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This article on Jewish apocrypha includes a survey of books written in the Jewish religious tradition either in the late pre-Christian era or in the early Christian era, but outside the Christian tradition. It does not include books in the canonical Jewish Bible, nor those accepted into the canon of some or all Christian faiths. For a list of both, see the article on Books of the Bible. For other works in the Judaeo-Christian tradition sometimes called "apocrypha", see the article on apocrypha.

Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in Judaism

Although Judaism historically insisted on the exclusive canonization of the 24 books in the Tanakh, it also claimed to have an oral law handed down from Moses. Just as apocryphal books sometimes overshadowed canonical scriptures in Christianity, so did the oral laws of Judaism sometimes overtake the written ones.

Certain circles in Judaism, such as the Essenes in Palestine and the Therapeutae in Egypt, were said to have a "secret" literature (see Dead Sea scrolls). The Pharisees were also familiar with these texts.

A large part of this "secret" literature was the apocalypses. Based on unfulfilled prophecies, these books were not considered scripture, but rather part of a literary form that flourished from 200 BC to AD 100. These works usually bore the names of ancient Hebrew worthies in order to establish their validity among the true writers' contemporaries. To reconcile the late appearance of the texts with their claims to primitive antiquity, alleged authors are represented as "shutting up and sealing" (Dan. xii. 4, 9) the works until the time of their fulfillment had arrived; as the texts were not meant for their own generations but for far-distant ages (also cited in Assumption of Moses i. 16-17).

This literature was highly treasured by many Jewish enthusiasts, in some cases more so than the canonical scriptures. The book of 4 Ezra reinforces this theory: when Ezra was inspired to dictate the sacred scriptures which had been destroyed in the overthrow of Jerusalem, "in forty days they wrote ninety-four books: and it came to pass when the forty days were fulfilled that the Highest spake, saying: the first that thou hast written publish openly that the worthy and unworthy may read it; but keep the seventy last that thou mayst deliver them only to such as be wise among the people; for in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom and the stream of knowledge." (4 Ezra xiv. 44 sqq.) Such esoteric books are apocryphal, in the original conception of the term.

In due course the Jewish authorities drew up a canon in response to Christianity; they marked other books off from those which claimed to be such without justification. Whether Judaism had any distinct name for the esoteric works is unknown. Scholars Theodor Zahn, Emil Schürer, among others, stated that these secret books formed a class by themselves and were called "Genuzim" (גנוזים), and that this name and idea passed from Judaism over into the Greek, with αποκρυφα βιβλια as a translation of ספרים גנוזים. But the Hebrew verb does not mean "to hide" but "to store away", and is only used of things that are in themselves precious. Moreover, the phrase is unknown in Talmudic literature. The derivation of this idea from Judaism has therefore not yet been established.

Writings that were wholly apart from scriptural texts, such as the books of heretics or Samaritans, were designated as Hisonim, Sanh. x. I (ספרים חצונים and ספרי המינים. After the 3rd century A.D., Sirach and other apocryphal books were included in this category; until then, Sirach was largely quoted by rabbis in Palestine, indicating some change in this classification throughout the centuries.

In the following centuries, these apocrypha fell out of use in Judaism. Although they are Jewish literature, the apocrypha were actively preserved through the Middle Ages exclusively by Christians.


History of Johannes Hyrcanus

The History of Johannes Hyrcanus is mentioned in 1 Macc. xvi. 23-24, but no trace has been discovered of its existence elsewhere. It must have early passed out of circulation, as it was unknown to Josephus.


Book of Jubilees

The Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew between the year of the accession of Hyrcanus to the high-priesthood in 135 and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in 105 B.C. Jubilees was translated into Greek and from Greek into Ethiopic and Latin. It is preserved in its entirety only in Ethiopic. Jubilees is the most advanced pre-Christian representative of the midrashic tendency, which was already at work in the Book of Chronicles. This is a rewriting of the book of Genesis and the early chapters of Exodus. His work constitutes an enlarged targum on these books, and its object is to prove the everlasting validity of the law, which, though revealed in time, was superior to time. Writing in the palmiest days of the Maccabean dominion, he looked for the immediate advent of the Messianic kingdom. This kingdom was to be ruled over by a Messiah sprung not from Judah but from Levi, that is, from the reigning Maccabean family. This kingdom was to be gradually realized on earth, the transformation of physical nature going hand in hand with the ethical transformation of man.

Paralipomena Jeremiae, or the Rest of the Words of Baruch

This book has been preserved in Greek, Ethiopic, Armenian and Slavonic. The Greek was first printed at Venice in 1609, and next by Antonio Maria Ceriani in 1868 under the title Paralipomena Jeremiae. It bears the same name in the Armenian, but in Ethiopic it is known by the second title.

Martyrdom of Isaiah

This Jewish work has been in part preserved in the Ascension of Isaiah. To it belong i. 1, 2a, 6b-13a; ii. 1-8, 10-iii. 12; v. 1c-14 of that book. It is of Jewish origin, and recounts the martyrdom of Isaiah at the hands of Manasseh.

Pseudo-Philo's Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum

Though the Latin version of this book was thrice printed in the 16th century (in 1527, 1550 and 1599), it was practically unknown to modern scholars until it was recognized by F. C. Conybeare and discussed by Cohn in the Jewish Quarterly Review, 1898, pp. 279-332. It is an Haggadic revision of the Biblical history from Adam to the death of Saul. Its chronology agrees frequently with the LXX, against that of the Massoretic text, though conversely in a few cases. The Latin is undoubtedly translated from the Greek. Greek words are frequently transliterated. While the LXX. is occasionally followed in its translation of Biblical passages, in others the Massoretic is followed against the LXX., and in one or two passages the text presupposes a text different from both. On many grounds Cohn infers a Hebrew original. The eschatology is similar to that taught in the similitude of the Book of Enoch. In fact, Eth. En. li. 1 is reproduced in this connexion. Prayers of the departed are said to be valueless. The book was written after A.D. 70; for, as Cohn has shown, the exact date of the fall of Herod's temple is stated.

