Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

views updated



Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are two separate groups of works dating primarily from the period of the Second Temple. The name "Apocrypha" is applied to a collection of books not included in the canon of the Bible although they are incorporated in the canon of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. In the *Vulgate, in the versions of the Orthodox Church, and in the Septuagint before them, they are found interspersed with the other books of the Old Testament. The Protestant Church denied their sanctity but conceded that they were worthy of reading. Apart from Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of *Ben Sira), there are no references to these books in talmudic literature.

The pseudepigraphal books, on the other hand, are not accepted in their entirety by any church, only individual books being considered sacred by the Eastern churches (particularly the Ethiopian). The Talmud includes both Apocrypha and

Pseudepigrapha under the name Sefarim Ḥiẓonim ("extraneous books"). (See table: Diagram of the Apocrypha.) The Apocrypha, for the most part, are anonymous historical and ethical works, and the Pseudepigrapha, visionary books attributed to the ancients, characterized by a stringent asceticism and dealing with the mysteries of creation and the working out of good and evil from a gnostic standpoint.

Titles and Contents

The number of apocryphal works, unlike those of the Pseudepigrapha, is fixed. Though the church fathers give lists which include many pseudepigraphal works, it is doubtful whether their exact number will ever be known. (iv Ezra 14:46 mentions 70 esoteric books while the Slavonic Book of Enoch attributes 366 books to Enoch.) Many, whose existence was previously unsuspected, have recently come to light in the caves of the Judean Desert.

The books of the Apocrypha are (1) Esdras (alias Greek Book of *Ezra); (2) *Tobit; (3) *Judith; (4) additions to *Esther; (5) Wisdom of *Solomon; (6) Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Ben *Sira); (7) *Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah; (8) The *Song of the Three Holy Children; (9) *Susanna; (10) *Bel and the Dragon; (11) The Prayer of *Manasseh; (12) i*Maccabees; (13) ii*Maccabees. Esdras is a compilation from ii Chronicles 35, 37, Book of Ezra, and Nehemiah 8–9, in an order differing from that of the traditional Bible text and with the addition of a popular story of a competition between youths, the most prominent of whom was Zerubbabel who waited upon Darius i. Tobit tells of a member of one of the ten tribes who was exiled to Assyria, where, because of his merit in burying Sennacherib's victims, he was cured of the blindness which had afflicted him for many years, and saw his son married to one of his kin. Judith tells of a woman of Samaria who ventured into the camp of the soldiers besieging her city, and decapitated their commander, Holofernes, after making him drunk. The Wisdom of Solomon discusses the fate of the righteous and the wicked, with examples from the early history of Israel. Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah – additions to the Book of Jeremiah – attack idol worship and are in the form of letters addressed by the putative authors to the exiles in Babylonia. Susanna and the Elders, an addition to the Book of Daniel, is the popular story of a righteous woman who successfully resists the enticements of the city elders and is saved by the youthful Daniel from the death which, on the strength of their slander, had been decreed against her. Bel and the Dragon, which in the Septuagint is another addition to Daniel, is an account of Daniel's ministrations to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and Darius the Mede, and of his success in demonstrating to them by various devices the futility of idol worship. The Prayer of Manasseh, an addition to ii Chronicles 34:18, is a prayer supposedly recited by King Manasseh while in exile. From the historical point of view, the most important book of the Apocrypha is i Maccabees, the historical account of the *Hasmoneans from the uprising of Mattathias to the death of *Simeon, the first of the Hasmoneans to establish the independence of Judea. ii Maccabees confines itself to the wars of *Judah the Maccabee, dealing with them in greater detail. From the literary point of view, by far the most important book in the Apocrypha is the Wisdom of Ben Sira, a book of hymns and proverbs (in the spirit of Proverbs); this work includes an interesting historical sketch down to *Simeon the Just, who lived during the author's youth. The editions of the Vulgate usually append at the end of the book the Apocalypse of *Ezra (or ii Esdras), i.e., Salathiel, which contains a theological exposition, in the form of a conversation with an angel, on the fate of Israel.

