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Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament

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After a careful examination of the scope of the Biblical canon, the ancient Church divided the mass of Biblical literature, in the widest sense of the word. into three classes: 1, the canonical and inspired; 2. the non- canonical, but on account of their long use, worthy of being read in the churches (ἀντιλεγόμενα and ἀναγιγνωσκόμενα, ἐκκλησιαζόμενα ), and, 3, the other books of a Biblical character in circulation (Biblical nams in the title, a Biblical form, Biblical contents, but differing greatly in spirit and truth from the canonical books), called apocryphal, or such as should be kept secret (ἀπόκρυφα ). Virtually the same books which the ancient Church called apocrypha are embraced under the name Pseudepigrapha by the Protestant Church. Since, after the example of Jerome, the non- canonical books of the Old Test. received the name apocrypha, it became necessary to find a new one for the third class. The name ψευδεπίγραφα is, indeed, taken only from a single and outward mark, namely, the spurious character of the author's name which they bear. It is neither sufficiently comprehensive, nor does it distinguish sufficiently this class of writings from the antilegomena; nor is it applicable to all the writings of the third class. For many reasons, however, it is probably the best term that could be found.

As there is an Old and a New Test., so likewise there are pseudo-epigrapha of each, all writings that claim either to have been written by or to treat of Old Test. personages, whether these writings are of Jewish or Christian origin, being called psudepigrapha of the Old Test.; and those writings which pretend to be gospels, acts of the apostles, epistles of apostles, and revelations under a New-Test. name, being termed pseudepigrapha of the New-Test. The latter class might probably be better called apocrypha of the New Test. (in the old sense of the word).

In the following the pseudepigrapha of the Old Test., those that are extant as well as those of which only fragments are preserved, or which are only known by name, will be treated. We premise a few remarks on the origin and development of this whole class of literature. The rapid growth and spread of pseudepigraphic literature among the Chrtia the Jead Christi the last century before, and the early centuries after, Christ, is a peculiar phenomenon, for which other nations have only distant analogies: and it is all the more remarkable, because such writings are in direct contradiction to the duty of strict truthfulness demanded by both Mosaism and Christianity. That these books were used only in sectarian circles cannot be proved. It is true that heretics in early days of the Church frequently adopted this method of promulgating their errors, but this was in the period of the decay of this literature, and we must remember, on the other hand, that, in the course of the centuries during which it flourished, it generally was employed for honorable and usually noble purposes, and by members of the orthodox Church. There is no doubt that their origin is not to be explained as an imitation of the secret books in possession of the priests of the Gentile temples, but that they are the outgrowth of the peculiarity and life of the Jewish congregation, and were then transferred to the Christian Church.

Above all, it must be remembered that it was the custom of Jewish writers not to prefix their names to their productions, as these were written for the benefit of the congregation, not for the author's glorification. Different was the practice with the prophets, who, with their names, guaranteed the truth of the revelation. Thus the names of the authors of nearly all other books have been hidden from posterity. This custom of omitting the author's name explains, to some extent, the origin of writings under a strange name. The other weighty reason lies in the inner rupture in the spiritual life of the Jews, which began before the captivity, but showed itself in great potency in the first centuries of the new Jerusalem. With the ruin of the old political and religious organization. and the sufferings under heathen supremacy, the freedom of the national spirit was also broken, the Holy Spirit of revelation withdrew, the state of affairs and the teachings of former days became decisive for the new period; and as all this led to the formation of a canon in the first centuries after the exile; it also increased the reverence for the old history, the old persons and writings, so much, that these ruled and decided the whole spiritual life of the people. The examination, study, and application of the sacred writings were the fundamental objects of these times.

Although, through association with other nations and educational forces (Persians, Greeks, Romans), and through a more systematic and deeper investigation of the old books, new knowledge and aims were born, and although, in extraordinary and dangerous times, prominent men felt themselves called upon to speak to the congregation, yet the lack of personal influence always induced such authors to put their thoughts and words into the mouth of some pious man of antiquity, and conform the shape and style of their writings to those of the Old Test. A thorough acquaintance with these latter facilitated the application of their contents to later circumstances. Such revivification of ancient person's, which makes them the bearers of later thoughts, was common to all literature; and it was but one step further to ascribe a whole book to them. In many respects this kind of literature can be compared with the dramatic works of other nations; but to call it intentionally fraudulent is hardly to be justified, for the multitude of such books shows that the knowledge of their late origin was constantly present to the minds of the readers.

