Apocrypha, "Outside Books," and Pseudepigrapha:
Ancient Categories and Modern Perceptions of Parabiblical Literature

Annette Yoshiko Reed, Princeton University
40th Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins: Parabiblical Literature, October 10, 2002

As we embark on our exploration of the theme of "Parabiblical Literature," we should begin by asking the obvious question: What do we stand to gain by interrogating the traditional terminology? Most obvious are the benefits for our understanding of the composition, redaction, and reception of early Jewish texts in their pre-canonical contexts. Here, the quest for a new terminology for so-called "apocryphal," "pseudepigraphal," and "intertestamental" literature is part of a larger battle against anachronism, the fighting of which forms a necessary component of the historical enterprise. Especially since the discoveries at Qumran, we know of quite a number of early Jewish texts, which can be termed "parabiblical" in some sense — whether due to [1] their early date of composition, [2] their use of biblical heroes, models, and rhetoric, [3] their own claims to the status of revealed literature, and/or [4] the level of authority and inspiration granted to them by certain ancient authors or communities.

Our evidence suggests that these modes of literary production were quite widespread in the Second Temple period, and their products quite widely read, both in this period and beyond. Nevertheless, many modern scholars simply assume that these so-called "pseudepigrapha" must have been somehow "marginal" in their own time. The reasons are rather clear. When seen from the perspective of our own modern Western understanding of "the Bible," the very practice of authoring parabiblical literature — and particularly the practice of attributing one's own books to ancient, biblical figures — might strike us as a rather radical and even insurgent religious act. Likewise, the acceptance of this literature might seem to signal only credulity on that part of their readership.

It is, of course, problematic to read these texts through our knowledge of their later fates and current status — and no less problematic to judge their worth using modern notions of "authorship," which tend to privilege the named author overagainst pseudonymous and anonymous ones. Likewise, most modern students and scholars encounter the "Bible" as a single bound volume, which is clearly distinguishable from other volumes with names like "OT Apocrypha," "NT Apocrypha," and "OT Pseudepigrapha." Consequently, it can be especially difficult for modern scholars to keep in mind that ancient readers encountered these texts in very different forms, first in separate scrolls and only later in codices that could fit an entire collection or "canon." In the Second Temple period, the lack of a physical differentiation between "biblical" and "parabiblical" texts is matched by the lack of a clear-cut conceptual system for articulating "canonicity" — in the sense of an exclusivistic principle of scriptural authoriy, by which a closed and clearly-defined group of texts are granted a unique status given to no other.

In this presentation, I would like to explore the ways in which this differentiation initially developed, first in Rabbinic Judaism and later in Western Christian orthodoxy. More specifically, I will survey some of the ways that "biblical" texts were distinguished from other texts that could make some claim to the same (or similar) status, depending on the date and place under discussion and the precise criteria chosen for definition. By approaching the categorization of texts as a social practice, I will explore how modern scholarly efforts at categorizing and collecting "parabiblical" texts have been shaped by premodern precedents. By exploring the prehistory of the "canonical assumptions" that still shape scholarship on early Judaism and early Christianity, I hope to show how the current categories of "Apocrypha" and "Pseuepigrapha" still carry the conceptual baggage of pre-modern concepts of "non-canonicity," which — like the corollary concept of "heresy" — can frustrate our efforts to understand the very texts that we are trying to study, precisely because they reflect the views of those parties who rejected these books in the first place, deeming them inferior, spurious, heterodox, and potentially dangerous.

Of course, we cannot discuss these issues without first addressing the question of when and how the biblical canons of Judaism and Christianity were established, with authority and fixity, as closed collections with an exclusive and unique claim to revelatory, inspired, and divine status. Needless to say, the task of tackling these debated issues greatly complexifies any inquiry into "Parabiblical Literature." However, this is — in my view — a very good thing. Because the converse also holds true: One cannot understand the dynamics of canon formation in Judaism and Christianity, apart from some sense of the comparably fluid character of scriptural authority among Jewish and Christian communities (and the range of local variation between them), prior to the establishment, promulgation, and officialization of closed biblical canons. No less important is an understanding of the reception-histories of those texts which were widely used or authoritative enough that they might have become "canonical" under different circumstance — not even to mention those that did become "canonical" in churches other than the Catholic and Protestant ones.

