• Don Walker

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

The term “pseudepigrapha” is a Greek word meaning “false inscription.” It is used to refer to falsely attributed works, writings where the claimed author is not the true author, or a text where the true author attributed it to a person from the past. During what is referred to as “The Second Temple Period” (516 B.C. – 70 A.D.) many such writings emerged. They were never considered to be part of the Hebrew canon of Scriptures, but they were read and discussed by the rabbis of that time. These are writings which Jesus, and the New Testament writers, would be familiar. In some instances, we find them being referenced or alluded to by the Apostolic writers, and by the early Church Fathers who succeeded them. Some of these writings were given more consideration than others, for instance, Enoch I and the Book of Jubilees (which were often quoted by the Church Fathers). Some of these books are an expansion of the stories we find in the Old Testament and are often categorized as myths or legends. One needs to read them carefully and not view them as authoritative, but view them as the Rabbinical literature of their time.

There are many texts considered Pseudepigrapha. The following are a selection of some of the more prominent ones, particularly calling attention to those directly or indirectly referenced in the New Testament.

Enoch I (c. 200 B.C.) – This text is attributed to Enoch, the seventh generation after Adam and Eve according to biblical tradition. Based on the verse in which God takes Enoch from the earth (Gen. 5:24), Enoch I is a composite book about God revealing to Enoch the secrets of the universe, the course of history, and the future. It is referenced in Jude 14-15, I Peter 3:19-20, and II Peter 2:4-5. Several Church Fathers (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen) voiced support for its inclusion in the Old Testament canon.

Jubilees (c. 130 – 100 B.C. or possibly 160 - 150 B.C.) - Based on biblical tradition, especially the books of Genesis and Exodus, Jubilees is a reworked account of what was purportedly revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai. The book begins in the third person with God forewarning Moses that Israel will apostasize but subsequently repent. The book then shifts to the first person in the voice of an angel. The angel speaks for God telling Moses all that has transpired from the time of creation to the Israelites arrival at Mount Sinai. It was well known to early Christians, as evidenced by the writings of Epiphanius, Justin Martyr, Origen, Diodorus of Tarsus, Isidore of Alexandria, Isidore of Seville, and Eutychius of Alexandria. The text was also utilized by the community that originally collected the Dead Sea Scrolls. No complete Hebrew, Greek or Latin version is known to have survived.

Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (c. 200 B.C.) – In this book each of Jacob’s sons (The Twelve Patriarchs) reflects on aspects of his life, recounting his misdeeds, exhorting his family to avoid his sins and exemplify virtue. It also includes predictions of Israel’s future and instructions concerning their burial. Some have proposed that Paul quotes several times from the book, and cite references as Rom. 12:9, 21; Ephes. 5:6; II Cor.12:10 and I Thess. 2:16.

The Testament of Moses (c. early 1st century A.D.) – This text is also called “the Assumption of Moses.” It purports to be the secret prophecies that Moses revealed to Joshua before passing the leadership of the Israelites to him. Though it appeared much later than some of the other books Jude references it regarding the dispute between the devil and the archangel Michael over the body of Moses (vs. 9).

Jannes and Jambres (c. 100 B.C.) – The name of this book refers to the “wise men and sorcerers” in Pharaoh’s court mentioned in Exodus 7:10-12. The names given to these two are Jannes and Jambres, though their names are not given in the book of Exodus. Paul refers to them in II Timothy 3:8 by these names, indicating he was familiar with this book. Only fragments of this book remain.

Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (c. 100 B.C.) - It is generally believed that the text is composed of three different sections written at different times, by different authors, some sections were probably composed in the Christian era. It has three main sections – The Martyrdom of Isaiah, The Testament of Hezekiah, and the Vision of Isaiah. Elements of the Ascension of Isaiah are paralleled in other Jewish and Christian writings. The method of Isaiah's death (sawn in half by Manasseh) is agreed upon by both the Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud and is probably alluded to by the writer of Hebrews (11:37).


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