Under this term are included those books that were written by Jews for the purpose of continuing their sacred tradition. Many of the compositions contain several Christian additions, and a few of them, according to some scholars, may even be completely Christian in their extant form (e.g., the Odes of Solomon and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs). The style, however, is closely modeled upon that of the OT, and the thought represents the religious currents circulating among the Jews during the intertestamental period, the two or three centuries before the NT writings appeared. The apocrypha can be conveniently arranged according to the threefold Septuagint (LXX) division of the OT: historical books, prophetic books, and didactic or sapiential books. From ancient catalogs of books and from quotations in early Church Fathers it is certain that many more apocrypha existed than are now extant.
The pseudohistorical apocrypha are Jubilees, 3 Esdras, 3 Maccabees, Life of Adam and Eve, Ascension of Isaiah, and Lives of the Prophets. (see aristeas, letter of.)
The prophetic-apocalyptic apocrypha are the Books of Henoch, or Enoch (i.e., the 1 or Ethiopic, 2 or Greek, and 3 or Hebrew), Assumption of Moses, 4 Esdras, Baruch (Syriac), Baruch (Greek), and Sibylline Oracles (Jewish).
Works patterned after the historical books of the OT but only in a very loose way have been so designated. They try to recapture and relive the glorious stages in the history of salvation.
Book of Jubilees. Other names for the Book of Jubilees are Little Genesis, because it retells the stories and laws of Gn 1.1–Ex 12.36, and the Apocalypse of Moses, because it claims that God revealed its contents during Moses' 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai. The name Jubilees is the most appropriate, not only because the book divides history into 49 jubilee periods of 49 years each (Lv 25.8–22), beginning with creation and concluding with the revelation of the Mosaic Law, but also because it places great importance upon the sacred, solar calendar, the fixation of feast days, and the certainty with which history is striding forward to the messianic millennium or jubilee. The author had still other purposes in writing his book: to expand and clarify the law, which he claims was kept before Moses' time by every great personage; to defend Judaism against the corroding influence of pagan Hellenism; and to exalt the privileged place of the Levitical priests. Also worth noting in the content of the book are these details: silence about any personal, royal Messiah; well-developed angelology and demonology; and expectation of a messianic period of 1,000 years, after which the just will enjoy immortality in the spirit world.
The style is best described as that of an enlarged Targum (R. H. Charles), like the haggadah in the narratives and the halakah in the legal sections. It was most probably written first in Hebrew, but until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there existed only an Ethiopic text, some Syriac and Latin fragments, and a few Greek citations in the Fathers. There is sufficient manuscript evidence, however, testifying to the popularity of Jubilees in ancient Jewish and Christian circles.
The author seems to have been a Palestinian Jew, scrupulously observant of the law, devoted to the Maccabees and the priestly tribe of Levi, cool toward any messianic aspirations in the tribe of Judah, and hostile toward Hellenistic influences. These facts help to locate him in the Maccabean period, before the Pharisaic rupture with King John Hyrcanus (r. 135–104 b.c.) and possibly even before Jonathan assumed the high priestly office in 152 b.c. The author's determined views on the calendar associate him with a Jewish sect such as the essenes. His book was very popular in the qumran community.
Third Esdras. Four books are attributed to Esdras (Ezra in the Hebrew spelling). The distinction between these books is confusing because of manuscript and denominational differences.
Third Esdras (in Vulgate) chronicles events from the time of King Josiah (r. 640–609 b.c.) through the Exile and into the postexilic period up to and including the ministry of Ezra. For the most part it simply repeats, with some minor revision and transposition, what already exists in the canonical books of Chronicles, Nehemiah, and especially Ezra. Third Esdras, however, expunges any mention of Nehemiah, and in 3.1–5.6 it adds a legend of Hebrew or Aramaic origin about a battle of wits among Darius's bodyguard, who contended the relative strength of wine, women, kings, and truth. Zorobabel, who championed truth, won the contest and as a reward was allowed to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem (see temples in the bible]). Most scholars have noticed that 3 Esdras ends very abruptly, in the middle of a sentence quoted from Neh 8.13, but O. Eissfeldt claims that 3 Esdras has a normal conclusion since the second part of Neh 8.13 and the succeeding verses are secondary to the latter text.
The origin of 3 Esdras cannot be adequately explained. Third Esdras could actually be the original LXX version of the canonical books, while the current Greek translation of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah could represent the work of Theodotion. The case of 3 Esdras would then be very similar to that of Jeremiah. Or it is possible, but not generally held, that 3 Esdras is a compilation taken from the present Greek translation. Finally, it may trace its independent way to a Hebrew text or tradition noticeably different from the Masoretic reading.
The book was certainly compiled before a.d. 90, for the Jewish historian Josephus quoted from it (Ant. 11); but its exclusive concern with Jewish interests puts its composition before the Christian era, closer to 100 b.c. Until the 5th century, Christians very frequently ranked 3 Esdras with the canonical books; it is found in many LXX MSS and in the Latin Vulgate (Vulg) of St. Jerome. Protestants therefore include 3 Esdras with other apocrypha (deuterocanonical) books such as Tobit or Judith. The Council of Trent definitively removed it from the canon.
Third Maccabees. This is a fantastic novel about a persecution of Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. It can make very little claim to literature, and it has nothing whatever to do with the Maccabees, except that many LXX MSS, including A and V, place it immediately after 2 Maccabees. The story is a succession of quick reversals. Ptolemy IV Philopator, Pharaoh of Egypt (r. 221–204 b.c.), is victorious in a battle fought in northern Palestine. In thanksgiving he sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple, but when he attempts to enter the holy of holies, God strikes him dumb (cf. Heliodorus in 2 Mc 3.8–40). Returning to Egypt, Philopator determines upon a pogrom, to have drunken elephants trample the Jews to death in the hippodrome. When heavenly visitors appear, the elephants turn upon the soldiers; the Jews are then granted many favors. These events are reminiscent of the Book of Esther and the origin of the feast of purim. It is possible that some major misfortune may have been the cause for the writing of the book, perhaps the persecution by Ptolemy VII Physcon (r. 146–117 b.c.) or the revoking of Jewish civil rights in 25–24 b.c. Josephus, in Contra Apionem 2.5.53–55, recorded a plan to drive a herd of elephants against a mass of Jews during Physcon's reign. The author may have combined facts drawn from the lost memoirs of Philopator with other events spun out of his own imagination.
The style of 3 Maccabees is mouthy and declamatory; the plot, artificial and forced. In this regard there are many points of similarity with 2 Maccabees and especially with the letter of Aristeas.
The book was written in Alexandria, Egypt, c. 100 b.c.; the latest date would be a.d. 70, when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by Titus. Third Maccabees presumes that Jerusalem and its temple are still in the possession of the Jews.
Life of Adam and Eve (Apocalypse of Moses). A large group of legends about man's first parents that once circulated among the Jews and the early Christians was collected and entitled the Life of Adam and Eve. It is extant only in Latin, although a Greek version often appears beneath the surface. The Apocalypse of Moses, wrongly so named by its discoverer K. von Tischendorf, exists in a Greek text. Scholars generally agree, however, that both forms were originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, somewhere between 20 b.c. and a.d. 70, because of references to the Herodian Temple (cf. Jn 2.20). The two books frequently run parallel to one another, as each tells the story of the first parents: their fall and repentance; new temptations and sorrows; dreams and predictions about the Jewish race up to the last judgment; the death, and finally the burial of Adam and Eve by angels. There seem to be Christian interpolations, especially in the prophecies. The story is told with pathos, often with literary finesse; at times it emphasizes penance and ascetical practices.
