The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) consists of a
collection of writings dating from approximately the 13th - 3rd
centuries BCE. These books were included in the Jewish canon by the
Talmudic sages at Yavneh around the end of the first century CE, after
the destruction of the Second Temple. However, there are many other
Jewish writings from the Second Temple Period which were excluded from
the Tanakh; these are known as the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.
The Apocrypha (Greek, "hidden books") are
Jewish books from that period not preserved in the Tanakh, but included
in the Latin (Vulgate) and Greek (Septuagint) Old Testaments. The
Apocrypha are still regarded as part of the canon of the Roman Catholic
and Orthodox churches, and as such, their number is fixed.
The term Pseudepigrapha (Greek, "falsely
attributed") was given to Jewish writings of the same period, which were
attributed to authors who did not actually write them. This was
widespread in Greco-Roman antiquity - in Jewish, Christian, and pagan
circles alike. Books were attributed to pagan authors, and names drawn
from the repertoire of biblical personalities, such as Adam, Noah,
Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Ezekiel, Baruch, and Jeremiah. The
Pseudepigrapha resemble the Apocrypha in general character, yet were not
included in the Bible, Apocrypha, or rabbinic literature.
All the Apocrypha and most of the
Pseudepigrapha are Jewish works (some contain Christianizing additions).
They provide essential evidence of Jewish literature and thought during
the period between the end of biblical writing (ca. 400 BCE) and the
beginning of substantial rabbinic literature in the latter part of the
first century CE. They have aroused much scholarly interest, since they
provide information about Judaism at the turn of the era between the
Bible and the Mishna (Biblical Law and Oral Law), and help explain how
Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity came into being.
When were they written
The oldest known Jewish work not included
in the Bible is the Book of Enoch. This is a complex work, written in
the third (or perhaps even the late fourth) century BCE, after the
return from the Babylonian Exile and the establishment of the Second
Jewish Commonwealth (6th-5th centuries BCE) and before the Maccabean
revolt in 172 BCE. The oldest copies of the Book of Enoch, dating from
the third century BCE, were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls (see
The latest of the Apocrypha and
Pseudepigrapha are the Apocalypses of Ezra and Baruch, written in the
decades following the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
These works, contemporary with those of the early Rabbinic school of
Yavneh, reflect the theological and ethical struggles and dilemmas
aroused by the Roman conquest of Judea and the destruction of the
Most of these works were written in the
Land of Israel, in Aramaic or Hebrew. However, some of them, such as The
Wisdom of Solomon, were written in Greek. These Jewish Greek writings
were produced in the widespread Jewish Diaspora of the time, mainly in
Egypt (Alexandria) and in North Africa. Although most of the Hebrew and
Aramaic texts have been lost over the centuries, many of them,
translated into Greek or Oriental Christian languages (such as Ethiopic,
Syriac or Armenian) have been found. Early Christianity showed great
interest in Jewish traditions and stories about biblical figures and
events, and as a result scholars now have access to a substantial
library of Jewish writing, created during a crucial period of Jewish
history, but preserved only within the Christian tradition.
The Development of Biblical scholarship
Certain of the apocryphal works were
known in Jewish tradition throughout the Middle Ages, not necessarily in
their full texts, but in shortened and retold versions, or in
translations back into Hebrew or Aramaic from Christian languages. Thus
forms of the Books of Judith, Maccabees and Ben Sira, as well as parts
of Wisdom of Solomon were familiar to Jewish scholars. But these works
never achieved wide acceptance in Judaism and remained, to a greater or
lesser extent, curiosities.
