Pseudepigrapha

Pseudepigrapha

In 1985, Doubleday published the second volume of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James H. Charlesworth. Fifty-two documents plus supplements (some sixty-five in all) are included in this monumental work on the OT pseudepigrapha.

Charlesworth offers the following careful definition of “pseudepigrapha”: (1) a Jewish or Christian writing (sole exception of Ahiqar, an Assyrian work that helps us to understand early Jewish thought), (2) writings that are attributed to famous figures of Israel's past, (3) writings that claim to contain God's word or message, (4) writings that frequently build upon ideas and narratives present in the Old Testament, (5) writings composed during the period 200 b.c. to a.d. 200 or that preserve Jewish traditions from that period. It is clear that the term “pseudepigrapha” is now a catchall term and, since it is well established internationally, is the accepted nomenclature for this collection of literature. Its literal meaning of “false superscriptions” is true of only some of the documents.

As might be expected, there is some fluidity in the number of books included among this literature. Ewert (p. 80) notes that about eighteen documents make up the “standard list” of pseudepigrapha. However, since this list of eighteen was created, others have come to light. For instance, some have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It will be convenient to list the fifty-two documents Charlesworth edits according to his classifications. These books were never serious contenders for canonicity in mainline Christianity even though at least two of them are quoted in the NT (Jude 14-15 = 1 Enoch 1:9; and Jude 9 is from the Assumption of Moses). However, the Ethiopian canon contains Jubilees and 1 Enoch among its eighty-one canonical writings (Cowley, 318-23). Most books of the pseudepigrapha have been preserved for us in the Oriental churches such as the Ethiopic, Coptic, and Syriac.