Yet the danger of leaving a false impression, at least in the minds of the less cultivated part of the congregation, although for the contemporaries comparatively small, was constantly growing with time, especially when Christianity brought these later spiritual productions of the Jews to nations who did not understand them. The opposition of the early Christian Church against such books can thus be easily understood, but theological science must investigate, and make all possible use of them. The pseudepigraphical form was chiefly adopted for the purpose of instruction, exhortation, and consolation in the great trials and troubles of post-exilic days. What the prophets had been for the past, the later writings were intended to be for the present, by the prophetical character which they assumed. Most of the pseudepigraphical works are prophetical in their nature, some also apocalypses, in imitation of the book of Daniel.

Besides the pseudepigraphical literature, the so-called haggadic midrash, as we find it in the later Targumim, Midrashim, and Talmud, as well as in the Pseudepigrapha, was especially cultivated.

With the rise of Christianity, a new element was introduced into this literature, and contributed to its growth and development, not through the Essenes, as modern Jewish writers would have it, but through the Judaizing sects, and the gnosticism arising from them, especially in Asia Minor and Egypt. In the hands of. the sects and heretics they later became instruments for dangerous purposes, which resulted in the antagonizing attitude of the Church. The number of Jewish and Christian pseudepigrapha was undoubtedly very large. Even in the apocalypse of Ezra (4 Ezra 14:46 Lat., 14:51 Ethiop.), seventy apocryphal writings are distinguished from the twenty-four canonical books, which, however, is probably a round number that became authoritative for later times. It is probable that those preserved are the best of their class. Of many we have only the titles, or short extracts in the Church Fathers. The last decades have discovered some that were regarded as lost, and the future may yet furnish us others. They have more than a passing interest, they have historical value, because they were the popular literature of their day. According to their contents, the pseudepigrapha maybe divided into different classes, viz.:

I. LYRICAL POETRY. To this class belong:

1. The Psalter of Solomon (q.v.). By way of supplement to the literature we add Pick, The Psalter of Solomon (Greek and English, in the Presbyterian Review, October, 1883), and an art. by Dean in the Expositor (Lond. December 1883).

2. A pseudepigraphon of Δαβίδ, mentioned in the Constit. Apost. 6:16. Whether this is Psalms 151 of the Greek Bible, or a larger, independent work, cannot now be decided.

II. PROPHETIC WRITINGS. Under this head we enumerate:

a. The so-called Apocalypses or Revelations. This is the name assigned to those books of fictitious prophecy which, after the spirit of prophecy had- departed from Israel, were written, in the manner of genuine prophetic books, to solve the problems suggested by the fate and sufferings of the people. They seek a solution of the intricacies of the present in predictions of the glory of the future. Accordingly, they do not imitate the old prophets in their chief peculiarity, namely, to counsel and warn the people on account of their sins, but they undertake a subordinate office, that of foreseeing and foretelling the future, their chief object, while they nevertheless endeavor to erect their prophetic building on the foundation of the inspired seers. The chief contents of these revelations are the Messianic times in their relation to the present time and circumstances. Not that the fact that the Messianic time would come, but when and how, was the question for the waiting congregation. The books that seek to answer these questions are called apocalypses. Their contents are most varied and peculiar, their explanation manifold and strange; the topics discussed all referring directly or indirectly to the kingdom of God, and the fnture of the chosen people; their style enigmatical and highly figurative. A portion of these apocalypses have been treated by Lufcke, Einleitung in die Ofenbarung des Johannes (2d ed. Bonn, 1848); Hilgenfeld, Die judische Apocalyptik (1857); Langen, Das Judenthum in Paldestina zur Zeit Jesu (1866); Schurer, Lehrbuch der N.T. Zeitgeschichte (1874; 2d ed. with the title, Gesch. des. jud. Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi, 1886).