During the Renaissance in Europe and in
the following centuries, an interest in various Oriental languages
developed in Christian circles. First Hebrew, then Arabic, Aramaic,
Ethiopic, Syriac and more took their place alongside Greek and Latin in
the scholarly purview. At the same time, Christian scholars began to be
interested in rabbinic sources (preserved in Hebrew) and Jewish biblical
exegesis. This combined interest in language and rabbinics was an
important component in the complex development that, by the end of the
eighteenth century, provided the basis for "modern" critical biblical
Other developments contributed to and
stemmed from this process: the beginnings of archeology, the deciphering
of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Babylonian cuneiform, and antiquarian and
scholarly study of the Holy Land. In this context, interest developed in
Jewish documents which could help illuminate the New Testament. Many
works were discovered, published, translated and studied, and they came
to be called the Pseudepigrapha. An English translation of works known
by the early twentieth century was prepared under the guidance of the
renowned English scholar R. H. Charles and entitled
Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, published in 1913. To modern Jewish
scholars, these works are known as the Sefarim Hitsonim ("External
Books"). Two major annotated translations into Modern Hebrew have been
published, one edited by Abraham Kahana (most recently re-issued in
1959) and one by A.S. Hartom (1969).
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Scholarly interest was renewed after the
discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. In the eleven caves near
Qumran north-west of the Dead Sea, parts of more than 700 ancient Jewish
manuscripts were discovered. These had been written in the same period
as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, mostly in Hebrew, with a lesser
number in Aramaic and even fewer in Greek. The Dead Sea Scrolls, as they
came to be known, are assumed to have been the library of a sectarian
community at Qumran. The scrolls survived the Roman ravaging of Judea in
the years 68-70 CE, because they were hidden in caves. They have been a
major focus of scholarly and general interest for the last half-century.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls were a number
of manuscripts of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, including ten
manuscripts of the Book of Enoch in the original Aramaic (until then
copies were extant only in an Ethiopic translation of a Greek
translation of a Semitic original), which were vital to answering many
questions about its origins. Dating of the manuscripts by their script
shows that certain parts of Enoch are at least as old as the third
century BCE. Fragments of Ben Sira in Hebrew, Tobit in Aramaic, the
Epistle of Jeremiah in Greek, and others were also found at Qumran.
In addition to these discoveries, the
scrolls included other, similar writings that were previously unknown.
In a Psalms Scroll from Qumran, a number of additional compositions were
discovered, thereby increasing the corpus of texts already known. They
also assisted in understanding a literary genre - the later Psalms -
which happen to be poorly represented in the Apocrypha and
Pseudepigrapha. These prayerful poems provide a deep insight into the
religious feelings and sentiments of their authors. The knowledge that a
lively literary production of Psalms existed at that time means that any
study of ancient Jewish literature must now take these apocryphal Psalms
very seriously into account.
A third important aspect of the Dead Sea
Scrolls is that they were discovered in a known archeological and
sociological context, firmly fixing them in the Second Temple period.
Before 1947, only medieval, Christian manuscripts of the Apocrypha and
Pseudepigrapha were known, and they could be dated only on the basis of
details contained in them. This is not always a dependable procedure.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, stemming from a clearly established archeological
context, are vital in dating the writings accurately.
What do these texts teach us about
In addition to the discoveries at Qumran, a
substantial number of ancient Pseudepigrapha have been found elsewhere.
Some of them were preserved in Greek and Latin; others in translations
from Greek and Latin into various Oriental Christian languages - Syriac,
Ethiopic, Arabic, Church Slavonic, Armenian and Georgian, among others.
The most prominent of these are the Book of Enoch (Ethiopic and Greek);
the Book of Jubilees, also preserved in Ethiopic; Testaments of the
Twelve Patriarchs in Greek; The Apocalypse of Baruch in Syriac; the Book
of the Secrets of Enoch in Old Church Slavonic; and the Books of Adam
and Eve in Latin, Greek, Slavonic, Armenian and Georgian.
Among this literature are works of varied character.
Some are histories: the main source for knowledge of the Maccabean wars
are the apocryphal First and Second Books of Maccabees. Other works,
called apocalypses, present visions of heavenly and earthly secrets, of
God and his angels. The concern with heavenly realities is a very
prominent development in the Second Temple Period. In these works
central religious questions dominate, above all the issue of the justice
of God. Such visions are attributed to Enoch, Ezra, Baruch and Abraham.