The books of the Pseudepigrapha are more numerous than those of the Apocrypha, and only the better known will be mentioned here. Probably the most important work in pseudepigraphal literature deals with *Enoch the son of Jared, whom, according to Genesis 5:24, "God took" (i.e., he ascended to heaven). The Book of *Enoch is an account, mainly in the first person, of the visions revealed to him in the heavens. It deals in part with astronomical phenomena, establishing the "correct" calendar at 364 days comprising 52 weeks, and contains some *eschatology on the subject of the preexistent Messiah. Intermingled with the above are stories of how the fallen angels brought evil into the world. The book most similar to it, *Jubilees, is in the form of a conversation between the Angel of the Presence and Moses on Mount Sinai. Unlike Enoch it is a mixture of halakhah and aggadah, but in a spirit completely different from that of the Talmud. Its halakhah is far more stringent than that of the Talmud. The fundamental basis both of the halakhah and aggadah in the book is its historicism: everything is predetermined in the "heavenly tablets," and was revealed much earlier than the time of Moses, to the patriarchs and even to their predecessors, Noah, Lamech, and the like. The book is presented within a framework of exact dates, reckoned by sabbatical periods and jubilees. It lays special emphasis (even more than Enoch) upon the solar calendar and upon ensuring (as did the Boethusians) that Shavuot always fall on a Sunday. The remaining books are smaller: The Ascension of *Isaiah is an account (also found in the Talmud) of the unnatural death of the prophet. The Assumption of *Moses is a history in retrospect of the Jews, from Moses to the death of Herod and his son. The Book of *Adam and Eve is an aggadah concerning their sin and the death of Adam, who is the handiwork of God. The Testaments of the Twelve *Patriarchs is a valuable ethical work in which each of Jacob's sons exhorts his children, particularly against the sin in which he himself has been ensnared. This book is important because of the idea, most fully developed in the *Dead Sea Scrolls, of the coming of two messiahs, one from the tribe of Judah and one from Levi. In addition to these there once existed another large series of books, attributed to Adam, Lamech, Abraham, Joseph, Eldad, Moses, Solomon, Elijah, Zechariah, Ezra, and others.

The Supposed "Canon" of Alexandria

In the old manuscripts of the Septuagint it was the custom to place the books of the Apocrypha, and at times of the Pseudepigrapha, among the Holy Scriptures. In consequence of this and of quotations by the early church writers, who mention details from these books, there arose in the 19th century the theory that at one time – at least in Alexandria – these books were considered part of the canon. There are those who assume that even in Ereẓ Israel the Apocrypha was for a certain period (until the destruction of the Temple in 70 c.e.) considered part of the canon, and that the canon as known later was fixed only in the days of the synod of Jabneh (first century c.e.). All these views, however, are erroneous, based as they are upon a series of faulty premises. Moreover, those scholars were of the opinion that the talmudic discussions about certain books that had to be "hidden away" (Shab. 13b), or about books that do not "render the hands unclean," or Akiva's extreme pronouncement that he who reads Sefarim Ḥiẓonim forfeits his share in the world to come (Sanh. 10:1), all indicate that only during their period – following the destruction of the Second Temple – was the traditional canon of 24 books finalized. Against this, however, it may be maintained that the talmudic discussions about "hiding away," and about books that "render the hands unclean" refer to books all of which are in the known canon. Indeed, according to talmudic tradition (bb 14b) the canon was already fixed at the end of the Persian period. This tradition is clearly repeated by *Josephus (Apion, 1:40–41): "From the death of Moses until Artaxerxes… the prophets wrote the events of their time. From Artaxerxes to our own time [i.e., the first century c.e.] the complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets." Indeed, as far as is known, apart from the final Hebrew chapters of the Book of Daniel (which may have been added during the disturbances preceding the Hasmonean uprising), all the scriptural books antedate the Hellenistic period. Furthermore, from the prologue of Ben Sira's grandson to his Greek translation of his grandfather's work, it is clear that the Scriptures had already been translated into Greek in the first generation of the Hasmoneans and that by then the traditional division into three sections – Pentateuch, Prophets, and Hagiographa – was accepted. Although Sira's grandson does indeed speak of "the other books," scholars failed to recognize this term as an alternate name for the Hagiographa. Philo too was acquainted with this division (Cont. 25) as was Luke (24:44) after him. The testimony of Ben Sira's grandson, and that, in particular, of Philo and Josephus (who mentions a fixed number of 22 books, Apion 1:38), who used the Septuagint, shows (1) that the Greek-reading Jews knew no other division of the Bible, and (2) that the canon of that time is identical with the present canon. Philo also draws a clear distinction between the Holy Scriptures and the books written by the *Therapeutae and peculiar to them. It follows that the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha were always Sefarim Ḥiẓonim, i.e., extraneous to the accepted books (βιβλία), i.e., the Scriptures. It should be added that the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls wrote a *Pesher ("interpretation") only on the works comprised in the known canon.

