PseudepigraphaThe Pseudepigrapha of Second Temple Judaism A consideration of Jewish Pseudepigrapha raises the question whether the New Testament contains books written under a false name. Daniel M. GurtnerIllustration by Josh Koch. Image of Enoch from the 1728 Figures de la BibleNovember 7, 2021 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint Level At the time the New Testament was written, there were quite a few writings from ancient Judaism in circulation. The most obscure of these is the so-called “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.” The designation “pseudepigrapha” is unfortunate, since it misrepresents what many of these texts are about in several ways. The English word “pseudepigrapha” (sing. pseudepigraphon) is the transliteration of a Greek term that refers to “falsely attributed writing,” from pseudēs (“false”) and epigraphē (“inscription, superscription”). It is often used to designate works falsely related to or even attributed to prominent individuals in the Old Testament. But these points require some clarification. First, the idea of falsehood suggests some level of deceit and thus falsely attributes negative connotations to the very nature of the writing. Second, some works within this category are not identified with a particular individual at all, including with respect to authorship. Third, putting all these writings into a single category may suggest some kind of uniformity between them. Yet unlike other writings, the texts typically identified as pseudepigrapha, even those originating from the Second Temple Period, are not attested as collections in single manuscripts. Also, nearly all the documents in question are preserved exclusively in Christian traditions. In reality, the expression “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,” then, is a “bucket” category into which documents are often lumped when they do not clearly fit into any others. To begin to understand these documents, then, we must give careful attention to the practice of pseudepigraphy in antiquity in order to gain an appreciation for the cultural phenomena at play. Understanding the Nature of Pseudepigraphy Dr. Gurtner’s recent book introduces the Jewish Pseudepigrapha Why would someone write in the name of someone else? This seems strange to us, since we are used to journalistic-type writing on the one hand, or Stephen King novels where the author has become a cultural celebrity on the other. Yet recall that Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot, and even Benjamin Franklin in his youth wrote as “Silence Dogood,” among several other pen names he used throughout his career. Authors ancient and modern may have a variety of reasons for using such pen names. In antiquity, some libraries, such as the famous Alexandrian library, collected works of well-known writers. Therefore one may write in another’s name to gain a place among well-known writers. This could be done to get a hearing for one’s own views or draw the circumstances of the ancient figure into the context of the real author’s setting. So, for example, the author of 4 Ezra draws from the biblical Ezra. The book of Ezra is set in a context of the return from exile and reconstitution of the temple. Fourth Ezra, drawing from Ezra’s narrative setting, is set after the destruction of the Herodian temple in AD 70, and the similarities between the biblical setting and that of the later author caused the latter to utilize the former in his message. In some instances, the genre of a work may influence the figure to whom it is attributed. Wisdom material would be attributed to Solomon, hymnic writings to David, and legal matters to Moses, etc. In the ancient world, pseudonymity received a mixed reception. In some circles writing in one’s own name may have been perceived as unethical, whereas writing in the name of another is a more modest way of expressing one’s indebtedness to a tradition. The ancient figure serves to lend credence to the views espoused in his name. Among Jews, works written in the name of an esteemed figure are intended to elaborate upon him in some sense—his life, his significance, or some particular about his Jewish piety—and thus attributed to him. In this rubric, texts expand upon traditions associated with their seminal figure. Thus the ancient figure serves to lend credence to the views espoused in his name. The Major Types of Pseudepigraphy There is little agreement about which books are included among the so-called Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, even among published collections. Almost all of them were preserved and hand-copied by Christians, while others are written by Christians in the first place. Here we can limit our overview to a selection of documents that are (1) widely agreed to be Jewish in origin and are still Jewish in their present form, and (2) date from around the time of the New Testament, or at least prior to the end of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (AD 135). Apocalypse The most widely attested genre among the Pseudepigrapha is the apocalypse, which typically depicts the reception of some divine disclosure to a person—typically a famous figure from the Hebrew Bible—alongside its interpretation by a heavenly figure such as an angel. First Enoch is a collection of five originally independent writings dating from the fourth century BC to the first century AD As a whole, 1 Enoch represents the oldest of three works associated with the biblical Enoch, the seventh from Adam (Gen. 5:21–24). Second Baruch is an ancient