Word Wednesday: Pseudepigrapha

This morning while cataloging two large volumes for the Seminary library, I discovered a somewhat rare word which I thought I could share with you on this “Word Wednesday.” The volumes are titled The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, edited by R.H. Charles (Oxford, 1978) – surely an exciting title to Seminary students as well as to you! 🙂

I believe most of us are familiar with the Apocrypha, but what about these “Psuedepigrapha”? What are they? The word derives from two Greek words – pseudo, “false” and epigrapha, “inscribed writings” – so that this term refers to false or spurious writings ascribed to biblical writers. The term is closely related to the apocryphal writings, therefore, though there is a difference between Catholics and Protestants about how these books are received.

Here is one dictionary’s definition:

pseud·e·pig·ra·pha

(so͞o′dĭ-pĭg′rə-fə)

pl.n.

1. Spurious writings, especially writings falsely attributed to biblical characters or times.
2. A body of texts written between 200 bc and ad 200 and spuriously ascribed to various prophets and kings of the Hebrew Scriptures.

And to help us fill out this definition, we find this information also online:

Pseudepigrapha (also Anglicized as “pseudepigraph” or “pseudepigraphs”) are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed authorship is represented by a separate author; or a work, “whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.”[1] The word “pseudepigrapha” (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseude, “false” and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphē, “name” or “inscription”or “ascription”; thus when taken together it means “false superscription or title”;[2] see the related epigraphy) is the plural of “pseudepigraphon” (sometimes Latinized as “pseudepigraphum”).

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 an 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.

In Old Testament biblical studies, the pseudepigrapha are Jewish religious works written c 300 BC to 300 AD, not all of which are literally pseudepigraphical.[3] They are distinguished by Protestants from the Deuterocanonical (Catholic and Orthodox) or Apocrypha (Protestant), the books that appear in the Septuagint and Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles.[3] Catholics distinguish 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.

So how do we know as Christians that these are “false writings”? How can we tell what really belongs to the Bible as God’s holy Word? Our Belgic Confession, Arts.4-6, help guide us here:

Art.4 – We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged. These are thus named in the Church of God. The books of the Old Testament are, the five books of Moses, namely: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the books of Joshua, Ruth, Judges, the two books of Samuel, the two of the Kings, two books of the Chronicles, commonly called Paralipomenon, the first of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, the Psalms of David, the three books of Solomon, namely, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs; the four great prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel; and the twelve lesser prophets, namely, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Those of the New Testament are the four evangelists, namely: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul, namely: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon, and one to the Hebrews; the seven epistles of the other apostles, namely, one of James, two of Peter, three of John, one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.

Art.5 – We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.

Art.6 – We distinguish those sacred books from the apocryphal, namely: the third book of Esdras, the books of Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Syrach, Baruch, the appendix to the book of Esther, the Song of the three Children in the Furnace, the history of Susannah, of Bell and the Dragon, the prayer of Manasses, and the two books of the Maccabees. All of which the Church may read and take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they are far from having such power and efficacy, as that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith, or of the Christian religion; much less detract from the authority of the other sacred books.

And by the way, you may find a listing of these pseudepigrapha on this website that carries the name; it’s a “mixed bag” site, but interestingly, the links to the specific books of the pseudepigrapha lead you to the works found in the volumes edited by R.H. Charles that I cataloged for our library.

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