Ascension of Isaiah. This is a compilation, according to most scholars, of three separate works, put together between the 3d and the 5th Christian centuries, when it became very popular among heretical Christians. The first section, "The Martyrdom of Isaiah" (ch. 1–5), expands upon a brief reference in 2 Kgs 21.1–8 and recounts the events, including the intrigues of the apostate King Manasseh, a Samaritan, and a false prophet Belchira, that led up to Isaiah's martyrdom. The prophet is said to have been cut in two by a wood saw. The story, reflected in Heb 11.37 and in the Jewish talmud and targums has its literary origins in Palestinian Judaism of the 1st century b.c. The second section (3.13b–4.18) is a "Christian apocalypse," originating around a.d. 100 and only later placed within the martyrdom story as a reason for Isaiah's violent death. It proposes to be the prophet's "predictions" of Jesus' life and work, the mission of the 12 Apostles, the faults of the early Church, the Antichrist and Beliar (identified with Nero), and the Second Coming (parousia). Such details probably account for the work's appeal to heretical and splinter groups of Christians. The final section (ch. 6–11) of the 2d Christian century recounts the "Vision [or Ascension] of Isaiah" in the seventh heaven and his discovery of celestial secrets. This revelation of Christian gnosis, or mysterious knowledge, also fitted appropriately into the religious system of the early heretics. The complete book has survived only in an Ethiopian version; scattered fragments exist in Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Old Slavonic.
Lives of the Prophets. Biographies were written, not only of the 4 Major and the 12 Minor Prophets, but also of other prophetic figures such as elijah, elisha, Nathan (David's adviser), Ahijah (1 Kgs 14.1–18), Joed (Neh 11.7, said to be the same as Addo the seer in 2 Chr 9.29 and the anonymous prophet in 1 Kings ch. 13), Azariah (2 Chr 15.1–8), and Zechariah (2 Chr 24.20–24, mentioned in Mt 23.35 and Lk 11.51). The author draws upon legendary stories and popular traditions in order to supplement the biblical account. The work was composed in Hebrew by a Palestinian Jew during the 1st Christian century. There is a large Christian addition to the life of Jeremiah, referring to Jesus' virginal birth and the flight into Egypt. For the most part, however, Christian interpolations are scarce. Little historical value is attached to the events narrated in the work. (See C. C. Torrey, The Lives of the Prophets [Journal of Biblical Literature Monograph Series 1; Philadelphia 1946].)
The apocryphal books classified under this heading imitate the prophetic books of the old testament and the apocalyptic literature of late judaism.
Books of Enoch. These represent the remnants of an extensive Enoch literature, circulating between 200 b.c. and a.d. 300. There are three rather divergent books, which are usually distinguished by the language in which they were transmitted: 1 or Ethiopic Enoch: 2 or Slavonic Enoch (called also the Secrets of Enoch): and 3 Enoch, preserved in the original Hebrew.
Ethiopic Enoch. The longest and certainly the most important Book of Henoch was the Ethiopic, used by the authors of Jubilees, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Apocalypse of Baruch. It is quoted in Jude 14 and cited as a divine authority by Pseudo-Barnabas and Tertullian. Except for a few Latin fragments the book was known only in the Ethiopic version that was brought to Europe in 1773 by James Bruce; but recently there have turned up in cave 4 along the Dead Sea 10 Aramaic MSS of ch. 1–36 and ch. 83–90, besides 4 additional Aramaic MSS of ch. 72–82 (following R. H. Charles's chapter division). These discoveries not only establish the original language to be Aramaic rather than Hebrew and supply a very early text, but they also reveal the popularity of the Henoch literature among the Palestinian Jews (see Gn 5.21–24; Sir 44.16; 49.14; Heb 11.5).
The earliest collection of 1 Enoch found among the Dead Sea Scrolls consists of ch. 1–36 and ch. 83–90. The first section describes Enoch's journey through the celestial spheres and discusses the origin and spread of sin through the fall of the angels, the punishment of sinners, the eschatological blessedness of the just, and the bodily resurrection. The second part comprises apocalyptic stories, similar to those in Daniel ch. 7–12, in which there is presented a history of Israel from the Deluge to the messianic reign. Since the last historical reference is to Judas Maccabee, who died in 160 b.c., the book was probably composed sometime between the period 167 to 164 b.c., the date for the great persecution and the Book of Daniel, and 160 b.c. From the Qumran evidence it is apparent that ch. 72–82 circulated as a separate piece; it reflects the astronomical and meteorological beliefs of the Palestinian Jews, and, among other important details, it agrees with the Book of Jubilees in favoring the solar year calendar.
Another major division is ch. 91–105 (plus the conclusion, ch. 106–108), which consists principally of "Admonitions" and the "Apocalypse of Weeks." The author is preoccupied with the doom awaiting the unjust and the final glorification of the elect. The "Admonitions" was composed c. 160 b.c., i.e., very soon after the death of Judas Maccabee, while the "Apocalypse of Weeks" appeared sometime before the Roman conquest of Palestine in 63 b.c.
The fifth major portion of 1 Enoch is the very important series of "Similitudes," or "Parables," pronouncing judgment upon men and angels (ch. 37–71). In these chapters occur the repeated references to the "son of man," who seems to be some kind of suprahuman person, combining in himself all the hopes and triumphs of Israel. If these chapters are pre-Christian, then the concept of "Son of Man" represents a stage of development, slightly beyond the symbolic usage in Dn 7.13 and closer to the personal messianic meaning on the lips of Jesus (Mk 14.62). The absence of these chapters at Qumran does not disprove but only throws doubt upon their pre-Christian origin; in any case, the absence of definitely Christian ideas certainly indicates a Jewish author.
When the five major sections were gathered into one book—possibly in imitation of the five books of Moses in the Torah and the five books of Davidic Psalms—a few other minor selections, such as the Book of Noah, were interspersed among the chapters. The author of the final, edited book seems to have belonged to an eschatological circle, similar to the Pharisees or the Qumran covenanters; he accepted the final triumph of the just, the complete damnation of the wicked, the resurrection of the body, and the belief in angels. The messianic joys are frequently described in terms quite earthly and sensuous (10.17; 25.4); the solar religious calendar is preferred to the lunar.
Second or Slavonic Enoch. This book, also called the "Secrets of Enoch," presents a fanciful apocalypse of Enoch's assumption to the 10th heaven, his visions, and admonitions. As he journeys through the heavens, he views the rewards and punishments of the future life and the various movements of the Sun, Moon, and stars (ch. 1–21), in the 10th heaven he sees the appearance of the Lord (ch. 22) and is told many secrets, especially an elaborate account of how the universe was created in six days (ch. 23–30). The last part of the book consists mostly of a long series of admonitions by Enoch to his sons (ch. 31–68).
The book now exists in two Slavonic recensions of very unequal length. It is very difficult to account for the relationship of these two versions to one another, but there is no doubt that both go back to an original Greek text, now lost. An acrostic explanation of Adam's name in 30.13 is intelligible only in Greek. This Greek composition is usually attributed to a Jewish author, living in Egypt, before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (a.d. 70). This last detail is based upon his references to sacrifice (51.4; 59.1–2; 61.4; 62.1). His work was very influential and seems to be responsible for statements in other apocryphal literature such as the Books of Adam and Eve, the Apocalypses of Moses and Paul, and the Ascension of Isaiah. A few scholars, however, e.g., F. C. Burkitt and J. K. Fotheringham, argue for a much later authorship, the 7th century a.d. at the earliest.
Third Enoch. This is an amalgam of disparate Hebrew parts, treating of angels, the divine chariot or throne (Ez 1.14), and the destinies of a rather illusive figure called Metatron (perhaps, the Son of Man or the Elect One of 1 Enoch). The title ascribes the work "to Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha, high priest" and dates it at the beginning of the 2d Christian century; but Hugo Odeberg, who first edited the Hebrew manuscripts in 1928, traces individual parts to a period immediately after the revolt of Bar Kokhba (a.d. 132–135). Before the book reached its present form in the 3d century, it had felt the impact of Gnosticism and various religious movements within Judaism.
