Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Pseudepigrapha from Collins English Dictionary

pl n

1 various Jewish writings from the first century bc to the first century ad that claim to have been divinely revealed but which have been excluded from the Greek canon of the Old Testament Also called (in the Roman Catholic Church): Apocrypha

[C17: from Greek pseudepigraphos falsely entitled, from pseudo- + epigraphein to inscribe]

› Pseudepigraphic (ˌsjuːdɛpɪˈɡræfɪk) or ˌPseudepiˈgraphical or ˌPseudeˈpigraphous adj

Summary Article: Pseudepigrapha
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(sō´´dĭpĭ'grӘfӘ) [Gr.,=things falsely ascribed], a collection of early Jewish and some Jewish-Christian writings composed between c.200 B.C. and c.A.D. 200, not found in the Bible or rabbinic writings.

Apocalypses are well represented in the Pseudepigrapha; those of the early Judaic period may date from the 3d cent. B.C. The Testament, the genre of the farewell discourse, is also frequently encountered in the Pseudepigrapha. Prayers and hymns are found both independently (e.g. Psalms of Solomon, Odes of Solomon, Prayer of Manasseh), as well as incorporated into other genres. Most of the works are anonymous; only the apocalypses are strictly speaking pseudepigrapha.

The Pseudepigrapha have been transmitted in Western, Eastern, Ethiopian, and Egyptian Coptic churches and are often extant only in the languages of those churches, i.e., Latin, Greek, Syriac, Georgian, Armenian, Coptic, and Ethiopic, though originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. Evidence of Christian interpolation and addition exists in some of these books. Some fragments of books included in the Pseudepigrapha have also been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A large proportion of the Pseudepigrapha can be explained by reference to early Judaism's persistent readiness to interpret and expand biblical traditions, reapplying them to new situations and problems. Virtually all the theological themes of the Pseudepigrapha can be located in the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus, the 2d cent. B.C. Jubilees is basically a retelling of Genesis and the Moses narratives of Exodus, with various added details not found in the Bible. One such example of expansion is the novellike Joseph and Asenath, in which speculation concerning the marriage of Joseph to Asenath reaches expression. Another example is the farewell exhortations by each of the twelve sons of Jacob to their families, which expand upon the Blessings of Jacob in the Book of Genesis. And finally, the Life of Adam and Eve (1st cent. A.D.) expands the concise narratives provided in the Bible, though the work stresses the guilt of Eve while asserting the comparative innocence of Adam. This predilection for applying and expanding scripture manifests in early Judaism that adaptability which is the hallmark of a living religion. In this regard the New Testament shares the same attitude as the Hebrew Bible, the writers taking biblical traditions, exegeting them, and reapplying them in light of their experience of Jesus.

Future expectation plays a lesser role in the Pseudepigrapha than might be expected; although the apocalypses are interested in the future's determination, they more often stress the faithful standing strong while awaiting God's triumph. Messianic expectation is ambiguous; there is no agreed agenda and no universal expectation of a Messiah. Nevertheless, the expectation of two Messiahs—one of Aaron, who takes precedence, and one of David—are noted in the Pseudepigrapha. Psalms of Solomon 17 is one of the clearest statements before the life of Jesus concerning the coming Messiah. In the apocalyptic literature, as in the New Testament, the premise is that God will intervene on the behalf of his beleaguered people, translating them to God's place after destroying their enemies. The doctrine of rewards and punishments in the afterlife is axiomatic for the apocalypses. The earlier Pseudepigrapha can be examined for anticipations of the New Testament coordinates shaping eschatological life. The collective Pseudepigraphic works remain substantively informative regarding the theologies, tendencies, and conditions of those that lived in the ancient Judaic and early Christian eras.

  • See studies by G. W. E. Nickelsburg (1981), M. McNamara (1983), G. W. E. Nickelsburg and M. E. Stone, ed. (1983), H. F. D. Sparks, ed. (1983), J. H. Charlesworth, ed. (2 vol., 1983, 1985), and D. S. Russell (1987). See also bibliography under Apocrypha.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018