Pseudepigrapha Saturday: A Brief Introduction

Fragment of 1 Enoch

This is the first post for the new “Pseudepigrapha Saturday”. But rather than begin exploring the Pseudepigrapha, I’ll begin by actually making note of what the Pseudepigrapha actually are.

James H. Charlesworth best defines Pseudepigrapha , as his two edited volumes of the Pseudepigrapha are the most authoritative:

Those writings 1) that… are Jewish or Christian; 2) that are often attributed to ideal figures in Israel’s past; 3) that customarily claim to contain God’s word or message; 4) that frequently build upon ideas and narratives present in the Old Testament; 5) and that almost always were composed either during the period 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 or, though late, apparently preserve… Jewish traditions that date from that period (Charlesworth 2013, xxv).

Historically speaking, the Pseudepigrapha were used in many contexts. The Pseudepigrapha, from a 21st century perspective, can be said to represent the voices of traditions which were not recognized as “canonical” by the Rabbis or the Council of Nicaea, and also represent a significant portion of literature and ideas that shaped the cognitive environment in which the canons took form during the turn of the millennium. After all, contrary to popular belief, the Hebrew Bible was not necessarily an authoritative text in canonized form; rather, it was a series of normative texts were loosely connected as a single document (See Michael Satlow’s How the Bible Became Holy). The Pseudepigrapha writings were integral to the development of ideas in the turn of the millennium and influenced culture in tandem with the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. Succinctly put, the Pseudepigrapha are the various traditions that speak to how Jews and Christians thought in antiquity.

One problem with the Pseudepigrapha, though, is that “no universally accepted listing of Pseudepigrapha exists. Some scholars would includes writing found among the DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls) as well as certain books sometimes numbered among the Apocrypha” (Soulen 147, 2001). Some scholars even include the works of Josephus and Philo under the broad umbrella of Pseudepigrapha (Vanderkam 58, 2001). Regardless of this, it is best to return to Charlesworth’s five criterion for what should be considered Pseudepigrapha (see previous quotation).

This is a very brief introduction but will become more clear in following weeks as I actually engage with the Pseudepigrapha.

Bibliography:

Charlesworth, James (ed.). The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume One and Volume Two. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013.

Satlow, Michael. How the Bible Became Holy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Soulen, Richard and R. Kendall. Handbook of Biblical Criticism, Third Edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Vanderkam, James. An Introduction to Early Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eermans Publishing, 2001.

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