The Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (continued…). By Rony Akrich

In a scroll of psalms from Qumran a number of additional compositions have been discovered, thus increasing the corpus of already known texts. They also helped to understand a literary genre – the Last Psalms – which happens to be misrepresented in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. These pious poems give a deep insight into the religious sentiments and understandings of their authors. Knowledge of an intense literary production of Psalms existing at this time means that any study of ancient Jewish literature must now take these apocryphal Psalms very seriously.

Another important aspect of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they were discovered in a known archaeological and sociological context, definitively pinning them to the Second Temple period. Before 1947, only the medieval Christian manuscripts of the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha were known, and they could only be dated on the basis of the details they contained. It was not always a reliable procedure. The Dead Sea Scrolls, from a clearly established historical context, are indispensable for accurately dating the writings. In addition to the finds at Qumran, a significant number of ancient Pseudepigraphers have been found elsewhere. Some of them have been preserved in Greek and Latin; others in translations from Greek and Latin into various Eastern Christian languages ​​– Syriac (An ancient Semitic language, belonging to Eastern Aramaic, which is still the liturgical language of many Christian communities in the Middle East.), Ethiopian, Arabic , Slavic, Armenian and Georgian, among others. The most important of these are the “Book of Enoch” (in Ge’ez-Ethiopian [Langue éthiopienne classique de la famille des langues sémitiques, qui subsiste seulement dans l’usage liturgique de l’Église copte.] and in Greek); the “Book of Jubilees”, also preserved in Ge’ez-Ethiopian; “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” in Greek; “The Apocalypse of Baruch” in Syriac; the Book of “Secrets of Enoch” in Slavonic (relating to the Slavic language, in particular Old Slavonic); and the “Books of Adam and Eve” in Latin, Greek, Slavic, Armenian and Georgian.

Among this literature are works of varied character. Some are historical: for example, the main source of knowledge about the battles of the Maccabim is the first and second apocryphal books of the “Maccabim”. Other works, called “apocalypses”, present visions of heavenly and earthly secrets, of God and his angels. The concern for celestial realities is a subject in full swing and very important already during the Second Temple.

In these works, primordial religious questions dominate, especially the question of the justice of God. Such visions are attributed to Enoch, Ezra, Baruch and Abraham. A significant number of works convey a proverbial teaching on religious and practical matters. These numerous books of Wisdom or sapiential: all the books of the Old Testament which aim to give moral teaching such as “The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs…”.

The Wisdom of “Ben Sira”: this is a Jewish scholar, head of an academy in Jerusalem, who wrote in the 2nd century BC. J.-C the “Sirach”, also called the Ecclesiastes of Ben Sira the Wise, an account of his teachings. The Jews of the Second Temple period composed many psalms and prayers, expressing their love for God, their desire to be close to him, and their anguish over the fate of individuals and Israel. The manuscripts demonstrate that Jewish thought in this period was dualistic: Israel and mankind, the earthly and heavenly world, the righteous and the wicked. The people of that time fully lived, not only these Manichaeisms, but also the consequent tensions. Faith filled with certainty as to the just and merciful divine providence was, very often, called into question in view of the unstable situations and violent events of their time. These books are different from rabbinical literature; they deal only incidentally with the legalistic (halakhic) character, which will later dominate in rabbinic Judaism, and source of Jewish creativity.

When these books were first studied, scholars realized they could help provide a context for a better understanding of the origins of Christianity, too. Henceforth, Rabbinic Judaism was no longer the main reference for comparison with the oldest Christian literature, but preferably the enormous Jewish literature of the Second Temple period, in particular the Pseudepigrapha, brought much more discernment and made the Jewish origin of Christianity more understandable. The contribution of the study of the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha to the understanding of the Bible should therefore not be underestimated.