apocalypse featuring Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah, who is called from his role as companion and secretary to the prophet (Jer. 36:4–10, 26, 32) and placed as a nobleman (Jer. 21:12; 43:2–3; 51:59). In 2 Baruch he becomes recipient of a prophetic revelation, perhaps even successor to Jeremiah, who is an apocalyptic visionary and crucial leader of God’s people in a time of crisis. Like 4 Ezra, this work is written after the destruction of the temple in AD 70 and trying to process this inexplicable tragedy that befell the people of God. Testaments Testaments are drawn from accounts in which a revered figure, typically a father or leader, delivers a discourse in anticipation of his imminent death to his sons, his people, or his successor, similar to what one encounters in the Old Testament with Jacob (Gen. 49) and Moses (Deut. 33–34). The Testament of Moses is a farewell exhortation given to Joshua by Moses before the transfer of leadership of the people of Israel. The ending of the book has been lost, and it is generally assumed that Moses’ death was narrated at some point in the earlier text. The narrative is almost entirely attributed to Moses in the form of a prediction about Israel from their entrance into Canaan until the end of days. The Testament of Job is an embellishment of the biblical book of Job in which Job imparts wisdom to his progeny prior to his impending death with particular emphasis on the virtue of patient endurance. The Aramaic Levi Document is a testament-like text recounting the life story of the patriarch Levi. But the work gives particular attention to Levi’s establishment of the Levitical priesthood, long before the time of Aaron, and sacred laws for sacrifices that he received from his grandfather, Isaac. Related A 17th century icon of Enoch with Elijah in the Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland. Wikipedia The New Testament Use of Jewish PseudepigraphaWhy the New Testament authors sometimes drew on ancient literary works written under false names Daniel M. Gurtner Narratives A variety of narrative texts relating in various ways to the Hebrew Bible were written and preserved among Jews of the Second Temple period. For example, the Book of Jubilees is largely a retelling of the biblical books of Genesis and early parts of Exodus (chs. 1–24). It claims to have been dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai by the “angel of the Presence” (Jub. 1:29; 2:1) alongside the Law at his first ascent up the mountain (Exod. 24:12–18). The Letter of Aristeas is widely regarded as a fictitious accounting for the origins of the Greek translation of the Pentateuch from the Hebrew. Joseph and Aseneth is a fanciful tale of the patriarch Joseph and his Egyptian wife Aseneth, daughter of Potiphera, Priest of On (Gen. 41:45). It describes the repentance and conversion of the gentile Aseneth and her marriage to the pious Jew Joseph. Psalms The various expressions of religious piety among Second Temple Jews occasioned a large assortment of psalms, hymns, and prayers. Among the psalms preserved partially in Hebrew in in the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QPsa; 11Q5), there are six Psalms from the Second Temple period beyond the 150 collected in the Hebrew Bible (Psalms 151–155). A collection of eighteen pseudonymous hymns or poems, attributed to Solomon, are known as the Psalms of Solomon. In general, these convey a Jewish community’s response to persecution and a foreign invasion, likely in reference to the Romans in the first century BC. Pseudepigraphy and the New Testament When considering the pseudepigrapha and the question of canon many scholars think that early Christians adopted the mode of pseudepigraphy from Judaism. And so it is sometimes rather easily claimed, for example, that Paul did not really write the Pastoral Epistles (1–2 Timothy, Titus), but rather it was written by someone else who attributed it to Paul. In other words, they are pseudepigraphical. Get new articles and updates in your inbox. Leave this field empty if you're human: Yet a closer look raises serious objections: most importantly, one can readily recognize that in the pseudepigrapha described above there is little interest in the identity of the “real” author. The importance lies in the idea of the persona utilized by the author in the figure evoked from the Old Testament, and it seems that the identity of the actual authors and/or communities responsible for these documents are almost entirely lost to history. Yet with early Christians, authorship was exceedingly important; the authority of teachings and instructions given to Christian communities rested within the apostolic office. Already during the time of Paul there were those claiming to represent Paul in some sense (e.g., 2 Thess. 2:2). But Paul roundly rejects this (2 Thess. 2:3). Moreover, it is widely regarded that the early church beyond the New Testament likewise recognized the importance of actual authorship and its apostolic affinity, and so routinely rejected the authority of texts shown to be pseudonymous. If Christian communities rejected the practice of pseudepigraphy for its authoritative texts, it remains the case that the Jewish writings surveyed here are nevertheless helpful for understand the New Testament. Daniel M. Gurtner Dan Gurtner (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is Professor of New Testament at Gateway Seminary. He is the author or editor of numerous books, most recently, Introducing the Pseudepigrapha of Second Temple Judaism.