Fourth Esdras. What is sometimes called 2 Esdras by non-Catholics is called 4 Esdras in the Vulgate. It was one of the most popular and most frequently translated books of all the apocrypha. Although written originally in Hebrew and subsequently translated into Greek, both of which texts are lost, the book has survived in Christian editions in Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, Armenian, Sahidic, and Georgian. It has supplied several liturgical passages: the reproaches (improperia ) of Good Friday (ch. 1.13, 14–24); the Easter antiphon for martyrs (ch. 2.35); and the requiem aeternam in the prayer for the deceased (ch. 2.34–35). In their attachment to this book, Christians not only made slight modifications in the text (ch. 7.28–35[?]; 8.3; 13.29–32[?]), but they also wrote a new introduction and conclusion (ch. 1–2, sometimes called "5 Esdras," and ch. 15–16, sometimes called "6 Esdras"). The newer chapters (1–2 and 15–16) are missing in the Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Armenian versions.
The Jewish original can be dated c. a.d. 100, i.e., "thirty years after the downfall of the city [Jerusalem, in a.d. 70]" (ch. 3.1) and a few years after a.d. 96, the end of the reign of "the three heads," i.e., the Flavian Roman emperors, Vespatian, Titus, and Domitian (11.1). The author drew his material from preexisting sources and put together a mosaic of ideas. Composing in an apocalyptic style, he assumed an ancient name, Ezra, and pretended to be writing from Babylon. He was, however, a devout Jew, perhaps a Pharisee, living in Rome (see 1 Pt 5.13). He was crushed by the destruction of the Holy City and was continually obsessed with the mystery of sin, human misery, the trials of the just, the prosperity of the wicked, and the large number of the reprobate. Pessimistic is the evaluation usually attached to his character. He firmly expected a divine judgment upon Israel's enemies, once the number of the elect was complete, and he hoped for a general resurrection and a new creation.
Chapters 3–14 present an account of seven visions. The third vision (6.35–9.25) describes the death of the Messiah, but in the succeeding judgment scene the Messiah does not appear—in opposition to the Gospel story about Jesus. In the sixth vision (ch. 13) there are many parallels to the Son of Man image in Daniel ch. 7. The last vision (ch. 14) is important for the study of the formation of the canon. Ezra is said to have dictated the sacred books to five secretaries who wrote "in letters they did not know"; Ezra spoke around the clock, and at the end of 40 days, 94 books had been transcribed: 24 open to the worthy and the unworthy; 70 reserved for the initiated. The number 24 accorded with one of the more common Jewish ways of combining and numbering the canonical books (5 in the Torah, 8 in the earlier and later Prophets, and 11 in the Writings).
Syriac or Second Baruch. Several works were attributed to Jeremiah's secretary, Baruch. First Baruch belongs to the list of deuterocanonical books received into the LXX, the Vulgate, and the canon as formulated at the Council of Trent, but rejected by Jews and Protestants from their canonical list. Second Baruch has survived in a single Syriac copy. Third Baruch, the least important, was written originally in Greek.
Second Baruch is an apocalyptic work that reveals a marked dependency upon 4 Esdras. A pious Jew, drawing upon the latter and other disparate sources, describes a vision that, he pretended, was granted to Jeremiah's secretary about Israel's future after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 b.c. Not only did some of the facts in the vision disagree with biblical history, but the author was actually writing about another devastation of the Holy City, that by Titus in a.d. 70, and the concomitant frustrating condition of his people. The author is ignorant of the revolt of Simon bar kokhba (Bar Cocheba) in a.d. 132–135, nor does he know anything of the events that followed the revolt and the expulsion of all Jews from the Jerusalem area of Palestine. He must have written, therefore, before a.d. 130.
A summation of 2 Baruch follows. The opening 12 chapters present Baruch's announcement of the destruction of Jerusalem, its collapse before the power of four angels, and the Babylonian possession of the city. Contrary to the Bible, Jeremiah withdraws to Babylon, there to comfort the exiles (see Jer 40.1–6 and the LXX and Vulgate introduction to Lamentations), while Baruch remains to chant a lamentation over the ruins of Jerusalem. After his seven-day fast, divine revelation comes to Baruch's tortured mind, assuring him that the godless will eventually be punished and that zion was ravaged in order to hasten the day of judgment and the dawn of a new age for the righteous. Baruch is then told to "seal it [the message] in the recesses of your mind" and "sanctify [another] seven days" of fast. In ch. 21–34 God consoles Baruch by allowing him to peer into the heavens and see that everything must be judged in the light of the appointed end of all creation. Twelve woes must first scourge the earth, and only then will the Messiah appear, the manna drop down from heaven, and the dead arise from their sleep. In an important section (ch. 35–46) Baruch uses an image from Daniel, the four world empires of wickedness; the Messiah will be revealed to capture and execute the last world leader and to establish a kingdom that will endure as long as the world. Baruch then announces his own death and encourages the people to maintain their hope in God. Chapters 47–52 repeat familiar themes—fasting, revelation of the future, the resurrection of the just and the damned to the identical bodies that they once possessed on Earth, and the final judgment. After a mysterious vision of black and clear water rained upon the earth, Baruch receives an explanation that spans world history from Adam to the appearance of the Messiah in the form of lightning (ch. 53–76). A golden age follows. Finally, in ch. 77–87, two letters are introduced, but only the first is preserved. It announces the catastrophe of Jerusalem (that of a.d. 70) and future happiness, and it provides suitable advice.
The book, written in apocalyptic style, is full of visions and symbols that attempt to make vivid sacred history, Israel's great calamities, the resurrection, and the final victory. The work would have been lost except for a single Syriac manuscript, translated from a no longer extant Greek version, and a few Greek fragments (ch. 12–14). The original language was Aramaic.
Greek or Third Baruch. This is a Jewish work, highly apocalyptic in style with a free blending of visions, symbols, astronomical details, and eschatological facts. In places, e.g., ch. 6–8, the book attains an extremely poetical style. The author was dependent upon 2 Baruch and, therefore, wrote sometime after a.d. 130. Origen (d. 254) seems to have had this composition in mind when he referred to a book of the Prophet Baruch and the latter's evidence of seven worlds or heavens. A Greek text, speaking of but five heavens, was discovered only in 1896. Until then there existed only a Slavonic version, much shorter and envisaging only two heavens. Upon investigation the Greek text of 3 Baruch was found colored with heretical Gnostic ideas adapted to Christian truths. In ch. 4, for instance, Baruch sees the tree or vine that Adam was forbidden even to touch (Gn 3.3); but after the Deluge the angel Sarasael instructs Noah to plant a twig of this vine for "its bitterness shall be changed into sweetness and … it shall become the blood of God" (4.15).
The book opens with Baruch's weeping over the ruins of Jerusalem. An angel approaches to calm his questioning and anxious mind (ch. 1). Baruch is led through five successive heavens and is initiated into many mysteries of sacred history. (A similar idea of seven heavens occurs in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Ascension of Isaiah, while the notion of many heavens is reflected in Dt 10.14; 1 Kgs 8.27; 2 Cor 12.2.) Baruch sees the builder and designer of the tower of babel in the first and second heavens, the serpent, the forbidden tree, Hades (the huge belly of the serpent), the bird Phoenix, who is the guardian of the earth and who feeds on the manna, in the third heaven, the souls of the just in the stately form of beautifully singing birds in the fourth heaven, and the angel Michael, who alone can open the fifth heaven and who holds an immense vessel that other angels fill with the good works of the righteous, in the fifth heaven (see Rv 5.8). Baruch is then "restored … to the place where I was in the beginning" (17.2).
