The Pseudepigrapha is a large collection of over fifty Jewish and Christian writings from between 300 BC and AD 300, which were not included in the Hebrew Scriptures, or in the Apocrypha, and are not considered canonical by most of the main churches. It is not always straight-forward to identify which documents should be included in the Pseudepigrapha, as some are included in the OT Apocrypha by some churches, particularly the Orthodox.
The word pseudepigrapha, is from the Greek ‘pseud’, meaning ‘false’, and ‘epigraph’, meaning ‘name’ or ‘inscription’. Taken together, the words mean ‘false superscription or title’. Many, but not all, of these documents claim to be written by one of the well-known people in Jewish history, such as the patriarchs, but were actually written many centuries later.
Studies of the Pseudepigrapha can help in the understanding of history and thought of first-
century Judaism, in particular the development of apocalyptic thought within Judaism. Apocalyptic thought was an attempt to reconcile the hopeful prophetic promises looking forward to the Messianic Age with Israel’s disastrous political and historical situation of the inter-testamental centuries. There was increasing differentiation between the current age and the age to come. The future age would have a supernatural origin and will displace the current age, which was understood to be under the control of evil forces. This doctrine of the two ages became characteristic of the inter-testamental period, and is also found in the thinking of the NT. There was increasing Messianic hope, particularly as found in the Book of Enoch, where the Son of Man is understood to be a heavenly pre-existent being, sharing in the
judgement with God. Also seen in this literature is a decline in the interest in national Israel and the development of individualism, together with universalism. It also served as an antidote to the increasing legalism of Judaism, particularly among the Pharasees.
These books had a wide circulation among the Jews, and it is most likely that some of the NT writers would have been familiar with them, and even alluded to them. The pseudonymous ascriptions of these books may have been used for security during times of persecution, as well as in some way giving the books greater authority.
The pseudepigraphal books were translated and published in English in 1913 by RH Charles. The first volume contains the Apocryphal Books, and the second volume contains the Pseudepigraphical Books. His translation and others are available on-line. These are the books he included:
1. Primitive history rewritten from the standpoint of the law
The Book of Jubilees
This book is named by the author’s system of dating. He recommended the use of a 364 day year, so the feasts are celebrated on the correct day. The book claims to be a revelation to Moses on Mt Sinai, urging him to uphold the eternal validity of the law.
The work is strongly legalistic, probably written by a Pharisee in the second century BC, to counter the spread of Hellenism. The author insisted on the strict observance of Jewish rituals, particularly circumcision and observation of the Sabbath. There are many legendary additions to the Biblical accounts, like the claim the it was Satan who suggested that Abraham should sacrifice Isaac.
2. Sacred Legends
The Letter of Aristeas
The purpose of this book is to tell the story of the translation of the Greek Septuagint, which was proposed by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, sometime after 200 BC, in order to commend the Jewish religion and law to the Gentile world. Demetrius of Phalerum was the head of the great library in Alexandria, who suggested to Ptolemy II that a translation should be made of the Jewish law.
It is a letter written in Greek, claiming to be from Aristaeas, who was a high official of Ptolemy. It was sent to his brother Philocrates in Jerusalem, asking Eleazar the high priest for a copy of the Jewish law, together with seventy-two scholars who could translate the Hebrew into Greek. The letter was accompanied by rich gifts for the temple in Jerusalem. When the translators arrived in Alexandria they were honoured in a series of royal banquets, during which they were able to answer the king’s philosophical questions with great wisdom. They were taken to the island of Pharos in the harbour in Alexandria, where they worked on the translation. Demetrius compared their work each day, and wrote down a consensus. The work was completed in seventy-two days, then read to the Jews, who were pleased with it. Finally, the translators were sent home with rich gifts.
The story is probably completely fictional, even though it does contain some reliable information about the Alexandrian court and customs, as well as knowledge about the Septuagint.
The Life of Adam and Eve
There are several versions of this document in a variety of languages, including the Greek Apocalypse of Moses, the Latin Life of Adam and Eve, the Slavonic Life of Adam and Eve, and others, probably copied and modified from a Hebrew original. The Latin document is from the third century AD, but the original must be from before AD 70 as it claims that Herod’s temple is still standing.
This tells the story of the experiences of Adam and Eve after they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. After eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam received a vision and was able to predict the sufferings of the Jews until the post-exilic times, including the final judgement.
The Testament or Assumption of Moses
These may have either been a single work or two separate works, probably from early in the first century AD. It was originally written in Hebrew, and translated into Greek. The only surviving manuscript is incomplete, in Latin from the sixth century.