Notably, this highlights yet another potential "pay-off" of our present exploration of "Parabiblical Literature": studies of the formation of the Jewish and Christian canons typically focus on the question of when our biblical canon was established. As such, the process is often treated as an inevitable and unidirectional one. Most scholars focus their inquiries on now-canonical texts and take on the task of dating key moments on the supposedly straight path from [1] their status as "Scripture" to [2] the codification of this status into scriptural "Canons." Too often, they thus begin by assuming the inevitability of the present canon, and then go about seeking evidence to prove the earliest possible acceptance of such a collection as "canon." In the process, they often "explain away" our evidence for the authoritative status of other texts, as merely idiosyncratic or "marginal" voices in a chorus of consensus.

One cannot doubt that the post-exilic period saw the emergence of a concept of Scripture, first applied to the Torah and then to other writings, and that different Jewish groups shared a core group of texts, which included many of the books that Jews and Christians would later canonize (although some, like the Qohelet, the Song of Songs, and Esther, would be continue to be contested for some time). In any case, it is a very different thing to assert that pre-Rabbinic Jews knew a fixed "canon." For our evidence suggests that the boundaries of scriptural authority remained fluid at least until the first century CE, and that other texts continued to vie for this elevated status, functioning as Scripture for some Jews and Christians but not for others. Not only is it anachronistic to speak of a closed biblical "canon" in the Second Temple period, but it distracts us from the need to analyze the specific social, historical, and theological dynamics of canonization — a process that seems to have occurred first among Rabbinic Jews, but only much later among various Christian churches.

Consequently, we ignore at least half of the story (if not more) when we consider the formation of the Jewish and Christian biblical canons without asking how and when certain texts were excluded from the canon — and, most importantly, by whom and against whom. As such, a focus on the status of "parabiblical" literature opens up a new perspective on how the very concept of scriptural "canonicity" took form in both Judaism and Christianity. For, as we will see, the emergence of a concept of "canon" seems to have gone hand-in-hand with the articulation of the nature of "non-canonicity." Alongside lists of "biblical" books and detailed descriptions of their precise status and the proper procedures for producing and using copies thereof, we find attempts to enumerate and categorize different types of non-biblical books, as well as arguments outlining the reasons why certain books (however scripture-like in other ways) cannot be granted the same authority as their "canonical" counterparts. One could even argue that the very notion of "the Bible" as we now know it owes much to early discussions about the ways in which "biblical" texts differed from other texts of similar literary types, claimed authorships, claimed antiquity, and levels of claimed authority — or, in other words, to early attempts to draw a clear line between "biblical" and "parabiblical" literature.

I. Jewish Approaches to Categorizing Texts and Articulating Canonicity/Non-Canonicity: Defining the "Outside Books"

In Jewish tradition, such concerns are first voiced in the Mishnah. This fits well with our other evidence for the formation of the biblical canon within Judaism. Despite the best efforts of a whole host of scholars, there is scant evidence for a closed canon of scriptures or even a clear concept of "canonicity" prior to the first century CE. Rather, we find our first hints of "canonical consciousness" (i.e., a sense of the need to delineate the bounds of the written scriptures) only in sources composed after the destruction of the Second Temple. Most notable are Josephus' Contra Apion (c. 100 CE; Ap. 1.37-43), which is our first extant source to limit the scriptures to a set number of books (in this case 22), and 4 Ezra's distinction between the 24 revealed books accessible to all Jews and the 70 revealed books reserved for only the wise (14:26, 45). Quite fittingly, our first hints of "canonical consciousness" thus occur around the same time that we begin to find standardization in the texts of biblical books.