Jewish Sibylline Oracles. This is a Jewish-Christian adaptation of the Greco-Roman oracles; it was composed between 160 b.c. and a.d. 240. The collection consists of 12 books (bks. 1–8, 11–14; bks. 9, 10, and 15 are lost) and scattered fragments among other writers. Sibylla, or Sibyl (Counsel of God), was the name of a Greek prophetess, very advanced in years, who lived at least before the 5th century b.c. and therefore before the great classical period. She uttered prophecies, mostly of doom and tragedy, in Greek hexameter; tradition even claims that Homer copied his style from her. The Sibyl's prophecies consisted of past history written in the future tense (vaticinia ex eventu ). When the oracles became increasingly popular, other Sibyls appeared and the birthplace of the original one became a center of controversy. The popularity of the Sibyl appears in the reverential way in which Aristophanes and Plato speak of her.
sibylline oracles were preserved at Rome until the great fire of 82 b.c. destroyed them. Rome sent agents through the empire to recopy the sayings; the demand created such a proliferation of false oracles that Augustus ordered 2,000 volumes of them to be destroyed. The oracles were frequently consulted by the Roman government.
In order to gain a hearing and to win respect with their non-Hebrew neighbors, Hellenistic Jews of Alexandria, Egypt, proceeded to adapt some of the Sibylline oracles to Israelite history and to compose some new ones of their own. They boldly pretended that the Sibyl was the daughter-in-law of Noah. What they produced, however, amounted to a weak parroting of the prophetic oracles against the nations (Isaiah ch. 13–23; Jeremiah ch.46–51; Ezekiel ch. 25–32). Themes of doom and terror are continually repeated, even to the point of monotony, as in one way or another cataclysmic forces of water, fire, earthquake, pestilence, and war sweep through the universe. Idols are overturned, and Israel alone survives to enjoy the messianic prosperity.
These Jewish Sibylline oracles became very popular among the Christians down to the 5th century, especially among Gnostic sects, who may have been responsible for books 6–7. They were edited in their present form in the 6th Christian century. An echo of them is still heard in the dies irae, where doomsday is spoken of as teste David cum Sibylla.
The rambling, repetitious style is apparent from a survey of book 3. This tells of Beliar, from the stock of Sebaste in Palestine (i.e., Simon Magus; see Acts 8.9–24), and of a lawless widow, both of whom manage to lead even the Jews astray, till God rains destruction upon everything (Il. 63–92). A short Christian interlude prays for the return of the Savior (Il. 93–96). Other lines describe the prosperity of the Jews, which incites the envious Gentiles to attack (see Ps 2.1–3; Ezekiel ch. 38–39). God destroys the enemy in a wondrous way and grants great favors to His people. The Gentiles consequently seek conversion, study the law, and embrace Judaism. The Messiah has an important part in the war of deliverance but disappears from the scene in the victory celebration. No word is heard of a bodily resurrection. The kingdom is described in very earthly tones. In the midst of book 3 occur indirect references to Alexander the Great, Ptolemy VII Physcon, and other notables; the historical sequence is rather chaotic.
These works imitate the style and content of the didactic books of the OT, i.e., the Wisdom Books and the Psalms.
Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. One such work purports to give the farewell discourses spoken by the 12 sons of Jacob at their deathbeds. It follows a literary pattern fairly common during the century before and the century after the birth of Christ. The origin can be traced to such biblical passages as Jacob's final words in Genesis ch. 49 and Moses' last message in Deuteronomy ch. 33 and is found also in intertestamental literature, such as Ethiopic Enoch (i.e., the book of admonition in 92.1–5; 91.1–11, 18–19), Jubilees (discourse by Isaiah in 31.4–22 and by Jacob in 45.14–16), and the Assumption of Moses. Jesus' parting discourse in John ch. 13–17 may have been composed according to this literary style.
Each of the 12 testaments follows a tripartite division: first, a pseudohistorical narrative of the Patriarch's life with particular attention to some major fault of his; then, the moral lessons to be learned from his experience; finally, a messianic-apocalyptic view of each tribe's future. The first part especially is embellished with legendary and popular traditions, while the third section reflects a tense messianic expectation. The suggestion has been made, not without good reason, that these 12 testaments constitute an anthology of liturgical sermons in which the preacher applied scriptural readings to contemporary problems and needs.
The testaments do not always follow the order of births in Genesis ch. 29–30, but the four eldest sons of Jacob speak first. Ruben (Reuben), of course, shamefully remembers his act of incest with his father's wife Bala (Gn 35.22; 49.4) and repeatedly warns his own sons against fornication. Great caution is necessary, because of the seven evil spirits, the hostile Beliar, and the fickleness of all women. The author shares the sapiential books' suspicion of womankind. The messianic section is practically nonexistent in this, the first testament. Simeon, because of his part in the betrayal and selling of Joseph into slavery, speaks against jealousy and envy. The messianic lines are again very few, and, like Ruben, Simeon expresses loyalty to the priestly tribe of Levi and the kingly tribe of Judah. The testament of Levi is one of the longer and more developed pieces; it reveals a strongly apocalyptic style of visions and heavenly secrets, of past history recounted in the future tense, and of keen eschatological concern. The slaughtering of the Shechemites is justified as an order placed upon Levi and Simeon by an angel, when Levi stood in the divine throne room. Although an eternal right to the priesthood is granted to Levi, he is told nonetheless that a new priest shall arise from the tribe of Judah, who will assist Gentiles as well as Jews, remove sin forever, bind Beliar, open the gates of Paradise, and show the way to the tree of life. Apocalypticism dominates over moralism in the testament of Levi. Because the royalty became Judah's prerogative, his testament begins with a grandiose account of his extraordinary feats of valor and strength. The incident of Judah's relations with his daughter-in-law Tamar provides the preacher with an opportunity to speak forcefully against the dangers of wine and women. After a quick summary of the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 b.c. and the return from the Exile, Judah foresees the Messiah to arise from his offspring, a man who will be meek, without sin, filled with the Spirit, a life-giving fountain, a judge, and a savior of all who call upon the Lord. The eight other testaments, of Issachar, Zabulon, Dan, Nephthali, Gad, Aser, Joseph, and Benjamin, proceed more or less in this same style.
Doctrinal teaching and moral ideals reach a very high quality in this apocryphon. Its authors preferred honest morality to liturgical ceremonies; they kept apocalyptic interests under control, so that hopes in any imminent, divine breakthrough never confused immediate moral demands. Sin is resolutely condemned, but the sinner is always offered the possibility of repentance. Fasting is seen as a mighty weapon against the evil spirits. Besides the seven principal spirits of depravity, the testaments refer also to the leader, Beliar (the word is derived from the biblical Belial; see Dt 13.13; Jgs 19. 22; 1 Sm 1.6). Beliar is an individual person (testaments of Joseph 20.2; of Simeon 5.3; of Nephthali 2.6). The resurrection of the body is clearly taught (testament of Benjamin 10.6–8), and, in fact, the future age is filled with all kinds of earthly delights. The place of the messiahs and their special qualities have already been mentioned. The testaments expect two messiahs, the one a religious leader, a priestly messiah from the tribe of Levi, by far the more important, and the other a royal messiah of the tribe of Judah. A few scholars (e.g., M. J. Lagrange) deny that the references add up to a belief in any personal messiahs; the authors, instead, look forward to messianic, redemptive movements in which the tribes of Levi and Judah will take the lead. Most scholars, however, especially with the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls at hand, recognize the expectation of individual messiahs.
Until research was made on the Dead Sea Scrolls, questions about the authorship of the testaments were generally settled in favor of a Jewish origin, with later Christian interpolations. The bulk of the 12 testaments were said to have been composed by a Jew, who may have belonged to the Essene sect, sometime after 200 b.c., perhaps during the reign of the worldly Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (r. 103–76 b.c.). This age accounts for the antagonism to the royalty (testaments of Judah 21.6–23.5; of Levi 14.5–16.5). Christian additions were inserted into the text c. a.d. 100 in order to sharpen the messianic references in favor of Jesus Christ (testaments of Joseph 19.11; of Benjamin 3.8, 9.3–5). Representative scholars (e.g., O. Eissfeldt) still prefer this explanation; but others (e.g., J. T. Milik) hold a different opinion on this question. The sections of the testaments found at Qumran (an Aramaic fragment of Levi; a Hebrew fragment of Nephthali) are longer, and, especially in the case of Nephthali, they are considerably different. They represent the source from which a Jewish Christian of the 1st or 2d Christian century prepared a set of testaments for all 12 Patriarchs. The original Hebrew or Aramaic texts no longer exist, except for the Dead Sea Scrolls and a Hebrew fragment of Nephthali that was found in the Cairo Geniza at the end of the 19th century. There are extant 10 Greek MSS, of two basic forms, besides two translations from the Greek, one in Slavonic and a more important one in Armenian.
