Pseudepigrapha (also anglicized as "pseudepigraph" or "pseudepigraphs") are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.[1]

In biblical studies, the term pseudepigrapha typically refers to an assorted collection of Jewish religious works thought to be written c. 300 BCE to 300 CE. They are distinguished by Protestants from the Deuterocanonical books (Catholic and Orthodox) or Apocrypha (Protestant), the books that appear in extant copies of the Septuagint from the fourth century on,[2] and the Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles.[3] The Catholic Church distinguishes only between the deuterocanonical and all the other books, that are called biblical apocrypha, a name that is also used for the pseudepigrapha in the Catholic usage. In addition, two books considered canonical in the Orthodox Tewahedo churches, viz. Book of Enoch and Book of Jubilees, are categorized as pseudepigrapha from the point of view of Chalcedonian Christianity.

Pseudepigraphy covers the false ascription of names of authors to works, even to authentic works that make no such claim within their text. Thus a widely accepted but incorrect attribution of authorship may make a completely authentic text pseudepigraphical. Assessing the actual writer of a text locates questions of pseudepigraphical attribution within the discipline of literary criticism.


The word pseudepigrapha (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseudḗs, "false" and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphḗ, "name" or "inscription" or "ascription"; thus when taken together it means "false superscription or title";[4] see the related epigraphy) is the plural of "pseudepigraphon" (sometimes Latinized as "pseudepigraphum").

Classical and biblical studies

There have probably been pseudepigrapha almost from the invention of full writing. For example, ancient Greek authors often refer to texts which claimed to be by Orpheus or his pupil Musaeus of Athens but which attributions were generally disregarded. Already in Antiquity the collection known as the "Homeric Hymns" was recognized as pseudepigraphical, that is, not actually written by Homer. The only book surviving from Ancient Rome on Cooking is pseudepigraphically attributed to a famous gourmet, Apicius, even though it is not clear who actually assembled the recipes.

Literary studies

In secular literary studies, when works of antiquity have been demonstrated not to have been written by the authors to whom they have traditionally been ascribed, some writers apply the prefix pseudo- to their names. Thus the encyclopedic compilation of Greek myth called the Bibliotheca is often now attributed, not to Apollodorus of Athens, but to "pseudo-Apollodorus" and the Catasterismi, recounting the translations of mythic figure into asterisms and constellations, not to the serious astronomer Eratosthenes, but to a "pseudo-Eratosthenes". The prefix may be abbreviated, as in "ps-Apollodorus" or "ps-Eratosthenes".

Old Testament and intertestamental studies

In biblical studies, pseudepigrapha refers particularly to works which purport to be written by noted authorities in either the Old and New Testaments or by persons involved in Jewish or Christian religious study or history. These works can also be written about biblical matters, often in such a way that they appear to be as authoritative as works which have been included in the many versions of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Eusebius indicates this usage dates back at least to Serapion of Antioch, whom Eusebius records[5] as having said: "But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name (ta pseudepigrapha), we as experienced persons reject...."

Many such works were also referred to as Apocrypha, which originally connoted "secret writings", those that were rejected for liturgical public reading. An example of a text that is both apocryphal and pseudepigraphical is the Odes of Solomon.[6] It is considered pseudepigraphical because it was not actually written by Solomon but instead is a collection of early Christian (first to second century) hymns and poems, originally written not in Hebrew, and apocryphal because they were not accepted in either the Tanakh or the New Testament.

Protestants have also applied the word Apocrypha to texts found in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures which were not found in Hebrew manuscripts. Catholics call those "deuterocanonical books". Accordingly, there arose in some Protestant biblical scholarship an extended use of the term pseudepigrapha for works that appeared as though they ought to be part of the biblical canon, because of the authorship ascribed to them, but which stood outside both the biblical canons recognized by Protestants and Catholics. These works were also outside the particular set of books that Roman Catholics called deuterocanonical and to which Protestants had generally applied the term Apocryphal. Accordingly, the term pseudepigraphical, as now used often among both Protestants and Roman Catholics (allegedly for the clarity it brings to the discussion), may make it difficult to discuss questions of pseudepigraphical authorship of canonical books dispassionately with a lay audience. To confuse the matter even more, Eastern Orthodox Christians accept books as canonical that Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations consider pseudepigraphical or at best of much less authority. There exist also churches that reject some of the books that Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants accept. The same is true of some Jewish religious movements. Many works that are "apocryphal" are otherwise considered genuine.

