of the passions. Reason is derived from obedience to the law. In the account of the seven sons who are martyred, the author greatly expanded the account but left out all references to resurrection. The book comes from the shortly after A.D. 1.
The Life of Adam and Eve has been preserved in both Latin and Greek. The two versions are different in length and content. Blame for the fall is placed upon Eve. Sin entered human experience through her. This writing refers to Satan being transformed into the brightness of angels (9:1; see 2 Corinthians 11:14 ), and states that paradise is in the third heaven (compare 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 ). The Life of Adam and Eve was written after 1 A.D.
The Letter of Aristeas was composed after 200 B.C., telling how the Old Testament law was translated into Greek. Actually, it is more concerned about the table conversation at banquets in Alexandria than it is about the translation of the Septuagint. It seeks to show that the Jewish law was in conformity with the highest ideals of Greek thought and life. It indicates that it is possible for Jew and Greek to live together in peace. So far as its account of the translation of the Law into Greek is concerned, its only historical validity is that it was at this time (during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, 285-246 B.C.) that this translation was begun. See Apocalyptic; Apocrypha; Bible, Texts and Versions .
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Pseudepigrapha'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/p/pseudepigrapha.html. 1991.