In the Testament, at the end of his life Moses gives Joshua an apocalyptic overview of Israel’s history, from the occupation of the Promised Land, to the end of time, but without any Messianic hope. It is believed the author might have been an Essene.
Jude alludes to the Assumption of Moses in his letter (Jude 9), when the devil contended with
the Archangel Michael over the body of Moses. However this portion of the text is missing.
The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
This has three sections. The first the Martyrdom of Isaiah, which is Jewish from around 100 BC, with some Christian additions. The only existing copy is Ethiopic. It recounts how Isaiah was sawn in two with a wooden saw, as referred to in Heb 11:37. A vision of Isaiah was added to record the devil’s indignation over Isaiah’s prediction of redemption through Christ. It also describes Christian history up until the time of the persecutions under Nero.
The second is the Ascension of Isaiah, which is a Christian document from the second century AD. God tells Isaiah about the coming of Jesus, but also records his birth, death and resurrection.
The third is the Testament of Hezekiah, from around AD 90-100.
The Book of Enoch, also known as 1 Enoch, or the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Enoch is attributed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. However it was written sometime between 200 BC and 50 BC.
It contains material about the origins of demons and the Nephilim, and explains why some angels fell from heaven. It also explains why the flood was necessary, and predicts the thousand year reign of the Messiah.
It contains five sections:
The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36) - describing the future judgement, particularly of
The Book of Parables (or similitudes) of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71) - containing three parables
The Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 72–82) - also called the Book of the Heavenly Luminaries
or Book of Luminaries
The Book of Dream Visions, or the Book of Dreams (1 Enoch 83–90) - containing two
visions, one about the flood and another giving the history of the world until the Messianic
The Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 91–108) - containing the Apocalypse of Weeks, which divides
world history into ten weeks, the final three being apocalyptic. It is a valuable resource for
studying pre-Christian Jewish theology.
The Book of Jude controversially quotes from 1 Enoch (v14-15, quoting 1 Enoch 1:9). Some church fathers believed 1 Enoch should be included in Scripture, but it was excluded in the final canon of the NT.
The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
This is based on Jacob’s instructions to his sons (Gen 49). Each son gives moral teaching and instructions to his descendants, reviewing their own failings as warnings to others. Only Joseph and Issachar were able to commend their own virtues.
The original work was Pharisaical from the second century BC, with later additions. Editing was completed by a Christian around AD 200, containing similar teaching to that of Jesus.
The Sibylline Oracles
The Sibyl was a Greek prophetess who the Greeks and Romans regularly consulted for oracles of guidance in both private and public affairs. There were several sibyls who had residencies in various locations in Greece and Italy. These oracles were written down and included into a collection around 6 BC, which was kept in Rome. The written oracles were kept by the priests and were constantly studied and consulted in order to determine the will of the gods.
The Jews took over this form of literature, imitating the original Greek oracles. A Jewish collection of oracles was composed in Alexandria around 140 BC. The Jewish writer makes the Greek sibyl commend monotheism, the Mosaic law and important features of Israel’s history, in order to commend their religion to pagans. Later writers, both Jewish and Christian added to this collection over the next centuries until the fifth century AD. The collection originally consisted of fifteen books, of which twelve are still extant. Books 3 to 5 are Jewish propaganda predicting judgement against Gentile nations. Book 3 retells the history of Israel from Solomon until Antiochus Epiphanes. It appeals to the Greeks to abandon their pagan worship, claiming that the original Sibyl was actually a descendent of Noah.
2 Enoch, or the Book of the Secrets of Enoch
The Book of 2 Enoch is also known as the Slavonic Apocalypse of Enoch, or the Secrets of Enoch. Again, it is a Jewish work, written sometime between 30 BC and AD 70. It describes the ascent of Enoch through ten heavens, based on the account of Enoch being taken up by God (Gen 5:21-24). There are debates about its origin, being either Jewish, or a first century, or later, Christian work. It is not included in the Jewish or Christian canons.
It has four sections:
1. Enoch is taken by two angels through ten heavens at the age of 365 (ch 1-22).
2. Enoch is guided by Gabriel into the tenth heaven and speaks with God, becoming like the angels. One group of angels try to establish their own throne, and are thrown down by God to tempt Eve in the Garden of Eden. Enoch is given 360 books containing all that can be known from the Creation to the Flood, and is sent back to earth for 30 days (ch 23-37).
3. Doctrinal and ethical instructions given by Enoch to this sons during the thirty days on earth (38-38). This is similar to the teaching in the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus.
4. The Exaltation of Melchizedek (ch 69-73). Enoch’s son Methuselah is asked to serve as a priest later to be succeeded by Melchizedek.