The historian Simon Claude Mimouni emphasizes the fact that they originally had a legitimacy equal to that of the canonical texts: “From a historical point of view, it is important not to consider the canonical accounts as superior to the apocryphal stories. At the time of their writing – towards the end of the 1st century and throughout the 2nd century – both certainly had the same theological status” until the canon was fixed. “It is within an abundant doctrinal diversity – partly erased by canonization – that apocryphal narratives have flourished either to oppose certain marginal tendencies (which will become heterodox), or to defend certain majority tendencies (which will become Orthodox)”

By becoming acquainted with these literary riches, we now had insight into forms of Judaism and religious thought within the Jewish tradition that would otherwise have remained lost. Here we approach the cardinal question: why study this literature? The unanimous answer is that the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha must be, because they embody the expressions of the human spirit and experience at that time, the historian is thus obliged to look into the past. For specialists in “Judeo-Christian culture”, a particular interest is inherent in the investigation of this segment of the past where Judaism was born, it was formed, and in which Christianity emerged.

However, these researches and studies, even when they are explained thus, carry with them potentialities of perversion of the truth and erroneous conception of reality. The historical enterprise is a school of hermeneutics, it conceals a non-negligible share of errors of interpretation inherent in the study of the origins of one’s own tradition. Modern and medieval “orthodoxies” tend to interpret texts before they exist on their own. It is only in the latest generation of studies of Second Temple-era Judaism that the implications of this worldview have begun to permeate the fabric of historical thought and writing. This is an extremely important development, because it allows Jewish literature of this period, these authors who produced and honored these works, to take us out of the giant shadows cast by these twin colossi that are the Talmud and “religion”. . It then becomes possible to begin to delineate what appear to have been essential aspects of Judaism in the Second Temple period. New features of Jewish life and thought become evident and the task of describing them in detail and integrating them into a big picture can be tackled. Only such an effort will ultimately allow us to advance our understanding of the development of Rabbinic Judaism.

It is heavy but very important work, and it is the Pseudepigrapha that provide us with evidence of vital aspects of Judaism that would otherwise have remained unknown. This aspect of the study of this literature is still in its infancy. By pursuing it, we are able to trace the influence of ancient Jewish traditions and documents over the centuries. There have been one or two studies that have pointed the way (Dr David Satran in 1980, Prof. (emeritus) Michael Stone in 2001); other associated researchers have studied the way in which Jewish apocryphal traditions were taken up and developed by medieval Judaism and Christianity (Wilhelm Bousset, German theologian in 1896, Stone in 1982 and 1996). These two lines of investigation seem likely to produce real results in the direct study of the texts, in the evaluation of their character and their function, as well as in the differentiation of Jewish and Christian materials, a task not always easy. From this particular perspective, the study of the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha teaches us to understand significant aspects of Jewish culture, Jewish history and Christian origins, of this time.

Non-exhaustive list of apocryphal books:


מגילה חיצונית לבראשית, ספר אדם וחוה, צוואת קהת, חזון עמרם, ספר היובלים, ספר חנוך א, ספר חנוך ב, ספר חנוך ג, צואות השבטים, צואת אברהם, חזון אחרית הימים של שלהם, עליית משה, יוסף ואסנת.


דברי ח החוזה, שלמה, מזמורי שלמה, איגרת ירמיהו, עלי ever ense ישעיהו, ספר ברוך, חזון ברוך א, חזון ברוך ב.


דברי איוב, עזרא החיצוני, חזון עזרא, מזמור קנ קנ א א א, מזמורי קנ »ב» ה, תוספות למגילת אסתר, תוספות לספר דניאל, תפילת מנשה.


בן סירא, ספר יהודית, ספר טוביה, ספר מכבים א – ב ‘, ג’, ד ‘, איגרת אריסטיאס, חזיונlev

Rony Akrich, 67 (The Passions of a Hebrew) teaches biblical historiosophy.
He is the author of 7 books in French on Hebrew thought.
“The presents of the imperfect” volume 1 and 2 have just been published
A new book in Hebrew thinking and analyzing the weekly news has just appeared “מבט יהודי, עם עולם”
He writes many chronicles and aphorisms in Hebrew and French published on the media.
Founder of “Café Daat” in Jerusalem (the Popular Free University of Jerusalem).
Participates in several Israeli forums of reflections and teachings of right and left.
Lives in Kiriat Arba in Judea.

We wish to thank the writer of this write-up for this outstanding material

The Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (continued…). By Rony Akrich

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