A substantial number of works transmit proverbial
teaching about religious and practical issues. These numerous wisdom or
sapiental books are a continuation of the tradition of Proverbs and
Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The Wisdom of Ben Sira is a record of the
teachings of Ben Sira, the head of an academy in Jerusalem in the early
decades of the second century BCE. In addition, the Jews of the Second
Temple period composed many psalms and prayers, expressing their love
for God, their yearning to be close to Him, and their anguish over the
fate of individuals and of Israel.
The manuscripts demonstrate that Jewish thought of
this period was orientated between poles: Israel and mankind; the
earthly and heavenly world; the righteous and the wicked. The people at
that time lived in a consciousness of these dualities and in tension
created by them. A certainty of Gods just and merciful providence was
challenged by the turbulent and violent events of their times. These
books are different from the rabbinic literature; they deal only
peripherally with traditions of a legal (halakhic) character, which
dominated the next, rabbinic stage of Jewish creativity.
What is their importance?
When these books were first studied, scholars realized
that they could help to provide a context for the understanding of the
origins of Christianity. No longer was rabbinic Judaism to form the
primary basis for comparison with the earliest Christian literature, but
rather the Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period, and
particularly the Pseudepigrapha, could contribute much insight, making
the Jewish origin of Christianity more comprehensible.
The contribution of the study of the Apocrypha and
Pseudepigrapha to the understanding of the New Testament should not be
underrated. The approach to Jesus that is typified by Schweitzers Quest
of the Historical Jesus (1964) - using the context of "Jewish
apocalyptic" to help understand his activity - would not have been
possible without the discovery of the Pseudepigrapha. As a result of
these studies, we now have insight into types of Judaism and religious
ideas within the Jewish tradition that would otherwise have remained
Here we move closer to answering a central question:
why study this literature at all? The general answer is that the
Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha should be studied because they embody an
expression of the human spirit, and the historian is enjoined to study
the human past. But, for scholars of the so-called "Judeo-Christian
culture", a particular interest is inherent in the investigation of that
segment of the past in which Judaism took on the form it still has and
in which Christianity emerged. Yet this very agenda, when formulated
thus, bears within it potentialities for the perversion of truth and the
misconception of reality. The historical enterprise is an interpretative
one; there is a great danger inherent in the study of the origins of
ones own tradition. Modern and medieval "orthodoxies" tend to interpret
the time before they existed in terms of themselves. It has only been in
the last generation of scholarship of Judaism in the Second Temple
Period, that the implications of this way of seeing the world have begun
to penetrate the fabric of historical thinking and writing.
This is an extremely important development, for it
permits the Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period, and the
people who produced and cherished these works, to step outside the giant
shadows cast by the twin colossi of the Talmud and the New Testament. It
then becomes possible to start to delineate what appear to have been
central aspects of Judaism in the Second Temple Period. New features of
Jewish life and thought become evident and the task of their detailed
description and integration into an overall picture can be broached.
Only such an endeavor will, in the final analysis, make it possible for
us to advance our understanding of the development of rabbinic Judaism
and of Christianity. This is a weighty labor but a very important one,
and it is the Pseudepigrapha that provide us with evidence of vital
aspects of Judaism that would otherwise have remained unknown.
This aspect of the study of the pseudepigraphical
literature is in its very infancy. By pursuing it, we are able to trace
the influence of ancient Jewish traditions and documents down the
centuries. There have been one or two researches that have shown the way
(Satran 1980; Stone 2001); other associated investigations have looked
at the way Jewish apocryphal traditions were taken up and developed by
medieval Judaism and Christianity (Bousset 1896; Stone 1982, Stone
1996). These two avenues of investigation seem likely to produce real
results in the direct study of the texts, in the evaluation of their
character and function, as well as in the differentiation of Jewish and
Christian materials, not always an easy task. From this particular
perspective, the study of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha teaches us to
understand significant aspects of medieval culture, of Jewish history
and of Christian origins.
List of Apocrypha
The Additions to the Book of Esther
Wisdom of Solomon
Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Joshua ben Sira
The Letter of Jeremiah
The Additions to the Book of Daniel
The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews
Bel and the Dragon
In addition, the following books are in the Greek and Slavonic Bibles but
not in the Roman Catholic Canon, though some of them occur in Latin: