What is the Pseudepigrapha?

Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students If you’ve read even a few books in the area of New Testament studies, you’ve probably heard about the Pseudepigrapha.  What is that?  I found a helpful and brief answer to the question while making my way through Larry Helyer’s Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period.

“The Greek neuter plural yeudepigrafa (pseudepigrapha) literally means ‘falsely ascribed.’  It designates Jewish literature written between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200 and spuriously ascribed to various prophets, kings and ancient worthies mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures.  …This is not the best term to describe the diverse contents of this material, but the designation is longstanding and traditional.  It actually encompasses a variety of genres, such as apocalypse, testament, hymn, narrative fiction, and so forth.  None of this material is found in the Hebrew Scriptures or, for that matter, in the LXX (the Septuagint).  Thus, it does not appear in English Bibles, and, for the most part, is even more unexplored territory than the Apocrypha.”

“The apocalyptic writings [in the Pseudepigrapha] are at times quite fascinating, especially since they stand in some relationship to the apocalyptic visions of the end times found in both the OT and NT.  Other sections are frankly quite tedious: lengthy descriptions of the supposed inner workings of the movement of heavenly bodies and atmospheric conditions generate little enthusiasm!  But one cannot fail to be impressed by expressions of sincere piety and unquenchable faith encountered in this literature” (p. 21-22).

Of course, this is just a basic description of the Pseudepigrapha that Helyer discusses with more depth later in the book.  But for those of you who need/want a brief explanation, this is a good one with which to start.

Larry Helyer, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2002).

rev shane lems

One Reply to “What is the Pseudepigrapha?”

  1. Nice – looks like a solid introduction.

    I find that reading the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha is a really interesting foray into the history of Jewish exegesis and/or the history of Jewish religion (depending on which texts you’re reading). Two nights ago, I just read through the Testament of Joseph (part of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs) which helped me to get a glimpse into Maccabean era interpretation of the Joseph story. Of course their interpretation can be a bit fanciful for our standards, but it helps us to see some of the textual issues they were wrestling with back then. I especially liked how Joseph was so active trying to convert Potiphar’s wife! Even after he got thrown in prison, he kept trying to convert her! Good times …

    BCF 6 commends the reading of the Apocrypha to the church, albeit with a very qualified commendation. I think we can do the same with the pseudepigrapha. It wasn’t just the church fathers and the Rabbi’s who tried to interpret the Bible. These early texts give us insight into a particular community’s study of the OT … it’s definitely worth knowing what is going on “out there” in the history of interpretation!


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