History of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

Literary activity continued to flourish during the Persian era (probably Tobit, Judith, the additions to Daniel, Song of the Three Children, and iii Esdras, for example, can be ascribed to this time) and, more so, during the Hellenistic period. It was during this period that the books of the Apocrypha were composed. The common thread linking all of these works is their concern with Israel as a whole, and their complete ignoring of sectarian schisms. Only later, after the sectarian schism in the beginning of the Hasmonean period (Ant., 13:171 ff.), did the composition of the pseudepigraphical works begin to appear. The Book of Jubilees was written (as is indicated by its historical allusions to the conquest of the cities of "Edom" and the coastal region) in the reign of *John Hyrcanus, the essence of Enoch (alluded to in the Book of Jubilees) a little before it, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs sometime after the above works. In any event, most of the known Pseudepigrapha (both those in Greek or Ethiopian translation, and those from the Qumran caves) originated between this period and the destruction of the Temple. Philo's characterization of the books of the Therapeutae as "allegorical" interpretations, or "psalms" to God, apply in equal measure to the books of the Qumran community.

A fundamental difference between the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha is that whereas the Apocrypha deal mainly with the struggle against idolatry, believing prophecy to have come to an end (cf. Judith 11:17), the pseudepigraphists believed that prophecy continued and that through its agency they could make laws (see *Jubilees) and know the past and future. Because it was generally maintained among the people, however, that prophecy had come to an end, the visionaries attribute their works to the ancients, or feature themselves as permitted to "interpret," to reveal the true meaning of verses which apply to the "end of the days" (the period in which they lived). Past and present are written in the "heavenly tablets." The apocalypist "reads" them and divulges in his book what he has read. Convinced of their knowledge of the future, they also occupied themselves to a considerable extent with the advent of the Messiah, whom they regarded as preexistent (see *Enoch). At the outset, then, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha were differentiated; the former was a collection for Jews, generally, and the latter sectarian. Since the Essenes, from whom much of the Pseudepigrapha may derive, had many devotees both in Israel and in the Diaspora, some of their scriptures too were translated and disseminated. However, it was precisely the importance attached to these prophecies within the sect and their circulation at times of political crisis during the days of Hyrcanus and of the Roman procurators that caused the Pharisee sages to erect a barrier between the Scriptures and everything extraneous to them, even works (like the Wisdom of Ben Sira) which they themselves valued. It is for this reason that the sages decreed that only the canonized Holy Scriptures "render the hands unclean" (Yad. 4:6). These discussions gave rise to the question of whether there might not be books in the Scriptures themselves, which might be exploited for sectarian purposes (e.g., Ezekiel), or which might not accord with the concepts of reward and punishment in the Pentateuch and Prophets (Ecclesiastes). However, though all books outside the canon were rejected outright, the old distinction between books applying to Israel as a whole and sectarian books remained and was taken over by the church. With only a few isolated exceptions all churches rejected the Pseudepigrapha, the difference between the Eastern and Western church consisting only in their official attitude to the Apocrypha. As may be seen from the lists of Melito, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Pseudo-Athanasius, Dialogue of Timotheus and Aquila, etc., the canon of the Eastern church usually numbers (following Josephus) 22 books (although Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah are sometimes included in the Book of Jeremiah). The "other" books (τἁ λοιπά) are either presented as "extraneous" ("Εξω δὲ τούτων, ᾽Εκτὸς δὲ τούτων, etc.), "contradicted" (ἁντιλεγόμενα), or called "all the concealed books that are contradicted" (ἁποκρυφα ὄσα ἁντιλέγουται; Dialogue of Timotheus and Aquila; Nicephorus' Stichometry). In the Roman Church, on the other hand, the apocryphal works are, as a rule, placed at the end, with no visible distinction between them and the canonical books. But lists should not be confused with facts. Even Jerome, who explicitly differentiates between the Holy Scriptures – those in the Hebrew canon – and Apocrypha, translated both. In fact according to the testimony of Augustine these books were accepted by most of the churches (as confirmed by the Latin lists of Ruffinus, Cassiodorus, Innocent i, Isidore of Pelusium, Liber Sacramentorum, etc.). Under the influence of Augustine the councils of Rome (382), Hippo (392), and Carthage (397) officially included the Apocrypha in the canon. The Pseudepigrapha, however, was not accorded great status. Augustine expresses his doubts about Enoch, and in the list of 60 books (of Old and New Testaments), where the Apocrypha is called "extraneous" ("Εξω), the Pseudepigrapha is referred to as ἁπόκρυφα and so in Pseudo Athanasius, Stichometry of Nicephorus, Gelasian Decree, and thus as a completely separate group. This too is the cause of the latter's becoming completely lost in the course of time. The final change took place with the *Reformation. This again excluded all books which, according to Jerome, are not part of the canon (i.e., everything not in the Hebrew Scriptures), assigning to them a name and a place outside the books of the Bible.