Psalms of Solomon. These are 18 hymns, composed originally in Hebrew but existing now only in Greek and in a Syriac version derived from the Greek. These psalms (hereafter Ps. Sol. ) must be kept distinct, not only from the Book of Psalms in the Bible, but also from another collection, The Odes of Solomon, 42 hymns by a 2d-century Christian (see next section).
Because of cryptic historical references in Ps. Sol., it is usually stated that the author(s) wrote a little after the violent death of Pompey, who, in 48 b.c., was slain, left unburied, and finally cremated on an improvised pyre in Egypt. The second psalm seems to refer to the manner in which the Jewish leaders, Aristobulus II and John Hyrcanus II, first welcomed the approaching army of Pompey; then, when Aristobulus's group resisted, Pompey fought back, razed the walls around the temple enclosure, and sacrilegiously entered the Holy of Holies (Ps. Sol. 2.2, 29–31; 8.15–20). At least the second and eighth psalms can be traced back to the middle of the 1st century b.c.; but a further question is still not completely solved, whether the same poet composed all the psalms or whether the collection grew over a long time. Because the psalms breathe a certain peace, at least in not expecting any violent changes, their composition must have been completed before the great unrest of the 1st Christian century.
Another open question is the identity or character of the author(s). The name Solomon was adopted because this king was the model of a glorious, wise, and peaceful monarch; in Ps. Sol. faith is expressed in a new king of the line of Judah who will receive wisdom from God and will conquer the world not by the sword but "with the word of his mouth forever" (Ps. Sol. 17.39). It was the customary style, ever since the emergence of apocalyptic literature in the postexilic age, for authors to use pseudonyms (as in Daniel, Jonah, Wisdom, and Ecclesiastes). Not only because of the messianic interests of the writer but also because Ps. Sol. ch. 17 argues very vigorously against the Hasmonean kings, it is often presumed that the poet belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. Toward the end of his reign the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus ordered a large number of Pharisees to be impaled before his very eyes. But this evidence does not suffice to establish the author as a Pharisee; many of the common people hated the Hasmoneans. Nor were messianic interests in a king of the line of Judah confined to the Pharisees. Such a key Pharisaic doctrine as the resurrection of the body is found in Ps. Sol. 3.16 but not in the important Ps. Sol. 17–18. Finally, Ps. Sol. 4, according to M. J. Lagrange, seems directed against Pharisaic hypocrisy. It is better to conclude, with O. Eissfeldt, that the author of Ps. Sol. was not necessarily a Pharisee; he may have belonged to the Essenes. He was a layman, very devoted to his religion, feeling deeply its abuses, and firmly confident in God's deliverance.
The principal purpose of the poet(s) was to sustain hope in divine promises by assuring the people that God would replace the depraved Hasmoneans with a worthy king of the house of David. The Messiah of the tribe of Levi is passed over in silence, and here one notes quite a change from the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Qumran Scrolls. (No copy of Ps. Sol has yet turned up among the Dead Sea Scrolls.) The Davidic Messiah will not be a suffering redeemer or a priest or a warrior. He will cleanse Jerusalem and make the Holy City a world capital "with the word of his mouth." All members will become "sons of god." The messianic picture, it will be noted, is peaceful but very nationalistic. An exalted moral ideal is constantly to the fore, including personal freedom and responsibility, the righteous fear of God, patience and long-suffering, and the expectation of a reward after death.
The style is what one would expect in songs that arose within the Israelite liturgy. Compared to the biblical Book of Psalms, Ps. Sol. sometimes has similar titles (for the leader in Ps. Sol. 8.1) and identical liturgical rubrics (the selâ in 17.31; 18.10). The same general types are found in both cases: hymns (Ps. Sol. 2.20, 33–37; 3.1–2); collective or individual plaints (2.19–25; 7; 8.22–34; 16.6–15); thanksgiving songs (13.1–4; 15.1–6; 16.1–5); didactic songs (3.3–12; 6). These various kinds of songs, however, now freely intermingle, so that a single psalm, such as canonical Psalm 2, shifts from one type to another. Ps. Sol. also manifest a greater precision in historical references than one is accustomed to meet in the biblical Psalms. One last feature about Ps. Sol. is noteworthy: the apocalyptic imagery is held in restraint. One senses no imminent cataclysm to break up the present age and suddenly inaugurate the new. The Messiah will conquer, but peacefully and mysteriously.
Odes of Solomon. These are 42 hymns, known principally through a Syriac translation discovered in 1908 by J. Rendel Harris, but written originally in Greek in the early 2d Christian century for liturgical usage in the Eastern Church. These songs are not to be confused with the previously mentioned apocryphon, the Psalms of Solomon. The odes reveal a strong Jewish influence: the parallelism of the biblical Psalms, references to Christ in the form of prophecy rather than of history, and a strong monotheism. Christian references, however, are almost everywhere present, and they are too intimate a part of the text to be considered additions to an earlier Jewish work. The author never quotes any single word of Jesus from the Gospels; in fact, he never uses the proper name Jesus, but he prefers the common Jewish form Christ (i.e., the Messiah, the Anointed One). An exalted mysticism, derived from the writings of St. John and especially of St. Paul, spreads a contemplative spirit throughout the hymns.
The poet is particularly interested in the illumination that proceeds from the resurrected Christ (ode 42 is one of the oldest Christian poems on the Resurrection). He shies away from the humiliating details of Jesus' earthly life. Baptism, the Sacrament of initiation and enlightenment, is the only rite of the Christian Church to receive special attention. The author's Christology is not heretical, but it could become very compatible with Docetist Gnosticism, especially in odes 19 and 35. It is not surprising that five of the odes were included in the Gnostic book Pistis Sophia. (See J. Labourt and P. Batiffol, Les Odes de Salomon [Paris 1911]; J. R. Harris and A. Mingana, The Odes and Psalms of Solomon [2 v. Manchester 1916–20]; J. Quasten, Patrology [v. 1 Westminster, Md. 1950] 160–168.)
Prayer of Manasseh. This is a penitential psalm of Jewish origin, consisting of only 15 verses (from 37 to 42 lines in the Greek text), composed around the beginning of the Christian era. The Greek style is very impressive, with its flowing rhythm and rich vocabulary. Most scholars, therefore, deny the possibility of a translation from the Hebrew. R. H. Pfeiffer and R. H. Charles consider that at least in verse 7 one can detect traces of an original Hebrew text beneath the surface of the Greek language. They have found only a limited number of supporters for this position.
The prayer pretends to express the contrite spirit of Manasseh (r. 687–642 b.c.). This king of Judah had reversed the fervent religious policy of his father, King Hezekiah (r. 716–687 b.c.), introduced pagan rites into the temple compound (idols, child sacrifice, and fertility cult), and violently removed all opposition among the Prophets and people (2 Kgs 21.1–18). Manasseh's apostasy may have been forced on him by a resurgent Assyria, who expected vassal countries to worship its gods. It is not clear whether or not Manasseh finally decided to resist Assyrian pressure, but it is stated in 2 Chr 33.11–12 that the Assyrians took Manasseh in chains to Babylon, where the Judean king humbled himself and did penance before the God of his fathers. According to 2 Chr 33.18 a prayer uttered by Manasseh on this occasion was preserved in the "Chronicle of the Kings of Israel" and the "Chronicle of the Seers," records that are no longer extant. This apocryphon fills in the lacuna and in doing so makes the ancient past meaningful for a later age.