2 Baruch, or Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch
This is similar in content to 4 Ezra, and might be an imitation of the better quality 2 Esdras. It
describes great pessimism, darkness and despair following the destruction of Jerusalem, but with faint hope for the Messianic reign of peace which is represented by lightning. It is also from the period following AD 70.
3 Baruch, or The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch is a Christian document from the first or second century AD, using earlier Jewish sources. It gives the account of the journey of Baruch through the five heavens.
The Apocalypse of Ezra, or 4 Ezra
This contains visions given to Ezra while in Babylon, about the suffering of Israel from the exile to AD 70. No hope is given for the present age, but the doom is relieved by a vague belief in the coming golden age. The original Jewish form was written after AD 70.
Ezra was given visions of heaven and a fiery gehenna, giving details of punishments for sinners and the coming of antichrist. In heaven, Ezra asks God why human beings were given the ability to sin. God’s reply stresses human free will, but Ezra accuses God of being unjust as he created Eve, the serpent and the forbidden tree, and because of sin, no one can escape the fire. God finally reveals that he endured the cross to save mankind, forgive whose who believe, and defeat death.
The original was almost completely rewritten by Christian editors, and is known as the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra, or the Word and Revelation of Esdras. It mentions apostles, including John and Paul, as well as King Herod. This exists in a copy from the ninth century AD.
The Psalms of Solomon
This is a collection of 18 psalms, modelled on the Davidic psalms, by a variety of different authors from the second or first century BC which were later collected together. The seventeenth psalm is similar to Psalm 72, attributed to Solomon, which probably gives the collection its name. They are referenced in some early Christian writings. The psalms were opposed to the Sadducees and Hasmonean rulers of Judah, and their overthrow during the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BC was seen as a divine act, even though Pompey was condemned for profaning the temple. Pompey is described as a dragon who had been sent
by God to punish the Hasmoneans. Some of the psalms are messianic, emphasising the messianic kingdom rather than the Messiah. Others focus more on individual behaviour, and the need for repentance to gain God’s favour.
5. Ethics and Wisdom Literature
The Fourth Book of Maccabees is philosophic discourse praising the supremacy of reason over passion. It has a prologue followed by two sections. The first of these is a philosophical thesis, and the second illustrates points using examples drawn from 2 Maccabees, particularly the martyrdom of Eleazer and the youths under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It was written in Greek by a Hellenistic Jew, probably before AD 70, either in Alexandria or Antioch. It shows much syncretism between Jewish and Hellenistic thought. The writer believes in the immortality of the soul, but makes no mention of the resurrection of the dead. The good live for ever in happiness together with the patriarchs and God. The suffering and martyrdom of
the Maccabees stands for the suffering of the Jewish nation, and martyrdom brings atonement
for the past sins of the Jews. The Book of 4 Maccabees is included in the Apocrypha in the Orthodox Church.
Pirke Aboth (translated as Chapters of the Fathers)
It can also be spelled Pirkei Avot, Pirkei Avoth or Pirkei Avos. It is a compilation of ethical
teaching and maxims from the Rabbinic Jewish tradition. It is sometimes called Ethics of the Fathers.
It contains many frequently quoted rabbinic sayings, on a variety of topics including, showing
kindness to others, respecting other people’s rights, striving for greatness, respecting God,
being humble, avoiding transgressions, and being careful in speech.
The Story of Ahiqar
This is a Jewish work from the seventh or sixth century BC. Ahiqar, or Ahikar, was known for his great wisdom, and claimed to be the chancellor to Kings Sennacherib and Esarhaddon of Assyria. He adopted his nephew Nadab or Nadin to be his successor. However Nadab plotted to have his uncle murdered, by accusing him of treason before Esarhaddon. Ahikar is arrested and condemned to death. Ahikar reminds the executioner that he had previously saved him from execution under Sennacherib, so the executioner kills another prisoner instead, and is able to convince Esarhaddon that the body belongs to Ahiqar. In the
Apocryphal Book of Tobit, Tobit claims the Ahikar is his nephew (Tobit 1:21-22).
The Fragment of a Zadokite Work, or the Damascus Document, of Damascus Covenant
This only exists in fragments. Two were discovered in Egypt in 1897 called the Zadokite Fragments, and more in the Dead Sea Scrolls, when the name was changed because of the many references to Damascus. This may refer the city of Damascus which was included in the kingdom of David, or otherwise to Babylon or Qumran. The document expresses a hope for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.
It has two parts. The first is the Admonition, containing moral instruction, exhortations, warnings, and polemic against opponents. The second is the Laws, which describe the new covenant community under the Teacher of Righteousness.