Even then, however, we should be careful about drawing any sweeping conclusions concerning an "official" biblical canon in Judaism, since as no single party yet held the authority to make one. For, contrary to the traditional view, we now know that the Rabbis simply did have the power to impose their views on other Jews in Roman Palestine, let alone the Diaspora, until some centuries later. For our purposes, however, it remains quite significant that the Rabbinic movement, starting very early on, seems to have engaged in discussions about the exact meaning and scope of "Holy Scripture" and about the various ways in which this group of texts differed from all others, both pre-Rabbinic and Rabbinic.

Interestingly, we do not find a list of canonically biblical texts in Jewish literature until the Bavli, which includes a baraita enumerating the exact contents and order of the present Tanakh (b. Baba Batra 14b). In earlier literature, the unique status of these texts is described primarily in halachic terms, as books which "defile the hands" due to their special holiness (e.g., m. Yad. 3.5, 4.6; t. Yad 2.19ff). The Mishnah, for instance, preserves a number of discussions about which books do and do not "defile the hands," but also a series of rulings about the proper procedures for copying and handling Holy Scriptures, so as embody in practice and embed in the scrolls themselves the essential difference between biblical and non-biblical books.

The exclusivity of the Rabbinic category of "Holy Scripture" is even more clear from the famous list of those Jews who "have no place in the World to Come" in Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.1. Not only does this list contain a polemic against those who think that "the Torah was not divinely revealed," but it also condemns those who retain a more inclusive understanding of "Scripture": according to a tradition here attributed to R. Akiba, "the one who reads from the =91outside books (seferim ha-chitzonim)'" has no place in the World to Come. In the parallel in the Tosefta (t. Sanh 12.9-10), R. Akiba is similarly used as the mouthpiece for articulating the unique status of the Scriptures, albeit in a different way: there, he condemns "the one who warbles the Song of Songs in a banquet-hall and makes it into a kind of love-song" — or, in other words, someone who treats a book of Scripture as if it were just any other text.

The exact identity of the "outside books" has been much debated, with some scholars tempted to interpret Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.1 as reference to Christian-authored books. It is true that the Bavli preserves a baraita equating the "outside books" with the "books of the minim" (min being a term for "heretic," that can denote Christ-believing Jews, but also non-Rabbinic, non-Christian Jews such as Sadducees). Moreover, the "books of the minim" may be associated with the Gospels in Tosefta Yadaim 2.13, depending on how we read its reference to gilyonim — a term that can mean "margins" or "empty spaces" in a scroll, or — in a metaphorical and heresiological twist on the idea of "emptiness" — also can mean the Gospels).

From the context of the broader discussion, however, most scholars concur that the primary meaning of "outside books" (particularly in the Mishnah itself) was probably more similar to what we call "OT apocrypha" and "OT pseudepigrapha." If so, then the Rabbis here answer non-Rabbinic Jews — possibly including but not limited to Christ-believing Jews — who continued to use the "parabiblical" texts that the Rabbinic movement had abandoned. This interpretation seems to be borne out by the commentaries on this mishnah in two Talmuds. In both the Yerushalmi and Bavli, "the books of ben Sira" are presented as the "parade example" of "outside books." This identification proves particularly telling, insofar as many Rabbis seem also to have continued using this work, as evident from the number of direct quotations from Ben Sira found in both talmudic and midrashic literature (esp. y. Ber 11b; y. Nazir 54b; b. Ber 48a; GenR 91.3; QohR 7.11).

In the Yerushalmi (y. Sanh 10.1), Rabbi Akiba's statement prompts yet another distinction: those who read "outside books" (emblematized by Ben Sira and the books of the mysterious and apparently "heretical" Ben Laama) are of course condemned. But, the text also notes that one who reads from "sifrei hamiram and all the books written after them" is just like one who "reads from a letter," meaning that his/her claim to eternal life is not in jeopardy at all. Most scholars of Rabbinics hold that "hamiram" reflects a scribal error and that the text originally read something like "hamris" or "homris" — meaning "Homer" and, by extension, all literature of a "secular" sort (for, indeed, these books resemble letters in status and are acceptable for casual reading, but not serious study).