The Prayer of Manasseh was rejected by St. Jerome along with all deuterocanonical and apocryphal works, and the Council of Trent did not include it in the Church's official list of inspired books. Its presence, however, among 14 canticles or odes in the 5th-century MS Alexandrinus and in many other Greek, Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, Armenian, and Coptic MSS indicates that it was a popular liturgical piece in the Eastern Church. The religious doctrine of the prayer is very encouraging: God is infinitely compassionate, and sincere repentance obtains forgiveness for the worst sins.
Fourth Maccabees. This is a philosophical sermon or disquisition demonstrating the Mosaic Law as the supreme example of reason's triumph over the passions (1.1). Its present title dates back to LXX MSS Sinaiticus (4th century) and Alexandrinus (5th century), in which the book follows immediately upon the other three Books of Maccabees. It has, however, very little in common with any of them. Unlike 1 and 2 Maccabees, it does not feature the Maccabean wars of independence, and it is unlike 3 Maccabees in that it does not follow a narrative style. The book is found also among the collected works of Flavius Josephus, where it is entitled more appropriately, "On the Supremacy of Reason."
The 18 chapters of 4 Maccabees can be divided into four principal sections. (1) The introduction (1.1–12) states the theme and gives a general plan of development. Here it is plainly admitted that "inspired reason is supreme ruler over the passions, and … the greatest virtue … [is] self-control" (1.1–2). (2) In the philosophical exposition (1.13–3.18) an attempt is made to "define what the reason is and what passion is." Wisdom is "the knowledge of things, divine and human, and of their causes, … the culture acquired under the [Mosaic] Law" (1.14–17). (3) The third section (3.19–17.24) establishes and illustrates these statements, especially the one on the importance of the law, by drawing upon the events narrated in 2 Maccabees ch. 3; 6.18–7.42, namely, Heliodorus's futile attempt to rob the temple treasury, the martyrdom of Eleazar, and the agonizing death of a mother and her seven sons (called the Maccabean martyrs in the Christian liturgy). The gruesome and graphic account of their tortures are frequently interrupted with speeches in praise of the law and its wisdom. (4) The final section (ch. 18) presents a peroration on obedience to the law, addressed like the entire book to "Israelites, children born of the seed of Abraham."
The style and vocabulary of the book is thoroughly Greek, following the literary form of the diatribe as known among the Cynics and Stoics, i.e., a popular discourse on philosophical or religious matters. The author shows himself superior to the epitomizer of 2 Maccabees and far more capable than the composer of 3 Maccabees. The subject matter, however, is Jewish through and through, so that some scholars think that the book may have originated as a synagogal sermon.
Four Maccabees drew freely upon Jewish tradition. The author mentions the paradise in which he claims that Eve was beguiled into a sexual sin by the serpent; Cain, Abel, and the sacrifice of Isaac; David the psalmist; the Prophet Ezekiel; and the deuterocanonical stories of Daniel. The expiatory suffering of the innocent for the sinful is clearly taught, a rare example of the influence of the Suffering Servant of the Songs of the suffering servant (Is 52.13–53.12) on later Jewish thought (4 Maccabees 1.11; 6.28–29; 17.21–22). Retribution after the death of the just and the wicked is presumed throughout the work, but, contrary to 2 Mc 7.11, 14, 19, 22–23, the resurrection of the body is not taught. Immortality is presented in a more Platonic fashion (4 Maccabees 5.37; 9.8; 10.11; 12.13).
Eusebius of Caesarea (a.d. 270–340) and St. Jerome (a.d. 342–420) identified the author with the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (a.d. 37–100), but this opinion is not accepted today. The author's name, therefore, remains unknown, but from his book one can deduce that he was a fervent Jew, well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and in later traditions. He shows himself very favorable to Greek philosophical influences, the Platonic, the Cynic, and particularly the Stoic. For these reasons he must have lived in the Jewish diaspora, either in Syria, birthplace of the Stoic philosopher Zeno and possibly the home of the Jewish author of 2 Maccabees, or Alexandria, Egypt, where the LXX originated and where the MSS Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus were written. He composed his work sometime after 2 Maccabees but before the spread of Christianity—therefore, in the two or three decades before or after the beginning of the Christian Era.
Bibliography: r. h. charles et al., eds., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the O.T. in English, 2 v. (Oxford 1913), the standard book for Eng. tr. and the longest commentaries. o. eissfeldt, Einleitung in das A.T. (3d ed. Tübingen 1964) 777–864, the most incisive and up-to-date introd. r. h. pfeiffer, The Interpreters' Bible, ed. g. a. buttrick et al., 12 v. (New York 1951–57) 1:391–436. h. h. rowley, The Relevance of Apocalyptic (2d ed. London 1952). a. bentzen, Introduction to the O.T., 2 v. in 1 (2d ed. Copenhagen 1952) 2:218–252. j. b. frey, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928–) 1:354–460. i. m. price et al., Dictionary of the Bible, ed. j. hastings and j. a. selbia, rev. in 1 v. ed. f. c. grant and h. h. rowley (New York 1963) 39–41, 820–823. r. j. foster, "The Apocrypha of the O.T. and N.T.," Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, ed. b. orchard et al. (London, New York 1957) 92–94. d. s. russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic (Philadelphia 1964).
APOCRYPHA OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
The NT Apocrypha, as the term is used here, are the early Christian writings that more or less resemble the books of the NT but have not been received as canonical Scriptures by the Church. The beginnings of the NT apocryphal literature coincide with the slow crystallization of the NT canon. Most of the Apocryphal books are known only by title because their existence was mentioned by the Fathers of the Church in their struggle against heresy. Origen, Irenaeus, Jerome, Eusebius, and especially Epiphanius in his comprehensive Panarion, or Refutation, of all heresies (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161 v. [Paris 1857–66] v. 41) are the main sources of information on the NT Apocrypha; some information is found also in the Stichometry of Nicephor (ibid. 100:1060) and the Pseudo-Gelasian Decree (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 271 v., indexes 4 v. [Paris 1878–90] 59:162–164; Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur [Berlin 1882– ] 3.8.4).
The main characteristics of the NT Apocrypha are not only their pseudonymous use of the names of the Apostles or other personages who were supposed to know something of the life and teachings of Our Lord, but also their general imitation of the four kinds of the NT canonical writings—the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation. They differ, however, from the canonical writings by the excess of the miraculous element in their stories and by the esoteric aspect of their teachings. In regard to their doctrinal contents one can distinguish those that are heretical (mostly Gnostic, but later at times purged by orthodox editors) from those that are merely fictitious and can be considered as the beginnings of Christian devotional literature or even as the first attempts at dogmatic development (e.g., in regard to the Assumption of Mary). They had a great influence on the liturgy (e.g., the Feasts of the Presentation, of St. Joachim, and of St. Anne), the iconography, and Christian symbolism. Their greatest value consists in the witness they offer in proof on the one hand, of the first daring movements of Christian thinking and imagination, and on the other, of the sure discriminatory power of the Church in distinguishing them from the canonical writings.
Bibliography: j. a. fabricius, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, 3 v. (Hamburg 1719–43). j. c. thilo, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti (Leipzig 1832). s. szÉkely, Bibliotheca Apocrypha (Freiburg 1913). j. bousquet and É. amann, Les Apocryphes du Nouveau Testament (Paris 1910; 3d ed. 1922). e. klostermann and a. harnack, Apokrypha, 4 v. (Kleine Texte 3, 8, 11, 12; v. 1, 3d ed. Bonn 1921; v. 2–4, 2d ed. 1910–12). b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef from 5th German ed. (New York 1960) 51–73. j. quasten, Patrology, 4 v. (Westminster, Md. 1950–86) 1:106–157. o. bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur, 5 v. (Freiburg 1913–32). e. hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 2 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1959–64), Eng. tr. of v. 1 (London 1963); references below to v. 1 are to the Eng. ed. m. r. james, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford 1924; corrected repr. 1953). a. walker and b. p. pattern, Ante-Nicene Christian Library, 24 v. (Edinburgh 1866–72; additional v. 1897); new impression, ed. a. coxe, 8 v. (Buffalo 1884–86) 8:349–644, 657–665. w. michaelis, Die apokryphen Schriften zum Neuen Testament (Bremen 1956). r. h. pfeiffer, History of NT Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York 1949). c. c. torrey, The Apocryphal Literature (New Haven, Conn.1945). É. amann, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928–) 1:1217–33. l. vaganey, Catholicisme. Hier, aujourd'hui et demain, ed. g. jacquemet 1:699–704. j. michl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:698–704, 712–713, 747–754; 2:688–693; 3:1217–33. b. m. metzger, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 1:473–474.