Other Pseudepigraphal Works
Many other works are also included in the category of the Pseudepigrapha. Some have been discovered more recently. These can be grouped into the following five categories: Apocalypses, Testaments, Expansions of the Old Testament or other legends, Wisdom or philosophical writings, and Prayers and psalms. This is a selection of them:
The Book of 3 Enoch is also known as the Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch and other names. It was written by Rabbi Ishmael who claimed to become a high priest after visions of ascension to heaven. He was a leading figure in Jewish Merkabah mysticism, living after the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. It has similar content to 1 Enoch, describing the ascension of Enoch to heaven and his transformation into the angel Metatron.
The Apocryphon of Ezekiel
This is written in the style of the OT, as revelations of the prophet Ezekiel, but was from the
late first century BC or early first century AD. It is mostly lost, and only exists in quotations
in writings by Epiphanius, Clement of Rome and Clement of Alexandria.
The largest fragment describes a king inviting everyone to a banquet, except a blind man and
a cripple. These two are angry, and plot their revenge. The cripple sits on the shoulders of the
blind man and together they damage the king’s orchard, but are found out and punished. The story claims to prove the resurrection of the body, as the soul and the body must function together.
The Apocalypse of Zephaniah
This is a Jewish text attributed to the prophet Zephaniah, but because it refers to the
apocryphal story of Susanna, it must be later than 100 BC. This is mostly lost, existing only in
fragments and quotations in other works.
It tells the story of Zephaniah being taken to see the destiny of the souls of people after their
death. He has a vision of a town with no darkness, the abode of the righteous, and of the souls
of the lawless being lashed by 5000 angels. On Mount Seir, the angels write down all the
good deeds of the righteous, and the accuser records all the sins of the ungodly, after which
terrible angels cast them into eternal punishment.
The Vision of Ezra
This claims to be written by Ezra, but is a much later Christian document. It is strongly dependent on 2 Esdras. God answers Ezra’s prayers and sends him seven angels to show him heaven, where several of the apostles are seen, then down to be shown hell. The righteous pass through flames and fire-breathing lions unharmed, while the wicked are ripped apart by vicious dogs and burnt in the fire.
The Apocalypse of Sedrach or the Word of Sedrach
The present form is Christian from the 5th century, but has earlier Jewish sources, now preserved in a single manuscript from the 15th century. Sedrach is thought to be the Greek form of the name Shadrach, one of the three who were thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. Otherwise it could be a corruption of Esdras, the Greek form of Ezra, as the text has similarities with other writings attributed to Ezra.
Sedrach is given a vision of heaven like other apocalyptic texts. In the original Jewish version
an archangel was sent by God to take him to heaven. In the later version, the archangel was replaced with the name of Jesus. Differing in emphasis from most apocalyptic texts, there is a call to repentance, before a patient and merciful God, who desires for people to exercise their free will and repent.
The Apocalypse of Abraham
This book was written in Hebrew some time after the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, but is only preserved in a Slavonic version. The first part describes Abraham’s conversion from idolatry. The second part is an apocalypse showing Abraham the future of the Jewish people. He ascends to heaven where God gives him a vision of the world, the fall of humanity, and the final division between the Jews and the heathens. He is shown the troubles which will precede the Messianic age, when the Messiah, or Elect One, will gather Israel into the kingdom and destroy the heathen with fire.
The Apocalypse of Adam
This is a Gnostic document from the first century AD derived from Jewish sources, discovered in 1945, forming part of the Hag Hammadi Library. When Adam was 700 years old he tells Seth that he received knowledge of God from Eve, so he and Eve were actually more powerful than their creator. This knowledge was lost as a result of the fall, when the sub-creator, or demiurge, separated Adam and Eve from God. The work includes a lengthy prediction of the flood and destruction by fire, before an illuminator will appear at the end.
The Apocalypse of Elijah
A document which is both Jewish and Christian from between AD 150 and 275. The work is anonymous, and brings a revelation from an angel. Elijah is mentioned in the text, but it does not claim that he is the author. The Christian version was originally five separate works: A treatise on fasting and prayer. A prophecy about the Assyrians, even though the events had already happened. An account of a future son of lawlessness, renamed as the antichrist. An account of the martyrdoms of Elijah and Enoch (the two witnesses in Rev 11), and of Tabitha (Acts 9) and sixty other men. An account of the final judgement and destruction of the son of lawlessness (antichrist).
The Greek Apocalypse of Daniel
The present form is from around the 9th century AD, but contains Jewish sources from around the fourth century AD. It is a Christian work attributed to the prophet Daniel, and has similar visions, but is written much later. There are two sections. The first predicts the Byzantine-Arab war in the eighth century and the crowing of Charlemagne. The second describes the appearance and activities of the antichrist before the day of judgement.