There is a tendency not to use the word pseudepigrapha when describing works later than about 300 CE when referring to biblical matters.[3]:222–28 But the late-appearing Gospel of Barnabas, Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, the Pseudo-Apuleius (author of a fifth-century herbal ascribed to Apuleius), and the author traditionally referred to as the "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite", are classic examples of pseudepigraphy. In the fifth century the moralist Salvian published Contra avaritiam ("Against avarice") under the name of Timothy; the letter in which he explained to his former pupil, Bishop Salonius, his motives for so doing survives.[7] There is also a category of modern pseudepigrapha.

Examples of books labeled Old Testament pseudepigrapha from the Protestant point of view are the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (both of which are canonical in Orthodox Tewahedo Christianity and the Beta Israel branch of Judaism); the Life of Adam and Eve and "Pseudo-Philo".

The term pseudepigrapha is also commonly used to describe numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 300 BCE to 300 CE. Not all of these works are actually pseudepigraphical. It also refers to books of the New Testament canon whose authorship is misrepresented. Such works include the following:[3]

New Testament studies

Some Christian scholars maintain that nothing known to be pseudepigraphical was admitted to the New Testament canon. However, many biblical scholars, such as Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, hold that only seven of Paul's epistles are convincingly genuine.[8] All of the other 20 books in the New Testament appear to many scholars to be written by unknown people who were not the well-known biblical figures to whom the early Christian leaders originally attributed authorship.[8] The Catholic Encyclopedia notes,

The first four historical books of the New Testament are supplied with titles, which however ancient, do not go back to the respective authors of those sacred texts. The Canon of Muratori, Clement of Alexandria, and St. Irenaeus bear distinct witness to the existence of those headings in the latter part of the second century of our era. Indeed, the manner in which Clement (Strom. I, xxi), and St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. III, xi, 7) employ them implies that, at that early date, our present titles to the gospels had been in current use for some considerable time. Hence, it may be inferred that they were prefixed to the evangelical narratives as early as the first part of that same century. That however, they do not go back to the first century of the Christian era, or at least that they are not original, is a position generally held at the present day. It is felt that since they are similar for the four Gospels, although the same Gospels were composed at some interval from each other, those titles were not framed and consequently not prefixed to each individual narrative, before the collection of the four Gospels was actually made. Besides as well pointed out by Prof. Bacon, "the historical books of the New Testament differ from it's apocalyptic and epistolary literature, as those of the Old Testament differ from its prophecy, in being invariably anonymous, and for the same reason. Prophecies, whether in the earlier or in the later sense, and letters, to have authority, must be referable to some individual; the greater his name, the better. But history was regarded as common possession. Its facts spoke for themselves. Only as the springs of common recollection began to dwindle, and marked differences to appear between the well-informed and accurate Gospels and the untrustworthy ... become worth white for the Christian teacher or apologist to specify whether the given representation of the current tradition was 'according to' this or that special compiler, and to state his qualifications". It thus appears that the present titles of the Gospels are not traceable to the Evangelists themselves.[9]

The earliest and best manuscripts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were all written anonymously.[10] Furthermore, the books of Acts, Hebrews, 1 John, 2 John and 3 John were also written anonymously.[10]