If we accept this theory, then we find an interesting three-fold distinction promoted in this passage: it is assumed that Holy Scripture is wholly different from other types of literature, but non-scriptural texts are placed into two distinct categories. Writings of a clearly "secular" character or obviously late date are permissible, whereas "outside books" are forbidden. From the status of Ben Sira among the Rabbis, we might infer that "outside books" are here forbidden precisely because they might otherwise be mistaken for Torah. And, indeed, the classical Rabbinic literature preserves several cases where Ben Sira is quoted with the exact same formulae otherwise used only for biblical citations.

The parallel in the Bavli (b. Sanhedrin 100b) proves even more intriguing in this regard. Here, R. Akiva's statement in the Mishnah occasions a condemnation of Ben Sira, which is followed by a lengthy argument defending its use. In its thrust, this passage resembles the ruling in Tosefta Yadaim 2.13, in which this book is placed in the category of texts too late to be "biblical," and, hence, presumably acceptable for casual reading. In the Bavli passage, however, the sole basis for its defense is its content, which is said to be consistent with both the Torah and the teaching of the Rabbis. After a long list of examples, Rabbi Joseph — the very same Rabbi who, at the beginning of the passage, ruled the reading of Ben Sira forbidden — concludes that "We may expound to them the good things it contains," thereby suggesting that it can be used even as a source for public preaching, albeit selectively.

In other Rabbinic sources, discussions of the "outside books" cluster around interpretations of the concluding verses of Qohelet. In Deuteronomy Rabbah, for instance, the statement in Qohelet 12:12a — And more than these, my son, take heed — is cited as a prooftext for limiting scriptural authority and the written component of the divine revelation to 24 books and only 24. One who does not "take heed" and reads any "more than these" (even a single verse) is thus like "one who reads in the =91outside books'" and, as a result, gives up his/her share in the World to Come. In addition, the concluding part of this verse — And much study is a weariness of the flesh — is correlated with Rabbi Akiva's statement in the Mishnah, so that biblical and Rabbinic prooftexts are harmonized, speaking as one with regard to the closed nature of the biblical "canon" and the grave dangers of going beyond it.

Of course, anyone familiar with the Rabbinic literature will know that, if there was any threat to the Bible's exclusive claim to divine revelation and authority within the Rabbinic movement, it lay — not in these "outside books" — but rather in the teachings of the Rabbis themselves. These teachings gradually yet progressively came to be elevated to the status of the Oral Torah revealed at Sinai, alongside the Written Torah. The tension between biblical and Rabbinic authority was largely resolved through the fiction of Rabbinic orality — the assertion that all Rabbinic teachings were orally transmitted, even at a point in time when Rabbinic books like the Mishnah had gained an authoritative status rivaling Scripture itself.

For our purposes, what proves important is that the very same scriptural prooftext used to condemn the "outside books" and to stress the limitation of scriptural authority to only 24 biblical books was also used to argue that the authority of Rabbinic teachings surpassed even Scripture. In these traditions, Qohelet's statement And more than these, my son, take heed is used to stress that students should "take heed" of the words of the Rabbis even more than the teachings of the Holy Scripture. The generative tension between these seemingly divergent readings of Qoh 12:12 is perhaps most evident in Pesikta Rabbati 3.8, in which the two are juxtaposed, thereby effecting a subtle yet effective defense of Rabbinic teachings (and, thus, the Rabbinic books that record them) against the charges laid against "outside books." In an exemplary case of Rabbinic polysemy, the phrase "more than these" is interpreted in two apparently contradictory but strikingly complementary ways: in both, "these" denotes the 24 books of the Bible. The reader, however, is cautioned against "more than these," in the sense of written books, even as s/he is told to seek out "more than these" with regard to Rabbinic teachings.