Many books contain legendary expansions of biblical history, including the patriarchs and the
The Testament of Job
In this document, Job delivers a parting address to his second wife and children, in which he
reviews his life before he dies. His three daughters have a special ability to sing heavenly
songs while his soul is transported to heaven in a chariot.
The author is unknown, but would be from one of the stricter Jewish sects, like the Hasidim,
from around 100 BC.
The Testaments of the Three Patriarchs
This is a collection of three similar by originally separate apocryphal works, the Testament of
Abraham, the Testament of Isaac, and the Testament of Jacob from around AD 100. All three are based on the blessing of Jacob in the Book of Genesis.
The Testament of Abraham is from the first or second century AD, and exists in several versions. It looks at Abraham’s reluctance to die, and the way his death came about. It is a theological story with some humour, where Abraham continues to dodge and avoid God’s will, defending himself by his good and devout life. The archangel Michael cannot handle Abraham’s stubborn refusals and each time has to return to consult with God.
The Testament of Isaac was originally Jewish, with many Christian additions. Isaac is informed of his impending death by an angel, after which he foretells the twelve tribes of Israel, and of Jesus (in the Christian version). The angel takes Isaac to heaven, where he see the torture of sinners, meets Abraham, then returns to earth where he writes his testament, before being taken to heaven in a flying chariot.
The Testament of Jacob also describes Jacob being visited by Michael and told of his impending death. He is then taken to heaven, where he sees the torture of the sinful dead, then meets Abraham. The angels then deliver the ethical messages.
3. Expansions of Old Testament and other legends
Joseph and Asenath
Asenath was the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On, who became the wife of Joseph (Gen 41:45,50, 46:20). This book is a Hellenistic Jewish work of fiction from around AD 100, telling about the romance between Joseph and Asenath. A later Christian editor added references to the eucharist and confirmation.
The Lives of the Prophets
This is a Jewish document from the early first century AD, with later Christian additions. It records legends about some of the prophets of the Old Testament, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, as well as the minor prophets. It also includes stories about Nathan, Abajah, Joed, Azariah, Zechariah, Elijah and Elisha.
4. Wisdom and philosophical literature
The book of 3 Maccabees is a fictional story, written in Greek in the first century BC, about Jewish persecution by Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-204 BC). It has no connection with the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. The intention of the book is to exult Judaism, to urge Jews to be faithful in obedience to the law, and to warn any persecutors that they will face the judgement of God.
After Ptolemy’s victory over Antiochus III at the Battle of Raphia (217 BC), he attempted to enter the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem. After he refused to be dissuaded by the Jews, they cried out to God, and Ptolemy was struck down to the ground. After returning to Egypt, Ptolemy vowed revenge on the Jews. He rounded up all the Jews in Alexandria into a racecourse. There were so many Jews that the clerks had to stop recording them as they ran out of writing materials. He then ordered 500 elephants to be made drunk and released into the racecourse to trample the Jews. On the first day the execution was delayed as the king slept too late. On the second day, God made him forget. On the third day two angels appeared, terrifying the king and his troops as they approached the racecourse. The elephants then turned and trampled the king’s troops. The Jews were finally released and entertained by the king for seven days. The celebration of their deliverance was made into a perpetual festival by the Jews. The Book of 3 Maccabees is included in the Apocrypha in the Orthodox Church.
These are a collection of about 250 Jewish maxims attributed to Phocylides, a sixth century BC Ionic philosopher and poet. Each are a series of hexameter verses in the form of a teaching, containing a command for the reader to obey it. They were probably originally written in Greek between 50 BC and AD 100, and translated into Hebrew. They make no reference to the OT or to Judaism. They refer indirectly to the Noachide Laws, which were a set of imperatives which, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of universal moral laws for the sons of Noah (ie. all humanity). Some were copied into the
second book of the Sibylline Oracles. It was used as a popular school textbook around the time of the Reformation.
5. Prayers, Psalms, and Odes
More Psalms of David
These are Jewish Psalms written between the third century BC and AD 100. Included is Psalm 151 which is included in the Apocrypha in the Orthodox Church.
The Prayer of Manasseh
The account of the reign of Manasseh in the Book of 2 Chronicles mentions a prayer of repentance that Manasseh prayed when he humbled himself before the God of his ancestors after being captured by the Assyrians (2 Chr 33:12-13, 18). The prayer was probably written much later in Greek in the early part of the first century AD. It is sometimes included in the Apocrypha, particularly by the Orthodox Church.