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]

In Medieval Hebrew Literature

From the first century to the sixth, Hebrew literature (talmudic and midrashic) developed as if the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha did not exist. Only very few motifs from this literature were used by the talmudic sages, often in a way far removed from the original context. Even the sayings of Ben Sira were mostly forgotten. Few survived in talmudic literature, but to them were added many popular epigrams, which were quoted as the sayings of Ben Sira, though they are not to be found in the original work.

Only in the Middle Ages did the revival of the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical literature begin within the body of Hebrew literature. This revival was mainly a revival of the contents of that literature, and not of its original form. Thus, there are several medieval versions of the stories of Tobit and Judith, none of which even approaches the original works in length and scope; only the bare skeleton of the plot was preserved, told, and retold by medieval Jewry in various versions. Attempts made by some scholars, especially M. Gaster, to discover in these medieval stories the Hebrew originals of the Greek works utterly failed. Another popular medieval Hebrew story was the *Scroll of Antiochus (Megillat Antiochus), which included some of the better-known sections of the Books of Maccabees, but no full translation of these works was known in medieval Hebrew literature. However, the story of the woman whose seven sons refused to worship idols and were martyred, found its way into the Talmud (Git. 57b) and remained as an independent Hebrew tale, and was included in almost every Hebrew medieval collection of stories (see *Hannah and her Seven Sons).

The vast theological and cosmological as well as narrative material included in works like the Books of Enoch and Jubilees reentered Hebrew literature about the time of the conquests of Islam. The first Hebrew work to make use of such material was the *Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, a work written in the form of a Midrash, but which is, in fact, a retelling of the stories of Genesis, making use both of midrashic material and ideas included in the apocryphal works connected with the Book of Genesis. Some parts of these works survived also independently; thus, the story of the fallen angels from the Book of Enoch was told by medieval Jewry as the story of *Uzza and Azael. To the old Ben Sira which survived until the 13th century, at least with the Eastern Jews, was added a new pseudepigraphic work, the Alfabet de-Ben Sira, which, besides a few sayings, has nothing in common with the original work, preserved in Greek.

Only in the Renaissance period did Jewish scholars come into direct contact with the original works of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. The most important step was made by Azariah dei *Rossi, who translated the Letter of Aristeas into Hebrew, and thus began modern Hebrew scholarship and interest in this field. From then on, increasing numbers of Jewish scholars turned to this material in their quest for Jewish historical and literary material. A new translation of the Apocrypha was made into Hebrew at the beginning of the 16th century but was lost until recently.

[Joseph Dan]


Charles, Apocrypha; Schuerer, Gesch, index; E. Kautzsch, Die Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments (1900); H.B. Swete, Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek (19142); P. Riessler, Altjuedisches Schrifttum ausserhalb der Bibel (1928); C.C. Torrey, Apocryphal Literature: A Brief Introduction (1948); R.H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949); Grintz, in: Sinai, 32 (1952), 11–43; idem, in: Beḥinot, 6 (1954), 85–93; idem, in: Meḥkarim ba-Megillot ha-Genuzot (1961), 19–30; idem, in: Sefer ha-Yovel le-Ḥanokh Albeck (1963), 123–51; M.H. Segal, Sefer Ben Sira ha-Shalem (19582), 1–69; A.C. Sundberg, The Old Testament and the Early Church (1964); Y.L. Bialer in Min ha-Genazim 2 (1969), 36–53. add. bibliography: D.J. Harrington, Invitation to the Apocrypha (1999); G.W.E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishna (1981); J.H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (1983, 1985).