Pseudepigrapha and The Apocrypha

The Pseudepigrapha refer to Jewish writings that are not included in the Jewish scriptures. These writings are often promulgated under the assumed pen names of famous biblical heroes. They were composed before or at the time of the New Testament, so they help to explain the background to the New Testament.

Biblical books that did not come into the Jewish scriptures but are in the Greek (Septuagint) Bible are called the Apocrypha—and also called by Catholic and Orthodox Christians "Deuterocanonical".

The New Testament Apocrypha refer to the books written by Christians (often under pen names) that are not accepted into the Bible, though they are written after the New Testament and help to explain the development of church teachings. In short there are three types of literature considered here, and they have varying degrees of authority and relationship with the Bible.

The Pseudepigrapha can be divided into two categories according to the parts of the ancient world from which they emerged. The first is of Palestinian origin, and the second is of Hellenistic Jewish origin. Within both categories are several types of literature, such as poetry, testament, and apocalypse.

Among the Palestinian writings are the Odes of Solomon, perhaps of the late first century c.e., a collection of psalms and prayers, supposedly penned by King Solomon, that speak about the messianic kingdom of God.

A testament is a type of literature that is based on a deathbed statement by a biblical hero. A couple of examples of this type are the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, consisting of Jacob’s last words to his sons; and the Testament of Job that Job supposedly delivered to his second wife and his two daughters before he died.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs probably goes back to the second century b.c.e., with later interpolations that appeared perhaps 200 years later. The Testament of Job may go back to a strict Jewish sect of 100 b.c.e.

By far the most important composition is the book of Enoch, an apocalyptic work found in the Qumran caves as well as in other ancient caches. There are five sections of Enoch: the first consists of future judgment, even of the angels; the second is called the "Similitudes", and it deals with future judgment and the messianic hope; the third is an astronomical book for the calendar; the fourth deals with past history, including the primordial deluge; the fifth, called the "Apocalypse of Weeks", is a collection of apocalyptic and miscellaneous material.

Enoch may have had some degree of authority among sects of Jews before the birth of Jesus and thus was read like a book of the Bible. Two important apocalypses are worth mentioning: the Apocalypse of Ezra (or 4 Ezra) and the Apocalypse of Baruch (or 2 Baruch).

Both of these works have to do with the malaise of the Jews after the debacle of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. and probably were written before 100 c.e. They offer consolation to Jews who feel that history has no purpose and tell of the coming age of fulfillment.

Among the many Hellenistic Jewish works, space allows only a discussion of the Sibylline Oracles. These imitate the Greek oracles that operated in the Mediterranean Greco-Roman world, such as the Delphic oracle. Written around 140 c.e. they lay out a structure of history, the coming of a Jewish messiah, and the judgment of the nations.

The Pseudepigrapha are written after the voices of prophecy had ended and before the New Testament and hence are often referred to as intertestamental literature. They are filled with apocalyptic revelations that are supposed to fortify Jewish resolve to endure the hardships of the Greco-Roman world.

Often they speak of a transcendent messiah-like figure and a future age of fulfillment for the Jewish people, and these ideas are somewhat different from those of biblical prophecy. Yet, even though they are not books of the Bible, the New Testament often adopted their language and concepts.

Apocrypha means "hidden things" and refers to materials that show an otherwise unknown side of the Bible. The Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical writings, are biblical for many Christians.

They are books and parts of biblical books that are in the Bible that Greek-speaking Jews used, yet they are not in the Bible that Jews eventually accepted as the official text. There are 12 or more books or parts of books that were not in the official text.

Protestant Christians follow the offficial text, but many of the Apocrypha have been found among the ancient manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, bolstering the argument that even the Jews of Palestine must have known and used the Apocrypha. These books include 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Daniel, Additions to Esther, Baruch, Sirach, and Wisdom, and the books of the Maccabees.

The New Testament Apocrypha include Christian-inspired works that are modeled on New Testament books. The most important of these materials are "gospels", because they give a perspective on the four Gospels of the Bible.

Some are fragmentary gospels gleaned from the writings of the fathers of the church (such as the Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Nazoreans, and Gospel of the Ebionites); others are recently discovered from such places as Nag Hammadi and Oxyrhynchus in Egypt.

Many of these latter gospels show an unfamiliar, perhaps Gnostic, Jesus (Christ) of Nazareth, and the date of their writing often cannot be determined. They show the life of Jesus in formats emphasizing such things as his childhood, his sayings, and his afterlife dialogues.

Other apocryphal gospels are discounted because they do not exist in ancient manuscripts, but they may have some claim for early roots. These include the Protevangelium of James, the Gospel of Thomas, the Apocryphon of James, and the Gospel of Peter.

Nongospel apocryphal writings are less helpful for New Testament studies, including the pseudo-Pauline letters, the "acts" of various apostles, and various apocalypses. Many of these types of writings show definite late and Gnostic tendencies. Whether these apocryphal materials reflect the "true beliefs" of the early church or affected the New Testament is unknown.

Some of the strongest voices asserting the authenticity of these writings minimize the later Gnostic influences in the very areas where such texts have been found. The New Testament Apocrypha of these areas might be Gnostic editions or perhaps complete Gnostic fabrications.