The Gospel of Adam and Eve

Writings dealing with this subject are extant in Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Syriac, Armenian and Arabic. They go back undoubtedly to a Jewish basis, but in some of the forms in which they appear at present they are Christianized throughout. The oldest and for the most part Jewish portion of this literature is preserved to us in Greek, Armenian, Latin and Slavonic,

  1. The Greek Διηγησις περι Αδαμ και Ευας (published under the misleading title Αποκαλυψις Μωυσεως in Tischendorf's Apocalypses Apocryphae, 1866) deals with the Fall and the death of Adam and Eve. Antonio Ceriani edited this text from a Milan MS. (Monumenta Sacra et Profana, v. i). This work is found also in Armenian, and has been published by the Mechitharist community in Venice in their Collection of Uncanonical Writings of the Old Testament, and translated by Conybeare (Jewish Quarterly Review, vii. 216 sqq., 1895), and by Issaverdens in 1901.
  2. The Vita Adae et Evae is closely related and in part identical with the Διηγησις. It was printed by Wilhelm Meyerin Abh. d. Münch. Akad., Philos.-philol. Cl. xiv., 1878.
  3. The Slavonic Adam book was published by Jajic along with a Latin translation (Denkschr. d. Wien. Akad. d. Wiss. xlii., 1893). This version agrees for the most part with the Διηγησις. It has, moreover, a section, §§ 28-39, which though not found in the Διηγησις is found in the Vita.

Before we discuss these three documents we shall mention other members of this literature, which, though derivable ultimately from Jewish sources, are Christian in their present form,

  • The Book of Adam and Eve, also called the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, translated from the Ethiopic (1882) by S. C. Malan. This was first translated by August Dillmann (Das christl. Adambuch des Morgenlandes, 1853), and the Ethiopic book first edited by Ernest Trumpp (Abh. d. Münch. Akad. xv., 1870-1881).
  • A Syriac work entitled Die Schalzhöhle translated by Carl Bezold from three Syriac MSS. in 1883 and subsequently edited in Syriac in 1888. This work has close affinities to the Conflict, but is said by Dillmann to be more original,

Armenian books on the Death of Adam (Uncanonical Writings of O.T. pp. 84 sqq., 1901, translated from the Armenian), Creation and Transgression of Adam (op. cit. 39 sqq.), Expulsion of Adam from Paradise (op. cit. 47 sqq.), Penitence of Adam and Eve (op. cit. 71 sqq.) are mainly later writings from Christian hands.

Returning to the question of the Jewish origin of Διηγησις, Vita, Slavonic Adam book, we have already observed that these spring from a common original. As to the language of this original, scholars are divided. The evidence, however, seems to be strongly in favour of Hebrew. How otherwise are we to explain such Hebraisms (or Syriacisms) as ευω ῥεει το ἑλαιον εξ αυτου (§ 9), οὑ ειπεν... μη φαγειν απ αυτου (§ 21). For others see §§ 23, 33. Moreover, as Fuchs has pointed out, in the words ἑση εν ματαιοις addressed to Eve (§ 25) there is a corruption of חבליס into הבליס. Thus the words were: "Thou shalt have pangs." In fact, Hebraisms abound throughout this book.[1]

Jannes and Jambres

These two men are referred to in 2 Tim. iii. 8 as the Egyptian magicians who withstood Moses. The book which treats of them is mentioned by Origen[2], and in the Gelasian Decree as the Paenitentia Jamnis et Mambre. The names in Greek are generally Ιαννησ και Ιαμβρης (=יניס וימבריס) as in the Targ.-Jon. on Exod. i. 15; vii. ii. In the Talmud they appear as יוחני וממרא. Since the western text of 2 Tim. iii. 8 has Μαμβρης, Westcott and Hort infer that this form was derived from a Palestinian source. These names were known not only to Jewish but also to heathen writers, such as Pliny and Apuleius. The book, therefore, may go back to pre-Christian times.[3]

Joseph and Aseneth

The statement in Gen. xli. 45, 50 that Joseph married the daughter of a heathen priest gave offence to later Judaism, and gave rise to the belief that Asenath was really the daughter of Shechem and Dinah, and only the foster-daughter of Potipherah[4]. Origen also was acquainted with some form of the legend [5]. The Christian legend, which is no doubt in the main based on the Jewish, is found in Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Slavonic and Medieval Latin. Since it is not earlier than the 3rd or 4th century, it will be sufficient here to refer to Smith's Dict. of Christ. Biog. i. 176-177; James, M. R. (1898). "Asenath". in James Hastings. A Dictionary of the Bible. I. pp. pages 162-163. ; Schürer, iii. 289-291.


  1. See Fuchs, Apok. u. Pseud, d. A.T. ii. 511; Jewish Encyclopedia i. 179 sq.
  2. ad Matt. xxiii. 37 and xxvii. 9 [Jannes et Mambres Liber]
  3. See Schürer iii. 292-294; Encyclopaedia Biblica, ii. 2327-2329.
  4. Targ.-Jon. on Gen. xli. 45; Tractat. Sopherim, xxi. 9; Jalkut Shimoni, c. 134. See Oppenheim, Fabula Josephi et Asenethae, 1886, pp. 2-4).
  5. Selecta in Genesin, ad Gen. xli. 45, ed. Lommatzsch, viii. 89-90.

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