The gates of scriptural authority remain firmly closed to "parabiblical" texts and other books which make claims to the status of revealed writings. But, at the same time, these boundaries remain permeable to an infinite number of new additions, as long as they are articulated within the authoritative framework of Rabbinic scholasticism. In short, it seems that the "outside books" served a double purpose in the Rabbinic articulation of scriptural authority. On the one hand, they functioned as a point of contrast with "Holy Scripture." But, on the other, as a point of contrast with the "Oral Torah" of the Rabbis themselves — a comparison that is both ironic and illustrative, insofar as in the end the Rabbis claimed for their own "Oral Torah" a status akin to the canonized books of the Bible, in a manner no less radical than the parabiblical literature of Second Temple Judaism. The difference is that, whereas parabiblical texts typically assume the prestige of scribality and the elevation of the act of "writing" in Second Temple times, Rabbinic literature is ironically able to assert its own Sinaitic — and hence, "biblical" — status precisely because of a different attitude towards books and writing; just as the Bavli defends Ben Sira on the basis of the content of the teachings inside, so the oral content of Rabbinic books distinguishes them enough from Holy Scripture, that they can be seen to be divinely inspired in another, equal but different, manner.

II. Christian Approaches to Categorizing Texts and Articulating Canonicity/Non-Canonicity: The Concept of "Apocrypha"

The discussions of "canonicity" in Rabbinic Judaism illustrate the continued complexity of issues pertaining to Scripture and authority, even in a movement where the biblical canon was closed at a fairly early date. Moreover, they provide an example of another set of Jewish teachers and authors, who — like the authors of "parabiblical" literature — did not hesitate to claim for their own teachings a "scriptural" status akin to biblical literature. At the same time, this example highlights the degree to which our modern Western concepts of "canonicity" and "non-canonicity" have been shaped specifically by the parallel discussion in Christianity.

Not only are our English terms "apocrypha" and "pseudepigrapha" directly derived from their Greek equivalents, but they still carry the connotations of their history of usage in Christian discussions about text selection and scriptural authority. For our purposes, what proves significant is that the words "Apocrypha" and "Pseudepigrapha" began their long careers as terminology applied specifically to books — not as words for categorizing different types of texts — but rather as part of the arsenal of accusations against those deemed "heretics."

In antiquity, the term "pseudepigrapha" was used in both Christian and "pagan" literature to denote any writing with a false inscription, a forgery of any sort. Even now, the connotations and valuation ring clear: To call a book "pseudepigraphal" still means to imply a deceptive claim of authorship (which, notably, sets up a false contrast with "biblical" texts, many of which are also "pseudepigraphal" in the strictly literary sense). To stress the subjectivity involved in deeming only certain texts "pseudepgiraphal," we might also cite a striking example from Christian literature: The Apostolic Constitutions appears to be an apostolic forgery, but it ironically warns its readers not to give any credence to apostolic forgeries (see 6.16).

The term "apocrypha" — which means simply "secret" or "hidden things" — has a more complex history. In the NT, for instance, the term is used either neutrally or positively, mostly to denote hidden matters that were recently revealed by God or will be very soon. However, within the heresiological discourse of proto-orthodox Christianity, biblio apokruphoi came to take on a very negative meaning. Irenaeus, for instance, accuses the Marcosians of, among many other things, forging "apocryphal and spurious writings" to deceive the ignorant (AH 1.21.1). In the second century, apokrufoi had yet to take a technical meaning, and here it merely denotes "secret" books. Nevertheless, two things prove significant to note: First, Irenaeus appears to respond to the Marcosians' own claims to secret knowledge, by reversing the valence of secrecy itself. Secondly, he achieves this by equating "secret" books with "spurious" ones, thereby signaling to his reader that s/he should interpret claims about esoteric knowledge as an sign of inauthenticity and deception — rather than taking them at face value and thinking that these so-called "heretics" might really have special access to books reserved only for the wise.

Although the second and third centuries of Christianity already saw the rise of "canonical consciousness" (particularly with regard to the texts that would become the NT), it was not until the fourth and fifth centuries that systematic attempts were made [1] to create a closed canon of both OT and NT, [2] to enumerate its exact contexts, and [3] to promote it as the single norm for all Christian communities, at least within the Roman Empire. As such, canonization was part of broader efforts at doctrinal and liturgical standardization, undertaken by ecclesiarches, newly empowered by the decriminalization of Christianity and the progressive Christianization of the Empire.