3. The Enoch and Noah Writings, combined in the Book qf Enoch (q.v.). We add, by way of supplement to the literature, Drummond, The Jewish Messiah (Lond. 1877), page 17 sq.; The Book of Enoch, in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review (Lond. July, 1879); Bissell, The Apocrypha of the Old Testament (New York, 1880), page 665 sq.; Schodde, The Book of Enoch Translated, with Introduction and Notes (Andover, 1882); Laurence Book of Enoch the Prophet, translated, with Text corrected by his Latest Notes. with an Introduction by the Author of Evolution and Christianity (Lond. 1883); Enoch's Gospel, in the Expositor, May 1184; Dictionary of Christian Biography (ed. Smith and Wace), s.v. Enoch Book of.

4. The Ανάληψις Μωϋσέως , Assumptio Mosis (q.v.).

5. The Fourth Book of Ezra, (See ESDRAS, BOOK OF), and add Gildemeister, Esrae Liber IV, Arabice (Bonn, 1877); Bensley, The Missing Fragment of the Latin Translation of the Fourth Book of Ezra (Cambridge, 1875); Drummond, u.s. pages 84-117.

6. The present Jewish Ezra revelation found an entrance into the Church, but usually with some modifications. In the editions of the Vulgate it has, besides these, long additions in front and at the close. These in the MSS., are written as separate Ezra books, one of which, at least (chapter 1 sq.), is of Christian origin, to impress the importance of Christianity upon the stubborn Jews; the other, probably a portion of an independent Jewish work. Both are translations from the Greek.

7. The λόγος καὶ ἀπυκάλυψις τοῦ ἁγίου προφήτου Ε᾿σδράμ καὶ ἀγαπητοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ , published by Tischendorf, in Apocal. Apocr. (Leipsic, 1866), pages 24-33, from a Paris MS., has no value. On other Ezra literature, see Tischendorf, Studien und Kritiken (1851), part 2; Lucke, l.c.

8. Closely related to the Ezra prophecies is the apocalypse of Baruch, published in a Latin translation from a Syriac MS. in the Anmbrosiana at Milan, by Ceriani (Monum. Sacra, I, 2, page 73 sq.), in 1866, and by Fritzsche (pages 654-699), also in Syriac, by the former, in 1871. It is a revelation to Baruch concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the ensuing captivity, and the second destruction, to which are added visions of the Messianic future. It is allied in contents and style to 4 Ezra, and called forth by the same historical events, but is a later production. The original language is Greek. See Ewald, Gottingen Gelehrten Anzeige, 1867, page 1706 sq.; Ewald, Geschichte (3d ed.), 7:83 sq.; Langen, De Apoc. Baruch Comment. (Freiburg, 1867); Hilgenfeld, Messias Judaecorum, page 63 sq.: Fritzsche, u.s. page 30 sq.: Schurer, u.s. page 542 sq.; Renan, Journal des Savants; 1877, page 222 sq.; Drummond, u.s. 117-132; Kneucker, Das Buch Baruch, page 190 sq. (Leipsic, 18779).

9. Whether the Pseudepigraphon Baruch mentioned in the Synopsis Palmi Athanasiz is the same as the above is uncertain. We still, however, possess a Christian Baruch book, for which seen (See BARUCH, BOOK OF), in the supplement of this Cyclopaedia.

10. Eliae Revelatio et Visio. (See ELIAS, APOCALYPSE OF).

11. Ascensio et Visio Isaiae. (See ASCENSION OF ISAIAH).

12. An apocalypse or prophecy of Zephaniah is mentioned in the four catalogues of the Apocrypha, and is also quoted by Cletenes Alexalnd. Stromata, 5:11, § 78.

13. An apocrypha of Jeremiah, in Hebrew, used by the Nazarenes, is mentioned by Jerome (see Fabricims, 2d ed. 1:1102 sq.), as the source of the quotation in Matthew 27:9; but this is probably fictitious.

Concerning the apocalypses of, 14. Habakkuk 15. Ezekiel 16. Daniel; 17. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, we have no further information.