[c. h. henkey]
The term apocrypha has been used in Western scholarship to refer to Buddhist literature that developed in various parts of Asia in imitation of received texts from the Buddhist homeland of India. Texts included under the rubric of apocrypha share some common characteristics, but they are by no means uniform in their literary style or content. Apocrypha may be characterized collectively as a genre of indigenous religious literature that claimed to be of Indian Buddhist pedigree or affiliation and that came to acquire varying degrees of legitimacy and credence with reference to the corpus of shared scripture. Some apocrypha, especially in East Asian Buddhism, purported to be the
buddhavacana (word of the Buddha) (that is, sūtra) or the word of other notable and anonymous exegetes of Indian Buddhism (śāstra). Others claimed to convey the insights of enlightened beings from India or of those who received such insights through a proper line of transmission, as in the case of Tibetan "treasure texts" (gter ma) that were hidden and discovered by qualified persons. Still others were modeled after canonical narrative literature, as in the case of apocryphal jĀtaka (birth stories of the Buddha) from Southeast Asia. Thus, what separates apocrypha from other types of indigenous Buddhist literature was their claimed or implied Indian attribution and authorship. The production of apocryphal texts is related to the nature of the Buddhist canon within each tradition. The Chinese and Tibetan canons remained open in order to allow the introduction of new scriptures that continued to be brought from India over several centuries, a circumstance that no doubt inspired religious innovation and encouraged the creation of new religious texts, such as apocrypha. The Pāli canon of South and Southeast Asia, on the other hand, was fixed at a relatively early stage in its history, making it more difficult to add new materials.
The above general characterization offers a clue as to the function and purpose of apocrypha: They adapted Indian material to the existing local contexts—be they religious, sociocultural, or even political—thereby bridging the conceptual gulf that otherwise might have rendered the assimilation of Buddhism more difficult, if not impossible. The perceived authority inherent in the received texts of the tradition was tacitly recognized and adopted to make the foreign religion more comprehensible to contemporary people in the new lands into which Buddhism was being introduced. Indeed history shows that some apocryphal texts played seminal roles in the development of local Buddhist cultures as they became an integral part of the textual tradition both inside and outside the normative canon. But not all apocrypha were purely or even primarily aimed at promoting Buddhist causes. Some Chinese apocrypha, for example, were all about legitimating local religious customs and practices by presenting them in the guise of the teaching of the Buddha. These examples illustrate that the authority of scripture spurred literary production beyond the confines of Buddhism proper and provided a form in which a region's popular religious dimensions could be expressed in texts.
Of the known corpus of apocrypha, the most "egregious" case may be East Asian Buddhist apocrypha that assumed the highest order of Indian pedigree, by claiming to be the genuine word of the Buddha himself. Naturally their claims to authenticity did not go unnoticed among either conservative or liberal factions within the Buddhist community. During the medieval period these texts became objects of contempt as well as, contrarily, materials of significant utility and force in the ongoing sinification of Buddhism. Thus Chinese Buddhist apocrypha epitomize the complexity of issues surrounding the history, identity, and function of Buddhist apocrypha as a broader genre of Buddhist literature.
Chinese Buddhist apocrypha
Chinese Buddhist apocrypha began to be written almost contemporaneously with the inception of Buddhist translation activities in the mid-second century c.e. According to records in Buddhist catalogues of scriptures, the number of apocrypha grew steadily every generation, through at least the eighth century. Most cataloguers were vehement critics of apocrypha, as can be gauged from their description of them as either "spurious" or "suspected" scriptures, or from statements that condemned these scriptures as eroding the integrity of the Buddhist textual transmission in China. Despite the concerted, collective efforts of the cataloguers and, at times, the imperial court to root out these indigenous scriptures, it was not until the compilation of the first printed Buddhist canon, the Northern Song edition (971–983), that new textual creation waned and eventually all but ceased. The production of apocrypha in China was thus a phenomenon of the manuscript period, when handwritten texts of local origin could gain acceptance as scripture and even be included in the canon, the result being an enigmatic category of scripture that is at once inauthentic and yet canonical.
Modern scholarship's discovery of such "canonical apocrypha" testifies to the complexity and difficulty of textual adjudication as well as to the authors' sophisticated level of comprehension and assimilation of Buddhist materials. It was never easy for traditional bibliographical cataloguers to determine scriptural authenticity. Success in ferreting out apocryphal texts—especially when the texts in question were composed by authors with extensive knowledge of Buddhist doctrines and practice and with substantial literary skill—required extensive exposure to a wide range of Buddhist literature. In addition, the task was at times deliberately compromised—as in the case of the Lidai sanbaoji (Record of the Three Treasures throughout Successive Dynasties; 597)—for no other reason than the polemical need to purge from the canon any elements that might subject Buddhism to criticism from religious and ideological rivals, such as Daoists and Confucians. The Lidai sanbaoji added many false author and translator attributions to apocrypha in order to authenticate those texts as genuine scripture; and once its arbitrary attributions were accepted in a state-commissioned catalogue, the Da-Zhou kanding zhongjing mulu (Catalogue of Scriptures, Authorized by the Great Zhou Dynasty; 695), the Chinese tradition accepted the vast majority of those texts as canonical. The Kaiyuan shijiao lu (Record of Śākyamuni's Teachings, Compiled during the Kaiyuan Era; 730)—recognized as the best of all traditional catalogues—was critical of both these predecessors, but even it was unable to eliminate all these past inaccuracies due in part to the weight of tradition. Canonical apocrypha are therefore ideal examples of the clash of motivations and compromises reached in the process of creating a religious tradition. These apocrypha thus added new dimensions to the evolving Buddhist religion in China due in part to their privileged canonical status, but also, more importantly, because of their responsiveness to Chinese religious and cultural needs.
There are some 450 titles of Chinese apocryphal texts listed in the traditional bibliographical catalogues. In actuality, however, the cumulative number of apocrypha composed in China is closer to 550 when we take into account both other literary evidence, as well as texts not listed in the catalogues but subsequently discovered among Buddhist text and manuscript collections in China and Japan. Approximately one-third of this total output is extant today—a figure that is surprisingly large, given the persistent censorship to which apocrypha were subjected throughout the medieval period. This survival rate is testimony to their effectiveness as indigenous Buddhist scripture and attests to the continued reception given to these texts by the Chinese, even such knowledgeable exegetes as Zhiyi (538–597), the systematizer of the Tiantai school of Chinese Buddhism. The vitality of the phenomenon of apocrypha in China also catalyzed the creation of new scriptures in other parts of East Asia, though to nowhere near the same extent as in China proper.
The extant corpus of apocrypha includes both canonical apocrypha as well as texts preserved as citations in Chinese exegetical works. Apocrypha were also found in the two substantial medieval manuscript collections discovered in modern times. The first is the Dunhuang cache of Central Asia discovered at the turn of the twentieth century, which included manuscripts dating from the fifth to eleventh centuries. The second is the Nanatsu-dera manuscript canon in Nagoya, Japan, which was compiled during the twelfth century based on earlier manuscript editions of the Buddhist canon. It was discovered in 1990 to have included apocrypha of both Chinese and Japanese origin. The most astonishing historical finding in this canon was the Piluo sanmei jing (The Scripture on the Absorption of Piluo), an apocryphon attested in the bibliographical catalogue compiled by the renowned monk-scholar Dao'an (312–385), but previously unknown. The Japanese manuscript is the only extant copy of this extremely early Chinese apocryphon. Other findings are no less valuable in ascertaining the overall history of apocrypha: Both the Dunhuang and Nanatsu-dera manuscripts included many titles with no known record in the catalogues, evidence indicating that indigenous scriptural creation was even more prolific than had previously been recognized. Moreover, scholars have suggested or identified convincingly some of the Nanatsu-dera apocrypha as Japanese compilations based on Indian texts or Chinese apocryphal materials. Thus the apocrypha extant in Japan serve as witness to the currency and impact of this contested, but obviously useful, material.