As is well known, Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter is our first extant source to use the term "canonized" (kan=F4nizein) to refer to a list of books. Likewise, it is here that we first find the term "apocrypha" used in the technical sense that it would later take on. Athanasius enumerates a list of OT books, alongside our earliest extant list of Christian scriptures which conforms to the present NT. These efforts at textual categorization also extend to the books that he omits from this "canon." Interestingly, he outlines a double distinction similar to the one we discussed in the Yerushalmi: some books are set aside in a middle category of non-canonical books that are nevertheless "read" (meaning books that are didactically useful but not appropriate for liturgical use). Others, however, are dismissed altogether as "so-called apocrypha," which should not be used at all, even if they seem to contain something of value.

The latter proves especially important, for our purposes, insofar as Athanasius here depicts the category of "apocrypha" and the phenomenon of "heresy" as essentially coterminous. In effect, he takes the view already voiced in Irenaeus and generalizes into an overarching principle within a system of textual categorization. No less interesting are the specific texts that he cites as examples of "apocrypha": These consist of texts which we would now call "OT Pseudepigrapha": Books that claim to be authored by Enoch, Isaiah, and Moses.

Jerome, ever the champion of Hebraica veritas, went even further, and he proposed that any Jewish-authored scripture, which was not accepted in the canon of the Jews themselves, should also be termed "apocryphal" by Christians (albeit loosening the limitations on "apocrypha" accordingly). This mode of categorization, however, was fated to be a minority position — at least until the 16th century. Most late antique Church Leaders in the West would either adopt a tripartite distinction between canonical books, apocryphal books, and a middle category (which Rufinus, for instance, called "ecclesiastical"), or they would follow Augustine in omitting the middle category altogether.

Despite the broad range of ways in which Christians categorized these books and permitting the non-liturgical use of non-canonical books, it was the contrast between "canonical" and "apocryphal" that would prove most significant for attempts to articulate the essential differences between "biblical" books and others that resemble them. This is clear, for instance, in certain passages from the City of the God (15.23, 18.38), in which Augustine struggles to explain why it is that the canonical Epistle of Jude seems to quote from the apocryphal book of Enoch. Such discussions were no less influential in creating the complex of assumptions that still shroud early Jewish parabiblical literature. Ancient charges against "apocrypha" included esotericism, pseudonymous authorship, social marginality, deceptiveness, mixing Scripture and invention, and false claims to a biblical provenance. And, indeed, we can still hear echoes of these accusations in modern scholarship on the so-called "OT pseudepigrapha."

The transference of these negative connotations from the category of "Apocrypha," to that of "Pseudepigrapha," followed from debates about canon and scriptural authority between Reformers and Catholics during the 16th century. Following Jerome, Reformers like Martin Luther used the term "Apocrypha" to denote those books found in the Catholic OT but not the Jewish Tanakh. And, as with earlier Christians, his choice of categorization seems to have had a polemical motivation, responding — at least in part — to the Catholic use of 2 Maccabees as a prooftext for concept of Purgatory.

These debates laid the foundation for our current categories, which revolve around the contrast between the Catholic canon and the Protestant one (and, by extension, the Jewish one with regard to the OT). In modern scholarly parlance, "the Bible" usually means the ancient Jewish scriptures shared by Jews, Catholics, and Protestants alike and, in the case of Christians, the NT common to the latter two, whereas "the Apocrypha" commonly denotes those additional scriptures that Catholics have, since the Council of Trent, called "deutero-canonical." By contrast, "Pseudepigrapha" serves as a catch-all category. It includes the additional scriptures still used by other churches (such as the Greek Orthodox, Slavonic, Ethiopian), but also other texts of similar date or form, which seem never to have been canonical in any community at all.