Pauline epistles

There are many epistles of Paul, such as the Letters of Paul and Seneca, that are obviously pseudepigraphical and therefore not included in the New Testament canon. Inside the canon are 13 letters attributed to Paul and are still considered by Christians to carry Paul's authority. These letters are part of the Christian Bible and are foundational for the Christian Church. Therefore, those letters which some think to be pseudepigraphic are not considered any less valuable to Christians.[11] Some of these epistles are termed as "disputed" or "pseudepigraphical" letters because they do not appear to have been written by Paul. They instead appear to have come from followers writing in Paul's name, often using material from his surviving letters. Some choose to believe that these followers may have had access to letters written by Paul that no longer survive, although this theory still depends on someone other than Paul writing these books.[12] Some theologians prefer to simply distinguish between "undisputed" and "disputed" letters, thus avoiding the term "pseudepigraphical".[11]

Authorship of 6 out of the 13 canonical epistles of Paul has been questioned by both Christian and non-Christian biblical scholars.[12] These include the Epistle to the Ephesians, Epistle to the Colossians, Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, First Epistle to Timothy, Second Epistle to Timothy, and Epistle to Titus. These six books are referred to as "deutero-Pauline letters", meaning "secondary" standing in the corpus of Paul's writings. They internally claim to have been written by Paul, but some biblical scholars present strong evidence that they could not have been written by Paul.[8] Those known as the "Pastoral Epistles" (Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) are all so similar that they are thought to be written by the same unknown author in Paul's name.[8] On the establishing which NT letters are Paul's authentic letters, other sources are as follows: M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People's New Testament Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press), (the Introductions to each NT book); Dennis E. Smith (editor), Chalice Introduction to the New Testament (Chalice Press), chapters 2–5, and 12; and J. Christian Beker, The New Testament: A Thematic Introduction (Fortress Press) chapters 2–7.

Other Pseudepigrapha

The Gospel of Peter[13] and the attribution to Paul of the Epistle to the Laodiceans are both examples of pseudepigrapha that were not included in the New Testament canon.[14] They are often referred to as New Testament apocrypha. Further examples of New Testament pseudepigrapha include the Gospel of Barnabas[15] and the Gospel of Judas, which begins by presenting itself as "the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot".

Authorship and pseudepigraphy: levels of authenticity

Scholars have identified seven levels of authenticity which they have organized in a hierarchy ranging from literal authorship, meaning written in the author's own hand, to outright forgery:

  1. Literal authorship. A church leader writes a letter in his own hand.
  2. Dictation. A church leader dictates a letter almost word for word to an amanuensis.
  3. Delegated authorship. A church leader describes the basic content of an intended letter to a disciple or to an amanuensis.
  4. Posthumous authorship. A church leader dies, and his disciples finish a letter that he had intended to write, sending it posthumously in his name.
  5. Apprentice authorship. A church leader dies, and disciples who had been authorized to speak for him while he was alive continue to do so by writing letters in his name years or decades after his death.
  6. Honorable pseudepigraphy. A church leader dies, and admirers seek to honor him by writing letters in his name as a tribute to his influence and in a sincere belief that they are responsible bearers of his tradition.
  7. Forgery. A church leader obtains sufficient prominence that, either before or after his death, people seek to exploit his legacy by forging letters in his name, presenting him as a supporter of their own ideas.[16]:224

The Zohar

The Zohar (Hebrew: זֹהַר, lit. Splendor or Radiance), foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah,[17] first appeared in Spain in the 13th century, and was published by a Jewish writer named Moses de León. De León ascribed the work to Shimon bar Yochai ("Rashbi"), a rabbi of the 2nd century during the Roman persecution[18] who, according to Jewish legend,[19][20] hid in a cave for thirteen years studying the Torah and was inspired by the Prophet Elijah to write the Zohar. This accords with the traditional claim by adherents that Kabbalah is the concealed part of the Oral Torah. Modern academic analysis of the Zohar, such as that by the 20th century religious historian Gershom Scholem, has theorized that de León was the actual author. The view of some Orthodox Jews and Orthodox groups, as well as non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, generally conforms to this latter view, and as such, most such groups have long viewed the Zohar as pseudepigraphy and apocrypha,

As literary device

Pseudepigraphy has been employed as a metafictional technique, particularly in literature of the postmodern period. Authors who have made notable use of this device include Jorge Luis Borges ("An Examination of the Works of Herbert Quain"; "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"), Vladimir Nabokov (Pale Fire), Stanislaw Lem (A Perfect Vacuum; Imaginary Magnitude) and Roberto Bolaño (Nazi Literature in the Americas).