18. An apocalypse of Moses, distinct from the Book of Jubilees (No. 31), and the Asstumptio Mosis (No. 4), we know only from Syncellus, Protius Amphil., and others (Fabricius, page 838), who mention it as the source of Galatians 6:15.

19. A Lamech book is mentioned in the catalogues of Cotelier and Montfaucoll; and

20. The Gnostic Sethites possessed an apocalypse of Abraham (q.v.).

b. Testaments:

21. A διαθήκη τῶν πρωτοπλαστῶν, according to Fabricius, 2:83, contained the mention, that Adam was taken into Paradise when forty days osd. It is probably a portion of the Vita darri (No. 35).

22. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (q.v.); to the literature must be added Pick, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, in the Lutheran Church Review (Philadelphia, July 1885); Schapp, Die Testamente der wolf Patriarchen (Halle, 18S4).

23. An apocryphon, τῶν τριῶν πατριαρχῶν, is mentioned in the Const. Apost. 6:16.

24. An apocryphal testament of Jacob, mentioned in the Decretum Gelasii (Fabricius, 1:437, 799).

25. A προσευχὴ Ι᾿ωσήφ, "prayer or blessing of Joseph," is frequently mentioned, and is also counted among those read (παῤ ῾Εβραίοις ) by Origen and others (Fabricius, 1:765-768). It seems to have been strongly cabalistic.

26. A διαθήκη Μωϋσέως is mentioned in the four catalomues and in the Catena of Nicephorns, 1, col. 175.

27. Concerning the διαθήκη Ε᾿ζεκίου, Asc. Jes. cap. 1-5, see No. 11.

28. The testaments of Adam and Noah are portions of the Vita Adami (No. 35).

c. Other books concerning the Prophets:

29. In the acts of the Nicene synod (Fabric. 1:845) mention is made of βίβλος λόγων μυστικῶν Μωϋσέως . What book is meant is uncertain. The later Jews had a work, P'etirat Moshe, the death of Moses.

30. Liber Eldad et Mledad is mentioned in Pastor Hermae, 1, vis. 2, 3, and cited as the holy writings generally are; later authorities mention it as an apocryihon of the Old Testament.


31. The Book of Jubilees (q.v.). To the literature we add Drummond, page 143-147; Delane, The Book of Jubilees, in the Monthly Expositor, August and September 1885: Dillmann, Beitrage aus dem Buche der Jubilden zur Kritik des Pentateuch-Textes (Berlin, 1883, in reports of the Berlin Academy of Sciences); Schodde, The Book of Jubilees (translation, etc., in Bibliotheca. Sacra, October 1885, etc.).

32. Jannes et Mambres treats of the contest between Moses and the Egyptian sorcerers (Exodus 7:11). Cf. 2 Timothy 3:8. See Health, Quar. Statement of the "Palest. Exploration Fund," October 1881, page 311 sq.

33. Manasseh's conversion (2 Chronicles 33:11) early gave rise to an apocryphon of Manasseh, used both by Christian writers and by the Targum on Chronicles (Fabricins, 1:1000 sq.).

34. A novel based on Genesis 41:45, we have in Asenath (q.v.).

35. Books of Adam, see ADAM, BOOK OF. To the literature we add, Trumpp, in Abhandlungen der bayrischen Akademie der Wissenachaften (Munich, 1880, 1882); Meyer, Vita Adae et Evae, in the same journal (1879); Malan, The Book of Adam and Eve (Loud. 1882).

36. A gnostic writing, called Noria, after the wife of Noah, is mentioned by Epiphanius, Haer. 26.

37. An Ebionitic book, ἀναβαθμοὶ Ι᾿ακώβου (Genesis 28), also mentioned by Epiphanius (Fabricius, 1:437).

On the Jewish Midrashim. See MIDRASH, in this Supplement.

Later, this class of literature was used for worldly and evil purposes, and stood in the service of quackery, witchcraft, and sorcery. The name of Solomon was, above all others, connected with this kind of works; sometimes, also, that of Joseph and Abraham (Fabricius, 1:1043, 390, 785). See Plitt-Herzog, Real Encyklop. s.v. (B.P.)

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​p/pseudepigrapha-of-the-old-testament.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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