Texts and contents
The extant corpus of apocryphal literature defies simple description, as each text has its own unique doctrinal or practical orientation, motive, and literary style and technique. Some of the canonical apocrypha skillfully synthesized orthodox Buddhist material from India without any apparent indication of their native pedigree; others, however, propagated popular beliefs and practices typical of local culture while including negligible Buddhist elements, save for the inclusion of the word sūtra (jing) in the title. The majority falls somewhere between the two extremes, by promoting Buddhist beliefs and practices as the means of accruing worldly and spiritual merit. A few scholars have attempted to make typological classifications of all extant apocrypha, but these remain problematic until the corpus is thoroughly studied and understood in its religious and sociocultural contexts. What follows therefore is a selected review of some of the raison d'être of apocrypha, which are reflected in the ways in which Buddhist teachings are framed and presented.
We will begin with two examples of apocrypha that assembled MahĀyĀna doctrine in ways that would support a theory or practice that had no exact counterpart in Indian Buddhism. First, the Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun) reconstructed Buddhist orthodoxy by synthesizing three major strands of Indian doctrine—ŚŪnyatĀ (emptiness), ĀlayavijÑana (storehouse consciousness), and tathĀgatagarbha (womb/embryo of buddhas)—in order to posit an ontology of mind in which the mind could simultaneously be inherently enlightened and yet subject to ignorance. After its appearance in the sixth century, the Awakening of Faith became perhaps the most prominent example of the impact apocrypha had on the development of Chinese Buddhist ideology, as it became the catalyst for the development of the sectarian doctrines of such indigenous schools as Tiantai, Huayan, and Chan. The text is also a prime example of the ways in which an indigenous author selectively appropriated and ingeniously synthesized Indian materials in order better to suit a Chinese religious context. Second, the Jin'gang sanmei jing (The Scripture of Adamantine Absorption, or Vajrasamādhi-sūtra) is an eclectic amalgam of a wide range of Mahāyāna doctrine, which sought to provide a foundation for a comprehensive system of meditative practice and to assert the soteriological efficacy of that system. The scripture is also one of the oldest works associated with the Chan school in China and Korea, and is thus historically significant. Unlike other apocrypha discussed elsewhere in this entry, one study suggests that this sūtra is actually a Korean composition from the seventh century (Buswell 1989). This scripture, along with Japanese apocrypha mentioned earlier, is thus a barometer of the organic relationship that pertained between Buddhism in China and the rest of East Asia and demonstrates the pervasive impetus for indigenous scriptural creation throughout the region.
Other apocrypha incorporated local references and inferences in order to better relate certain Buddhist values and stances to the surrounding milieu. Precepts are the bedrock of Buddhist soteriology and figure prominently as a theme among apocrypha, as, for example, in the Fanwang jing (BrahmĀ's Net SŪ tra). This scripture reformulated the Mahāyāna bodhisattva precepts in part by correlating them with the Confucian notion of filial piety (xiao), a conspicuous maneuver that betrays both the Chinese pedigree of the text as well as its motive to reconcile two vastly different value systems. It also addressed problems arising from secular control over Buddhist institutions and membership—a blending of religious instruction and secular concerns that was not atypical of apocrypha, as we will see again below.
Other apocrypha that have precepts as a prominent theme specifically targeted the laity; such texts include the Piluo sanmei jing (The Scripture of the Absorption of Piluo), Tiwei jing (The Scripture of Tiwei), and Chingjing faxing jing (The Scripture of Pure Religious Cultivation). These apocrypha taught basic lay moral guidelines, such as the five precepts, the ten wholesome actions, and the importance of dana (giving), all set within a doctrinal framework of karma (action) and rebirth. These lay precepts are at times presented as the sufficient cause for attaining buddhahood, a radically simplified path that is no doubt intended to encourage the participation of the laity in Buddhist practice. These precepts are also often presented as being superior to the five constant virtues (wuchang) of Confucianism, or to any of the tangible and invisible elements of the ancient Chinese worldview, including the cosmological network of yin and yang, the five material elements, and the five viscera of Daoist internal medicine. The idea of filial piety is most conspicuous in the Fumu enzhong jing (The Scripture on Profound Gratitude toward Parents), which is based on the Confucian teaching of "twenty-four [exemplary types of] filial piety" (ershihsi xiao). The text highlights the deeds of an unfilial son and exhorts him to requite his parents' love and sacrifice by making offerings to the three jewels (the Buddha, the dharma, and the san ˙ gha). The scripture has been one of the most popular apocrypha since the medieval period.
The law of karma and rebirth mentioned above is a ubiquitous theme or backdrop of apocrypha. The text commonly known as the Shiwang jing (The Scripture on the Ten Kings) illustrated the alien Buddhist law to a Chinese audience by depicting the afterlife in purgatory. After death, a person must pass sequentially through ten hell halls, each presided over by a judge; the individual's postmortem fate depended on the judges' review of his or her deeds while on earth. This bureaucratization of hell was an innovation that mirrored the Chinese sociopolitical structure. This scripture's pervasive influence can be gauged from the many paintings, stone carvings, and sculptures of the ten kings—typically garbed in the traditional attire and headgear of Chinese officials—that were found in medieval East Asian Buddhist sites.
Given that apocryphal scriptures were products of specific times and places, it is no surprise that they also criticized not only the contemporary state of religion but also society as a whole, and even the state and its policies toward Buddhism. Such criticisms were often framed within the eschatological notion of the decline of the dharma, which was adapted from Indian sources. The Renwang jing (Humane Kings SŪtra) described corruption in all segments of society, natural calamities and epidemics, state control and persecution of Buddhism, and the neglect of precepts by Buddhist adherents. The suggested solution to this crisis was the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā), whose efficacy would restore order in religion and society and even protect the state from extinction. The scripture was popular in medieval East Asia, especially among the ruling class, not least because of its assertion of state protection. The Shouluo biqiu jing (The Scripture of Bhiksu Shouluo) offered a different solution to eschatological crisis: It prophesized the advent of a savior, Lunar-Radiant Youth, during a time of utter disorder and corruption. Such a messianic message is of course not without precedent in Indian Buddhism—the cult of the future buddha Maitreya is the ubiquitous example—but the suggestion of a savior in the present world might easily be construed as politically subversive, and as a direct challenge to the authority of the secular regime. This scripture is one of those lost apocrypha that was discovered among the Dunhuang manuscript cache some fourteen hundred years after the first recorded evidence of its composition.
The preceding coverage has touched upon only a small part of the story of Buddhist apocrypha. Even this brief treatment should make clear, however, that apocrypha occupy a crucial place in the history of Buddhism as a vehicle of innovation and adaptation, which bridged the differences between the imported texts of the received Buddhist tradition and indigenous religion, society and culture. As such, they also offer substantial material for cross-cultural and comparative studies of scripture and canon in different religious traditions.
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Recorded from late Middle English, the word comes from ecclesiastical Latin apocrypha (scripta) ‘hidden (writings)’, ultimately from Greek apokruptein ‘hide away’. The adjective apocryphal, meaning of doubtful authenticity, mythical, fictional, is recorded from the late 16th century.
A·poc·ry·pha / əˈpäkrəfə/ • pl. n. [treated as sing. or pl.] biblical or related writings not forming part of the accepted canon of Scripture. ∎ (apocrypha) writings or reports not considered genuine.