In a less literary refined genre, Edgar Rice Burroughs presented many of his works – including the most well-known, the Tarzan books – as pseudepigrapha, prefacing each book with a detailed introduction presenting the supposed actual author, with Burroughs himself pretending to be no more than the literary editor. J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings presents that story and The Hobbit as translated from the fictional Red Book of Westmarch written by characters within the novels. A similar device was used by various other writers of popular fiction.

See also


  1. Bauckham, Richard; "Pseudo-Apostolic Letters", Journal of Biblical Literature, Vo. 107, No. 3, September 1988, pp. 469–94.
  2. Beckwith, Roger T. (2008). The Canon of the Old Testament (PDF). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub. pp. 62, 382–83. ISBN 978-1606082492. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  3. Harris, Stephen L. (2010). Understanding The Bible. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0-07-340744-9.
  4. Henry George Liddell; Robert Scott (1940). "ψευδεπίγραφος". A Greek-English Lexicon. Trustees of Tufts University, Oxford. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  5. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae 6,12.
  6. Charlesworth, James. Odes of Solomon Archived 2004-04-14 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Salvian, Epistle, ix.
  8. D., Ehrman, Bart (2011). Forged : writing in the name of God : why the Bible's authors are not who we think they are (1st ed.). New York: HarperOne. ISBN 9780062012616. OCLC 639164332.
  9. Farley (Archbishop of New York), Imprimatur John Cardinal (1913). Charles George Herbermann, Edward Aloysius Pace, Condé Bénoist Pallen, John Joseph Wynne, Thomas Joseph Shahan (eds.). The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, and History of the Catholic Church, Volume 6. New York: The Encyclopedia Press. pp. 655–56.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  10. D., Ehrman, Bart (2005). Misquoting Jesus : the story behind who changed the Bible and why (1st ed.). New York: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0060738170. OCLC 59011567.
  11. Just, Felix. "The Deutero-Pauline Letters"
  12. Sanders, E. P. "Saint Paul, the Apostle". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 20 May 2013.
  13. Joel Willitts, Michael F. Bird: "Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts and Convergences" p. 32
  14. Lewis R. Donelson: "Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles", p. 42
  15. Joosten, Jan (January 2002). "The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron". Harvard Theological Review. 95 (1): 73–96.
  16. Powell, Mark A. Introducing the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8010-2868-7
  17. Scholem, Gershom and Melila Hellner-Eshed. "Zohar". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 21. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2007. 647–64. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale.
  18. Jacobs, Joseph; Broydé, Isaac. "Zohar". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls Company.
  19. Scharfstein, Sol (2004). Jewish History and You II. Jewish History and You. Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Publishing House. p. 24. ISBN 9780881258066.
  20. "Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – Lag BaOmer at". Retrieved 2012-06-06.


  • Cueva, Edmund P., and Javier Martínez, eds. Splendide Mendax: Rethinking Fakes and Forgeries in Classical, Late Antique, and Early Christian Literature. Groningen: Barkhuis, 2016.
  • DiTommaso,Lorenzo. A Bibliography of Pseudepigrapha Research 1850–1999, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.
  • Ehrman, Bart. Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Kiley, Mark. Colossians as Pseudepigraphy (Bible Seminar, 4 Sheffield: JSOT Press 1986). Colossians as a non-deceptive school product.
  • Metzger, Bruce M. "Literary forgeries and canonical pseudepigrapha", Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972).
  • von Fritz, Kurt, (ed.) Pseudepigraphica. 1 (Geneva: Foundation Hardt, 1972). Contributions on pseudopythagorica (the literature ascribed to Pythagoras), the Platonic Epistles, Jewish-Hellenistic literature, and the characteristics particular to religious forgeries.
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