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. 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
In biblical studies, the term pseudepigrapha typically refers to an
assorted collection of Jewish religious works thought to be written c.
300 BC to 300 AD. 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, and the
Vulgate but not in the Hebrew
Bible or in Protestant Bibles. 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.
2 Classical and biblical studies
2.1 Literary studies
Old Testament and intertestamental studies
New Testament studies
2.3.1 Pauline epistles
New Testament pseudepigrapha
2.3.3 Authorship and pseudepigraphy: levels of authenticity
3 See also
6 External links
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"; 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.
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
Apocrypha and Biblical apocrypha
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
Eusebius indicates this usage dates back
at least to Serapion of Antioch, whom
Eusebius records 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. 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
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
There is a tendency not to use the word pseudepigrapha when describing
works later than about 300 AD when referring to biblical
matters.: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
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. 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
Life of Adam and Eve and
The term pseudepigrapha is also commonly used to describe numerous
works of Jewish religious literature written from about 300 BC to 300
AD. 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:
Assumption of Moses
Book of Enoch
Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)
Slavonic Second Book of Enoch
Book of Jubilees
Letter of Aristeas
Life of Adam and Eve
Ascension of Isaiah
Psalms of Solomon
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
New Testament studies
Many scholars maintain that no letter actually known to be
pseudepigraphical would ever have been admitted to the New Testament
canon. Other scholars suggest that the church did not develop its hard
line against pseudepigraphy until the practice was being abused. Some
works that were definite forgeries led to a rejection of any sort of
Main article: Pauline epistles
In contrast to most writings termed "pseudepigraphical", 13 of the
letters attributed to Paul are still considered canonical. These
letters are still 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 than the other
letters. They are termed as "disputed" or "pseudepigraphical"
letters because they are believed by some to have come from followers
writing in Paul's name, often using material from his surviving
letters. Those followers may have had access to letters written by
Paul that no longer survive, according to the Encyclopædia
Britannica. Some theologians prefer to simply distinguish between
"undisputed" and "disputed" letters, thus avoiding the term
Authorship of six of Paul the Apostle's letters has been questioned by
a few scholars, according to E. P. Sanders. The disputed ones are
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. Of these, the first three are sometimes
referred to as "Deutero-Pauline letters", meaning "secondary letters
of Paul". They internally claim to have been written by Paul, but a
minority of modern writers dispute that assertion. Those known as the
"Pastoral Epistles" (Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus) are regarded as
pseudographs by a small minority, but the vast majority of scholars
consider them genuine.
Mark Powell writes that the first-century church did not seem to
question the legitimate authorship of these letters which are disputed
by a few modern writers, since their thought was compatible with
Paul's doctrines. However, if there was ever an attitude of
"acceptable pseudepigraphy", it was short lived and did not continue
into the second century. Powell says that there is no record of anyone
in the early church ever recognizing that a writing was
pseudepigraphical in any sense of the word and still regarding it as
New Testament pseudepigrapha
The Gospel of Peter 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. They are often referred to as
New Testament apocrypha. Further examples of New Testament
pseudepigrapha include the Gospel of Barnabas 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:
Literal authorship. A church leader writes a letter in his own hand.
Dictation. A church leader dictates a letter almost word for word to
Delegated authorship. A church leader describes the basic content of
an intended letter to a disciple or to an amanuensis.
Posthumous authorship. A church leader dies, and his disciples finish
a letter that he had intended to write, sending it posthumously in his
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.
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
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
Old Testament pseudepigrapha
^ Bauckham, Richard; "Pseudo-Apostolic Letters", Journal of Biblical
Literature, Vo. 107, No. 3, September 1988, pp. 469–94.
^ Beckwith,, Roger T. (November 1, 2008). The Canon of the Old
Testament (PDF). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub. pp. 62,
382–83. ISBN 978-1606082492. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
^ a b c Harris, Stephen L. (2010). Understanding The Bible.
McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0-07-340744-9.
^ LSJ entry for ψευδεπίγραφος,
^ Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae 6,12.
^ Charlesworth, James.
Odes of Solomon Archived 2004-04-14 at the
^ Salvian, Epistle, ix.
^ a b c d Powell, Mark A. Introducing the New Testament. Baker
Academic, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8010-2868-7
^ a b Just, Felix. "The Deutero-Pauline Letters"
^ a b Sanders, E. P. "Saint Paul, the Apostle". Encyclopædia
Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 20 May 2013.
^ Joel Willitts, Michael F. Bird: "Paul and the Gospels:
Christologies, Conflicts and Convergences" p. 32
^ Lewis R. Donelson: "Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the
Pastoral Epistles", p. 42
^ Joosten, Jan (January 2002). "The
Gospel of Barnabas
Gospel of Barnabas and the
Diatessaron". Harvard Theological Review. 95 (1): 73–96.
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
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.
Pseudepigrapha Online texts of the
their original or extant ancient languages
Smith, Mahlon H.
Pseudepigrapha entry in Into His Own: Perspective on
the World of Jesus online historical source book, at
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigraph