5. Prayers, Psalms, and Odes

5. Prayers, Psalms, and Odes

More Psalms of David

Prayer of Manasseh

Psalms of Solomon

Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers

Prayer of Joseph

Prayer of Jacob

Odes of Solomon

The other thirteen pseudepigraphal works discussed by Charlesworth need not concern us here. They are bits and pieces of lost works known only from quotations or allusions in the works of the church historian Eusebius (fourth century a.d.) and ultimately by Alexander Polyhistor (first century a.d.).

The mere evidence of so much literary activity from this era is astounding. More astonishing is the fact that the OT inspired and influenced nearly all of this literature to some extent. The ancient traditions of the Jews continued to inform and mold their thinking and aspirations regardless of those to whom they were subservient.

Perhaps more important is the background—social, political, cultural, and religious—that this extracanonical material provides to help us interpret the canonical materials of both the OT and the NT. Many significant theological issues are highlighted in this literature. Major issues are the concept/meaning of sin and death, the origins and power of death, the problem of theodicy (God's rule in a fallen world), his transcendence, the progress/lack of progress in history, the Messiah, the messianic kingdom, resurrection, eternal life, the Son of Man, the end of the world, the fate of the ungodly, heaven, hades, hell, paradise, angelology, and demonology. All of these issues and more are touched upon significantly. The materials themselves, often of a composite nature, raise the issues of syncretism and authorship of ancient documents.

The literature offers an array of apocalyptic materials that may include one canonical book, Daniel, and that enables scholars to investigate the literary, social, and religious phenomena of apocalyptic genre. Apocalyptic materials, concepts, and ideas are scattered throughout this literature (e.g., 1 Enoch, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, 4 Ezra, Sibylline Oracles, Assumption of Moses, etc.). Not only do these books help us to understand Daniel better, but we can also better grasp the use of literary conventions in apocalyptic writings. Mark 13, 2 Thessalonians 2, and Revelation are all more easily understood because of information gleaned from the study of these books. No apocryphal or pseudepigraphal material is given the veneration and respect attributed to Daniel by NT writers. The unique qualities of the canonical apocalypse of Daniel is clearly evident in comparison to its pedestrian imitators.

Chapter 14 of 4 Ezra (= 2 Esdras) records a tantalizing legend of Ezra's supposed restoration of all of the ancient sacred writings of the Jews after they had been destroyed. In forty days and nights, Ezra, through the Holy Spirit (2 Esdras 14:22), and five scribes (14:29, 37) reproduce ninety-four books of the sacred writings. The twenty-four canonical books were made available to the public (14:45). The seventy other books were given only to the wise, “for in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge” (14:47). The seventy books reserved only for “the wise” are possibly to be equated in concept with the noncanonical books that later churchmen and scholars eventually labeled apocryphal or pseudepigraphal. “Seventy” in this context of forty days could mean merely all other religious books outside of the twenty-four accepted canonical Jewish books. While 4 Ezra 14 records a legend of dubious historical accuracy, the chapter probably reflects an important aspect of canonical versus extracanonical literature for the Jewish community in that day (c. a.d. 90), after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans when apocalyptic “deliverance” was largely held in abeyance.