Ever since the 1960's, when the editors of the Oxford Study Bible first decided to include a section of "Apocrypha" within its printings of the Bible, scholars and theologians have voiced their concerns about the biases inherent in this category. In response, its contents (at least in the scholarly discourse) have been progressively expanded to reflect contemporary ecumenical concerns, particularly with regard to the Greek and Slavonic Orthodox canons. Indeed, one wonders whether the additional texts in the Ethiopian Christian canon could, eventually, also find their way into the "Apocrypha" sections of scholarly Bibles, if only enough Ethiopians similarly voice their complaints. For, once we look beyond the Roman Empire and early modern Europe, the term "Apocrypha" becomes only meaningful if it is used to denote early Jewish texts that were omitted from the Rabbinic Tanakh but accepted in the canons of ancient Christian churches, wherever they might be. And, indeed, some scholars — such as Peter Flint — have thus suggested that the category of the "Apocrypha" should be expanded to include books like 1 Enoch and Jubilees, as well.

For our inquiry into "Parabiblical Literature," the questioning of the boundaries of the "Apocrypha" is also important, since it helps to highlight the problems involved in any schema that categorizes early Jewish texts by their Christian reception-history and their current status in Christian Churches. In this regard, the problems with the "Pseudepigrapha" prove even more pressing. Precisely because it serves as vaguely-defined "catch-all" category, it tells us very little about the reception-histories about the texts therein, apart from their exclusion from the biblical canons of Rabbinic Judaism and Western Christian orthodoxy in Late Antiquity. In adopting the terms "Apocrypha" and "Pseudepigrapha" as scholarly categories, we thus run the risk of reading these early Jewish texts through our knowledge of their later status. This proves particularly dangerous, because these labels are heavily laden with value judgments — as is obvious in the progression from "Holy Scripture" to "Secret Books" to "False Writings." Insofar as the pre-history of these terms lies in the Christian heresiological discourse, we also run the risk of viewing these early Jewish texts through the eyes of those very authors who rejected their validity and excluded them from "canonical" authority.

III. Conclusions

It is all too tempting to retroject late antique and early modern concerns into the Second Temple period and to transpose the dichotomy between biblical and extrabiblical literature into the key of socio-historical reconstruction. Some scholars, for instance, thus relegate the early Jewish authors and audiences of "parabiblical" texts to the fringes of "mainstream" Judaism, deeming them to be of relatively little value for the reconstruction of broader trends, apart from testifying to the alleged fragmentation of Judaism in Second Temple times. Others give this alleged marginality a positive spin, exalting the authors and audiences of so-called "pseudepigrapha" as "mystics" or "visionaries" who questioned the status quo and critiqued the dominant vision of Judaism of their day, by seeking hidden meanings and new paths to knowledge and salvation. Either way, the base assumptions remain the same, namely, that the modern categories of the "Bible," "Apocrypha," and "Pseudepigrapha" are in some sense meaningful for our understanding of the ancient authors of these texts and their relative status, even in pre-Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity.

This matrix of assumptions proves particularly pernicious, inasmuch as it buttresses still more. The attribution of a marginal status of the so-called "pseudepigrapha" tacitly justifies the use of the classical Rabbinic literature for reconstructing the "mainline" stream of pre-70 Judaism. Likewise, proponents of the positive view too often replicate the old tendency to value "intertestamental" Jewish texts, only insofar as they can be treated as voices in the wilderness presaging the birth of Christianity.

But, perhaps needless to say, in a field in which we have so few sources and so many are fragmentary or redactionally-complex, we simply cannot afford to harbor such unquestioned assumptions and unquestioningly to adopt the kinds of selective reading that they inculcate. Rather, we must seek to prove or disprove them, text by text, on a case-by-case basis. And, this — in my view — can be best be done by first exploring new terminology, devoid of the value judgments embedded in terms like "Apocrypha" and "Pseudepigrapha," and by finding ways to speak about these texts, apart from anachronistic categories that encourage anachronistic conclusions.

© 2002 Annette Yoshiko Reed. All Rights Reserved.

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